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GREGORY SHAVER, For The Journal Times 

St. Catherine's High School senior football player Adrian Garcia takes a selfie with his medal and the WIAA Division 4 state championship trophy during a celebration Monday afternoon at the school.

Navy diver, Case grad, helped in Micronesia plane rescue

Meko Kaprelian 

At the end of September, after a month of inspecting and fixing ports in Micronesia, specialized U.S. Navy divers were on the last dive of their mission when they noticed a plane was not flying quite right.

The Navy divers spent days watching planes take off and land where they were working. But on Sept. 29, they noticed an Air Niugini plane was flying too low — and was not going to make it to the runway.

U.S Navy Dive Chief Meko Kaprelian, a Case High School graduate, was back at the hotel room planning his team’s next job when the incident happened.

Kaprelian is part of a special Navy dive crew whose main purpose is to inspect and maintain water ports occupied by the Navy and other branches of the military. His team was in Micronesia to do some demolition work and removed some natural barriers that were being damaged by ships.

Kaprelian said the supervisor saw the plane and realized it was going to crash into the water.

“He had the guys basically getting in the water to tell them to go down and get to work, and the plane hit the water, so he pulled them back in the boat, and they didn’t even make the dive,” Kaprelian said.

“They pulled their scuba gear off and raced over to the boat that was resting on the water … no doors were open; they actually put the boat on the wing and were there to get the first person out the door.”

Helping with the rescue

A petty officer alerted Kaprelian that a plane had just crashed in the water near where the team was diving.

“I was there just minutes after it landed in the water, getting all of my guys situated, making sure they were running to the hospital,” Kaprelian said. “We were taking patients to the hospital and helping receive them on the pier. All of my guys got stationed and positioned in places to best help the locals.”

As his team was helping pull people off the boat, Kaprelian said, he heard there might be people missing.

He knew they might have to dive into the plane and he needed permission from command to dive into a sinking plane if necessary.

“Which is kind of dangerous, but I told them people were missing, and they gave me the permission to dive in the plane if we had to,” Kaprelian said. “I went to find who was in charge of the whole emergency response and let them know we could dive in the plane if there was anybody unaccounted for.”

As people were being pulled off the plane, Kaprelian had his men on the pier waiting to receive the passengers and transport them to the hospital.

“We had better vehicles and bigger vehicles (than local authorities) to take them to the hospital,” Kaprelian said.

Throughout the ordeal, Kaprelian was making snap decisions on where to put his men and what to do next. With 20 years in the Navy and 12 of those years as a chief, Kaprelian said he has been training to handle these situations.

“We’re just trained to do that, to sit back and do just that,” Kaprelian said. “If something chaotic is going on (we) just analyze the situation and try to figure out what the best course of action is.”

When everyone was off the plane with no major injuries, the team felt confident everyone was accounted for.

Retrieving a body

But the following Monday, more than 48 hours later, Kaprelian said they were informed one person was missing.

Kaprelian offered the local authorities, who were investigating the incident, help to locate the plane, and they accepted. After the Navy was able to find the plane, local divers went in and discovered one body.

“One of the guys who was in the plane was upset because he felt he should have been able to find the body,” Kaprelian said.

Kaprelian and another diver went in and recovered the body.

Without getting into details of the location of the body, Kaprelian said there would have been no way for any of the divers to know where the body was when they were getting people off the plane.

But Kaprelian took the diver who was upset and, together, they went down to the plane, and Kaprelian showed him where the body was located.

“It made him feel a little bit better, but I think he was still upset,” Kaprelian said.

‘Best group of guys’

In all his years in the Navy, Kaprelian said, he never experienced anything like this, and he was proud of how his men reacted in the moment.

“This shows that they have the dedication to what we practice and what we believe in and what our values are as Navy sailors,” Kaprelian said. “They actually practiced it and showed the rest of the world what America is truly like — not what they’re seeing on the TV right now.”

Back home, younger sister and Racine County Supervisor Melissa Kaprelian heard about the plane crash, but it wasn’t until days later when her mother told her Meko was there organizing the rescue.

“I know my brother would always jump into action,” Melissa Kaprelian said. “To realize not only was he there, but he was right there when it was happening … I look at him in a different way, because I couldn’t do it myself.”

She said it was a “tearful moment,” filled with pride, when she heard the story.

“He’s the smartest person I know; his ability to retain information and his athleticism is just really superb,” Kaprelian said. “He’s a hero in my family.”

Although he was ready to retire from the Navy, Kaprelian said this current group of guys, the guys that jumped into action in September, are the reason he stayed in the service.

“I’ve been in charge of other guys previously, but this is the best group of guys I’ve been in charge of,” Kaprelian said. “I wanted to stay longer only because of them ... I haven’t seen too many young sailors and junior guys like this in a long time.”

“I went to find who was in charge of the whole emergency response and let them know we could dive in the plane if there was anybody unaccounted for.” Meko Kaprelian

Caitlin Sievers / CAITLIN SIEVERS 

Travis Eales, a teacher at Julian Thomas Elementary School, asked the Racine Unified School Board on Monday night to explain the moving of three principals between schools last month. 

Gregory Shaver 

Union Grove's Angela Slattery looks to pass as she is defended by Elkhorn's Hannah Koss during the first half of a WIAA girls regional basketball game Friday evening. Feb. 23, 2018, at Union Grove High School.

Caitlin Sievers / CAITLIN SIEVERS photos,  

Tom Beeson, right, with Leeward Business Advisors,looks at a live thread of cyber security threats coming in and out of the United States with a group of Racine Unified freshmen during the district's SEE Your Future Expo on Nov. 13 at Fountain Hall, 8505 Durand Ave. in Sturtevant. 


Republicans, Democrats prepare for redistricting fight

RACINE — The current state Assembly and Senate district maps could be redrawn in 2021, but legislators are already talking about those possible changes.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear arguments over the Wisconsin Assembly district maps and possible gerrymandering in favor of Republican candidates, and instead punted it to the lower federal court to decide the case.

With Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, a Democrat, preparing to argue the case on behalf of the state, some legislators are wondering what the fate of the current district lines will be.

Democrats have pointed to the fact that they won in statewide races (governor, U.S. Senate, state treasurer and attorney general), and received more total votes — but did not earn proportional representation — as proof that state districts are drawn to favor Republican candidates.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, disagrees with that assertion.

“I believe somewhere between 12 and 15 districts that Republicans won in the fall election two weeks ago, were also carried by (Democrat U.S. Sen.) Tammy Baldwin,” Vos said. “And some of those folks also had districts that (Democrat Gov.-elect) Tony Evers won. So if it’s gerrymandering, every district would be held and carried by every Republican.”

Vos said the Republican Party of Wisconsin is preparing an analysis of the fall election. The party believes it will show if Democrats ran better candidates, had a better message, “and performed as well as other Democrats on the ticket, they would win those races.”

“I think we have better candidates, a better message and a better organization which has allowed us to win in districts that are even being carried by Democrats at the top of the ticket,” Vos said.

Vos also pointed to the fact that Republicans did not run a candidate in every race. He said looking at the number of votes Democrats got as a reason to change the district maps is misleading.

“We made a strategic decision in the last election cycle to not run a candidate as a Republican for every single seat in the Assembly,” Vos said. “Democrats made a different decision. They made a decision to run somebody in every seat thinking they were able to catch some kind of ‘blue wave’ and either take back the majority or make some significant progress.”

Neubauer wants more competitive races

State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, who won her race but was unopposed, believes the maps should be made more competitive.

“I just don’t buy that argument,” Neubauer said about Vos’ statements. “I think it’s very clear the packing of Democrats into certain Assembly districts like mine, which is a very heavily Democratic district, means democracy suffers, and our constituents suffer, because they’re not getting robust conversation and a different perspective presented and aren’t able to make a choice of who they want to represent them.”

Neubauer said she hopes Republicans join Democrats in advocating for more competitive district maps even if that means her seat and other Democrats will become more vulnerable in future elections.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing that the majority of sitting Democrats did not have challengers this cycle; I don’t think that’s the most democratic outcome,” Neubauer said. “I decided to run for office with the full understanding that what that means is: You debate ideas, and you allow the people in your district to make the best decision to elect the person that best represents their values. Right now that is not the case.”

Two attorneys, one state

When the gerrymanderinig case gets argued in front of a federal judge, Kaul won’t be the only attorney present on behalf of the state. Last week the court allowed for the Assembly to hire an attorney to put alongside Kaul when it takes up the case.

“When we argue the lawsuit in federal court, the attorney general will be there but obviously as a partisan Democrat; you would assume he would not be as vociferous in his defense of the maps,” Vos said. “We were given ‘intervener status’ where we hired our own legal counsel, so we’ll be right alongside the attorney general as a team defending the maps.”

Neubauer said she has not discussed the case with Kaul and had no comment on the attorney hired to represent the Assembly.

Although that attorney will represent the entire Assembly, Vos said he did not talk with Assembly Democrats about hiring an attorney and added, “I’m sure they don’t like it.”

“Because they want us to cave in and let the Democrat attorney general kind of soft-sell our case, have us lose, and that’s the only way they can think they can win because they’re bad at candidate recruiting and bad at messaging.”

Neubauer said people are tired of “politicians choosing their constituents instead of constituents choosing their representatives,” and there needs to be a change.

“I think that the Republican Party here, the Democratic Party in other states can try to stand in the way of the democratic process, but eventually people are not going to take it anymore,” Neubauer said. “And they’re going to do what it takes to get their maps to be adequately represented at the state level.”