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kevin jenkins / Kevin R. Jenkins, Daily Journal 

From left, VFW Post 2426 Commander Mel Brinkley and Life Member Dennis Sweet accept a check for $20,000 presented Dec. 13 by USAA representatives Joe Torres and Rick Bourbon. Sweet won a USAA contest while attending the VFW National Convention this summer in Louisiana.

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Man charged with several felonies in son’s death

An area man is being indicted on several felonies after a grand jury heard the case of how he was involved in a crash that took the life of one of his sons and injured another.

James Luksza, 33, of Potosi, is being charged with a class C felony of involuntary manslaughter in the first degree, a class D felony of assault in the second degree, two class B felonies of endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree, two class D felonies of possession of a controlled substance, and a class D misdemeanor of possession of a controlled substance.

According to a probable cause statement, on Jan. 3, 2017 at 12:08 p.m. the Missouri State Highway Patrol was notified of a possible fatal accident on northbound U.S. 67 just north of Highway 47 in St. Francois County.

The trooper arrived and saw a black Honda Accord off the right side of the road with heavy front-end damage from striking a tree. An ambulance with the St. Francois County Ambulance District was leaving the scene with a very critical patient from the crash, later identified as Chasen T. Luksza, age 3.

The ambulance crew took Chasen to Parkland Health Center in Bonne Terre for treatment. The driver of the car, later identified as James Luksza from his Missouri State ID, was standing in the grass between his crashed car and the shoulder of the highway.

A volunteer firefighter was trying to give medical assistance to James, but he was very uncooperative. He was bleeding from a large cut on his face, and was failing to comply with directions.

The trooper reported that James’ speech was mumbled and sometimes incoherent. James would yell, but it appeared that he was yelling because he was worried about his children and not from the pain from his injuries.

The trooper learned there had been another child in the car, later identified as James Luksza Jr., age 5, who was now in a passerby’s truck.

James told the trooper he had just left the hospital because of an issue with a tooth and was denied pain medication.

He told the trooper his insurance and registration were in a blue container in the glove box of the car. When the trooper asked James what happened he replied, “I don’t know, it knocked the s**t out of me.”

The report said James knew the children were in the backseat, but he did not recall which child was sitting where. A deputy told the trooper there were drugs in the car. Due to the seriousness of the crash another trooper had James perform the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, a sobriety test which gives indication of possible drug use.

That trooper said he did not see any clues during the test, and while he did the test the reporting trooper went to the car and found the blue plastic container. Inside the container the trooper found a baggie with a white crystalline substance, a baggie with marijuana, another baggie with five prescription medication pills, and an orange and black device used for smoking which contained burnt residue.

The trooper took all the drug-related items as evidence and was later able to identify the pills as Diazepam. A short time later the trooper received word that Chasen had died from his injuries.

During the reporting trooper’s crash evaluation he determined that James was driving northbound on U.S. 67. He had told a firefighter he was distracted by his kids.

The car went off the right side of the road, up an embankment and struck a tree. The trooper reported that while looking everything over he noticed that James did not try to return to the roadway by steering to the left.

Evidence also showed that James was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. In the backseat was two booster seats and no child restraint systems.

James Jr. was taken to Mercy Hospital Jefferson by Joachim Plattin Ambulance District with serious injuries. 

The trooper noted that despite obvious serious lacerations James did not appear to be in any pain.

James was placed under arrest based on evidence.

The trooper asked James when the last time he used illegal drugs was and he denied any illegal drug use.

James was informed of the Missouri Implied Consent Law and the trooper requested a sample of James’ blood. He refused to provide a sample for testing.

Eventually James reportedly told another trooper at the scene that he refused the blood sample because he used drugs a couple days prior. 

The ambulance crew eventually transported James to St. Anthony’s Medical Center in St. Louis for treatment of his injuries.

Also found at the scene was a cloth camouflage bag containing an iPhone 5S box. Inside the box was a white prescription medication bottle cap, two used syringes, one small piece of cotton, one clear plastic straw and a piece of green hose.

There was also nine clear plastic sandwich baggies and a ReliOn insulin syringe box. The box contained four sealed packages of 10 syringes, one open package of 10 syringes and one package containing eight syringes. All drug related items were seized for evidence.

A computer check of James revealed that his Missouri driver’s license expired Jan. 31, 2013 and he had limited driving privileges. He also had four active suspension/revocations and the most recent was a revocation from Aug. 10, 2016.

He also had one prior conviction for no driver’s license in 2016 and two prior convictions for driving while suspended/revoked - one form 2015 and the other in 2016.

James also had a prior alcohol-related arrest on Aug. 27, 2011 out of Franklin County that was dismissed in court on March 7, 2016.

The trooper applied for a search warrant for James’ blood and the request for a sample was granted.

The reporting trooper forwarded the warrant to another trooper, who went to St. Anthony’s Medical Center and executed the warrant.

It was later learned that James Jr., age 5, suffered pelvic fractures, a spinal fracture and a right wrist fracture.

Following the grand jury indictment and handing down of the new charges, James was being held in the St. Francois County Jail on a $100,000 cash-only bond. 

MACOA heats up winter blues

Although the active holiday season may have come to an end, Mineral Area Council on the Arts is ready to kick the new year off with two well anticipated events.

The group will kick off the year with one of its most popular events when they host a Zydeco Dancehall Concert featuring the Boudin Brothers on Jan. 19 at Alexander’s Ballroom at The Factory.

“We are planning the event to be very similar to the event we had two years ago,” said Danielle Basler, the executive director for the Mineral Area Council on the Arts. “This is a great opportunity to come out and enjoy some great zydeco music.”

According to Basler, zydeco music is a form originating in southern Louisiana that combines tunes with French origins with elements of both Caribbean music and the blues, and features guitars, washboards and the accordion.

“Each year on our schedule we like to highlight a style of music or art that is from outside of what is standard for our area,” Basler said. “This year is to bring back the art of what is traditional to southern Louisiana.”

The featured musicians for the evening are the popular group the Boudin Brothers, a zydeco band with a St. Louis following.

“We are so fortunate to have the Boudin Brothers return to Farmington,” Basler said. “This is a group of musicians who all play in other bands so they don’t get to play together all that often. It’s exciting to be bringing them together for this event.”

Joining the popular group once again will be Dancin’ Donna to teach some dancing moves that compliments zydeco music.

“Dancin’ Donna gives dancing lessons throughout St. Louis,” Basler said. “Once again, she will be joining us to give lessons prior to the concert. The band will also play some of their music while she is giving lessons and (it is included in) the price of the ticket.”

Individual tickets are $10 and are available at or at the door. The evening begins with dance lessons at 6:45 p.m. and the concert at 7:30 p.m. 

In addition to some great music and the chance to learn some new dance steps, the council will also be holding a silent auction that evening. According to Basler, there will be several nice items to bid on including a sports basket, a wine basket and some works from local artists.

Also, returning for the fourth year, the council will join forces with the City of Farmington for the “Art Blooms in Farmington” Banner Design Contest, a favorite council art contest for area students.

“This is a great kids’ art contest,” Basler said. “Once again we are partnering with the City of Farmington to offer 60 students a chance to have their banner hang from the light poles in downtown Farmington from April to November.”

As in years past, the art contest is open to local students from K-12 in public, private or home schools. Basler added a student does not have to be sponsored by an art teacher. They merely need to fill out an application, which will be available on the council’s website in coming weeks.

To meet the area’s enthusiasm for the program, Farmington has increased the number of students who will be selected to have their banner flown. This year 60 students will be selected. This is an increase from last year, when 50 students were selected, and double the amount from three years ago.

“It is really exciting to continue our partnership with the City of Farmington,” Basler said. “They have shown great support for the arts. They pay for each banner produced, do all the labor and hang them all up for us.”

Every year since it began, the banner design contest has a different theme and this year the young artists will have to relate their drawing to the theme is “It’s a Zoo Out There.”

“This should be a lot of fun,” Basler said. “It’s a nice theme and I think they will have a lot of animals (displayed) in Farmington this spring.”

To acquire an application for the art show, contact Danielle Basler at

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Caruthers makes defense change a month before murder trial

After a hearing on Wednesday, a local man facing numerous charges including murder and robbery following the 2016 murder of Farmington businessman Michael VanStavern will be proceeding with new defense counsel.

The change comes just over a month before Anthony Caruthers, 29, of Bonne Terre, will face a jury trial for the November 2016 murder.

St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin said such defense counsel changes would not normally require a hearing, but the circumstances of the change were unique.

Mahurin said it appears the new attorney was hired by Caruthers’ mother and that Caruthers initially wanted to keep his former defense team. The hearing was scheduled to determine what Caruthers’ wishes were in regard to his defense.

In the days before the hearing, however, Caruthers apparently decided to request his former attorney to withdraw and to proceed with the new attorney.

Mahurin said it is not unheard of to change attorneys in the months ahead of a trial, and that it is often done in the hopes of being granted a continuance to allow the new defense time to familiarize themselves with the case.

With roughly five weeks still to go before the trial, Mahurin said it is unclear if such a continuance would be granted if it were even requested, which it has not been requested at this point.

Mahurin said he has offered the new defense the opportunity to request anything from his office that might be needed to smooth the transition between counsel.

“I really don’t want this case continued,” Mahurin said. “The family would like it resolved, I would like it resolved, and I think the public would as well.”

Caruthers’ jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 8-9 before Judge Wendy Lynn Wexler Horn at the St. Francois County Courthouse.

Caruthers was arrested along with Jeremy Reed, of Farmington, following a Nov. 3, 2016 police pursuit that ended in a crash and the discovery of VanStavern’s body in the back of the victim’s own Porsche SUV, which was being driven by Caruthers.

According to a probable cause statement, during a recorded interview Reed said that Caruthers admitted to him that he killed VanStavern at the Red Cedar Lodge in Bonne Terre on Nov. 2.

Reed reportedly told investigators that Caruthers contacted him by phone and picked him up at his house in Park Hills in VanStavern’s Porsche SUV. He said Caruthers asked for his help with something but didn’t provide any details at first. Reed stated Caruthers, while driving to Red Cedar Lodge, explained how he had killed VanStavern.

Reed explained to investigators how they went into room 14 and Caruthers told Reed that VanStavern's body was under the bed. Reed said he lifted up the mattress to find VanStavern, and then he assisted Caruthers in removing the body from the motel room after they purchased items from a local business to help them conceal the remains as they moved it from the hotel room to the back of the Porsche.

The probable cause statement also indicated that during a subsequent questioning of Caruthers, he confessed to killing VanStavern by strangling him with a belt.

He told investigators he called Reed and then they both went to VanStavern’s apartment in Farmington where they used VanStavern’s key, which Caruthers had taken off the body, to enter the apartment. He added he and Reed removed several items including, but not limited to, clothing and watches.

Caruthers reportedly told investigators that he attempted to pawn the items taken from VanStavern’s apartment at several pawn shops in the Jefferson County area, but was unsuccessful. Caruthers and Reed also reportedly conspired to dispose of VanStavern’s body, and purchased items to conceal the murder and clean the crime scene.

The morning following the murder, a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper saw the driver of a Porsche SUV commit a traffic violation on U.S. 67 at approximately 10:30 a.m. He activated his lights and siren in an attempt to stop the vehicle.

The driver, later identified as Caruthers, failed to stop and instead exited the highway at Desloge, went toward Cedar Falls Road, ran through a fence, across a yard, through another fence, crashed into a tree line at the back of the house, jumped out of the SUV and fled on foot.

At the time, the pursuing officer was unsure if there had been more than one person in the SUV, but he spotted Reed running from the wreck and gave chase, catching him a short distance away. When the officer returned to the SUV with Reed he discovered VanStavern's body wrapped inside a sleeping bag.

Several other law enforcement agencies were contacted to assist, including the Division of Drug and Crime Control, additional Missouri State Highway Patrol officers, the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department and the Desloge Police Department.

Reed was taken to the Desloge Police Department for questioning and it was determined that a second male had been in the SUV and had fled on foot. A stop and hold was put out on Caruthers after Reed gave a description.

Authorities searched the area of the crash site as well as an area at College Road and Penny Lane in Leadington over several hours before Caruthers was located not far from the crash scene outside Desloge.

An autopsy the following day confirmed that VanStavern had died as a result of strangulation.

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Mass held in honor of bicentennial anniversary of visit

An area Catholic parish held a special mass Monday in commemoration of a historic visit that occurred 200 years ago to the day.

According to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, William Louis Valentine DuBourg arrived in Ste. Genevieve on Jan. 1, 1818 as bishop of the newly-formed Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas. DuBourg was on his way to St. Louis for his installation as bishop.

During his stay in Ste. Genevieve, DuBourg gave his first Pontifical High Mass in the new diocese in the Church of Ste. Genevieve.

To commemorate DuBourg’s Mass, a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite was celebrated Monday at Ste. Genevieve Catholic Church. The mass was said entirely in Latin and was essentially the same as DuBourg would have given 200 years ago.

Monsignor C. Eugene Morris was the celebrant, while renowned church historian Monsignor Michael Witt provided a historical homily.

In the text of the homily, provided by the Archdiocese, Witt points to Ste. Genevieve’s lone claim to the ability to commemorate a Mass given by the bishop on the exact day and in the same location.

“Where, in America’s heartland could this be done from the Alleghenies in the east to the Rockies in the West, from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to the Louisiana Delta?” Witt wrote. “Only in New Orleans, but not there either. Read their history. That city rejected the man we welcomed and gave a home.”

Witt went on to describe DuBourg’s trek north from Apple Creek to Ste. Genevieve, which Witt called the point in history that would “begin, once and for all, the Catholic evangelization of America’s heartland.”

After detailing the various important historical roles played by the Church in Ste. Genevieve, Witt said that the importance of the bicentennial celebration is not for purely historical reasons, but to remember the bishop celebrating Mass with the previous residents of one of Missouri’s oldest towns.

“He and others who came to build up Holy Mother in the heartland were inspired by God to bring Christ to the creoles of the valley as well as the natives of the forests and plains,” he said.