As the community transitions into 2017, the Record-Herald takes time to reflect on the top stories of 2016. The story will be divided into two parts, with the first covering January through June.
Beginning in early January, Maryanne Puckett, who served as secretary and a “jack-of-all-trades” at the Washington Cemetery on U.S. Route 22 in Washington Court House, finished 19 years as she has decided to retire. Puckett, according to her boss cemetery superintendent Rankin R. Kirkpatrick, has served the community above and beyond her calling. “We have worked well together, in fact it has been the best working relationship I could have asked for,” Kirkpatrick said. “She is a very caring individual who takes the time to know all of the people who use the cemetery personally. She is very hands on and was always willing to work outside with the rest of us. Maryanne is also really good at handling customers who have issues and questions and can be looked to as a motherly supportive figure. I know that is why she has done so well here and why she is well respected. I know if someone came in asking a question, Maryanne would give them an answer I would, and could take care of them very well.”
Occurring in the first week of January, Dan Roberts, former Miami Trace Local Schools Superintendent, was appointed as a member of the Fayette County Board of Elections. Secretary of State Jon Husted made the appointment after the recommendation was made by the Fayette County Republican Executive Committee. Roberts filled the unexpired term of David Bihl, who resigned in order to continue be covered by the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System. Bihl had served on the local board of elections since Jan. 11, 2000. “This is another opportunity for me to serve the Fayette County and Washington Court House community,” said Roberts, who retired as Miami Trace Superintendent in 2013. “My name was brought up as someone who had the right type of skill-set and was community-minded to fill this position. Contact was made with the Republican Central Committee and I just appreciate the fact that they thought of me. Mr. Bihl was a longtime board member and I hope I can fill those shoes capably while learning from the other board members. I’m just excited to be a part of that team and I thank them for making me feel so welcome.”
In mid-January, Tonya K. Nelson, a former Washington C.H. City Schools part-time employee who “engaged in sexual conduct” with a 17-year-old male student, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and was classified as a Tier III sex offender. On Oct. 15, 2015, Nelson, 43, pleaded “no contest” to one count of sexual battery and was then found guilty by Fayette County Common Pleas Court Judge Steven Beathard. In Common Pleas Court, she was sent to the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville to serve her sentence.
Also in January, Wilma Coulter retired from Merchants National Bank. She started in banking right out of high school. Before coming to Merchants National Bank, she worked for two different banks, amassing a total of 17 years on the job. After Merchants National Bank opened in Washington Court House in June of 1990, Coulter was hired as branch manager in December of that year. Coulter said it has been personally rewarding to be part of the bank’s growth and development into Fayette County’s community bank. “I have been in banking for 42 years and it has been my honor to work with and build relationships with so many in the community,” Coulter said. “I love the people that I have met. I am thankful for the opportunity to come back and continue doing work for the bank, and I am glad to have worked and developed many relationships over the years.”
Michael J. Murphy, the chief of the Pic-A-Fay Joint Fire District, turned himself into the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) last January after an investigation revealed he allegedly used village funds to pay his own business to complete work in the village of New Holland. Murphy, 56, the former New Holland village administrator, was booked after turning himself in on a summons on two charges of having an unlawful interest in a public contract. He was then placed on a leave of absence near the end of the month.
Adding to the list of dog wardens, the Fayette County Dog Shelter welcomed a new dog warden to take the place of Bob Pitakos, who retired from the position at the end of 2015. Before January the Fayette County Commissioners accepted and appointed special deputy Bruce Denen to take over as dog warden. Pitakos, who served as warden for several years, retired according to the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO). Denen said that Pitakos told him that he was ready to enjoy life and wanted to change things up after serving as the warden.
Beginning in February, a reported heroin overdose inside of a McDonald’s restroom resulted in criminal charges being filed against two individuals. A little after 2 p.m., the Washington C.H. Police Department and Fayette County EMS were dispatched to the McDonald’s restaurant located at 280 S. Elm St. in Washington C.H. on a report of an unresponsive female in the restroom from “heroin-related usage,” reports said. This was only a portion of the rise of drug-related overdoses in 2016.
As a direct result of the passage of the city income tax levy in May of 2015, the Washington C.H. Police Department hired two new patrol officers. Logan George went to the Ohio State Highway Patrol Police Academy and was scheduled to graduate on June 24. Trent Curl temporarily worked as a dispatcher, beginning Feb 12, until he also went to the police academy on Aug. 15. Curl was temporarily filling the role of Parma Dawson, who retired on Dec. 31, 2015. “Once again, thank you to the public for passing the tax levy, which allowed us to do this,” said WPD Police Chief Brian Hottinger. “It has allowed us to beef our numbers back up and go from 18 patrolmen to 20. We really hadn’t anticipated replacing people just yet. But the tax levy enables us to add more officers that we said we were going to add and still replace people who are leaving.”
A 22-year-old Washington C.H. man who pleaded guilty to the rape of a 13-year-old girl was sent to prison for four years. Michael A. Toney, formerly of 704 S. Main St., was also designated as a Tier III registered sex offender, the most severe sex offender designation in the state of Ohio, during his plea and sentencing hearing on Feb. 1 in Fayette County Common Pleas Court. As part of a plea agreement with the Fayette County Prosecutor’s Office, Toney pleaded guilty to first-degree felony rape, resulting in the mandatory four-year prison sentence.
In February, the Medical Arts Building II on the Fayette County Memorial Hospital (FCMH) campus was closed for several hours after a patient was confirmed to have an isolated case of Malaria. “Out of an abundance of caution for the patients, staff and the community, FCMH implemented emergency protocols early once they learned of the condition,” said Chelsie Hornsby, director of business development at FCMH. The patient, who was classified as an “infected class A patient,” was isolated for treatment as the Medical Arts Building II was closed for cleaning for a couple of hours.
A local business reached an incredible milestone of 60 years in business in February. “You have to treat people right,” Bill Boylan, owner and operator of Boylan Jewelers, said. “You just need to keep treating the people nice and right. If you can do that, they will keep coming back.When I first started out, I had never envisioned having a bigger store like this. I started as a watch maker and that was my bread and butter for many, many years, even after I came down here. As I got older, the store got bigger and we transitioned into….well the watch business is not what it used to be. Nowadays, it is much easier to make them than it is to repair them, but watches can still be fixed. I have a watch maker who does repairs for me now, as I am not as physically able as I used to be.”
In February, the Washington City Schools chose a new coach to run the Blue Lion football program. Chuck Williamson was approved by the WCS Board of Education with a 5-0 vote at their meeting. Williamson succeeds former head coach Corey Dye, who had led the program for the past seven seasons and resigned from the job in November of 2015. “After I met the administration, I was all in,” Williamson said. “This is what I want to do. This is what I’m looking for. I was thrilled to death when they called me back.”
Finally in February, the Miami Trace and Washington C.H. school districts, along with three other districts, decided to leave the South Central Ohio League (SCOL) at the conclusion of the 2016-17 school year. This decision came following a series of meetings to discuss the possible expansion of the eight-team SCOL. Miami Trace, Washington C.H., Greenfield McClain, Hillsboro and Chillicothe have expressed an intent to either merge with an existing league or invite other schools to join them in forming an eight-team league, commencing with the 2017-18 school year.
The new Roosters in Washington C.H. opened for business with a grand opening on March 14, and the general manager invited the community to join the festivities. “Everything has been remodeled in here,” Sarah Marcum, Roosters general manager, said. “Everything is brand new, so we are starting fresh. We have a positive outlook for our new Roosters. We are trying to promote a fun, safe and healthy atmosphere for the community to come out and enjoy our food, beer and wonderful restaurant.”
Also in March, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel announced the launch of the Village of Octa’s online checkbook on OhioCheckbook.com. In December 2014, Treasurer Mandel launched OhioCheckbook.com, which he said sets a new national standard for government transparency and for the first time in Ohio history puts all state spending information on the internet. OhioCheckbook.com earned Ohio the number one ranking in the country for government transparency. Ohio Treasurer’s office employees were joined by Village of Octa Mayor Sherry Newton and Village of Octa Fiscal Officer Penny Johnson. The two were shown how the website works, and the employees allowed time for questions after the demonstration. The website, which keeps accurate and informational charts of the spending of municipalities in the state, is designed to be easy to use. The Village of Octa is the third local government in Fayette County to post their spending on OhioCheckbook.com. The Village of Milledgeville and the Village of Jeffersonville were the first two to join.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner (R-Dayton) spoke with the Fayette County Commissioners in March about the heroin epidemic impacting local communities, as well as legislation that if approved could help combat the growing crisis. Turner, who represents the 10th Congressional District of Ohio (Fayette, Greene and Montgomery counties), has introduced The Reforming and Expanding Access to Treatment (TREAT) Act. This legislation was designed to increase flexibility in how existing federal funding can be used to combat the heroin epidemic. Turner explained the legislation during his visit to the county commissioners’ office.
The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce was on hand to help Pat Catan’s with its official ribbon cutting at the new location, 300 Washington Square in Washington C.H., in March. Manager Brett Joseph and staff welcomed shoppers, Chamber ambassadors and city officials to the morning event and shared the history of Pat Catan’s company. A former Air Force pilot, Pat Catanzarite – better known as Pat Catan’s – opened his first store, which was only 600 square feet, in 1954 in Cleveland. Today there are 31 Pat Catan’s Arts and Crafts stores serving Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Indiana.
In March, a 45-year-old Washington C.H. woman was killed in an accident involving a semi-tractor trailer on State Route 38 at Interstate 71 in Paint Township. Just before 2 p.m., a 1994 Kenwood Tractor Trailer, driven by Reece Harvey, 27, of Sunbury, Ohio, was attempting to turn southbound onto State Route 38 from the I-71 southbound exit ramp, according to Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth. The truck was struck in the intersection by a northbound 2002 Nissan Sentra, driven by Tamara Westcamp. The vehicle crashed into the bed of the truck, which was hauling excavation equipment.
Neathen McClendon was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison after pleading guilty in Fayette County Common Pleas Court to heroin and cocaine trafficking. McClendon reached a plea agreement with the Fayette County Prosecutor’s Office to admit to second-degree felony trafficking in heroin, fourth-degree felony trafficking in cocaine, and third-degree felony tampering with evidence. The conviction on the heroin trafficking charge brought with it a three-year mandatory prison sentence.
Also in March, a roundtable discussion led by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held to address the heroin/opioid addiction crisis was highlighted by a courageous and powerful firsthand account of a local woman’s struggle with heroin addiction. “I was raised in a good home, so I’d like to point out that (the addiction) doesn’t discriminate,” said Lynn Foster, who described herself as a heroin addict and alcoholic during the compelling discussion among local leaders and public health officials held at the Fayette County Health Department. “I didn’t start off with any hard drugs, I didn’t even start drinking….the first time I smoked marijuana was when I was 18, so it was later in life for me. I really didn’t have any problems at the beginning.”
Finally in March, police were investigating a rash of burglaries reported in the Storybrook neighborhood of Washington C.H. During several of these burglaries and attempted burglaries, the offender(s) broke into the homes while residents were sleeping, according to Washington Police Department Lt. Jon Long. “There have been four confirmed house burglaries in the Storybrook area…two from residents living on Kathryn Court and two from residents living on Kimberly Drive,” said Long. “In addition to the confirmed burglaries, officers are aware of three attempted burglaries at residences on Topaz Lane.”
In April, a 38-year-old Washington C.H. man was found guilty of first-degree felony attempted aggravated murder for firing several gunshots into a Linden Avenue home on Aug. 10, 2015 with knowledge that a woman was inside. At the conclusion of his trial in Fayette County Common Pleas Court, the jury also found Antonio Lamar Burrell “not guilty” of two other counts of attempt to commit aggravated murder. He was found guilty of one count of second-degree felony felonious assault and “not guilty” of two other felonious assault counts. The jury also found Burrell guilty of second-degree felony improperly discharging a firearm at or into a habitation, third-degree felony discharge of a firearm on or near prohibited premises, third-degree felony having weapons under disability, and fourth-degree felony improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle.
Cartwright Salvage Company and its owner were indicted on felony charges for allegedly disposing solid wastes on their property and operating a transfer facility without a license in April. The automobile salvage and garbage removal company, located at 839 Bogus Road Northeast in Washington C.H., was charged with open burning or open dumping, operating a solid waste facility without a license, and operating a solid waste transfer facility without a license, all unclassified felonies. The owner/operator of the company, Loren Cartwright, was indicted on the same counts. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office had been assigned to prosecute the case following an investigation by the Fayette County Health Department and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to authorities, the site on Bogus Road had essentially been used as a landfill from April 21, 2015 to Feb. 2 of this year.
In April the Fayette County Commissioners approved the annexation of 24.42 acres of land – where JD Equipment is located – to the City of Washington Court House. During the April 4 meeting of the commissioners, the three unanimously decided to approve of the resolution granting “expedited II annexation” to JD Capital Investments Inc. The original annexation file came on Feb. 17 to the commissioners requesting that the land be annexed into the city so the farm equipment dealership can take advantage of its resources. JD Equipment is located at 1662 U.S. Route 62 in Washington C.H.
Finally in April, a 25-year-old Columbus man was being held in the Fayette County Jail on abduction and domestic violence charges. On April 12 at around 7:30 p.m., a Fayette County Sheriff’s Office deputy responded to a reported domestic violence incident occurring in a moving vehicle on U.S. Route 62 North near State Route 753, headed to Columbus. The alleged victim said that she and her young child were passengers in a vehicle driven by her boyfriend, identified as Levi M. Maurice.
In May, the 10th anniversary of Mackenzie Taylor Branham’s death occurred and many of those who experienced the tragedy firsthand held a remembrance in honor of the little girl who would be approaching her 19th birthday if her life had not been stolen away. This remembrance at Mackenzie’s gravesite at Fairview Cemetery in Jeffersonville also served as a stark reminder that although the arson case has never been solved, Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, other investigators, and Mackenzie’s father, Donald Branham, are resolute in their determination to find that one last piece of information. “We’re still looking for information,” said Stanforth. “This case is something we’ve worked on literally every day. BCI (Bureau of Criminal Investigation) has been involved in the case for a very long time, but they have now expanded their Crimes Against Children unit and they’ve assigned an agent to continue this case as one of their priority cases. We always try to get more eyes on this than just one person, just in case something was missed.
In early May, Katie Bottorff, former account manager for the American Red Cross Central Ohio Blood Region, was named the general manager of the Washington C.H. Record-Herald/Shopper’s Guide. The announcement was made by Civitas Media, the newspaper’s parent company. Bottorff has deep roots in this community. She was born and raised in Fayette County and spent nearly nine years with the Red Cross, where she was also the chapter director in Fayette County and later served as a territory manager, primarily in Fayette and Madison counties.
Also in May, the Board of Elections met to review Leonard Sines’s qualifications as an independent candidate for Fayette County Sheriff. Sines failed to provide clear and compelling evidence qualifying him as a candidate in the Nov. 8 general election, said members of the Board of Elections. The Board of Elections did not certify Sines’s candidacy for sheriff. Board members said Sines submitted an affidavit for candidacy but failed to meet the necessary qualifications. Those qualifications are not determined by the Board of Elections but are statutory requirements set forth by Ohio law. Sheriff qualifications are mandated by law in Ohio Revised Code Section 311.01 “Election and qualification of sheriff.”
One man was killed and another was seriously injured in May during a one-vehicle accident on State Route 41 southeast near the intersection of Miami Trace Road. At approximately 7:50 p.m., the driver of a 2006 Dodge Dakota heading north on State Route 41 lost control of the vehicle, which went off the right side of the roadway, according to Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth. The truck struck a culvert and rolled several times into a field before coming to rest. The passenger of the vehicle, identified as Richard A. Wright, 50, of Greenfield, was ejected during the rollover and was pronounced dead at the scene by the Fayette County Coroner’s Office.
Finally, a Washington C.H. man was arraigned on 68 felony charges involving rape and nudity-oriented material with a minor in May. Justin C. Hobbs, 20, appeared in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas for arraignment on 58 counts of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance. A Fayette County grand jury indicted Hobbs on an additional 58 counts after a search of Hobbs’s phone following a previous indictment for 10 felony counts in March.
In early June, a Washington C.H. man was sentenced to prison after a trail of stolen cigarette packs and a heroin overdose led to multiple arrests. Martin L. Funk, 27, plead guilty in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas to charges of breaking and entering, theft, and possession of heroin.
Also in June, a Fayette County woman who was an inmate in the Fayette County Jail died, according to Sheriff Vernon Stanforth. Stanforth said that the sheriff’s office received notice that Tiara L. Adams, 22, died at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. Adams was arrested June 3 for trafficking in heroin and tampering with evidence, according to records. According to reports, Adams fell ill while in the jail June 8 and was treated with Naloxone. She was transported to the Fayette County Memorial Hospital for treatment. Adams was then released back into custody of the Fayette County Jail.
In June, Debra Grover was named the recipient of the 2016 Record-Herald Citizen of the Year at the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon. Grover, a Core intervention teacher at Miami Trace Elementary School, was nominated by co-worker Amy Ford and the rest of the school’s fifth grade team. She also works at Miami Trace High School with the credit flexibility educational program, which is designed to broaden the scope of curricular options available to students.
The City of Washington C.H. provides consumers with drinking water that exceeds Environmental Protection Agency standards, according to the city’s 2015 Drinking Water Consumer Confidence Report. The report was published in June and provides residents with a comprehensive view of 2015’s water quality test results and information. In 30 years the city has never had an EPA violation for the drinking water, according to David Gardner, the water plant supervisor of the City of Washington Court House. Gardner has been testing and maintaining the drinking water for city residents for nine years. He is one of four operators licensed to maintain the Class III water plant. As a class III water plant, it must meet certain Ohio Revised Code laws and Environmental Protection Agency policies to maintain its operation.
Following an internal investigation into the Fayette County Jail, an inmate involved in the death of inmate Tiara L. Adams appeared for arraignment in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas. Ashley Rohrer, 25, was indicted by a Fayette County grand jury on charges of illegal conveyance of drugs, possession of cocaine, and tampering with evidence.
Severe weather in June led to a tornado which left a Fayette County home along U.S. Route 22 heavily damaged, according to reports from the National Weather Service and Fayette County Sheriff’s Office. The National Weather Service in Wilmington confirmed that an EF1 tornado touched down east of Washington Court House at about 3:30 a.m. Winds of 100 miles per hour were recorded as the tornado traveled for about 300 yards. The tornado damaged several structures, trees and crops, and snapped about a dozen power poles on Rowe-Ging Road.
The Record-Herald will continue to review 2016 in part 2, which will cover July through December.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy