2017 in Review: Part One

By Martin Graham - mgraham@aimmediamidwest.com

Mike Smith celebrated his final day as Fayette County Auditor in March after 10 years of service to the county. Smith was elected in 2006 and was sworn in as auditor in March of 2007. This photo was taken on his last day in 2017.

Mike Smith celebrated his final day as Fayette County Auditor in March after 10 years of service to the county. Smith was elected in 2006 and was sworn in as auditor in March of 2007. This photo was taken on his last day in 2017.

As the community transitions into 2018, the Record-Herald takes a look back at the top stories of 2017. This is the first of three parts and will cover January, February, March and April.


Two people busted in a Fayette County drug investigation were sentenced to prison early in January. Alissa K. Bonecutter, 28, of Commons Drive, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to charges of aggravated trafficking in drugs (fentanyl) and trafficking in heroin. Carla A. Doctor, 45, of Staunton-Jasper Road, was sentenced to seven months in prison after she plead to charges of trafficking in heroin and trafficking in cocaine.

Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth continued into his sixth term following his swearing-in ceremony in January in front of a crowd of supporters and loved ones. Stanforth talked about his tenure as sheriff and said that it was an honor to have been elected once, but he never dreamed he would be sheriff this long. Going into his 20th year, Stanforth is now the longest tenured sheriff in Fayette County history. He admitted he hadn’t thought about it much, but said he just continues to try his hardest for the community.

Crack cocaine, meth, fentanyl and suboxone were recovered and a Mt. Sterling woman was arrested during a traffic stop in January on East Elm Street. At approximately 6:20 p.m., on a Thursday, a Washington C.H. Police Department officer observed a vehicle driven by Samantha R. Williams, 43, heading northbound on South Fayette Street. Williams had an outstanding bench warrant for her arrest, according to reports.

The Washington Court House City Council met in executive session for the second time to discuss filling the vacancy created when Trent Dye resigned his seat in December 2016. With all council members in attendance, it took less than half an hour before council moved to appoint Steve Jennings to fill the vacancy. The vote was not unanimous. Kendra Hernandez, Ted Hawk, Dale Lynch, Kim Bonnell and Jim Chrisman were in favor of seating Jennings with Leah Foster being the dissenting vote. According to Foster, “I think Steve Jennings is a fantastic person and has served the city well. However, he did not receive the second highest number of votes in the last election which means the residents of the city wanted someone new, someone with new ideas.”

The county and city schools were under heightened supervision in January after a double threat of pipe bombs closed schools and cancelled athletic events. After a lengthy search, no pipe bombs were found at any of the schools. The bomb threats came during the morning hours and were called into the Washington C.H. Police Department dispatch. A two-hour school delay was initially issued but David Lewis, Miami Trace Local Schools Superintendent, said it was necessary to close schools for the entire day in order to complete a thorough investigation. Washington C.H. City Schools, Miami Trace Local Schools and Fayette Christian School were all closed.


In February, the Washington C.H. Middle School was awarded the 2016 Momentum Award and principal Eric Wayne commended the staff and students for their continued hard work. The Ohio’s State Board of Education granted this award to the school. The Momentum Award recognizes schools that have received A’s on every value-added measure included on the 2016 Ohio School Report Card.

A defense motion for trial competency was overruled in February after a forensic psychologist determined German Posadas-Hermanegildo’s mental illness would not prevent him from standing trial for murder. Hermanegildo remained incarcerated in the Fayette County Jail on unclassified felonious charges of murder and aggravated murder in the death of Bloomingburg resident, Venancio Arquimides. Arquimides was found beaten to death inside his apartment July 20, 2016. Detectives with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office reportedly found evidence to attach Hermanegildo to the murder.

Kenneth E. “Ken” Upthegrove III was the honoree at the annual Black History Month program at the Highland County District Library in Hillsboro on Feb. 18. Upthegrove, who still lives in Washington Court House where he grew up, attended Washington Senior High and studied residential electricity at Laurel Oaks. After graduation he worked for Great Oaks Construction in a carpentry apprenticeship. After four years of training he received his certification as a journeyman carpenter.

Just a day before Valentine’s Day, a Cherry Hill Primary teacher was taken by surprise with a visit from the “TODAY” show’s Al Roker and a very important question from her boyfriend. Christopher Vestal, a 24-year-old airplane pilot, had been in a relationship with Cherry Hill music teacher Kimberly Gepfrey for about a year-and-a-half, and recently decided he would like to propose. After submitting his story to NBC TODAY’s “Marry Me TODAY,” Vestal received help to propose to his girlfriend and was able to do just that. The proposal occurred inside Gepfrey’s classroom in front of her elementary students.

The Washington C.H. City Schools Board of Education unanimously accepted the resignation of Matthew McCorkle as superintendent following a lengthy executive session. After the board emerged from the approximately 40-minute executive session, board member Jennifer Lynch read a resolution that was not originally on the regular meeting agenda. The resolution was to accept McCorkle’s resignation effective March 31 and to employ him under a consulting contract for administrative services. The contract essentially allowed McCorkle to perform administrative duties until the board found a new superintendent.


Trial was pending for a 31-year-old Greenfield man who allegedly operated a mobile meth lab in Washington C.H. Jody L. Watson, Jr. was arraigned in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas on charges of illegal assembly of possession of chemicals, a felony of the third degree; possession of drug abuse instruments, a misdemeanor of the second degree; and illegal possession of drug paraphernalia, a fourth-degree misdemeanor. Watson was allegedly a rear passenger in a car that was stopped Oct. 7, 2016.

Mike Smith celebrated his final day as Fayette County Auditor in March after 10 years of service to the county. Smith was elected in 2006 and was sworn in as auditor in March of 2007. This was not the first time Smith served the public though. “I’ve been a public servant my entire career in different capacities,” Smith said. “I worked at the Fayette County Engineer’s Office in the 1990s and 2000s before I came to this job. I worked for the Madison County Engineers back in the 1980s. I also used to serve the Air Force as a civilian and I have had a total of about 50 years in public service.”

German Posadas-Hermenegildo, a 22-year-old from Bloomingburg, plead guilty to the murder of Venancio Garcia-Arquimides and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years. Hermenegildo appeared in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas with his attorney, Kathryn Hapner, March 7 — just eight days before the case was scheduled to go to trial. Hapner had raised the issue in January of whether Hermenegildo was competent to stand trial, but the motion for trial competency was overruled after a forensic psychologist determined his mental illness did not prevent him from standing trial.

Fixing a rare clock in Fayette County set the county back $56,000 according to an estimate provided in March. The #19 Seth Thomas clock is located in the tower of the historic Fayette County Courthouse. An engraved plate dates the clock to Nov. 26, 1884. Repairs are needed to keep the 132-year-old clock working in original condition. Phil Wright, owner at The Tower Clock Company in South Charleston, Ohio, inspected the clock while resetting the movement, motion works and dials for time, and provided the estimate.

Major roadway construction continued to keep the 435 bypass at Interstate 71 congested for months as the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) completed scheduled work. Paying a visit to stop 35 near Jeffersonville was a bit hectic starting in March as ODOT issued statements saying work in the area could continue through November. The work to be completed included a replacement of all the concrete paving and the installation of new drainage on all lanes of State Route 435 east and west. The project was paid through state funding and cost approximately $10.5 million.


A month following the resignation of former superintendent Matthew McCorkle, the Washington City Schools Board of Education named Robert Hamm interim superintendent in April. During the regular monthly meeting of the board, a new business item was moved up the agenda and a motion was made by Jim Teeters to accept the interim contract of Hamm to fill McCorkle’s absence. The board unanimously approved the motion and Hamm assumed responsibilities of the position immediately.

The Community Action Commission of Fayette County (CACFC) celebrated 50 years of service to the community in April with a plaque presentation from the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce. CACFC is a private non-profit corporation operating community development programs in Fayette County. Programs include Early Learning programs (Head Start, Early Head Start, Rock-a-bye Early Learning Center, EHS-Child Care Partnership program); the county’s public transportation program, a continuum of services for homeless persons, beginning with homeless prevention, emergency shelter, transitional housing, rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing; housing development, including homeownership and rental housing development and the state’s only Mutual Self-Help Housing program; senior services including home repair, homemaker aide, and caregiver support; Home Energy Assistance and PIPP; home weatherization assistance program; Youthbuild and Summer Youth; and the Channel 3 television station.

By making a phone call to a family friend, a 5-year-old girl likely saved the lives of her mother and another resident who were both unresponsive on the kitchen floor due to reported drug overdoses. At around 11:25 a.m., the girl told the family friend that she could not wake her mother up at their home, located at 802 Maple St. in Washington Court House. The friend immediately called 911 to provide the information to authorities.

Fayette County officials purchased a body scanner in April in order to check jail inmates during the booking process. Officials said the scanner will help to stop the flow of drugs coming into the Fayette County Jail. It was reported by the jail staff that seven female inmates were treated for overdoses inside the the jail. Vernon Stanforth, Fayette County Sheriff, said illegal conveyance of drugs into the jail has been a continuous problem and has been attributed to overdoses inside the jail.

In April the Washington High School/Middle School campus was on lockdown after two anonymous bomb threat calls were made in the morning threatening to “blow up” the high school. The Washington C.H. Police Department, with assistance from the Washington Fire Department and Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, conducted a perimeter and interior search of the buildings and nothing suspicious was found, according to authorities. After the search was completed and the campus was secured, Robert Hamm, interim superintendent at Washington City Schools, made the decision to continue with classes throughout the day.

Editor’s note: This is only a small selection of the top stories from the first third of the year. The second part of the “A year in review” will cover May, June, July and August.

Mike Smith celebrated his final day as Fayette County Auditor in March after 10 years of service to the county. Smith was elected in 2006 and was sworn in as auditor in March of 2007. This photo was taken on his last day in 2017.
https://www.recordherald.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2017/12/web1_MikeSmith.jpgMike Smith celebrated his final day as Fayette County Auditor in March after 10 years of service to the county. Smith was elected in 2006 and was sworn in as auditor in March of 2007. This photo was taken on his last day in 2017.

By Martin Graham


Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 and on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy

Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 and on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy