As this challenging and difficult year finally comes to a close, the Record-Herald is taking time to reflect on 2020’s biggest local stories. The following is the second of a four-part year in review series. This sampling of the year’s biggest stories covers April-June of 2020.
On April 1, two men who reportedly trespassed at a Lewis Road barn in northeast Fayette County in the early morning hours were allegedly shot by the property owner. At 2:11 a.m., Fayette County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to the 6000 block of Lewis Road after the property owner reported that two individuals were trespassing on his property, according to Sheriff Vernon Stanforth. A subsequent phone call to the sheriff’s communications center was made by the property owner, requesting EMS be dispatched to the scene because he had accidentally shot one of the suspects. Stanforth said that the second suspect departed in a vehicle south on Lewis Road. The property owner told authorities that as the vehicle was leaving the property, the driver allegedly drove toward him, and additional shots were fired at the vehicle by the property owner.
On April 3, the second case of COVID-19 in Fayette County was confirmed by Fayette County Public Health (FCPH). The individual was a 65-year-old resident, according to Leigh Cannon, FCPH deputy health commissioner. No other information about the individual was released. By April 13, they announced nine cases were confirmed in the county.
In early April, Washington Court House City Schools and Miami Trace Local Schools started production of headbands to help with face masks using 3-D printers to aid COVID-19 relief efforts.
Fayette County lost a longtime, revered resident and medical professional — Robert A. Heiny, M.D. — who served the community with his family practice and as deputy coroner for many years. Dr. Heiny — who passed away April 5 — was born April 20, 1929, in Columbus to Ernest and Martha Manring Heiny. “I always knew my dad was someone special and had an important job when I was growing up,” Dr. Heiny’s daughter, Jill Heiny Cipra, said. “Everywhere we went in town, people would come up to us to say hi to dad, and talk about how he had helped them…”
On April 20, schools across Ohio were closed for the remainder of the school year while classes continued remotely, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine announced. DeWine, who was the first governor in the nation to shutter schools statewide, said his latest decision stemmed from concern for the continued safety of students, teachers and communities. He said returning students to their classrooms could lead to new cases of COVID-19. DeWine said teachers and administrators also worried that another disruption to a school year already interrupted by the coronavirus might negatively affect students, who need continuity.
On April 28, in the Republican primary election race for Fayette County Commissioner, Tony Anderson was leading Donald Fleak by 177 votes, although there were still ballots to be counted, according to unofficial results. At the time, Anderson, who holds the office of commissioner with a term expiring Jan. 1, 2021, had a total of 1,349 votes while Fleak had 1,172 votes. The candidate that officially won majority vote would be the Republican candidate for commissioner during the Presidential general election alongside current commissioner Dan Dean, who ran unopposed for re-election. The original date of this year’s primary election (March 17) was postponed after polls across the state didn’t open due to legislation that was passed by the Ohio General Assembly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. The official day was postponed to Tuesday, April 28 with mail-in ballots becoming the norm. “This was not your typical election,” explained Beth Ann Snyder, the Fayette County Board of Elections director. “Normally at this time, we would only have 10 or 11 outstanding ballots left out there.” In this particular primary, there were still 252 absentee ballots that could be returned by mail. Those ballots would be valid as long as they were postmarked as of Monday, April 27 and were received by May 8.
On May 11, the Washington Court House City Schools (WCHCS) Board of Education passed a resolution to place a seven-year, 1 percent earned income tax levy on the August special election ballot. The decision was made after the district ran a comprehensive survey of local voters to gain feedback and opinions on how to best move forward. The WCHCS Board of Education used the results from the survey to inform its decision to return to the ballot in August, according to district officials. “We truly value the input of our community, and the school board took the opinions given into account when moving forward with this resolution,” said WCHCS Superintendent Dr. Tom Bailey. “The community overwhelmingly responded that academics is their top priority, and we are committed to continue fostering an excellence of learning while maintaining strict and efficient fiscal stewardship.”
On May 12, Tony Anderson officially won the primary following the release of official results from the Fayette County Board of Elections. Anderson brought in a total of 1,385 votes while Donald Fleak brought in 1,223 votes. “It is a job that I enjoy. I think I offer something for the community and never try to take it for granted,” said Anderson. “Very, very happy to be back in. There’s a nice crowd of people up there to work with.”
On May 16, it was reported that Stage Stores, Distribution Centers in Jeffersonville closed, according to confirmed reports from two sources. According to Fayette County Economic Development Director Godwin Apaliyah, the business closing was unexpected. “I didn’t know Stage Stores, Distribution Centers had closed,” Apaliyah wrote at the time in an email. “The plant manager did not inform me about their closing. The Acting Director of the Fayette County Ohiomeansjob sent an email to me and someone else that Stage Stores was closed permanently and if we could help find some jobs for some of the displaced employees. I called her back to find out how she got the information about the closing. She informed me that some of the laid off employees who visited her office told and also on social media.” A former employee of Stage Stores in Jeffersonville, Alyssa Snyder, said they were notified of the closing in an email that came through May 7, and since that time, Ohiomeansjobs was assisting those laid off and furloughed find work. “We are not exactly sure what happened,” Snyder said via text on May 14. “In February our hours started getting cut, it was only volunteer and we were off Fridays. It was getting to the point where we didn’t work maybe two days a week. We were told to file for partial unemployment. Then two weeks before COVID really became an issue we didn’t work at all. March 12 was the last day any of us worked. We were supposed to have a meeting and then the Governor put in place a stay at home order and no large gatherings.”
On May 20, a New Holland woman was killed and two children were injured during a one-vehicle accident on State Route 207 in the Village of Pancoastburg. At 9:51 p.m., a 2010 Chevrolet Cruz, driven by Carmella S. Long, 36, was traveling south on State Route 207 in the unincorporated village when she lost control of the vehicle, according to Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth. According to Stanforth, the vehicle went off the right side of the roadway, over-corrected and crossed the centerline. The vehicle then went off the left side of the roadway, and struck a fence and utility pole before coming to rest. Stanforth said that Long was fatally injured in the crash and pronounced dead at the scene by the Fayette County Coroner’s Office. Two children, ages 9 and 1, were injured in the crash and transported by MedFlight helicopter to Children’s Hospital for treatment of their injuries.
On June 2, it was reported that — following seven years as superintendent of the Miami Trace Local School District — David Lewis was expected to become the next superintendent of Newark City Schools in Ohio. In a Facebook post on the Miami Trace page, Lewis wrote his departure was “a bittersweet moment for me. I am excited for a new opportunity, yet sad to be leaving such a special place. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to serve as the superintendent of this district for the past seven years. I have made many memories and friends that will last a lifetime.” Miami Trace Board of Education President Bruce Kirkpatrick said at the time that the board was set to begin discussions at a special board meeting concerning Lewis’s resignation and the upcoming search for a new superintendent. “(Lewis) has done a fine job for Miami Trace and I want to thank him,” Kirkpatrick said at the time.
Also on June 2, following the death of George Floyd — a 46-year-old black man who was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota while being arrested — a local peaceful protest was organized and held in Washington C.H. During the protest, those involved were asked a few questions by a Record-Herald reporter including why the group was protesting. Two comments were given: “Because we need peace in this world. We need peace — and that’s all we need,” and “Because I feel that black lives should be just like ours. They all need to be equal, and the color of your skin does not define the person who you are, so I just feel like we should protest for everybody with different skin colors.” Also at the protest were a group of men wearing protective equipment and carrying weapons who identified themselves as members of the Minutemen however, they were not present under the Minutemen “banner.” They were also asked why they attended and one commented saying, “Basically, I have no problem with the protest against the guy’s death — I understand that. Protesting is protected by the First Amendment. Peacefully assemble and address your grievances to the government however, what I disagree with 100 percent is the rioting, the burning, the stealing and the destruction of private property, public property and buildings — I detest that, completely. And when I heard that it was coming here… I live in Clinton County in Sabina right now. I’m a lifelong resident of Fayette County, served two different times — peacetime in ‘93, ‘98, then Afghanistan and Iraq. Came home and thought I’d never have to do this. I’m not going to stand by and let this happen.”
On June 10, it was reported that Kim Pittser was set to become the 10th superintendent of Miami Trace Local Schools and the first female superintendent in district history. At a board meeting on June 9, board president Bruce Kirkpatrick said it didn’t take long to decide that Pittser was the ideal person for the job. “We have a great staff in place,” said Kirkpatrick at the time. “Kim has been so strong with curriculum and I think she’s going to do an excellent job.” Pittser addressed the board after she was approved unanimously as the newest superintendent. “I would first like to thank the board of education for having the confidence in me to lead this district,” she said. “The past 20 of my 25 years in education have been spent as a Panther. I received great opportunities and I’ve treasured each one of them, and I’ve built great relationships and look forward to continue building more.”
Finally, it was reported on June 24 that the trial date for Joseph A. Brown — a Washington Court House man who was charged with the March 9 premeditated aggravated murder of his ex-girlfriend — was postponed due to an upcoming second psychological evaluation. Brown plead “not guilty” and “not guilty by reason of insanity” to the charges against him. Results of the first psychological evaluation found Brown to be “sane and competent” to stand trial, however the defense requested a second evaluation, according to Fayette County Prosecutor Jess Weade. Results from the second evaluation were expected to be returned within 30 days.