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 third of a four-part year in review series. This sampling of the year’s biggest stories covers July-September of 2020.
On July 1, a drug trafficking investigation by the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office and the US 23 Major Crimes Task Forces resulted in the confiscation of more than 200 grams of suspected methamphetamine and the arrest of two Washington C.H. residents. The ongoing investigation ended July 1 shortly after 11:30 p.m. with a traffic stop on the parking lot of the Flying J Travel Center on State Route 41 NW in Jeffersonville, according to Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth. The suspects — identified as Joshua E. Frost, 38, of 1010 Briar Ave., and Bethany L. Viar, 20, also of Briar Avenue, were inside a 2010 Hyundai Elantra at the time of the stop. Deputy Jason Havens and K-9 officer, “Odra,” conducted a “free-air sniff of the vehicle’s exterior and received a positive indication for the presence of narcotics inside the vehicle,” said Stanforth. A search found more than 200 grams of a substance presumptively identified as methamphetamine. Following the traffic stop, sheriff’s detectives and task force agents obtained and executed a search warrant early July 2 at the suspect’s residence on Briar Avenue, which reportedly led to the discovery of additional evidence.
On July 7, a two-story home near Jeffersonville was destroyed by fire and no one was reported injured. The emergency call was received by first responders at 6:19 a.m. about the fire at 8040 Moon Evans Road N.W. in South Solon. Although located in Fayette County, it is close to the Greene County line. Due to the location of the home, most of the area’s fire departments were at least a 10-minute drive from the scene, according to Jeff Warner, Jefferson Township Fire Department assistant fire chief . According to Warner, one person lived in the home but was not home at the time of the fire, as he was out-of-state. Since the home was believed to be empty of both people and animals, no injuries were reported.
Also on July 7, a 21-year-old Good Hope woman was killed in a one-vehicle traffic crash in the Village of Bloomingburg. The accident occurred shortly after 9 p.m. on Main Street near the intersection of Midland Avenue, according to Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth. A 2004 Ford Focus, driven by Shawna J. Vassar, was headed south on Main Street and sideswiped several vehicles parked along Main Street. Vassar continued south on Main Street through the intersection of Midland Avenue and drove off the left side of the roadway, according to Stanforth, and crashed into a utility pole and tree. Vassar, the sole occupant of the vehicle, was pronounced dead at the scene by the Fayette County Coroner’s Office.
On July 12, suspected heroin and methamphetamine, as well as more than $3,000 in cash, were confiscated during a drug trafficking arrest by the Washington C.H. Police Department. On July 12 at around 6:30 a.m., officers from the Washington Police Department responded to a Pin Oak Place residence on a report of a suspicious person on the property without the owner’s consent. Officers arrived and spoke with a man identified as Daniel H. Ruff, 27-years-old. According to police reports, while speaking with officers Ruff had drug paraphernalia sticking out of a pants pocket in plain view. He also allegedly had a baggie sticking out of the other front pocket. Ruff reportedly pulled out the baggie, which had suspected black tar heroin inside. He was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia.
On July 19 — at the start of the 141st Fayette County Fair festivities — Aubrey Schwartz was crowned as the 2020 Fayette County Fair Queen during the opening ceremony. Schwartz is the daughter of Bret and Robin Schwartz. She —at the time — had recently graduated from Miami Trace High School and said she was planning to attend Wilmington College to double major in agriculture and education to eventually become an agricultural educator at a high school or be involved in 4-H Extension work.
As reported Aug. 6, the Washington Court House City Schools’ Big Blue Bus summer food service program had served 251,397 free meals since March 16. The meals were served to kids ages 0-18 at stops across Washington Court House, Jeffersonville and Bloomingburg. “Using no local tax dollars, this is only made possible by the use of federal grants and private donations as well as the help of our incredible volunteers,” explained Trevor Patton, WCHCS director of marketing and communications. The Big Blue Bus was funded primarily through a federal grant through the United States Department of Agriculture as well as private donations from local partners such as SugarCreek and McDonald’s of Fayette County.
On Aug. 10, Washington Court House City Schools (WCHCS) Superintendent Dr. Tom Bailey confirmed he had tested positive for COVID-19. “My wife (Mary) actually began experiencing mild symptoms first and we both have tested positive,” said Bailey, who added the results came back Aug. 9. “So we will be quarantined to our house for the appropriate amount of time and we are taking every precaution to alleviate any additional stress or anxiety for our teachers and staff. We will continue to have daily communication with the health department as far as how to proceed.” Teachers and staff were originally scheduled to return to district buildings on Aug. 11 to begin the 2020- 21 school year, however due to Bailey’s positive COVID test, teachers and staff would be working remotely for a week and were instructed to return in-person to the WCHCS buildings Aug. 17. The first day for students’ return to school was Aug. 24.
On Aug. 12, Jeffery T. Wilson was sentenced to 10-years-to-life in prison in Fayette County Common Pleas Court after he plead guilty to the first-degree felony rape of a girl under the age of 13. Fayette County Prosecutor Jess Weade explained at the time that it’s a life prison sentence and Wilson, 54, of 7 Sunny Drive in Washington C.H., would not be eligible for parole until after he has served 10 years. Wilson was indicted on 63 felony charges, including the one count of rape and 62 counts of pandering obscenity involving a minor. “We decided to go with the first-degree felony rape because it’s a life sentence,” said Weade. “We didn’t think we would have any problem at trial, however the affected minor would have had to testify during a trial. So we balanced our decision-making based on not having to have her testify.”
On Aug. 17, the Washington Court House City School (WCHCS) District’s 1 percent earned income tax levy was certified by the Fayette County Board of Elections where it passed by 11 votes. The result from the special election — held on Aug. 4 — was too close to call on Election Night as 751 City of Washington Court House citizens voted for the passage of the levy and 748 voted against. Twenty additional ballots — 17 provisional and three absentee — were added into the official certification of the election at the Aug. 17 Board of Elections meeting. The final certified tally was 765 for and 754 against. A total of 1,520 ballots were cast, according to the Board of Elections, for a 19.88 percent voter turnout. WCHCS Superintendent Dr. Tom Bailey thanked the entire community for its support of the city school district. “This is a huge win for the children of Washington Court House City Schools,” Bailey said. “We’ve been trying to get something passed for close to three years now, since I’ve been here. This is very much needed and I do want to assure everyone we will be fantastic stewards of taxpayer dollars, and we will continue to educate to the best of our ability within the resources that we have. We’re obviously very thrilled with the result and we thank the community.”
On Aug. 21, Fayette County Public Health (FCPH) confirmed the first death of a county resident — a woman in her 70s with underlying health conditions — with COVID-19 as a contributing factor. “We express our deepest condolences to the friends, family and loved ones of the deceased,” said Leigh Cannon, MPH, deputy health commissioner of FCPH. “We ask that the community please respect the privacy of this family as they mourn their loss. No further information will be released.” At the time, FCPH reported a significant increase in positive cases of COVID-19. Sixteen new confirmed and two new probable cases had been reported for a total of 18 new cases.
Reported on Sept. 1, a 53-year-old Washington C.H. man was charged with the aggravated vehicular homicide of 14-year-old Alexis Pollock, who was killed in a reported hit-skip accident on Aug. 29. Pollock was riding a bicycle at approximately 8:39 p.m. near the Delaware Street/Rose Avenue intersection when the bicycle was struck by Charles R. Scerba’s vehicle, according to the Washington C.H. Police Department. When officers arrived at the scene, the offender in the vehicle had allegedly fled the area on foot. Pollock, an eighth grader at Washington Middle School, was transported to Fayette County Memorial Hospital for treatment, but later died from injuries sustained in the accident, according to police.
On Sept. 14, the Washington C.H. man who shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, Lilliana M. Null, March 9 when she brought their infant child to visit him was sentenced in Fayette County Common Pleas Court to 28 years to life in prison. Prior to being sentenced by Judge Steven Beathard, Joseph A. Brown, 22, plead guilty to aggravated murder, attempted felonious assault and a gun specification. Fayette County Prosecutor Jess Weade said that any plea agreement was contingent upon Brown pleading guilty to aggravated murder, which he did after two psychological evaluations found him to be “sane and competent” to stand trial. Brown originally pleaded “not guilty” and “not guilty by reason of insanity” to the charges against him. “He was going to have to plead to aggravated murder, which carried either 20 to life, 25 to life, 30 to life or life without parole,” Weade said following the hearing. It will be 28 years before Brown can go in front of a parole board.
By Sept. 17 it was reported that Fayette County Public Health (FCPH) confirmed the sixth local death in relation to COVID-19. The Fayette County local who passed away was in her 80s, which was the only information being released by FCPH. The health department asked that the family’s privacy be respected during this time of loss. Previously, the other deaths related to COVID-19 included both a female and male in their 80s, and two females and one male in their 70s. Along with the report of the sixth death came the information that three individuals who had previously been confirmed ill with the virus had recovered and no new cases had been reported.
Also on Sept. 17 it was reported that Fayette Regional Humane Society (FRHS) exceeded 1,000 adoptions this year. To be exact, the adoptions at the time totalled 1,042 animals that have found a new home, according to FRHS Chief Humane Agent and Outreach Director Brad Adams. Of those 1,042 animals, there were 929 cats, 96 dogs, two pigs, three rabbits, 11 guinea pigs and one chicken, according to Adams.
In the Sept. 22 edition were three important articles from the weekend prior. First a 38-year-old man died from injuries suffered in a one-vehicle accident on the US 35 eastbound exit to Palmer Road. At 5:27 a.m. on Sept. 18, Fayette County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) deputies were dispatched to the scene. A 2017 GMC Savana Box Van, driven by Donald Francis, of Oregonia, Ohio, had been heading eastbound on the exit ramp when Francis reportedly lost control of the vehicle. According to Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, the vehicle failed to stop for the stop sign at Palmer Road, swerved to the right, and entered into the ditch at the intersection of Palmer Road and the US 35 eastbound on-ramp. The vehicle continued into the ditch, struck the embankment, rotated clockwise and overturned onto its side, Stanforth said. Deputies found Francis trapped in the vehicle, and deputies and fire personnel extricated him from the vehicle. Once removed, his care was turned over to Fayette County EMS members. He was pronounced deceased following arrival at Fayette County Memorial Hospital.
Also reported on Sept. 22, vandalism to a local small business along with construction machinery was reported to the Washington Court House Police Department. The location of the vandalism, according to a police report, was 322 W. Temple St. in Washington C.H. The small business was Woody’s U-Lock It, which rents out storage spaces. The police report explained that the lock on locker number 39 in the storage facility had been cut and that locker number 84 had been broken into, in which a can of green spray paint had been located and stolen from. That paint was used on lockers 77-85 to spell out an expletive on the doors. According to the owner of the storage facility, Christie Edwards, there appeared to be nothing stolen.
The last story reported on Sept. 22 was a fire at a home on Dayton Avenue that was severely damaged though no injuries were reported. According to a Washington Fire Department (WFD) report, at approximately 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 22, a structure fire was reported at 741 Dayton Ave. in Washington Court House. The WFD confirmed that two adults were home at the time of the fire and both had evacuated by the time they arrived on scene within about three minutes of the initial report. “On arrival (fire department) found flames coming through the roof of the structure,” the report said. “A large diameter hose was set up on the exterior of the structure while a quick search was conducted. Interior operations were then set up on the second floor with little headway being made.” It was at this point the WFD contacted both the Bloomingburg Paint Marion (BPM) and Concord Green fire departments for mutual aide and began pulling the ceiling and fire down.