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 fourth of a four-part year in review series. This sampling of the year’s biggest stories covers October-December of 2020.
On Oct. 1, it was reported that Washington High School confirmed a case of COVID-19. According to the district, Washington Court House City Schools was notified earlier in the week that Washington High School had a positive case of COVID-19. At the time, the health department was working diligently with the family and district to complete the thorough contact trace process. The following day on Oct. 2, it was reported that Fayette Christian School was experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak and would be closed for a couple of weeks.
On Oct. 8, local historian and retired teacher Paul LaRue was honored along with the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (HCNHP) for their work on a lesson plan. At the HCNHP, the Ohio History Connection’s State Historic Preservation Office Award was given to LaRue and HCNHP for their collaboration in developing the lesson plan “Camp Sherman and the Mound City Earthworks: A Unique Story of Preservation.” Preservation officer Burt Logan presented the Public Education and Awareness Award. “Each year, the state history organization highlights outstanding historic preservation achievements in communities across Ohio through the presentation of these awards,” a press release from Ohio History Connection said. “This organization is one of five winners in 2020.” According to the press release, “Camp Sherman and the Mound City Earthworks: A Unique Story of Preservation” is a lesson plan developed to be used with curriculum in the state of Ohio. The plan outlines the historic interaction between the Mound City earthworks and Camp Sherman, an army cantonment from World War I.
Also on Oct. 8, a Washington C.H. man was seriously injured in a two-vehicle accident on State Route 753 at U.S. Route 35. Charles Jones III, 51, was transported from the scene by Med-Flight to a Columbus-area trauma center for medical treatment following the accident reported shortly after 9:30 p.m. According to Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, a 2020 Peterbuilt, driven by Christopher Scheidler, 30, of Cincinnati, exited from U.S. 35 East onto the exit ramp to State Route 753. Scheidler made a northbound turn onto State Route 753 from the exit ramp and pulled into the path of a 2003 Toyota Highlander, driven by Jones III, where the crash occurred. Jones was entrapped inside his vehicle and was extricated by members of the Washington Fire Department.
On Oct 16, it was reported that the Miami Trace Local School District would implement its “Plan B-Hybrid Model,” which reduced student population by 50 percent, for the next two weeks due to a rise of COVID-19 cases and the number of individuals in quarantine. The decision, based upon a recommendation from Fayette County Public Health (FCPH), was announced by Miami Trace Superintendent Kim Pittser and the new model was implemented from Monday, Oct. 19 through Friday, Oct. 30. The Plan B-Hybrid Model reduced the student population by having half of the students attend the school buildings Monday and Tuesday and the other half attend Thursday and Friday. When students were not in the school buildings, they were educated virtually.
On Oct. 19, it was announced that Kenneth Upthegrove, a member of the Washington Court House City Schools Board of Education, would receive the Ohio School Board Association’s Veteran Board Member Award. The Veteran Board Member Award is given to school board members in recognition of 25 years of service. Of the nearly 3,500 board members in Ohio, only 33 would receive the honor in 2020. The WCHCS Board of Education recognized Upthegrove for his 25 years of service at the regular board meeting Oct. 19. “Your continued dedication to education excellence for the students of our community has improved the lives of thousands in the Blue Lion Family,” presented Jennifer Lynch, board president.
On Nov. 3, it was reported that Heritage Church Pastor Bruce Morrison passed away after being in the intensive case unit at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center for nearly a month battling COVID-19. Morrison was initially hospitalized on Oct. 4 and was not allowed to have visitors during his stay due to hospital policy. Bruce’s wife, Carmen, routinely posted updates on her Facebook page which were then shared to the Facebook page of Heritage Church. According to her updates, Bruce’s condition was up-and-down, but he was receiving great care from the ICU staff. During Carmen’s update on Nov. 1 she explained, “(Nurse Jazelle, who was Bruce’s caregiver on Friday), decided to allow all of us to be in his room. The kids had been apart from their dad for over a month, and I since October 4 — the day of Livy’s funeral. We played music for him, sang to him and read scripture. We each talked to him privately multiple times. We all stayed right by his side. He was never alone. He is the man every woman dreams of. A Godly man, a romantic man, a fun friend, an amazing father, a good provider, a loving and compassionate soul. He is perfect in every way.”
On Nov. 6, a Mount Sterling woman was killed in a one-vehicle accident on Harrison Road near Madison Mills, according to Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth. Linda Steele, 58, was driving her 1993 Nissan Sentra eastbound on Harrison Road at around 2:30 p.m. when the vehicle reportedly went left of center as she was negotiating a curve. The vehicle went off the roadway, over-corrected, went back on the roadway and then traveled off the left side of the road and struck a tree, according to the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office. A passerby saw the vehicle off the road and called the accident in to the sheriff’s office. Steele, the sole occupant of the vehicle, was pronounced dead at the scene by Fayette County Coroner Dr. Dennis Mesker.
Also on Nov. 6, an outbreak of COVID-19 within the Fayette County Jail facility was reported by Fayette County Public Health (FCPH) and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO). “FCPH, with assistance from Fayette Memorial Hospital, (was) in the process of testing inmates and jail staff,” said FCPH Deputy Health Commissioner Leigh Cannon in a press release. “FCSO (was) working diligently with FCPH to quickly identify cases, isolate and quarantine appropriately.” Effective strategies to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 included isolation, quarantine and testing, according to Cannon.
On Nov. 9, a fire caused heavy damage to an Inskeep Road home and killed eight cats inside the residence. Firefighters from four local departments responded to the scene at 5588 Inskeep Road in Jefferson Township after receiving the call at 12:54 p.m., according to Jefferson Township Fire Department Lt. Alan Nawman. The two residents were not home at the time of the fire, and two dogs were able to escape from the blaze. “The dogs were already outside when we arrived at the scene,” Nawman said. “It was not quite fully involved when we arrived, but there was heavy smoke and heavy fire on the back side of the home and in the kitchen area,” said Nawman. “We don’t know for sure yet what caused the fire. They were doing some remodeling there, but we don’t think that’s what caused it.” It took firefighters approximately 45 minutes to an hour to get the fire under control.
High winds exceeding 60 miles per hour on Nov. 15 caused damage around Fayette County and left some residents without power into the morning of Nov. 16. Dayton Power and Light (DP&L) said via its online outage map that most were expected to be restored by Nov. 16 — depending on each individual situation. According to the director of communications for DP&L, Mary Ann Cabel, around 22 residents of Fayette County were still without power at the time.
On Nov. 18, Fayette County Public Health (FCPH) reported the 17th local COVID-19 related death — a male in his 70s. No other information would be released concerning the death. “Please respect the privacy of his friends and family as they mourn the loss of their loved one,” said a statement from FCPH. At the time 46 new cases (41 confirmed, five probable) of COVID-19 and 33 new recoveries (28 confirmed, five probable) were also reported by FCPH. Additionally, there were 206 active cases and 14 individuals hospitalized from the virus.
On Dec. 7, a Washington C.H. man found guilty of being in possession of a firearm while on parole for an aggravated robbery conviction was sentenced to three years in prison. On Nov. 3, a Fayette County jury found Michael L. Stolzenburg, 34, guilty of one count of having weapons while under disability, a felony of the third degree. As part of a joint law enforcement operation between the US Marshals Service Southern Ohio Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team (SOFAST) and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, Stolzenburg was one of five individuals throughout the county served with arrest warrants in January of this year. On Jan. 29, he was served with a parole violation warrant at 3075 Ford Road Southwest, Washington C.H. — his residence at the time. As he was served, Stolzenburg was found to be in possession of a firearm and ammunition, which violated the terms of his parole. He was convicted in 2009 of aggravated robbery, according to court records.
It was reported on Dec. 10 that local business Beford Ford in Washington Court House once again donated to United Way of Fayette County, this time in the amount of $5,000. The money would go to help give Christmas to children in Fayette County this year and paid for clothing and toys.
On Dec. 19, a home located at 898 Aspen Drive in Washington C.H. was destroyed by a fire. While no human casualties were reported, the family’s two cats perished. The alarm for the fire went off at 2:08 p.m. According to the fire report from the accident, the Washington Fire Department (WFD) had been responding to a mutual aide request for a different structure fire that was occurring off State Route 41 South (jurisdiction of Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District). Upon being notified of the fire within their jurisdiction, WFD diverted their attention to the home on Aspen Drive and arrived on scene at 2:17 p.m. While on the way to the scene, heavy smoke was observed and mutual aide was requested to assist with the fire. BPM Joint Fire District responded to the scene to assist as did Box 65 and Fayette County EMS. Dayton Power and Light was requested to disconnect electric to the home, and the Red Cross was requested to assist the family. The report explained that the fire, according to the occupants, began in the garage and spread fast.
Finally, as reported on Tuesday, Dec. 29, Fayette County Public Health (FCPH) reported 120 new COVID-19 cases (88 confirmed, 32 probable) and 111 recoveries (90 confirmed, 21 probable). Two COVID-related deaths were also reported on Dec. 23 — both males in their 70s — for a total of 28 total deaths in the county. FCPH was also vaccinating the priority groups identified in Phase 1 by the Ohio Department of Health. As vaccine supply increases, the state will continue to vaccinate all Ohioans who choose to receive it. More local first responders received the COVID vaccination on Dec. 28. Jeff Warner, firefighter/ paramedic at the Jefferson Township Fire Department, posted the following on Facebook that same day: “I can’t thank the Fayette County Health Department enough for getting our First Responders from Fayette County Ems, Jefferson Township Fire and EMS and MedFlight 9 our Covid 19 vaccinations so timely. It has been a very draining last 10 months and will continue to be so for a while, but I believe there is a bright light in the months ahead. Between all of us, we have transported hundreds of Covid patients and our goal is to remain Covid free and healthy ourselves so that we can continue to take care of you. Some of us haven’t, but I am a strong supporter of this vaccine. There are a lot of Covid Specialist I see during my work at some of the Nations Top Hospitals that are a lot smarter than me that have influenced me on the safety and need of this vaccine. I urge each and everyone of you to get this vaccine.”