SIDNEY — It was a year of celebration, sadness and disappointment in Sidney and Shelby County during 2019.
The county celebrated its 200th birthday with a year-long observance which will continue into 2020, while it mourned the loss of two local boys in a fire in Michigan. The city saw the defeat of levies dealing with staffing of the Sidney Fire Department and proposed construction of a third fire station on Wapakoneta Avenue. And a longtime public servant announced he wasn’t running for re-election in 2020.
The Sidney Daily News editorial staff has selected their top stories of 2019.
Shelby County Bicentennial
It was a party that was 200 years in the making. The official kick off of Shelby County’s 200th birthday celebration Monday night, April 1, 2019, began a yearlong party for county residents.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, the keynote speaker for the event held at Sidney Middle School, said he and his wife, Fran, were happy to help the county celebrate its 200th birthday.
A celebration in Hardin — the first county seat — began the village celebrations on April 27. The county’s flag was carried into the village by Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart after a series of runners delivered the flag from its starting point at Sidney Middle School to the end of the journey in Hardin. The flag was delivered from village to village in conjunction with their community festival throughout the summer.
A bicentennial beer was created by Moeller Beer Barn in Maria Stein. A contest — to name the beer — was won by Dave DeVelsis, who submitted the winning name, Shelby 1919 Limited.
A Guinness World Record was set at the Sidney Memorial Football Stadium when 2,344 pop cans were opened simultaneously on Sept. 18. Sixth through 12th grade students from all schools in Shelby County were bused to the stadium to take part in the event. Stewards watched groups of 50 participants and then recorded whether they had successfully opened the cans within the allotted five seconds. The event was sponsored by Stolle Machinery. Founder Ralph Stolle developed the machinery to create pop-top cans. The cans continue to be manufactured at Stolle today.
The United States Air Force Band of Flight Rock Band presented a patriotic concert on June 7 at the Shelby County Courthouse as part of the bicentennial celebration.
Lectures were held throughout the year and a church tour of county churches was held in October. A Bicentennial raffle and gun raffle also was held to raise funds for the celebration. The Anthony McLain Bicentennial Cruise-In was held at Tawawa Park in June.
The birthday of Gen. Isaac Shelby was recognized in December when a framed grouping of artifacts was presented to the Shelby County Commissioners.
The yearlong celebration will end with a bicentennial ball on Feb. 22. At that time, the city of Sidney’s 200th birthday celebration will begin.
A series of articles celebrating the founding of the county have been published throughout the year in the Sidney Daily News.
Shelby County Fair secretary dies
The biggest cheerleader of the Shelby County Fair — Jerry Schaffner — died March 11, 2019, of complications from a January surgery. He was the fair secretary since 1987.
As a teen, growing up in Houston, he raised and showed dairy cattle and was the founding member of the Shelby County Rabbit Breeders.
“Whenever we needed something, he was the first one to jump,” said Judy Gaerke, of the Shelby County 4-H office. “Not only did he take care of all of the senior fair, he was such a proponent for all of the youth, not only at the fair, but for all activities throughout the year. He always had a smile to give. He was like a stepgrandfather to a lot of people.”
Funeral services for Schaffner were held at the beige building at the fairgrounds. Following the service, he was taken on a final ride around the fairgrounds in Adams Funeral Home’s hearse.
Community mourns loss of brothers
The Shelby County community rallied around the families of Landin Caudill, 10, and Dalton Shank, 14, who died during a cabin fire June 2 in Michigan. They died of injuries sustained in the fire. Both were members of the Scissors to Sheep and Shelby County Shooting Sports 4-H Clubs. Both raised and showed market rabbits at the Shelby County Fair.
In honor of Dalton and Landin, Shelby County 4-H pulled together volunteers and resources to finish raising their market rabbits and exhibit them at the 2019 Junior Fair, just as the boys planned to. The rabbits were raised by Katelynn Garber, who was a member of the same 4-H club. Katelynn and Carter Ingle showed the rabbits during the junior fair sale.
Fatal crashes claim 11 lives
During 2019, 11 people lost their lives in crashes on Shelby County roads.
The first fatal of 2019 was on Jan. 2, when Brock D. Comer, 24, of St. Paris, was killed in a two-vehicle crash in the 2700 block of Millcreek Road.
Dustin T. Adkins, 24, of Sidney, died of injuries sustained in a two-vehicle crash on April 1 at the intersection of Mason and Hardin-Wapakoneta roads.
Dustin G. Brogan, 22, of East Liberty, was killed in a one-vehicle crash in the 21000 block of state Route 47 on July 17 near Maplewood.
Christopher Knouff, 50, of Anna, died July 24, of injuries sustained following a motorcycle-car crash on July 23 on the County Road 25A at the Interstate 75 overpass. Knouff was ejected from his motorcycle after it was struck by a another vehicle.
On Sunday, Aug. 25, Soraya Rivadeneira, 49, of Troy, who is a guidance counselor with Troy City Schools, was killed in a two-vehicle crash at the intersection of state Route 589 and Middleton Hume Road.
Robert E. Blankenship, 61, of Sidney, was killed Sept. 4 while he was walking on Interstate 75 between exits 92 and 93 near Sidney. He was struck by a vehicle that left the scene.
Angela Fitzgerald, 52, of Sidney, died at Miami Valley Hospital following a two-vehicle crash Oct. 10 at the intersection of County Road 25A and state Route 274.
Patrick D. Craft, 45, of Houston, was killed in a two-vehicle crash Oct. 11 in the 2000 block of state Route 66.
Roger W. Dicke, 84, New Knoxville, died after he became trapped under a tractor on his farm on Oct. 23.
Rebecca A. Daniels, 48, of Conover, was killed in two-vehicle crash Dec. 4 in the 17000 block of state Route 119.
Timothy Robinson, 38, of Quincy, was killed in a two-vehicle crash at the intersection of LeFeve Road and Tawawa Maplewood Road on Dec. 13.
Several fatal crashes in surrounding counties also claimed the lives of local residents.
On Jan. 20, Trevor Huber, 16, a sophomore at Versailles High School, died when the ATV he was driving on Mangen Road traveled into a ditch and pinned him under it.
Emily (Picker) Lear, 19, of Piqua, and a Houston High School graduate, died of injuries Feb. 16 in Darke County following a two-vehicle crash on Feb. 12.
Benjamin Stoll, 29, of Lima, died in a one-vehicle crash April 1 on Pusheta Road, west of Brown Road in Auglaize County.
Jason Frey, 23, of New Bremen, was killed Aug. 24 after his motorcycle was struck by another motorcycle and both drivers were ejected from their vehicles at state Route 219, near the Auglaize/Mercer County line.
Kathleen O’Quinn, 58, of Sidney, died Sept. 8 following a two-vehicle crash near the intersection of County Road 25A and East Miami Shelby Road in Miami County.
Jordan E. Fleddrjohann, 26, of Botkins, died Sept. 11 of injuries sustained in a two-vehicle crash at the intersection of U.S. Route 127 and Clover Four Road in Mercer County.
Adam Franck, 20, of Maria Stein, was killed Sept. 21 when he was struck by a vehicle while he was laying near the edge of Fort Recovery-Minster Road in Mercer County.
Amy Reichert, 32, of Maria Stein, died of injuries sustained in a two-vehicle crash Sept. 27 on state Route 119 in Auglaize County.
William Gates, 70, of Sidney, was killed when the motorcycle he was driving was struck by a vehicle on Oct. 13 at the intersection of state Route 571 and County Road 25A in Miami County. A passenger on his motorcycle, Vonna Williams, 66, of Piqua, died at Grandview Hospital of injuries sustained in the crash.
Mary Velazco, 59, of Sidney, was killed in a two-vehicle crash Oct. 17 at the intersection of state Route 235 and state Route 47 in Logan County.
Amanda Harshbarger, 26, of Versailles, died Oct. 23, following a one-vehicle crash on Johnson Road at Martz Road in Darke County.
Jonathan Gehret, 18, of Versailles, died Dec. 17 when the snowmobile he was driving struck an embankment of the North Fork Stillwater River near the 11000 block of state Route 118 in Darke County.
Local officials lead state agencies
A pair of local officials, Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann and Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst, led state boards during 2019.
Barhorst served as president of the Board of Trustees of the Ohio Municipal League while Ehemann served as the president of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio Board of Directors. It marked the first time in Ohio’s history that both the president of the OML and the OCCA have simultaneously been from the same county.
Barhorst plans to remain on the board of the Ohio Municipal League. The OML represents the interests of Ohio’s 933 municipalities before the General Assembly.
“The year has passed quickly,” Barhorst said. “I have no idea how many miles I’ve logged on behalf of the OML, but I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with civic leaders across the state.”
Ehemann, of Anna, was selected to serve on the 2020 CCAO board of directors.
“Commissioner Ehemann is a strong advocate for counties, and I am grateful she will continue to offer her expertise with the CCAO board,” CCAO Executive Director Suzanne Dulaney said.
Sidney City School’s reconfiguration
By a 5-0 vote, the Sidney Board of Education voted Jan. 14 to reconfigure the district’s schools beginning with the 2019-20 school year.
The need for the restructuring of the district buildings is a result of declining enrollment, Superintendent Bob Humble said.
With the reconfiguration, all preschool students now attend Whittier Elementary School, kindergarten to second grade students attend Longfellow Elementary School, third and fourth graders attend Northwood Elementary School, and students in the fifth through eighth grades attend Sidney Middle School.
“We’re better able to utilize our staff,” Humble said.
Inmate dies following fight
An inmate died following a fight Jan. 18 at the Shelby County Jail.
James Richards, 54, of Sidney, died, Jan. 19 in the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton.
Richards was engaged in a fight with another inmate, Peter Stokes, 26, of Sidney, following a verbal argument between the two. Richards had been quite loud on the phone in the day room of their pod at the jail. Stokes had asked him to keep it down. When the phone call ended, Richards began yelling at Stokes, who went after Richards.
Richards fell to the floor, hitting his head, but got into a sitting position and was punched several times by Stokes. Six corrections officers converged on the fight and got the men separated, and within seconds, four sheriff’s deputies were there, too. The whole incident took just 32 seconds, according to the sheriff’s office video.
Stokes was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree felony, and was sentenced to an additional six years in prison.
Dogs rescued from fire
Eighteen French bulldogs were rescued from a house fire on March 26 at 223 N. Walnut Ave., Sidney, which led to court proceedings that still are ongoing.
Sidney firefighters rescued 18 French bulldogs from the basement of the home even though Grazyna Latocha, 68, reportedly told firefighters that there were no pets in the residence. One of the dogs died after the fire while the 17 others remain in custody of the Shelby County Animal Shelter.
“They weren’t her pets, and she had no regard for them as living creatures other than what they could produce for her in terms of her bank account,” Prosecutor Jeff Amick said.
Latocha was convicted of cruelty against companion animals and deprivation of necessary veterinary medical sustenance on Aug. 30 but had her sentence stayed Oct. 22 pending appeal.
“I am filing an appeal because I’m not guilty of the charges that were filed against me,” Latocha said.
STAR House opens
The Sheriff’s Treatment and Recover (STAR) House, a drug abuse treatment facility, opened May 22 within the shadows of the Shelby County Jail, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.
“Over five years ago, we in the Sheriff’s Office recognized that we could not arrest our way out of the worst drug epidemic (opiates) that I had every seen in my career,” Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart said. “The jails are full, the deaths from overdoses continues and every segment of society is being affected.”
The STAR House was a $1 million project built with without a local tax levy. In the midst of the building project, House Bill 129 was approved and capital money for the project was received.
“The STAR House is a program complete with life skills training, counseling and peer support,” Shelby County Commissioner Julie Ehemann said. “It is a safe place for persons to continue their medication assisted treatment, and it will be their home to come to after a day at work until they have the necessary resources to live independently.”
Flooding across Shelby County
Heavy rains in May and June led to flooding that affected communities across Shelby County.
Multiple motorists had to be rescued from their vehicles as several inches of rain fell in Shelby County and the surrounding areas overnight and into the morning hours on May 17. Dozens of roads were closed throughout the county, and Botkins and Jackson Center schools closed for the day because of high water in the districts.
Heavy rains continued into June. Shelby County Emergency Management Agency Director Cheri Drinkwine said Jackson Center recorded receiving 10.41 inches of rain, Botkins recorded 10.4 inches and between Anna and Botkins 8.86 inches of rain was recorded from June 15 to 21.
Flooding along the Great Miami River in Sidney caused many areas in nearby parks to be closed, including the Veterans Memorial Walkway.
The heavy rains also delayed planting for Shelby County farmers.
Lenhart won’t seek re-election
Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart announced Sept. 10 that he will not seek re-election when his term expires on Dec. 31, 2020.
Lenhart started his career with the Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 13, 1966. He twice served as the Shelby County sheriff, with jobs in state government and in the private sector in between.
At the request of the Shelby County Republican Central Committee, Lenhart, who at the time was a Democrat, returned to the role of sheriff in 2010.
“I was asked to come back and I felt that I should step up and do what I did,” the 74-year-old Lenhart said of his second term as sheriff. “I accomplished the goals I started out with and brought some semblance of order for our law enforcement officers. We have a semblance of financial responsibility. We have an open door policy. You can ask me any question and I’ll always tell the truth.
“I think it’s time for me to move on. I have no idea what I’ll do, but I’m not retiring. God didn’t put me on this Earth to coast.”
Homelessness in Shelby County
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and inmates from the Shelby County Jail collected 760 pounds of trash Oct. 8 from under the Court Street Bridge, which was being used as an encampment for homeless individuals.
“It’s a mess,” Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy James Frye said, nudging at one of several discarded pop cans littered under the bridge and along the riverbank with his shoe. “It’s a shame that people have to live like this. This isn’t a camping trip that you go on. This is a way of life for them right now.”
The encampment was discovered when deputies chased a suspect with a felony warrant under the bridge, apprehending him. The eventual push to clean up the encampment came after a fire was reported under the bridge.
“We don’t have a homeless shelter, because according to the city, we don’t have a homeless problem,” Frye said. “Obviously … we have a homeless problem.”
Fair Road standoff
Fair Road was closed for more than five hours on Nov. 6 because of a standoff involving the Sidney and Piqua Tactical Response Teams and the Allen County Bomb Squad.
A woman reported her former boyfriend, Wendell Johnson, 48, of Richmond, Indiana, held her against her will. After approximately one hour, the woman was able to escape and called 911 for help.
Just before 6 p.m., officers reported they had gained entry into the residence where Johnson was located and found him deceased from what was thought to be a self-inflicted gunshot by an AR15 type rifle.
“While I do feel bad that there was a life lost today, I feel very proud and glad that nobody else got injured,” Sidney Police Chief William Balling said.
Sidney fire levy fails
Voters in the city of Sidney rejected the city’s 0.15 percent municipal income tax fire levy on Nov. 5.
The levy to provide permanent funding for fire department operations was voted down with 1,516 votes for the levy and 2,169 votes against the levy. Levy funds would have gone toward staffing and the construction of a third fire station north of Sidney at 2401 Wapakoneta Ave. on the 12.5 acres of land the city of Sidney purchased in 2017.
“We will do the best with what we have,” Fire Chief Brad Jones said after the last precinct results were received on Nov. 5.
The original 0.30 percent income tax levy, which intended to help address fire operation needs, was first presented on the ballot in May when it was combined with street maintenance needs. The levy was to replace the current 0.25 percent municipal street levy that will expire Dec. 31, 2019. It was voted down in May and brought back to voters a second time after being separated from the streets’ needs.
Sidney Municipal Court judge election
Gary J. Carter won the Sidney Municipal Court judge election on Nov. 5, unseating incumbent Duane A. Goettemoeller, who had served as the Sidney Municipal Court judge since 2011.
“I am humbled and honored to be chosen by the people of Shelby County to be their next Sidney Municipal Court judge,” Carter said in a prepared statement. “I want to thank my family for all their hard work over the past nine months as well as my many supporters for all of their efforts and the encouragement they provided. Thank you to Judge Goettemoeller for running a good campaign. I look forward to working with him and his staff in the coming weeks to ensure a smooth transition for the people of Shelby County.”
Carter received 5,380 votes while Goettemoeller received 4,712.
“The people have decided they don’t want what I have,” Goettemoeller said of the election results. “I’m glad to have served. It was an honor while it lasted.”
New animal shelter opens
A four-year effort culminated in the Bob Sargeant and Family Shelby County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center opening Nov. 10 with approximately 1,500 people attending a three-hour open house.
The $2.4 million facility, located at 610 Gearhart Road, Sidney, is a state-of-the-art shelter for dogs and cats that hopefully would be destined as future pets for Shelby County residents. The Shelby County Animal Rescue Foundation led efforts to build the 7,998-square-foot building.
“This gives more hope to pets in Shelby County thanks to you,” SCARF board member Joe Laber said to all donors and volunteers.
Among the visitors at the open house was Bob Sargeant, who donated $500,000 toward the development of the shelter.
Gibbs considers run for Congress
Shelby County native Chris Gibbs, a lifelong Republican, past chair of the local Republican party and long-time farmer, announced Nov. 20 that he is launching an exploratory committee to consider running against Jim Jordan as an independent for Ohio’s 4th Congressional District.
“As I’ve talked to farmers, business owners, teachers, nurses, civil servants, friends and family, they all agree,” Gibbs said. “They’re ready to break free of the Washington discourse and declare their independence from those who are only serving their own interests. They have challenged me to become that independent voice for them in Congress, to carry their message to Washington that ‘enough is enough.’”
Earlier in November, Gibbs announced he was leaving the Republican Party. The farmer from Maplewood has become a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and was featured nationally on media outlets including NPR.