COVID-19 pandemic top story of year

SIDNEY — The year 2020 was a year unlike one that Shelby County residents had never experienced in their lifetime. The year had individual events which changed lives but non like the coronavirus pandemic which started in March and continues to today.

The editorial staff selected what they felt were the top stories of 2020.

COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the news cycle and affected lives more than few, if any, events ever have.

The Sidney-Shelby County Health Department has reported more than 3,000 cases of COVID-19 in the county. More than 100 residents have been hospitalized because of the virus, and there have been 18 confirmed deaths. At times Shelby County had one of the state’s highest incidence rates.

Beginning on March 17, Gov. Mike DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton ordered all of Ohio’s schools to move to online education, a move that lasted through the end of the school year. Schools were forced to adjust to remote learning and sought ways to keep their students safe and connected while away from school.

Extracurricular activities such as sports and performing arts were canceled. When games, shows and events resumed, they often did so with strict capacity limitations.

Many of the usual festivals and gatherings that occur throughout the year were canceled or drastically scaled back. The 40th annual Country Concert at Hickory Hill Lakes in Fort Loramie, which was supposed to bring 20,000 people to Shelby County in July, was postponed to 2021.

The 2020 primary election was postponed and moved to a mail-in format because of COVID concerns. While in-person voting was available for the general election in November, 57.8% of Shelby County voters cast absentee ballots.

Many businesses were forced to temporarily close because of stay-at-home orders, and some had layoffs affecting hundreds of employees. The state’s unemployment rate spiked from 4.1% in February to 17.6% in April. When businesses did reopen, there often were new safety precautions including the mandating of face masks.

Some restaurants closed their dining rooms and focused on drive-thru orders while others embraced outdoor dining.

Individuals, businesses and government entities moved gatherings online, using tools such as Zoom to conduct meetings.

With visitations at nursing homes and private residences restricted, people found ways to connect such as car parades and greeting cards.

As 2020 approached its end, hope that the pandemic would soon end rose with the approval of multiple vaccines to combat COVID-19. The Sidney-Shelby County Health Department received its first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 23. That day Tiffany Lucas, a frontline registered nurse for Wilson Health’s acute care unit, became the first person in Shelby County to receive the vaccine.

Sidney Levy fails three times

The Sidney City Schools Board of Education asked the voters of the district to pass a 7.3 mill property tax levy to provide operating funds for the district. The issue was on the ballot three times — the March primary, an August special election and the November primary.

Each time the voters said no to the levy. The March results, which were delayed by the pandemic, was defeated by more than 00 votes. The final count as 2,121 votes for the levy and 2,687 against the levy,

The August election, which found the SCS levy the only issue on the ballot, saw the levy defeated for a second time by 1,612 votes for the levy and 1,829 votes against it.. The results of the November election saw the levy defeated for a third time by a 4,372 votes for the levy and 6,757 votes against it.

After the levy was defeated in November, Superintendent Bob Humble said, ” I’m very disappointed, but the community has decided that the district must make significant cuts which we will bow have to do.”

Numerous changes at Sidney Fire

The Sidney Department of Fire and Emergency Services went through numerous changes in 2020, including a new fire chief leading the department, after the retirement of Brad Jones, and several other retirements and promotions.

Early in the year, department retirements kicked off with Lt. Rod Dyer, after 27 years, then in April, Jones notified the city of his intent to retire in October after 10 years of service in Sidney. Next, Assistant Chief Chris Niswonger retired in July, followed by senior firefighter Doug Stammen in August.

Chad Hollinger, the previous deputy fire chief, was promoted to fire chief on Nov. 11, 2020. He served as the acting fire chief since Jones’s last day in uniform in mid October. Dallas Davis, was promoted to deputy fire chief from the assistant chief position.

Following those promotions and retirements, Lt. Mark Barga and firefighter Keith Wiley were both promoted to the two open assistant chiefs positions. Firefighters Brian Lundy, Bryan Ramge and Greg Francis were promoted to lieutenants.

The department also obtained a new medic near the beginning of December.

The city of Sidney decided against placing the failed fire levy on the 2020 primary, special or general election ballot. The fire levy failed failed twice in 2019 after it was first combined with the streets’ needs as a municipal income tax levy on the ballot in May, and then again by itself on the ballot in November.

Sidney Bicentennial

The city of Sidney was prepared to celebrate its 200th birthday in 2020, however the pandemic caused havoc with the majority of celebrations.

After the bicentennial ball, where Shelby County officials turned the celebration over to the city of Sidney, city officials saw event after event either canceled or moved to another date. Several of the events had to be postponed to 2021 so the celebration will continue through the upcoming year — if the pandemic allows the events to occur.

Shelby County Fair limited to junior fair

Like many aspects of life in 2020, the Shelby County Fair looked different compared to previous years.

While the full fair was canceled for the first time in 160 years, the fair board was committed to organizing a junior fair that would comply with state mandates that observed social distancing of six feet apart and mask guidelines. Each participant was allowed a limited number of wristbands to give to family to attend, and each category was limited to a single day in order to control the amount of people on the fairgrounds at any given time, in the hopes of decreasing the chances of spreading COVID-19.

“My job, as well as the other board members on this board and the elected officials that are here, our job should be to protect the safety of our children, ourselves and the community,” Fair Board President Eric Garber said in June.

Another change this year was the fact that there was no opportunity for junior fair participants to qualify for the Ohio State Fair, which was canceled due to the coronavirus. As a result, the junior fair saw an estimated 60% decline in participation compared to previous years; despite this, the condensed junior fair went off without a hitch.

“Overall it’s been really good. I’ve been really impressed with the quality of projects that have come in,” Cassie Dietrich, 4-H OSU extension educator, said in July. “I know for a lot of kids, it was heartbreaking when the Ohio State Fair canceled, but I’m glad those kids followed through and were still willing to do it, despite the fact that this is all the further their projects are going to go.”

Jim Frye elected as sheriff

In the only contested county-level race of 2020, Jim Frye was elected Shelby County sheriff, defeating Mark Jordan in the Republican primary before running unopposed in the general election.

Frye, the chief deputy for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, received 4,334 votes (63.44%) in the primary while Jordan, the CEO of Bluecrest Electronics, a sergeant with the Botkins Police Department and a deputy with the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, received 2,498 votes (36.56%).

“I want to thank everyone that supported me,” Frye said after winning the primary, “and I want to assure those who voted for me or didn’t vote for me that I will be their sheriff and treat everyone fairly, and we will get the jobs done that need to get done.”

Frye succeeds John Lenhart, who served as Shelby County sheriff from 1976-91 and 2009-20.

Homicide arrest

The nearly 14-year-old unsolved murder of Melinda McKinney (Shaffer) in 2006 finally resulted in an arrest in May.

Allen Romell Harris, 46, of Newcomerstown, was arrested May 14 by Tuscarawas law enforcement in Tuscarawas County, where had been living. Evidence of the ongoing murder investigation of McKinney was presented to a Shelby County grand jury and after it was reviewed, an arrest indictment for murder was issued by the grand jury on May 14, 2020. The Sidney Police Department coordinated efforts with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and the Tuscarawas County Ohio Sheriff’s Office to have the Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Office execute the arrest warrant.

Harris was indicted on one count of murder with a repeat violent offender specification. Harris was a person of interest since the early months of the murder, said Sidney Police Capt. Jerry Tangeman in a press release. There was insufficient evidence at the time to make an arrest. New advances in DNA testing linked Harris to the murder of McKinney.

Sidney Police and paramedics responded on Saturday morning, June 17, 2006, to 901 N. Main Ave. after McKinney’s son, Matthew Shaffer, found her body and called 911. According to the autopsy report, she was stabbed more than 100 times on her neck, abdomen, face, back, head, upper extremities and thigh, and died within minutes of the onset of the attack. The 911 transcript of the call to police from Matthew Shaffer said there was a large amount of blood around her and a cut on her neck.

Harris is next scheduled to appear in the Shelby County Common Pleas Court for a hearing on Jan. 14, 2021, at 10:30 a.m. He is currently incarcerated at the Shelby County Jail on murder charges.

Two kayakers die after accident on river

Two people died after a tragic kayaking accident on the Great Miami River in April. Three of the four people who set out on kayaks on a warm spring Monday afternoon were rescued that evening. A woman later died at the hospital, and the body of the fourth person, a male, was found almost two weeks later by a kayaker in the river.

Kristeenu Clack, 26, of Sidney, died at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Montgomery County Coroner Dr. Harshbarger confirmed four days after the accident. Tyson Goubeau, 28, of Sidney, was identified by Shelby County Coroner Dr. David McDonald as the deceased man who was found in the water. Clack and Goubeau were engaged to be married.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’s (ODNR) Media/Outreach Specialist Stephanie O’Grady explained two males in individual kayaks and two females were in an inflatable boat. The inflatable boat with the two females went over the low head dam causing them to be stuck in the recirculation current below the dam. One of the males tried to rescue the two females from the dam when he ultimately went under water and became missing.

One of the females floated from the dam and was later transported, treated and released from Wilson Health. One of the males suffered non-life-threatening injuries. A park ranger who was the first on the scene, was able to rescue the Clack, the second female, who was in the dam. She was taken to Wilson and then transported to Miami Valley Hospital, where she passed away.

Sidney Police, ODNR boat crews, the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s helicopter, Lockington and Port Jefferson Fire Departments, Perry Port Salem Rescue Squad and numerous volunteers assisted Sidney Fire with the search for Goubeau.

Teen sentenced in death of 15-year-old

A 16-year-old Shelby County teenager was sentenced Monday, Dec. 14, in the stabbing death of Cody Powers, 15, of Sidney.

The male teen was sentenced in Shelby County Juvenile Court by Judge Jeffrey Beigel on an indictment of murder with a specification of being a serious youthful offender. The teen was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison on the charge.

The teen, who was 15 at the time of the stabbing, was also sentenced to a juvenile amended complaint of juvenile delinquency based on a charge of murder. He was remanded to the Ohio Department of Youth Services until he is 21 years of age.

According to the Sidney Police Department, the teen was accused of the stabbing death of Powers, on Thursday, April 30, 2020. The suspect was upset over an alleged text that was sent to his girlfriend, which he termed “disrespectful.” The teen went to the Dingman Street residence to challenge the victim and an acquaintance of the victim to a fight.

Upon arrival, Sidney Police officers found Powers with a serious knife wound to his stomach area. Powers was transported to Wilson Health for initial treatment and then transferred to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. He died as a result of his injury.

Community honors senior airman

Hundreds of people gathered along Fair Road in February as a procession returned the body of Tristen Allen Carlson, a 2016 Sidney High School alumnus, to Sidney.

The 21-year-old Carlson was an active duty senior airman of the 341st Security Forces Squadron stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, Montana. He was found shot in the bedroom of Christopher Contardo, who was later charged with negligent homicide by the Great Falls Police Department.

The homecoming was suggested by a community member and organized by the Veterans Services Commission, the Sidney Police Department, Sidney Fire Department and Adams Funeral Home. People lined Fair Road to greet the procession as it made its way into the city and welcome Carlson home. The gesture moved Carlson’s father, Mark Carlson, to write a letter to the editor that ran in the Sidney Daily News, thanking the community for their support.

“My family and I wanted to express our deepest gratitude to the fine residents of Sidney and its surrounding communities,” Mark Carlson wrote in February. “Everyone should know that we all live in a community that responds with love and care when the darkest hours are upon us. The smallest to the largest of thoughtful acts touched us tremendously and is not lost on us.”

Also mentioned:

Six fatal crashes occur in county in 2020

From May to December, six fatal crashes occurred in Shelby County, claiming seven lives.

On May 20, Joshua T. Mowen, 30, of Enon, was pronounced dead at the scene of a crash involving two dump trucks at the intersection of Russia Versailles Road and state Route 66.

On June 24, Terry E. Heitkamp, 48, of Minster, passed away at Miami Valley Hospital, Dayton, from injuries sustained in a three-vehicle crash near the intersection of state Route 29 and Bornhorst Road, in McCartyville. He was taken by CareFlight from the scene of the crash.

On Aug. 24, Linda J. Oleyar, 62, of Botkins, was pronounced dead at the scene of a one-vehicle crash at 17000 block of Wenger Road.

On Sept. 5, Peyton J. Drees, 20, of Sidney, was pronounced dead at the scene of a rollover ATV crash in a field access lane north of a residence at 6635 Fort Loramie Swanders Road.

On Nov. 22, Pamela S. Hite, 73, of Huntington, Indiana, died from injuries sustained in a crash at the intersection of state Route 47 and Fourth Avenue.

On Dec. 16, Jesus Gonzales, 42, and his son and passenger, Jesus Godinez, 18, were pronounced dead at the scene of a three-vehicle crash on Interstate 75. They both resided in Sidney.

French bulldogs adopted

In a year seemingly dominated by hardships and anguish, a positive story emerged from the Shelby County Animal Shelter as 17 French bulldogs were adopted after spending more than a year in the shelter.

Some of the dogs, which were rescued from a house fire on March 26, 2019, in Sidney, were adopted by Shelby County residents while others went to locations including Miami County, Cuyahoga County, Seneca County and Chicago. The last one was adopted June 26, 15 months after being rescued.

“The owners have been saying that the dogs are making progress and doing well,” Shelby County Dog Warden Kelli Ward said in July. “So far we’ve got nothing but good updates.”