SIDNEY — From the death of an inmate at the Shelby County Jail to a woman who was on the run from law enforcement, the national opioid epidemic continues to touch Shelby County residents.
The Sidney Daily News editorial staff determined the opioid crisis is the No. 1 story for 2017.
No. 1: Opioid epidemic in Shelby County
A drug overdose was the cause of the death of Jacob Martin Lewis, 28, of Sidney, who died while incarcerated at the Shelby County Jail. Lewis was found unresponsive in his cell, Feb. 15, 2017. He was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy found Lewis had carfentanil, fentanyl, acryfentanyl, norfentanyl and nordiazepam in his system.
Cameron Wilkins, 23, of Sidney, was indicted for his role in Lewis’s death. He was charged with one count of involunary manslaughter and one count of illegal convenyance of prohibited items onto the grounds of a detention facility. Wilkins was also an inmate at the jail at the time of Lewis’s overdose.
After agreeing to a plea deal, Wilkins entered a guilty plea to reckless homicide and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Kayla Hewitt, 33, at large, was indicted by the grand jury, Nov. 16, on a charge of involuntary manslaughter regarding the death of David Lee Slagle. Hewitt allegedly sold fentanyl to Slagle, who died hours after the purchase, Aug. 5. This was the first indictment of its kind in Shelby County.
Hewitt went on the run and was arrested, Dec. 17. She entered a not guilty plea to the involuntary manslaughter charge. She also faces two counts of aggravated possession of drugs and one count of possession of criminal tools from a Feb. 6, drug-related arrest. In a separate case, she is charged with aggravated possession of drugs and possession of criminal tools, both fifth-degree felonies. Those charges stemmed from an Aug. 7, drug-related arrest just two days after Slagle’s death.
In response to the increased drug use in the county, the Shelby County Task Force, formed in October 2016, hosted two community conversation forums, during which a panel presented information and answered questions from the audience.
Through November, the Sidney Fire & Emergency Services had administered 295 doses of naloxone (Narcan) to 119 patients. In 2015, 78 doses were administered in 58 incidents and in 2016, 171 doses were administered in 100 incidents. The Sidney Police Department had administered 15 doses of Narcan through October 2017.
In response to the growing problem, Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart proposed the construction of a transitional treatment house to be located by the Sheriff’s Office. The 20-bed facility will offer a transitional residence for those being released from jail. The goal is to support individuals in finding employment and help to stay away from drug use.
Other individuals have sponsored meetings and fundraisers to help educate the community. A Sidney chapter of the support group, Families of Addicts (FOA), was founded in May. During a meeting in October, the program, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” was presented. Participants were invited to go through a mock teenager’s bedroom and write down all the signs of drug use they could find. There were close to 50 instances, but no one found more than 13.
The “Opiod Warrior,” Billy Pfaff, visited Sidney in March and shared his message of hope at the Mount Zion Church. “We have a killer-freaking-nightmare on our hands. Society is broken. On top of the heroin epidemic, we are dealing with a synthetic drug (fentanyl/car-fentanyl) that is 10,000 times stronger than heroin. There are 40,000-plus addicts in Ohio alone and each one is dealing drugs to support their habit,” said Pfaff, who noted the majority of heroin addicts are afflicted with Hepatitis C, and are HIV positive and that sharing needles is “spreading the diseases like wildfire.”
Local musician Aaron Frohna organized Rock the Difference, a benefit in May 2017. The first benefit was in 2016. The purpose of the benefit was to spread the word about heroin and to assist agencies who are helping those who are addicted to heroin or other drugs.
“It’s getting very hard to find someone that has not been affected in someway by heroin use. It’s time to take a stand,” said Frohna.
No. 2: Downtown Sidney fire.
A building at 110 N. Ohio Ave. in downtown Sidney, owned by Sharon Eikenberry and housing the Sidney Dance Company, was engulfed in flames April 17 after a vehicle struck a natural gas line, igniting the massive fire.
Ryan Joseph Cathcart, of Sidney, was charged with one count of driving under the influence, one count of DUI second offense in 20 years with refusal and failure to control/weaving by Sidney Police after his Dodge pickup truck struck the natural gas line and building.
Firefighters battled the well-involved fire for approximately four hours. Interior fire operations were stopped when the roof became unstable. Four aerial ladder trucks were utilized to control and contain the fire from the exterior.
A “box alarm” was called for all off-duty Sidney firefighters, as well as a fourth alarm for help from Botkins, Anna, Kettlersville, Lockington, Houston, Fort Loramie, Piqua, New Bremen, Port Jefferson and Jackson Center Fire Departments. Anna, Houston, Fort Loramie and Perry Port Salem EMS Departments were also called. Several medical calls were dispatched during the structure fire and mutual aid EMS departments responded to those calls.
Cathcart entered a no contest plea to an amended charge of driving under the influence in May. Judge Duane Goettemoeller found him guilty of the amended charge.
No. 3: Troy McRae Jr. found guilty of aggravated murder.
Troy Delano McRae Jr., 34, of Sidney, was found guilty of aggravated murder by a 12-person jury in September. McRae was accused of the stabbing death of Lance Johnson, 38, of Sidney, during a burglary of Johnson’s apartment on North Miami Avenue.
McRae was sentenced in November to life in prison with the possibility of parole after he serves 30 years of the sentence. Ten years were added to the sentence because he was deemed a repeat violent offender, making him eligible for parol in 40 years.
In December, McRae filed an appeal in the hope of overturning the court’s decision. The action was filed in the Third District Court of Appeals of Shelby County. He is incarcerated at the Lebanon Correctional Institution of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
No. 4. Nine people killed on county roads
Eight crashes claimed the lives of nine people on Shelby County roads in 2017. Crashes in surrounding counties also claimed the lives of local residents.
• Sidney High School senior Kacey D. Swiger, 18, of Sidney, was killed in a two-vehicle crash Dec. 23, when she lost control of her vehicle on the snow-covered road in the 10000 block of state Route 29, just south of Fort Loramie Swanders Road. Daveras Pruitt, of Dayton, who was driving a van owned by Spectrum, was unable to avoid the crash and struck the passenger side of Swiger’s vehicle. He was transported to Wilson Health by Anna Rescue.
• Melanie Smith, 36, of Fort Loramie, was killed in a vehicle-farm tractor crash on state Route 219 just north of Botkins, Dec. 21. Smith was northbound on state Route 219 when she rear-ended a northbound tractor driven by Leon Hemmert, 62, of Botkins. Smith’s two daughters, Whitley Smith, 3, and Layla Smith, 6, were transported to Wilson Health by Anna Rescue.
• Sandra Vondenhuevel, 72, of New Bremen, was killed in a two-vehicle crash at the intersection of state Route 219 and state Route 364, south of St. Marys, Dec. 1. Vondenhuevel was northbound on state Route 364 when she failed to stop at a stop sign at the intersection. Her vehicle was struck by a vehicle driven by Nancy Geier, 61, of Celina, who was eastbound on state Route 219.
• Skyler P. Ludington, 18, of Botkins, an Anna High School senior, was killed in a hit-and-run accident near Springboro, Nov. 23. Ludington was struck by a pick-up truck as he was walking along West Lytle-Five Points Road in Clearcreek Township in Warren County.
• Paul Newman, 88, of Sidney was killed, Nov. 6, in a two-vehicle crash in Sidney. Newman was traveling southbound on Wilkinson Avenue when he failed to stop at a stop sign and was struck by a vehicle driven by David Shoup, 66, of Bradford.
• Bert Helsel, 63, of Minster, was killed in a two-vehicle crash in Van Wert County, Sept. 20. Helsel was driving west on U.S. 30, west of Richey Road and had slowed for traffic ahead of him in the construction zone. He was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer driven by Vasilevich Dzmitry, 33, of Hallandale, Florida. The impact pushed Helsel’s car into a tractor-trailer ahead of him driven by David Knight, 45, of Industry, Pennsylvania.
• Todd Oda, 48, of Auglaize County, was killed in a motorcycle crash, Sept. 3, in Miami County. Oda was northbound on state Route 48 when he apparently drifted off the right side of the road, traveled approximately 100 yards, struck a cement culvert and went airborne before striking the culvert on the other side of a small waterway. He was ejected from the motorcycle, striking a tree. The motorcycle continued for some distance, coming to rest at the side of the highway.
• Michael Vest, 35, of Conover, was killed in a two-vehicle crash in Sidney, June 24. Vest was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Chadwick Amburgey, 36, of Sidney. Amburgey was traveling westbound on state Route 47. His vehicle struck a minivan which was making a right turn from Royan Avenue onto state Route 47. After striking the minivan, Amburgey’s vehicle hit the guardrail. The vehicle came to rest on the right side of state Route 47. There were three occupants in the Impala. Vest was an occupant of the vehicle.
• John F. Payne, 55, of Tipp City, was killed in a one-vehicle crash along state Route 705, just outside of Fort Loramie, June 22. Payne was driving a 2013 Volvo semi-tractor trailer when the vehicle went off the right side of the roadway in the 5000 block of state Route 705 around 3:21 a.m. The vehicle went into a ditch and overturned. The semi was pulling a milk tanker at the time of the crash. Payne was pronounced dead at the scene. He was trapped in the vehicle.
• Justin Lee Withrow, 32, of Maplewood, was killed in a motorcycle crash at 4842 Tawawa Maplewood Road, June 18. Withrow was driving a 2000 Harley Davidson motorcycle and was traveling northbound in the 4000 block of Tawara Maplewood Road. Withrow failed to negotiate a left-hand curve, and the motorcycle traveled off the right side of the road. The motorcycle then went into the driveway at 4822 Tawawa Maplewood Road, where it traveled down the driveway and struck a parked trailer. Withrow was ejected from the motorcycle and pronounced dead at the scene.
• Clint T. Walker, 39, of 15144 Amsterdam Road, Anna, was killed after being struck by a CSX train, June 11. Walker was walking southbound on the tracks when he was struck and killed by a southbound train. It is unsure of the exact time Walker was struck, but it was sometime after 10:30 p.m. According to Botkins Police Chief Wayne T. Glass Jr., the train didn’t stop because the engineer didn’t realize Walker had been hit.
• William Baughman, 78, of Botkins, and Turaee Manley, 50, of Lima, were killed in a three-vehicle crash on Interstate 75, April 10. Baughman, who was driving a Ford truck, was southbound on I-75 when his vehicle crossed the median, striking Manley’s Nissan truck and a Toyota van, both of which were traveling northbound on I-75.
• John Koewler, 45, of Maplewood, was killed in a single-vehicle crash, March 12. Koewler was westbound on Herring Road around 10:13 p.m. which his vehicle drifted off the left side of the roadway while he was attempting to negotiate a right curve. The vehicle travelled into a ditch and struck a large tree before coming to rest.
No. 5: Does Sidney need a roundabout?
The city of Sidney’s council presented a plan for the State Route 47 Improvement Project, which included a reduction of four lanes down to two lanes and the addition of bike paths on both sides of state Route 47 leading into the downtown district. Five alternatives were proposed for dealing with potential dangers at the Wilkinson Avenue intersection. One proposal called for a single-lane roundabout to be constructed. After a public hearing, and getting negative comments about the roundabout, council opted instead to close the southbound lane of North Wilkinson Avenue from Railroad Street to state Route 47. The closure prevents both left and right turns onto state Route 47 from Wilkinson Avenue.
No. 6.: Patrick and Heather O’Donnell arrested.
A Lewistown husband and wife, who both serve as area superintendents, were indicted by the Logan County grand jury, July 11.
Heather M. O’Donnell, 46, who serves as the superintendent for the Midwest Regional Educational Service Center, and her husband, Patrick O’Donnell, 52, Indian Lake Schools superintendent, were indicted.
Patrick has been indicted on 14 charges: four counts of rape, all first degree felonies, four counts of sexual battery, all second degree felonies, and six counts of gross sexual imposition, all third degree felony.
He was first arrested, June 19, following an investigation by the Washington Township Police Department. He was charged with gross sexual imposition when he was accused of abusing a 13-year-old girl since 2013. The girl resides in Logan County but is not a student at Indian Lake Schools.
Heather has been indicted on two counts of endangering children, both third-degree felonies.
Patrick has since been fired by the Indian Lake School District’s Board of Education. He has filed a lawsuit to get his job back.
Heather O’Donnell remains on unpaid leave from her job.
Their cases have been combined and a jury trial is planned for Feb. 6-8, 2018, in Logan County.
No. 7. Jackson Center Police Chief found not guilty
Joseph Cotterman, the police chief of Jackson Center, was placed on administrative leave in February 2016 following a filing of a criminal complaint against him. A trial in 2016 ended in a mistrial and a new trial ran, Jan. 17-19, 2017.
After the three-day trial, Cotterman was found not guilty of gross sexual imposition, a fourth degree felony. He had been accused of having sexual contact with a 19-year-old female on Jan. 27, 2016. The jury also had the option of a lesser charge of sexual imposition, but they found him not guilty on that charge, as well. The case was officially dismissed.
A civil lawsuit was filed in Shelby County Common Pleas Court against Cotterman, current Chief Chuck Wirick and the village of Jackson Center, about accusations regarding a reported incident of rape.
On Jan. 26, Meranda A. Suttles, of Sidney, filed the action through her attorney Jason Flower, of Lima. They asked for more than $25,000 in damages from the defendants plus legal costs.
According to court records, Suttles claimed her constitutional and civil rights were violated, that she was assaulted, falsely imprisoned and suffered emotional distress from an encounter with Cotterman in his role as police chief.
Cotterman filed counterclaims against Suttles, Melissa Maloon, of Jackson Center, and the village of Jackson Center, June 15. Court records indicated Cotterman was seeking more than $25,000 in compensatory damages, $25,000 in punitive damages, attorney fees and any other relief the court may determine, from both Suttles and Maloon. Cotterman claimed the pair were involved in efforts to “smear” his name in the community. Against the village, Cotterman was asking for a declaratory judgment for them to provide defense protection against the lawsuit.
In August, the village of Jackson Center agreed to settle two civil lawsuits it was facing involving rape allegations filed against Cotterman and other defendants. Included was a counterclaim filed by Cotterman against the village and several other parties. Council unanimously agreed to pay the balance of a $110,000 settlement following a $40,000 contribution by their insurance company, Ohio Plan. The insurer had agreed to cover legal expenses for all involved in lawsuits, except for Cotterman.
Per the agreement, Cotterman resigned as chief, Aug. 18, and has received $80,155.72 in back wages, attorney fees and a settlement claim amount. In the alleged rape case, Suttles received a settlement of $30,000 from the village.
All parties agreed not to pursue further legal action against the village, each other or other individuals. It was agreed that none of the parties would claim any liability.
After serving as interim police chief, Wirick was appointed the village’s police chief and sworn into office, Oct. 23.
No. 8: Former Sidney resident at Las Vegas concert shooting
LAS VEGAS — It started out as a night out with his girlfriend. And it ended up as a terrifying night that Brad Goble will never forget.
Goble, a 2001 graduate of Sidney High School, and his girlfriend, Marirose Naing, were in attendance for two days of the Route 91 Harvest Country Festival, Sept. 30/Oct. 1. They were among the 22,000 festival-goers when Stephen Paddock opened fire on the group from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort.
“There were seven of us talking,” said Goble. “Mary had her iPhone and was using Instagram and recording Aldean on stage. As she was filming, she caught some strobe light on the fourth and fifth floor of the hotel. Some people thought that’s where another shooter was, but there were no windows broken out.”
As the concert-goers listened to the show, their world changed at 10:05 p.m. when they heard pops going off. At first, they all thought it was fireworks being set off.
“We just heard a pop, pop, pop,” said Goble. “We thought it was fireworks. During the initial 30 rounds of fire, no one moves. We didn’t realize what it was. Jason was still playing on the stage. No one thought it was gunfire.”
Then the second round of pop, pop, pop began.
“Forty-give seconds later, he started firing again,” said Goble. “A girl 15 feet away from us drops. The bullets were hitting all around us.”
At least 59 people were killed in the mass shooting, which is the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. More than 500 people were injured.
No 9. Anna teen receives new heart
Hayden Weiskittel, 15, son of Christa and Scott Weiskittel, of Anna, received a new heart in April.
He was norn with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital heart defect in which the left side of Hayden’s heart was not sufficiently developed to function properly. He had been hospitalized, on the waiting list for a donor heart, since February.
Following a recovery period of several months, Hayden was permitted by doctors to go home in July. He was re-hospitalized in September, however, when he was diagnosed with post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD), lymphoma that can develop in people who have had a transplant.
He returned home Nov. 30. So far, his body has not shown signs of rejecting the heart.
“The next heart cath will be Jan. 22 to get a reading,” Christa said in December. “It’s trickier with PTLD. The chemo replaced some of the rejection meds, but the last biopsy had no rejection.”
When Hayden got home in July, he had hoped to be able to go back to school at Anna High School, but that hasn’t yet been possible. Now the hope is that he’ll join his classmates in mid-January.
No. 10. Construction is the word of the year.
There was an upswing in major construction projects in Shelby County in 2017. Jackson Center opened a new school. A new home was constructed by Habitat for Humanity in Jackson Center, the Amos Memorial Public Library underwent a complete renovation and opened a sparkling new addition and SCARF has broken ground for a new animal shelter. The Shelby County Fairgrounds also installed a new grandstand, just in time for the start of the 2017 fair.
• On Nov. 17, Bob Sargeant and Lawrence Piper, two major donors to the Shelby County Animal Rescue Foundation’s (SCARF) capital campaign for a new animal shelter, were the first to put their ceremonial shovels into the dirt during the groundbreaking for the shelter, along Gearhart Road.
The new shelter will be named the Bob Sargeant and Family Shelby County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center as Sargeant made a $500,000 donation toward the project. Piper has given $300,000 to support the cat wing.
• Kara Mullen and her family were in a new home for Christmas thanks to the Habitat for Humanity of Miami and Shelby Counties. Ground was broken for the new home in April. The house was completed in August thanks to financial and volunteer support by Airstream Inc., Hoying and Hoying Builders Inc. and some 45 other area businesses. Major funding, besides the $80,000 Airstream contribution, came from C.H.I.P. Shelby County and Bill and Sandy Johnjulio-Alumapalooza. Construction began in May and what usually takes about 18 months to complete was done in four.
“It felt like home pretty quick. I think we put so much love and so much work into it, it felt like home pretty quick,” Mullen said. The 1,320-square-foot, four-bedroom home has two bathrooms and a one-car garage.
• Hundreds of students, teachers, parents and community members turned out for the dedication of the new Jackson Center school and annual open house, Aug. 27.
The new building has many improvements, beyond the play ground and air conditioning.
The almost 63,000-square-foot building also features a stage for performance and public speaking, interactive learning boards, gym, outdoor dining and greenhouse. There is also a new security system with cameras for increased safety and access control. The new building serves primarily pre-kindergarten through fifth-grades with 15 classrooms.
“I’m really proud for our community and I’m proud for our students,” said Superintendent Bill Reichart. “I hope they enjoy what we’re trying to do here. and hopefully we’ve created a building that kids want to be in.”
• July 22 was an emotional day for Shelby County Fair Secretary Jerry Schaffner.
First, he watched as fair-goers walked into the new grandstand — a culmination of Schaffner’s work along with that of the agricultural society (fair board), Shelby County Commissioners and sponsors — for the past year.
Second, he listened as Fair Board President Mitch Brautigam dedicated the 2017 Shelby County Fair to Schaffner’s late wife, Patricia “Pat” Schaffner, who passed away, May 29.
“They told me this morning (Sunday) that they were dedicating the fair to Pat,” said Schaffner after the opening ceremony, which also included the dedication of the new grandstand. “It was hard hearing it. This hasn’t bothered me as much as it has today. It was very good of them to do this. I really appreciate it.”
During the ceremony, Brautigam said Pat Schaffner was a mainstay in the secretary’s office for many years.
“Pat loved the fair,” said Brautigam. “She looked forward to it every year.”
• Local community leaders and residents gathered, Aug. 10, to celebrate their newest gem. The Amos Memorial Public Library officially opened its $4.8 million addition with speeches, book signings and frozen custard.
Dignitaries welcomed a crowd of more than 100 people and thanked project funders and fundraisers, the architects and builders and library staff.
The project was financed by $2.5 million from library reserves earmarked for construction, with the remaining $2.3 million raised from private gifts and in-kind contributions.
It added 11,400 square feet and renovated the building’s original 19,400 square feet. Except for a few days, the library remained open during the entire 18 months of construction.