Monday, December 31st, 2012
Grand Lake area in 2012
Death, damage balanced by high job rate, sport titles during year
By Daily Standard Staff
1. Unsolved crimes - Murders are not commonplace in the Grand Lake area, and authorities currently have two cases under investigation making this the top story for 2012.
Law enforcement continues to investigate the murder of Melinda "Mindy" S. Shinn, 26, who was found shot to death in her Rockford home the morning of Nov. 8.
Authorities believe the shooting occurred as the result of arguments between Shinn and her live-in boyfriend, 40-year-old Daniel C. Martin, who remains at large. An arrest warrant for Martin has been issued, and the U.S. Marshal Service has joined the search and posted a $2,500 reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction. A nationwide bulletin is in effect.
An investigation also continues into the murders of Fort Recovery-area residents Robert "Bob" and Colleen Grube, who were killed in their home Nov. 30, 2011. No suspects have been named.
A $20,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the people responsible for the Grube murders.
The Grubes, a father and daughter who lived together, were found bound with duct tape and shot to death at their Burrville Road home.
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said investigators have identified people of interest following some 300 interviews with more than 250 people.
"We have some individuals that we are very curious about and that is our focus at this point," he has said. "I believe we are headed down the right path."
2. Fatal year - Sixteen traffic deaths, four drownings and several other tragic events made 2012 a deadly year in Mercer County.
Three of the crashes killed seven people in accidents on U.S. 127. The incidents prompted local and state officials to step up patrols, add centerline rumble strips and new signage.
One of the U.S. 127 accidents claimed the lives of five people when a Versailles teen veered left of center and struck another vehicle head-on.
Mercer County also recorded four drownings this year. A 61-year-old Coldwater man was found dead near a pond Jan. 13 on Fleetfoot Road after exiting his submerged vehicle; a 20-year-old Celina man died June 6 after he was rescued from Eastview Pond on May 29; the body of a 59-year-old Montezuma-area man was pulled from Grand Lake on June 20 after he was reported missing from his boat; and a 20-month-old Mendon boy drowned in a backyard pool Aug. 3.
Also, a Parkway High School junior drowned in a pond in Putnam County on Feb. 4 after trying to call 911 on her cell phone as her vehicle sank.
Local authorities also investigated the death of a 31-year-old Lakeview man who was killed while working at Minster Machine on Jan. 10; the death of a Van Wert County man who collapsed while unloading feed at Cooper Farms in Fort Recovery on Feb. 27; and the death of a 74-year-old Rockford man who died June 2 when a metal culvert blew from a trailer and landed on him along Erastus-Durbin Road.
3. Grand Lake woes - Grand Lake continued to capture headlines in 2012.
In January the local Lake Restoration Commission hired St. Marys resident Milt Miller to lead the group and oversee projects aimed at fighting the lake's toxic blue-green algae. Miller previously was the LRC's fundraising chair.
On March 5, the state for the first time opened one of two tubes at the base of the West Bank Spillway to draw the lake down about a foot so it was at normal pool. The state decided to conduct the test after losing lawsuits filed by landowners downstream who proved the new spillway opened in 1997 caused increased flooding to their land along Beaver Creek and the Wabash River.
A drought then hit the area, and in late July, Governor's Cup Regatta organizers canceled the annual power boat race due to the lake's low level. Replying to public criticism, the state said the water release did not cause the low water level, adding that water still would have flowed over the spillway until it reached normal pool.
Also this year, the center of the lake was treated with alum in an effort to lessen algae blooms. The April application cost the state $5 million; the results are still unknown. The state treated the same area of the lake in 2011 at a cost of $3.4 million.
Phosphorous-fed toxic blue-green algae blooms have resulted in advisories and millions in lost tourism on the 13,500-acre lake the last four summers.
4. Extreme weather - Unusual weather created some economic hardships and caused structural damage throughout the area.
A June 29 storm with winds estimated at 80 mph ripped through the area, causing widespread power outages. A second round of thunderstorms packing winds at 60 mph and hail hit the area two days later. Many people suffered without electricity for several days as temperatures soared close to 100 degrees.
A portion of the roof of the Mercer County Fairgrounds grandstand was ripped off along with damage reported to several other buildings throughout the area. Activities also were canceled at St. Henry Community Picnic and Freedom Days in Celina.
As the summer progressed, 16 days in July had temperatures in the 90s. The National Weather Service placed the Grand Lake area under a heat advisory for several days.
However, the bigger problem was drought. While rainfall for the entire year was only about 2.8 inches less than the 30-year average of 36.82 inches, the timing of the dry, hot weather was the difficulty. Also, rainfall was 7.54 inches less than the average during the growing season of March-July, according to the records of Dennis Howick, National Weather Service representative.
Both Mercer and Auglaize counties were declared disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Local farmers reported poor to average yields for corn, but soybean yields were better than average, particularly in Auglaize County, said Vern Schroyer, manager of the Celina Mercer Landmark branch. Two big storms in August assisted the soybean crop by putting that month's rainfall above average.
5. Improving economy - Mercer County has solely coveted the lowest unemployment rate in the state since October 2011 and has broken a new record this year for sales tax revenue.
According to November data - the most recent available from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services - Mercer County's unemployment rate is 3.9 percent. Auglaize County ranked fourth lowest at 4.7 percent.
Local figures are much lower than Ohio's statewide rate of 6.9 percent or the country's 8.7 percent.
Mercer County sales tax revenue is up 6.3 percent or $256,800 for the year and 6.7 percent over December 2011. Revenue for the year totals $4.34 million - up from $4.08 million last year.
The biggest increases in sales tax collections this year were 13 percent in November and 12.2 percent in January. The figures represent sales that took place two months prior.
Sales tax revenue in the county has steadily climbed the last three years after dropping from $4 million in 2008 to $3.6 million in 2009.
6. Officer's death - Zak, a K-9 unit with the Mercer County Sheriff's Office since the fall of 2010, died Aug. 1 of apparent heart failure after being left inside a cruiser with outside temperatures in the 80s.
Neither the vehicle nor its air conditioning were running at the time; a rear window had been lowered several inches.
The dog was in the car for nearly two hours when its handler, deputy Chad Fortkamp, found Zak unresponsive in the backseat. Fortkamp attempted to revive the dog and headed to the Coldwater Animal Clinic, where rescue efforts continued.
A necropsy determined Zak suffered heart failure. His internal temperature was found to be at least 108 degrees - the highest the thermometer could register. The normal temperature range for a dog is 101 to 102.5 degrees.
Fortkamp, an 11-year employee of the sheriff's office, was suspended without pay for 45 days while an internal investigation was conducted. Celina law director George Moore determined there was not sufficient evidence to merit criminal charges. The K-9 program has been suspended. Fortkamp is now a detective for the department.
7. Renovated landmark - A new and improved Auglaize County Courthouse was unveiled this year after 10 years of planning and saving and two years of construction at a price tag of $8.6 million.
The history of the 118-year-old building was preserved by restoring original stained-glass, woodwork, paint, furniture and stamped tin ceilings. At the same time, commissioners brought the facility up to the 21st century with new state-of-the-art technology, electrical work and geothermal heating and air conditioning.
"I think the commissioners should be praised for preserving it, while at the same time bringing it up to date," county historical society member Doug Brookhart of St. Marys said during a rededication ceremony in September. "I think to do that and maintain the building is fantastic."
Commissioners also were commended for paying for the entire project without taking out a loan. The heating, air conditioning and electrical work was funded with a $1.3 million Energy Efficiency and Conservation Development Block Grant. The remaining balance was paid by setting aside an amount from the county's general fund each year for 10 years.
Business in the courthouse resumed as usual in October.
8. Campaign stop - For the first time in years, a presidential campaign stop was made in Mercer County. Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan addressed a packed Celina Fieldhouse on Oct. 28, just days before their presidential aspirations were thwarted at the polls by Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Due to superstorm Sandy on the East Coast, Romney canceled a trip to Virginia and joined forces with Ryan. The vice presidential candidate initially was the only one planned to be in Celina.
Scores of supporters lined up early in the morning to secure a seat in the small gymnasium. Those who didn't make it into the fieldhouse filled the outside bleachers of the adjoining football field, watching the rally on a giant screen. Though Obama claimed another four-year term, voters in Mercer and Auglaize counties overwhelmingly voted Republican.
9. MAC supreme - The Marion Local Flyers and Coldwater Cavaliers football teams picked up the 100th and 101st state championships earned by Midwest Athletic Conference teams in all sports since the league was formed in 1973.
Marion Local (13-2) defeated Newark Catholic 28-21 in the Division VI playoffs at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon on Nov. 30.
The next day Coldwater finished 15-0 after defeating Kirtland 10-9 in the Division V state title game, also in Massillon.
10. Destructive blazes - Two well-know structures were heavily damaged by fire in 2012 - the 1895 Boesel Opera House in New Bremen on Feb. 25 and one unit of the Westlake Village condominiums in Celina on June 21.
The state fire marshal's office determined the fire at the historic opera house to was accidental with the exact cause listed as undetermined. The building, owned by Crown Equipment Corp., had housed the Fireside Pub restaurant and Que's Barber Shop.
The blaze reportedly started between the first and second floors in the bar area of the restaurant. Part of the second floor collapsed onto the restaurant. Both businesses were closed at the time of the fire; no one was injured.
Structural engineers determined the exterior of opera house could be saved, but the interior would need to be reconstructed. H.A. Dorsten Inc. of Minster has been working on the building throughout the year.
"We can't do anything until we get the plans for the interior," Crown vice president of human resources Randy Niekamp said. "We've cleaned it up, but we're still waiting on the plans."
Que's Barber Shop was relocated. Misty Kuck Callahan, owner of the Fireside Pub, has not announced any future plans.
At the Westlake condo in Celina, a discarded cigarette on a second-floor balcony was blamed for the fire that ripped through the southern unit.
No one was injured; damage was estimated at $1.1 million. Earlier this month crews demolished the charred structure, and its owners said they would rebuild.
Complicating matters at the time of the fire was a pending foreclosure suit filed against the owners by a Bluffton bank for default on a $2.2 million loan. Court records show the case was recently settled.