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Friday, December 29th, 2017

Tornadoes top story of 2017

By Daily Standard Staff

The Daily Standard staff took a look back at 2017 and picked the following top 10 stories of the year.


1. Eight hurt after tornadoes touch down in Mercer County

Photo by Mark Pummell/The Daily Standard

Cleanup efforts continue at Crown Equipment Corp., the site of the most significant tornado-inflicted damage, according to the National Weather Service of Wilmington. A significant portion of the roof was blown off and exteriors walls collapsed.

Two tornadoes touched down in Mercer County on Nov. 5, wreaking havoc on businesses and residences in eastern Celina and homes and agricultural buildings in Washington Township, causing eight non-life-threatening injuries.

Storms moving through the county had started in Indiana and entered Ohio near St. Anthony. A tornado reportedly entered Celina from the southwest around 2:20 p.m., causing damage to a home along Lakeshore Drive. The tornado then crossed the lake before inflicting damage to the Wendy's restaurant, Lakeshore Auto Sales and a few more residences near East Market Street.

As the tornado continued to the northeast, it caused severe damage to Crown Equipment Corp., especially to the south and east side of the complex. Dollar General and several other businesses along Havemann Road, including C-Town Wings, Ruler Foods and Dunham's Sports, were seriously damaged.

The city experienced widespread electrical outages due to numerous downed power lines and damage to a major transmission line. Most of Havemann Road was inaccessible for days as crews worked to clear downed power lines and debris. Power eventually was fully restored on Nov. 8.

The second tornado touched down near Pine and Rauh Roads in Washington Township. At least 20 livestock buildings and numerous other farm structures were damaged and an undetermined number of livestock perished. One house on State Route 49 near St. Anthony was destroyed, and others sustained wind damage.


2. Eischen gets 15 years to life in death of 4-year-old child

Cory William Eischen, 40, Washington Township, was sentenced on Sept. 5 in Mercer County Common Pleas Court to 15 years to life in prison for the murder of 4-year-old Jaxxen Baker.

"I am truly appalled that a human being would be capable of such brutality," visiting judge Randall Basinger said at the sentencing hearing.

Eischen avoided a possible death sentence when he accepted an agreement to plead guilty to an unspecified felony charge of murder, a second-degree felony child-endangering charge and one count of third-degree felony domestic violence in August.

Mercer County Sheriff's deputies were called on Sept. 25, 2016, to Eischen's residence at at 5098 Rauh Road. One call was from a man who said his wife had picked up a child at the residence, and another child at the residence was unresponsive. The unresponsive child turned out to be Baker, who was taken by paramedics to Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater, where he was pronounced dead.

A preliminary examination at the hospital had found Baker had much bruising over his back, face and abdomen area as well as abrasions and lacerations. The official cause of death was listed as homicide due to multiple blunt-force traumas.

Although Eischen is eligible to apply for parole after serving 15 years in prison, Basinger said he would recommend that release not be considered.


3. Area schools plan building projects

Photo by Mark Pummell/The Daily Standard

Tri Star Career Compact Director Tim Buschur addresses about 150 people during the groundbreaking ceremony Friday afternoon for the Tri Star 2.0 building. Buschur said community and educational leaders over the past 34 years had led to this day, though many had thought it would never happen.

Officials from four school districts across Auglaize and Mercer counties are preparing to expand or plan to do so in the near future.

Tri Star Career Compact broke ground in September on its $25 million Tri Star 2.0 facility designed to house classes for students from all nine member districts in one building.

The 100,000-square-foot facility will be located on 15 acres across State Route 703 from Wright State University-Lake Campus. It will include 19 classrooms and laboratories for all 15 of its existing career programs.

New Bremen Local Schools officials plan to break ground on a new school building in the spring and set a targeted completion date for the 2020-2021 school year. The new, $20 million complex will be adjacent to the current high school and will house kindergarten through eighth-grade students.

Marion Local board members are considering a proposed new facility that will feature three gymnasiums, an auditorium and an industrial/agriculture education suite. Final costs of the project are still being determined.

Board members of Minter Local Schools in December approved the first set of schematic design drawings for the district's $10.3 million middle/high school renovation project. A meeting also is set for Jan. 10 for local contractors considering bidding on the work. Architects hope to have the plans ready for bid in May so work can begin during summer break. Work will continue through the summer of 2019.

Parkway Local Schools officials are discussing possibly replacing the home bleachers and press box at the football stadium.

Superintendent Jeanne Osterfeld said the current bleachers need to be replaced either in the summer or the next. The district is seeking quotes for the project. The previous estimate pegged the project at $400,000, but Osterfeld said those figures have increased. Funding would be paid through the school's general fund.


4. Some businesses close while others expand their facilities

Photo by Mark Pummell/The Daily Standard

Construction crews erect the new 97,200-square-foot distribution center at Celina Tent next to the company's facility on state Route 29 west of Celina. Crews broke ground on the $3 million project mid-March and are expected to be finished by November. Administration manager Jill Roy has said Celina Tent expects to open a few more full-time warehouse positions once the facility is completed.

Despite the loss of some "big-box" stores, the local unemployment rate has remained the lowest in the state for most of 2017, and many other companies are investing in major expansions.

The jobless rate for Mercer County was 2.7 percent in November and was the only Ohio county with unemployment below 3 percent in October, according to data released from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Auglaize County had an unemployment rate of 3.1 percent for November.

Auglaize County lost two large stores in a St. Marys shopping center this year as J.C. Penney and Kmart both announced plans to shutter the local stores located on Indiana Avenue. Department store giant J.C. Penney left in June, while Kmart will be closed in January after the holidays.

However, some other businesses that completed or launched major expansions in 2017 include the following:

  • Dannon moved to build a new $25 million distribution center. The yogurt company expects it will create at least 23 new jobs and expand payroll by about $714,000, according to company information.
  • Plumbing supply giant Ferguson Enterprises is constructing a $13.16 million pipe yard next to its distribution center, increasing its investment in Mercer County. The company bought 18 acres of land from the county in June to build a 160,000-square-foot building and a 6-acre outside pipe yard. Ferguson officials want the pipe yard fully operational by May. Ferguson anticipates it will create 36 full-time jobs and retain 94 full-time jobs, according to a scope of work report.
  • Celina Tent broke ground on a $3 million, 97,200-square-foot distribution center in March and has set aside 400,000 square feet of space for future expansion. The company also opened its first foreign distribution center in Leicester, England, with help of an Ohio IMAGE Grant from the State Trade Expansion Program.
  • St. Henry school board members approved a tax-abatement for Hemmelgarn Enterprises, doing business as Hi-Tech Wire, for an expansion. The business will directly pay the school district $1,575 per year in lieu of property taxes during a 10-year, 100 percent abatement. Village administrator Ron Gelhaus said the company plans to add four full-time and four part-time jobs.

5. Plans for large dairy opposed

MVP Dairy, a 4,500-head dairy planned northwest of Neptune, captured headlines in 2017.

The operation is a partnership between VanTilburg Farms of Celina and McCarty Dairy LLC of Colby, Kansas.

Earthmoving work has begun at the 82-acre site adjacent to Hasis Road on the south side of U.S. 33. Dannon Yogurt would buy the dairy's milk to make yogurt at its Minster facility.

Dairy officials first announced the venture in March and in April held an open house about the farm. About 50 people attended. Neighbors in May voiced concerns over the dairy's impact. Signs opposing the dairy and calling for a boycott of Dannon Yogurt popped up around the area.

In August, about 140 people packed an Ohio Department of Agriculture meeting in Celina about the dairy. The meeting was requested by neighbors and held as part of the state's permitting process to accept comments on permits that the state needs to approve to allow MVP to build and operate the dairy. Most of the concerns focused on odor, manure runoff, groundwater contamination, exhausted wells, road damage from truck traffic and decreased property values. Many expressed concerns with nutrient-management issues that such a large facility might create. Some speakers at the meeting criticized VanTilburg Farms' management practices.

Despite the public outcry the ODA in September approved final permits for the dairy, and dairy officials said they intended to proceed with construction.

MVP officials have promised to run a clean operation and build a state-of-the-art facility designed to minimize odors.

Works has started and the dairy is to be operational by spring 2019. The facility would employ about 35 people once it becomes operational and would have a visitors center to educate groups about the dairy's operations, dairy officials have said.


6. State funding helps finance local projects

Photo by Mark Pummell/The Daily Standard

Work is nearly complete on the Coldwater Memorial Park pavilion/amphitheater project. The village received a $200,000 Special Recreation Project Grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for the 1,600-square-foot pavilion. The Community Picnic Association will contribute $50,000 toward the remaining cost.

An influx of state funding allowed officials in Celina and numerous local villages in 2017 to proceed with plans for major capital projects to improve residents' quality of life.

In Celina, city officials green-lighted work related to the Harley Jones Rotary Memorial Amphitheater, the planned centerpiece of the new Bryson Park District. The amphitheater, funded with a $1.2 million state capital line-item grant, is expected to be up by late summer or early fall.

The Coldwater Memorial Park pavilion/amphitheater project was substantially completed this year. The 1,600-square-foot pavilion, located in the northeast section of park, is funded with $200,000 through the Senate Bill 310 Special Recreation Project Grant and $50,0000 from the Community Picnic Association.

Also, St. Henry officials hired Astro Pool, Mansfield, to handle the construction of a new pool estimated to cost $1.2 million. The village has received $600,000 in state capital funds to help pay for the project. Officials hope to open it by Memorial Day.

Grand Lake St. Marys State Park's campground, too, is getting a new swimming pool. Projected to cost up to $1.5 million, the pool, set to open Memorial Day, will be paid in part with state capital improvement funding.

In Chickasaw, village officials snagged a $500,000 Ohio Public Works loan and a $500,000 OPWC loan and have applied for another state loan to help cover the estimated $2.5 million cost to build a roughly 2,200-square-foot treatment plant and a 100,000-gallon water tower to be located near the industrial park next to the wastewater treatment plant.

Meanwhile, Mendon officials have been awarded $434,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds and are seeking a $500,000 OPWC grant to help pay for a new, larger water tower expected to cost between $580,000 and $934,000.

Rockford was awarded a $390,000 CDBG grant toward a $1.5 million total upgrade of the village wastewater treatment plant.


7. Celina embarks on three major street projects

Photo by Ed Gebert/The Daily Standard

Crews from VTF Excavation on Monday afternoon replace a fire hydrant at the corner of Livingston and Armstrong streets in Celina. VTF has been awarded a $619,858 contract to replace water lines under East Livingston Street.

Celina officials in 2017 continued to make strides in street repairs, ponying up nearly $1.7 million for improvements.

This year, city officials gave their blessing to three major projects: resurfacing of numerous residential streets, a water line replacement under East Livingston Street and a West Wayne Street overhaul.

Resident streets resurfaced were Hoying Street between Deford and Mill streets, Timothy and Farmview streets from Fairground Road to their dead ends, Zillah Street from Logan Street to Market Street, Pat Drive from Fleck Avenue to the dead end and Jefferson and Jackson avenues off Myers Road.

Local taxpayer dollars funded all the street-related improvements this year. Most of the money came from the 0.5 percent income tax for fire, police and streets.

City voters in November 2015 approved a ballot issue allowing funds raised by a seven-year additional income tax levy for police and fire services to also pay for street repairs.

Councilman June Scott had insisted this year's projects show the city is using the income tax revenue as promised.

With new revenue rolling in, the city in 2016 set up savings accounts including one for streets, to pursue projects without adding debt.

The city in 2016 completed a full reconstruction of four blocks of Brandon Avenue between Logan and Livingston streets.


8. People pitch in after challenges to lend support

When other people were in need, either locally or far from the area, local residents stepped up to the plate to provide support.

After a tornado swept through Celina on Nov. 5, a group of about 50 Celina City School staff members, students and their parents or guardians volunteered their time to clean up the debris left behind.

To help raise money for those affected by the violent storm, K-94 disk jockey Jerry Love III, also known on the air as Jerrdog, and his friends D.J. Jamie Regedanz and Jay Aukerman together organized a fundraiser that collected about $1,200. The money will largely go to families who worked at businesses affected by the tornado.

To help combat the crippling opioid epidemic, Celina residents Kristine Knapke and Carla Leiss founded the Grand Lake Angels in Action. Their mission is to provide a path for wellness and recovery to improve the quality of life for individuals struggling with substance abuse.

In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, area students united to provide aid. Several Tri Star Career Compact students sold custom T-shirts they had designed to help raise money, which was given to the American Red Cross for victims of the two storms. At Celina Intermediate School, students donated school supplies for teacher Alexandria Wick's class at Betsey Ross Elementary School in Houston, Texas.

The West Ohio Minutemen, based in Allen, Auglaize, Mercer and Van Wert counties, also mobilized their members to collect donations for hurricane victims. At least 10 members took to Texas a box truck loaded with goods as well as a boat to aid in rescue and recovery efforts.

Local citizens known as Team Mutt Hutt also hosted a fundraiser to help build a new transitional shelter for lost or stray dogs found by the Celina Police Department that are awaiting pickup by the county dog warden.

Other fundraisers helped pay medical costs for Scarlett Unrast, who was diagnosed in September with Stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer.


9. Emergency services facilities constructed

Photo by Mark Pummell/The Daily Standard

Work progresses on Tuesday at the site of the new police/EMS building in New Bremen. The $2 million project is scheduled to be completed by the end of November.

A new fire and emergency medical service building in St. Henry and a soon-to-be completed fire/EMS and police building in New Bremen will improve services to the villages' residents.

St. Henry Emergency Medical Service members moved out of their old location this year and into a new facility, which they now call home. Construction of the new facility broke ground last year and squad members hosted an open house in April.

The new complex is complete with numerous improvements compared with those in the old facility built when the unit was formed in 1975.

It features a larger ambulance bay capable of housing four vehicles and has enough room to allow squad members to wash and disinfect the vehicles.

The building also includes a large meeting space, a storage room, bunkrooms, bathrooms for males and females and a washer and dryer.

In New Bremen, work crews broke ground in April on a new facility for the EMS and police departments.

Construction is reportedly on schedule.

The new structure will house the emergency squad and its office on the main floor along with interrogation rooms for the police department.


10. Many charged with sexual misconduct

This year had a number of people accused or convicted of sexual misconduct with minors.

In Auglaize County, Broc Hottle, 28, a former assistant to the Wapakoneta High School band director, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges related to sexual affairs with students.

Dillon Jay Howell, 22, St. Marys, was sentenced to 18 years to life for rape and pandering obscenity involving a minor.

Derek Dean Leffel, 21, St. Marys, was sent to jail for six months and given five years of community control sanctions for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

Daniel Jason Wnek, 27, Toronto, Canada, was charged in the United States Middle District of Florida court by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for allegedly trying to arrange a sexual encounter through the internet with an Auglaize County girl, who he thought was 14 years old.

Mercer County also saw several similar cases.

Brian Winner, 40, was sentenced to the equivalent of 28 months in prison after having pleaded guilty to 10 counts of pandering obscenity or sexually oriented material involving minors.

Jerry L. Fisher, 58, Rockford was sentenced to 20 years in prison for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

A Celina man, Chad W. Ackley, 37, was sentenced to six months of rehabilitation after having pleaded guilty to 25 counts, including pandering sexually oriented material involving a minor and illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance.

Ryan Michael Mills, 39, Rockford pleaded guilty to five felony counts of sexual battery with a minor.

In April, a district court judge turned down the appeal of former Fort Recovery Local Schools teacher Christopher Sommers, who was trying to gain release from prison. Sommers pleaded guilty in a 2013 plea agreement to eight counts of sexual battery involving a former student.

Charles M. Purdy II, 27, St. Marys, was sentenced to 30 days in jail by a Van Wert County judge after having been convicted on a sex-related charge involving a 13-year-old.


Other stories of note for 2017

Several other stories caught our attention over the year but just missed the Top 10.

Among our other choices were the area high school sports teams that won state championships. The continuing efforts to clean up Grand Lake - and disputes about the lake's water level and the number of trees being cut down along its shores - were also considered.

We also took into consideration the number of deaths due to traffic, in a local fire, at work and on the lake; the rare sight of the two local municipal courts gaining new judges; and the large number of thefts from local businesses and one from Coldwater's EMS organization.

We hope 2018's Top 10 is dominated by positive news stories.

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