Taking a look back at 2015, Daily Record staffers chose their top 10 local news stories or topics. In an admittedly unscientific poll, staffers were nearly unanimous in their top picks, but their choices varied widely mid-way through the rankings.
The top news topic of 2015 also was on the 2013 and 2014 lists. This time, though, the final chapter was written as crews began tearing down and cleaning up Tent City on Wooster’s south side. Eviction proceedings began in February and the final tear-down and cleanup began April 14.
On tear-down day, Rodger Adkins, the man in charge at Tent City, vowed he would go to Washington, D.C., and return with enough forces to enable him to live on the land.
July 6 was a somber day as another group of residents in Wooster also lost their homes when the city foreclosed on the Larwill Mobile Home Park. The foreclosure was due to a $200,000 water bill unpaid by the park’s landowners.
Residents had been paying their fees to Richard and Carolyn Lawrence, the landlords, or Ed Kosla, who was park manager. However, city records showed the landlords had not paid on the water bill for over a year and the park was using 1,000-2,000 gallons of water an hour because of leaky pipes.
About 40 families were forced to leave their homes.
Coming in at No. 3 on the top 10 list, is a compendium of stories regarding methamphetamine labs uncovered by law enforcement during 2015. Those stories included explosions at homes, house fires, labs and cooks discovered in cars, and in one sweep, 43 labs under the control of a single suspect.
Just 35 days into 2015, seven meth labs had been uncovered in the county.
On Jan. 13, a “brick” of powdered fentanyl … an opiate-based drug estimated to be many times more potent than heroin … was found. Two men admitted to bringing the drug to Wooster and creating a “sea of needles” in a child’s bedroom … where a child was found sleeping.
In February, a domestic disturbance led to the discovery of a “super” meth lab, resulting in the discovery of 32 one-pot meth labs, which grew to 43 labs after floorboards were removed.
… And in March, Medway Drug Enforcement Agency director Don Hall said the drug activity and arrests over one weekend were unlike anything he’d seen in his career.
“We’ve just been bombarded here in the last 54 hours with four meth lab call outs,” Hall said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my 18 years of law enforcement. It’s ridiculous at this point. Our guys are working non-stop without days off because we’re dealing with this stuff.”
With the threat of increased drug activity taking over the streets, it was just threats taking over local schools.
Some of those threats happened over social media and caused a lot of discussion by board members and parents. Questions surfaced about policies, procedures and communication with families in relation to threats involving Wooster High School students at the beginning of October.
Investigations were conducted in collaboration with the Police Department and mental health agencies around three specific pieces of information — a female freshman student making “troubling” social media posts, none of which were direct threats; a 17-year-old male posting aggressive remarks on social media; and a 14-year-old Wooster High male who went missing and was suspected of being involved.
On Dec. 1, Parkview Elementary was evacuated due to a threat made by a young student and that incident was eventually handled internally by school officials.
An 11-year-old West Holmes Middle School student admitted he was the one who wrote a bomb threat in a boys’ bathroom at the school in late 2014, and in 2015 was found to be delinquent by virtue of inducing panic. He had been identified as the responsible party seven days after the incident, which brought law enforcement to the school and prompted evacuation of students and staff.
Higher education didn’t go untouched by threats. Two bomb threats were received in a single day at The College of Wooster and classes were canceled in the wake of threats made against specific campus buildings — the libraries and Kauke and Taylor halls.
No. 5 on the top 10 list is about classes that were not canceled. In mid-November, Wooster parent Melanie Wolf claimed the Pregnancy Care Center presented a biased and one-sided view during a Healthy Choices for Healthy Teens sex education discussion. Wolfe claimed students heard a faith-based message of abstinence and vowed she was out to change sex education in Ohio.
Wooster City Schools officials countered that the information presented was from a curriculum purchased from the Alliance for Youth Health in Akron, a nonprofit obtaining 95 percent of its funding from the Ohio Department of Health and the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Orrville found itself in a different kind of jam — a sweet one created when the J.M. Smucker Company purchased Big Heart Pet Brands and announced plans to build a $31 million research and development facility for Big Heart in Orrville, employing 400 people with an annual payroll of $40 million.
Smucker’s completed its purchase in late March in a cash and stock transaction worth nearly $6 billion.
The buck stopped at No. 7 in Holmes County, with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources confirming chronic wasting disease at a deer operation and eventually ordering the destruction of all captive deer at two locations. Despite two positive cases, the owner of a deer farm continued to permit hunters to take deer under quarantine and in one case was charged with swapping doe and buck heads/meat to thwart testing. He faced both civil and criminal charges.
Voted No. 10 story in 2014, the Bogner Construction Management Company vs. LifeCare Hospice story moved to No. 8 in 2015, having finally moved through legal proceedings. Western Surety Co. (a bonding company) had paid Bogner $1.23 million following a decision by American Arbitration Association saying LifeCare Hospice breached its contract with BCMC, which had overseen the building of an in-patient hospice care facility in Wooster. And on Sept. 2, Western Surety filed its claim against hospice and the two parties agreed on details of payment from LifeCare to Western Surety with a November 2016 payment deadline.
No. 9 on the staff’s list is a story that continues to unfold as natural gas pipelines are in various stages of crossing through the area. The ET Rover Pipeline, along with Kinder Morgan’s Utopia Pipeline, are projected to follow similar paths through the southern part of the county. The pipelines will enter Wayne County east of Mount Eaton in Paint Township and exit west of New Pittsburg. Affected townships in Wayne are Paint, Salt Creek, East Union, Franklin, Wooster, Plain and Chester. The NEXUS pipeline is slated to cut across northeastern Chippewa Township. ET Rover and NEXUS are interstate lines.
The No. 10 story this year actually took root in 1878 and 1879 when the Wayne County Courthouse was first built at a cost of $75,000. The years took their toll on the building and in 2015, the bill to repair the structure is $5.5 million. That includes stone work, slate roof work, a new drainage system, architectural sheet metal work and brick work.
The renovation is complete and the fabric shrouding and scaffolding were coming down at year’s end.