Biggest stories of 2020: The Top 10 in Butler County

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Every aspect of life in the Butler County region was impacted by the coronavirus this year, but many other major stories were breaking daily that the Journal-News team of journalists chronicled.

Here’s a look at the most impactful stories in the area this year:

Explore366 days of news: The biggest story each day of 2020 in Butler County

The pandemic

Two Miami University students who had recently returned from China became the first people in Ohio to be tested for the coronavirus in late January.

At the time, Dr. Amy Acton, the Ohio Department of Health director who was still unknown to the general public, appeared at a news conference in Oxford on Jan. 28.

“We are on it. We stand prepared,” she said.

Those students tested negative, but the months to come saw completely unprecedented changes because of the virus. Every person in the county was impacted, and at least 183 have died. More than 23,000 in the county have battled COVID-19.

It’s impossible to mention all the changes that came. Hamilton High School held its graduation outside at the Holiday Theater, Mason held a traveling graduation to students’ homes and the Class of 2020 adjusted without traditions. Tents went up outside restaurants to preserve dining when the weather cooled. Cases at Miami University exploded, then steadied. Businesses switched to producing hand sanitizer and protective equipment.

In the last month of the year, vaccine distribution began in the area, which provided home for normalcy at some point in 2021.

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Dine-in service is back open at many restaurants around the state but you favorite restaurants may look a little different due to changes they had to make during coronavirus pandemic. More space between tables, less customers allowed in, barriers between tables and frequent cleaning are some of the changes you may see. @bourbonkitchen opened yesterday with clear shower curtains dividing dining areas. NICK GRAHAM / JOURNAL-NEWS.COM

Dine-in service is back open at many restaurants around the state but you favorite restaurants may look a little different due to changes they had to make during coronavirus pandemic. More space between tables, less customers allowed in, barriers between tables and frequent cleaning are some of the changes you may see. @bourbonkitchen opened yesterday with clear shower curtains dividing dining areas. NICK GRAHAM / JOURNAL-NEWS.COM

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Dine-in service is back open at many restaurants around the state but you favorite restaurants may look a little different due to changes they had to make during coronavirus pandemic. More space between tables, less customers allowed in, barriers between tables and frequent cleaning are some of the changes you may see. @bourbonkitchen opened yesterday with clear shower curtains dividing dining areas. NICK GRAHAM / JOURNAL-NEWS.COM

Summer protests

Following the death of George Floyd in police custody in late May, nearly every Butler County community saw protests that remained almost entirely peaceful.

The largest happened in Hamilton, Middletown, West Chester Twp. and Fairfield. On June 2, a planned protest at the West Chester Clock Tower grew significantly when dozens came from downtown Cincinnati because there was no curfew in West Chester. Township trustees held at evening meeting at which they set a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

“A lot of anger,” Michael Bailey, pastor at Faith United Church in downtown Middletown and former police chaplain, said in early June.

“No different than my anger. People are expressing the pain. We have the right to be angry. Be angry and sin not.”

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Over 75 people gathered at the city building for two different marches through downtown Middletown Wednesday, June 3, 2020. The groups gathered in response to the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota. The crowd walked in the middle of Central Avenue on the way back to the city building while police blocked traffic. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Over 75 people gathered at the city building for two different marches through downtown Middletown Wednesday, June 3, 2020. The groups gathered in response to the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota. The crowd walked in the middle of Central Avenue on the way back to the city building while police blocked traffic. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Over 75 people gathered at the city building for two different marches through downtown Middletown Wednesday, June 3, 2020. The groups gathered in response to the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota. The crowd walked in the middle of Central Avenue on the way back to the city building while police blocked traffic. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Election 2020

Hamilton and Middletown voters both approved paying more to improve their streets as some of the biggest local impact from the changed elections of 2020.

The 10-year levy to repair city streets in Hamilton narrowly passed, and Middletown’s income tax increase of 0.25% for 10 years received wider support. Money from both will exclusively work to maintain streets.

Area voters also elected the youngest member of the Ohio Statehouse, 25-year-old Ohio Rep. Thomas Hall, from the 53rd District filled the open 4th Senate District seat with George Lang, who moves from the Ohio House to the Ohio Senate.

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Bob Arnold places his absentee ballot in the drop box at Butler County Board of Elections on election day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Bob Arnold places his absentee ballot in the drop box at Butler County Board of Elections on election day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Bob Arnold places his absentee ballot in the drop box at Butler County Board of Elections on election day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Spooky Nook work continues

The B Street site of the $165 million Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill project in Hamilton changed drastically in 2020, now with steel in place and structures taking shape.

Projected to open in 2021, it will be North America’s largest indoor sports facility. Journal-News reporting this year revealed more about plans for residential development, a grocery store, a riverfront brewpub, a convention center to complement the indoor sports facilities, a basketball academy and more hotel and rental space to prepare for visitors.

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The Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill project in Hamilton as seen on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

The Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill project in Hamilton as seen on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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The Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill project in Hamilton as seen on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Major openings continued business activity

A long-awaited, 124,000-square-foot Kroger Marketplace opened in October at Ohio 4 and Kyles Station Road in Liberty Twp. was one of the most significant business introductions of the year.

Multiple restaurants and small business also opened across the area, with many new owners citing the need to continue strong communities during the pandemic. In Hamilton, the Fringe Coffee House will employ only ex-felons to help a rehabilitation mission, and a business focusing on reptiles, The Reptile Pit, debuted in September. In Middletown, Charlie + Will Provisions is a new retail option, and the co-owners of West Central Wine took on a venture, opening Bandanas Italian Eatery.

Those are just a few examples of the new business activity that continues heading into 2021.

Changes affect commutes in key areas

The unique $20 million diverging diamond interchange on Union Centre Boulevard at Interstate 75 reopened to traffic last summer.

When the work was completed, Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens told the township trustees the DDI was the superior design both financially and safety-wise. The widening improvements to the busy Tylersville Road interchange were also completed this year.

Roundabout construction also began at one of the county’s most dangerous intersection, Jacksonburg Road and Ohio 73.

Looking forward, the Liberty Twp. trustees learned in November their top priority Millikin Road interchange at Interstate 75 will cost around $72 million, and now they have to figure out how to pay for it.

Middletown Regional Airport issues

A lawsuit filed by Start Skydiving and criminal complaints filed by co-owner John Hart II were the latest milestones in the continuing dispute with the city over various lease issues at the Middletown Regional Airport. In May, City Council voted to change the skydiving drop zones citing safety issues and the need to identify the drop zones so the city can complete its Airport Master and Layout Plans. During the summer, there was a war of words between consultants as well as community members who supported or not supported the skydiving company filling the council chamber.

After a number of complaints by local pilots and others, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a compromise map for drop zones which aligned with much of the city’s decision. In addition, the city opted, after one year, to go back to privatization of the Fixed-Based Operator business. Start filed the federal lawsuit on Dec. 17.

City manager changes

Three area cities had city manager moves.

In Fairfield, Mark Wendling resigned as city manager unexpectedly on Dec. 11. Wendling didn’t offer a reason for his resignation other than “it’s just the right time.” Fire Chief Don Bennett will serve as acting city manager during the city’s search.

Jim Palenick started as Middletown’s new city manager on July 13, ending a search conducted largely during the pandemic. He came to the city from Racine, Wisc., where he was city administrator.

Franklin named Fire Chief Jonathan Westendorf as the new city manager, replacing the retiring Sonny Lewis on Friday. He has been Franklin’s fire chief for 20 years.

Middletown officer injured in Warren County shootut

On Aug. 31, Middletown Police Officer Dennis Jordan and a suspect, Christopher J. Hubbard, were shot shortly before 5 p.m. after a pursuit that began in the area of 18th Avenue in Middletown and ended in the 2600 block of Mason-Montgomery Road in Turtlecreek Twp.

Jordan was shot in the arm, finger and right leg. He was released from the hospital a day later and returned to light duty.

Hubbard, 35, received multiple gunshot wounds when eight officers returned fire, according to officials. He was released from University of Cincinnati Medical Center and is now in prison while an investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Hubbard was indicted on multiple charges from the incident last week, and Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell ruled the eight officers who fired shots at Hubbard acted appropriately.

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A Middletown police officer was shot after a pursuit that began in Fairfield on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, ended in a crash and shots fired on Mason- Montgomery Road in Turtlecreek Twp. in Warren County. The officer shot was identified as Dennis Jordan, who was shot in the arm and finger, according to a city of Middletown spokeswoman. He was taken to Atrium Medical Center in Middletown with injuries that were described as not life-threatening. Middletown police Chief David Birk said the suspect they were chasing was wanted related to a Hamilton homicide investigation. He did not identify the suspect, but a city spokeswoman said he was also injured and was taken to West Chester Hospital. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

A Middletown police officer was shot after a pursuit that began in Fairfield on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, ended in a crash and shots fired on Mason- Montgomery Road in Turtlecreek Twp. in Warren County. The officer shot was identified as Dennis Jordan, who was shot in the arm and finger, according to a city of Middletown spokeswoman. He was taken to Atrium Medical Center in Middletown with injuries that were described as not life-threatening.

Middletown police Chief David Birk said the suspect they were chasing was wanted related to a Hamilton homicide investigation. He did not identify the suspect, but a city spokeswoman said he was also injured and was taken to West Chester Hospital. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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A Middletown police officer was shot after a pursuit that began in Fairfield on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, ended in a crash and shots fired on Mason- Montgomery Road in Turtlecreek Twp. in Warren County. The officer shot was identified as Dennis Jordan, who was shot in the arm and finger, according to a city of Middletown spokeswoman. He was taken to Atrium Medical Center in Middletown with injuries that were described as not life-threatening. Middletown police Chief David Birk said the suspect they were chasing was wanted related to a Hamilton homicide investigation. He did not identify the suspect, but a city spokeswoman said he was also injured and was taken to West Chester Hospital. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

School board changes

Three local school boards saw resignations in a six-week period in the fall: Chad Norvell (Madison), Carrie O’Neal (Fairfield) and Todd Parnell (Lakota).

Parnell’s was the most surprising, coming after it was revealed he had sent a comment to the Lakota West High School principal in the wake of the arrest of a student in the parking lot. In Parnell’s email, which came in response to an email sent by the Lakota West principal about the arrests, the former board member wrote, “they should have shot them” referring to the Aug. 26 incident.

The seats were filled by Pete Robinson (Madison), Scott Clark (Fairfield) and Michael Pearl (Lakota).

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