- Lauren Pack Staff Writer
Butler County and the region experienced some tragic, shocking and impactful crime stories throughout this year.
Here, a look at the top crime stories in the region from 2017:
1. Carlisle buried baby death
Brooke Skylar Richardson, 18, is charged with aggravated murder and several other felonies in a case that captivated the community this year when the teen was arrested for allegedly killing her newborn, burning the body and burying it in the backyard.
Warren County Common Pleas Court Judge Donald Oda II granted the defense’s motion to continue the trial that was scheduled to begin in November. A new trial date of April 16 has been set.
Richardson is free on $50,000 bond that was set by Oda at arraignment.
Prosecutors say the Carlisle High School cheerleader gave birth to a baby girl on May 6 or 7, caused the baby’s death then covered it up by burning the body and burying it in the yard.
Defense attorney Charlie M. Rittgers said after the arraignment, “I can tell you Brooke Skylar Richardson did not kill her baby.”
In an exclusive interview with this news agency, Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell admitted the prosecution has challenges due to the condition of the baby’s remains. Other evidence, he said, will prove Richardson purposely caused the death of the child.
“Certainly it would be substantially easier if we could come in and say what the medical cause of death is, but that was made impossible or nearly impossible when she burned and buried the body,” Fornshell said. “I think it is going to be a challenge at the trial phase, because we don’t have that medical cause of death.”
Shortly after statements from both sides, the judge issued a gag order and little information has been forthcoming since. Richardson is due back in Warren County Common Pleas Court in January for a pre-trial hearing.
2. Wolterman arson murder trial
Lester Parker, 68, and his nephew, William Tucker, 50, are both in prison after convictions for aggravated arson and murder following a November trial in Butler County Common Pleas Court.
They were charged in the death of Patrick Wolterman, a Hamilton firefighter who died while fighting a fire at Parker’s home at 1310 Pater Ave. on Dec. 28, 2015. The home was Parker’s, and Parker convinced Tucker to set fire to the house with pills as payment, according to prosecutors.
The death struck the Hamilton community, and the trial in 2017 provided some closure for those affected.
The fire came on a cold and snowy day, firefighters responded about 1:10 a.m. They rushed in to rescue the elderly residents they believed were inside.
But the arson fire had already burned from the basement, weakening the flooring above, and Wolterman fell through and died.
Those older residents, Lester and Bertha Parker, weren’t trapped. They were gambling in Las Vegas. The man Lester Parker convinced to set the fire, his nephew William Tucker, was moving from hotel to hotel in Hamilton trying to sell pills he received in payment for the job.
Two years later, there is some closure. Lester Parker and William Tucker are both in prison after convictions for aggravated arson and murder following a November trial in Butler County Common Pleas Court. And it was a year filled with hearings leading up to the three-week trial that ended with a decision by the jury that took less than three hours, despite both defendants taking the stand and denying involvement.
Appeals have been filed for both men. They are currently in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction reception center in Orient, Ohio before placement in a prison to serve their sentences of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years.
3. Hamilton teen charged for allegedly fatally shooting father
The girl, then 14, was a high school freshman when she picked up a 9 mm handgun on Feb. 23, loaded it and shot her 71-year-old father, James Ponder, in the head at their Millville Avenue home, according to police and prosecutors.
“I just shot my dad,” she told 911 dispatchers in a call placed moments after the shooting. She was arrested on the driveway of the family home when police arrived.
Prosecutors had requested the teen be tried as an adult, but Butler County Juvenile Court Judge Kathleen Romans ruled the teen’s case will remain in juvenile court. However, she was indicted for aggravated murder by a Butler County grand jury as a serious juvenile offender, which entitled her to bond.
Romans set the girl’s bond at $300,000 with a 10 percent rule at a hearing on Aug. 29. That bond was posted in September, and the girl was placed on home incarceration with an electronic monitoring device at her grandmother’s residence.
On Sept. 29, prosecutors filed a motion requesting a review and revocation of the bond.
In that motion was an affidavit of James Ponder Jr., who said his stepmother, Heidi Ponder, received life insurance benefits of $250,000 from the death of his father.
The benefit was paid to Heidi Ponder in April 2017, Ponder Jr. said in the affidavit.
“I have knowledge that my stepmother … posted the bond for (the teen) in the amount of $30,000 out of funds from the life insurance benefit,” he said.
Ponder Jr. added the teen’s defense is also being paid by the life insurance benefits. Romans is taking the matter under advisement, according to prosecutors.
The teen is scheduled to be back in court in February for a hearing on a motion filed by the defense to suppress statements she made to police.
4. Man shot by Hamilton police after confrontation with large knife
On April 22, a police officer was sent to a Hamilton apartment complex after a 911 caller painted a chaotic scene of a man waving a gun and then shooting someone.
But police found no evidence of such a shooting when they arrived just after 3 p.m. at the Knollwood Crossing apartments.
The man making that 911 call was the same person later shot by the Hamilton police officer who responded to the scene.
Officer Steven McFall shot and killed 24-year-old Michael Wilson-Salzl during a confrontation at the apartment complex on Forest Park Drive, according to police. Police said Wilson-Salzl engaged McFall in a “confrontation” while carrying a butcher knife.
Following an investigation, evidence was presented to a Butler County grand jury the declined to return charges against the officer.
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser the grand jury considered evidence including witness accounts and the history of the man who was killed. He said Wilson-Salzl had called in a false report of shots fired.
Wilson-Salzl charged at McFall while wearing a black mask and holding a knife, according to Hamilton police. Police say Wilson-Salzl then refused commands and McFall fired three times.
Gmoser sayis the investigation found Wilson-Salzl was mentally disturbed with a history of suicidal attempts.
5. Veteran suffering from PTSD shot by deputy
A Butler County grand jury returned no indictment in the officer-involved shooting death of a St. Clair Twp. man on June 20.
Butler County Sheriff’s Deputy Taylor Henson, a six-year veteran of the force, fired the shots that killed Jacob Faulkner, 32.
Police were initially called to a scene in St. Clair Twp. on reports of a man, later identified as Faulkner, shooting at a moving train.
As deputies surrounded a house in the 4100 block of Trenton Road, Faulkner, a New Miami High School graduate, walked around the garage and raised his rifle at Henson, who fired several shots, according to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.
“Regrettably, Jacob Faulkner engaged in conduct with a firearm, a pistol that required the immediate response of a Butler County Deputy Sheriff,” Gmoser said. He added all requirements for the use of deadly force by the deputy were followed.
Family members said Faulkner, who served in the Marines in Afghanistan, suffered from post traumatic stress. He had been back in the United States for about six years.
Gmoser added, “This case does underscore equally significant issues. Mr. Faulkner was a veteran and deeply troubled from his military service. Once again we can only speculate on his motivation to force his death … but circumstances dictate a conclusion that he intended his life to end by the hand of another.”
6. 2 dead in Middletown New Years’ Day crash, shooting
Two people died, another was critically injured and others were injured in two shooting incidents and a fatal car crash in Middletown on the first day of 2017.
While the incidents were found not to be specifically related, both groups of people involved were at the 513 Lounge, 613 N. Verity Parkway, before violence broke out, according to Lt. Jim Cunningham.
Officers were sent at 2:19 a.m. to a report of multiple shots being fired at the 513 Lounge. When they arrived, shots were heard from the rear parking lot, according to Cunningham.
A vehicle sped away from the parking lot on Verity and crashed into a stone wall at St. John’s Church at Curtis Street and First Avenue. The driver, DeShawn Rippey, was taken by medical helicopter to Miami Valley Hospital with critical injuries. The front seat passenger, Mariana-Maria Richlen, of West Chester, was killed in the crash.
About 10 minutes after the initial call of shots fired at the 513 Lounge, Middletown officers were sent to a report of multiple shots being fired in the area of Roosevelt Boulevard and Wicoff Street.
Officers did not find a shooting or crime scene, but at 2:31 a.m. two people who had been shot showed up at the Atrium Medical Center. Police determined the two had been traveling in a vehicle when they were shot near Roosevelt Boulevard, west of Wicoff Street.
Police said the driver, Steve Waldon, of Dayton, had been shot multiple times in the chest and arm, and his passenger, Teresa Shields, also of Dayton, was shot multiple times and died of her injuries.
Rippey was convicted on aggravated vehicular homicide and is serving a seven-year prison sentence.
Shields’ homicide remains unsolved, but Walden is serving a federal prison sentence on a drug charge.