- Wayne Baker Staff Writer
From a 6-foot-7, 350-pound dancing trucker to a 69-year-old grandfather who started a ‘No Drugs Today” movement in his Hamilton neighborhood, there were many unique people and stories in 2017 in Hamilton and Butler County.
‘No Drugs Today’ grandfather and pastor
Dennis Matheny, 69, is a grandfather and a pastor. His effort to stop drugs in his Parkamo Avenue neighborhood over the summer caught not only the eyes of Hamilton residents but people across the country.
He said his neighborhood had become known in the city as “Heroin Alley,” so he sat in front of his house one day with a large sign reading “No Drugs Today.”
“This is about cleaning up the neighborhood and getting rid of the drugs,” he said. “I’m glad to see all of the positive responses from people who live here that are as sick of it as I am.”
Sarah Houston said her grandfather’s efforts led to thousands of social media posts showing support.
“It is crazy how many people from all over the place have responded,” she said.
The varying effects of opioids
Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit commended residents for taking a stand against drug activity and showing a willingness to work with police to address the problem.
“We are going to clean this street up,” Bucheit said. “I think what the pastor is doing is great. One thing that Denny and these folks have going is that they care about his neighborhood and they are willing to roll up their sleeves and do something about it. I think we have a good plan moving forward.”
The plan of getting residents to work with police paid off just several weeks later, as law enforcement netted a drug dealer known to be a major player in Hamilton.
A drug investigation involving multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Hamilton Police Department and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, led to the arrest of “one of the biggest drug dealers in the area,” Bucheit said.
Jonathan Ingram, 55, along with his girlfriend Lauren Watts, 29, were arrested in September after a months-long investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Butler County Regional Narcotics Task Force (of which Hamilton is part), and the D.A.R.T. Hamilton County Drug Abuse Reduction Taskforce.
An effort to help at-risk babies
Butler County has one of the worst infant mortality rates in Ohio, but several agencies and hospitals have joined together with the Butler County Health Department to combat the issue.
Butler County’s infant mortality rate is 8.47 per 1,000 live births, while Ohio’s statewide infant mortality rate is 7.72 per 1,000 live births, according to Butler County Health Commissioner Jenny Bailer.
In August, Atrium Medical Center launched a new program called CenteringPregnancy designed to provide care for the highest risk pregnant women in the area in the hopes more babies will reach their first birthday.
“Black babies in Butler County are dying before the age of 1 at twice the rate and in some cases three times the rate of white babies,” Bailer said. “We want our babies, no matter what race, to be healthy and make it beyond their first birthday.”
Hamilton acts as a movie set
The year also featured some stories that left people with a smile on their face and a sense of being in the movies.
In April, “The Old Man and the Gun,” a movie being produced by and starring Robert Redford, filmed scenes in downtown Hamilton.
In addition to Redford, the movie will also star Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover and Casey Affleck.
In 2016, Ohio Gov. John Kasich increased the tax incentive that Ohio offers for film projects to be produced in Ohio from $20 million a year to $40 million a year for the next two years.
The Dancing Trucker
The sight of John “The Dancing Trucker” Drury performing is certainly something out of the ordinary. The 6-foot-7, 350-pound man, performs in front of the Butler County Courthouse and just wanted to elicit smiles from people in 2017 and beyond.
“I love seeing the people smile,” he said. “It makes it all worth it and I hope to be able to continue to do it.”