Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith thanks commissioners for their $2.5 million Spooky Nook investment.

Journal-News top 10 stories of 2018: Shocking crimes, big projects and many battles

Butler and Warren counties saw major news happen throughout the year in  2018.

Here’s a look at the top 10 stories of the year reported by the Journal-News, in no particular order:

Groundbreaking ceremony launches Spooky Nook at Champion Mill project

An Oct. 25 groundbreaking at the former Champion Mill kicked off construction efforts for the gigantic Spooky Nook at Champion Mill indoor sports complex.

It will also will play host to Greater Cincinnati’s second-largest convention center.

The project, set to open in 2021, is described by local officials as “monumental” and “historic” because of the anticipated economic boom expected to reverberate, not just through the city but many of its surrounding communities. The groundbreaking ceremony capped off years of planning and financing for the project, including Historic Tax Credits and other funding.

The original Spooky Nook Sports, which opened in 2013 near Lancaster, Pa., had an economic impact of nearly $55 million, including $15.5 million in revenue and $39.2 million in off-site ancillary spending by Spooky Nook multi-day attendees in 2017, according to an economic impact summary prepared by Tourism Economics.

MORE: A huge new project wouldn’t just help Hamilton. The sports center’s impact would reverberate for miles. (March 31)

MORE: Groundbreaking held for ‘transformational’ Spooky Nook complex (Oct. 25)

Maribel returns to U.S. after deportation

Maribel Trujillo Diaz, the Fairfield mother of four, returned to America after a 17-month deportation to Mexico.

After her return and time with her family, she was officially welcomed home Sept. 25 by St. Julie Billiart Church in Hamilton. It was the only time she spoke in public since her return.

Trujillo Diaz’s case had been written about by media outlets around the globe as people followed the Trump Administration’s deportation policies. Trujillo Diaz was considered an optimal example of people who should not be deported because she was a law-abiding person — other than her undocumented status — and was active in her church and raising a family.

Her lawyers argued she and her family members who remained in Mexico were targeted by drug cartels and their lives were at risk, with family members having been kidnapped. An appeals court ruled her situation hadn’t been given adequate consideration by an immigration court, and the matter will be reconsidered, possibly in mid-2019.

MORE: Deported Fairfield mom welcomed home with prayer service

Atrium fights Kettering expansion

During two meetings, the Planning Commission and City Council heard arguments from Atrium Medical Center and Kettering Health Network Middletown regarding an ordinance to change the zoning of the two parcels on Ohio 122 and Union Road so KHN could add more beds.

KHN officials have said they need to have the flexibility of providing patients with overnight beds so that they could stay closer to home instead of being shipped to another KHN facility when the patient gets to the 23-hour, 59-minute mark.

The rezoning request was approved by a 4-1 vote by the city Planning Commission and was also recommended by city officials. Last month’s Planning Commission meeting lasted more than 4 1/2 hours.

School demolished, new school opens

Middletown Schools saw the start of a new chapter in September as classes opened for 6,300 students in grades 7 through 12,who are now learning on a campus transformed by a $96 million construction of a new middle school and a renovated high school.

The district’s previous middle school was housed for years in the former Middletown High School building, which opened in 1923 and was demolished this year.

The Middletown Middle School is the most modern in Southwest Ohio, and the high school also offers the school system’s first on-campus health clinic for students throughout the city schools. Moreover, the district recently unveiled a new track and field stadium on the high school campus that includes the district’s second artificial turf playing surface.

School security tax rejected by voters

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, who offered teachers in the county free conceal carry weapon permit training to further pressure school districts, also targeted a school security tax issue that was a first for the county and among the first tried in Ohio.

MORE: School districts up in air after voters widely reject security tax hike

The proposed tax hike, which was offered on the ballots of five Butler County school systems that formed their own taxing district under a new Ohio law, was widely defeated by voters in November.

Hamilton Schools leader resigns

Hamilton Schools also saw its superintendent resign from office in the spring after being ordered on administrative leave by the city schools’ governing school board.

Tony Orr, who was hired to lead Hamilton Schools in 2015, resigned under a separation agreement in April.

During his leave from office, the Journal-News was the first to report Orr was being investigated in connections with allegations of sexual harassment and other behavior that may have violated the school district’s policies.

Middletown man avoids trial, pleads guilty to murder, aggravated murder

James Geran, 45, of Middletown, admitted guilt in December to a pair of murder charges. He was charged with killing two women last summer before turning the gun on himself after a standoff in Trenton.

On Dec. 10, the day the trial was scheduled to begin in Butler County Common Pleas Court, Geran pleaded guilty to aggravated murder for shooting his girlfriend’s mother, Sharon McCleary, in the head on June 13 and murder for the fatal shooting of Megan Motter the day before. Prosecutors said Motter was Geran’s “business associate in criminal activity.”

For about two hours, Geran periodically fired his weapon at the Butler County Sheriff’s deputies outside. Negotiators talked him into releasing two sisters, one of which was his girlfriend.

However, when Geran let the second sister out, he immediately closed the door and deputies heard gunfire.

Geran then crawled out, having shot himself in the chin with a .380 caliber gun, according to deputies.

McClearly was found dead.

Geran could spend the rest of his life in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 17.

MORE: Middletown man pleads guilty to killing 2 women

Cincinnati man in January standoff gets 40-plus years in prison

Donald Gazaway, 32, of Cincinnati, held a 10-year-old boy hostage for 30 hours last winter at a Liberty Twp. apartment complex, and on Dec. 17 he was sentenced to 41½ years in prison.

Gazaway was convicted in October of kidnapping, felonious assault, inducing panic, aggravated burglary, and having weapons under disability after a four-day trial in Butler County Common Pleas Judge Charles Pater’s courtroom.

A plethora of law enforcement, including SWAT teams from the city of Hamilton and Butler County Sheriff’s Office, were on the scene for more than a day in January at the Springs at Liberty apartment complex after Gazaway had a confrontation with the boy’s mother. He demanded money and eventually kept the boy with him as he fired weapons and moved around the residence, according to prosecutors.

Gazaway maintained his innocence before sentencing, telling the judge he had done nothing wrong, and the shots were fired by someone else and he committed no crime getting into the home.

MORE: 40-plus-year prison sentence for man convicted in 30-hour standoff

Teen driver in Monroe fatal prom crash sent to rehabilitation centerTOP STORY

A Monroe High School senior who was driving a car on her prom night that crashed and resulted in a friend’s death was sentenced by visiting Butler County Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Lipps to the Miami Valley Rehabilitation Center in Xenia this month.

Chynna Brandon could spend spend up to six months in the center as she continues to receive mental health treatments.

She was driving when Kaylie Jackson, 17, a senior at Monroe, was killed after she was ejected from a car that crashed on Millikin Road and struck a telephone pole, according to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office. The crash occurred on April 28 as the driver and three of her classmates were going to dinner in Mason before the Monroe prom.

Hospitals invest millions into the region

Two hospital networks invested nearly $100 million in the region in 2018.

The Christ Hospital Medical Center-Liberty Twp. opened Jan. 8 on 17 acres at 6939 Cox Road near the Interstate 75 interchange at Ohio 129. The $62 million medical facility includes an emergency room and offers surgical services including operating rooms with extended recovery for patients, plus a state-of-the-art family birthing center, radiology and imaging, physical therapy, general surgery, dermatology, endocrinology, and podiatry.

Kettering Health Network invested another $36 million for a new multi-million dollar medical complex in Middletown, which opened Aug. 8.

The 67,000-square-foot Kettering Health Network Middletown on Ohio 122 features a full-service emergency department, outpatient lab and imaging services, including a full complement of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), X-ray and ultrasound.

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