The year 2019 included huge news in business, development, crime, trials, communities and the people in our area.
By Jan. 3, the top headline on the Journal-News front page was “Spooky Nook poised to start construction,” which continued coverage of what was one of the biggest stories of 2019 and one that will continue to be for the months to come.
Through the year, there was a trial that brought Court TV to Warren County to broadcast every moment of a baby murder trial, the firing of Middletown’s city manager, a fire that decimated a block-long Hamilton warehouse, four family members killed in a West Chester Twp. apartment, the acquisition of AK Steel that ended an era in Middletown, filming by Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard in Butler County and more.
Here’s a look at the biggest stories in the Journal-News in 2019:
Brooke Skylar Richardson trial
After year of twists and turns, the case of a Carlisle woman accused of killing her newborn in 2017 and burying her in the backyard finally went to trial in September with a national spotlight.
The Warren County Common Pleas Court trial captured media from throughout the region and the country. Court TV broadcast each moment of the trial live.
Following a two-week trial with dueling doctors and experts as well as plenty of emotional testimony, but not a word from Richardson, the jury acquitted the now-20-year-old former cheerleader of only one charge — abuse of a corpse. She was acquitted on charges of aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, and child endangering, and the Warren County prosecutor said that was most likely because the prosecution couldn’t produce a cause of death of the baby.
Richardson had the baby in secret and buried her in the backyard of her parent’s Carlisle. The defense maintained the baby was stillborn, but the prosecution argued Richardson killed the child that she didn’t want.
Judge Donold Oda II sentenced Richardson to three years of community control. She was free on bond for all but a few days while awaiting trial.
Credit: Nicholas S. Graham
Credit: Nicholas S. Graham
Spooky Nook project gains momentum in Hamilton
Various storefronts, restaurants and bars have been opening or expanding in anticipation of the late 2021 opening of Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill, which will be the largest indoor sports complex in North America, and will have Greater Cincinnati’s second largest convention center.
There have been skeptics about the project, but a threshold moment when more people started to believe came after local businesses and officials from nearby governments visited the original Spooky Nook facility near Lancaster, Pa., and said how impressed they were. Chef Tano Williams, who later opened Tano Bistro, told this media outlet he thought, “Oh my God, this is going to change Hamilton forever.”
Meanwhile, companies wanting to build hotels have been scouting locations.
Another threshold moment that showed owner Sam Beiler was going full speed ahead with construction of the $144 million facility came in the final weeks of this year, when the first of 700 tractor-trailer loads of steel started arriving at the B Street site, in the former Champion Paper mill.
Middletown city manager fired, police chief changes
An October outburst at the Triple Moon Coffee Company by former City Manager Doug Adkins about the complaints about the homelessness problem at the downtown cafe resulted in a one-day unpaid suspension. Two weeks later, the city council opted to begin process to fire Adkins, which finished with his termination on Dec. 17.
Adkins was the first city manager terminated by Middletown City Council under the city charter removal provision.
In another top city position, after five years as the city’s police chief, Rodney Muterspaw opted to retire early, citing ongoing issues with Adkins. He told Adkins he had about six weeks of unused leave and opted to make his last day on the job on Oct. 4 instead of early November.
Emails obtained by the Journal-News showed tensions between the men over several issues. Adkins was upset with Muterspaw for airing dirty laundry on social media, they show.
Major David Birk was promoted to police chief in December.
4 family members killed in West Chester
Gurpreet Singh was arrested in August for the shooing death of his wife and three other family members in West Chester Twp. in April.
Singh, 37, is charged with four counts of aggravated murder stemming from the April 28 incident. With specifications of using a firearm and killing two or more persons, Singh faces the death penalty if convicted.
Singh is accused of killing his wife, Shalinderjit Kaur, 39; his in-laws, Hakikat Singh Pannag, 59, and Parmjit Kaur, 62; and his aunt by marriage, Amarjit Kaur, 58, at their apartment on April 28. All died of gunshot wounds.
Singh called 911 on the night of the murders, and he was questioned by police but not arrested. The investigation continued until Singh was arrested while in Connecticut attending a family wedding in early July.
A grand jury indicted Singh on Aug. 2.
A September trial date has been set, but last week the case hit a snag. Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Howard ordered Singh’s case start over with arraignment of the indictment after his defense team questioned if the native of India understood court proceeds because English is not his native language.
Credit: Nick Graham
Credit: Nick Graham
‘Hillbilly Elegy’ movie films in Middletown
Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard and 150 people on the production crew spent a week filming “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” in a Middletown neighborhood in August. The film shooting on Harrison Street includes Amy Adams and Glenn Close who spent four days on location in Middletown.
Crews arrived a week before the Middletown filming and stayed a week or two later putting everything back together. The film is projected to be released in 2020.
Schools institute mandatory testing of students
Officials at Badin High School in Hamilton announced the school’s first drug testing program in November, saying each of its more than 600 students will be subject to unannounced tests starting in January.
“This is in the best interests of the students,” said Principal Brian Pendergest. “The impact of drug use on young students and their families is staggering and our community is not immune to this issue.”
Earlier in the year, Hamilton Schools announced it would begin searches for vaping equipment late in the 2018-19 school year. Hand-held metal detectors will be used in random searches of students, their lockers and any vehicles parked on campus grounds, officials said.
Students caught with vaping devices would also undergo urine analysis tests within 48 hours. Officials at the Butler County school system said they are launching a new, stricter plan to stop student vaping in and around its middle, freshman and high school buildings.
AK Steel acquired
A merger agreement announced Dec. 3 would see AK Steel acquired for $1.1 billion by Cleveland-Cliffs, the largest producer of iron ore pellets in North America.
Cliffs will get access to AK Steel, a leading producer of flat-rolled carbon, stainless and electrical steel products. The combined company is expected to benefit from a larger and more diversified base of customers, with less emphasis on commodity-linked contracts, officials said.
“Together, we expect to be able to take advantage of growth opportunities faster and more fully than either company could on its own,” said Roger Newport, who will retire as CEO and a director of AK Steel. “With AK Steel’s 120-year heritage, which began in Ohio, and expertise in steelmaking, AK Steel and Cliffs make an excellent combination, which we expect will facilitate a smooth integration process.”
AK Steel will become a subsidiary of Cliffs and will keep its branding and corporate identity. Cliffs will continue to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It will keep a “significant presence” at AK Steel’s current offices in West Chester. AK Steel’s Research & Innovation Center in Middletown would remain open.
AK Steel is the third-largest private employer in Butler County, with 2,421 employees, the majority of whom work at Middletown Works facility.
Butler County medical marijuana businesses open
Butler County’s two medical marijuana dispensaries opened in October.
Bloom Medicinals, Butler County’s first medical marijuana dispensary, opened Oct. 24. Located at 403 S. Main St. in the village of Seven Mile, employs 10 full-time staff and over the coming weeks will hire as many as five more full- or part-time employees to allow it to expand to six days a week and offer morning hours for its patients.
The Strawberry Fields dispensary at 300 N. Main St. in Monroe opened on Oct. 25.
Jimmy Gould, CEO of CannAscend LLC, said the new location comes after nearly seven years of work to get medical marijuana in Ohio and two years of working to bring it to Monroe.
“It’s a dream come true,” Gould told this news outlet at the dispensary’s official opening Friday. “Our goal was to serve the patients of Ohio and make this a reality and help people as an alternative therapy, which we think has tremendous benefits.”
Women boost presence in Butler County elected offices
One of the biggest stories to come from the November elections was the performance of women candidates.
More than 40 women were elected on Nov. 5 out of 84 who earned local offices in Butler County. Butler County has increased the number of women representing communities. Before the election this year, four school districts and the Fairfield Twp. trustees board had a female majority. In 2020, another school board and Middletown City Council will be added to the list.
Middletown Council member-elect Monica Nenni credits her ability to win a city council seat to the women that came before her and hopes to be that inspiration to the next generation.
“I think what’s changed is there are more women seeking office, and you see more women in office because there are more women running and more young women running for office,” she said. “We are lucky to have strong examples — in our mothers, and the women that came before us — who gave us that ability to have a seat at the table. I credit all the women who came before me … because if it wasn’t for them, women wouldn’t be where they are today.”
Massive fire guts Hamilton warehouse, affects neighborhood
A July 25 fire at an abandoned Hamilton warehouse destroyed the nearly block-long building and caused damage to nearby homes.
The warehouse was destroyed by a massive fire that began at about 4:45 a.m. There were no injuries, but the fire gutted the building and caused damage to nearby homes. Smoldering ruins were still smoking the next morning.
Officials estimated at the time that leveling the ruins would cost between $150,000 and $200,000.
The teen who was 17 in July when he allegedly set fire to a Hamilton warehouse and caused a massive blaze at the block-long building will be tried as an adult. Logan Henry is charged with arson, aggravated arson and breaking and entering, all felonies.
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