PREBLE COUNTY — As it goes in life, both the good and bad made headlines in Preble County in 2015.
Some of the good: Kettering Medical Center took the first step toward an actual hospital in Eaton when it opened the doors to a free-standing emergency facility complete with a helipad. A Preble Shawnee employee saved the life of a young student. Hollywood came to Eaton when actor James Franco brought a film crew to film scenes for an independent movie, The Long Home.
And then there was the bad: two young children died in a house fire near West Alexandria after being left home alone. A local attorney found himself in trouble with the law. Preble County lost an important businessman with the death of Jack Cobb.
Looking back at 2015, some of the top stories included:
•Just six months into his four-year sentence for admitting he stole more the $200,000 from clients, Preble County attorney James W. Thomas Jr. filed a motion for judicial release.
Thomas Jr. was scheduled to appear in Preble County Common Pleas Court Thursday, Jan. 29, in front of visiting Judge Neal B. Bronson and was in the courtroom awaiting the judge’s appearance.
However, after sitting the court room for nearly 20 minutes, a representative from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office informed those in attendance that Thomas’ motion was most likely to be denied or Thomas was going to withdraw based on new information presented to the judge earlier in the day. The hearing never occurred.
Thomas Jr., who filed the motion for judicial release Dec. 30, 2014, withdrew his motion according to court officials, after learning victims had filed a memorandum in opposition claiming he had not followed through on his promises.
Attorneys Sarah Michel and Jacob Kovach filed the memorandum on behalf of their clients the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 28.
“As the Guardians of the Estates of these victims it is apparent that Mr. Thomas has purposely and intentionally caused assets to be transferred and/or sold to avoid paying restitution to these victims as he promised,” they said in the memorandum. “Mr. Thomas expressed to this court during his sentencing that he was remorseful for what he has done to the victims, that he would do anything to repay what he stole from them. However, his actions since his incarceration are not those of a person who is remorseful for what he had done or a Defendant who is trying to make his victims whole.”
•Reid Urgent Care of Eaton has officially opened. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the facility on Friday, Jan. 30.
Craig Kinyon, president and CEO of Reid Hospital and Health Care Services, said the center was an identified need in the community and said the need for after-hours care was long overdue because incidents that require medical attention happen all throughout the day.
Nurse Practitioner West Foster said the center can assist with things such as minor injuries, acute visits, cold symptoms, sprains and broken bones, as well as perform lab work.
The center will feature four treatment rooms and has X-ray capabilities. If the needs of a patient exceed what the center can do for them, the center will forward them onto the appropriate place.
Foster said the other alternative to an urgent care center is the emergency room. He said the center will bridge the gap between family practice and the emergency room.
Kinyon also said it is easier to ice something rather than go to a hospital and get in line. He said the center will serve a need that had not previously been available to the community.
•After 24 years serving as the Preble County Probate/Juvenile Court judge, Wilfrid Dues has stepped down from the bench. Dues was honored by family, friends and community members Friday, Feb. 6 at the Preble County Courthouse.
“It’s been an incredible privilege to have been a judge,” Dues said. “In my profession, most lawyers look at securing a place on the bench as an honor, a step up from the regular practice at law.”
He has mixed feelings about retirement. He said being judge for 24 years in a court that deals with neglected, dependent, abused and unruly children is emotionally trying and does take its toll. He said, after 24 years, one also worries about who will take over the court because of what he has built up throughout his career, but said he has a tremendous magistrate who has taken his place.
“I know what’s gonna happen to it,” Dues said. “It’s going to have guidance of a very experienced, intelligent new judge.”
Dues said he wasn’t necessarily planning on becoming a judge 24 years ago, but his predecessor Judge John Dye was stepping down and encouraged him to run and said he would support Dues. Dues said he had done some juvenile work before and had done a lot of probate work. He also said he felt his experience with his own three children could help him on the bench.
•Chastity Hall, the 35-year-old Preble County mother whose children died in a tragic house fire after she left them home alone last February, will serve four years in prison for her negligence.
Preble County Common Pleas Judge David Abruzzo sentenced Hall last Wednesday, Oct. 28.
Hall was found guilty in September on two counts of third degree child endangerment, as well as two counts of first degree involuntary manslaughter.
The decision stemmed from Hall abandoning her children overnight on Feb. 21. Her children, Malea Bradburn, 10, and Malachi Bradburn, 9, died in the fire which destroyed Hall’s home while she out partying with friends, according to Preble County Prosecuting Attorney Martin Votel.
It was determined by the court, had Hall been home, she more than likely could have saved her children from the fire.
According to Abruzzo, the state recommended a 6-year sentence on each of the first degree felonies, to run concurrently — and any sentence on the third degree felonies to run concurrently as well. Hall faced up to 11 years on each of first degree felonies.
•The Board of Preble County Commissioners, along with Sanitary Engineer Randy Gilbert, discussed plans for Ohio Environmental Protection Agency violations at Glenwood at their Monday, Feb. 2 meeting.
On Jan. 27, 2015, the commissioners received a letter from the Ohio EPA.
The letter states the Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water has found violations occurring in the unincorporated area of Glenwood. Discharges of raw or partially treated sewage from failing septic systems in the area are causing a public health nuisance.
The letter, from Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler, proposes administrative orders which will require the county to comply with Ohio law by creating a general plan to sewer Glenwood, which is located in Twin and Lanier Townships between Eaton and West Alexandria, and drains to the tributaries of Bantas Fork.
On Nov. 19, 2009, Ohio EPA-Southwest District Office observed a discharge of untreated or partially treated wastewater in the Glenwood area in a storm drain discharging to a tributary of Bantas Fork. Ohio EPA took samples on May 26, 2010, and Aug. 7, 2013, at multiple sites in the Glenwood area. All but one sample tested over the limit of Escherichia Coli. The Preble County Health Department indicated there were four onsite sewage disposal complaints in Glenwood between August 2010 and July 2013.
According to Gilbert, the findings and orders require the county to submit to Ohio EPA for approval a general plan for sewage improvements or other methods of abating pollution and fixing the unsanitary conditions that are creating the public nuisance. This must be done within 18 months. The general plan must contain alternatives for addressing the unsanitary conditions, proposed locations of collection and treatment facilities, cost estimates for the required improvements with cost effectiveness analysis of the alternatives including operation, maintenance and replacement costs, how it will all be funded and an implementation schedule that will result in completion of construction and the correction of unsanitary conditions.
•Members of the Preble County community met Thursday, Jan. 22 to discuss the spending of an $875,000 state capital budget bill grant for improvements at the Preble County Fairgrounds.
M+A Architects Associate Kirk Paisley reviewed topics that were discussed at the previous meeting as well as two and five-year goals that were presented.
Steps leading up to actual construction work include a building assessment report of existing structures, event analysis, establishing goals, a conceptual site master plan and a prioritized list of facility needs. The 140-plus page facility assessment has been completed. It looked at structures, mechanical and electrical systems and analyzed the expected useful life of structures and more.
Paisley said they are focusing on enhancements with the most immediate needs topping the list, including safety and security and code items. Paisley said he wants the goals to focus on the SMART system, which means goals are specific, attainable, measurable, relevant and time-bound. He said the two-year goals are tied to when the money needs to be spent by, which is June 2016.
Some concerns that were found through the assessment were a downspout that was positioned over top of an electrical panel, holes in walls and wires without conduit. Paisley said several roofs and exteriors are reaching the end of their expected useful life and some buildings are structurally old with deteriorating siding. Overall, though, Paisley said the fairgrounds is in pretty good shape.
Paisley said according to the Ohio Building Code, buildings are allowed to stay standing if they were built according to code at the time they were built, unless the buildings are dangerous to life, health or safety.
•For one day, a portion of Eaton’s Barron Street was transformed from a small, quaint downtown into a small, quaint movie set.
On Sunday, May 17, James Franco’s film company, Rabbit Bandini Productions, shot a portion of his film The Long Home at Dale’s Recreation and turned the paved street into an old dirt road, complete with antique cars to portray the 1940s-era.
Vince Jolivette, co-owner of the film company and a producer of the movie, spoke about the cinematic appeal of the Preble County town.
“This downtown area is just beautiful. It’s perfect,” he said. “It’s a little section here that would work in our time period. We have all these period cars here and we were able to get some shots of some of these buildings that were period-accurate.”
Jolivette and another producing partner, Jay Davis, are both from Hamilton, and Jolivette has been pushing for a film in the area for several years.
“I’ve been trying to get a film back here in Ohio for at least five or six years, and finally when they passed this great tax credit, it was easier to bring a movie back here. This tax credit in Ohio is equivalent to Louisiana, New York and Georgia. Bringing a film back here – especially an independent film – is very easy now,” said Jolivette. “Jay and I both grew up here. We know the area so well. People are willing to help us more than shooting in a place we didn’t grow up in.”
The small-budget film has used the familiarity to its advantage, as more locals are willing to step in and help out the crew.
“It has great locations, great people. Everyone is really helpful,” said Franco of filming in southwestern Ohio. “We were supposed to have 10 picture cars out here today and everyone just brought bonus cars. It’s been like that all the way around – everyone just helping out. It’s been really great.”
The set-design started early in the morning on Sunday as filming began around 5 p.m. The film shot into the early morning on Monday.
Preble County locals showed up early and crowded the barricades to catch a glimpse of Hollywood in their hometown.
“People are excited to have a film crew here because it’s something they’ve never seen before,” said Jolivette. “This area hasn’t been filmed a lot over the years; we’re here and we’re able to take advantage of something that hasn’t been filmed a lot. In L.A., every location, every nook and cranny of that place has been filmed. This place hasn’t. That’s a big advantage.”
•Starting at 7 a.m. on Aug. 24, Kettering Health Network’s newest emergency center opened to the public, providing residents of Preble County with 24-hour access to healthcare for the first time in the area’s history.
“We will be equipped to initiate treatment on any issue that walks through the front door,” said Dawn Sweet, the clinical nurse manager of the center. “We aren’t able to manage them long term or overnight, but at least get initiated treatment, stabilize them and transfer them if needed.”
The emergency center is not set up to hold patients overnight and those needing surgery or hospitalization will be transferred to another hospital.
On Thursday, July 30, Kettering opened up the doors of their $13 million dollar facility for members of the media and local business leaders to get a tour of the building.
“We’ve enjoyed a long partnership with the community and I know this was in the works for a number of years,” said Elizbeth Long, the manager of media and public relations for Kettering. “It’s just a way to provide needed services to the community. There was definitely a need for emergency services here in the county.”
The emergency department will be equipped with 12 exam rooms, 13 full and part-time nurses, five resource nurses, three paramedics, and will provide one physician staffed around the clock.
“That’s what we are starting with. I’m expecting the census to be much higher than it’s been predicted, quite honestly. As census grows, our staff volume will grow as well,” said Sweet.
Also depending on the census, the emergency center will add a mid-level provider such as a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant.
The department will be trialing electronic communication boards in their exam rooms – the first building in the Kettering network to do so.
Most patient rooms come with a dry erase board, but Eaton’s facility will come with a computer screen that is connected to the hospital’s documentation systems. Early in the process, the screen will display the physician’s name and the assigned nurse, but that information is expected to increase.
•Twenty-three of 26 West Elkton firefighters resigned during a West Elkton-Gratis Township Fire Department Board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 25. Those who resigned included Chief Johnny Cassidy and Assistant Chief Clyde Dishman.
Currently, Gratis Township is covered by two departments. West Elkton Fire Department is in charge of all calls outside of the Village of Gratis limits; Gratis Fire is in charge of all calls within the village limits.
The meeting lasted nearly three hours while many from the department spoke and several residents voiced concerns.
The resignations come after Gratis Township trustees passed an amendment to the fire and rescue contracts with both West Elkton and Gratis Fire Departments stating, “Per recommendation of our solicitor and our sheriff, we will go back to dispatching both fire departments to every scene and no department will be placed on call until all parties are on scene and we are 100 percent positive the scene is in control, then parties that are not needed can be sent back to their station.”
Cassidy handed in his resignation about 30 minutes into the meeting. He noted: “Fire board members, I, John Cassidy, hereby resign my position as West Elkton-Gratis Township Fire Chief and I’m resigning as fire fighter from the West Elkton Fire Department. I give credit to the decisions by elected officials making it difficult to perform my duties as fire chief. I will not sit back and wait for someone to be severely hurt or even killed because elected officials are attempting to tie my hands in making safe and (inaudible) decisions that I’m covered and given authority to do so by the Ohio revised code and Ohio Administrative Code.”
He left the meeting after reading his resignation letter.
Cassidy and other members stated during the meeting they would stay with the department if the amendment was reworded to allow them to cancel any responding units if they are determined to be unnecessary before they reach the scene, whether those units are from West Elkton or from Gratis.
•It’s in appreciation of your service above and beyond the call of duty, in this case for aiding a student in distress on Sept. 11, 2015,” Preble Shawnee Superintendent Dr. David Ulrich told Tomi Haney and Jaron Sackenheim during a regular Preble Shawnee Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Sept. 17.
Ulrich presented the two with the first-ever “Golden Arrow” awards given by the district.
“We all know what happened 14 years ago on Sept. 11, and how much it has made a mark on this country,” he continued. “Now at least in our little part of the United States and of Preble County we have something we can think good about on Sept. 11.”
The “good” Ulrich referred to was in reference to Haney’s and Sackenheim’s actions on Friday, Sept. 11, when an elementary student suffered a medical emergency on the way home from school on the bus Haney drives for the district.
According to Haney, she noticed the student having the problem with help of an alert classmate, and stopped her bus in between Camden Elementary and West Elkton. Once she reached the student, she found the child was not alert and appeared not to be breathing.
Haney had placed the student on the ground and performed chest compressions and mouth to mouth CPR when the student showed the first signs of responding.
At this point Sackenhiem, who received a call from his girlfriend who is a teacher at the school, found the bus and assisted Haney.
As luck would have it, Sackenhiem is a health teacher at Miami University as well as a teacher at Preble Shawnee, and he had just conducted the first aid section of his class the day before.
Sackenhiem said Haney informed him she had already performed CPR but was relieved to see him.
According to Sackenhiem, he told her she had done a great job as the student was breathing again, and he was able to further clear the child’s airways and used a backpack as a pillow as the medical emergency ran its course.
•After a lengthy investigation, a partnership between the Auditor of State and the Preble County Prosecutor and Sheriff’s Offices led to the indictment of former Preble County Historical Society Executive Director Mellanie “Jane” Lightner.
Lightner was indicted on nine charges, including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft from an elderly person, grand theft from the ohio cultural facilities commission, as well as forgery.
Lightner pleaded not guilty on Tuesday morning, Sept. 29.
“This was a ball of yarn that just kept unraveling,” Auditor Yost said. “She stole from taxpayers, the Preble County Historical Society, and even worse, she took advantage of an elderly donor.”
“I certainly appreciate the assistance provided by Auditor Yost and his staff in this investigation,” Preble County Sheriff Michael Simpson said. “It was important that we conduct a full and thorough investigation in order to identify potential victims and have a complete picture of what was occurring.”
After 2006, the Preble County Historical Society did not employ a bookkeeper. In 2014, the board of trustees found that former Executive Director Mellanie “Jane” Lightner had misappropriated approximately $14,000 in grant money from the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission. The Historical Society contacted the Preble County Sheriff’s office, and because the grant funds were public dollars, the Auditor of State’s Public Integrity Assurance Team was called in to conduct forensic audit work.
Upon investigating, the Auditor of State’s office found that Lightner had been using her position to hide financial transactions from the board of trustees and open accounts without board approval. She used forged board signatures to open a line of credit with Fifth Third Bank and charged more than $225,000 – which was ultimately paid off by an elderly donor.
Lightner allegedly stole more than $64,000 from the Preble County Historical Society and laundered $13,710 from the elderly donor. In addition, Lightner failed to declare income on her tax return.
•A man who touched many aspects of the Eaton community died last year, leaving behind a lasting legacy of community service, philanthropy and business leadership.
Jack Cobb passed away peacefully at the Hospice of Dayton on Nov. 20, 2015 with his family by his side, according to family members and Henny Penny officials.
Cobb is the former owner and long-time president and CEO of the Henny Penny Corporation, which is headquartered in Eaton. He started at Henny Penny in 1959, according to Henny Penny spokesman Jeff Frymier. He was the company’s fourth employee, became vice president in 1970 and six years later, became president when he and his business partner purchased the company.
In 1985, Cobb became the sole owner of Henny Penny and served as president and CEO through 1996.
“Jack’s leadership, vision, and the culture he created enabled Henny Penny to grow into one of the most respected foodservice equipment manufacturers in the world,” Frymier noted in a press release.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.