By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
After years of talking and studying and spending, river widening work began along the Blanchard River in 2018.
That development easily topped The Courier’s list of the biggest local stories of 2018.
A new county sales tax, school safety discussions and a levy failure, McComb’s football championship, and Robert Sprague’s election as state treasurer round out the top five.
Here are the top 10 local stories of the year, as determined by The Courier’s staff:
1. Benching began
“Benching” or widening of the Blanchard River in Findlay has begun.
The river will be widened for 3,500 feet along the north bank, from the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge to Broad Avenue. This will increase the river’s capacity, and should lower flooding on Main Street by about 1 foot during a 100-year storm.
Helms Construction of Findlay was awarded a $6.1 million contract for the project in September by the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District.
The conservancy district also said it would stop spending money on three floodwater storage basins proposed by Stantec, due to the “public outcry” against the engineering firm’s idea.
In December, Gov. John Kasich signed legislation that includes $15 million for flood mitigation in Hancock County.
The Hancock County commissioners or the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District will likely manage any work done with that money, according to state Sen. Robert McColley, R-Napoleon. He also said a 20 percent local match will be required.
The state money is earmarked for a flood-reduction project along Eagle Creek, which flows into the Blanchard River at Findlay. The money could be used to build a floodwater storage basin along the creek.
2. New sales tax
In October, the Hancock County commissioners voted 2-1 to impose a new quarter-percent sales tax for a continuing period.
The tax is expected to generate about $3.4 million annually.
The tax will fund construction of a probate/juvenile court building, expansion of the county jail, and help pay for some county operations. About $500,000 each year will go to the county Department of Job and Family Services, whose budget is stretched by the costs of foster care and the number of children who need to be placed.
Commissioner Mark Gazarek voted against the new tax, while Tim Bechtol and Brian Robertson supported it.
Because a quarter-percent tax for flood-reduction projects expires at the end of 2018, the county’s total sales tax will remain at 1 percent. Ohio’s sales tax is 5.75 percent.
In the 12 months prior to the commissioners’ decision, voters twice turned down tax issues that would have funded some of the areas the new sales tax will pay for.
In May of this year, Hancock County voters turned down a 1.2-mill property tax that would have generated about $2.3 million annually for Job and Family Services.
In November 2017, county voters rejected a quarter-percent, 20-year sales tax to fund construction of a county office building, expansion and staffing of the county jail, and other capital projects.
3. School safety
The February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, prompted nationwide school protests in March, including locally.
In Findlay, an estimated 200 high school students left the building for 17 minutes, representing the 17 students and staff members killed in Florida.
The same week, Findlay City Schools hosted a community meeting to take suggestions and questions about school security. Ideas from attendees included metal detectors, more school resource officers, and more school psychologists.
In November, Findlay School District voters rejected a proposed five-year, 1.5-mill levy that would have funded more mental health, security personnel, and equipment and training. The levy would have generated $1.2 million annually, and Findlay City Council agreed to share the cost of hiring six school resource officers if the levy passed.
The levy failed by 7,848 votes to 6,356, or about 55 percent to 45 percent.
4. McComb’s football championship
McComb High School won the Division VII state football championship, beating Glouster Trimble 28-3.
Senior Tanner Schroeder did a little bit of everything in the title game, and all season. Going into the state final in Canton, he had scored 289 points through a combination of touchdowns, field goals and extra-point kicks.
Schroeder played quarterback after junior teammate Koby Gustwiller suffered a concussion in an August scrimmage.
McComb finished the year with a 14-1 record, losing only to Pandora-Gilboa.
The championship game was the last one for assistant coach Bob McKee, who retired after 45 years with McComb football.
This was the school’s first football state championship since 1983.
5. Sprague elected state treasurer
Hancock County got its first statewide officeholder with the election of state Rep. Robert Sprague as Ohio treasurer in November.
The Findlay Republican defeated Rob Richardson, a Democrat from Cincinnati, by 2,304,444 votes to 2,022,016, or about 53 percent to 47 percent.
Hancock County cast about three-quarters of its ballots for Sprague, who won 20,945 votes to Richardson’s 7,248.
Prior to serving in the Ohio House, Sprague was the Findlay auditor and Findlay treasurer.
Sprague will take office on Jan. 14.
6. Homicide cases
• In January 2018, Brent Houdeshell, 30, of Arlington, was convicted of killing 2-year-old Breydon Ferrell, the son of Houdeshell’s former fiancee, Alisha Young. The boy died on March 31, 2016.
Houdeshell was sentenced to life in prison and must serve at least 17 years before he is eligible for parole.
His lawyer said the child fell out of his crib. Multiple experts testified that falling out of a crib would not have caused the injuries Breydon sustained on his face, head, back, legs and feet. The 2-year-old died of head trauma, according to his autopsy.
Houdeshell has filed an appeal with the 3rd District Court of Appeals, Lima.
• Jeffery L. Gary, 56, was fatally shot on Feb. 11 at his home at 1316 Fox St. in Findlay.
Police interviewed several people, including the person who called 911 to report the shooting, but no arrests have been made.
• In April, a grand jury indicted Devin R. Dennard, 24, of Findlay, on a voluntary manslaughter charge in the death of Gregory Hammer, who died Dec. 31, 2017. Hammer was injured in a fight outside the Walnut Saloon in Findlay on Dec. 16, 2017.
• Two people were sentenced this year in the death of Marcus Alexander, a Toledo man who was fatally shot at the Econo Lodge in Findlay on Feb. 17, 2017.
Alexander, 31, was suspected of conspiring with Jessica Kisseberth, 28, of Leipsic, and Joseph V. Fleming IV, 28, of Toledo, to rob Husam H. Coleman, 38, of Chicago. Coleman shot Alexander during the robbery.
Coleman was sentenced in 2017 to five years in prison for involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree felony.
Kisseberth pleaded guilty in May of this year to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated burglary, both first-degree felonies, in the death of Marcus Alexander. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Fleming was sentenced to six years in prison for aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony. A murder charge against him was dismissed as part of a plea deal in which he provided a statement for prosecutors to use in Kisseberth’s case.
• Austin D. Hammond, 23, of Columbus, was indicted in May by a county grand jury for allegedly beating his 8-month-old daughter to death. She died in November 2017.
He is charged with murder, an unclassified felony, and endangering children, a second-degree felony.
• Tyler J. Wilson, 19, of Findlay, was fatally stabbed on July 25 on College Street in Findlay.
In September, a county grand jury declined to indict a suspect, who was not publicly named.
Hancock County Prosecutor Phil Riegle said the suspect was a neighbor of Wilson’s, and that he would pass the case to Findlay Law Director Don Rasmussen for a possible negligent homicide charge.
Michael J. Jones, 25, was then charged in Findlay Municipal Court with negligent homicide, a first-degree misdemeanor, in Wilson’s death. Jones pleaded not guilty this month.
• Human remains were found along Interstate 75 in Hancock County, south of Findlay, beginning on Oct. 1.
An Ohio Department of Transportation worker who was mowing found a sleeping bag that contained the partial remains of David D. Carter Sr., 39, of Melvindale, Michigan.
More of Carter’s remains were found along Interstate 75 near the Eagleville Road exit in North Baltimore later in October.
7. Marathon buys Andeavor
Findlay-based Marathon Petroleum Corp. announced on April 30 that it would buy Andeavor, a rival refiner, for $23.3 billion.
The purchase will make Marathon the largest refiner in the United States, growing from six refineries to 16 across the country. Marathon will be the fifth-largest refiner in the world.
Under the purchase, Marathon also grew from 2,740 Speedway gas stations and 5,600 Marathon-branded locations in the Midwest and East to 4,000 Speedways and 7,800 branded sites nationwide.
Andeavor, formerly Tesoro Corp., was headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, and an office remains there.
The purchase was approved by shareholders of both companies in September.
8. Food news
Findlay said hello, and goodbye, to popular chain eateries and downtown restaurants in 2018.
Panda Express and Chick-fil-A both opened on Tiffin Avenue this year.
A Dunkin Donuts is under construction on Trenton Avenue, between Advance Auto Parts and Miller’s Meats.
Farther west on Trenton Avenue, Max & Erma’s closed.
Mancy’s Steakhouse arrived this year inside the Hancock Hotel, a $20 million Marathon Petroleum Corp. project downtown.
Findlay Brewing Co. came back bigger and better in 2018. Its North Main Street location closed after a neighboring building burned in January 2016, and the brewery’s roof was too damaged to reopen.
Now located on East Crawford Street, the brewery has a full kitchen and a much larger brewing capacity than the old spot.
Jack-B’s opened on East Sandusky Street this year, offering home-style meals for take-out only.
New China Inn closed in October after 40 years on South Main Street downtown, and the space is now occupied by QQ Garden.
9. I-75 work continues
The $114 million Interstate 75 widening and reconstruction project goes on, extending from south of Harrison Street/County Road 144 to the County Road 99 interchange in Findlay.
As part of the project, Lima Avenue, at the Ohio 15-U.S. 68 interchange, closed in the fall and will not reopen for a year.
A new “flyover ramp” from southbound Interstate 75 to Ohio 15-U.S. 68 opened this fall.
The project is widening Interstate 75 from two lanes in each direction to three lanes on each side.
Three northbound lanes are now open north of U.S. 224. The Ohio Department of Transportation plans to have three southbound lanes open between U.S. 224 and Hancock County 99 by mid-January.
Noise walls along sections of the highway have been completed.
10. Mihalik protests immigration policy
Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik was part of a national news story in June when a bipartisan group of U.S. mayors criticized President Donald Trump’s administration for separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
About a dozen mayors gathered in Tornillo, Texas, for a press conference organized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Mihalik is chair of the conference’s Children, Health and Human Services Committee.
“There has been no clear strategy communicated to any of us who have asked how they are going to get them back together,” Mihalik said about the separated children and parents. “I believe we can and we should enforce our immigration law, and I believe we can do that without separating children from their parents.”
Later in June, President Trump signed an executive order reversing the policy of separating families, and replacing it with a policy of detaining entire families together.