2018: A Year in Review
Here are the top 10 Tribune stories of 2018. The results were determined by The Tribune staff, website trafficking and Facebook likes
1. Ironton’s 150th Memorial Day Parade
It’s one of the most cherished traditions in the region and, this year, the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade marked a century and a half of honoring veterans and those who died in service to our country.
Since Col. McQuiqq led the first step off in 1868, the parade, originally conceived by union veterans and the Grand Army of the Republic organization, has drawn crowds to downtown Ironton for 150 years, becoming the longest such continuous Memorial Day observance in the nation. It dates back as far as the Decoration Day observance that would become the current federal holiday.
This year’s milestone event, as expected, attracted a larger than unusual number of spectators to Ironton, with organizers estimating turnout at nearly 30,000 people, more than three times the city’s population.
Brent Pyles earned the honor of grand marshal for the big event, with Rich Donohue serving as parade commander and Roy Ratliff as honorary grand marshal.
After months of planning, 12 divisions and hundreds of participants marched along the route, taking nearly four hours to run its course.
In addition to veterans, local VFW and American Legion posts, the parade featured many longtime favorites, such as the El Hasa Shriner band and the Hillbilly clan, the Yvonne DeKay School of Dance, the Boy Scouts, police and fire crews, area marching bands, color guards and cheerleaders and countless others.
Parade week also featured the usual Navy Night and past grand marshal dinner events, as well as the Patriot’s Ball at Ohio University Southern.
2. County government
Lawrence County residents were shocked to learn of the tragic passing of County Commission President Bill Pratt on the night of Dec. 7, at the far too young age of 45.
Pratt, a Republican, joined the commission in 2011 after being appointed to fill the term of Jason Stephens, who gave up his seat after being elected auditor. He was in his second term, having being re-elected in 2016.
Pratt was a local farmer and owner of Pratt Dairy farm in Chesapeake and served as an advocate for agriculture in the county, with his family having been in the business for a century.
Pratt had previously served on the Chesapeake Board of Education.
The county paid tribute throughout the week of his funeral, with political figures from both sides issuing statements of respect.
His vacancy was filled by a vote of the Lawrence County Republican Party’s executive committee. South Point school board member and Cabell Huntington emergency room physician Colton Copley, who had lost a close primary against fellow Republican Freddie Hayes Jr. earlier in the year, got the nod for the position and was sworn in by Christen Finley.
Finley, who was sworn in the next day, was elected as Lawrence County Common Pleas Court judge in November, filling the seat of the retiring Charles Cooper. Both she and Copley will begin their jobs in early January.
3. Opioid Crisis
2018 saw Lawrence County and the Tri-State continue the fight against the opioid epidemic. While most of the cases on the court dockets remain drug-related, the courts are taking steps to reduce the numbers.
In September, Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Andy Ballard’s drug court, the Nexus Recovery Docket, was given its final certification from the Ohio Supreme Court. The initial group of participants is about a dozen people and the goal is to break the cycle of addiction and have them becoming productive, law-abiding citizens.
Ironton Municipal Court Judge Kevin Waldo got Justice Reinvestment and Incentive Funding through a grant of $229,430, which is a first step in the process of obtaining the status of a certified drug court and Ballard said that everything he has available would be able to be utilized by Waldo as well.
There were many forums and events where local leaders from industries, law enforcement, government, education and civic groups came together to discuss what can be done to stop the epidemic.
Bringing attention to the area’s drug problem was the Netflix documentary, Heroin(e). Produced by West Virginia filmmaker, Elaine McMillion Sheldon, the 40-minute documentary featured the Huntington Fire Department Chief Jan Rader, Brown Bag Ministries founder Necia Freeman, and Cabell Huntington drug court Judge Patricia Keller as their jobs intersect with people addicted to drugs.
Rader, an Ironton native and alumni of Ohio University Southern, appeared on national TV shows and radio shows, including NBC’s “Meet the Press” and on public radio’s “Studio 1-A” to talk about the documentary.
In January, Heroin(e) was among five films nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Short category. Although the film didn’t win, Rader got to the Oscars ceremony and was probably the only person in the red carpet history to wear their uniform jacket over a dress. That same month, Rader was West Virginia’s U.S. senator, Joe Manchin’s guest at the State of the Union Address by President Donald Trump. And in the April 19, 2018 issue of Time, Rader is named among the magazine’s 100 Most Influential of 2018.
4. Land bank
The Lawrence County Land Reutilization Corporation, better known as the land bank, had a successful 2018, demolishing several notable structures that have been eyesores to residents for some time.
Early in the year, a few houses on Rockwood Avenue in Chesapeake were demoed, including the Curry property, located directly adjacent to County Road 7/Rockwood Avenue.
The structure was built into the hillside and its exterior walls were visibly coming apart. At the time, village officials described it as “about to fall into the road.”
In June, the land bank completed its 100th demolition on the former Pulley Nursing Home in South Point. Neighbors to the property described the site as an eyesore to the community, with many citing numerous instances of animals habituating in and around the property. The demolition also marked the land bank’s first commercial demolition.
In September, the land bank completed the demolition of the Otter Property Apartment Complex in South Point.
South Point Mayor Jeff Gaskin said the demolition of the Otter Property was something the village needed for quite some time.
“This is a day that a lot of people have been looking forward to in South Point for a long time,” he said at the time. “I would even say that some neighbors are excited about it.”
In addition to these three instances, the land bank has demolished numerous other structures this year and since it started in 2016. The organization targets dilapidated properties that are abandoned and tax delinquent. Once a structure is demolished, the land is brought up to construction grad and sold.
5. South Point roundabout/Portsmouth Bypass
The year saw work on two major road construction projects in the region.
In Scioto County, the Portsmouth Bypass, formerly known as the Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway, opened in mid-December.
The $634 million dollar project began in 2015 and, designated as State Route 823, connects traffic from U.S. 52 near Sciotodale to U.S. 23 north of Lucasville. Two interchanges, serving the Minford area are near the center of the route.
The route will allow downtown Portsmouth and New Boston to be spared the heavy shipping traffic that has caused tie-ups and congestion and it will cut a significant amount of time off a trip from Lawrence County to Columbus
Officials from the Ohio Department of Transportation estimate up to a half hour of travel time could be saved, compared to the old route along U.S. routes 23 and 52.
Meanwhile, in South Point, work began in the fall on the roundabout project at the intersection of Solida Road and Commerce Drive, just off the interchange with U.S. 52.
Designed to accommodate larger amounts of traffic as The Point industrial park and other nearby businesses expand, the project caused traffic to be rerouted along County Road 1, causing much vocal frustration with some locals who had to take the extensive detour to and from the main highway.
Construction was funded by the federal government and the Job and Commerce division of the Ohio Department of Transportation and the construction is administered by the county engineer’s office.
Due to weather issues, the project will not meet its Dec. 31 contract completion date and is now expected to be open to motorists sometime in mid-January.
6. Gem City arrests
One of the more shocking criminal cases of the year was the arrest of two men who ran Gem City All-Stars.
Former coach and co-owner William Perry, 31, of Wurtland, Kentucky, was arrested on the evening of Aug. 13 by the Kentucky State Police on one count of first-degree sexual abuse and two counts of third-degree sodomy. He was released on bond after an arraignment on Thursday.
James Boggs, 38, of Wurtland, Kentucky, the owner and operator of the Gem City All-Stars, has already been indicted in Lawrence County on 26 charges relating to accusations of sex with a minor. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The counts are for 26 times that it is alleged that Boggs “on or about March 1, 2018 through May 31, 2018, in Lawrence County did engage in sexual contact” with an unidentified 16-year-old male, who is not the spouse of Boggs while the male was a minor and was the boy’s athletic or other type of coach. The Kentucky cases are based on allegations that the acts happened in the Commonwealth.
The cases in both states involve the same male victim.
Both cases are still waiting trial dates.
Boggs’ case was set for Nov. 9 but was delayed for a medical procedure.
Perry is scheduled to have a pre-trial hearing on Jan. 10. No trial date has been set.
7. Braidy Industries
The promise of a new rolling aluminum plant in Greenup, Kentucky brought hope to the Tri-State.
On June 1, officials from two counties, business owners and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin broke ground on a 45-acre site that will one day be the Braidy Industries aluminum mill.
The $1.3 billion plant is going to be built in the EastPark Industrial Center, off of the Industrial Parkway. By the time the plant is finished in three years, 45 acres of factory will be under roof and the mill will be producing nearly 300,000 tons of milled aluminum for use in the automotive, airline, and defense industries. Construction of the mill will take two and a half years for the first phase and another year and a half for phase 2.
“Our mission is not to make aluminum, our mission is to rebuild northeast Kentucky,” Braidy Industries CEO and Chairman Craig Bouchard said. “And rebuild all parts of Appalachia and Kentucky with advanced technology.”
Gov. Bevin said that this new plant was just the beginning.
“We have an abundance of things here, including a workforce that is hungry to work,” he said. “So it easy to sell it (to other businesses.)”
The construction of the mill will employ about 1,800 people. Once it is completed, the company will employ about 600 people in a high tech environment with robots and artificial technology in a factory with $580 million of new equipment.
8. Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A made people concerned about eating at restaurants this year.
For several weeks, there were stories about restaurants in the Tri-State being closed for a day for heavy cleaning after a reports of an employee being diagnosed with Hepatitis A, a viral infection of the liver that can cause loss of appetite, nausea, tiredness, fever, stomach pain, brown colored urine, and light-colored stools.
The virus is usually spread when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food, or drinks contaminated by small, undetected amounts of stool from an infected person. The virus spreads when an infected person does not wash his/her hands adequately after using the toilet or engages in behaviors that increase risk of infection.
In Lawrence County, there were other 50 cases by September.
“The cases are increasing and increasing and increasing,” said Georgia Dillion, the county health commissioner, adding that Lawrence County has the highest number of cases in the state of Ohio. The biggest number of cases was concentrated in Proctorville and Chesapeake.
One of the biggest economic development stories in Lawrence County was the opening of HarbisonWalker International’s new plant in South Point in August with a ribbon cutting on their new 120,000-square foot plant at The Point industrial park.
The event featured music by the South Point High School Marching Band and proclamations from local and state officials to celebrate the first new plant built by the company since 1978. It began full operation in April.
HWI CEO Carol Jackson said the facility is state of the art and the culmination of the company’s efforts over the past few years to “transform itself inside and out.”
“Our new South Point plant truly represents the future of HarbisonWalker International,” she said. “Everything about this facility represents our unwavering commitment to driving things forward.”
The monolithic refractories facility, which employs 40, is the result of a $30 million investment by the Pennsylvania-based company in Lawrence County.
10. Social media threats against schools
Local and state law enforcement were on alert in February after a wave of threats by students against schools.
In all, four threats were made locally.
On Feb. 15, law enforcement in the region dealt with a number of threats circulating on social media. The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office arrested a girl for making threats on Snapchat against the Rock Hill schools on Wednesday that said, “shooting up Rock Hill… y’all better share this if y’all want to live. Going to the gym first thing in the morning and fleeing.” She was arrested.
Later in the day, the Coal Grove Police Department arrested a male Dawson-Bryant Middle School student after he made threats on Snapchat.
In Scioto and Pike County, law agencies were investigating a Snapchat account under the name “Brie Savage” posted threats against New Boston, Clay, Portsmouth, West and Waverly schools that students needed to “watch out tomorrow Feb. 22 I’m coming for everyone who ever messed with me and anyone who gets in my way was getting shot up too.”
That threat was traced to the phone of 15-year-old girl and she was arrested on five counts of inducing panic, a fifth-degree felony, for each school that was threatened, and one count of making terroristic threats, a third-degree felony.
On Feb. 21, a threat was made on a popular website that a shooting was going to occur at Symmes Valley. Detectives investigated the threat and obtained search warrants for the social media site and cell phones. Breianna N. May, 18, of Willow Wood, was arrested and, in May, she was indicted on charges of inducing panic, a second-degree felony, and making terroristic threats, a third-degree felony. Sept. 12, she was sentenced to four years in prison with credit for time served.
“Threats against our schools will not be tolerated,” Sheriff Jeff Lawless said. “If you make a threat to one of our schools, we will do what we can to bring you to justice.”
While local law enforcement may not have the manpower or knowledge to track things from a computer or cell phone, they can call for assistance from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) cyber crimes and criminal intelligence analysts. They are able to assist 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can usually trace the threats back to the source within a couple of hours.