The Lima region had a memorable 2019, including two visits from the Commander-in-Chief, the federal sentencing of a former sheriff and several unfortunate deaths.
Let’s review the year’s top stories, as chosen by the reporters and editors of The Lima News.
1. Trump visits region
President Donald Trump made five visits to Ohio in 2019, and two of them were to the Lima region. On March 20, he toured the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima. He followed that up with a Sept. 22 visit to Wapakoneta, along with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, for the opening of the new Pratt Industries’ $500 million paper mill and corrugated box factory.
Trump received a warm welcome each time, given the region’s strong Republican voting history.
Trump boasted about his administration’s investments in the military during his visit.
“‘You said ‘we’re closing,’ and I said, ‘no, we’re not,’” Trump told the crowd. “And now, you’re doing record business, the job you do is incredible, and I’m thrilled to be here in Ohio with the hard-working men and women of Lima! This is some tank plant. There is nothing like it in the world. You make the finest equipment in the world. You really know what you’re doing.”
Trump used the Wapakoneta trip to tout foreign investments in the U.S., such as the Australian-backed new plant in Wapakoneta.
“There’s never been a better time to buy, invest and build in the United States,” Trump said during the stop.
2. Crish sentenced
Sam Crish’s downfall from respected Allen County sheriff to federal inmate 65708-060 was completed Nov. 18, when he reported to Federal Correctional Institution McDowell Camp in Welch, W.Va., a medium-security federal prison.
On March 4, the eight-year former sheriff pleaded guilty to taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from people arrested in prostitution stings. He admitted to hiring a woman as a jail nurse based on interest-free loans to Crish, who previously admitted he had a gambling problem.
On Sept. 26, Crish received a 136-month sentence, or more than 11 years, on two counts of extortion, two counts of soliciting a bribe and one count of making a false statement. He also owes $606,221 in restitution.
“I do admit to what I’ve done; I don’t blame anyone else, and I don’t use gambling as an excuse,” Crish said in court. “I’ve created a lot of damage, and I feel awful about that. I am going to make every effort to pay that money back and to try and make this better than it is now.”
3. Fatal police chase
Four Allen County Sheriff’s Office employees were cleared of any wrongdoing by a Van Wert County grand jury in the shooting death of 46-year-old Terry Pierce Jr., who led officers on a two-county, nearly two-hour chase and threatened to injure others.
Pierce spent much of the Sept. 3 chase talking with dispatchers and deputies via 911 calls, which were released after the incident that included a chase down U.S. 30. At one point, Pierce talked about ramming a school bus with a stolen semi rig and harming others if officers didn’t back away from the pursuit.
Four SWAT team members — Sgt. Josh Bayer, Det. Corey Hanjora and deputies Justin Kirk and Barry Friemoth — fired their weapons in the chase. They were placed on paid administrative leave before returning to work once the grand jury cleared them Oct. 17.
“However unfortunate, the decisions made and actions taken by my deputies during this incident saved innocent lives,” Allen County Sheriff Matt Treglia concluded.
4. Tornado hits region
Tornadoes ripped through much of Ohio after 10 p.m. on Memorial Day, including an EF-3 tornado, complete with winds up to 150 mph, damaging at least 40 homes in several neighborhoods in Celina on May 27.
The tornado killed Melvin Dale Hanna, 82, when the strong winds blew a vehicle into the bedroom where he slept. He was remembered as a generous man who spent his retirement building Assemblies of God churches.
5. Wapakoneta arson case
Wesley Slaughter, 20, will spend the next 19 years in prison for starting a fire that forced the evacuation and eventual demolition of the Koneta Hotel apartments in downtown Wapakoneta on Dec. 23, 2018. Two dozen people were left homeless.
Neighbors showed sympathy for Slaughter, who said a demon named Bohevin convinced him to do it.
“I still feel Mr. Slaughter should get the help he needs. I do forgive him,” former resident Amy Andrus said in court.
6. Jordan’s impeachment role
U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, earned the national spotlight as the leading defender of President Trump during impeachment hearings, first as a late addition to the House Intelligence Committee and then in the House Judiciary Committee.
Jordan, often with poster boards behind him to illustrate his points, stood out from the crowd, and not just because he didn’t wear a suit jacket. Jordan insisted Democrats were impeaching Trump because “they don’t like us” — referring to Trump voters in what he called “fly-over” states like Ohio.
7. Downtown amphitheater
The Lima Rotary’s proposed downtown amphitheater moved from an idea to a project during 2019, gathering the needed properties and several donations to bring the $2.4 million idea to life.
The 800-seat amphitheater with sloped AstroTurf lawn and the adjoining park will be located at the corner of Spring and Union streets, behind Old City Prime. Much of the site is already cleared, and construction should begin in 2020. Many local groups stepped forward with donations, with the State of Ohio expected to kick in much of the remaining costs.
8. Fatal dog rescue
Eric Nolte, 35, died while trying to rescue his dog from the Ottawa River on April 28.
The river had been higher than normal with faster currents because of recent heavy rains. Emergency crews with boats recovered Nolte’s body about a mile to a mile and a half downstream over an hour and 20-minute time frame in the accidental drowning.
The dog was rescued by another man walking with Nolte and survived.
9. Homicides in Lima
Allen County dealt with seven homicides in 2019, including six within the city limits of Lima.
Among those who died at the hands of another were Branson Tucker (Jan. 15), Dustan Purdy (April 19), Donald Smith (May 4), Christian Laws (June 14), Gregory Cooper (July 19), Jermaine Ingram (Oct. 30) and Kevonta Cowan (Dec. 17).
No suspects have been identified yet in the deaths of Cooper, Cowan, Ingram or Purdy, all of which occurred inside Lima’s city limits.
10. Nursing home injury
The Ohio Department of Health ruled allegations of physical abuse by employees at Lima Rehab and Nursing Center against former resident Susan Washington were “unsubstantiated” in July.
A photograph with Washington’s purple bruise over her eye and forehead gathered national attention. Activist and rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris made widely shared social media posts about “Grandma Sue,” and a nationally known human rights attorney came to Lima in July. No lawsuit had been filed in Allen County Common Pleas Court as of Friday afternoon.