Dec. 24—It was a year of sadness, heroism and letdowns by those in authority when reviewing the top local stories in 2022.
It was also a year of strange court cases and occasional triumph over adversity. In short, it was a microcosm of life here in West Central Ohio.
Here are the top local stories of 2022, as voted upon by the editors and reporters at The Lima News.
1. Bluffton officer killed
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Bluffton Police Department officer Dominic Francis was just doing his part in trying to end a high-speed chase down Interstate 75, setting up “stop sticks” to attempt to flatten the tires of a stolen car reaching speeds of 120 mph on the highway.
The nine-year veteran of the department lost his life in the early morning hours of March 31, as the driver of the stolen car struck and killed him.
Allen County Sheriff Matt Treglia described the 42-year-old Francis as a “great officer who dedicated his life to serving his community. He will be greatly missed throughout the law enforcement community.”
Emin Johnson, 20, the alleged driver of the vehicle, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, tampering with evidence, possessing criminal tools, failure to comply with an order of signal and receiving stolen property. His trial is set to start April 24.
Zachary Love, 22, is charged with tampering with evidence, having weapons under disability, two counts of receiving stolen property and improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle. His trial is scheduled for March 27.
Dante Tate, 19, faces charges of receiving stolen property, theft and/or grand theft of a motor vehicle, improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle and complicity in receiving stolen property. His trial is scheduled for March 13.
2. Foster care homes
In January, a judge sentenced Jeremy Kindle to 95 years in prison for the foster parent’s role in sexually abusing boys in his care. His husband, Scott Steffes, 40, received a 47-year sentence in March.
The case rattled the foster care system, with three officials removed from their roles. The head of Allen County Children Services at the time, Cynthia Scanland, lost her job and now faces four felony charges, with a February jury trial slated in her case.
Judge Jeffrey Reed summed up the case during Kindle’s sentencing, saying there was “just no sense to be made of any of this. The only adjective it can find is that it’s an abomination.”
3. Redistricting fight
Ohio’s constitutional amendment changed the way the state redistricted state and federal races every 10 years. It also put a pair of Lima men in the center of a messy process, with Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, on the five-person panel drawing the maps.
It didn’t go well. Delays in getting updated Census data and arguments on the panel kept the group from delivering updated maps on time. When it did, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the maps as unconstitutional, sending them back for repeated attempts. Eventually, a federal court ordered the group to use one of the draft versions.
The snafu pushed the primaries back to August and provided evidence that gerrymandering remained a problem in Ohio.
4. Ex-Wapakoneta mayor sentenced
An Auglaize County jury delivered five guilty verdicts against former Wapakoneta Mayor Thomas Stinebaugh on charges he had an unlawful interest in a public contract, theft in office and three counts of conflict of interest.
Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove sentenced him to 18 months in prison after the verdict was read Oct. 28.
Stinebaugh appealed the ruling in December, so it’s up to the Third District Court of Appeals.
5. Auglaize County murder case
A Wapakoneta woman, her mother and her South African boyfriend all face federal charges related to the April 24 death of her estranged husband, who happened to work for the US Department of State.
Federal prosecutors claim Amanda Hovanec, 35, injected her estranged husband, Timothy Hovanec, 36, with a lethal dose of etorphine hydrochloride, or “M99.” Her boyfriend, Anthony Theodorou, 33, allegedly shipped the drug to Auglaize County from South Africa.
Court documents said the victim had a camera on his car, and Timothy could be heard on the audio saying, “What the heck are you doing? Did you just assault me?” His body was found in rural Auglaize County near Waynesfield several days later.
Hovanec’s mother, Anita Green, 61, was charged with being an accessory after the fact. The cases remain active in federal court.
6. Deputy fatally shoots man
An internal review and a grand jury found Allen County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Izak Ackerman was justified in using lethal force when he fatally shot Quincy J. Pritchett on June 21 following a traffic stop.
A review by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation found Pritchett ran from his vehicle and fired at least one shot that struck Ackerman in the face as the two struggled on the ground.
“The facts remain that Mr. Pritchett made every one of these decisions that night that put him in the place that he is at,” Sheriff Treglia said in September. “Deputy Ackerman, in my opinion and in this office’s opinion, should be considered a hero in this community; fighting for his life and being able to survive.”
Ackerman returned to duty in September.
7. January bar fight
A January bar fight outside J’s American Pub on Lima’s Spencerville Road on Jan. 22 sent four people to prison and ended a Spencerville police officer’s tenure.
Tysheen Polk was sentenced in December to five years in prison for second-degree assault of Bradin Fisher-Jones, who had been defending off-duty Spencerville officer Jordan Wehrly. Janicqua Bailey also got five years in prison in the incident, which reportedly included racial slurs. Nicholas Williams and Donovan Denson received four-year prison sentences.
Wehrly resigned his police position.
8. Concealed carry rules
Ohio changed its concealed carry laws over the summer. People are no longer required to go through a training course before they’re able to carry a concealed weapon.
9. Jury woes
Allen County courts reported problems with getting jurors to show up, including some hoaxes online telling people to ignore jury summons. Judges went as far as arresting and jailing some would-be jurors. They later discovered there were some issues with the company that compiled the jury pool list.
10. Red Pig Inn
Ottawa’s iconic Red Pig Inn, a barbecue institution since 1975, closed in April after a group that bought it in October 2019 said it couldn’t keep it open. There were briefly plans to knock it down and build a Taco Bell, but those fell through.
An ownership group including Bruce Benroth, Kyle Benroth, Anissa Musil and Nathan Musil worked to reopen the restaurant as the Red Pig Inn in October.
Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.