Northwest Ohio mourned a police officer killed in the line of duty, a university baseball team devastated by a freak bus crash, and a congressman whose accidental death triggered a political campaign that put Ohio on the national map.
We dedicated a landmark bridge across the Maumee River and started work on what many hope will be a landmark arena.
Add a controversy over Mayor Carty Finkbeiner s dog, a fake kidnapping, floods, recognition for a city that s been down on its luck, and a new round of political battles, and northwest Ohio had a year for the history books.
A lethal encounter
On a fog-shrouded early morning in February, Detective Keith Dressel and two other Toledo detectives tried to question two youths about a curfew violation and suspected drug activity. One of them, 15-year-old Robert Jobe, fled, later pulled out a gun, and shot Detective Dressel once in the chest, killing him.
The 13-year police veteran, husband, and father of two was mourned as a local hero and was the first Toledo police officer killed in the line of duty since 1970.
His widow, Danielle Dressel, grieved while helping to raise money for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and letting 4-year-old son Noah throw out the first pitch for the Toledo Mud Hens home opener.
Jobe, tried as an adult, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility after 18 years.
Just weeks after the detective s killing, the area faced another shock.
A tragic accident
Jerome Niemeyer, driving a bus for the Bluffton University baseball team, apparently thought he was entering a lane for high-occupancy vehicles when he turned up a ramp off I-75 in Atlanta on March 2. Instead, he was on an exit ramp to an overpass.
Five players, along with Mr. Niemeyer and his wife, Jean, were killed and 28 others were injured when the bus crashed through a barrier and plunged to the roadway.
More than 2,000 people attended a tribute at the university 10 days later to mourn players David Betts of Bryan, Ohio; Scott Harmon and Tyler Williams of Lima; Cody Holp of Arcanum, Ohio, and Zachary Arend of Oakwood, Ohio, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Niemeyer of Putnam County.
Spurred by the efforts of David Betts father, John Betts, Congress took up a proposed motor-coach safety bill that would require safety belts in seats, stronger window glass to resist ejection, and stronger roofs.
As a father, until this occurred, I had no idea motor coaches didn t have seat belts, Mr. Betts said at the time the bill was introduced. Why haven t we been doing this?
A sudden loss
Later in the year, Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor s death from an accidental fall Sept. 5 triggered a hotly contested special election.
State Rep. Bob Latta of Bowling Green defeated state Sen. Steve Buehrer of Delta in a bruising GOP primary battle over who was the most conservative.
In the Dec. 11 runoff, national and Ohio Democrats flocked to the 5th Congressional District, pouring time and money into Robin Weirauch s third attempt at winning the traditionally Republican district. In the end, Mrs. Weirauch received the same 43 percent that she did in 2006 while running against Mr. Gillmor.
Mr. Latta s father, Delbert, held the seat from 1959 to 1989.
At a holiday event, cadets and midshipmen appointed to service academies by Mr. Gillmor recalled him as a friend who sent them goodie packages and gave them encouragement.
Swamped to the south
In August, the Blanchard River rose over its banks, wreaking devastation in Findlay and Ottawa and causing what officials conservatively estimate at $80 million in damage.
The flooding destroyed homes and government facilities, including the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library and the Putnam County sewage treatment plant. About 4,000 home and business owners applied for federal emergency assistance, and a little more than half qualified for help.
In the village of Ottawa, the water reached 9 feet above flood stage. In Findlay, the water was 7 feet above the flood stage, matching the level set in 1913.
Hancock and Putnam county officials renewed their requests for flood-control studies, which, even if authorized, will take five years.
We ve never seen flooding like it is. We never dreamed we d see flooding like it is. It is unbelievable, said Terry Huffman, assistant fire chief in Arlington.
We have water in basements. We have water to first floors depending on what part of the village you re in. It s water everywhere.
March of progress
A cleared area in East Toledo now marks where the Toledo Sports Arena once stood, and a cleared area in the center of downtown is where the new Lucas County arena will be built.
After years of debate over whether to relocate the sports and concert venue from the east side to be closer to the convention center in the central business district, Lucas County commissioners started work on a $105 million facility at Jefferson Avenue and Huron Street. At the same time, the old arena that hosted many a hockey fight, ice show, circus, Toughman contest, and rock concert including Elvis Presley in 1956 was demolished.
The site of the old arena will become the Marina District, a proposed residential, retail, waterfront, and commercial development to which the city committed $10 million and developer Larry Dillin committed $75 million.
The new 8,000-seat arena in downtown Toledo future home of minor-league hockey, arena football, concerts, and other events is set to open in the fall of 2009. An increase in the Lucas County hotel tax from 8 percent to 10 percent will partially finance the facility.
New span, old span
In the same vicinity, a new I-280 crossing over the Maumee River was dedicated and opened for traffic in June.
The structure, with its unique LED-lighted pylon and soaring cable stays, drew tributes such as civic cathedral in the sky at a lavish dedication ceremony. Also advanced was a memorial to workers who risked or lost their lives building the Veterans Glass City Skyway including carpenter Andrew Burris, who became the fifth fatality when his work platform plunged 82 feet to the ground on April 19.
The 130-foot-high span shifted I-280 traffic off of the Craig Memorial Bridge, a draw span that regularly disrupted interstate traffic.
One mile upriver, the aging Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge limped through another year after design problems and weather combined to prevent completion of a $48 million repair of the four lift sections in March. Workers jumped for safety after an ice floe cut loose a work barge.
We were very lucky nobody got killed, city Public Service Director Bill Franklin said. The repair is to be finished in early 2008.
A piece of history
Seneca County commissioners stepped back from the brink of demolishing the vacant 1884 courthouse in Tiffin after an outcry from historic preservationists. Commissioners agreed to ask voters to approve an $8.5 million bond issue in March to support renovation.
Commissioner Ben Nutter said defeat of the bond issue would be interpreted as a vote to remove and replace the courthouse. Gov. Ted Strickland said state funding assistance could happen but not before the vote.
A missing lawyer
Fear and worry gave way to relief and less charitable feelings when Toledo attorney and former city Councilman Karyn McConnell Hancock s claim to have been abducted turned out to be false.
Ms. McConnell Hancock, 35, turned up near Atlanta on Dec. 8, acting dazed and claiming to have been kidnapped in downtown Toledo.
She is facing a misdemeanor false report charge filed by Toledo police. There are other accusations against her as well.
One complaint in Lucas County Probate Court accuses her of embezzlement in connection with $128,642 in cashed checks that were intended for the three sons of a slain city employee whose estate she was handling.
In the courts
An engineer was convicted in October of lying to the federal government about the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant s dangerous operating status in 2001.
David Geisen of Wisconsin faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. His lawyers say he was a scapegoat for FirstEnergy Corp., which paid a $33.5 million fine. The old reactor head came within weeks of bursting.
After 20 years of claiming his innocence while on death row, Kenneth Richey s luck changed when a federal appeals court on Aug. 10 threw out his conviction for setting the fire in 1986 that killed 2-year-old Cynthia K. Collins of Columbus Grove, Ohio.
In December, Richey, 43, agreed to plead no contest to a charge of attempted involuntary manslaughter related only to the charge that he had promised and failed to baby-sit the child and prosecutors agreed not to retry him for aggravated murder and arson.
Plans for a quick resolution were delayed until the new year when he was hospitalized. The case was followed closely in his home country of Scotland, where belief in his innocence was strong.
Rocky times at UT
The University of Toledo s sports programs went into a defensive stance after a football player was accused in federal court of participating in point-shaving. The charges were dropped less than a month later, but the FBI made it clear the investigation would continue.
An FBI affidavit filed March 29 claimed professional gambler Ghazi Gary Manni gave UT football and basketball players money, gifts, and entertainment at Detroit casinos for their cooperation in controlling the outcomes of games.
Running back Harvey Scooter McDougle of Cuyahoga County told The Blade he never received favors from Manni. He was suspended from the team and dropped out of school because he lost his scholarship.
The rivalry between the A and B-team factions of the Lucas County Democratic Party continued to roil city and county politics.
Under pressure from state Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern, Lucas County Democratic Party Chairman John Irish, a political ally of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, stepped down after it was learned a stripper had entertained guests at a golf fund-raiser in June.
Two months later, again with Mr. Redfern s blessings, anti-Finkbeiner A-teamers on Toledo City Council voted out council President Rob Ludeman, a Republican who owed his position to a unique political arrangement between the GOP and B-team Finkbeiner allies on council, and elected Democrat Michael Ashford.
The two council factions clashed over city spending, with the mayor winning out with the creation of a $5.50 monthly trash collection fee that he said saved vital city services but didn t spare six city swimming pools or keep school crossing guards on the city s payroll.
Mayor Finkbeiner managed to enrage animal lovers and people with disabilities in one swoop in August by parking his city-leased SUV in a handicapped spot and leaving his pet dog Scout, a yellow Labrador retriever, in the car.
The mayor s spokesman pro-tested that the car windows were left open and the car was in the shade.
But the mayor made amends by paying a $100 parking fine and taping a public service commercial warning of the dangers of leaving pets in hot cars.
After almost a year of the mayor bringing his dog to work with him, the Ohio Building Authority ordered Scout out, saying pets were not allowed in Government Center.
But the easygoing Scout helps cut the tension at times, directors said.
In December, the state relented, and Scout stayed on to share host duties with the mayor s wife, Amy, for the annual holiday open house.
COSI and CitiFest
Proving that in finance, as in physics, every action brings an equal and opposite reaction, a failed levy campaign resulted in COSI announcing its doors would close tomorrow and it would dismiss its staff after 10 years as Toledo s science museum.
Although it would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home about as much as a Wendy s combo meal, voters decisively rejected a new levy to keep COSI in operation.
COSI s bad news came about the same time that Toledo officials learned that CitiFest Inc., the nonprofit agency that organized Rallies by the River and other events in Promenade Park, had overspent its checking account by $40,000 and was unable to pay its staff or that of the Erie Street Market, which it managed.
CitiFest laid off its staff, vowing to continue to run downtown events as a volunteer board.
Mayor Finkbeiner took over managing the Erie Street Market again, but some council members balked, saying the market should be leased or sold.
High marks for Toledo
Toledo took a look in the mirror and saw an alternative-energy powerhouse in the making contributing to a slew of favorable mentions in international publications.
Toledo-based solar panel manufacturer Xunlight was highlighted in Newsweek, in an article that said Toledo has a growing national reputation as a hot spot for solar energy. The city was profiled in the Wall Street Journal as a resurgent glass city.
And the exclusive British business publication Foreign Direct Investment branded Toledo North America s most business friendly city of its size.
Most improbable of all: Mayor Finkbeiner successfully competed in London for a U.N.-sponsored award for liveable communities, bringing home third place.
The education front
The Toledo Board of Education went through a costly superintendent search to replace former Superintendent Eugene Sanders, ending with the selection of William Harner, a regional superintendent in the Philadelphia school district.
But Toledo s fractured board couldn t close the deal, and Mr. Harner withdrew.
With interim Superintendent John Foley seeking a new job, the board dropped its search and gave Mr. Foley a three-year contract, and he accepted.
Former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford joined the board of education, first as an appointee and then in an election, promising to bring civility to the squabbling board.
Lucas County s experiment in regional economic development went on the rocks when development chief Shawn Ferguson engaged Commissioner Ben Konop in a public debate that turned ugly.
Mr. Konop suggested Mr. Ferguson, chief executive officer of the Lucas County Improvement Corp., more closely monitor the companies that receive county tax abatements,
Mr. Ferguson argued with him, triggering a barrage of criticism from Mr. Konop of his job performance and of the LCIC in general.
Mr. Ferguson resigned just as a Blade investigation raised questions about an $18,000 contract given to the son of a local pastor connected politically to Commissioner Pete Gerken.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.