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Published: Sunday, 12/30/2012

2012: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Election, tragedies topped local news

Wrong-way crashes, official wrongdoing, casino also big stories

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
President Obama holds The Blade while sitting in Rick's City Diner in Toledo with Daniel Schlieman, back left, heather Finfrock, and James Fayson. President Obama holds The Blade while sitting in Rick's City Diner in Toledo with Daniel Schlieman, back left, heather Finfrock, and James Fayson.
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Like shoppers in a bazaar, Toledoans were subject to constant pleas for attention, misleading sales pitches, and scare tactics during a presidential election campaign that seemed twice as long as it really was.

And although the ads and visits may have made most people want to turn off their TVs and vote “none of the above,” it’s hard to argue that the election wasn’t the biggest local story of 2012.

But the campaign wasn’t the only big news in Toledo. There was a new casino, mistakes and misconduct by officials, and too many moments of tragedy. This is the Blade’s list of the 10 biggest stories of the year. We can all thank our lucky stars there’s no presidential election in 2013.

2012 THE YEAR IN REVIEW:

1. Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States of Ohio.

Ohio was the center of the political universe in the 2012 race for the presidency, and a statement by one of the candidates — Republican Mitt Romney — while campaigning in northwest Ohio was one of the pivotal moments of the election.

Ohio maintained its status of having the longest run of all the states in electing the winning president by electing Barack Obama over Mr. Romney. The presidential candidates, vice presidential candidates, and their wives campaigned 148 times in Ohio, more than in any other state.

The candidates also spent more heavily on TV advertising in swing-state Ohio than in any other state — $72.7 million for the Obama campaign and $43.2 million for the Romney campaign.

Northwest Ohio had its share of campaign stops. On July 5, President Obama was in Maumee to begin a three-day swing from Toledo to Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Outside the Wolcott House, the scene dripped with Americana — a red barn, bales of straw, and a giant American flag.

Mr. Obama made only one other campaign appearance in the immediate Toledo area, speaking to a raucous Labor Day crowd at Scott High School and making an unannounced visit to Rick’s City Diner on Bancroft Street near the University of Toledo on Sept. 3.

Mr. Romney was in Toledo twice in the general election campaign. He was at a Sept. 26 rally in the SeaGate Centre that drew more than 4,000 supporters. (Mr. Obama, unwilling to let Mr. Romney have the Toledo media to himself, held a rally at Bowling Green State University the same day.) The Republican nominee stayed overnight at the Toledo Hilton after a rally in Defiance Oct. 25.

Northern Ohio was critical to Mr. Obama’s re-election effort because so many jobs here depend on the auto industry that was saved by the Obama-backed taxpayer bailout of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.

In Defiance, Mr. Romney said at the biggest rally of his Ohio campaign that Chrysler was considering transferring all Jeep production to China — something that, if true, would have devastated Toledo. It wasn’t true, and the controversy fueled a week’s worth of anti-Romney TV commercials and news conferences and may have doomed his chances of winning Ohio.

2. Mayor Bell cleans house in the Department of Neighborhoods.

Word of dysfunction in Toledo’s Department of Neighborhoods first made headlines last year, but the hammer fell on the office early in 2012.

An internal city investigation found widespread mismanagement, bid-rigging, misuse of funds, and possible criminal wrongdoing within the division.

Before the investigation’s findings were released, two midlevel officials were suspended and demoted, and the department’s director and housing commissioner were fired.

The investigation was sparked by a series of stories by The Blade. The administration of Mayor Mike Bell initially scoffed at allegations in the stories, but the city’s own investigation ultimately forced the city to change its tune.

Christina Goyett, Rebekah Blakkolb, and Sarah Hammond, the three students killed in a wrong-way crash on I-75 in March, are honored at a memorial service at Bowling Green State University Christina Goyett, Rebekah Blakkolb, and Sarah Hammond, the three students killed in a wrong-way crash on I-75 in March, are honored at a memorial service at Bowling Green State University
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3. Wrong-way drivers leave many victims.

A string of wrong-way driving incidents early in the year shocked the community and raised questions about whether enough is being done to address the problem, such as tougher penalties or better road signs. A Christmas crash claimed another victim, and renewed questions.

About 2 a.m. March 2, a Perrysburg Township woman driving south in the northbound lanes of I-75 just north of Bowling Green collided with a vehicle containing five Bowling Green State University sorority sisters. Three — Christina Goyett, 19, of Bay City, Mich., Sarah Hammond, 21, of Yellow Springs, Ohio, and Rebekah Blakkolb, 20, of Aurora, Ohio — died, as did the wrong-way driver, Winifred “Dawn” Lein, 69. Two other BGSU students, Kayla Somoles and Angelica Mormile, were seriously injured but survived; they returned to school in the fall.

Just five days later, a Springfield Township woman drove north in the southbound lanes of I-475 near State Rt. 25, swiping the mirror of a passing car. Lydia M. Jablonski, who according to police reports had been at a bar at Levis Commons in Perrysburg on March 7, also struck a car in the parking lot as she was leaving. She pleaded no contest April 24 to operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs and was found guilty.

In April, a Temperance woman was stopped by police after she was seen driving the wrong way and then turning around on the southbound I-280 entrance ramp in Oregon.

And on Christmas, a car driven north in I-75’s southbound lanes by Adam Tunison, 41, of LaSalle, Mich., collided with a vehicle driven by Juan Garcia, Jr., 26, about 3:05 a.m. near milepost 209, between the Ottawa River Road and I-280 interchanges in North Toledo. Mr. Garcia, who had been at a midnight Mass with a friend in Michigan and was returning to Toledo, was pronounced dead at the scene. Mr. Tunison is still hospitalized.

4. A child is slain.

The year left too many victims of violence in Toledo, a fact worth remembering in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. In 2012, 38 people were killed in Toledo, the same as in the year before. An additional 12 homicides were recorded in the metro area. Each murder was its own tragedy. But one incident was especially horrendous.

On Aug. 9, 1-year-old Keondra Hooks was killed, and her sister, Leondra, 2, was wounded during a shooting at the Moody Manor apartment complex. Keondra was shot once in the head when at least 12 rounds were fired into an apartment at 2225 Kent St. where she and her sister were sleeping. She died 12 hours later. Leondra survived.

Police say they believe that the shooters thought they were firing into an apartment claimed by the Bloods-affiliated Manor Boys gang. Three men face aggravated murder charges along with an array of other counts for alleged involvement in the shooting. They await trial.

Keondra’s death and her sister’s injury appear to have been the result of reckless violence. Another incident involving young victims was intentional.

5. Carbon monoxide kills five.

Three children were killed in November in a murder-suicide plot that also left their grandmother and uncle, who planned the act, dead.

The five were found Nov. 12 inside a car parked in a garage in the 5100 block of Harvest Lane in West Toledo. The deaths of Paige Hayes, 10, Logan Hayes, 7, and Madalyn Hayes, 5 were linked to a custody dispute between the grandmother, Sandy Ford, 56, and the children’s mother.

The three children had stayed with Ms. Ford since 2009 so that the children’s parents, Mandy and Chris Hayes, could give another son extra attention for “behavioral problems." Mrs. Hayes began discussing with her mother moving the children back into her home about a month before Ms. Ford and her son Andy Ford, 32, hatched their murder-suicide pact.

Ms. Ford apparently disagreed with moving the three children back into the Hayes home. The children had moved back in with their parents days before they were found dead. Mrs. Ford picked the children up from school just moments after Mrs. Hayes dropped them off and took them back to the Harvest Lane home where they were found dead hours later.

Hollywood Casino Toledo brought a touch of Vegas when it opened at the end of May. With more than 2 million customers entering its doors, the casino was Toledo’s biggest business development of the year. Hollywood Casino Toledo brought a touch of Vegas when it opened at the end of May. With more than 2 million customers entering its doors, the casino was Toledo’s biggest business development of the year.
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6. Toledo, baby!

A little bit of Las Vegas came to Toledo this year, with the opening of the Hollywood Casino Toledo on May 29 on the banks of the Maumee River.

Toledo’s casino was the second to open in the state. A 2009 constitutional amendment allowed four Ohio casinos. Cleveland’s Horseshoe Casino opened May 14. The Columbus casino opened Oct. 8, and Cincinnati’s is scheduled to open in the spring.

With about 2,000 slot machines, 80 table games, four restaurants, and more than 2 million customers entering its door, the casino was Toledo’s biggest business development of the year.

The long-term effect of casinos in Toledo and across the state is yet to be determined. Hollywood Casino hired more than 1,000 employees, a boost to a local work force on a slow climb from a deep and prolonged recession. And the county, city, and Toledo Public Schools all receive a portion of casino revenue that helps balance tightened budgets, but certainly doesn’t serve to swell ledgers.

Some businesses near Hollywood Casino Toledo have seen a slight boost from casino patrons, and hotel occupancy in Lucas County is up, probably at least in part because of the casino. There’s preliminary evidence its presence as another entertainment option could be a draw for conventions to the city. But there’s been no casino-related boom, and it’s unclear if the presence of the casino will draw away revenue from other leisure activities throughout the region.

7. These aren’t the test scores you’re looking for.

2012 could have been a banner year for Toledo Public Schools. Instead, it brought another levy defeat, a downgrade on the district’s state report card designation, and a data-manipulation controversy that started in Columbus, spread to Toledo, and then escalated quickly.

The data controversy centered on how school districts filed attendance information for students who were frequently truant. Some Ohio districts — mostly urban ones, which tend to have high truancy rates — over the years systematically withdrew, then re-enrolled those students retroactively for the days they were truant for purposes of reporting data to the state.

The moves, a form of “data scrubbing,” had a twofold effect. First, they improved attendance rates. And second, because state rules say tests scores count only for students continuously enrolled throughout the year in a district, the scrubbing could boost a school and district’s state report card results, because truancy correlates with low test scores.

Columbus first admitted to the practice, and Toledo followed suit weeks later. Then, the controversy spread across Ohio, with a statewide investigation by State Auditor Dave Yost's office.

Not every district scrubbed exactly the same way; Columbus officials appear to have been more aggressive than their Toledo peers, for instance. It’s also not clear that state education officials expressly forbid the practice.

But the controversy put TPS under another cloud, and paired with the state report card downgrade, surely didn’t help at the ballot box.

The University of Toledo Medical Center's vaunted live kidney donor program was voluntarily suspended for months after kidney was accidentally discarded during surgery. The University of Toledo Medical Center's vaunted live kidney donor program was voluntarily suspended for months after kidney was accidentally discarded during surgery.
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8. A misplaced kidney, a frozen transplant program.

The University of Toledo Medical College’s vaunted live kidney donor program was voluntarily suspended for months after a botched kidney transplant surgery.

On Aug. 10, a viable kidney was inadvertently thrown out after it was removed from a man and while his sister waited for it in another room. The mistake, which rendered the organ useless, prompted the hospital, the former Medical College of Ohio, to suspend the transplant program and sparked internal and external reviews of the program.

A nurse involved in the incident was fired. Another resigned. The hospital announced this month, after federal reviews found no current deficiencies, that it would resume kidney transplants from live donors.

9. We didn’t want Canada anyway.

This summer marked the bicentennial anniversary of the start of the War of 1812, also known as that other war we fought against the British. By the war’s conclusion three years later, there’d been no definitive resolution nor major territorial gains. They kept Canada, and we kept not being British.

But the war did produce some epic naval battles on Lake Erie, heroes of combat who later became presidents, and our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” For this, we celebrate.

Commemorative events abounded this year, perhaps highlighted by the Toledo leg of Navy Week, when U.S. and Canadian vessels sailed into the city for tours and visits. About 33,000 people visited the ships docked in Toledo.

The area experienced heavy battle and frequent skirmishes during the War of 1812, and bicentennial events were held at many of those sites.

A litter of six puppies was found zipped in a suitcase left with their mother near a trash bin in March. The Toledo Area Humane Society received more than 100 applications to adopt the pups. A litter of six puppies was found zipped in a suitcase left with their mother near a trash bin in March. The Toledo Area Humane Society received more than 100 applications to adopt the pups.
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10. The Suitcase Six

It was a story that could have turned out heartbreaking but had a happy ending. A Toledo man zipped six puppies into a suitcase and abandoned them along with their mother next to a large trash bin in a North Toledo alley.

Passers-by found the puppies and unzipped the bag, giving them air. The Toledo Area Humane Society took them in, and eventually the puppies — dubbed the Suitcase Six — and their mother all found new homes after people from across the world inquired about adopting them.

The suitcase that trapped the puppies led to the man who zipped them inside; a luggage tag had contact information for Toledoan Howard Davis, 53.

Mr. Davis accepted a plea deal in the case, received a suspended jail sentence, and was sentenced to four years of probation.

Honorable mentions

There were more than 10 big stories in 2012. Here’s a sampling of other events that garnered headlines.

● Some massive, historic buildings had dates with wrecking balls. The Seneca County Courthouse, built in 1884, was knocked down in January thanks to the efforts of Seneca County commissioners Ben Nutter and Jeff Wagner. Voters turned Mr. Nutter out of office in November. Mr. Wagner will face voters in 2014. The Beaux Arts-style courthouse was the focal point of Tiffin’s historic downtown district, but despite community efforts to renovate the building, county commissioners voted for its demolition.

● Demolition of the former Libbey High School also began in January. Preservationists and Libbey graduates tried for months to save the shuttered school, even leading a successful effort to place the school on the National Register of Historic Places, but to no avail.

● Ottawa County sailor Tom Corogin, 84, had to be rescued by a Japanese frigate after rough seas damaged his 32-foot Westsail off the coast of Chile. He had attempted to sail from San Diego to the tip of South America.

● Arson caused significant damage at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg Township. An Illinois man pleaded guilty to charges related to the arson, which has temporarily displaced the center’s community.

● Several homeless shelters were up in arms after the city proposed cuts to their funding.

● Toledo Public Schools and the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo butted heads over a multimillion-dollar federal Head Start grant.

● And after months of speculation about a possible lease to a private owner, Gov. John Kasich announced plans in December to keep the Ohio Turnpike under state control and use its borrowing power, backed by toll revenue, to finance highway construction projects throughout the state.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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