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Published: Sunday, 12/29/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

Triumph, tragedy mark Toledo area's top stories

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

There’s a good chance you’ve heard that Toledo chose a new mayor this year. There’s also a good chance you weren’t part of the selection process.

While there was no presidential election this year, meaning a respite from the constant political commercials and visits by big-ticket politicians, voters had a significant choice to make. Yet when it came time to vote, most Toledoans didn’t even choose “None of the above.” They decided to not even vote.

Big things happened in Toledo in 2013. A new Jeep made in the Glass City debuted, and with it hundreds of jobs. An innocent child was thought lost, but what we learned was even worse. There were gangs, sinkholes, and algae blooms.

And there was a race for mayor that means big things for this city but generated a collective shrug.

 

D. Michael Collins raised his arms in victory  after winning the mayoral election in November. D. Michael Collins raised his arms in victory after winning the mayoral election in November.
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Replacing one Mike with another: A Mike will be mayor next year, but it won’t be the incumbent.

Starting with a shoestring budget and not much of a chance, independent D. Michael Collins, a South Toledo councilman, surged from behind in the mayoral primary and then, with the help of labor funds and support, knocked off Mayor Mike Bell, also an independent, by 57 to 43 percent of the vote in November.

Mr. Collins was aided, at least in the primary, with an internal dispute that split the Democratic Party. Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, seen as the front-runner in the race, came under constant attack by Democratic City Councilman Joe McNamara.

The infighting split primary voters, to the benefit of Mr. Collins. Both Democratic candidates failed to move on to the general election, meaning neither major party had candidates in the mayoral race.

Mr. Bell seemed to have the advantage as an incumbent with a fund-raising edge. But unions and state Democrats, who keyed on defeating Mr. Bell for his support of Republican-led anti-union legislation, dumped cash into commercials.

In the run-up to Election Day, a Collins win wasn’t unthinkable but that he beat Mr. Bell in a landslide was unexpected.

But maybe the biggest story in this year’s election was the total apathy of local voters. Turnout was atrocious, at only 25 percent, meaning three-quarters of the city’s registered voters didn’t even weigh in on who should run the city.

 

Elaina Steinfurth was reported missing on Sunday, June 2. Elaina Steinfurth was reported missing on Sunday, June 2.
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The tragic search for Baby Elaina: Toledo was shocked in early June when an 18-month-old baby named Elaina Steinfurth was reported missing from an East Toledo home. Many followed the search for Baby Elaina for months, holding out hope that the worst hadn't happened and that the child would be found safe.

In the end, Baby Elaina was found, but the discovery brought only heartbreak.

Mother Angela Steinfurth first reported her daughter missing on June 2, after her estranged husband came to a Federal Street house to pick up their two daughters and found only their 4-year-old. She initially claimed ignorance of her daughter’s whereabouts.

She repeatedly misled police, who searched throughout East Toledo and in the Maumee River, operating under the belief the baby might still be alive. Volunteers joined the search, and vigils and pleas for help from the family were a constant during the summer.

The search garnered national attention.

Police suspicions grew, and both Steinfurth and her boyfriend, Steven King II, were arrested. While in custody, King finally told authorities they would find Elaina’s remains in an attic area above a litter-filled garage at 704 Federal St. next to the house where he lived and where Elaina died. Police found her severely decomposed remains exactly where he told them on Sept. 5.

Police said they’d searched the shed before but did not look through boxes in the rafters because they were, at the time, trying to find a missing child, not a hidden body.

It was later learned during court testimony that on June 1 Steinfurth became frustrated with her daughter’s crying and threw her across the room. The next morning, instead of seeking medical help, King held his hand over Baby Elaina's mouth and nose until she was dead.

Earlier this month, King and Steinfurth were each sentenced to life in prison for their parts in the murder; Steinfurth will be eligible for parole after spending 18 years in prison; King after serving 25.

 

Gang members ‘Kidd,’ left, and ‘King Chaos,’ who were incarcerated at the Lucas County Correctional Treatment Facility, worked on identifying gang territories for a gang map that The Blade assembled. Gang members ‘Kidd,’ left, and ‘King Chaos,’ who were incarcerated at the Lucas County Correctional Treatment Facility, worked on identifying gang territories for a gang map that The Blade assembled.
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A really big fight about a map: There’s something to be said about defining a problem.

That Toledo — like nearly every other American city — has gangs is well known. They’re a significant driver of violence in the city, a scourge on neighborhoods, an unending hurdle for schools.

But when the city talks about gangs, it does so in an amorphous way. And that conversation ignores the individuals inside the life, the specific problems each neighborhood and block faces, the individual stories and beefs that drive gang life.

People don’t join “a gang.” They join the gang that’s near them, that their friends and relatives joined. Fights don't just happen between gangs. They’re rivalries and disputes that are often rooted in personal animosity, Beehive Crips versus Lil’ Head Bloods.

Police know the importance of understanding who the players are, who is on which side. That’s why the Toledo Police Department developed a gang boundary map. But when The Blade asked for the map to share with Toledoans, the department said no, sparking a months-long legal battle.

In the meantime, Blade staff decided to create their own map.

Blade reporter Taylor Dungjen and photographer Amy Voigt spent more than two months and hundreds of hours on the streets, in prisons, homes, and late nights in the office working sources and defining boundaries.

They talked to active and former gang members, victims and perpetrators, those who wanted out, and those who just wanted to see the violence end.

The Blade team came up with its own map showing claimed boundaries of dozens of gang sets.

Mr. Bell blasted the resulting four-day Blade series, “Battle Lines: Gangs of Toledo,” calling it “irresponsible journalism.” The map and the stories became part of the mayoral campaign, with candidates asked if Toledo had a gang problem and what they would do to combat street gangs.

The state’s 6th District Court of Appeals granted The Blade’s request for the city’s map, but the Bell administration appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. The city dropped the appeal in August, however, after a source leaked the map to The Blade.

In the aftermath of the series, The Blade joined with the Toledo Community Coalition to try to attack the roots of street gangs, hosting a series of forums and other activities aimed at combating racism locally.

 

Pamela Knox was southbound on North Detroit Avenue near West Bancroft Street on July 3 when the road caved in underneath her. City officials said 19th century sanitary and storm sewers collapsed. Pamela Knox was southbound on North Detroit Avenue near West Bancroft Street on July 3 when the road caved in underneath her. City officials said 19th century sanitary and storm sewers collapsed.
TOLEDO FIRE DEPARTMENT/LT. MATTHEW HERTZFELD Enlarge

Sinkhole? Oh that? That’s supposed to be there: Toledo's aging infrastructure made national news this year, when a giant sinkhole formed in a central Toledo road and swallowed a car.

Pamela Knox was southbound on North Detroit Avenue, near West Bancroft Street, at about 12:15 p.m. July 3 when the road caved in underneath her. The since-retired school principal escaped serious injury, though she received quite the fright.

The sinkhole was caused by collapsed 19th century sanitary and storm sewers, city officials said. It was about 20 feet deep, about two car lengths long, and two car widths wide.

“That’s huge. That’s very scary,” Toledoan Antoinette Robinson. “I haven’t seen anything like that in real life, only on TV.”

Toledo’s sinkhole shut down traffic as water spilled into the pit. Repairs took several days and cost the city about $100,000.

 

Former University of Toledo track and cross country coach Kevin Hadsell. Former University of Toledo track and cross country coach Kevin Hadsell.
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A UT coach leaves in disgrace: University of Toledo officials said little when cross country coach Kevin Hadsell abruptly resigned from the team in January, mentioning only that he violated university policies but committed no NCAA violations. Mr. Hadsell had a successful 15-year career at UT and was a five-time Mid-American Conference coach of the year in women’s cross country. His departure was a surprise.

But reports about the underlying scandal soon surfaced.

Turns out, Mr. Hadsell resigned amid an investigation that uncovered evidence of a romantic relationship he had with at least one former athlete and lewd interactions he had with another. UT officials said they were prepared to fire Mr. Hadsell if he hadn’t resigned.

 

A new fight over rights: Toledo, in a way, became a battleground this year in the ongoing, yet ever-shifting debate about abortion. Yet it wasn’t a court case or new legislative action that sparked the uproar; instead, it was claimed political neutrality and inaction.

One of the city's two abortion clinics closed this year because no hospital would sign a transfer agreement with it.

The Ohio Department of Health requires clinics that are not full-service medical facilities to have a transfer agreement with a hospital in case of complications from an abortion procedure. Center for Choice closed in June after the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio, stopped negotiating an agreement.

The university also let its agreement with Capital Care Network expire on July 31, and the clinic also could face closure. The moves were heralded by anti-abortion groups. Abortion-rights advocates lamented the moves.

The GOP-controlled legislators used the budget bill this year to turn the administrative rule into law and prohibited public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with clinics.

 

On March  24, Kaitlin Gerber, left, was killed by her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Jashua Perz, 29, right. On March 24, Kaitlin Gerber, left, was killed by her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Jashua Perz, 29, right.
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Domestic violence claims too many victims: While violent crime was down in 2013 compared to the year before, that’s just a number. Too often, tragedy struck northwest Ohio families, and many times the perpetrator was someone close to the victim.

On March 24, Kaitlin Gerber was chased in her car and shot in a South Toledo parking lot by her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Jashua Perz, 29, who killed himself during a standoff with police.

The murder wasn’t Perz’s first incidence of violence against Ms. Gerber and other women. He’d been in jail and court for domestic violence. Ms. Gerber’s family contended the court and legal systems could have done more to protect her.

Prosecutors responded by shifting more resources to domestic violence cases and for victim advocates. And Toledo Municipal Court judges are considering a plan to establish a dedicated domestic violence docket.

Domestic violence is not a Toledo problem. It’s nationwide and hit home in other northwest Ohio communities.

In May, an Amber Alert went out after brothers Blaine, 14, and Blake Romes, 17, and Michael Aaron Fay — who lived with them — went missing from their Ottawa, Ohio, home. Columbus police soon found Fay, who eventually admitted to killing the boys and hiding their bodies.

Fay was apparently angry after an argument he had with Blaine and Blake over the defendant’s older brother moving back into the home that they shared with the victims’ mother, Michelle Grothause, in the Elkcrest Trailer Court.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated murder in October and was sentenced in November to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 60 years.

 

A dangerous prison: Inmates don’t often garner much sympathy, but a rash of violent incidents at the Toledo Correctional Institution should spark conversation about whether deep problems exist within Ohio’s prison system.

In October, inmate Michael Dodson, 38, was assaulted by his cellmate. He was taken to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center where he later died. That was the fourth homicide at the prison in a 13-month span.

The problems started in 2011, when the prison began bringing in maximum-security prisoners. The prison also began putting two inmates in each cell to deal with statewide overcrowding. Assaults, fights, and disturbances at Toledo Correctional grew significantly.

The prison was blasted in September by a state committee, whose 164-page report detailed the homicides, the significant increases in assaults, high employee-turnover rates, and rampant drug trading. The state says it’s taking measures to alleviate the problems.

 

Don’t drink the water: That Lake Erie is in trouble is nothing new. But 2013 showed that the algae blooms that plague the region’s most valuable resource may not just be stubbornly pervasive and a risk to fishing, but imperil drinking water.

Preliminary data suggested that 2013 brought the second-worst algae bloom in recent history; this after 2011, which may have had the worst algae bloom in the lake ever.

And in September, Ottawa County’s Carroll Township’s water-treatment plant became so overwhelmed by the algae’s toxin that the plant was shut down, an unprecedented move.

In Toledo, the city had to come up with an extra $1 million for treatment supplies to neutralize the toxins at the water plant.

 

A new Cherokee: Jeep made a big commitment to Toledo in 2013, replacing the Liberty and bringing back the Cherokee name for its newest midsize SUV, made in Toledo.

Chrysler announced in 2011 that it would spend $500 million at the Toledo Assembly Complex and spent last year upgrading and expanding the facility.

The new vehicle was welcome economic news for Toledo. The plant hired more than 1,800 new people ahead of launching the Cherokee, bringing total plant employment to about 4,000.

Plant workers began building the new Jeeps in June.

The Cherokee’s debut was delayed several weeks so Chrysler could work out kinks in the transmission. Sales finally began in late October and were brisk, as were those of the Toledo-built Wrangler.

There are big ambitions at the plant, with a goal to build more than 500,000 vehicles there in 2014. And that’s good news for Toledo.

 

Interim Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant smiles while waiting for results with supporters during a TPS renewal levy party on Nov. 5 at the Main Library in downtown Toledo. The levy passed overwhelmingly. Interim Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant smiles while waiting for results with supporters during a TPS renewal levy party on Nov. 5 at the Main Library in downtown Toledo. The levy passed overwhelmingly.
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TPS trades “Pops” for “Rom”: The year was one of major change for Toledo Public Schools, and one with significantly less drama.

Last year, the district was enmeshed in a data manipulation struggle and suffered the latest in what had been a long string of defeats at the polls when voters rejected a new-money levy request.

Things started off rocky again this year, with the announcement by Superintendent Jerome Pecko that he would retire when his contract ended at the end of July. Mr. Pecko said he wanted a contract extension but only if he had board support. The implication seemed clear that at least a majority on the board preferred a new leadership direction, and let Mr. Pecko play the situation publicly as, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

But when it came time to find a replacement, the district looked to a Pecko protege, Assistant Superintendent Romules Durant. The Toledo native hit the ground running, bringing immediate energy and enthusiasm to the gig, even though he was only originally hired on a one-year contract and an interim basis.

Mr. Durant soon became a focal point for and face of a TPS levy renewal campaign. In November, the renewal levy passed by an overwhelming margin.

The district also finalized three-year contracts with its employee unions and did so without much acrimony.

Now, people in the district are talking about forward momentum.

 

Princess P, seen here with Director of Lucas County Canine Care and Control Julie Lyle, was a dog picked up by the Lucas County Dog Warden's office with a severely embedded collar. She has had multiple surgeries and been on the mend thanks to Cutie's Fund. Princess P, seen here with Director of Lucas County Canine Care and Control Julie Lyle, was a dog picked up by the Lucas County Dog Warden's office with a severely embedded collar. She has had multiple surgeries and been on the mend thanks to Cutie's Fund.
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There were plenty of other big stories in 2013. Here’s a few more:

Bishop Leonard Blair, who a decade ago was installed as the seventh bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo, celebrated his last Mass in the role this month after he was appointed archbishop in Hartford. The Rev. Charles F. Ritter of St. Joseph Parish in Sylvania will serve as diocesan administrator until a new bishop is appointed.

People from Europe, South America, Australia, and more donated several thousand dollars to Lucas County Care & Control's Cutie’s Fund to pay for the surgery and care of Princess P. The medium-sized, mixed-breed dog was picked up running at large on Parkside Boulevard near Dorr Street with a severely embedded collar, her lymph system and veins were damaged.

The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library system celebrated its 175th anniversary with several special events. Founded in 1838, it was the first free public library in Ohio.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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