News Democrat

Top ten stories of 2017


By Wayne Gates – 

2017 was another eventful year in Brown County. Here is a look back at the top ten stories of the year that were published in The News Democrat.
10. Solar Farm planned near Fayetteville
A proposed $200 million solar farm is being proposed for Green Township, north of Mt. Orab. The project will take up 1815 acres and generate 125 megawatts of electricity when completed.
It would be bordered by U.S. 68 on the west, the Highland County line on the east and Greenbush East Road on the south. Solar panels would be placed on 32 separate pieces of property.
The project is being called the Hillcrest Solar Farm and the company that owns it is Hillcrest Solar I, LLC, which is a subsidiary of Open Roads Renewables, LLC.
The company submitted information to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that said the project could create 644 on-site construction jobs and 17 jobs annually. The total expected economic impact during construction is expected to be $64.3 million.
The company intends to start construction in April 2018 and complete construction in December of 2018.
9. Sheriff Ellis meets President Trump
Hurricane Irma hit Florida on September 10 and 11, causing an estimated $100 billion worth of damage.
The Indiana and Ohio National Guard arrived immediately afterward to help citizens who were out of basic necessities like running water and food, as well as search and rescue and support to civil authorities.
Brown County Sheriff Gordon Ellis is a Brigadier General in the Ohio National Guard and joined the effort, helping to take command of about 7000 guardsmen.
While Ellis and the other guardsmen were carrying out their duties, they received a visit from U.S. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Rick Scott.
“I never in my mind thought that I was going to meet the President of the United States. You don’t think you are going to be shaking hands with the President when you are conducting a military operation,” Ellis said.
“He told me that he appreciated what I and the soliders were doing and that we were making a difference. It made me feel really good to hear that and it also felt good to watch the President shake the hands of all of the soldiers that were there.”
8. Meth makes a comeback
Another illegal drug is starting to compete for the spotlight with heroin in Brown County.
“We are starting see an increase in methamphetamine and the charges thereof,” said Brown County Sheriff Gordon Ellis in November. “We started seeing an uptick in it in the last six months. We are seeing possession and also starting to see elements involved with the manufacture of the drug.”
Ellis said that two types of meth are being seen in the county.
“Methamphetamine can be manufactured locally and we have also seen an increase in the type of meth known as ‘ice’ or crystal meth. That is usually not manufactured in this area, but brought in from the outside. It tends to be a more impactful form of methamphetamine.”
7. Georgetown school staff members armed
Some staff members within the Georgetown school system now have concealed weapons on campus.
The decision is part of a revision to the district’s safety and security plan, and was approved unanimously at the April 19 meeting of the school board.
Georgetown Superinten-dent Christopher Burrows said that other details of the new plan will remain confidential to ensure that they will be effective, but he wanted the public to know that armed staff members will be part of the plan.
The exact number of volunteer armed staff members and their identities is confidential.
The volunteer staff members were required to get concealed carry licenses from the state and then attend three days of intensive training.
Burrows said that other staff members are now trained in first aid and in de-escalation negotiation.
6. Orscheln opens in Mt. Orab
The Orscheln Farm and Home store in Mt. Orab officially opened Nov. 17.
“We are very excited.  We are off to a tremendous start. The customers are telling that they are happy we are here and we couldn’t be happier to be here,” said Orscheln Chief Marketing and Merchandising Officer Mark Johnson at the ribbon cutting.
“We looked for a location that was a good fit for us and we found it here in Mt. Orab. Having Kroger next door is a tremendous draw and it looks like a great fit for us,” Johnson said.
The Mt. Orab store is the first store in Ohio for the company.
The company owns and operates 165 stores located in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana and now in Ohio.
5. Southern Hills opens Adult Education building
Adults are now attending full time classes at the north campus of Southern Hills Career and Technical Center.
The million dollar development on Eastwood Road at State Route 32 opened to students on Sept. 5.
Classes are in fire/EMT and police officer certification, with a medical assistant program and manufacturing classes coming early next year.
SHCTC bought the building for $200 thousand, and spent approximately $800 thousand in renovations and equipment prior to opening.
“Last year, we served 1200 adults.  We would like to see that number double. That will be a combination of our facilities in Mt. Orab and Georgetown,” said SHCTC Superintendent Kevin Kratzer in February.
4. Quick Response Team fighting overdose deaths
A quick response team is now going on many emergency medical runs for drug overdoses.
A Brown County Drug Task Force member, a health department nurse and a treatment professional from Talbert House will be part of the team.
“It’s a group of people who go out after a person overdoses and is revived by Narcan. The idea behind it is to make one on one contact with the individual or the family so that they know that there are resources available to get them into treatment,” said Executive Director Deanna Vietze of the Brown County Board of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
The team is made possible by a federal grant of $95,000 from the 21st Century Cures Act.  The money will go toward paying for the staff time of those involved.
3. Sawyers and Anderson arrested
Georgetown business owner Thomas Sawyers is facing trial next month on multiple felony charges after being accused of taking advantage of drug addicted women and forcing them to commit sex acts.
Sawyers was indicted on 26 charges on June 29, including one count of Rape and eight counts of Trafficking in Persons-Commercial Sex Acts. He was arraigned on August 29 and pleaded not guilty to the charges.  “What is alleged in this indictment is that on a number of occasions in the past six years, Mr. Sawyers has engaged in a lot of trafficking in drugs with these victims and is also charged with compelling these women to engage in sexual activity for hire by taking advantage of their addiction to narcotics,” Brown County Assistant Prosecutor Daniel (Woody) Breyer said in an exclusive interview with The News Democrat last July.
A drug overdose death in January of 2016 led to the eventual indictment of Sawyers, according to Breyer.
Former Brown County Municipal Court Probation Officer Dale Anderson pleaded guilty to Sexual Imposition and Obstructing Official Business charges last month in connection with the investigation into the Sawyers case.
Anderson will be sentenced Dec. 29.
2. Narcan use up sharply in Brown County.
In 2016, thirteen people in Brown County died of a drug overdose. Without Narcan, that death toll would likely be over 100.
The numbers are on track to be even higher in 2017, with 18 people already dead of drug overdoses in Brown County through the first eleven months of the year. Twelve more cases are pending, which could send that number higher.
320 doses of Narcan were administered in 2016 by Brown County first responders on 231 people.
Given all the variables, it is not possible to know just how many people would have died if not for Narcan intervention. However, Brown County Public Health Nurse Gina Spiller estimated in July that at least 90 percent of those who received Narcan would have died without it.
Since 231 individuals were documented to have received Narcan that would mean over 200 more overdose deaths in Brown County in 2016.
1. $3.2 million jail expansion planned.
Brown County committed to a $3.2 million jail expansion last summer after dealing with the problem of jail overcrowding since 2015.
The project is will be done in three phases. Once fully complete, the jail will hold 110 prisoners, with 26 of them female.
Phase one of the construction will involve a forty person dormitory style addition to the north end of the jail.  Once the forty person addition is complete, the jail capacity would be at 104, with the expectation that housing prisoners outside the county would not be necessary.
The forty person addition will be all male and for lower level and non violent offenders. This will open up additional cells in other areas of the jail to house more violent offenders.
The next step would be an addition to the sallyport area on the south side of the building. This addition would add an additional six cells when complete, including two padded isolation cells for inmates who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
The area would also offer additional storage and other administrative areas designed to take care of a jail that is nearly doubling in capacity.
The third phase of the addition will be new offices constructed on both sides of the current main entrance to the jail. Once complete, the current offices would be converted to further storage, administrative and maintenance functions for the jail.
The 40 man dormitory is expected to be complete in the fall of 2018.