What were the other top 10 local news stories in 2019
Looking back over the past the year, over 30 major local news stories were pulled from the weekly editions of the Falmouth Outlook. The staff narrowed that list down to the top 10 stories of the past year.
#10 was a tie between Tish Dietz becoming the first Pendleton County Deputy Sheriff in county history and our nation’ symbol, the bald eagle, calling Kincaid Lake State Park home. Ironically, Melissa Lawson reported on both of these stories.
Dietz brings more than a decade of experience to the po
sition in the Pendleton County Sheriff’s office. “I’ve been in law enforcement field doing other things and I felt like it was time to move to the road,” Dietz told Lawson. She has completed her academy training that she said was physically and mentally demanding. She was one of only two women in her class. “I love the country setting. I love the atmosphere. It’s beautiful and the people are so respectful and friendly. Everyone waves when you pass them on the road.”
When the majestic bald eagle became the symbol of America, it is estimated that over 100,00 soared the skies, but by the middle of the 20th century it was on the brink of extinction. But efforts to protect them have been successful and Pendleton County has been one of the benefactors. Kincaid Park Manager Jeff Auchter said the solitary eagle has been soaring over the lake for about five years but no nest has been spotted in the park’s boundaries.
#9 While Dietz is the first female Deputy Sheriff, Stacey Sanning’s election as Pendleton County Attorney made her the first female county attorney in county history. Melissa Lawson also had this story and Sanning told her, she “was never told you can’t do that because you’re a girl. It never occurred to me that I should be treated differently from a boy, that I couldn’t do the same things. It shouldn’t be any different.” Sanning has been making changes in the way her office operates and looking for opportunities to help the Pendleton County residents who she comes across via the court docket.
#8 Shawn Richie will be facing a murder trial during 2020 for the death of Chris Powell. On the morning of January 20, Powell was looking for Johnna Baker when he went to the home of Chris Harris. Baker was in the basement hiding from Powell, those in the house told police. Richie shot Powell through a window with a high-powered pellet gun. Powell stumbled away and collasped against the wall of the Pendleton County Sheriff’s office. When emergency personnel arrived and began to perform life saving measures, they found the hole in his chest from the pellet. He was pronounced dead at Harrison Memorial Hospital. Richie was indicted by the Grand Jury on four charges including murder. Jason Wallace had been arrested and charged at the time of the incident but the grand jury did not return an indictment on him. Harris, who was not home at the time, was indicted on two charges for actions after the shooting.
#7 Robert Baker was trying to walk across the Falmouth Dam when he fell in. Quick action by his brother Dalton Baker kept Robert from being swept away by the currents and above water. Falmouth Police Officer Steven Linville arrived on the scene and immediately jumped into the water to help the young boy to shore. As the young boy was spitting water, Linville kept telling him, “Stay with me, buddy; stay with me.” Baker did, and with the actions of his older brother and the police officer, the story had a happy ending. “It could have been a totally different story and we could be having a funeral today,” dad Charles Gay said.
#6 As the calendar switched from 2018 to 2019, a new leadership took the reigns of the county. Josh Plummer and Darrin Gregg were elected as two of the four magistrates on Fiscal Court. With the reelection of Alan Whaley and Rick Mineer as magistrates and David Fields as Judge Executive, Republicans held four of the five spots on fiscal court. The Republican red wave continued as Eddie Quinn was sworn in as Sheriff and Sanning as County Attorney. Running unopposed Democrats John Steele, PVA, Rita Spencer, County Clerk, Jonathon Peoples Coroner, Howard Johnstone County Surveyor and Mike Redden, Circuit Court Clerk were reelected. Falmouth City Council saw the return of Joyce Carson, Amy Hitch and Amy Hurst. New members were Shannon Johnson and David Klaber. Both mayors returned to office with Ron Stinson in Falmouth and Greg McElfresh in Butler. Butler saw two new members to city council with Mason Taylor and Teresa Antrobus joining returning members Gerald McElfresh, Bonita Bonar, Terri Bush and Pat Taylor. Gerald McElfresh would be replaced by Paul Vanlandingham later in the year.
#5 An oversight on franchise tax collection over the past eight years via the County Clerk’s and Sheriff’s office led to thousands of dollars going uncollected. The taxes would have funded the Pendleton County Ambulance District. Sheriff Office Manager Lindsey Fieger was the first to question it and, working with PVA John Steele and a state auditor who was doing a routine audit, the mistake was found. Fieger indicated that $115,379.69 has been collected with a little over $66,000 outstanding. Ambulance District Board Chairperson told Falmouth Outlook that the board has not yet decided what to do with the funds being collected but “we are delighted to have some extra funds.”
#4 A suspicious package was delivered to 5/3 on U. S. 27 and after Falmouth police evaluated it, members from the Hamilton County bomb squad arrived and a bomb disposal robot entered the bank, evaluated the package, and eventually detonated it. The box contained paint and everything was safe.
#3 The long-awaited water and sewer project for the City of Falmouth saw $1 million in funding from the Department for Local Government through a Community Development Block Grant. Commissioner Sandra Dunahool presented Falmouth Mayor Ron Stinson with grant. “This grant will help us move forward on projects we have been discussing for a long time,” said Stinson. “We are making vast improvements in our wastewater system.” Grant funds do not have to be paid back.
#2 Ambulance funding, finances and services was a yearlong topic throughout Pendleton County in 2019. After the Pendleton County Ambulance District asked the Pendleton County Fiscal Court to help with funding in early summer of 2018, the court decided to provide the funding and start the process for an audit needed to be conducted to determine the manner of the problem and the handling of finances. Charles O’Neal presented his audit’s findings to the court in January and stated, “I am confident that ambulance services are being ran very efficiently.” No action was taken concerning the finance issues over the next couple of months, and the board reappeared in front of the court in May. They presented the court a letter signed by the three board members that stated, “Without additional funding, we will not be able to continue to make two ambulances available on a 24-hour basis.” As Fiscal Court proceeded to finalize their budget, no additional funding would be included in the 2019-20 budget. As a result, Phillip Hart, who was ambulance director at the time, presented the board with a plan that saw cut in ambulance services starting on July 1. “There will be 24 twelve-hour shifts where only one ambulance whill be on duty,” Hart explained to the board. At their next meeting, fiscal court approved an additional $50,000 in funding to help the district meet payroll. The cuts for July stood and would continue through November. As the year progressed, the court also approved expanding the board from three members to five with Cindy Brown and Jim LaFollette joining the Pendleton County Ambulance District Board. Turmoil in the handling of the issue led to the resignation of longtime treasurer Vickie King and Hart. Several other employees with years of experience also left. The board began a search for a new director and assistant director with a few missteps before hiring Greg Pollard, who was named Director, and Jody Dunhoft, who was named Assistant Director.