What made the news in 2023


TROY — Miami County experienced many memorable moments in 2023, had its fair share of news stories of crime and tragedy, but also saw positive moments too.

Here are some of the top stories, in no particular order, which hit the news in 2023.

Troy City Schools levy passes

Voters in the Troy City Schools District approved a 6.96-mill levy during the November election, which is part of a larger plan to secure state funding for the construction of four new elementary school buildings and major upgrades to the electrical and HVAC systems at Troy High School.

Three new elementary school buildings will be constructed for students from pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade, and a new middle school building will be built for fifth- and sixth-grade students. The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) will contribute $45.6 million of the project’s total cost, which is estimated at $154 million.

More information on the district’s building plan and the school levy can be found online, through Facebook or at www.citizensfortroycityschools.com.

Concern surrounding lithium battery testing in Piqua

Residents of Piqua packed into a Piqua City Commission meeting to express concern over lithium battery testing by Energy Storage Response Group (ESRG) for the first lively discussion, among others to follow, beginning on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

ESRG received an open burn permit in 2018 with the city of Piqua to perform destructive testing on generators and electric vehicle batteries. ESRG conducts its testing at the old water treatment plant at 9300 state Route 66.

According to a Sept. 5 City Commission agenda report, ESRG was seeking a five-year renewable lease agreement with the city for a monthly fee of $500 and $600 for each burn the company performs.

Now, residents and businesses near the testing site are concerned about the possible consequences of these tests.

On Sept. 22, the Ohio EPA and Regional Air Pollution Control Agency (RAPCA) agreed that ESRG cease all destructive and non-destructive testing, and determined the lithium-ion battery testing performed by ESRG was beyond the scope of the permissions the City of Piqua was granted.

On Nov. 22, 2023, ESRG was forced to clear out from where they were conducting the lithium-ion battery testing.

Debate over the Tavern Building

The Tavern Building on West Main Street made headlines in March of 2023 when the city of Troy filed misdemeanor charges against the building’s owner for maintaining “structures in a state of disrepair.”

On March 27, Miami County Building Official Rob England issued an adjudication order citing an unsafe building/serious hazard at 112 – 118 W. Main St. In June, members of the Troy City Council voted to reject an offer to donate the Tavern Building to the city, and Troy Fire Chief Matthew Simmons issued a letter calling for demolition of the building, following an on-site inspection conducted on Tuesday, June 16.

On Saturday, June 24, the city of Troy announced that due to safety concerns regarding the Tavern Building, West Main Street between Plum and Cherry Streets would be closed to pedestrian and vehicular traffic until the chief building official (CBO) and fire chief determine the area to be safe.

The building remained tied up in court until Friday, Dec. 22, when the parties involved in the Tavern Building case signed a settlement agreement to transfer ownership of the building to the Troy Historic Preservation Alliance (THPA), resolve all pending litigation and set a deadline for the building’s repair or demolition to allow for the re-opening of West Main Street.

According to the agreement, the THPA must complete repairs needed to lift the county’s adjudication order and stabilize both portions of the Tavern Building no later than April 30, 2024.

“There will be no extensions of time for any reason,” the settlement agreement states.

If work required to stabilize the building and lift the adjudication order is not completed before the deadline, the THPA will be required to demolish the Tavern Building and remove all construction debris from the site no later than May 30, 2024.

If the repair work is not completed and the THPA fails to demolish the building, the city of Troy is authorized to demolish the structure and remove the debris, with the costs assessed to the THPA as a lien against the property.

Tippecanoe soccer team win the D-II boys state title for Dad

For the entire Tippecanoe soccer team and coaching staff, this one was for the Community. For Red Devils junior Landon Haas, it was for “Dad.” The Red Deils won their second D-II boys state soccer title in five years, defeating Richfield Revere 2-0 Saturday at Historic Crew Stadium.

If Haas seemed driven over those three weeks to experience a state championship with his teammates, there is good for reason for that. His father, Dan Haas, was diagnosed with cancer recently.

Milton-Union Schools fall-out leading to lawsuits after former school janitor is charged with rape

A lawsuit was filed on Sept. 29, 2023, against the Milton-Union Exempted Village School District Board of Education, Superintendent Brad Ritchey in his capacity as superintendent, according to court documents, and against Ritchey individually, as well as Jerry North, a former janitor employed with the Milton-Union School District.

A crowd of concerned parents and residents attended a Milton-Union Schools Board of Education meeting held in October, asking for more transparency from the board and Ritchey. It was the first regular scheduled monthly meeting after the lawsuit was filed on Sept. 29.

On May 3, 2023, North was indicted on three counts of rape of a victim under the age of 10, all first-degree felonies, two counts of gross sexual imposition, both second-degree felonies, and one count of intimidation of an attorney, victim or witness in a criminal case, a third-degree felony, after alleged actions that occurred in boy’s restroom of Milton-Union Elementary School. These assaults allegedly occurred between Aug. 1, 2019, and May 31, 2021.

North, who entered a not guilty plea, requested the trial to be continued on Nov. 28 due to potential discovery issues, media attention, and the number of witnesses coordinated with a civil lawsuit. The state of Ohio did not oppose the motion.

The jury trial is scheduled to resume on Jan. 23, 2024, at 9 a.m.

County improvements: Miami County Fairgrounds grandstand, Commerce Center

Among county projects Miami County Commissioners have been working on for several years, such as the Miami County Courthouse historical HVAC upgrade and Miami County Fairgrounds administration building and infrastructure improvements, completion of the rebuild of the One Stop Center now called the Commerce Center and the fairgrounds grandstand renovation are two completions members of the community celebrated and were looking forward to in 2023.

• Miami County Commissioners Ted Mercer, Greg Simmons, and Wade Westfall dedicated the newly renovated grandstand, unveiling over $4 million in renovations at the Miami County Fairgrounds on Friday, Aug. 11. The ribbon-cutting was held prior to the grand opening of the 2023 Miami County Fair. The grandstand renovation project of the structure built in 1912 was started just under a year prior and included replacement of lighting around the racetrack and grandstands, reducing the number of light poles from 55 to 12, structural steel repairs and repainting as well as installation of new concrete stairs, a new sound system and commercial fans. The project also included installation of new fencing around the fairgrounds and renovations to the restrooms located in the grandstands.

• Miami County Commissioners also celebrated the grand opening of the Miami County Commerce Center, which in now located at 1506 One Stop Court in Troy, on Nov. 9. The new facility houses Miami County’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Driver’s Exam station, Title Office, Department of Development and other agencies, as well as offers drive-thru window.

El Sombrero events: 30th anniversary/Ruben’s death/fire/Thanksgiving meal continued on

El Sombrero Restaurant endured many challenges in 2023.

In September, the Troy restaurant celebrated its 30th anniversary. Unfortunately, on Oct. 27, Owner Ruben Pelayo passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

One of Pelayo’s legacies was the annual free Thanksgiving dinner, which provided free meals to thousands of Miami County residents over the years. However, the restaurant suffered a small kitchen fire in November, which forced them to close their doors temporarily. However, the Thanksgiving meal went forward, despite Pelayo’s death and the fire. The annual meal was moved and served at St. Patrick’s Food Bank in Troy.

El Sombrero is repairing the restaurant and hopes to reopen its doors sometime in 2024 and to continue Pelayo’s legacy.

Tipp City Board of Education (BOE) conflict

After months of contention among Tipp City BOE members, that tension culminated in September into a brief dispute between former board president, Simon Patry, and Board member Anne Zakkour, who appeared to gesture a Nazi salute to Patry, which prompted calls for her resignation.

Tension rose before the BOE voted on the base plan for the district’s new facilities project during its work session on Sept. 5. While Patry was speaking, Zakkour could be heard mumbling under her breath, something indistinguishable. Patry told her to stop talking and would not tolerate being interrupted, to which Zakkour proceeded to turn to Patry and give an apparent Nazi salute during the live-streamed meeting.

Although, it was confirmed to have been pre-planned, Patry’s resignation was announced after that meeting. Patry and Board members Amber Drum and Rick Mains condemned such actions as what Zakkour exhibited with the salute during that September meeting. Drum said board members should follow the district’s motto containing the three pillars to “Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and to have Integrity.”

Superintendent Aaron Moran issued a statement after the incident which said in part that the community should, “foster a more professional and productive environment to advance our district’s mission and implement initiatives that help students. We need to move forward.”

Board member Theresa Dunaway, who was absent at the Sept. 5 meeting, responded to a request for comment saying since she wasn’t at the meeting, so she would let the others respond.

After Patry’s exit, previous Tipp City BOE member Joellen Heatherly was appointed to fill his unexpired term. The decision was made by Miami County Probate Judge Scott Altenburger and filed in the Miami County Probate Court on Monday, Oct. 16.

Troy mayoral race

The city of Troy experienced its closest mayoral race in recent memory during the primary elections held in March of 2023, with Mayor Robin Oda defeating William Lutz by a margin of less than 1% in the Republican primary.

Oda defeated Lutz with a total of 1,404 votes (50.70%); Lutz received 1,365 votes (49.30%).

Tragic events resulting in deaths

• New Year’s Day on the water led to the drowning of a Quincy man on the Great Miami River in Piqua. Police Chief Marty Grove identified the victim as Kyle Ratcliff, 29. Dispatch received a call at 5:11 p.m. stating they observed a boat in the water near the dam; a short time later, the same citizen reported seeing what appeared to be a body near the overturned watercraft.

Grove said Ratcliff was an avid and experienced duck hunter who had apparently left Port Jefferson at 9 a.m. and was to be picked up by a family member at Treasure Island in Troy.

• Seth Zackary Ryan Johnson, of Laura, was sentenced to life in prison in September for aggravated murder and aggravated arson from an arson fire that caused the death of his step-father Jack M. Noble, 58, in February. Noble was hospitalized following a fire at the home he shared with Johnson, but during the weekend of Feb. 28, it was reported that Noble had died.

According to court documents, Johnson was sentenced to a mandatory sentence of life in prison, with parole eligibility in 30 years, on the aggravated murder charge, a first-degree felony; and an indefinite term of imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum term of 11 years and a maximum term of 16.5 years in prison, on the aggravated arson charge, also a first-degree felony. Both charges are to run concurrent.

• A 20-year-old Piqua man is being held on a $2 million bond at the Miami County Jail on murder charges, among other charges, after an August Friday night shooting in Piqua, leading to the death of one person and serious injury to another.

Cory Miller entered a not guilty plea to aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony; felonious assault, a second-degree felony; tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony; and complicity, a third-degree felony on Sept. 5 in the Common Pleas Court of Miami County.

According to Piqua Police, officers were dispatched to the 1300 block of Forest Avenue on a report of a shooting on Aug. 4. When police arrived, they found Deacon Graham, 18, of Piqua, dead, and another victim wounded in the area of Fountain Park in Piqua.

A four-day jury trial is slated for Feb. 20-23, 2024.

Waco 100th Anniversary Fly-In

The WACO Air Museum & Learning Center celebrated 100 years of WACO history Friday, Sept. 15, through Sunday, Sept. 17, hosting the largest annual WACO Fly-In event ever held at the museum and airfield located on South County Road 25A.

Approximately 70 historic planes participated in the event, making it one of the largest gatherings of WACO aircraft anywhere in recent history. WACO owners and pilots from across the country attended the event, with many camping out next to their historic aircraft at WACO Field.

The WACO Air Museum & Learning Center has hosted the annual WACO Fly-In each year since 1997.

The anniversary fly-in celebrated 100 years of WACO aircraft in Troy, starting in 1923 when the company moved from Medina to Troy. After moving to Troy, WACO became the leading manufacturer of civil aircraft in the United States and remained in that spot until shortly before World War II began. During World War II, WACO employed approximately 3,000 people, and was the largest employer in a five-county area.

Located on South County Road 25A, the WACO Air Museum and Learning Center offers open-cockpit biplane rides and provides educational facilities with summer camps, aviation and S.T.E.A.M. education and extra-curricular learning opportunities. WACO also offers flight ground school and the aviation cadet program, for youth ages 10 to 18 who are working on learning restoration techniques.

McFarland soars to D-III state pole vault title

Lehman Catholic junior pole vaulter Katie McFarland and Ansonia junior Colleen Steinmetz put on a show worth the price of admission Friday at the D-III state track and field meet at Jesse Owens Stadium.

In the end, it was McFarland on the top of the podium — in just her second year of competitive pole vaulting — and Steinmetz taking second. The two were the only vaulters to clear 12-0 and 12-4, before McFarland got 12-8 on her third attempt to win the state title.

Miami East’s Cole pins way to state title

Miami East sophomore Kira Cole (115 pounds) finished off a perfect season with a perfect state tournament at the first girls state tournament sponsored by the OHSAA Sunday at the Schottenstein Center.

Cole, 39-0, pinned Molly Wells, 31-11 of Delaware Hayes in 2:30 to win the state title.

1,600-pound pumpkins grown in Covington

Harley Weldy grows giant pumpkins. The community had a quite a response after seeing a story about Weldy’s large pumpkins in October prior to the annual Bradford Pumpkin Show. Weldy, who lives with his wife Kathie in Covington, got the idea 15 years ago while watching a show about giant pumpkins and thought it would be fun to try.

This year, Weldy grew two pumpkins over 1,600 pounds each. He explained the process of growing giant pumpkins.

“You probably start to seed inside about the third week in April, and it gets large enough to put out in the garden. I usually like to put them out about May 3, and then I cover it with a small hut because it gets so cold and windy that early in the year,” he said.

Weldy entered his largest pumpkin in the Operation Pumpkin Art and Festival in Hamilton on Oct. 13. The festival gave away $35,000 in total prize money, with a first-place prize of $7,000.

Although Weldy didn’t win the competition, he enjoys the community, the pumpkin growers and the camaraderie they share.

“The pumpkin guys help each other,” Weldy said.

Ohio voters OK’d two big changes in Ohio in the November election

Miami County voted both Issues 1 and 2 down at the polls during the November election, but overall, Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment with a thumbs up for Issue 1 that ensures access to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care. Ohio became the seventh state where voters decided to protect abortion access after the landmark ruling and was the only state to consider a statewide abortion rights question this year.

State Issue 1 results in Miami County were 24,011 “No” votes and 15,685 ”Yes” votes.

Ohio voters also approved the legalization of recreational marijuana. Passage of Issue 2 makes Ohio the 24th state to allow adult cannabis use for non-medical purposes.

The results of state Issue 2 in Miami County are 20,288 “No” votes and 18,994 “Yes” votes.

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