Homicides, Emerald decision on the front page of 2021

MOUNT GILEAD – A double homicide that shocked Morrow County made the news in 2021.

Below is a list of other significant events over the past 12 months as chosen by the editors.

1. Brian Lee was arrested in Columbus after a chase that followed the fatal shooting of two residents of Harmony Township on May 24.

Lee remains being held in the Morrow County Correctional Facility without bail after the Morrow County Sheriff’s Office charged the 39-year-old Marengo resident with two counts of murder in connection with the deaths of Linda Vannatta and Brandon Petty.

Two other people were injured in shootings at separate locations on County Roads 26 and 232 that morning.

No trial date has been set.

2. On February 2, Common Pleas Judge Tom Elkin ruled in favor of Emerald Bioenergy (Renergy) in the lawsuit brought against her by the Township of Westfield Zoning Inspector as represented by the former Morrow County District Attorney Charles S. Howland.

This was the culmination of several years of complaints about the company dumping solid waste into its Westfield Township facilities.

After a two-day trial, Elkin wrote, “The court finds Emerald is a public utility and is not subject to the plaintiff’s zoning regulations. The plaintiff’s complaint for injunctive relief to prohibit the defendant, Emerald, from using non-agricultural raw materials is dismissed.

Renergy’s CFO Mike Oberfield spoke for nearly an hour at the end of the bench trial centered on the company’s zoning status.

Oberfield, interviewed by Howland, said the company was no longer receiving biosolids in its biodigester. He cited “community concerns which were quite public” and the uncertainty of EPA regulations.

An Oct. 28 ruling from the Fifth District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s ruling. An amicus case has been filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.

3. Residents adopted several levies during the general election on November 2.

County Seniors’ Issues and County Roads were both renewed with 66 percent approval. 4,501 voted for the senior tax and 2,312 voted against. The road tax was almost identical with 4,507 votes for the tax and 2,312 votes against.

Approval of the hospital tax was closer with 3,526 voting for the tax and 3,282 voting against. The turnout was 28 percent.

4. The county lost an icon when business and community leader Walter C. “Jack” Fishburn passed away at the age of 87 on June 14.

Endowed with an entrepreneurial spirit, he created several successful entities throughout his life. The Fishburns owned many local businesses in Morrow County, including Fishburn Services, Producing and Farms; the former auto parts stores Marengo, Mt. Gilead and Mansfield; Ole Farmstead Inn and the Cardinal Center Campground and Shooting Center and Karen Children’s Campus.

His obituary read: “Jack was a longtime farmer and community steward who was involved in many efforts for the betterment of the community of Marengo and Morrow County.”

5. Mount Gilead has seen a former police chief retire and a new one sworn in.

After nearly 30 years of serving and protecting the village, Police Chief Brian Zerman hung up his badge in January. The village hired Adam Lakey as their new police chief six weeks later. Lakey started with the Village Police Department in March 2010.

Other notable events of 2021, in no particular order, included:

• The last remains of the old Hydraulic Press Manufacturing Company facility have been demolished. The demolition of the historic HPM factory began at the end of December 2020.

The HPM die-casting and plastics equipment factory closed in 2010, ending more than a century of machinery manufacturing in the village. Records indicate that it had around 1,000 employees at its peak around 1980.

• After five months of meetings, guest speakers and analysis of volumes of healthcare information and documents, the Morrow County Healthcare Initiative Citizens Group unanimously approved in June recommendations to the Morrow County Hospital Board of Directors and Morrow County Commissioners.

This followed months of contentious debate and a legal settlement agreement reached between the commissioners and the hospital’s board of directors.

• The Mount Gilead Dog Park is officially finished. This park is located on North Cherry Street, next to the Mount Gilead School Board offices.

A dedication was held on December 4 to the late Dr Harry Riggs. Dr Riggs ran the veterinary clinic across from the soccer fields for many years.

• A late summer thunderstorm brought wind and heavy rain to the village in late August. The damage included the uprooting of many large trees and the flooding of basements with up to five inches of water.

• A new chapter opened in February for the Morrow County Community Center with its new name “Gilead Fitness”, a new logo and 24/7 access to the gym.

• Centraide’s annual radiothon raised over $ 23,000 in April to benefit over a dozen member organizations.

• Lincoln Center Manufacturing received bond financing of up to $ 125,400 and a grant of up to $ 20,000 to support the company as it implements new air quality technology as part of its move to a new factory in Fulton.

• Clean-up continues at Hidden Lakes Campground. Resident and Maintenance Supervisor Jason Hubble calls the improvements “really fantastic”. Fifty people from five churches came out on June 13.

• A Civil War monument is back home in time for Memorial Day celebration.

The soldier was returned to the Civil War monument on April 28 at Glendale Cemetery. It had been removed in October 2020 and restored. It is inscribed with the names of 303 residents of Cardington Village and Cardington Township who served during the Civil War. It was erected in 1897.

• The man who pleaded guilty to charges arising from a 2019 crash that seriously injured an Ohio Highway Patrol soldier was sentenced to eight years in prison in July.

Michael Marchak pleaded guilty in April to two counts of aggravated assault and one count of receiving stolen property and driving with suspension. Marchak was under the influence of methamphetamine and was driving the wrong way around in a stolen van in June 2019 when he collided head-on with Private Jason Phillips.

• Improvements to the Morrow County Fairgrounds continued this year.

The log cabin underwent a complete makeover and underwent major repairs in time for Farm Days and the Morrow County Fair. Other improvements to the facility included razing two deteriorating structures and adding more flowers to the landscape.

• A trio of outstanding citizens – Rita Barton, Stan Sipe and Bradley Wood – were recognized on August 16 by the Mount Gilead Village Council for the annual Dr Nathan Tucker Award.

All three have been extensively involved in the community in various capacities for many years.

Brian Lee makes an appearance at the Court of Common Pleas. He is charged with two counts of murder in connection with the shooting deaths on May 24 of Linda Vannatta and Brandon Petty.

Longtime community leader and businessman Jack Fishburn has passed away.

The soldier was placed on the Civil War monument on April 28 at Glendale Cemetery. It had been removed in October 2020 and restored in Oberlin, Ohio.

Cortland Williams and Clell Holcomb chisel the deteriorated parts of the log before facing it again last summer.

Renergy continues to operate in the Township of Westfield. An Oct. 28 ruling from the Fifth District Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling in a case that focused on zoning and use.

The new dog park opened this month. It is located on North Cherry Street, next to the Mount Gilead School Board offices.

Hospital, road tax pass; dog park built

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