Top 10 stories of 2022

Dec. 31—BY HEATH HARRISON AND MARK SHAFFER

1. INFRASTRUCTURE AND BUSINESS

The region saw a major investment from the state when Gov. Mike DeWine sought $500 million for the state's Appalachian counties from the General Assembly.

Legislators approved the request and the funds will available for local governments who apply for purposes of infrastructure, including downtown development; health care, such as investments in school- or community-based services to address physical and behavioral health; and workforce development, including public-private partnerships to build and coordinate job training.

The county also saw funds allocated from the state when Gov. Mike DeWine signed the capital improvement bill into law in June. In addition to money to restore Macedonia Missionary Church in Burlington, the bill allotted $150,000 for the Necco Center Campus, $100,000 for the Ro-Na Theater Phase V renovations in Ironton and $750,000 for the Chesapeake Community Center.

A long-awaited project was seen through to conclusion in December. A new senior center for the county had been sought for years and, in 2018, $1 million was secured by local officials from the Ohio General Assembly to construct one at the county fairgrounds in Rome Township.

Following delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, groundbreaking took place in the summer and the center, which replaces the small Sybene-Chesapeake Senior Center building, was completed and hosted a grand opening in December.

In the village of South Point, longstanding projects continued, with waterline replacement work ongoing and entering its next phase.

As a result, the barn, built in 2012, will be available for use by the community for events for the next three years as a meeting place with safe spacing. This freed up the fair board to focus on planning for the fair event's this year, which took place in July.

And a major new business was announced in April for South Point.

ClearSky Health, a rehabilitative health care provider, has announced plans to build a new 30-bed medical rehabilitation hospital, on Collins Avenue near the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce.

The facility, which will provide care to those with disabling injuries or illnesses, is slated to open in 2023.

The City of Ironton has a lot of projects coming up this year, with Mayor Sam Cramblit saying the city is trying to get at least two road projects done to pave around 100 city blocks.

The city will also continue to make improvements along the river bank area with a $73,000 grant from Ohio Department of Natural Resources going towards a beach volleyball court and playground equipment to create a family-friendly area. The city is also hoping to purchase equipment to grade the alleyways around town.

2. ELECTIONS

The 2022 election was quieter at the local level than usual in Lawrence County.

In county-wide races, no Democrats filed for office, meaning that incumbent Republican County Auditor Paul David Knipp was assured another term.

This was also the case for the winner of the Republican primary for Lawrence County Commission. Incumbent Freddie Hayes Jr. was defeated after three terms in office by Fayette Township Trustee Mike Finley. Finley, the father of Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Christen Finley, will take office in January as a new commissioner, after running unopposed int he fall.

The battle over redistricting stretched on for months, with maps drawn by the Republican-controlled redistricting commission repeatedly struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court and causing a second primary to be held for statehouse races.

When districts were in place, they brought two changes for Lawrence County.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, whose district has included Lawrence County for a decade, will no longer represent the county, as it has been moved into the neighboring district of U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, who won re-election in November.

At the state level, Rep. Jason Stephens will now represent all of Lawrence County. The county had been divided between the districts of Stephens and Brian Baldridge under the old maps.

The county saw many visits from statewide candidates during the campaign, including Mike DeWine and Nan Whaley in the governor's race, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Tim Ryan and J.D. Vance in the U.S. Senate race, Keith Faber in the auditor's race and Sharon Kennedy, Jennifer Brunner, and Pat DeWine in Ohio Supreme Court races.

3. JAIL DEBATE:

The issue of a new county jail has been an ongoing saga for the county and almost saw a solution this year.

The county received a $16.8 million grant from the governor's offices for the purpose of building a new jail. In order to bolster those funds, the county commission put a half percent sales tax on the May primary ballot, but it was rejected by voters by a nearly 2-1 margin.

While the debate over the tax was going, the issue of where the jail would be located also became a focus.

The commission initially chose the former Lombard Elementary/Open Door School as the location, but, after hearing concerns from residents of the surrounding neighborhood, moved to take that site out of consideration. The commission then selected the "old cement plant" off Adams Street and County Road 24, but this also drew complaints from residents in the area.

The year ended with no resolution on the issue, with no funding or site settled.

4. LOCAL GOVERNMENT CHANGES:

Two villages in the county saw major changes in government this year.

In Coal Grove, police chief Randy Lewis resigned in January, with all of the department's officers quitting with him, citing a dispute with Mayor Gary Sherman.

Sherman then had to appoint a replacement and chose Bill Murphy, who, after being sworn in, was tasked with rebuilding the department.

At the same time, Coal Grove also filled its vacant village solicitor position, confirming Steve Patton to the job, while the village solicitor position changed, with Mark McCown being replaced by J.T. Holt.

With Murphy becoming chief in Coal Grove, his former job as Proctorville's chief of police became vacant.

Mayor Rick Dunfee named Michael Vaden to the position and his promotion was confirmed by the village council in March.

The year did not end without Chesapeake seeing another shakeup in its government.

The preceding year, Mayor Kim Oldaker abruptly resigns, with all but two council members quitting with her. Council Mayor Nate Ittig was then sworn in as mayor.

However, in December, Ittig also resigned from the job. In his place, council member Drew Griffin became the village's new mayor, it's third in less than three years. The office will be up for election on the 2023 ballot.

5. CRIME:

One of the more shocking crimes in 2020 was a grandson killing his grandfather.

Kace Deleon Pleasant was indicted for the Oct. 26 death of his grandfather, 73-year-old Harold "Tim" Pleasant, at their shared residence at 1217 S. Ninth St., Ironton, after a sanitation crew found a bag of bloody items in the trash and notified the police

Kace Pleasant was charged with aggravated murder, murder, abuse of corpse, tampering with evidence; failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer and theft of motor vehicle, specifically the elder Pleasant's Corvette.

In a separate, but related, case, Kace Pleasant is facing additional charges for his alleged actions after he took the car into Scioto County and allegedly attempted to steal a car and kidnap a woman in Lucasville.

Pleasant is being held on a $1 million bond and his next appearance in court for a pre-trial hearing on Jan. 4.

In March, former funeral home owner Richard Slack was sentenced 16-20 years in prison after pleading guilty to 10 counts of first-degree misdemeanor voyeurism and 11 counts of second-degree felony illegal use of a minor or impaired person in nudity-oriented material or performance.

According to the indictment, Slack is alleged to have invaded the privacy of others by videotaping and filming for sexual gratification. The dates of the incidents in the indictment alleged the taping occurred in November and December 2015 and in March — August 2019 and some of the tapes were of minor victims. The cameras were hidden in places in the funeral home including the bathroom.

By pleading, the case didn't go to trial and witnesses didn't have to testify.

During the sentencing, Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Ballard hoped that the people would not soon forget Slack and his actions.

"It is my hope here today, as a son, as a husband, as a father, that no one ever forgets Mr. Slack," the judge said. "What you did to these victims and this community is pure evil. The only thing the court takes comfort with is the fact the victims didn't have to go through the tragedy and the humiliation associated with a trial and having this information brought forth in front of strangers."

6. BLACK HISTORY HONORED:

It was a year of recognition for Black history in the Tri-State.

In Huntington, West Virginia, the city dedicated a portion of Ninth Street as Phil Carter Plaza in October, honoring the Marshall University professor and social work professor who was a key organizer in the efforts to desegregate downtown businesses in the 1960.

Here in Lawrence County, Union Baptist Church, located in the community of Blackfork near Decatur Township, was honored in August with a historical marker from the state. The more than 200-year-old church, founded by a community of those who escaped slavery and settled in nearby Poke Patch, is the oldest active Black church in the state.

Another historic Black church got a major boost at efforts toward it preservation. Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church received a Jeffris Heartland Fund $12,450 matching grant to help fund a historic structure report to assess what is needed to restore the church. In June, Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law a capital improvement bill that included $100,000 toward the church.

While in Ashland, Kentucky, work continues toward the opening of the C.B. Nuckolls Community Center & Black History Museum, which will be located at 901 Kilgore Dr. The museum will be the first of its kind in the region.

7. BIG ACHIEVEMENTS FROM LOCALS:

2022 saw several notable achievements from locals and natives to Lawrence County.

NASA's Artemis rocket launched this year and two former county residents played a part in the massive team behind it.

Breana Staton, a 2017 graduate of Dawson-Bryant High School, partnered at Morehead State University with NASA on the Lunar IceCube satellite, one of the small CubeSats that will deploy from the Orion capsule as it nears the moon.

Now, working at NASA, Staton was part of the team for Artemis I. Morgan Harrison, a 2016 graduate of Dawson-Bryant, also attended Morehead State as part of the space systems program. Her work has focused primarily on safety on the mission.

A Lawrence County favorite son was honored for his long career.

Bobby Bare, a Pedro native, is already a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry and has received numerous awards. In April, he received a star and was inducted into the Music City Walk of Fame in Nashville.

Fairland High School's cheerleaders had a big win and will be competing for an even bigger one.

The team competed in the Universal Cheerleaders Association Bluegrass Regional competition in Lexington, Kentucky and came out on top in the Small Varsity Game Division. Following their regional win, they will be headed to the national competition in Orlando, Florida in February. This marks twice in a half decade for the school, who last qualified for nationals in 2020.

Also from Fairland, Steeler Leep, a senior, won Ohio's 2022 male Heisman High School Scholarship. The reward celebrates outstanding male and female scholar-athletes "who understand that the most important victories happen not only on the field, but also in their schools and communities."

8. SHAKE SHOPPE SAGA ENDS:

A fight between two southern Ohio businesses appeared to come to an end this year. The Ironton Shake Shoppe was sued in 2021 by the owners of the Gallipolis Shake Shoppe for copyright infringement.

At issue was whether the name and logos used by the former owners of the Ironton location were for use by the current owners. The disputed items were initially shared by the owners of all Shake Shopped in southern Ohio several decades ago.

In August, the Ironton Shake Shoppe announced that it would change its name to The Shakery: Eats and Treats, beginning Jan. 1, 2023 and had received a federal trademark.

9. COMMUNITY ART:

2022 saw local artists improve public spaces with a flurry of paintbrushes on concrete walls.

In September, Impact Prevention unveiled a new brightly-painted mural on the Ironton floodwall that repeated the messages of "Tomorrow needs you" and "You belong." It also has the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline logo on it.

The Third and Center group put out a call for local and regional artists to paint five murals, on the concrete vertical support pieces that hold up a U.S. 52 bridge and a utility building next to Moulton Field, to beautify the path for runners participating in the 5K Ironton River Run.

"They did a fantastic job," Amanda Cleary, a member of Third and Center said. "It looks so much better here."

Another addition to the Ironton Floodwall was the revitalization of the Ironton Tanks mural. Local artist Sean Kelley wanted to revive the Tanks mural because the original plan was just to cover it up. Instead, he worked with the mayor's office to bring it back to life.

"And that is part of the history of our town and I wanted to restore it," Kelley said. "Even though it is going to be impossible to make it the way it was, I am going to try to get close and give it a more modern look to fit the times."

Before doing the Tanks mural, Kelley had painted a mural on the floodwall, a stylized moth with lotus flowers around it.

The new art also provided a perfect backdrop for Third and Center's Summer Solstice Music and Arts Festival, which debuted on the riverfront in the summer.

10. YOUTUBER ANTICS:

In March, a YouTuber named Chille DeCastro came to town and caused quite a stir. DeCastro, who says his mission is to overturn Terry vs. Ohio, which gives police permission to search someone the suspect of a crime, came to Ironton interviewed a lot of people for his channel.

But most infamously, the YouTuber was arrested on March 29 after refusing to leave the Ironton City Center after the building was closed. DeCastro was arrested for arrested and charged with fourth-degree misdemeanor disorderly conduct, second-degree misdemeanor resisting arrest and fourth-degree misdemeanor criminal trespass. DeCastro pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment on March 31.

After missing two court appearances, Ironton Municipal Court Judge Kevin Waldo issued a bench warrant means that if DeCastro is found in the state of Ohio, he can be arrested and returned to Ironton for a hearing.

While that seemed to be the end of hearing about DeCastro, Ironton Police Department Capt. Chad Gue took up DeCastro's continuous challenge for any police officer to fight a cage match.

Gue, who also has a channel on YouTube as Leaducator, set up a mixed martial arts cage match to be held in Ashland, Kentucky in September with proceeds from the match going to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. The match was held in Kentucky because the state doesn't extradite people with misdemeanor warrants.

DeCastro accepted the challenge but then later said he couldn't pass a physical exam because of high blood pressure and a bad left knee.

The cage match was held anyway on the hopes that DeCastro might change his mind and show up. He did not. But Gue and several other YouTubers were there and raised thousands of dollars for the children's hospital by getting donations from their YouTube followers.

Gue guestimated that from various YouTube channels fundraising for St. Jude, "it's probably over $20,000 total."

Gue said the main thing was everyone coming together to help a good cause.

"We definitely have good numbers going to St. Jude's," he said. "That is what is important here. Chille doesn't mean anything to me. To me, he's a YouTuber with a big mouth that just goes around to get views. Ultimately, this was a way to do something good for the community and do something good for St. Jude's."