Obituary: Connie Keaton

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 14

Connie Keaton, a teacher whose love for marine life gave dozens of students the chance to explore the sea, died Saturday at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. She was 57.

She fought a nine-month battle with esophageal cancer.

Mrs. Keaton grew up on a farm outside Genoa, where she first encountered marine life in a nearby pond. “She grew up fishing,” her daughter, Shannon Hawk, said.

In the days before cable, Mrs. Keaton would watch Mutual of Omaha specials on Sunday nights to learn more about animals. “She wanted to learn about the earth, the dirt, how things grew and lived,” Mrs. Hawk said. “And if she decided she wanted to do something, it got done.”

She attended Lake High School, then Bowling Green State University. Upon graduation, she began teaching first and second grades at Union Elementary School, where she stayed for eight years before taking time off to be a mother.

She was dedicated to her children, Mrs. Hawk said, always finding time to be president of the local PTA, teach Sunday school, or be active in scouting.

“She was very much the leader in a group,” she said. “She was definitely not a follower. Anytime there was a need for someone to take charge, she was there.”

In 1985, she returned to work, this time at Jones Junior High School in Toledo, where she taught science to seventh and eighth-graders. She took time off to get her master’s degree from BGSU, then returned, eventually becoming head of the junior high’s science department.

The highlight of Mrs. Keaton’s curriculum was a biennial, six-day trip to Florida for about a dozen top students. For two years, she and students would raise money for the trip, which put students on a marine biology lab station. There, they’d learn to collect data, conduct experiments, and snorkel. It also allowed Mrs. Keaton a chance to swim with the sharks.

To encourage students eager to go on the trip, Mrs. Keaton set strict school attendance and citizenship requirements for the year before the trip.

She went on her last of the trips in May. When she returned, doctors told her about her cancer. She never returned to teaching.

Surviving are sons Ronald, Jeff, Stuart, Paul, and Andrew; daughters, Shannon Hawk and Elizabeth Konczal; mother, Violet Recker; sisters Suzanne Pavlica, Bonnie Scheuneman, and Betty McVicker; brothers Robert and Jon Recker; 10 grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

The body will be at the Witzler-Shank Funeral Home, 222 East South Boundary St., Perrysburg, after 2 p.m. tomorrow, where services will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

The family requests tributes to the American Cancer Society.

107th marked with grace

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page W1

She knew freed slaves who still had fresh memories of plantation life.

She remembers a time when Leonardo DiCaprio had no role in the sinking of the Titanic.

She is old enough to be Ronald Reagan’s mother.

And when Estella Henry turned 107 last week – surprisingly spry, with only a little hearing loss to show the wear of nearly 11 decades – she showed she still has Southern grace.

“Oh, I sure enjoy this,” she said to her visitors at Mariner Health of Toledo, where she lives. “You all come back and see me anytime.”

She was born in Campti, La., a tiny cluster of buildings in the north of the state. Emancipation was not yet 30 years old, and her parents had seen slavery, Reconstruction, and – in their 10 children, Estella the ninth – the promise of a future.

She married Will Henry in 1916, with war raging in Europe. He worked for a rubber company until he died 21 years later, after moving the family to Los Angeles. But the young widow’s story was still young, and she became a nanny for three families. Her only daughter, Hazel, married a movie star, Mantan Moreland, most famous for playing Birmingham Brown, the stereotyped black chauffeur in the Charlie Chan movies. And she kept working until 1968 when, at 77, she retired.

(That’s right – when the Beatles looked ahead to “when I’m 64,” she had to look back.)

She bounced around the country until just over two years ago, when relatives invited her to Toledo. Hazel was already in Mariner, and she agreed to move.

“It’s a surprise,” she admitted, to make it this far and still be in good health.

She was reluctant to provide any hints about how to reach her age – “And here I am, supposed to be telling people what to do” – but she wished people could learn to be nicer.

“Be friendly, be good to each other,” she offered. “There’s a lot of little devils out there, and you’ve got to watch them.”

She seems to have successfully avoided most of them. When a friend offered Estella a bouquet, her response was a wide smile and: “I wish y’all would have let me know. I would have got something for y’all. And the flowers are so pretty!”

So when she stood tall and blew out the candles on her birthday cake – only three of them, thankfully not 107 – it was easy to forget about the thick glasses, and the hearing problems, and see the years of life lived fully.

She can talk about when she left the South between the World Wars and headed for the promise of California. She can remember meeting Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion. She can truthfully say she has a great, great, great, great, grandchild.

How does it feel to have that much life behind her?

“Good. It feels good. Yes, indeed.”

Students mind their business by learning it; School store opens mind to cash, sales, and service

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page ME1

Third graders at Greenwood Elementary are learning the value of a buck.

It’s worth exactly one banana-shaped pencil gripper, one Detroit Lions pencil, and one rainbow-colored eraser.

The 23 children in Roxanne Ward’s class have spent this school year running a school supplies business and have turned the extra change of their schoolmates into almost $1,400.

“They take it seriously,” the Washington Local schoolteacher said. “They’ve learned a lot.”

Every morning between 8:40 and 9, students man the two tables and hawk their wares to 30 or 40 other students itching to spend their lunch money. The students stick to a soft sell – these pencils sell themselves, they might say – and operate a cash register (donated by Food Town) to keep tabs on their income.

On this day, kids start trickling in just after the 8:40 bell, sifting through pencils and pens, checking out the merchandise, much of it sports-related.

“All I have left to get is the Miami Dolphins,” said student Andrew Ford, who has collected pencils featuring every other NFL team. “Do you have the Knicks?” another student asks the shopkeepers.

Profits from the store have been used to buy a CD player for the classroom and classwide fast-food lunches. Next on the wish list: a bird feeder.

There have been problems, to be sure. There was the matter of ordering Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos pencils before the Super Bowl. Expecting a Packer victory, Mrs. Ward ordered almost three times as many Green Bay trinkets as their Bronco equivalents.

Of course, after the Broncos’ win, sales went in another direction.

There have been less than successful marketing decisions. The patriotic pencil cases went unpurchased for weeks. And certain sports teams will always curry more favor among eight year olds than others. Among the football helmet erasers sit plenty of representatives of the New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, and Atlanta Falcons, none of whom will be winning a Super Bowl anytime soon.

And register minder Austin Willis, 9, said that he thinks there’s one item begging to be sold.

“We should sell those pens with eyeball erasers,” he offers. “They’d be 75 cents.”

Mrs. Ward uses the store in her curriculum, adding up receipts in math and using the dead presi dents on dollar bills in history.

Mom Karen Hubans said that she thinks it’s a great idea.

“It’s great experience for them,” said Ms. Hubans, whose daughter Megan was manning the register. “They learn math and learn about money and selling. These boys love their sports teams and buy all the pencils.

“They don’t use them. They just collect them.”

Springfield tries to return students to the right track; Special classes will provide help for some ninth graders

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page W1

Poorly performing students need extra attention, and a new program in Springfield schools next year will provide just that, administrators say.

The idea is to create a transition program for about 20 eighth graders having trouble in school – those who have failed three or four core courses.

Next year, instead of being held back, they’ll be ninth graders, taking ninth-grade courses from ninth-grade teachers. But they won’t be doing it at Springfield High School.

Instead, they will take their classes at some unspecified off-campus site, where they won’t be subjected to the hustle and bustle of the high school environment.

With the promise of small classes and intensive, personal instruction, teachers and administrators said that they hope the students will be able to straighten out their academic and social lives and rejoin their old classmates in the 10th grade, according to Cynthia Beekley, assistant Springfield superintendent.

“They may have previously been held back a year so they are already seen as kind of odd ducks, and if we move them ahead, we already know they cannot do the work,” Ms. Beekley said. “They become prime candidates for disciplinary problems and an early dropout.”

The idea comes from the Oregon public school system, which has run a similar program for almost five years.

In that time, about 70 per cent of students have gotten back on track to graduation, with some reaching the honor roll or excelling in extracurricular activities, said Oregon superintendent Robert Pfefferle.

“Somewhere you have to try and stop the cycle of failure,” he said. “It’s critical that the parents and the kids go into this with the attitude that this is something they can do. Sometimes it’s like flipping a light switch on.”

In Oregon, the Transitional High School, as it is known, is run as a separate institution, with its own “principal” and staff and housed in the former Clay Elementary School adjacent to the regular high school.

Classes are kept to 15 to 20 students, and students are not allowed any interaction during the day with the main high school. (Exceptions are made for students exceptional in one or two subjects, who can be mainstreamed for an hour or two a day.) There are 35 students in the Oregon program.

The results have been remarkable, said Clay High School principal Rick Heintschel.

Several transitional graduates are on the honor roll, and – just as important – 85 to 90 per cent of those in the program’s first class in 1994 are still enrolled as seniors.

“We could have lost 50 per cent of them by now without transitional [programming],” Mr. Heintschel said.

A number of students and parents have even asked to stay in the program at the end of ninth grade, he added.

Springfield plans to send a letter outlining the program to the parents of all the eight graders who failed multiple courses during the first semester.

In Oregon, reluctant parents are referred to the parents of transition students from previous school years.

Springfield schools haven’t chosen a site for their program, Ms. Beekley said, but it will not be in the high school (which she said would be confusing) or the middle school (which she said would be demeaning).

Richfield Township orders long-awaited fire apparatus

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page W1

Nearly two years after voting to buy one, Richfield Township residents will finally get a new fire truck later this year.

Township officials have placed an order for a $193,000 fire truck, scheduled to arrive in October.

“It took a while to get everything set up,” said Wayne Farley, a township trustee who served as fire chief for 13 years.

In November, 1996, voters in the township, which makes up Lucas County’s northwest corner, approved a five-year, 1.9-mill tax millage, 428 to 235.

The township has nine vehicles in two fire stations, one in Berkey and one in Richfield Center. But many of the vehicles are old, Mr. Farley said, and the new pumper will replace one of two trucks built in the 1950s.

Bids on the truck came in lower than expected. The levy will raise about $225,000 over its five-year lifespan.

Mr. Farley said he hopes the new truck will eventually be moved to a new fire station in the center of the township. About three years ago, the township purchased land on Sylvania Avenue, between Washburn and Richfield Center roads, envisioning a new station there.

The new facility would replace both current stations, uniting all nine trucks in one centrally located place near the township hall.

Combining the two stations would reduce response times by allowing the township’s 33 volunteer firefighters to have one central location in which to assemble when there is a fire.

But putting a levy on the ballot to pay for a new station is “still down the road a ways,” Mr. Farley said. Such a move is at least two years away, he said.

Mr. Farley was one of the township fire department’s charter members in 1943 and served as fire chief from 1972 to 1985. The department still uses an old Willys-Overland Jeep from 1947.

The lethal rampage of Joseph Chappell; Obsession, rejection led to acts of horror; Acquaintances say failed love made him mean

By Joshua Benton and Robin Erb
Blade Staff Writers

Page A1

It was a terrifying way to show affection.

Slashed car tires. Sugar poured in her car’s gas tank. Perverse name-calling.

And when Vivian Morris, 30, finally went to authorities Friday for protection from her co-worker, Joseph Chappell, 39, she could not have known how far he would go.

Within two hours, the slender mother of two was bleeding to death in her Brooke Park Drive apartment, with stab wounds across her torso and arms and two deep gashes in her chest. Her two young children were stabbed repeatedly but survived.

By the time Chappell was felled by police gunfire an hour later, he had shot a 21-year-old woman who refused to let him steal her truck, fired at and wounded two firefight ers, and led police on a gunfire-riddled chase in West Toledo. It was a scene no one could have predicted – even those who feared Chap pell the most.

“He wanted her, was obsessed by her,” said Ms. Morris’s longtime friend and co-worker, Kelly Hamilton.

The two former Woodward High students worked with Chappell at Merit Industries, 300 Phillips Ave.

“He just wasn’t her type,” a tearful and shivering Ms. Hamilton said of her friend. “And you can’t make someone love you.”

Chappell first befriended Ms. Morris when she began working at Merit, Ms. Hamilton said.

Merit Industries is a work rehabilitation program for people with serious mental illness, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, though it does hire some people without illness. It employs about 40 people, employees said, and is run as a division of Zepf Community Mental Health Center. Chappell and Ms. Morris packaged and treated auto parts at the plant, he for Saturn, she for Chrysler. Police said they had no indication either suffered from mental illness.

Chappell had been at Merit about seven years, even though the company knew he had a criminal record, said John Swearengen, a supervisor at the plant. Chappell had had several run-ins with authorities, including a 1986 incident when police found eight pipe bombs and marijuana in his basement. He was convicted of unlawful possession of a dangerous ordnance and attempted drug trafficking.

He went to prison in 1987 for those crimes. But when he got out on parole about three years later, Merit hired him because, Mr. Swearengen said, “he was a very good worker.”

Whenever he had a chance, Chappell – whom a co-worker described as “jovial” and “laughing all the time” – would flirt and talk to the women, especially Ms. Morris, but she resisted his advances, Ms. Hamilton said.

Then last September, while having problems with her longtime boyfriend Phillip Yeaney, Ms. Morris finally agreed to go out with Chappell. They had a single date. Ms. Morris then patched up her relationship with Mr. Yeaney and told Chappell that there was no chance for anything between them, Ms. Hamilton and some of Ms. Morris’s family members said.

Stunned, Chappell turned mean, Ms. Hamilton said.

The women found their cars vandalized several times. Chappell dumped sugar in Ms. Morris’s gas tank and drove roofing nails into her tires, Ms. Hamilton said. A week ago, Chappell spit in Ms. Morris’s face at work, Mr. Swearengen said.

Annoying at first, the harassment became terrifying. Ms. Morris tried to tell supervisors, but the complaints didn’t stop him. The more she complained, the more he harassed her, Ms. Hamilton said.

“His brother told me, `Joe’s very possessive. He needs to control,”‘ Ms. Hamilton said.

If that wasn’t terrifying enough, his sheer size was. At 6 feet, 2 inches and weighing about 190 pounds, Chappell towered over Ms. Morris by almost a foot and outweighed her by 60 pounds.

“He was big and he had a big mouth and a big head,” Ms. Hamilton said. “He intimidated you just by his size.”

Chappell’s size came in handy at his weekend job as a bouncer at Nick & Jimmy’s, a Monroe Street bar. Owner Nick Tokles said in the seven months he had worked there, Chappell had impressed him as “a nice guy.” He had been a trouble-free employee.

Friday began as any other work day for Ms. Morris. She arrived shortly before her shift started at 8 a.m. Two hours later, she took a break and bought a can of pop, employees said, and put it down on a table in the plant’s break room.

Chappell approached, opened the can, and took a drink from it.

“That seemed to bother her,” Mr. Swearengen said.

She threw the pop away and went to a supervisor’s office to complain about the constant harassment. Three supervisors suggested she file a police report and try to get a temporary protection order.

Paulet Bartlett, Ms. Morris’s stepsister, said Chappell tried to enter the office during the discussion but was told not to enter.

Ms. Morris was crying, and her bosses said she should go home. She drove to her cousin Dave Grandowicz’s home, picked up Ms. Bartlett from her house a couple of doors down, and returned to Mr. Grandowicz’s home to talk.

Ms. Morris told the two about Chappell’s behavior over the last five months. She told them of a bouquet of flowers Chappell had sent to her home with a note reading: “Just to let you know I’m still around.” She continued to cry.

“My sister’s always happy, and when she comes in the room, she livens it up,” Ms. Bartlett said. “Well, [Friday] it was different.

Just before noon, Ms. Morris returned to Merit to pick up her friend, Ms. Hamilton, who would accompany her downtown to talk to police on her lunch break. Chappell followed them.

Downtown, at 1:40 p.m., the women filed a police report and asked for the protection order. They were sent next door, to Toledo Municipal Court, to talk to city prosecutors about a citizens’ dispute resolution program.

As a matter of procedure, first-time and low-level menacing re ports are referred to the program because disputes often can be resolved without criminal charges.

All the while, Chappell was following them from building to building, Ms. Bartlett said. She said the two women told workers in the prosecutor’s office they were being followed. The workers told the two to call the office from a local McDonald’s if he continued following them on the way home.

As Ms. Morris left, Chappell was waiting outside. She dropped off Ms. Hamilton at work and went home. Soon after, Mr. Swearengen said, Chappell returned to work and decided to leave, saying: “I can’t take this any more. I’ve got to go home.”

By that time, Ms. Morris’s two children, Ashley Morris, 10, and Adam Fonseca, 11, had arrived home from school at Meadowvale Elementary School. Shortly after 3:30 p.m., Ashley was inside their apartment, but Adam was outside, in the complex’s parking lot, playing with friends.

That’s when Chappell arrived. He followed Adam inside.

Adam, seeing his mother’s reaction, paged his father, Adam, Sr.

Adam and Ashley were planning to spend the night at their father’s house, while Ms. Morris and her live-in boyfriend, Mr. Yeaney, 22, would be going out.

Mr. Yeaney was in the apartment when Chappell entered and, seconds later, began brandishing a large knife. After pleas to put it away, Chappell did.

Mr. Yeaney ran out of the apartment for help, asking neighbors if they had a gun. He called 911, neighbors said.

The building echoed with screams. When Mr. Yeaney returned, he found Ms. Morris on the floor, bleeding.

The children, each stabbed repeatedly and covered with blood, ran to a nearby apartment for help, where neighbors pressed laundry against their wounds to stanch the bleeding. Life squads arrived and took the three victims in the direction of Toledo Hospital.

In one of the life squads, at 4:27 p.m., Ms. Morris bled to death, Dr. James Patrick, Lucas County coroner, said.

Adam Fonseca was in serious condition last night in Toledo Hospital, where Ashley Morris was in fair condition.

Having received his son’s page, Adam Fonseca, Sr., called the apartment several times, getting no answer. He drove there. By the time he arrived, Chappell’s first burst of violence was over.

But Chappell was far from finished. A few minutes after the stabbing – after picking up a 12-gauge shotgun at his home – he stole a minivan from Suzanne Carter of Temperance in the parking lot of a North Toledo Kmart.

He tracked down the life squads carrying Ms. Morris and the children and fired on one of them, slightly injuring a firefighter. Another firefighter, Lt. Jeffrey Cook, 43, was shot in the abdomen and the arm while trying to assist his colleague. He was in serious condition last night in Toledo Hospital.

Chappell fled to Barrows Street, where he saw 21-year-old Brandy Williams in front of her home and demanded she turn over her Dodge truck. She refused and was shot in the back as she ran away. She was pronounced dead at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

Still in the van, he drove to Toledo Hospital to finish off the Morris family. Sgt. Bob Case, on patrol, spotted him and began a chase that took them through rush-hour traffic on some of Toledo’s busiest streets.

Chappell began firing out of the van’s rear window at pursuing officers and fired at a passing car, police said.

On Monroe Street, just short of Secor, Sergeant Case rammed the van with his police car, putting the van into a spin and forcing it into the path of another car.

Sergeant Case, joined by two other officers, pulled their semiautomatic handguns. Chappell got out of the van and leveled his shotgun.

The officers fired 19 times. Seven slugs were recovered from Chappell’s body. An unknown number passed straight through him.

Blade staff writers Jennifer Day and Jane Schmucker contributed to this report.

Couple found slain; Murder-suicide suspected

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 11

An elderly husband and wife, each facing illness, were found shot to death yesterday in their Washington Township mobile home, the apparent result of a murder-suicide.

Robert Cook, Sr., 71, and Goldie, 85, his wife of 25 years, were pronounced dead in their bedroom at 1:05 p.m., a few minutes after Mr. Cook’s son, Robert, Jr., broke through a window and found their bodies.

Neighbors said both had been extremely sick for some time – she with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, he with cancer.

Yesterday, Mr. Cook’s daughter, Pauline Schnell, tried calling the couple’s home at 25 Lemon Creek and got no answer, said Gayle Weills, manager of the Raintree Village mobile home park, 950 East Alexis Rd., where the Cooks lived. Ms. Schnell drove to their home and knocked repeatedly on the door, again getting no answer. She noticed the storm doors were locked from inside.

She called her brother, Robert, Jr., and asked Mrs. Weills for help in getting inside. Mr. Cook then decided to break a window in the door and open it from the inside.

He took one step inside and saw the bodies, Mrs. Weills said, then walked back out and alerted authorities.

Steve Kahle, an investigator for the Lucas County coroner’s office, said it appeared Mr. Cook shot his wife in the head, then turned the gun on himself. Mr. Cook was holding the 38-caliber handgun, he said.

A final ruling is pending results of autopsies scheduled for today. It was unclear how long the two had been dead, but a family member spoke with the couple about 11 a.m. Sunday, Mr. Kahle said.

Neighbors could not remember hearing any gunshots. Investigators found no note.

Mrs. Weills, who had been the Cooks’ neighbor for several years before moving two lots down, said the last year and a half had been tough for the Cooks. Her Alzheimer’s had become more advanced – she had increasing difficulty remembering names – and he had begun treatment for his cancer.

The two were very close, and Mr. Cook’s love for his wife was clear, neighbors said.

“He did everything for her,” Mrs. Weills said. “He really loved her.”

Before her Alzheimer’s grew too severe, Mrs. Cook loved spending time with children, Mrs. Weills said. When Mrs. Weills’s granddaughter would visit the Cooks, Mrs. Cook always had ice cream for her and coloring books to share.

Jason Ethridge, whose family moved next door to the Cooks 17 months ago, said he spoke with Mr. Cook regularly. He occasionally borrowed tools from Mr. Cook and would often sit on his patio and chat for a while.

Doctors encouraged Mr. Cook to walk often, Mr. Ethridge said, and he would regularly walk about three-quarters of the way up his street, then walk back.

“I got a little farther today,” he would report back to his neighbor after a successful trip.

But in the last few months, lights in the Cook home went off earlier at night and came on later in the morning than they used to, he said.

Mr. Ethridge last saw Mr. Cook about two weeks ago, when he returned from a doctor’s appointment. It was the first time Mr. Ethridge had seen his neighbor using a walker, and he was moving slowly and gingerly.

Mr. Cook said hello to him, Mr. Ethridge said, but nothing more. “We’d usually sit down and talk for a while,” he said.

The last time Mrs. Weills saw Mr. Cook, he was crying. It was about a month ago, she said, and Mr. Cook was upset that he might not be able to keep up the rent. He had just been forced to switch from a cane to a walker to move around, his cancer had become worse, and he worried if he would be able to take care of his wife for much longer.

When February’s rent was due, Mr. Cook’s son brought it in for his father.

Fire damages Toledo Metal; Several units respond as embers fall on neighborhood

By Mike Bartell and Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writers

Page 17

A spectacular fire, fanned by winds gusting to 25 mph, shot flames and spewed heavy smoke from all four sides of the two-story Toledo Metal Spinning Co. building in the central city last night.

The flames shot at least 75 feet skyward, as ember-laden clouds of thick, black smoke billowed into the air. Several loud explosions were heard. Residents of some nearby homes were evacuated. No injuries were reported.

Firefighters were warned to beware of numerous propane gas tanks in the facility. Drums of unspecified chemicals were reported to be inside.

The blaze was reported at the firm in the 1800 block of Clinton Street, just northeast of the Detroit Avenue-Dorr Street intersection, about 11:40 p.m. The first firefighters at the scene had difficulty gaining access to the structure.

The facility, which operates only a day shift, employs about 50 people. The firm makes formed metal parts for a variety of clients, according to Eric Fankhauser, the firm’s vice president.

As the flames spread through the three-building complex, firefighters turned in a second alarm at 11:45 p.m.

They put in a special call for another pumper just before midnight.

Shortly after midnight, a special call was placed for another pumper to patrol the surrounding neighborhood and protect properties from embers flying through the air.

Three more pumpers were sent to the fire at 12:10 a.m.

A short time later, the Toledo fire department invoked its mutual-aid pact with surrounding communities.

The Oregon, Ottawa Hills, Maumee, and Washington Township fire departments were asked to provide equipment to staff Toledo stations emptied by the fire.

By 1 a.m., the building’s roof and portions of its walls had collapsed, and the fire had not yet been brought under control.

The garages of some homes along Calumet Avenue, at the rear of the structure, were damaged by falling debris and smoke.

The Toledo fire department recalled eight off-duty firefighters shortly after 1 a.m.

Fire officials early this morning said they had not determined a cause for the blaze.

Earlier in the day, Gary Briggs got more help than he wanted in tearing down an old warehouse he owned near downtown Toledo.

The vacant, wood-frame structure at 315 Bismark St. near City Park Avenue caught fire just before noon.

Except for part of the roof and the southeast corner that had been demolished, the 8,000-square-foot building pretty much burned to the ground in about an hour.

All that remained standing when the smoldering rubble was doused an hour later was a portion of the south wall. City workers tore that down about 4 p.m.

“All indications point to an accidental fire caused by the demolition of this building,” said Mike Sbrocchi, a fire department arson investigator.

Firefighters were hampered by northeast winds that gusted up to about 30 mph.

Mr. Sbrocchi said the two-alarm fire likely started after the building’s owner, Gary Briggs, aided by a family member and neighbors, was heating and removing rubber insulation from copper wire to recycle the copper.

But Mr. Briggs said no one was at the warehouse when the fire started. He said he learned about the fire in the afternoon when he came back from Perrysburg, where he had been getting license plates for his truck.

The building had been under demolition since December.

Mr. Briggs said he had complained to the city for months about neighborhood children stripping the building of wire and “anything salvageable.”

He suggested “a vagrant who tried to keep himself warm” could have started the blaze.

Mr. Briggs said the building was not insured and worth nothing.

Blade staff writer Mike Sigov contributed to this report.

Mayor’s lens focuses on plan to produce city film scenes

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

Imagine Tom Cruise escaping from a band of terrorists trying to take over the LaSalle Apartments. Jim Carrey mugging for the camera while riding the suspended bicycle at COSI. Kate Winslet acting droll in a 19th-century period piece set in the Old West End.

Can you picture it? Mayor Carty Finkbeiner can. He wants to make Toledo the Hollywood of the Midwest.

The mayor is appealing to the Ohio Film Commission – the agency responsible for trying to get filmmakers to shoot scenes in the state – to consider pushing Toledo as a director’s haven.

“We’ve got water, we’ve got a skyline, we’ve got old buildings. I want to be on the list of cities filmmakers look at when they think where they want to film their movies,” the mayor said.

The appeal of having movies made here isn’t artistic; it’s purely financial. When a production studio sets up shop in a town, it pumps millions into the local economy, hires dozens of locals as extras and crew, and has the potential to increase tourism.

State officials say it’s a great idea.

“It’s on my priority list to come up there and spend some time in [Toledo],” said Steve Cover, the commission’s assistant manager.

The example all Ohio film boosters turn to is The Shawshank Redemption, the 1994 prison tale adapted from a Stephen King short story. The film, which starred Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. But, more importantly for Ohioans, it was filmed almost entirely in Mans field, at the old state prison there. The filming pumped $12 million over 12 weeks into the city’s economy, said Amy Weirick, a manager at the commission.

Other big-name films, like Air Force One (1997), Rain Man (1988), and The Deer Hunter (1978), have been filmed in Ohio as well.

But for all of the state’s successes, very little of it has reached Toledo. Ms. Weirick has a long list of dozens of films made in Ohio over the last 20 years, but none were made in Toledo or north west Ohio.

Ken Dobson, the city’s commissioner for economic development, said he hopes that can change. “Economic development means selling your city to the world, and film is the most cost-effective method of doing that,” Mr. Dobson said. “It just takes one `Sleepless in Seattle.’ ”

Ms. Weirick said she was optimistic about Toledo’s chances of landing films because it has a wide range of possible locations. Old buildings downtown could work for an early 20th-century period piece; COSI and the Toledo Zoo would be nice backgrounds for a family film; city neighborhoods, particularly the Old West End, work well for smaller pictures.

“You’ve got the lake, the river, neighborhoods, the mosque [the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perryburg Township] – you could almost get any look you want in Toledo,” she said.

There are plenty stories of cities or states boosted by favorable film footage. Iowa has made millions off Field of Dreams, whose namesake baseball field still stands and has drawn nearly a million tourists, and The Bridges of Madison County.

“You can pay $500 and get married on the bridge where Clint [Eastwood] met Meryl Streep,” said Janet Lockwood, who heads the Michigan Film Office. “Isn’t that a hoot?”

Even though Cleveland has always gotten a hearty part of Ohio’s film business, it, too, is trying harder to attract filmmakers. Earlier this month, a group of film buffs and economic-development types opened Cleveland Media, a nonprofit firm dedicated to bringing films to Cuyahoga County.

Chris Carmody, the group’s director, is pinning his hopes on the lower costs the Midwest can provide a film crew.

“The largest studios are not all that cost-conscious, but all independent producers are very cost-conscious,” he said.

It doesn’t take a blockbuster of Arnold Schwarzenegger proportions to help an economy. The Ohio Film Commission spends the bulk of its efforts chasing small independent films and even 30-second commercials. Levi Strauss recent ly filmed a jeans ad in Ohio, Ms. Weirick said.

An average major motion picture – Ohio usually gets four or five a year – spends $350,000 a week locally and hires about 100 Ohioans to be part of the movie’s crew. In 1996, filmmakers spent $11.2 million in Ohio and created 3,000 temporary jobs, the commission said.

The cooperation of local officials, such as Mr. Finkbeiner is promising, and is key to selling a site, Ms. Weirick said.

The things filmmakers need to do – blow up skyscrapers, have machine-gun shootouts on speedboats – are often things people get arrested for in real life, and getting a city to sign off on mass destruction is paramount in choosing a site.

For the filming of Air Force One, for example, the director blew up a few helicopters over Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra that played a Russian mansion in the film.

“The mayor’s promise is a big drawing card,” she said. “It’s very competitive to bring these movies in, and that willingness to work with producers can help a lot.”

And the mayor might be particularly cooperative if some brash young moviemaker thought it might be necessary to blow up some aging industrial hulk – like, say, the old Autolite plant – to bring a film to a climax.

“That’s been in the back of my mind,” Mr. Finkbeiner admitted.

Paul Piper, who heads Detroit’s film-attraction efforts and whose position was created four years ago by Mayor Dennis Archer, said films are one of the best ways to make a city attractive.

“Mayor Archer knew this was an opportunity to make Detroit shine,” he said. To encourage auteurs, Detroit doesn’t charge permit fees for filmmakers and helps them out as much as it can.

A few weeks ago, shooting wrapped on Out of Sight, a George Clooney/Jennifer Lopez vehicle that brought $2.4 million into De troit in only 3GF1*2weeks of shooting.

A large part of selling a city to filmmakers is picking through the various stereotypes they might bring to the table. For Toledo, that could be quite a battle.

Ms. Lockwood, who admits she hasn’t been in Toledo for years, could only muster up images of industrial blight (“although that can be a good sell”) when thinking about the Glass City.

“I think of neighborhoods gone halfway to pot,” she said. “You have an image – was there a John Denver song?”