Erie County prosecutor prepares to delve into Finkbeiner ethics case

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

SANDUSKY — The prosecutor met the mayor once before, before a tale of broken laws twisted their futures together.

It was at a Lucas County Democratic Party dinner a few years ago. Kevin Baxter, Erie County’s prosecutor and a rising star in the Democratic Party, was introduced by a mutual friend to Carty Finkbeiner, mayor of northwest Ohio’s largest city – Toledo.

“He was very nice,” the prosecutor recalls.

They will certainly meet again. Last Monday, Mr. Baxter was appointed special prosecutor in the case against the mayor, in which Mr. Finkbeiner stands accused of failing to mention on financial disclosure forms a $10,000 payment he received in a real-estate deal that his administration helped arrange. For four years, the Ohio Ethics Commission has been investigating that 1994 sale of his Commodore Island condominium. Monarch Development Co. paid Mr. Finkbeiner $10,000 to vacate his condo early. The space, including condos owned by 14 others, was cleared for construction of Owens Cornings’s world headquarters.

So the prosecutor will decide if the mayor ever sees trial.

Mr. Baxter’s chief call will be whether to accept a plea bargain the mayor has made with the commission. If he does, the mayor likely would avoid jail time. If not, there could be a trial.

Mr. Baxter said he hasn’t looked into the case enough to guess what he’ll do. Sandusky officials, who have dealt with him since he became a prosecutor in 1989, say they expect Mr. Baxter to be fair, but said he has favored plea agreements in the past.

“In every case I’ve ever been involved with, he’s offered a plea,” said Jeff Whitacre, the chief assistant to Erie County’s public defender for the last two years. “How good a plea it is depends on how good the state’s evidence is. But I think he generally likes to see the cases resolved short of trial.”

If the Finkbeiner plea agreement is accepted, Mr. Baxter would agree not to charge the mayor with two first-degree misdemeanors, in exchange for a guilty plea on a fourth-degree misdemeanor. The mayor then could be sentenced to up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine, but first-time offenders rarely are given jail time.

It’s a decision to be made by a 41-year-old prosecutor with political aspirations and the respect of his colleagues. Kevin Baxter was born and raised in Sandusky, one of eight children, and attended Ohio University and Ohio Northern University law school.

In 1988, he was elected Erie County prosecutor, six years out of law school. In December, 1997, he was elected president of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, a sign of his colleagues’ respect.

“He’s very diligent. If he thinks he’s right, he’s not going to have a tendency to back off,” said John Kirwin, who opposed Mr. Baxter in the high-profile Ollie Mastronardi case. Mastronardi, a Canadian millionaire, drove his racing boat into a fishing boat docked at a restaurant on Kelleys Island. The crash killed a Cleveland area man; Mastronardi was drunk.

Mr. Baxter played a part in judicial history when he successfully prosecuted three Hell’s Angels on murder charges stemming from a 1989 incident in which a Sandusky record store clerk was shot 13 times.

In a separate federal weapon trial in which Mr. Baxter assisted, DNA evidence was ruled admissible in a federal case for the first time. Opposing the prosecution team were, among others, Barry Scheck of O.J. Simpson fame and the late ACLU lawyer William Kuntsler.

With that sort of background, Mr. Baxter is regularly asked to serve as a special prosecutor. He takes on about a dozen or so cases a year outside his jurisdiction, he said, often in Medina or Lucas counties.

In Toledo, he is serving as special prosecutor in the Elizabeth Kirkhope case. She faces three felonies stemming from a March 18 alleged drunken-driving accident that killed her passenger, law student Matthew Wargo.

When a former assistant Lucas County prosecutor was accused of tampering with state documents last year, Mr. Baxter handled the case. When there were questions about Medina County prosecutors’ actions in the Audrey Iocona case – in which Miss Iocona, a high school cheerleader, is accused of killing her newborn child – Mr. Baxter was called in.

He said he does not accept payment for any of his assignments out of Erie County, because he sees it as part of his job. “I look at it as part of the obligation of a prosecutor,” he said. “You’re representing the county, but also the state of Ohio.”

Mr. Whitacre said the regular work makes him more battle-test ed for cases like Mr. Finkbeiner’s.

“He’s used to going into cases that are high-profile, where there’s going to be some heat involved,” Mr. Whitacre said. “He’s generally very good at that.”

On June 4, Mr. Baxter will travel to Columbus to speak with David Freel and representatives of the Ohio Ethics Commission. After that meeting, Mr. Baxter will decide how to proceed.

“It may be a case where we need to do a lot more investigating, or it may be a case where I say there isn’t really good evidence to support it,” Mr. Baxter said. “Or I may think the proposed agreement is good and worth agreeing to.”

According to his colleagues, Mr. Baxter likely will put practical considerations first in his decision. “He gets the job done,” said Erie County Common Pleas Judge Ann Maschari. “He’s very practical minded, and it’s very easy to work with him. He’s an excellent, excellent prosecutor.”

His successes in high-profile cases have made Mr. Baxter a likely candidate for a higher post. Last year, he considered running for Ohio attorney general and secretary of state. He threw his name in the ring for the attorney general’s job, but pulled back before the state party formally endorsed anyone. He now says his young son – Kevin, age 13 months – might discourage him from the rigors of the campaign trail.

“I think he’d do quite well in a statewide election,” Judge Maschari said. “He’s very likable, and he’s done well in this county.”

In his last political campaign, in 1996, Mr. Baxter distributed campaign funds to more than a dozen northern Ohio Democrats, from U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) to State Rep. Darrell Opfer (D., Oak Harbor).

He has given money to several Toledo area Democratic groups, including small gifts to the Lucas County Democratic Party, the West Side Democratic Club, and the African-American Democratic Caucus of Toledo – all of which would be normal contributions for someone seeking to broaden a political base. He said he has never given money to any of Mr. Finkbeiner’s campaigns. Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates removed herself from the case because she and the mayor have contributed to one another’s races.

Mr. Baxter insists his political affiliation will not be a factor in the case, which involves one of northwest Ohio’s most powerful Democrats. Others who have dealt with him concur. “He doesn’t think of justice according to party,” Judge Maschari said. “He’s not afraid to step on toes.”

Veterans seek help in placing grave flags

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 22

A veterans’ tradition may be dying with the men who fought World War II.

For years, just before Memorial Day, veterans have placed American flags on the graves of their deceased comrades at Calvary Cemetery. Now there aren’t enough living veterans to do the job, leaders say, and they’re looking for help.

For the first time, three veterans groups – the American Legion’s Przybylski Post 642, Tony Wroblewski Post 18, and the Catholic War Veterans Logsdon-Walla Post 639 – will be asking the families of veterans to place the flags themselves. They say it’s a simple matter of declining manpower.

“Every year, World War II veterans are slowly passing away,” said Don Jezak, chaplain and former commander of Post 639. “A lot are crippled, ailing. We’re having a tough time getting help.”

Veterans in the two groups put about 20,000 flags on Calvary Cemetery graves every year. Each veterans group in the city is assigned to a cemetery.

A few years ago, they could count on about 50 veterans to help distribute them. “We’d be lucky to get 30 now,” Mr. Jezak said.

The young veterans they need to replenish their ranks – from Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War – have been slow to join. Only 2 per cent of Ohio’s American Legion members listed themselves as Gulf War veterans.

“They don’t get involved, and I don’t know why,” Mr. Jezak said.

Leaders have considered other options. He said local Boy Scouts have been recruited in the past, but they ended up playing ball and “horsing around” during the distribution. “You can’t do that,” he said.

Veterans hope family members will be able to distribute more than 10,000 flags. On Saturday, veterans will walk through the cemetery, scanning for flagless graves and filling in the vacant spots.

Family members are being asked to pick up grave flags today, tomorrow, or Saturday at the cemetery’s Veteran War Memorial, near the Parkside Boulevard entrance, from 2 to 6 p.m.

Having families involved may make it easier to locate some veterans’ graves. Some markers have been worn down and are nearly illegible. Family members may know which grave is which.

But more importantly, it may be the only way flags get placed at all.

“The veterans are getting thinner and thinner,” Mr. Jezak said. “Some can’t be in the hot sun, some are gimpy, some have bad legs, some have sugar diabetes. A lot of them are sick. A lot of them are gone.”

Obituary: Rita Halbert

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 16

Rita “Robin” Halbert, a mother and worker with an interest in journalism, died Saturday at Lake Park Nursing Home, Sylvania. She was 85.

Born in 1912 in Fremont, she attended St. Joseph High School. There she developed an early interest in writing, and served as the first editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Voice.

After graduating, she joined the Fremont Daily News, where she was the society editor.

“She enjoyed meeting the public and writing columns on current events,” said son Kennard Hirt.

After leaving the Daily News, she began 23 years working for Blue Cross of Northwest Ohio, managing its Fremont office and going into the field to make sales.

“She was a one-woman team,” said son Reynold Hirt. “She liked helping people with any questions they had.”

She left Blue Cross in 1970, then worked several years as a secretary for the Sandusky County commissioners.

Between work and raising a family, Mrs. Halbert had little time for hobbies, but always had time to help others in need, her sons said.

“I guess being of service to others was a hobby for her,” son Reynold said. “She focused outside of herself. If someone needed something, she was very energetic in helping.”

“That was her prime interest in life, helping other people,” Kennard said.

She was active in several volunteer organizations, including Dendarah Court of the Ladies Oriental Shrine of North America, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of the Valley of Toledo, and the Fremont Emblem Club, in which she held several local and state offices.

She was a member of Christ the King Church, Toledo, and its Altar-Rosary society.

She married twice: in 1933 to Jess Hirt, who died in 1969, and in 1974 to Donald Halbert.

Surviving are her husband, Donald; two sons, Reynold and Kennard Hirt; three stepsons, Donald, David, and Daniel Halbert; two stepdaughters, Patricia Wilson and Kathleen Manol; two sisters, Avaleen Eberly and Adeline Rei neck; six grandchildren; 10 step grand children, and seven great-grandchildren.

The body will be at the Boyer-Van Womer-Scott Funeral Home, 5055 Secor Rd., from 6 to 9 p.m. tomorrow, and at the Wonderly-Horvath Funeral Home, Fremont, after 2 p.m. Wednesday with a Scripture service at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Funeral services will be at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Fremont, at 11 a.m. Thursday.

The family requests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio or Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Teacher faces drug charge

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 18

CLYDE — A Clyde High School teacher was one of 14 people arrested yesterday during a drug bust at the high school, police said.

Social-studies teacher Jerry Evans was charged with cocaine trafficking and was being held last night in the Sandusky County jail. He was arrested at the school about 9:30 a.m., according to David Danhoff, superintendent of the Clyde-Green Springs Exempted Village School District.

Mr. Evans, 48, was hired at the school in 1983 and has 25 total years of teaching experience, Mr. Danhoff said.

Thirteen others ranging in age from 15 to 44 were arrested, including four juveniles. They face charges ranging from cocaine trafficking to firearms offenses and sexual contact with a minor. All are Clyde residents.

Clyde police said the arrests were the culmination of a year-long investigation, but said they expect additional arrests in coming weeks.

Between now and the start of summer vacation on June 4, Mr. Evans’s classes will be taken over by a substitute teacher.

Senate passes bill revamping port authorities

By Joshua Benton and Jack Baessler
Blade Staff Writers

Page 1

COLUMBUS — By a 31-2 vote, the state Senate approved a bill supporters say will modernize and reform the way port authorities in Ohio are set up.

One provision, potentially affecting the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, will allow port board members to live and work outside the authority’s area of jurisdiction. At least twice in the last six years, Toledo’s mayor has tried to appoint a non-Lucas County resident to the board, only to withdraw the nomination under advice the move would be illegal.

One of the two “no” votes on the broad Senate bill came from Sen. Linda Furney (D., Toledo), who said it gives port authorities more power unnecessarily.

“I think this is a very, very bad piece of public policy,” she said.

She said port authorities have too many powers, including the ability to enter into no-bid contracts and use eminent domain power to acquire land. “We need to be certain their powers are closely watched,” she said.

The bill, which will head to the House next week, includes a provision allowing port authorities to use eminent domain in areas outside their boundaries for public purposes, such as expanding airport runways or for economic development.

“I suspect the day will come when your county commissioners, your township trustees, your municipal representatives will be in complaining about an adjacent county taking their property,” she said.

However, sponsoring Sen. Scott Oelslager (R., Canton) said law covering port authorities gives eminent domain powers to them.

“This law is not changing that whatsoever,” he said.

But Senator Furney said the authorities have too much power and sometimes abuse it.

“I recognize port authorities as a necessary evil,” she said. “They border on being private businesses, with all the perks of private businesses, on the public dollar.”

The bill would:

* Enable port authorities to exempt financial records provided by companies, including “trade secrets,” from Ohio’s open records law.

* Allow a port board to oust a member if he or she misses at least three consecutive meetings. A board member now can be removed only for wrongdoing.

* Preserve the port authority’s eminent domain power. Originally, the bill would have removed its use in cities from port boards.

* Require only a majority of a port board’s members to live or work within the boundaries of the authority for at least three years before being appointed. Currently, the residency requirement covers all board members.

That requirement has been a bugaboo for area leaders before. The 13 members of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board are appointed by the county commissioners and the mayor of Toledo: six by the county, six by the city, and one joint appointment.

In 1992, then-Mayor John McHugh tried to appoint Mary Lou Fox, a Perrysburg businesswoman, to the board, but withdrew the nomination after the city’s law department ruled she could not be legally appointed.

In 1995, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner nominated Gerald Huber, a Jeep plant manager, to the port board, only to withdraw the nomination after learning Mr. Huber, a Lambertville resident, faced the same situation.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he would not decide his opinion of the bill before the House takes action next week, but said it “probably provides a little additional flexibility, and that’s probably good.” He pointed out that several Wood County residents have served on the board in the past and were allowed to do so because they maintained businesses in Lucas County.

Sandy Isenberg, president of the county commissioners, could not be reached for comment last night.

Jim Hartung, the president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said he would welcome outside board members, if Mr. Finkbeiner or the commissioners chose to appoint them.

“Certainly, the port authority is regional in its scope, its responsibility, and its impact,” he said. “A broader profile of representation may give people a sense of its regional nature.”

Jim Poure, the president of the port board, said he was not familiar with the bill, but said he did not oppose the residency change.

“We’ve been trying to expand our vision of northwest Ohio,” he said. “I don’t have any problem in the expanding participation of people or the wider base of talent.”

Ms. Furney said she opposed the provision, advocating local control of the state’s 22 port boards.

“We are taking one more creep away from local elected officials’ accountability,” she said.

Mr. Oelslager said the bill is needed to revamp existing laws covering port authorities in Ohio. Those laws have seen significant change since 1955, when the state first passed legislation enabling the creation of port authorities, after decades of debate. Support from The Blade was a key factor in its passage. The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority was the first authority created under that law.

Revised legislation, passed in 1982, broadened the definition of what entity could create a port authority to include areas without an actual seaport, among other changes. But those changes only applied to port authorities created after 1982, not those created under the original law.

The Senate bill will put authorities founded before and after 1982 under the same rules.

“What we are trying to do is make the transition from a time when port authorities were simply maritime operations into the new world of aviation and the other issues of economic development that port authorities have begun to get into…to help people prosper in this state,” Mr. Oelslager said.

The bill helps port authorities and other political subdivisions to cooperate with one another on economic objectives and more clearly spells out the duties of port authority police, he said.

Mr. Hartung said he did not know all the details of the legislation, but said he liked what he knew. “Essentially, it’s designed to clean up and bring the rules up to date, to create greater effectiveness,” Mr. Hartung said.

Gerken wants probe of Edison’s ‘threats’ to city

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

In the continuing saga of a possible municipal electric company, one Toledo councilman wants to get the federal government involved.

Peter Gerken, who has been the council’s strongest proponent of a city utility to compete with Toledo Edison Co., is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether Edison has broken anti-trust laws by threatening to withhold promised cash if the city gets into the power business.

“I want to see if First Energy [Edison’s corporate parent] is breaking the law in its threats to council members,” he said.

Mr. Gerken and other municipal-power supporters say Edison’s high rates have scared off businesses that might have located in Toledo. He favors creating a city utility to provide electricity for a small area of East Toledo where Steel Dynamics, Inc., is considering building a minimill.

On April 20, Toledo Edison President James Murray threatened to withhold $7.4 million in economic development funding between now and 2002 if the city forms its own utility. “We don’t give money to competitors,” he said at the time.

Mr. Gerken said such comments might violate anti-trust law restricting the actions of monopolies.

“In our case, economic threats are just as real to us as threats of physical violence,” he reasoned.

He said he would write to the Justice Department and the Ohio attorney general’s office, asking them to investigate whether Edison’s threat constitutes a restraint of trade. And his letter will ask if the threat violates a 1978 law that specifically allows cities like Toledo to form their own utilities.

Edison spokesman Richard Wilkins said he could not comment on Mr. Gerken’s action until he saw the letter. He said the agreements with Edison clearly say that founding a municipal utility would end the current funding.

“We would provide funds for certain things like economic development, and in return for that, the city would not form a municipal electric company,” Mr. Wilkins said, giving his interpretation of the agreement.

City attorneys disagree, saying the deal would only be invalidated if the city provides electric service, not just creates the utility that could eventually do it.

Council has three utility-related ordinances on its agenda, including one to create the municipal service. Council President Peter Ujvagi again asked for action on the three to be delayed until the next meeting, as negotiations with Steel Dynamics continue.

“We’re going to have to make up our mind on this eventually,” Mr. Gerken said.

In other action, council:

* Agreed to a deal with Lucas County to share up to 25 beds a night at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, the regional jail at Stryker. The city regularly overuses its allotted bed space at the jail and must pay a higher rate to use excess beds. The deal will let the city’s overflow criminals use county beds at a cheaper rate.

* Continued a debate over the procedures the city must use to award contracts. Councilman Gene Zmuda has argued that city departments should take bids on projects before bringing the best bid to the council and asking for the appropriation of funds. Many times, though, city officials ask for the money before taking the bids, sometimes allowing contractors to know what the city expects to spend and not allowing lawmakers to approve the final deal.

The dispute centered on an ordinance to allocate $60,000 to rebuild two electric motors for the city’s department of water reclamation. No bids have been taken, and Mr. Zmuda asked that that happen before a vote is taken. His colleagues disagreed and approved the ordinance. In response, council President Ujvagi scheduled a committee-of-the-whole meeting to discuss the bidding process.

Obituary: Margene Steingass

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 15

DEFIANCE — Margene Steingass, a pharmacist who had worked for four decades in area drug stores, died Saturday at her home. She was 71.

She had faced a lengthy battle with cancer, according to her son, Paul.

Mrs. Steingass was born and raised in Tiffin, until her family moved to Defiance, just in time for her to attend Defiance High School. Her father ran a paint and wallpaper store there.

She went on to the University of Toledo’s pharmacy college, graduating in 1949.

“There probably were not a lot of other women there back then,” her son said.

Mrs. Steingass loved her work because it allowed her to help others.

“She really cared about people,” her son recalled. “It wasn’t just a job where she was counting out pills.”

One of the customers she met at an early pharmacy job turned out to be more special than most. It was Paul Steingass, whom she married in 1952.

She worked at drug stores in Paulding and Defiance, spending the most time, 20 years, at Fry Pharmacy and 18 years at Daoust Drugs.

Her son, who had worked alongside his mother while he was in high school, said he was always impressed by Mrs. Steingass’s “genuine concern for other people’s well-being.”

In her spare time, she enjoyed bowling and did some traveling with an informal group of friends from high school.

This time of year, she usually could be found hunting for morel mushrooms, which are out for only a brief time.

After she was diagnosed with cancer, “She fought it hard, right to the very end,” her son said.

Mrs. Steingass was up and walking throughout her sickness until the day before she died in her sleep.

Surviving are her husband, Paul Steingass; a daughter, Jane Skinner; two sons, John and Steven Steingass; her mother, Wanda Oller; a sister, Rodilla Barclay, and seven grandchildren.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Most-Mock-Hoffman Funeral Home, Defiance, where the body will be after 2 p.m. today.

The body also will be available for visitation an hour before the funeral. Burial will follow in Riverview Memorial Gardens in rural Defiance County.

The family requests that tributes be to Caring Way Hospice of Defiance County or Cancer Care of Defiance.

Council to discuss adding jail beds; City might make deal with county

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 12

Toledo’s criminals might have more beds to call home at the region’s largest jail, if the city council passes a proposed ordinance tomorrow.

The city is allotted 229 beds at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, which houses criminals from jurisdictions throughout the region. For the use of those beds, Toledo pays $43 each per day.

But despite dropping crime rates, Toledo police have been filling those beds and then some for the last year. And for every bed past those 229 filled with Toledo’s criminals, the city pays the higher rate of $65 per bed a day.

The extra beds are a significant expense. In the first three months of 1998, the city used 3,665 extra beds, at a cost of more than $238,000.

The ordinance that the council will consider tomorrow would strike a deal with Lucas County to gain access to some of its unused beds at CCNO – up to 25 a day. The county will provide them to the city on an as-needed basis, and charge only the $43 daily per bed the county already pays for them.

The county has to pay the jail for those beds whether they are used or not, so that money represents an added benefit for the county, officials said, while saving Toledo taxpayers from the higher $65 a bed rate.

Other items on council’s agenda tomorrow:

* A proposed ordinance to spend $150,000 on renovations at the Scott Park district police station.

About $80,000 would go toward buying modular furniture for offices; $60,000 would be used for parking lot repairs.

* The council is expected to settle a claim of damages from Southeastern Equipment Co. of Perrysburg. On Dec. 11, Toledo’s streets, bridges, and harbor division rented a front-end loader from the company to remove snow and ice. The loader was damaged in an accident on the Anthony Wayne Bridge.

The city’s law department has recommended paying $21,880 in damages.

* The council likely will send a bill to reduce the number of job classifications for city employees to a committee. Excluding police and fire personnel, there is a job classification for about every three city employees, according to Dan Hiskey, the city’s assistant chief operating officer.

The proposed ordinance would reduce the number of titles in the city’s exempt classification from 161 to 59 to make management more efficient.

* The council still has several ordinances before it concerning a proposed municipal power plant, but President Peter Ujvagi is expected to ask that any action be delayed for two weeks.

The city is negotiating with Steel Dynamics, Inc., to build a minimill in East Toledo. One of the sticking points has been the high electric rates that Toledo Edison charges.

* Mayor Carty Finkbeiner will issue proclamations honoring Mel Long, the former University of Toledo football standout who was recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and to the UT mock trial team, which won a national championship.

Tractor-trailer rig slams into traffic on I-75; 6 injured

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

CYGNET — A tractor-trailer rig didn’t stop when it approached a traffic jam on southbound I-75 yesterday, slamming into stopped traffic and injuring six people, the Ohio Highway Patrol said.

A total of eight vehicles were involved in the crash, which occurred about 4:30 p.m., about one mile south of Cygnet in Wood County. Five had to be towed away. It took nearly three hours to clear away the scene and reopen the interstate to southbound traffic.

Troopers said the truck appeared to be traveling about 65 mph at the moment of impact. Its driver, Victor Scott, 37, of Flint, Mich., was being treated last night in Wood County Hospital, Bowling Green, for minor injuries.

Troopers said charges against him will be filed tomorrow.

Five other people were injured in the melee.

David Barnes, 47, of Oak Harbor, and Brian Stansberry, 39, of Carey, were taken by air ambulance to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, Toledo, where they were listed in fair condition last night.

A woman, whose name was not available last night, was flown to Medical College of Ohio Hospital, Toledo, and was in critical condition, troopers said.

Two other people, whose names also were not available, were in one of the vehicles involved in the chain reaction accident.

Both were treated at Blanchard Valley Regional Health Center, Findlay.

Traffic had stopped on the interstate because of a large construction project a few miles south in Hancock County, Sgt. Stephen Babich said.

Mr. Scott did not brake until the truck was a few feet from the point of impact, if then, he said.

The truck, which was in the left lane, piled into two stopped southbound vehicles: a minivan with Mr. Barnes and Mr. Stansberry inside and the woman’s Honda sedan, troopers said.

The truck climbed partially over the two vehicles, entangling them into its bumper and tires.

Once the truck was on top of the vehicles, Sergeant Babich said, it was unable to steer because of the entangled axle.

The truck, pushing and carrying the other two, then crossed the median and went into the left northbound lane. No northbound cars were struck.

The two vehicles carried across the median were both crushed. “The minivan was the size of two office desks,” Sergeant Babich said.

Meanwhile, the truck’s initial collision set off a chain reaction of vehicles colliding, causing serious damage to five other vehicles. The two people transported to Blanchard Valley were in one or two of those vehicles.

Witnesses told troopers the truck was traveling at a high rate of speed at the time of the crash. One driver, who said she was traveling 59 mph, said the truck had passed her moments before the accident. Another car, whose occupants said they were traveling at 65 mph, was keeping pace immediately behind the truck.

The speed limit for trucks on that stretch of I-75 is 55 mph.

Perrysburg school official apologizes

By Joshua Benton and Carl Ryan
Blade Staff Writers

Page 21

Gary Hutchison, first-term president of the Perrysburg school board, publicly apologized yesterday for leaking details of a secret board plea bargain to the mother of an accused criminal – an act that has left some board members wondering if they can trust their president.

“I thought it was important that people knew I was trying to do something to put closure on the event,” Mr. Hutchison said last night.

He made the apology at a 7:30 a.m. board meeting yesterday.

The case involved Daniel Sternsher, 32, the school district’s former technology coordinator. He pleaded guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor charge of criminal damaging last month after be hacked into the district web page and added, among other things, derogatory comments about a high school teacher.

Mr. Hutchison acknowledged to Perrysburg police that he had told the man’s mother, Carol Sternsher, about a plea bargain the board had agreed to during a closed session in March. He said he and Mrs. Sternsher are old friends.

Mr. Hutchison said he “had apologized to [school board members] weeks ago personally,” and that “each one of the board members accepted my apologies.”

He later revised his comments, saying “I’m not so sure the word is `accepted.’ I did not really ask for their acceptance. What I did is told each member that I was the source of the information. They said they understood.”

The incident has enflamed a divided community, one that has faced three tumultuous levy campaigns – all failed – as city residents try to find a way to deal with the growth that has left their schools too crowded.

In August, voters rejected a $42.9 million bond issue that would have provided funds for new school construction. In November, they cleaned house on the school board, electing three board members endorsed by the anti-levy group Citizens for Sensible Taxation. Mr. Hutchison was one of them and was named president by his colleagues.

But board member Grant Garn, after yesterday’s meeting, said that trusting Mr. Hutchison “would be very difficult. But we’ll pick up and go forward.”

Board Vice President John Kevern said he would put the matter behind him. “But whether it’s behind the voters and the public, I don’t know.”

When opponents first heard about Mr. Hutchison’s leak, before the April 21 meeting, they called for his resignation. Mr. Hutchison said that he has not been asked to resign since that meeting.

He said that if he were in a similar situation today, he would act differently.

“I considered what I did as somewhat of a rookie mistake,” he said. “I felt compelled to give a member of our community comfort. I think now I would just grit my teeth and not do it.”

Another levy request – again likely to be divisive – is expected to be on the November ballot.