Year had ups, downs, and a balance due; 1998 had its pluses, but it was no bargain

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 4

This year, Toledo learned there is no such thing as a free lunch. If 1997 was about heady optimism and promises of revitalization and renewal, 1998 was the year residents realized that it arrives with a price tag.

And this year, the bill came due.

There were the major projects, such as the Valentine Theatre, which needed emergency infusions of cash to continue.

There was Toledo city government facing severe budget cuts and possibly layoffs at a time when the economy rarely has been better.

And, most notably to city taxpayers, there was the Jeep deal, soaring tens of millions of dollars over budget. Unexpected costs meant the city will have to come up with an extra $40 million for the project that will require the destruction of an old North Toledo neighborhood of 83 homes.

Projects considered critical to area leaders – such as a new ballpark for the Mud Hens downtown – got a thumbs-down from voters concerned about the cost.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority had to face voters after a year of bad publicity, including reports of lavish spending by executives on overseas trips.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected their levy, symbolically making the port pay for their past deeds.

One exception to the pay-up theme came on area roads. Northwest Ohio came out a winner when the federal government came through with $17 million to work out a possible route to replace U.S. 24 from Napoleon to Toledo. The federal money replaced local dollars previously committed to the project. The state also came through with $19 million for work on State Rt. 2, one of the region’s most notoriously dangerous roads.

Other winners in 1998:

* New leaders. The University of Toledo named controversial Vik Kapoor to lead the school into the millennium. Roger Berkowitz replaced David Steadman to become only the third director of the Toledo Museum of Art.

Toledo police now look to Chief Michael Navarre for leadership after Gerald Galvin became police chief in Albuquerque, N.M..

* Big business mergers. Mirroring the national trend, Toledo’s biggest employers got bigger in 1998, with the creation of nursing home giant HCR Manor Care and auto behemoth DaimlerChrysler AG.

* Downtown revitalization. COSI proved to be a smashing success in its first full year of business. The Hillcrest, the Commodore Perry, and the Edison Steam Plant are being turned into apartment buildings by developers hoping to match the success of the LaSalle Apartments. The Erie Street Market is growing to include an antiques market, and the Valentine Theatre is on schedule to open in October.

* The Perrysburg school board, which was finally able to persuade voters to pass a levy for school construction in the booming suburb. Voters had rejected them three times before but this time approved a 5.45-mill levy to pay for a new high school and expansion of Toth elementary school.

* Toledo civic pride, thanks to the city’s new status as an All-America City. After winning the title in June, Mayor Finkbeiner has been on a tireless quest to make sure everyone knows about it. He’s planning a first-ever, joint philanthropic project among All-America cities: a mission to Central America to help hurricane victims there.

wPastor Michael Pitts. If anyone can be called a “winner” after pleading no contest on two counts of criminal trespass, it’s Pastor Pitts, who fended off charges accusing him of exposing himself repeatedly to motorists around Toledo. The plea deal that led to the trespass charges (along with 14 days of house arrest and a $500 fine) meant he avoided the sex charges that could have troubled his 5,000-plus-member Cornerstone Church.

* The Defiance High School band. It will receive one of the highest of honors Friday: It will be one of 12 high school bands to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

* Home Depot. The giant retailer finally convinced voters that it should be allowed to build a store on Secor Road – after two trips to the plan commission, a few lawsuits, and a political campaign. But it did cost the company nearly $500,000 in campaign costs.

*General “Mad” Anthony Wayne. The site of the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers might be saved from development, as Mayor Finkbeiner switched sides and decided a military park would be preferable to an industrial park.The state this month allocated $2 million for the purchase of the battlefield property for preservation. Maumee has contributed $500,000.

* Toledo Public Schools and the Toledo Federation of Teachers. The two sides fought a contentious contract battle but were able to stop short of a strike that would have crippled the city’s schools.

* Paula Pennypacker. The two-time mayoral candidate successfully led a rebellion within the Lucas County Republicans, leading a grass-roots drive for precinct leaders in the May election. The result: a wider activist base for the party and the resignation of party chairman James Brennan. Ms. Pennypacker then moved herself and her makeup business to Arizona.

* Toledo city water, after city council’s own Watergate. After being publicly shamed, council members decided to remove the Culligan water bottle from their meeting room and stick to the city’s own tap water. It was the famed “appearance of impropriety” that cinched the switch: Council members didn’t want to be seen drinking anything other than “the Champagne of the Great Lakes.” Opined council clerk Michael Beazley: “It was a tempest in a water pot.”

* Wilson Sporting Goods. The Ada company was stunned to hear that Ohio State University would stop buying their footballs from a Buckeye supplier and start buying from Nike. But a little bad publicity for OSU and some public dismay in Ada caused the university to reverse field and keep Wilson.

And the losers:

* Toledo Express Airport. After setting a record for passengers in 1997, its two largest airlines, Delta and AirTran, skedaddled. Soon to follow was airport director Mark VanLoh, who left to take a job as commissioner of operations at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

* Carty Finkbeiner. The mayor pleaded guilty to failing to report a $10,000 payment he received as part of the sale of his Commodore Island condominium in 1994 to make way for the Owens Corning headquarters. The charge was a fourth-degree misdemeanor; he was fined $250.

* Republican congressional candidate Ed Emery, who had a truly bad day on Nov. 3. First, he was arrested for allegedly stalking a neighbor and resisting arrest. Then he ran into the electoral buzzsaw that is U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who won 81 per cent of the vote.

* Custodians at Ottawa Hills High School, who became ad hoc exterminators on May 22, when senior class pranksters released hundreds of cockroaches into their soon-to-be alma mater. The roaches, of course, were imported. Oh, and they smeared raw eggs, milk, and chocolate syrup all over the walls, apparently having done poorly during the cake-making segment of home economics class.

* Doris Matthews, the UT secretary who was suspended for five days without pay for freeing a trapped pigeon from her office. Her boss, Thomas Sharkey, then acting dean of the college of business administration, had specifically ordered that an animal removal expert not be hired to free the wayward pigeon. But Ms. Matthews did it anyway, paying the bird mover $25 from her own pocket.

* The homeless Lucas County Republicans. They were evicted from their old headquarters at 324 North Erie St. after not paying rent for more than two years. “Your periodic tenancy is no longer desired,” read the eviction notice. Perhaps even more galling: The Erie Street building was owned by former party chairman Tom Noe.

* Seneca County Sheriff H. Weldin Neff. First, in April, the sheriff pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of menacing by stalking a former dispatcher, Alice Dohner. Then in August the charges got more serious. He faces seven counts of tampering with a witness in a criminal case and three counts of theft in office. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges. His trial has been halted, and two employees testifying against him in the trial have been placed on paid leave to avoid any conflicts.

* Albert Apling’s red wooden barn in Ottawa County. In a few hours time, it went from budding star to scrap heap. First, Ohio’s bicentennial commission asked to paint an Ohio logo on the barn’s side as a way to promote the coming anniversary in 2003. On June 24, an artist was almost finished with the painting when it started to sprinkle. So he left. Ten minutes later, a storm blew the barn to bits.

An official from the bicentennial commission called the next day. “He said, `Do you think you can put the barn back up so we can repaint it?’ I said there was nothing left,” remembered Dolores Apling. “City slickers.”

* Dennis Roark and Neel Sheth, two men who bluffed their way through the medical establishment to play doctor. Roark led a charade through hospitals across the region, including a stint at Medical College of Ohio in which he assisted in 95 surgeries around the city. He was sentenced to six to 14 years in prison. Mr. Sheth got a year of community control after it was revealed the Flower Hospital resident physician’s last diploma was from a high school, not a medical school. He had been hired as a doctor in Deshler when the charges were made.

* The Federal Aviation Administration. The National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the FAA was the “probable cause” of the January, 1997, crash of Comair Flight 3272 near Ida. All 29 people aboard were killed. The NTSB blamed the FAA’s lack of safety standards regarding wing icing for the accident.

* Bert Hamrick, who didn’t seem to learn his lesson. In 1995, Hamrick was driving a stolen vehicle when he was chased by police. A police cruiser slammed into a car at Douglas Road and Berdan Avenue, killing 9-year-old Shannon Incorvaia. Hamrick was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but the conviction was overturned a year ago.

On Nov. 12, Hamrick was again driving a stolen car in West Toledo when police tried to pull him over. He again led them on a chase, this time through West and North Toledo, before heading into Michigan. During the chase, authorities said, a female passenger in the car handed him cans of beer to drink.

This time, the 30-minute chase ended in his arrest, not tragedy. Hamrick is awaiting trial.

* Buckeye Egg Farm. The giant egg producer, known for its huge factories with millions of chickens, lost a key battle when the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency decided not to issue a permit to allow it to expand. Local opponents in the Mount Victory area say the huge facilities pumps tons of pollution into the environment.

* Going to the dogs. It was a bad year for animal cruelty cases. Brenda Studer of New Washington was convicted in Seneca County for abusing more than 150 dogs and cats.

In Fulton County, Mary Barker was sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating her probation, which requires her not to sell dogs. She sold one named Blosser to a deputy dog warden. She previously had been convicted on animal cruelty charges in 1997.

And Toledoan Opal Covey, still upset over the seizure of nearly 500 birds authorities said she was mistreating, filed suit against Judge Denise Dartt and others claiming a conspiracy against her. Her claim in the suit: $86 million in damages.

In what may have been the biggest local news story of the year, a North Toledo man went on a killing rampage the day before Valentine’s Day.

Joseph Chappell, who had a lengthy criminal rec ord, lashed out against a co-worker he had been harassing, Vivian Morris. Just hours after she filed a formal police complaint against him, Chappell went to her home and stabbed her to death. He also stabbed her two children, but they survived.

But he wasn’t done. Chappell car jacked a van, then fired shots at the ambulance carrying Ms. Morris, hitting a firefighter in the chest. He saw 21-year-old Brandy Williams in front of her home on Barrows Street and demanded her truck; when she refused, Chappell shot and killed her as she tried to run inside the house.

Then came a chase across West Toledo, ending when Chappell lost control of the stolen van at one of Toledo’s busiest intersections, Monroe Street and Secor Road. He was gunned down by three police officers as he pointed his shotgun at them.

Even Joseph Chappell’s death didn’t end this saga. On April 3, his brother Andrew Chappell was arrested for harassing Ms. Morris’s best friend. “All Chappells are armed,” he warned.

He got six months in jail.

Thisyear seemed to have more than its fair share of tragedy, with every week seemingly bringing some new story of horror:

* Seven Hillsdale County residents were killed when a fireworks factory exploded in Osseo, Mich., on Dec. 11. Federal investigators say they will probably never learn the cause.

* A Michigan college student, Delaina Hodgson, was killed on Oct. 16 when a tractor-trailer crushed her car from behind on I-280 northbound near the Front Street exit. Ms. Hodgson was stopped because of construction on the Craig Memorial Bridge across the Maumee River. Her death even be came an issue in the governor’s race, as both major candidates pledged a new bridge to replace the problem-riddled toll bridge.

* On Feb. 10, a tractor-trailer failed to slow down for stopped traffic and slammed into seven vehicles on I-75 near Lima. Four were killed and five injured.

* Former Toledoan Peggy Carr was carjacked while running errands on April 22 in Wilmington, N.C., by two armed robbers who wanted to use her Geo Tracker as a getaway vehicle. They killed her and dumped her body in a neighboring county. Her remains were not discovered until November.

* Children were increasingly a target of violence in Toledo. Incidents like the killing of 13-year-old Maurice Purifie and the shooting death of 10-year-old Deontre Hicks led to public outrage.