Note: This recap appears in the Wednesday, Jan. 1 newspaper on Page A1.

January

A medical helicopter crashed in rural Vinton County on Jan. 29, killing the three emergency personnel aboard. The helicopter left from the Mt. Carmel Grove City hospital early Tuesday morning. It was headed south to pick up a patient at the Holzer Meigs Emergency Department in Pomeroy.

Those killed have been identified as pilot Jennifer L. Topper, 34, of Sunbury, along with flight nurses Bradley J. Haynes, 48, of London, and Rachel L. Cunningham, 33, of Galloway.

Survival Flight, an emergency medical transportation company, notified the Patrol that morning that it had lost communication with the Bell 407 helicopter. It took several hours for first responders to find the crash site, which was near the areas of Zaleski State Forest and the Moonville Tunnel. Just one hour before the medical helicopter crashed, a separate medical transportation company, MedFlight, declined to take the trip, citing poor weather conditions.

A more detailed report released in November stated that several former Survival Flight employees voiced concerns about the company, according to a recent report by the detailing the helicopter crash that happened in the Zaleski area earlier this year.

One of the nurses killed in the January crash, Rachel Cunningham, submitted a letter in December of 2018 to her human resources department following up from a conversation she had with that department, detailing incidents where crews were forced to take flights in unsafe conditions.

February

Vinton County Prosecutor Trecia Kimes-Brown seeking to lead a countywide plan to combat the problem. Kimes-Brown hosted a strategic planning work group at McArthur United Methodist Church on Feb. 22 to address the continuing issues regarding the drug epidemic.

What started as a large prevalence of prescription painkillers developed into an increase of methamphetamine use in the area, she said.

The prosecutor noted that 2014 is when methamphetamine made a strong presence in Vinton County. Kimes-Brown estimated this situation cost the county an estimated $325,000: this included the cost of foster care for the children in the household and the local jail costs for the adults arrested. She also noted Vinton County was one of the first counties in Ohio last year to file a federal opiate lawsuit.

Kimes-Brown has since visited various village councils to gather their feelings on the county’s involvement in this class-action lawsuit. Many village officials have voiced that they wish to stick with the class, rather than take on a lawsuit all their own.

Drug education programs saw growth in Vinton County in 2019. The Prosecutor’s Office initiative, Driven to Succeed, finished out its first year at Vinton County High School, and is now being implemented at Vinton County Middle School.

Driven to Succeed served as an optional program for local seniors in high school to be provided with drug education, screenings and counseling opportunities. A special incentive to enlist in the program was the possibility of winning a car. All students walked out of the year-end ceremony on May 2 with gift cards and other prizes donated by local businesses, organizations and individuals.

Taking home the grand prize — a 2018 Ford Fiesta — this year was Vinton County High School senior Isabelle Lambert.

March

In 2019, The Courier also saw a story that ultimately was left a mystery.

Local law enforcement received several eyewitness reports of a plane on fire in the sky in western Vinton County. The State Highway Patrol investigated the reports, conducting a search of the region with assistance from the Vinton County Sheriff’s Office. Officials looked all around the area between Chillicothe and McArthur for any sign that a plane had crashed, but found nothing. Nearby fire departments from McArthur and Harrison Twp. were called to the area to be on stand-by, but with no crash site located they were released.

Several residents from Vinton County and near Chillicothe described in social media posts seeing a plane in the sky with bright, fire-like colors. One resident even posted a 21-second video to Facebook, purporting to show the incident. The video shows bright, blurry lights in the sky; Stewart said it shows an aircraft flying above the Scioto River.

The popular theory on social media was that residents witnessed some sort of military aviation training exercise, but the entities most likely to have conducted such training have all denied involvement.

The Courier also contacted media affairs offices for the Ohio National Guard and the Indiana National Guard state offices. Both offices denied knowledge of any training remotely near the Allensville area that night.

April

A local family started a project to ensure students in the Vinton County Local School District had a reliable and easy to prepare food source for the summer.

Melissa and Piper Remy are collecting jars of peanut butter and jelly for students to take home during their break from school. Piper, a seventh grade student at Vinton County Middle School, was inspired by the peanut butter and jelly drives carried out in Athens County and wanted to bring the same kind of program to her county. Cases of peanut butter and jelly were prioritized for students who qualify for Project Backpack, a school program that distributes backpacks twice per month filled with food and other school items to students in need. Piper and Melissa found that 161 students in the district are enrolled in Project Backpack.

Other new groups made an impact in the area in 2019. Indivisible Appalachian Ohio (IAO), an area non-profit, sponsored the Southeast Ohio Foodbank distributions at the Vinton County Fairgrounds this year. IAO founder Liz Shaw saw a need to address food insecurity in the area after the United States Department of Agriculture, the federal agency which oversees SNAP benefits, temporarily closed as part of the partial federal government shutdown in February.

As a result of the shutdown, February benefits were available on EBT cards on Jan. 16, and those funds were meant for the month of February. Local agencies urged SNAP recipients to spread their benefits, but IAO and other organizations tackling food insecurity stepped in to cover the gap some may have experienced.

Of course, many existing initiatives continued their services: Project Feed-VC kept the blessing boxes scattered across the county stocked, St. Francis continued its mobile food distributions, and area churches held food drives and community dinners.

May

Vinton County High School said farewell to the Class of 2019.

This impressive graduating class had 33 National Honor Society students, 21 honors diplomas, 122 scholarships (which totaled $979,381 worth of funding), three state FFA degrees, 57 science olympiads, 18 Business Professionals of America (BPA) regional awards, 16 BPA state awards and 10 BPA national awards. The Class of 2019 had also accomplished eight Tri-Valley Conference championships. In addition, eight students had committed to serving in a branch of the armed forces. This 2019 class honored four valedictorians — Eli Griffith, Isabelle Lambert, Hope Saunders and Kendall Fee. The salutatorian for the graduating class was Cassidy Griffith.

The school district as a whole also said its goodbyes to multiple staff members. VCHS principal Joshua Tripp announced his resignation at the May 20 Board of Education meeting. Also leaving the district was West Elementary principal (before that, longtime high school principal) Kevin Waddell.

Jackie “JJ” Milliken was hired as Vinton County High School principal in June, and Brian Thompson now leads West Elementary as principal.

June

A local group working to learn more about the high number of cancer cases in the area began its official study in partnership with Ohio University.

The Institutional Review Board at Ohio University approved the Vinton County Cancer Research Group’s survey proposal in June. Members of the Vinton County Cancer Research group underwent training to become certified researchers through the Collaborative Institutive Training Initiative program. Investigators of the group are Randy Yates, Kim McManis and Barb Prater, though the team has many other volunteers and supporters.

Melissa Thomas, an assistant professor of family medicine at OU’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens, is the primary investigator of the project.

The group began collecting data through its new survey and saw many opportunities in 2019. For example, the group held a 5K fundraiser in cooperation with the Vinton County Health Department’s annual Health Fair.

The 2018 and 2019 Ohio Department of Health Annual Cancer Reports found that Vinton County has the highest age-adjusted cancer incidence rate in the entire state.

July

It was an all-around great year for the county’s 4-H and FFA kids. The Vinton County Jr. Fair spanned from July 20-27, and the week was filled with new attractions and new programs.

To start, the Jr. Beta Club held its first-ever “Battle of the Clubs.” The county’s 4-H clubs collected over 500 non-perishable food items to donate to Project Feed-VC, which coordinates the county’s Blessing Box outdoor food pantries. Clubs then competed in team-based and solo challenges, all of which had a fair theme. The ultimate winner of the Battle of the Clubs was the Jungle Gang.

The annual livestock sale featured a couple of record-breaking moments. Abigail Faught’s 1,415 lb. Grand Champion market steer sold to Cross and Sons for $6,300, breaking the 2014 record of $5,000. Faught was also Ultimate Beef Showman this year, and she also earned Grand Champion Senior Showmanship. In addition, Shyann Holcomb, who earned Grand Champion Novice Showmanship, sold her market chicken for $1,400 to Southern Ohio Adventures and Recreation, beating last year’s record by $100.

For the second year in a row, Isabelle Lambert took home the title of Showman and Showmen. This year, she was the Ultimate Poultry Showman and a Career Exhibitor, and she also earned Grand Champion Senior Showmanship. Her turkey was the Grand Champion Market Tom.

A new program that paired a 4-H’er with a student with developmental disabilities also debuted in 2019. Showmen Ty Marks and Zachery Faught worked together to raise a lamb for this project, and the animal sold for $1,900.

August

A few days before the start of the school year, teachers and staff of Vinton County Local School District received hands-on training in how they should respond to an active-shooter incident.

The Vinton County Emergency Management Association, in cooperation with the Vinton County Local School District and area law enforcement and medical agencies, held an active shooter drill at Vinton County High School Tuesday morning. Responding to the scene were the McArthur Police Department; fire departments from McArthur, Hamden and Zaleski; the Ohio State Highway Patrol; the Vinton County Sheriff’s Office; Vinton County and Athens County EMS; Ohio Homeland Security and the Ohio EMA. The Perry County EMA also arrived on-scene to serve as an evaluator for the simulation.

Roughly 260 school personnel were inside the high school building that day. Vinton County EMA Director Bill Faught noted that on an average school day, the number of people in the high school building would be nearly four-times that number. Two “perpetrators” walked through the school building with airsoft guns. Faught said that faculty and staff could hear the sound effects as part of the live-enactment.

Faught presented information about the school district’s full-scale active threat exercise at the June Vinton County Board of Education meeting, months before the simulation itself. Both Vinton and Jackson counties received grants to fund these exercises.

September

After promising a return after last year’s hiatus, the Vinton County Pilots and Boosters had to jump through multiple hoops to make an air show happen.

New Federal Aviation Administration regulations brought a few changes to the usual performance line-up. For example, Roger Barnes’ fan-favorite flying lawnmower was unable to make an appearance at this year’s show, but the Pilots and Boosters are hopeful it’ll be around at next year’s air show.

Many things didn’t change, though. Air show goers, for example, were able to get up close and personal with the performances. Visitors got to sit just a half-mile away from the action.

Of course, as he does during every air show, Santa Claus came to Vinton County a little early and skydived down to children as candy rained from the sky. The candy drop was sponsored by the McArthur Eagles.

Multiple pilots entertained the crowd that day, but the air show was not limited to just aircraft performances, as this year introduced a motorcycle stunt show. Mitch Adams and Andy Niles traveled to the Vinton County Air Show to pop front and back wheelies that thrilled the crowd.

October

The 2019 Midnight at Moonville Festival, held Oct. 12, featured storytelling, live music, roaming spooks and a wagon ride up to the Moonville cemetery.

It’s been a busy year for the Moonville area and its tunnel, after all. The iconic site may be added to the National Register of Historical Places, and a major funding boost was announced for the Moonville Rail Trail project in November.

More than $1.5 million in grant funding from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Department of Transportation is being awarded to the Moonville Rail Trail project, which seeks to restore a trail along the former railroad line. Funding will go toward the installment of several new bridges.

The Moonville Tunnel, too, received some needed attention. Visitors to this year’s Midnight at Moonville festival in October could see “M-O-O-N-V-I-L-L-E” clearly spelled out on the tunnel. The Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Moonville Rail Trail Association met for their year-end Holiday gathering at Hope Lodge in December and recognized the bricklayers, Ted Linscott, his brother Mark Linscott and Mark’s son Luke Linscott.

November

Hamden Village Council members voted they would make the switch over to the Jackson County Water Company once their current contract with Wellston City Water expires in February of 2020.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped in to address a contamination issue with Hamden water back in 2018. Over the span of that year, Hamden drinking water had an average total Haloacetic acid levels of 0.0064 milligrams per liter. The MCL for water systems is 0.0060.

Haloacetic acids, also commonly known as HAAs or HAA5, is a by-product of chlorine interacting with naturally occurring materials in water. Chlorine is used as a disinfectant for water systems. Over a long period of exposure and in an amount exceeding the MCL, HAAs have been known to cause cancer.

The Ohio EPA is the regulatory authority of public water systems. Standards for contamination are set by this state entity, and the village was facing heavy fines if it didn’t come into compliance with those standards. Jackson County Water Company utilizes a well water system, and thus the higher than desired chlorinated by-product levels the Ohio EPA wants the village to address would no longer be an issue. Wellston City Water utilizes a surface water system.

At two public meetings held in the Hamden community building, one held in September and one held in November, community attendees voiced issues such as the rising costs of their water bills, as well as concern over student attending the local elementary school. South Elementary had been using office-style water dispensers and paper cones during the school day as an additional safety precaution.

December

The new Ohio Department of Transportation District 10 garage, located near the Vinton County Industrial Park off Route 93, opened its doors to the public in December to celebrate the completion of its construction. Officials from ODOT stopped into Vinton County Monday morning to host a ribbon cutting ceremony and pay thanks to the many people involved in the project.

The old ODOT complex, located off Route 93 near Hamden, suffered heavy fire damage in 2018. Thanks to the quick work of first responders, nearly all of the snow plows and equipment were saved. The truck storage area and the mechanic’s bay were heavily damaged, ODOT Public Information Officer Ashley Rittenhouse told The Courier at the time. One dump truck was destroyed, but all the other trucks were saved by first responders.

ODOT purchased 14 acres of land north of McArthur near the Vinton County Industrial Park for the new complex in April of 2018 for a total of $105,000. Construction of the new facilities began in August of 2018, and the project was completed in October of this year.

The new complex has a few updates from its predecessor, too. It includes a double wash bay, which allows for ODOT trucks to drive through the facility for deep cleaning. The new complex also has a fully-automated brine maker and increased salt storage.

sdawes@vintoncourier.com; @sydneydawes_95

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