October 24, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
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Medina County’s top stories of 2012

Brunswick High School students gather June 4 at the site of a one-vehicle crash that took the lives of four of their classmates and injured another in June on Boston Road in Columbia Station. (GAZETTE FILE)

No. 1

It was the kind of tragedy that burns in the memories of the community.

Four Brunswick teenagers, just days away from a much-anticipated summer break, were killed June 3, shortly after midnight, at a railroad crossing on Boston Road in Columbia Township.

Jeffrey Chaya, 18; Blake Bartchak, 17; Lexi Poerner, 16; and Kevin Fox, 18, died. There was one survivor, Julia Romito, 17, who had no memory of the crash. Chaya and Fox, both seniors, had been due to graduate that Sunday afternoon.

Hundreds gathered to mourn the four teens in an outpouring of community support. Thousands of royal blue memorial T-shirts that read “Blue Devils on Earth, Angels Up Above” on the front and “Rest in Peace J. Chaya, K. Fox, L. Poerner and B. Bartchak. Forever in our hearts,” on the back, were sold, raising money for the crash victims’ families.

After the accident, flashing LED stop signs were added to the base of the steep incline, gates that come down when a train approaches and warning signs of a rough crossing with a recommended speed when crossing the tracks of 25 mph.

The Ohio Highway Patrol estimated that the 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier driven by Chaya was going 69 mph before it crashed.

While it’s hard to find good in such tragedy, the crossing will be made more level beginning in June to prevent other accidents.

The $450,000 project includes slightly raising the road to the east and west of the tracks. Federal funds will cover 90 percent of the amount, and the rest will be funded by Columbia and Liverpool townships, as well as the Lorain and Medina counties.

— Kiera Manion-Fischer

No. 2

A man was shot and killed by SWAT team officers after holding a woman hostage for more than 30 hours at her Brunswick home.

Terrance Abel, 39, was fatally wounded after he pointed a gun at his ex-girlfriend, Rahna Fahringer, in her Jefferson Avenue home as a SWAT team entered through the front door.

The standoff with police began during the afternoon of Nov. 30 and continued until the evening hours of Dec. 1.

Brunswick police went to the home after receiving a call from Abel’s brother, Charles, who told police he feared his brother was headed to Fahringer’s home with a gun to shoot her.

Police found the home barricaded when they arrived at Fahringer’s home at 1:45 p.m. By 2:34 p.m., officers had requested the Medina County SWAT team assist them.

About two hours later, Brunswick contacted the Southwest Enforcement Bureau, a regional law enforcement group that includes Brunswick, and Brunswick Hills and Hinckley townships in Medina County and more than a dozen other Cuyahoga County communities, including Strongsville, Berea and Parma.

Negotiations continued throughout the night and during the day on Dec. 1. At 7:30 p.m. that day, a tactical team stormed the home and found Abel pointing a gun at Fahringer’s head.

Abel was killed by tactical officers. Fahringer suffered gunshot wounds to her left hand, right arm and right leg. Fahringer told officers Abel had shot her in her leg on Nov. 30, shortly after he arrived and barricaded the home. But it’s unclear whether the injuries to her arm came from the tactical unit or from Abel’s gun before he was shot.

The state Bureau of Criminal Investigation is investigating the shooting and standoff. A report should be available this month.

— Loren Genson

No. 3

A month-long, nationwide manhunt for a suspected killer from Ashland ended Aug. 15 in a Wadsworth motel.

Federal officers — supported by local police — arrested Nathan Summerfield, 27, in his room at Legacy Inn & Suites, 810 High St., without incident, about 9:30 a.m. Aug. 15.

Investigators have not said how Summerfield got to Wadsworth on or about Aug. 15, and whether he had help while on the run.

Pete Elliott, a U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Ohio, has not revealed how the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force learned Summerfield was in the Wadsworth motel, saying only officers “developed information that placed Summerfield” at the motel early that day.

Federal officers arrested Summerfield just hours before he was supposed to check out.

In September, a grand jury indicted Summerfield in the death of Lynn Jackenheimer, 33, also from Ashland. She disappeared while she and Summerfield were vacationing with her two children on Hatteras Island over the July 4 holiday.

Her body was found July 16 in North Carolina. Police said she died of strangulation and stab wounds.

Later that month, a medical examiner identified a body found on Hatteras Island as Jackenheimer. An autopsy showed that Jackenheimer was strangled and stabbed.

Summerfield last was seen July 8 when he returned the children to Ashland.

The hunt for him began after his brother told police Summerfield said he’d strangled Jackenheimer.

Summerfield’s car was found in Michigan on Aug. 8 and tips about his whereabouts came from all over the country.

— Steve Grazier

No. 4

Kids jumped up and down and adults hugged one another when the online election results were posted on a projection screen Aug. 7.

Buckeye finally had passed a levy — a 7.9-mill property tax that will bring in $3.2 million annually over the next five years.

The crowd of about 200 waiting anxiously in the high school cafeteria for the election results had reason to celebrate. The district had tied unsuccessfully to pass a levy 12 times in 18 years.

If Buckeye’s levy had not passed, art, gym and music classes would have been cut, along with lunch and recess.

Honors and advanced-placement classes would have been reduced, and the school day would have been shortened to five hours at the elementary school and 5ᄑ at the high school.

Nineteen teachers and 17 other employees would have lost their jobs.

The scene was different three months later when three other financially strapped school districts — Medina, Black River and Cloverleaf — saw their levies soundly defeated in the Nov. 6 election.

The Cloverleaf levy failure means high school bussing will be eliminated this month.

The district also has plans to auction two of its three former elementary school buildings in the next two weeks. The money from the auctions will be used for the district’s permanent improvement fund, which pays for things like school buses and textbooks.

Medina Schools will hold a series of community meetings before making a decision about a May ballot issue.

The Black River school board also is considering placing a levy on the May ballot.

Cloverleaf definitely will have a levy in May.

— Kiera Manion-Fischer

No. 5

Leann and Jacob Alferio wanted to have children. They certainly got their wish.

The Alferios, both middle school teachers in Brunswick Schools, celebrated the birth of five healthy babies Oct. 7.

The quintuplets — boys Giovanni and Leighton, and girls Brooklynn, Jade and Kensley — were born about eight weeks premature at Fairview Hospital in Cleveland.

The couple, who live in Medina, did not have to argue over names.

All five babies came home from the hospital in time for Christmas. Leighton, the smallest, was the last to come home Dec. 8, just about two months after his birth.

The family has received lots of support: The Brunswick Schools community collected more than 12,000 diapers, and Cortney Gibson, owner of Gibson Newborn Services, a company that specializes in helping parents care for newborns, volunteered to manage a team of caregivers.

Doctors said that all five had no health complications was a stroke of very good fortune.

Leann had been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, using different fertility methods, until getting a little more than she bargained for with five.

When the couple learned they would have five, their doctor suggested considering “fetal reduction” because of potential health risks to the children and the mother. Leann and Jacob decided not to go that route.

“We were given five for a reason. It’s not our decision to pick and choose,” Leann said in an August interview. “I’ve always been against abortion, always, always. I, myself, was adopted. I think part of it kind of stems from that.”

The Alferios set up a blog to keep friends and family up to date on the babies’ progress, and it can be found at alferio5.weebly.com.

— Kiera Manion-Fischer

No. 6

The Medina County Board of Elections — two Democrats and two Republicans — unanimously agreed July 3 to have early voting on two Saturdays before the Nov. 6 presidential election.

But it took a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 16 to make it happen.

Allowing voters to cast ballots on weekends wasn’t a contentious issue in Medina County.

“In the last presidential election, Medina County had voting on that Saturday,” explained Donald L. Baker, chairman of the Medina County Board of Elections and one of two Democrats on the board. “It was very popular.”

But the board’s plan was derailed Aug. 15, when Secretary of State Jon Husted prohibited weekend voting in an order mandating uniform voting hours for all 88 counties.

Husted’s Aug. 15 order came after furious criticism from Democrats in Ohio and nationally who charged Husted, a Republican, had used his power to break tie votes in county elections boards to create an uneven political playing field.

The critics charged Husted did that by siding with Republican board members to block weekend and evening early voting in four urban counties that traditionally vote Democratic: Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, Columbus’ Franklin County, Toledo’s Lucas County and Akron’s Summit County.

The controversy entered the courtroom when President Barack Obama’s campaign and Ohio Democrats sued state officials over a state law, passed by the Republican-majority legislature, that ended early voting for all voters — except those in the military or Ohioans living overseas — on the Friday before the Tuesday election.

A federal judge in Columbus on Aug. 31 struck down the law as unconstitutional, saying it created two classes of voters who are treated differently, and ordered that Ohioans be allowed to vote in person during the three days before the Tuesday election.

The ruling was upheld by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati.

Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which allowed the ruling to stand.

— David Knox

No. 7

The drilling process known as fracking has generated bitter debates and two lawsuits in Medina County this year.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water, particles and chemicals underground at high pressure to break up shale and release oil and natural gas.

Proponents say fracking is pumping much-needed dollars into Ohio’s economy and the cheap energy it provides is breathing new life into Rust-Belt industries.

Opponents charge those benefits are far outweighed by concerns about negative environmental effects of the process.

In March, two Granger Township couples filed federal lawsuits against Landmark 4 LLC seeking damages for contamination of their properties the lawsuit says is caused by hydraulic gas and oil drilling in the area.

The lawsuits are pending in federal court.

The two neighboring State Road homes had been deemed a public health hazard by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because of methane gas in the water lines.

Medina city and Medina Township both have held meetings to further investigate fracking.

However, local governments are limited in how much they can regulate oil and gas drilling, because a state law only allows Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources to do so.

A local anti-fracking group, Concerned Citizens of Medina County, was denied a table at Medina County’s Earth Day celebration in April, then later permitted to have one, after the county park district received a letter from the Ohio ACLU, saying the group’s free speech rights had been violated.

Also, Harrisville Township trustees banned discussion of fracking by the Farm and Family Alliance, an anti-fracking group of township residents at their meetings, then reconsidered their decision a month later, in June, and limited fracking discussion at each meeting to 10 minutes. The township’s legal counsel said it had the authority to do so.

The well in Harrisville Township owned by Oklahoma-based Devon Energy produced disappointing results for the company, and the well has been plugged. That well is located on Harrisville Township Trustee Richard Indoe’s property.

— Kiera Manion-Fischer

No. 8

When the Brunswick Hills Township trustees hired David Zelenka, a lawyer and former police officer, on June 26, their aim was to provide Police Chief Sharon MacKay with help administering her department.

It didn’t work out that way.

After a month on the job, Zelenka wrote a letter to the trustees harshly criticizing the chief and charging that the department was an unsafe environment for its officers and residents. Zelenka is the brother of township police Officer Derek Zelenka.

Among the allegations in the 11-page, single-spaced letter were that one sergeant used fear and intimidation with his subordinates, another failed to follow through on cases and that the evidence room was in disarray.

When the trustees did not respond to his letter, Zelenka resigned Aug. 1.

Trustee Michael Esber said the trustees were waiting for MacKay’s response to the letter before contacting Zelenka.

In her response, MacKay conceded there were problems in the department, but argued she was effectively addressing them.

That was good enough for the trustees, who showed their support for MacKay after a closed-door meeting Aug. 14.

Esber said the trustees “don’t feel this Police Department is going in a bad direction.”

Zelenka attended the meeting but declined to speak at the closed session because the trustees would not allow his attorney to be in the room.

The trustees have continued to back MacKay. Two weeks after the closed-door session, the trustees upheld three-day suspensions she had issued to two of her officers.

MacKay had ordered Sgt. Christopher Kovach to serve a one-day suspension in the spring for making derogatory statements about another officer.

Officer Heather Stask was suspended for a day earlier in August for failing to report that her K-9 unit bit a Brunswick police officer in February. MacKay dissolved the K-9 unit the following month.

The dog-bite incident was one of nearly a dozen examples cited in the letter by Zelenka.

— David Knox

No. 9

The photograph was heartbreaking: A woman struggling to slide a support beneath the head of a mud-encased horse that had become stuck in a Homer Township pond July 21.

Rescuers managed to pull the 1,500-pound, 7-year-old draft horse out of the muck. But the animal died the following day.

Stephanie Moore, executive director of the Medina County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the horse most likely sustained organ damage from being on its side for several hours in the mud.

The next day, the tragedy was repeated. Another horse became trapped in a muddy pond — this time in Spencer Township.

The 2,000-pound draft horse spent more than 12 hours in quicksand-like mud despite strenuous efforts by relatives of the owner and members of the Spencer Fire District and county animal rescue workers.

The horse, named Sunny, was pulled free, but was not able to stand or put weight on her right leg and was euthanized the following day.

“It’s so frustrating,” Moore said. “You try so hard to save them.”

Moore blamed the drought for the deaths.

She said that because ponds are drying up, horses wander out away from the dry shore and deeper into the mud.

“Anytime you have a water source and it dries up and animals are used to going to the area and it’s not there anymore, it’s difficult for them,” she said.

These kinds of deaths are a rare occurrence in the nation, said a horse specialist from the U.S. Humane Society.

“We do not get many calls on this, so I don’t think it’s something that is extremely prevalent,” said Valerie Pringle, U.S. Human Society equine protection specialist.

— David Knox

No. 10

The largest structure fire of 2012 occurred in the springtime as black smoke clouded the sky on the morning of May 16 above 40 S. Medina St.

The fire at the vacant Mase Warehouse destroyed the approximately 11,500-square-foot storage facility constructed of wood, brick and steel beams, Medina Fire Chief Bob Painter said.

No one was inside at the time of the fire, which was reported at 10:37 a.m.

The cause of the blaze was ruled “undetermined,” Painter said.

“It was completely empty,” he said. “There were some steel drums containing solvent inside, but … no environmental issues.”

About two dozen firefighters from Medina and Medina, Lafayette and Sharon townships responded.

Firefighters had the fire contained by 11:44 a.m., a city dispatcher said.

The warehouse and property are owned by Free Enterprises Inc. of Medina, according to the Medina County Auditor’s Office. The value of the property was listed as $166,200.

An owner of the property who watched the fire destroy his building declined to offer his name or a comment.

“I’m just too upset right now to talk about it,” he said.

— Steve Grazier