As 2015 draws to a close, the Daily Reporter looks back on the people and events that shaped Hancock County during the course of the past year.
The homicide deaths of two Greenfield children topped headlines in 2015 and drew even more attention when each child’s parents were charged in the cases.
One-year-old Zoey Wagoner died in her Greenfield home in May after sustaining multiple blunt-force trauma injuries that were consistent with being stomped on, according to court documents.
Story continues below gallery
Her parents, Jessica Wagoner, 33, and Matthew Wagoner, 31, were arrested and charged with murder and neglect of a dependent causing death. They are expected to stand trial after the first of the year.
Three-month-old Brayden Jenkins died in November at Riley Hospital for Children after suffering blunt-force trauma to the head, according to court documents. His father, Charles Jenkins, 21, is charged with aggravated battery. Jenkins told police he tripped while holding the child; doctors said the baby’s injuries were not accidental, court records state.
On Timothy Hughes’ 18th birthday, a judge ruled he would be charged as an adult following an accident in which police said Hughes struck two cyclists in rural New Palestine while driving drunk.
Hughes was driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.28 percent at the time of the August crash, police said. He was 17 at the time. Carla McCloud, 22, was killed. Her cousin, Amanda Wheeler, 22, suffered serious injuries but survived.
Hughes pleaded not guilty to six felony charges, including reckless homicide. The teen is being held in the Hancock County Jail without bond.
The cancer center at Hancock Regional Hospital saw its first patients in June after nearly a year of construction. The new center, on the hospital’s south side along East Boyd Avenue in Greenfield, features 16 treatment areas, three exam rooms, a boutique, a meditation terrace, a garden and state-of-the-art technology to support cancer care.
In October, officials announced the center would be named The Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center. Bob Wortman, her husband, made a sizable donation to the hospital foundation that earned him naming rights.
Supporters of a new county fairgrounds and year-round activities center unveiled a $30 million price tag for the proposed project in June, while opponents pressed for funding details and more concrete construction plans.
The fairgrounds would be located on a 208-acre site more than twice the size of the current facility. Since then, the nonprofit board overseeing the project has presented a land lease for the county-owned farmland to the commissioners, who say they need more detailed information about how the project will be funded before they’ll agree to proceed.
Hancock County prosecutors tried several times in 2015 to take the case of an Indianapolis woman accused of orchestrating her romantic rival’s killing before a judge and jury.
Amanda Gonzales, 29, was charged with murder in death of 23-year-old Katrina Miller, who was shot in a Hancock County cornfield in July 2014.
A first attempt at trial in March was delayed after letters summoning potential jurors to court were never sent out. Gonzales then appeared for trial in April; a jury was chosen, but at the last moment, Gonzales accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors. When she returned to court to face sentencing, she told the judge she changed her mind and wanted to go to trial. In August, she was found guilty of murder by a jury, and she was sentenced to serve 60 years in prison.
Local educators’ initial hopes that a shortened ISTEP exam would lead to a simpler testing process quickly faded after log-in errors and frozen computers delayed the procedure. In August, results were delayed to December after state officials found a scoring issue between two versions of the exam.
Preliminary averages for the exam, which included more rigorous standards than previous years, were released by the state in October and revealed a 24 percentage point drop in mathematics scores and a 16-point drop in language arts.
In December, results were pushed back again, leaving local administrators and teachers to prepare for the 2016 test without knowledge of students’ strengths and weaknesses on the previous assessment.
Year of the Dragon
New Palestine’s football team, unbeaten in 13 consecutive games this season and 28 overall, fell 64-61 against fifth-ranked Fort Wayne Snider in the Class 5A football state title game, the Dragons’ second appearance at Lucas Oil Stadium. Down by 28 points during the game, the top-ranked Dragons showed their grit with an epic 35-point swing and rallied back to take the lead twice in the fourth quarter — but ultimately fell short.
Together, the teams combined to set eight state finals records. Senior quarterback Alex Neligh led the team, passing for an overall state-finals record 501 yards and rushing for 166 yards. He was named the Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award winner and finished second in the voting for Indiana’s Mr. Football award.
Match Day raises $400,000
More than $400,000 went to 12 area nonprofit agencies in July during the Hancock County Community Foundation’s second Match Day, a 24-hour donation drive that raked in close to $226,000 in donations that was then matched with grant dollars. The money was divided among the organizations’ endowment funds and bank accounts, and the extra assistance quickly made an impact in the county, covering operating costs, repairs and improvements for each group.
Dash to digital
In June, the Mt. Vernon School Board approved a measure to fast-track an initiative to supply all students with take-home laptops at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, a year ahead of its original plan.
In December, the Greenfield-Central School Board approved a measure to accelerate the roll-out of the district’s digital initiative at the district’s junior high by a year.
New Palestine wrestler Chad “C.J.” Red captured his third-consecutive state title in February under the spotlight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis before a 10,000-strong crowd. The state’s top-ranked grappler at 126 pounds the entire season, Red added his name to an elite list of only 27 wrestlers in state history to achieve such a feat — winning three straight state titles — and did so with a perfect 47-0 record to improve his overall career mark to 139-0 through three seasons.
Red’s high school success, in addition to a string of titles on the national club circuit, has the All-American ranked No. 1 in the country in his weight class by a number of scholastic wrestling media outlets. Red was offered scholarships in 2015 from Penn State, Indiana, Purdue, Arizona State and many other colleges before committing to Nebraska.