Daily Reporter staff reports

HANCOCK COUNTY — Every year, the Daily Reporter chronicles the happenings in Hancock County, bringing you the news of your neighbors. These were the moments that shaped our communities in 2017.

County mourns loss of two firefighters

More than 20 years passed with every Hancock County firefighter heading home safely after an emergency run. But in 2017, the community mourned the loss of two, gathering to say goodbye and thank the men for their service.

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McCordsville volunteer firefighter Richard Rehm was laid to rest in the first week of the 2017 after he was killed in a car-train crash on Christmas Eve 2016. In November, a funeral was conducted for Greenfield firefighter Scott Compton, who suffered a heart attack after helping fight a blaze that destroyed several Greenfield businesses.

Rehm first became a firefighter when he was 18, and he served the McCordsville Volunteer Fire Department for 16 years. Firefighting was a second career for Compton; he joined the Greenfield Fire Territory after working for years in the insurance industry, but he went on to give 17 years to the fire service before his death.

Celadon cancels plans to build

A $30 million project to construct a three-building world headquarters for Celadon Trucking Company was called off in 2017. The Indianapolis-based, publicly traded enterprise that runs trucking routes throughout North America, was announced in 2016 and expected to bring some 900 jobs to the county. Plans for the campus included a four-story, 54,000-square-foot administration building; a 73,000-square-foot maintenance facility; and a 30,000-square-foot dormitory available for drivers staying overnight.

County leaders watched with concern as financial turmoil within the company’s ranks was revealed, including a $10 million operational loss for the first quarter of the year.

In October, Celadon halted construction at its Hancock County site, which contained a partially finished 75,000-square-foot building, and prepared to put the property — located at the intersection of Mt. Comfort Road and West County Road 300N — up for sale. Celadon also sold off its flatbed unit and outsourced its driver schools, the Indiana Business Journal reported. County officials said at the time they were hopeful the 160-acre campus and the nearly completed building on the site would sell quickly to another business.

GPD updates Taser policy, equipment

The officer-involved death of an Indianapolis man in May prompted the Greenfield Police Department to overhaul its use-of-force training policies and spend thousands of dollars to upgrade the equipment its officers carry daily.

Douglas Wiggington died after being shot by a Taser during a scuffle with two Greenfield police officers. Wiggington was pronounced dead at an area hospital after collapsing during the struggle and was later found to be under the influence of drugs at the time. The officers in the case were cleared of any wrongdoing; but an internal investigation found the department’s Taser training policies and equipment was lacking, especially when compared to those of other area departments, local police officials said.

Newly hired Greenfield Police Chief Jeff Rasche ordered every member of the department to immediately complete training after Wiggington’s death — a refresher some officers hadn’t had in several years. In July, he asked the Greenfield City Council to allot an extra $100,000 to buy 45 new stun guns to replace department’s 13-year-old devices — the oldest in use among county police agencies. The request was granted.

Pair convicted in local man’s death

Hancock County judges sent two men to prison this year after juries found the defendants guilty of murdering county natives.

Damian Coleman, 40, of Indianapolis, was found guilty in January of killing 55-year-old Shannon Kitchens of McCordsville during a drug deal gone wrong. In July, 21-year-old Spencer Spielman of Greenfield was convicted of killing and robbing his friend’s mother, Patricia Dresser of Greenfield.

The trials prompted the local public defender board to ask county officials for an extra $125,000 in October to pay attorneys through the end of the year. Coleman’s and Spielman’s trials cost about $50,000 each, officials said.

Coleman shot Kitchens in the chest in March 2016, and a friend then dumped Kitchens’ body along a rural road in Hancock County, according to testimony. Coleman was found guilty of murder, attempted robbery and conspiracy to deal cocaine. He was sentenced in April to serve 83 years in prison.

Spielman used the sash of a bathrobe Dresser was wearing to strangle her to death in October 2016. The woman’s friends and family told investigators Spielman had broken into Dresser’s home the day before the murder. In August, he was sentenced to serve 55 years.

Manufacturer calls Greenfield home

In April, BeijingWest Industries, a Chinese auto-parts manufacturer, announced it would build a 276,500-square-foot facility in Greenfield’s Progress Park. The development will bring 440 new jobs to Hancock County by 2021, leaders said. The facility will be among Greenfield’s largest manufacturing facilities once completed.

The company received a tax break from the city of Greenfield and other tax incentives, valued at about $4.5 million, from the state.

State and local leaders marked the start of construction in June with a groundbreaking ceremony attended by Chinese dignitaries and state and local leaders.

The company plans to open the facility in 2018.

County focuses on opioid recovery

Inmates in the Hancock County Jail began being offered a medication that blocks the high heroin and other opioid-based drugs create, reducing cravings.

This year, local officials began offering Vivitrol, an injectable prescription medicine, to be administered to some inmates a few days before their release from jail.

The program was created by leaders of local law enforcement who saw the same faces pass by again and again, struggling to overcome the cycle of addiction and crime. When paired with counseling, the medication helps those addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers, preventing relapses and helping people get clean, they said.

Marsh exits, whille Meijer opens doors

After nearly 30 years in the McKenzie Plaza shopping center, the Marsh Supermarket closed its doors in May. The closure followed similar announcements at several other Marsh locations in the area in the past year, with the company citing poor sales at those sites. David Palmer, senior vice president of sales, marketing and advertising, said “weak performance” throughout the years at the North State location forced the closure. New Palestine shoppers feared their Marsh store would close but breathed a sigh of relief after officials announced the store would instead be purchased by Fresh Encounter Inc. of Findlay, Ohio, and rebranded as a Needler’s Fresh Market.

Meanwhile, in McCordsville, Meijer officials celebrated with great fanfare the grand opening of a 192,000-square-foot superstore featuring a Starbucks and a Great Clips within its walls, in addition to a pharmacy, deli, bakery and a homegoods section with everything from automotive goods to pet supplies. Staffers handed out samples of muffins and coffee and offered prize drawings to customers streaming in the doors.

The road to opening the store was more than a decade long, with developers first approaching city officials in 2006.

Fire damages four local businesses

Four locally owned businesses housed in Greenfield’s Riley Park Plaza burned Nov. 10, spreading black smoke across the city.

The fire started inside Mueller Auto Body, 1020 E. Main St., and quickly spread through the strip mall. The fire was classified as a three-alarm blaze, triggering a full-staff response from five county fire departments. Each came to the scene with several fire engines and ambulances and enough firefighters to man each truck. It took the crews more than seven hours to completely extinguish the fire, records show.

The workshop area of Mueller’s burned to the ground. Its two most adjacent storefronts, Tangles Family Salon and PopIndy, also were destroyed along with everything inside.

The fire ripped through the attic of neighboring Burdock Boutique. The knickknacks and handmade decorations for sale inside the store were damaged by smoke and water.

Local fire officials have yet to determine what caused the fire; they say they can’t investigate until what’s left of the buildings is safe to enter.

Jail overcrowding debate continues

In April, a study presented to the Hancock County Council and board of commissioners found the best solution to accommodate overcrowding at the county jail is to build a new, larger facility. Architects propose building a facility that can house up to 450 inmates and renovating other local criminal justice facilities, a project estimated to cost $55 million.

Since then, local officials have debated whether building a new jail is truly the best option given the hefty price tag.

In December, the commissioners voted unanimously to send the issue to voters. Through the beginning of the year, they’ll try to collect 525 signatures from Hancock County property owners or voters to put the issue on May’s ballot, which would allow residents to support an increase in property taxes to pay for the project.

Officer accused of ‘excessive force’

A Fortville police lieutenant gave up his leadership position after an investigation found he used force that was “borderline excessive” during an arrest in July.

Matt Fox, a 10-year veteran of the Fortville Police Department, resigned from a supervisory role after the Fortville police chief raised concerns Fox became too physically aggressive with a woman he arrested for drunken driving.

Fox’s actions sparked two investigations: first by Fortville Police Department Chief Bill Knauer, who became concerned after reviewing Fox’s body-camera footage from an arrest made July 15, and by the Indiana State Police, whom Knauer contacted to watch the footage.

Knauer placed Fox on unpaid leave July 17; he returned to his patrols in Sept. 5 after the investigations concluded.

State Police investigator concluded their review and handed their notes to the prosecutor with a recommendation against any criminal charges. Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton said he, too, determined Fox’s conduct fell short of battery, and the criminal investigation was closed.

But Fox faced department discipline before he resigned. Knauer said the internal review found Fox committed three department policy violations: conduct unbecoming of an officer, failure to uphold the department mission statement and improper interview/testing procedures.

Those violations relate to allegations Fox shoved a handcuffed woman he was arresting into a chair and later pulled her from his squad car with more force than was necessary, Knauer said.

For more headlines

For a wrap-up of more Hancock County happenings, see our 2017 Year in Review special section inside.