Top 18 stories from 2018

Published 8:37 am Monday, December 31, 2018

They are stories of triumph and loss. Stories of sad endings and exciting new beginnings. Some stories leave loose ends that will be tied up in the coming year, others saw the years of work come to fruition. Nevertheless, these are the stories that shocked and excited Winchester and Clark County this year.

Fallout continues from Stuff Recycling fire

Possibly the biggest story in 2018 started June 9 when a fire broke out in a 200- by 70-foot pile of assorted material at Stuff Recycling on Lexington Road.

The fire itself burned for three days and took personnel and equipment from at least 35 local and state agencies, millions of gallons of water, hundreds of gallons of fuel and fire suppressant foam and donations of food to keep firefighters and their trucks operating.

The fire, though, proved just the beginning of a story which continues to evolve.

A couple months later, a group of neighboring residents began raising concerns about possible pollution or contamination from water runoff from the fire. They began complaining about the noise and alleged the business had exceeded a zoning decision from 2012, which allowed the business to be grandfathered in at a zone which does not allow for such businesses.

Stuff owner Jerry Joiner also began an attempt to purchase property on Clintonville Road for the business.

A group of residents appeared before the local planning commission to oppose the zoning change, which was tabled until the board of adjustments addressed the question of whether the business had expanded and violated the 2012 decision.

In October, the board of adjustments affirmed the 2012 decision and that the business had expanded. By that point, Joiner dropped his plans to buy the Clintonville Road property, citing local opposition.

The matter is still open, as it is back on the board of adjustments’ January agenda for further review.

Martha Miller becomes first African-American circuit clerk in Kentucky

In February, longtime deputy clerk Martha Miller officially became Clark County’s new circuit clerk.

Miller, a 40-year veteran of the clerk’s office, was appointed following the retirement of Paula Joslin in February.

“After Paula’s retirement, it fell on me to appoint someone,” Chief Circuit Judge Jean Chenault Logue said at the time. “It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve had to make. I just had to look at Martha.”

Miller was hired as a deputy clerk in 1977 as the district court program was established.

Charla Hylton, one of Miller’s deputy clerks, said after researching and conferring with the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky state archives, no records have been found of other African-American circuit clerks in the state’s history.

Miller was recognized for her accomplishment in the community and throughout the state during 2018.

In August, the Clark County Democratic Party officially nominated Miller for the November ballot, on which she ran unopposed after the Republican party could not nominate a qualified candidate. She was officially elected to her first term in the general election.

Elections dominate 2018 news coverage

Much of 2018 was dominated by news and other information shared regarding a primary election in May and November general election that elected numerous newcomers to local and state offices.

The May primary was marked by an unexpected announcement from former State Rep. Donna Mayfield. During her opening remarks at a public candidates forum prior to the election, Mayfield announced she would be withdrawing from the primary.

Mayfield was opposed by local Republican businessman Les Yates in the primary, who went on to be elected to the post in November, beating Richmond Democrat Pat Banks.

Mayfield noted hostility in politics as her motivation to withdraw.

“Politics has become too vicious,” she said. And some people “enjoy spreading lies and vicious rumors as they hide behind a keyboard in the dark at night.”

In November, Republican candidate Chris Pace beat longtime Judge-Executive Henry Branham, while William Elkins ousted 12-year Clark County Attorney Brian Thomas.

Clark County Jailer Frank Doyle and Clark County Clerk Michelle Turner were each re-relected to their second terms.

Magistrates Joe Graham, Daniel Konstantopoulos and Robert Blanton were also re-elected. Magistrate Greg Elkins was elected to his post, to which he had previously been appointed to fulfill an unexpired term, in the May primary.

Republican Travis Thompson ousted Pam Blackburn in the race for the District 2 magistrate and Republican Chris Davis beat Shelia McCord for the District 5 seat.

Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner once again beat perennial candidate Ralph Harrison, and two new faces were added to  Winchester Board of Commissioners. Commissioners Kitty Strode and Shannon Cox were re-elected, while former Commissioner JoEllen Reed and newcomer Ramsey Flynn were also elected. Former Commissioner Rick Beach opted not to run for re-election and longtime Commissioner Kenny Book was not re-elected.

There are also two new faces on the Clark County Board of Education, as 17-year member Judy Hicks was ousted by newcomer Sherry Richardson for the District 4 seat and Bill Taulbee beat Patti Columbia for the District 1 seat, which was left open when member Michael Kuduk opted not to run for re-election.

Those who were elected without opposition included Clark County Sheriff Berl Perdue, who beat Winchester Police Capt Shannon Stone ins the Republican primary; Clark County Coroner Robert Gayheart, who defeated challenger Jeff Willison in the primary; Clark County Circuit Clerk Martha Miller and Jason Neely was elected as Clark County Property Valuation Administrator.

Additionally, Andy Barr was re-elected to his post at the U.S. representative for Kentucky’s sixth district and Ralph Alvarado was elected to his second terms as state senator for the 28th senatorial district.

Hepatitis outbreak hits Clark County

After avoiding any local cases for the start of a multi-state outbreak of hepatitis A, the Clark County Health Department confirmed two cases in less than a week at Winchester restaurants.

In late November, the CCHD confirmed a case in a foodhandler who worked at the Winchester Waffle House on Carol Road Nov. 20.

Two days later, another case was confirmed in a foodhandler who worked at the Winchester Applebee’s on West Lexington Avenue Nov. 14 to 25.

While it is relatively uncommon for restaurant customers to become infected with the hepatitis A virus due to an infected food handler, anyone who consumed food or drink at these locations during the stated time period was advised to get a hepatitis A vaccination.

Plans for Sphar building remain unknown

For several years, the City of Winchester has led efforts to save the 137-year-old, 27,000-square-foot Sphar building on North Main Street.

The former seed warehouse sits along the former railroad tracks and is a key tie to the community’s agricultural past. Nearly $2 million in grants and pledges were secured to turn the building into a welcome center and office space for some city-county offices, as well as public space.

Twice this year, bids were obtained and summarily rejected for the project. The first time, there was only one bidder and the bid was incomplete. The second time, there were two bidders but both were more than $1 million more than the available funds.

The Clark County Fiscal Court decided to let the $500,000 community development block grant it received for the project expire, but the city is still exploring options, including a possible private investor.

At this point, the building’s fate is yet to be determined. The weather, though continues to take its toll on the deteriorating structure.

Fiscal court sued for wrongful termination

A former county custodian sued most of the Clark County Fiscal Court in September after claiming she was fired for reporting a verbal altercation involving another county official.

The custodian, Nichole Lainhart, said she witnessed a verbal altercation between Clark County Attorney Brian Thomas and an employee on Judge-Executive Henry Branham’s staff in June.

The following month, the fiscal court voted 5-2 to terminate her employment for performance issues including violating the county’s social media policy. The vote came on the day she attempted to speak to the fiscal court about the incident.

The suit listed the five who voted to terminate her employment, Branham and magistrates Robert Blanton, Pam Blackburn, Joe Graham and Sheila McCord, as defendants. Thomas was not listed as a defendant, but was identified in the suit.

In November, a judge dismissed the suit saying the allegations in the suit did not constitute a violation of the state whistleblower statute, as Lainhart’s attorney argued.

Greater Clark breaks ground on Legacy Grove

After five years of planning, dozens of community forums and input from hundreds of residents, The Greater Clark Foundation finally broke ground on a project to repurpose the land that was previously home to Clark Regional Medical Center into a community greenspace.

The 30-acres, known as Project 1107 for its address at 1107 W. Lexington Ave., will be transformed into a park.

In August, GCF announced the park’s official name, Legacy Grove.

The park will include a two-acre children’s playspace, nature trails and walking paths, a dog park, native plants and large lawns and embraces Winchester’s unique location, “where the Bluegrass meets Appalachia,” according to the release.

The park will be ADA-accessible and the playspace was designed with inclusivity for children of all abilities. Features include climbing structures, swings, loose parts play and a stream that offer a throw-back to the nature play of the past when children played outside in creeks and went on hikes.

At the time of the groundbreaking, GCF anticipated the park would be open in the fall of 2018. Significant rainfall and other factors have delayed construction. As of press time, an official opening date had not been released by the foundation.

New Ale-8 flavor debuts

In April, Ale-8-One announced the release of its first new flavor in its 92-year history.

Cherry Ale-8 debuted in soda fountains in five convenience stores around Winchester and the Red River Gorge with hundreds of people lining up to get one of the first sips of the popular local soda-maker’s new flavor.

Throughout the year, Ale-8 launched its cherry variety throughout convenience stories, fountain machines, single-serve bottles and six packs in select locations through the core market.

Ale-8-One has been bottled in green glass in Winchester, Kentucky, since 1926.

The company’s founder and inventor G.L. Wainscott developed the recipe. To this day, the company continues to be independent, locally-owned and family-operated by Wainscott’s great-great nephew, Fielding Rogers.

Shelter transport van totaled, replaced with donations

After an automobile accident totaled the van used to transport shelter animals to rescues and adoption groups, the community banded together to raise thousands in donations to purchase a new one.

In January, a Clark County Animal Shelter volunteer was injured in the accident that totaled the van.

Shortly after, a new 501(c)3 group was formed to raise donations to purchase a new van.

Friends of the Clark County Animal Shelter set a $40,000 goal and solicited donations from individuals, businesses and local government for the cause.

Clark County Animal Shelter Director Adreanna Wills said previously the new van would able to carry up to 50 animals, depending on size. The previous van could hold up to 40 animals.

The animal shelter, through animal rescue agencies, transports adoptable animals to other states, where they are adopted through other agencies. The adoption fees are then paid to the shelter.

The previous van, which was operated by A Time to Live and was purchased with a grant, traveled about 300,000 miles and transported 4,640 animals between December 2011 and January 2018.

The new van was purchased in March.

Two government employees charged for thefts

In 2018, two Clark women were arrested and charged for stealing taxpayer monies.

In January, a scathing audit of the Winchester-Clark County Parks and Recreation Department reported a number of issues with the department’s finances including $64,000 in credit card debt, a nearly $159,000 deficit for the fiscal year 2016-17 and an employee who embezzled $15,000 from the department.

The Winchester Board of Commissioners, which partially funds the department, requested a number of changes, including hiring an outside company to manage the department’s finances and an investigation into the embezzlement. At the time, the department allowed the employee to repay the money and resign without pursuing criminal charges.

Following the audit, the Winchester Police Department opened an investigation which led to the indictment of Dosha Plummer in June for theft by unlawful taking over $10,000. Plummer later pleaded guilty to a reduced theft charge and sentenced to two years of probation.

In May, a county employee was also arrested for allegedly taking nearly $13,000 in public funds while working in the county emergency management office. Jennifer Paige Adkins was arrested on one count of theft and 17 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument after allegedly issued false invoices and unauthorized checks from the Local Emergency Planning Committee account, of which she was the treasurer.

Adkins pleaded guilty to four counts of theft by unlawful taking in November. She is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

Courthouse tower replaced

In 2017, the crews removed the crumbling, leaking bell tower from atop the Clark County Courthouse.

The goal was to have the new tower manufactured and installed by spring.

Production delays and complications, though, pushed the project back into August.

The new tower, topped with a gold-leaf dome, arrived in three sections and was installed in two days.

Clark man charged for child porn shoots wife, himself

In April, a Clark County resident was arrested for allegedly coercing a 14-year-old girl in Tennessee to send explicit videos of herself via Google Hangouts.

A week later, the suspect, Herbert Rice, committed suicide in his home after killing his wife.

Rice, according to court documents, was arrested on 20 counts of possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor and one count of promoting a minor in a sexual performance.

During that investigation, state police executed a search warrant at Rice’s residence, confiscated a number of items and arrested Rice.

A week later, Rice, who had been released on bond, called 911 dispatchers and said he had shot his wife.

When deputies arrived at the residence, they attempted to speak with the caller, but heard a single gunshot.

When they entered, they found Rice and his wife, identified as Kathleen Costello, dead inside the home from single gunshot wounds in an apparent murder-suicide. Clark County Sheriff Berl Perdue said Rice made statements he would rather die than go to prison and found text messages from his wife stating she couldn’t live without him.

Alltech closes, plastics company purchases building for new facility

Winchester Industrial Park lost one of its largest businesses at the start of 2018.

Alltech Algae notified city officials Jan. 26, 2018, it would close its Winchester facility.

The announcement wasn’t unexpected, Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner told The Sun as he and Winchester Industrial Development Director Todd Denham had met with company officials in 2017 who said Alltech was scaling its operations back at the facility.

Alltech, a biotechnology company, purchased the facility in September 2010 from Martek Bioscience, which specialized in algae fermentation. Martek decided to move its production to South Carolina.

Alltech officially opened in April 2011 and continued fermenting algae for aquaculture and use in animal feed.

In September, city officials approved a resolution in support of a preliminary bond issue in hopes of attracting a new business interested in the former Alltech facility.

Weeks later, a Georgia company announced plans to start making biodegradable and compostable plastics in Winchester. The company could employ more than 70 people, averaging about $26 an hour.

Danimer Scientific, based in Bainbridge, Georgia, purchased the former Alltech manufacturing facility in the Winchester Industrial Park and will revamp the 88,000 square foot facility to meet its needs.

The company began working on the building in October, but production will start in late 2019.

Suspects in Washington Street murders to have trial, lawsuit filed against property owners

One of the most tragic stories from 2017 continues to make headlines in 2018 as the legal case against six people for a double homicide continues to work its way though the court system.

At this point, Matthew Carmen, Ronnie Ellis, Denzel Hill, Darian Skinner, Mikaela Buford and Julia Richardson are all scheduled for a jury trial May 13, 2019, in Clark Circuit Court. The judge, though, approved an order for the case to go before a mediator in an attempt to resolve the case as well.

Carmen, Ellis, Hill and Skinner were all indicted as participating in a shooting outside the apartments at 27 E. Washington St. on Nov. 7, 2017. Police said the two victims, Adrianna Castro and Kayla Holland, both 16, were caught in the crossfire and died. Buford and Richard were charged with ancillary roles in the shooting.

In November, the victims’ families filed a lawsuit against the owners of the apartment complex, along with the owner of a neighboring complex at 31 E. Washington St., claiming they did not take enough steps to keep the property safe.

The civil case is also working its way through the court system.

WMU breaks ground on new plant

Winchester Municipal Utilities commissioners and city commissioners broke ground on the site of the new water treatment plant March 15.

WMU awarded Judy Construction Company of Cynthiana the contract in 2017. The company will build the new water plant on the property near the Lower Howard’s Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant off Boonesboro Road.

Mike Anderson, chairman of the WMU commission, told The Sun the project has been in the making for about 20 years. The project initially had to be postponed years ago because of funding issues.

The project totals around $20 million.

WMU General Manager Michael Flynn told The Sun WMU expects to complete the project in March 2020.

The new water plant will be designed to provide 9 million gallons of water per day, allowing WMU to treat the water more thoroughly. The current plant, parts of which are more than 100 years old, can process about 5 MGD at absolute maximum capacity.

Upon completion of the new plant, the original water plant, located next to the reservoir on Water Works Road, will be kept partially online and act as a pump station connecting the reservoir to the new treatment facility, Flynn said previously. The historic building housing the current operations will be preserved in some way.

WMU funded the new plant through municipal bonds as well as funds provided by WMU.

Under construction

2018 brought multiple new construction projects, with many wrapping up in 2019.

The new downtown Kentucky Bank has yet to open officially. However, the ATM is open at the new location at the corner of Maple and Broadway streets.

Kentucky Bank Chief Operating Officer Jim Braden initially told The Sun he had anticipated the new branch opening in late August.

However, because of proceeding with the demolition without further investigating the history of the two buildings that once stood on the corner of Maple and Washington streets, Kentucky Bank’s official opening has been delayed for months.

Braden told The Sun in late August Kentucky Bank would install a sign in Heritage Park and print a historical book as part of an agreement with the Kentucky State Historical Preservation Office to allow the new branch to open.

Braden told The Sun the bank was aware of the buildings’ history but did not find it listed on any historical registers and proceeded with the demolition. After the situation came to light, Braden said the bank contacted the KHC and began working on a resolution.

The resulting memorandum of agreement called for the bank to publish 250 copies of an illustrated booklet about the history of African-American communities in Winchester, which will distribute locally.

As of publication, there is no date set for the location’s opening.

Construction crews demolished the former downtown Kentucky Bank location on the corner of Lexington Avenue and Maple Street in late May to make room for the new CVS Pharmacy site. CVS is nearing completion, but has yet to announce an official opening date.

The Winchester Steak ‘n Shake officially opened on April 23, following a series of delays due to inclement weather.

Franchisee Ryan Dotson broke ground on the project in October 2017.

The Winchester location features a brand-new prototype design by architect Jay Million of Million Architecture. It seats about 84 customers.

WMU makes changes to recycling pick-up

It has been a roller coaster year for the recycling program at Winchester Municipal Utilities.

Since the beginning of the year, WMU General Manager Mike Flynn has told the WMU commissioners the cost of recycling is putting a dent in its expenditures category.

After a year-long discussion about the increasing cost of the recycling services, WMU commissioners came up with a plan of action in October and presented it before the city commission.

The new plan takes effect Jan. 7.

The new streamlined process allows WMU to continue offering recycling services. WMU is absorbing the costs of the recycling program by realigning its collection schedule and becoming more efficient.

Starting in 2019, WMU will provide trash, recycling, yard waste and large bulky items on the same day.

Bluegrass Heritage Museum to expand with donated property

The Bluegrass Heritage Museum is making plans for expansion thanks to a generous donation of a nearby home and lots.

The museum’s board announced in November the Edward O. Guerrant Memorial Association deeded the remaining real estate, located on South Main Street and Valentine Court, to the nonprofit museum.

The house, built in the 1930s, served as the nurses’ quarters for the Guerrant Mission Clinic and Hospital.

In recent years, the house was the residence of the late Wallace Guerrant, his wife Lana, and their family. They also operated a bed-and-breakfast out of the building for a time.

In 1927, E. P. Guerrant, grandfather of Wallace Guerrant, established the hospital in the building currently housing the museum at 217 S. Main St.

The hospital closed in 1970, but the downstairs remained open as a clinic for the community and operated by Wallace’s father, Dr. Edward O. Guerrant II, and Dr. John Hubbard until 1989.

The museum’s board is in the process of studying potential used of the home and adjacent land, and one priority is managing the financial requirements of the new property.

Museum Director Sandy Stults said some visitors have been able to tour the donated home and the museum is asking for public input for how they should use the additional space.