2016 was another busy year, with lots of big news stories happening in the county. Here is a look back on the top ten stories that had an impact on Brown County citizens over the past 12 months.
1. Mt. Orab Auto Mall Opens
The Mt. Orab Auto Mall is one of the biggest capital investments in many years in Brown County. Two dealerships opened on the site in 2016, with the Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram store opening in early September and the Ford store opening in early October.
The two dealerships employ about 60 people and more growth is planned for the future.
If things go as planned, the site will eventually be home to up to five dealerships at the multi-million dollar development.
2. Southwest Regional Medical Center sold
The former Southwest Regional Medical Center will be back in business as a hospital in the fall of this year.
Common Pleas Judge Scott Gusweiler approved the sale of the property to Oglethorpe, Inc. for $1.2 million on October 4 of 2016.
The company plans to reopen the hospital in six to nine months as a behavioral health facility with 60-100 beds.
Oglethorpe Ohio Operations Director Patrick Tracy said that up to 250 people could be employed at the hospital with a payroll approaching $12 million once it reaches full capacity.
The hospital closed suddenly in the fall of 2014, leaving over 300 people without a job.
3. Brown County Jail Reopens
After being closed since October of 2015, the Brown County Jail reopened to prisoners on June 15.
The jail was shut down after a corrections officer filed an unsafe workplace complaint when a number of inmates got out of a dayroom with a faulty lock on the door.
Since then, Brown County has spent over $1.5 million on new doors and new infrastructure for the jail, as well as paying Butler County approximately $125,000 per month to house inmates while the jail was closed.
The jail now operates as a male only facility with a capacity of 68. All women and overflow men are housed in Butler County.
The monthly bill for the women and overflow inmates remains $40-$50 thousand a month.
4. Coroner Inquest denied by judge
On Sept. 8, Brown County Common Pleas Judge Scott Gusweiler ruled that Brown County Coroner Dr. Judith Varnau may not investigate the death of Zachary Goldson any further and must pay $7500 in attorneys fees.
He also prohibited her from changing her ruling on his mode, manner and cause of death.
The ruling came after a nearly two year battle with current and former members of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office over Goldson’s death.
Goldson died in custody on October of 2013. He was found hanging in his cell. Varnau ruled the death a homicide in December of 2013.
After a lengthy investigation, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation concluded that Goldson’s death a suicide in December of 2014.
A Brown County Grand Jury did not indict anyone in connection with Goldson’s death.
In January of 2015, five current and former members of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent Varnau from opening a coroner’s inquest into Goldson’s death.
“By continuing to conduct an inquest after already determined the mode, manner and cause of death, the Coroner exceeds her statutory authority and exacerbates the loss of the Goldson family needlessly,” Gusweiler wrote in the ruling.
The case has been appealed to the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals by Varnau, whose term as coroner ended on December 31.
5. Ohana Music Fest
One of the largest crowds in Brown County history attended the first annual Ohana Music Fest as the Mt. Orab Auto Mall celebrated its grand opening on Sept. 11.
About 15,000 people turned out to hear artists like Mark Chesnutt, Joe Diffie and Blessid Union of Souls and to see a fireworks show…all for free.
The Mark Williams Auto Group has announced since then that the music fest will be an annual event, with the next one scheduled the weekend of Sept. 9, 2017.
6. Joe Stein Arrested
The Brown County Drug and Major Crimes Task Force (BCDMCTF) arrested Stein on August 9 for Trafficking in Heroin following a several week investigation into significant trafficking of heroin into Brown County.
Agents from the BCDMCTF along with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, and Mt. Orab PD, stopped Stein in his vehicle on State Route 32 after he had made a trip to Cincinnati to purchase drugs. The investigation revealed that Stein was traveling to Cincinnati 2-3 times per week and purchasing ½-1 ounce of heroin on each visit.
Stein is scheduled to go to trial in April.
7. GOP sweeps county races
The elephants ran wild in Brown County on election day, with republicans winning every opposed race on the ballot.
The smallest margin of victory for a local republican in a contested race was 65 percent.
Two commissioner seats and prosecuting attorney were the contested seats in the county this year.
Brown County First Assistant Prosecutor Zac Corbin took 84 percent of the vote over independent candidate Dennis Varnau.
Both incumbent Brown County Commissioners also won re-election to a second four year term.
Commissioner Barry Woodruff won 70 percent of the vote against democrat challenger Jim Ferguson and Commissioner Daryll Gray took 65 percent of the vote against democrat challenger Ralph Jennings.
Incumbent GOP State Senator Joe Uecker also took home a strong win in Brown County, winning 75 percent of the vote against democrat challenger Charlie Carlier.
Incumbent GOP State Representative Doug Green also finished extremely strong in Brown County, taking 82 percent of the vote over democrat challenger Ken McNeely.
Local prosecutor Nick Owens also won a contested race for the Ohio Board of Education, beating opponent Braydon Bevens in Brown County with 67 percent of the vote.
Owens won his district race with 60 percent of the vote.
Other Brown County elected officials were unopposed on the ballot, including Sheriff Gordon Ellis, Clerk of Courts Clark Gray, County Recorder Amy DeClaire, County Treasurer Connie Patrick and County Engineer Todd Cluxton.
All are republicans elected to four year terms.
Democrat Dr. Tim McKinley was unopposed for county coroner.
8. Aberdeen gets Brown County Rural Water Association service.
After seven years of political battles, one year of construction and five million dollars spent, Aberdeen residents are receiving water from the Brown County Rural Water Association.
BCRWA board members and officials invited Aberdeen Mayor Jason Phillips and council members to mark the completion of the project on August 24.
The addition of Aberdeen added about a thousand new customers to the BCRWA.
BCRWA General Manager Dan Sarbach said last August that 22 miles of new pipeline and a new water tower were built to complete the project.
9. Kyle Moore Sentenced
Moore was sentenced to 16 years in prison on October 14 for assaulting Ripley Police Officer John Amole.
Moore pleaded guilty to Felonious Assault, Aggravated Robbery and Failure to Comply With an Order or Signal of Police Officer charges.
Moore assaulted Amole following a traffic stop in January. He knocked Amole unconscious, took his gun and fled.
That lead to a daylong manhunt in the Ripley area until Moore was captured in the area of Ohio Valley Manor.
10. Clermont Sun Publishing buys the News Democrat and Ripley Bee
Decades of newspaper competition in Brown County ended on March 5 when the parent company of The Brown County Press purchased the Democrat and Bee.
The Sunday edition of The News Democrat was discontinued, with some of its features incorporated into the Press.