Looking back on 2015, there were stories that touched all of us in one way or another.
There were tragedies, such as the robbery and murder of a Seymour man living in downtown Seymour and an HIV outbreak in Jackson and four nearby counties.
There also was other news, such as an expansion project that nearly doubled the size of the city’s only homeless shelter for families and the opening of Cummins Seymour Technical Center in October.
Here’s a look at the top 10 stories:
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town murderIn the early morning hours of April 30, a man was found shot to death in his apartment on North Chestnut Street in downtown Seymour.Less than 36 hours later, police had arrested three people they say were linked to the robbery and murder of 42-year-old Gilbert Engle.Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott said at the time that investigators believed Daniel L. Combs, 32, of North Vernon, shot and killed Engle, and Jessica L. Jarrell, 21, of North Vernon, was with Combs when the shooting occurred. She also helped steal drugs and cash from the apartment before the two left the area in a stolen PT Cruiser, Abbott said. The two later were arrested in Arcadia, north of Indianapolis.
Andrea Marie Hollin, 25, of North Vernon, was also arrested in connection with the incident, Abbott said. Hollin had surrendered to police.
Engle died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.
On Wednesday, Combs agreed to plead guilty to a Level 3 felony charge of possession of methamphetamine and a Level 5 felony charge of assisting criminal. In exchange for that agreement, which calls for a 20-sentence, the state has agreed to drop seven additional charges including two counts of murder and two counts of robbery.
Jarrell’s trial has been scheduled for Feb. 23, while Hollin’s jury trial had been set for March 23 but recently was canceled. She has until Feb. 1 to enter a plea agreement on charges of conspiracy to commit burglary and theft.
2. HIV outbreak
In February, it was announced Jackson County was included in an HIV outbreak along with Clark, Scott, Perry and Washington counties.By early December, the Indiana State Department of Health was reporting the number of cases in those counties had risen to 184, with most reported in Scott County, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Most of the cases were tied to the use of the prescription drug Opana, an opioid painkiller more powerful that Oxycontin, officials said. A small number of cases were from sexual transmission.
3. Cummins tech center
In October, Cummins Inc. conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new Seymour Technical Center, located with the company’s Seymour Engine Plant on East Fourth Street.The nearly 9,000-square-foot facility provides office space for those who design engines, including the high-horsepower QSK95 or Hedgehog, in the same place with those who build and initially test them.
Instead of cubicles, Cummins Seymour Technical Center features social hubs, walking treadmill desks, movable furniture, quiet zones, focus booths and a telepresence room. The center was designed to create a work environment for engineers and technical support specialists that fosters planned and impromptu collaboration and promotes efficiency and innovation.
The center is expected to house 500 to 600 people, which will bring the company’s workforce in Seymour to more than 1,200.
Heavy rain from the middle of June to the middle of July left behind plenty of damaged crops and roads.The East Fork White River at Rockford crested at 19.53 feet on July 15. According to the National Weather Service, that’s the fourth-highest crest since records have been kept. The highest was 21 feet on March 26, 1913; the second-highest was 20.91 feet on June 8, 2008; and the third was 19.67 feet on Jan. 5, 1949.
On July 14, the flooding also forced the Indiana State Police to close Interstate 65, something that’s rarely seen here.
5. Rail project
In April, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board approved a nearly $100 million upgrade of the 106½-mile rail line that runs between Louisville and Indianapolis. That approval came after a lengthy study of how it would affect communities along its path.The L&I railroad and CSX railroad, which also uses the line, sought the upgrades so more trains that are faster, heavier and longer can use it. The number of trains traveling through Seymour is expected to grow from three to five a day to as many as 15 once the project is completed several years from now.
The mayors of many of the cities along the route, including Seymour, Columbus, Franklin and Greenwood, expressed concerns about noise, traffic congestion and public safety issues the project may cause.
After the federal decision approving the project, however, Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman said the city had decided to try working with the railroad companies and the state to address some of the safety issues and to enhance crossings in the city as much as possible.
In June, Jackson County commissioners voted 2-1 to lift a moratorium banning the construction of large livestock operations in the county.The ordinance governs the city, placement and odor control of confined animal feeding operations.
In a related matter, a lawsuit filed against the Jackson County Board of Zoning Appeals and a Seymour family wanting to build a CAFO near Dudleytown continues to work its way through Jackson Circuit Court.
The lawsuit, filed in November 2014 by 44 people opposed to the project, challenges the board’s approval of a special exception that would allow Kyle and Leah Broshears to build the 4,000-head, feeder-to-finish hog farm near County Roads 1050E and 200S.
Four days of hearings, which included the introduction of exhibits, were conducted in October, and a fifth day was conducted in November in Jackson Circuit Court. No decision had been issued in that case by Special Judge Daniel Moore of Clark County.
As of New Year’s Eve, the state Department of Education still had not released the final scores from the ISTEP exams that were given to Hoosier students in the spring.Those scores, which are expected to be available sometime in mid to late January, will likely show a significant drop in scores. Some educators continue to question the accuracy of those scores.
Without those scores, teachers have not been able to prepare students for this year’s ISTEP. The first part of that test is scheduled for Feb. 29 through March 11. Seymour Community School Corp. also is holding teacher performance bonuses announced in September because of the delays in obtaining ISTEP results, which are used to determine schools’ A-F accountability grades.
The Nov. 3 municipal election was a sleeper, as just 11.4 percent, or 1,356 of 11,816 eligible voters, cast ballots in an election featuring just five races.In Seymour, Republican Mayor Craig Luedeman and Republican Clerk-Treasurer Fred Lewis ran unopposed along with Democrat District 1 Councilman John J. Reinhart, Republican District 2 Councilman Brian “Bubba” D’Arco, Republican District 3 Councilman Matt Nicholson and Independent District 5 Councilman David Earley.
Voters returned District 4 Councilman Jim Rebber, a Republican, along with Democrat At-Large Councilman Lloyd Hudson. The other at-large winner was independent Shawn Malone.
There was just one race on the ballot in Brownstown — Ward 2 — and it was won by Republican Bethany Brewster.
In Crothersville, voters returned Republican Terry Richey to the clerk-treasurer’s office. They also elected five council members for the first time. They are Republican Chad Wilson, Democrat incumbent Lenvel “Butch” Robinson, Democrat Brenda Holzworth, Republican Danieta Foster and Democrat Robert “Bob” Lyttle. In the past, the council has had just three members, but voters opted to increase the number of council seats to five in 2014.
9. Public defender’s office
At the end of October, former Jennings County Prosecutor Alan L. Marshall was named to the newly created position of chief public defender by Jackson County’s three-member public defender board.The public defender’s office replaces a system in which local attorneys with private practices provided legal representation for those unable to afford an attorney. Those attorneys worked on a contract basis.
Jackson Circuit Judge Richard W. Poynter had been proposing the public defender’s office as a way to provide people in need of a public defender with more consistent legal help and to reduce overcrowding at the jail by moving cases through the system faster.
The state also will reimburse the county 40 percent of the cost of setting up and operating the office.
10. Anchor House expansion
In the middle of the summer, a project to renovate two apartment buildings as part of an expansion of a Seymour homeless shelter was complete.Anchor House Family Assistance Center purchased the two apartment buildings behind its facility on South Vine Street and renovated them, allowing the center to offer housing to a total of seven families with children and an area for a new case management office.
The price tag for the renovations plus partial construction to the original facility, which housed four families and contains a food bank, is almost $500,000. A grant from the Cummins Foundation helped finance the purchase of the property and renovation, although many companies and individuals also helped out by donating time and money.