Top 10 news stories of the year

1. Murder-suicide at Cummins Seymour Technical Center

At 8:29 a.m. March 10, Seymour dispatchers started receiving calls about shots being fired inside the Cummins Seymour Technical Center on the city’s east side.

Police responding to the center, which had just opened in the fall of 2015, found Ward R. Edwards II, 49, of Columbus, dead from a gunshot wound inflicted by Qing Chen, 37, of Seymour. After shooting Edwards, Chen turned the 9mm Glock handgun on himself. The incident occurred in a small meeting room.

The murder-suicide led to the evacuation of the technical center and Seymour Engine Plant, which are connected by a commons area. Both were closed for several days.

Police said weeks later that no clear motive for the actions of Chen, a Chinese national in the United States on a five-year work visa, could be determined.

2. Heroin overdoses

A wave of at least 18 heroin overdoses in just a few hours on the night of Aug. 23 in Jackson, Jennings and Bartholomew counties left Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott with one major fear.

“That it will happen again,” Abbott said of the overdoses that likely led to the death of a woman in Jennings County and sent four Jackson County residents to the hospital.

A bad batch of heroin likely laced with an elephant tranquilizer is suspected in the cluster of overdoses across the state and in Ohio, Kentucky and other states, police said. The tranquilizer is called carfentanil and is related to fentanyl, a powerful painkiller prescribed by doctors to help patients recover from surgery.

Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl, which also is used to cut heroin and can cause overdoses. Both are opioids or narcotics that are used medically as part of anesthesia to help prevent pain after surgery or other medical procedures.

3. Election and turnout

The local elections of three at-large council members, two commissioners, an auditor, a coroner, a surveyor and a judge were overshadowed by the presidential contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Jackson County voters went to the polls Nov. 8 in numbers rarely seen here. A total of 59 percent or 17,974 of 30,532 registered voters cast their ballots. By Nov. 7 when the absentee polling sites had closed, more than 5,100 or nearly 17 percent of the registered voters already had cast ballots.

The largest turnout for a presidential election was in 2004 when 65 percent or 18,260 or 28,128 cast votes. That’s the year Republican George W. Bush earned his second term in office by beating Democrat John Kerry.

The near-record turnout was predictable, unlike everything else that happened during this unpredictable election cycle.

For the record, 12,857 voters in Jackson County cast ballots for Trump on Nov. 8, while 3,843 voted for Clinton and 832 voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson.

4. Jackson County, Brownstown and Indiana celebrate bicentennials

2016 was filled with activities related to the 200th birthdays of Jackson County, Brownstown and the state.

The celebrations actually began on New Year’s Eve 2015 with a ball at Celebrations in Seymour. The event commemorated the county’s 200th birthday.

Brownstown celebrated its 200th birthday April 8 with an official ceremony at the Jackson County History Center in Brownstown. A communitywide celebration was April 9 at Pewter Hall because Brownstown Central High School’s prom also was the night of April 8.

There were plenty of other celebrations throughout the year, including a party Feb. 29 for those with leap year birthdays and a countywide celebration on the second weekend of October that featured a concert by country music star Clayton Anderson from nearby Lawrence County.

The last of the celebrations occurred Dec. 11, the state’s 200th birthday, with an afternoon of programs including a talk by Lin Montgomery, a Native American, at the history center.

5. Death of former Gov. Edgar D. Whitcomb

On Feb. 4, 2016, former Indiana Gov. Edgar D. Whitcomb died at his home in Rome near the Ohio River in southern Indiana.

Born Nov. 6, 1917, in Hayden, Whitcomb studied law and played trumpet in the Marching Hundred at Indiana University in Bloomington.

The state’s 43rd governor went on to serve in the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II, when he was held captive by the Japanese. He recounted his wartime years in his first book, “Escape from Corregidor.”

Whitcomb raised his family in Seymour and became secretary of state before being elected governor in 1969. After retiring from public life, he embarked on a solo sailing journey circumnavigating the world.

6. Men charged after causing deaths in separate wrecks

The disappearance of Nikki H. Hobbs Reed, 37, of Seymour, in mid-September was solved Sept. 20 when Kevin Eugene Bell, 39, of Dover, Pennsylvania, was found alongside the road in the 8600 block of East U.S. 50 in Jennings County. Reed was found dead in her 1999 Ford Explorer down a nearby ravine.

Bell, who had a broken leg and various personal belongings, initially told Master Trooper Rick Hewitt with the Indiana State Police that Reed had been driving back to Seymour after she had picked him up Sept. 17 in Pennsylvania.

Bell later admitted he had been driving when the wreck occurred. He told investigators Reed didn’t live long after the wreck, and he spent 48 hours in the SUV because his mobility was limited.

In October, Bell was charged in Jennings County with a felony charge of false informing and misdemeanor charges of failure to report a dead body and operating while suspended.

In August, Brent Sawyer, 21, of Crothersville, was charged with operating while intoxicated-drugs causing death in connection with the death of Tavaya A. Bevers, 3, in a wreck May 13 on U.S. 31 in the Crothersville area.

Bevers had been riding in a 2005 Ford Windstar driven by her father, Devin P. Peters, 30, of Crothersville, when the wreck occurred. The investigation showed Sawyer had been driving a 2006 Jeep Liberty south on U.S. 31 when he crossed the centerline and hit Peters’ northbound van.

7. Orange County man accused of intimidating Brownstown couple

An Orange County man accused of intimidating a Brownstown couple by mailing dead skunks and a raccoon to their employers was arrested in September on two Level 5 felony counts of stalking and two Level 6 felony counts of intimidation.

Besides facing those felony charges, Travis Shane Tarrants, 40, of West Baden Springs, was charged with two Class B misdemeanor charges of false informing by the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office.

Tarrants began harassing the couple after the man was picked for a teaching and coaching job at an Orange County school in May. Tarrants also was an applicant for that position, according to the probable cause affidavit signed by Brownstown Officer John Long.

Long said he discovered during the investigation that someone had made four complaints to the Indiana Department of Child Services hotline about the Brownstown man, Michael Leitzman. Leitzman, a 2010 graduate of Brownstown Central High School, coached basketball at Medora High School in the 2015-16 season but is coaching varsity basketball at Springs Valley High School this season.

The Tribune typically does not release the names of victims in criminal investigations, but Long said Leitzman was OK with doing so because of the nature of the complaints made against him.

Those complaints were made by a man calling from a museum in French Lick, and Tarrants was president of the board of that museum at the time, police report.

None of the complaints against Leitzman made by the man to the state were substantiated, Long said.

Tarrants was arrested Sept. 13 at his home by the Brownstown Police Department, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI, Long said. His trial date in Jackson Circuit Court has yet to be set.

8. Egg producer moving headquarters to Seymour (Aisin expansion, too)

In August, officials with Rose Acre Farms announced plans to move the 77-year-old company’s headquarters and 80 jobs from the Cortland area to the west side of the city.

The move has several purposes, including providing the firm, which estimated annual revenue of $200 million, with more opportunities for growth and eliminating the difficulty of reaching corporate offices after heavy rains and resulting flooding of the East Fork White River.

Work on the new 25,900-square-foot building on seven acres at 1657 W. Tipton St. was expected to be complete in late 2016 or early this year. The new $5 million project is designed to create an office environment that is efficient, attractive and adaptable.

Rose Acre Farms started in 1939 as a small operation with 1,000 hens but is now America’s second-largest egg producer with 17 facilities in six states and about 1,900 employees.

9. Body found at Brownstown Elementary School playground

On the morning of Sept. 27, a teacher’s aide taking a third-grade class to recess at Brownstown Elementary School found the body of Earl D. Campbell, 38, of Austin, lying on the west side of the building.

A soft lockdown was put into place throughout the remainder of that school day, which meant exterior doors were locked so people could get in and out of the school of about 700 students. Students and teachers, however, were not confined to their classrooms.

The medical examiner’s report eventually revealed Campbell had died of a overdose of methamphetamine.

Police, however, still don’t know how or why Campbell wound up behind the school, Police Chief Tom Hanner said, and the investigation remains open.

10. Woman kills husband before turning turning gun on herself

On Oct. 5, a 42-year-old Seymour woman shot and killed her husband before turning the gun on herself. That finding came from autopsies performed two days later on Brandi Jo Jackson and her husband, Jason K. Jackson, also 42, in Seymour, according to Jackson County Coroner Roger Wheeler.

Wheeler said Jason Jackson’s cause of death was ruled a homicide, and his wife’s death was ruled a suicide.

Both Jacksons died of single gunshot wounds to the chest area, Wheeler said.

The couple, who grew up and lived in the Brownstown area for many years, were found dead in their home on Seymour’s northeast side by their son after he returned home from work. Police have not released a motive for the murder-suicide.

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Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.