2021 in review: A year of uncertainties and hope in Clark and Champaign counties

Credit: Name Test

Credit: Name Test

This year was marked by many uncertainties for Clark and Champaign counties, especially due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic.

The Upper Valley Mall closed its doors for good, community members mourned the loss of friends and family, and 7-Eleven and Marathon agreed to divest hundreds of Speedway stores.

But it was also a year of perseverance living through the pandemic as a new grocery store opened and ended a two-year absence after another shut its doors, the Springfield High School football team made its fist-ever state championship game, and a Springfield native and former Ohio State quarterback joined others to bid on the former Urbana University campus to turn it into a prep school.

As this year comes to a close and a new one begins, here are some of the stories that resonated with News-Sun readers.

Springfield siblings died of gunshot wounds

Siblings Naveaeh Stewart, 14, and Thomas Stewart Jr., 12, were found on Jan. 22 inside a home in the 1200 block of Russell Avenue with gunshot wounds. They were taken to a local hospital for treatment but died the next day from their injuries.

The two were popular and well loved, said their aunt, Wanda Roberts.

“They were kind of very popular in the community and very loved,” she said. “They had an unconditional bond, very lovable and always stuck together.”

Naveaeh attended Hayward Middle School, and Thomas attended Fulton Elementary School in the Springfield City School District.

“Both of them loved being around the family. They were some really good kids,” she said. “Our family was just real close, we were just brought up that way … They are going to be truly missed.”

Springfield teen killed outside of gas station; 2 men indicted on charges

Keyshayla Collins, 19, of Springfield, died of gunshot wounds on Feb. 26 outside of Speedway, 1147 N. Limestone St..

She was found at the entrance of the gas station along with a man who was also shot and taken to the hospital, where he was treated and released.

Sean Thomas, 26 and Demietrus Scott, 21 were indicted on charges related to the shooting and killing.

“(The investigation) found that Thomas was the one who fired an unknown 9mm semi-auto handgun multiple times, which caused the death of (Collins) and injury to (the man). It was also found that (Scott) was the driver of the suspect vehicle,” the affidavit stated.

Collins will “be forever cherished” and “her influential life will be forever cherished in the lives” of her many family members and friends, according to her obituary.

The cases of Thomas and Scott are ongoing.

Woman, man found dead inside Mad River Twp. home

Julie Hamilton, 57, and Sean Inman, 49, were found dead on Dec. 30, 2020, inside a home in the 8100 block of Gibson Avenue after police responded for a welfare check.

Both died as a result of gunshot wounds to the head. The case was closed and ruled a murder-suicide, according to case records.

Deputies arrived to the house to find two vehicles, one belonging to Inman and one to Hamilton, and both of them lying on the ground in the kitchen area.

Police said evidence showed there “was some type of struggle,” the report stated. “In looking at all of the evidence on the scene, it was most probable that Mr. Inman and Ms. Hamilton were in a violent altercation.”

Hamilton was employed by the Clark County Educational Service Center to provide occupational therapy services to Clark-Shawnee students.

“Julie’s creativity and optimism is going to be missed. She was a goofball in every sense of the word. She was a bright light that shined on everyone,” according to her obituary.

Man climbs Clark County substation, power cut to thousands, negotiators talk him down

A man who had climbed up an Ohio Edison substation in Northridge in Clark County on Oct. 11 and threatened to jump off of it came down after almost four hours.

The substation is along Moorefield Road near Taywell Drive. Ohio Edison turned the power off within five minutes, but the power had been on when the man entered the substation. Clark County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Dustin White said it was only “by the grace of God that he’s still here.”

The sheriff’s office called in two negotiators from the Springfield Police Division who were able to develop a rapport with the man and convince him to climb down. The man was threatening to jump from the substation, and had a knife which he threw down after speaking with negotiators, according to the sheriff’s office.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Upper Valley Mall closes

The Board of Clark County Commissioners and the Clark County Land Reutilization Corporation closed the Upper Valley Mall to the public on June 16.

The loss of anchor tenants like Sears over the last decade, along with changes in the retail economy, caused the Land Bank to explore other opportunities for the property.

The Board of Clark County Commissioners backed a $3 million loan in 2018 to allow the Land Bank to purchase the property. The land bank has operated the property and mall since then and has looked for a prospective developer to invest in the property.

Ohio-based developer Industrial Commercial Properties agreed to purchase the property for $2.25 million in June.

Body removed from Springfield home where police served search warrant

Residents in the 100 block of North Douglas Avenue in Springfield were in mourning after police discovered the body of a missing woman while serving a warrant on Oct. 27.

Police identified the body as 56-year-old Gloria Dickinson, who was reported missing after her family hadn’t heard from her since Sept. 13.

A Springfield Police Department Evidence Collection Unit vehicle, as well as the Clark County Health District, were at the scene collecting evidence on Oct. 27. Crews wore hazardous material suits before entering the home where the body was found because the conditions were deplorable, police said. They also hung a white tarp around the porch as they processed the scene.

The house had not had running water in several months, officials said.

Neighbors said Dickinson has lived at the home with another person the past several years, although they had not seen the woman for weeks.

Friends and relatives of Dickinson mourned her on Nov. 1 by holding a candlelight vigil in her honor. A crowd gathered around the duplex at 41 N. Douglas Ave., where Dickinson’s body was found, holding candles as her loved ones shared memories of her.

State championship game brought energy to Springfield athletes, students

The Wildcats’ success on the field — at 13-2 with a loss to Lakewood St. Edward in Springfield’s first-ever appearance in the Division I state championship game, 23-13 — drew large crowds and brought energy to a school district that faced many struggles in the past year and a half.

The energy level was the highest it’s been in nearly two years. For example, the student cheering section, which consists of seniors, was at every game with signs of players’ faces and vuvuzela stadium horns.

The Wildcats victory against Moeller in the state semifinal on Nov. 26 was a fulfillment of not only the team’s dreams, but another step toward the team’s goal of winning a state championship, said Defensive Tackle Tywan January. The 18-year-old has been playing football since he was a kindergartener.

Much work went into getting to state championship game, said January. The summer days started off early for the Wildcats as they began training for the fall, with two-a-day practices scheduled throughout the week, he said.

The Wildcats moved into the state championship game not with anxiety, but with pride.

“This is our way of paying it forward to the city,” January said. “It’s all for them.”

Credit: Name Test

Credit: Name Test

7-Eleven, Marathon agree to divest hundreds of stores in Speedway acquisition

7-Eleven Inc. and Marathon Petroleum Corp. agreed to divest from locations in nearly 300 markets following competition concerns raised due to an acquisition that included the purchasing of the Enon-based Speedway.

Representatives of the 7-Eleven convenience store chain said in May that they had closed on the $21 billion acquisition with Marathon that included the purchase of nearly 4,000 Speedway stores across 36 states.

As a result of 7-Eleven acquiring Speedway, the Federal Trade Commission expressed concerns about the deal, saying that it violated antitrust laws.

However, an agreement was reached in June that would have both 7-Eleven and Marathon divest in a little more than 290 local markets across 20 states. The Dayton and Springfield markets were not listed by the FTC as areas in which the divestment would occur.

That action was being done in order to settle the FTC’s claims, according to a news release from the federal agency.

A subsidiary of the Tokyo-based Seven & i Holdings Co., Ltd., 7-Eleven owns, operates, and franchises approximately 9,000 convenience stores in the United States, making it the largest U.S. convenience store chain. Almost half of those stores sell fuel as well, according to the FTC.

Under the terms laid out in the proposed consent order, 7-Eleven and Marathon are required to divest 124 retail fuel outlets to Anabi Oil, comprising 123 Speedway outlets and one 7-Eleven outlet.

They are also required to divest 106 retail fuel outlets to Cross America Partners, comprising 105 Speedway outlets and one 7-Eleven outlet. In addition to that, those companies must divest 63 Speedway retail fuel outlets to Jacksons Food Stores, according to the news release from the FTC.

Credit: Bill Lackey/Staff

Credit: Bill Lackey/Staff

New grocery now serving Springfield residents in former food desert

Groceryland opened to shoppers in Springfield’s southside in early December, ending a nearly two-year absence of a fresh food market in the area.

The new grocery story is located at 1822 South Limestone St. and fills a void left in March 2020 when Kroger closed in that area.

Kroger’s vacancy left the southside to be classified as a food desert, an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. That classification impacted an estimated 22,000 people.

Kroger donated its former building on South Limestone Street to the city of Springfield to be used for a future grocery store. Groceryland later purchased the property from the city for about $769,000.

The owners of Groceryland also planned to invest over $2 million into the new store. That included renovations and other associated costs. The city of Springfield also provided support of $900,000, said City Manager Bryan Heck.

Groceryland employs approximately 65 people at the Springfield location and is looking to hire more.

The new grocery store held its official grand opening at the end of December, which saw state and local officials, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, in attendance.

“Food, as we know, is absolutely essential to good health,” DeWine said, highlighting the importance for residence to have access to fresh and healthy grocery options. “When (Kroger closed), it was clear that this was a blow to the community.”

Springfield native, former OSU quarterback joining others in bid to purchase Urbana University property

Springfield native and former Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is part of a group interested in purchasing the former Urbana University campus in June.

The plan, if it goes through, includes converting the facility into a prep school. Fellow former Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith would also be part of the venture along with Paul Miller, Braxton’s uncle.

The school would be called Urbana Prep and Sports Institute.

Covering more than 50,000 square acres, the former campus has 22 buildings including dormitories, a theater and unused land.

“Having something like this that already has all the facilities that we need, it was a great idea, a great opportunity for us to jump on it and try to attack the process of creating our own school,” Miller said in June.

Urbana University operated from 1850 until last year when it was shut down by Franklin University, which purchased the school in 2014 and ran it as a branch campus. Franklin cited declining enrollment and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic when announcing the decision to close in March 2020.

Credit: Marcus Hartman

Credit: Marcus Hartman