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Husky explosion, flooding top 2015's most memorable stories

By David Trinko • Dec 27, 2015 at 8:00 AM

LIMA — The year 2015 started with a thunderous explosion and ended with a police shooting a little too close to home.

Throughout the year, the news of the day often left us frustrated or exhausted. Most of the time, though, it left us relieved we got through it without major loss of life.

Here are the top 10 stories of 2015, as voted by the editors and reporters of The Lima News:

1. Husky explosion

Residents awoke at 6:09 a.m. Jan. 10 to a thunderous explosion, rattling much of Allen County and its shock felt as far away as Bluffton and Spencerville.

Residents soon learned an isocracker at the Husky Lima Refinery had exploded, launching shrapnel and other ash into the sky. Despite the heavy smoke and taller-than-usual flames, the air quality remained negative of dangerous chemicals.

In fact, the region got through without any serious injuries, in part because the incident happened in a state-of-the-art system inside the 100-plus-year-old refinery.

The incident also showed how well-prepared the region was for disastrous incidents at the refinery, a June review of the incident found. No one was seriously hurt in the explosion or the cleanup afterward.

“The coordination between both the industry and first responders was great,” Allen County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Tom Berger said in June. “The communication was great, which at our end is a huge plus. It makes it a lot easier for us in the event of an emergency to effectively manage the situation and make sure our message gets out to the public.”

2. June flooding

Record rainfall of 3.68 inches on June 15 caused flash flooding throughout the region. Overall that week, the region saw 7.87 inches of rain, according to AccuWeather.com.

The village of Kalida in Putnam County saw the worst of it with no way in or out of the village for nearly 24 hours as bridges at state Route 114 and state Route 115 were covered with water. An estimated 35 students came out to help clean up the village.

Lima officials had to evacuate 30 to 50 people from Cam Court Apartments. The storms damaged the United Way’s building at 616 S. Collett St., and cab drivers helped rescue people stranded throughout the city.

There were no serious injuries as a result of the flooding.

3. Teacher sex cases

Teachers’ actions outside the classroom were under a microscope again in 2015, with several high-profile cases involving teachers.

Brian Anders, a former music teacher at Freedom Elementary and a former school board member at Elida, faced local and then federal sex charges involving luring teenage boys into sexual relationships via Facebook. His federal case remains in the court system.

Lori Anderson, a former Cridersville first-grade teacher, received a 15-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting a child with her ex-husband, Charles Wycuff, in the 1990s.

John Wachauf, a retired special-education teacher at Lima Senior High School living in St. Marys, also faced interstate charges of soliciting a child under the age of 15 for sex over the Internet. His case involved authorities in Buchanan County, Virginia.

4. Sentencing in child’s death

Christopher Clayton, 21, brutally beat his girlfriend’s 17-month-old son, Xavier Wurth, in Spencerville in January, lying and claiming the child had choked on his own vomit.

By September, Clayton learned how he’d spend the rest of his life, in a state prison with no chance of parole.

“He murdered a defenseless little boy,” said Byron Wurth, the child’s father. “Xavier deserves justice.”

5. DePalma convicted

Frederick DePalma, a former sergeant in the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, had been a caretaker for the evidence room. He abused that trust by stealing 33 guns, $11,800 in cash, and some electronics, then covering up his deeds by falsifying records.

“You brought shame to yourself and to law enforcement,” visiting judge Randall Basinger said at his conviction. “You committed acts that are going to have a long-term impact.”

DePalma, 49, will spend the next 10 years in prison on the 35 counts of theft in office and 24 counts of tampering with records.

6. LPD officer charged

A rookie Lima Police Department officer will go on trial in January on charges he kidnapped and raped a 16-year-old girl.

Officers arrested Justin Bentz, 28, after a short investigation involving a June 11 morning incident at a house on Agerter Road. He faces up to 32 years in prison on the pair of first-degree felonies.

“I greatly appreciate the fact the victim had the courage to come forward,” Lima Police Department Chief Kevin Martin said in July. “With his status as a police officer, that had to take a lot of courage.”

7. First same-sex marriage

Allen County witnessed its first same-sex marriage July 1, when Brian Molitor II and his boyfriend of four years, Andrew DeRan, received their marriage license.

They applied in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision a week prior that same-sex marriage must be permitted in all 50 states.

“I’ve dreamt about it for so long, just wanting to be a normal married couple, I don’t think it will really hit me until the wedding,” DeRan said at the time.

8. Paxson’s up-and-down year

In May, Tyler Paxson earned an acquittal on a felonious assault charge. The 20-year-old had been accused of striking a police officer during an arrest a year before. At the time, Paxson accused police of excessive force during that arrest, showing pictures of his severely bruised face.

Community sentiment turned against Paxson in July, when he was back in court on charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated while he was in the drive-through line at McDonald’s on West Market Street.

In his first court hearing on that charge, Paxson said, “I just apologize for what I’ve done.” A plea change is scheduled for Jan. 4.

9. Trooper shoots armed man

A man with a history of run-ins with the Ohio State Highway Patrol ordered a trooper out of his parked car Nov. 29 in Celina. Justin McHenry, 22, ended up dead after pointing a 9 mm handgun at Trooper Brandon Chaney.

Chaney tried unsuccessfully to disarm McHenry before shooting him.

McHenry previously had two incidents with the highway patrol involving drinking and driving charges.

10. JSMC’s pivotal year

This year could’ve sealed the fate of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in a negative way. Instead, it secured its viability.

Workers approved a contract with some concessions in it that union leaders said should keep the plant open. The recently passed defense bill includes new work for the plant, including work on Abrams tanks and Stryker vehicles from the federal government.

There is also work coming from foreign governments, helping keep the only Abrams tank production facility in the U.S. viable.

THE NEXT TEN

11. Duo found in Florida after fatal motorcycle accident

12. Man dies after shooting with Allen County deputy

13. Elder-Beerman plans to close Lima Mall location

14. Women sue University of Northwestern Ohio over degrees

15. Inmate at Allen County Jail hangs himself in cell

16. New company takes over Lima Energy project

17. Elida football coach suspended two games after hitting player’s helmet

18. Public TV station WBGU decides to stay on air with new frequency

19. Two charged, convicted, sentenced in woman’s heroin overdose death

20. Man gets 14 years in prison for killing man during home-invasion burglary

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©2015 The Lima News (Lima, Ohio)

Visit The Lima News (Lima, Ohio) at www.limaohio.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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