This past year could be described as one of change for Columbus and Bartholomew County, and for local residents and longtime members of the community.
Some of the changes were experienced by two of the city’s most famous native sons. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence started the year focused on winning a second four-year term leading the Hoosier state, but during the summer, the 1977 Columbus North High School graduate altered course and accepted GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s invitation to be his running mate. Then in the November general election, Trump and Pence defeated the Democratic Party’s presidential ticket of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine to reach the White House.
Columbus resident and three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart competed for the 18th and final season on the Sprint Cup circuit, then retired as a NASCAR driver.
Some changes more directly affected the community:
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An emergency housing shelter opened in Columbus after years of informal discussions about the need for housing for the homeless.
After about two years of work and public feedback, county officials made some zoning changes regarding confined feeding animal operations — an issue that was sometimes contentious.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. updated its policies and included gender identity as a protected class, despite some opposition.
And, the city revised its ordinance regarding residents having chickens as pets, allowing for a limited number.
While many of the top stories were uplifting — such as a movie filmed in Columbus — or reflected achievements, several were tragic, including the fatal shooting of a Cummins employee at work in Seymour and the death of a county teen in a motorcycle accident.
Pence voted vice president-elect
Four years ago, Mike Pence made history when he was elected the state’s 50th governor. The Columbus native, who served 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, also became the first person from the city to be elected to that position.
A second term was the focus in the early part of 2016, and he was unopposed in the Republican primary and geared for a general election rematch with Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg. However, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump changed the political dynamic.
Trump, a businessman and Washington outsider, scored a series of GOP primary victories and eventually won enough delegates to secure the party’s nomination. Focus shifted to who Trump would tap for his running mate. A short list included former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — an early Trump supporter — and Pence, a solid conservative who was well-liked within the party’s establishment.
Pence met with Trump in New Jersey on July 2, so the two men could get to know each other better. Pence stumped for Trump at a rally in Westfield on July 12, and the next day they met in Indianapolis. On July 15, Trump finally made his selection and picked Pence for the vice president slot on his ticket.
A tight presidential race between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton stretched from Election Day on Nov. 8 into the early morning hours the next day before Trump was declared the winner. Pence enjoyed the victory with his mother, siblings and other family members who were with him in New York at Trump’s Election Day headquarters.
Trump will be sworn in as the nation’s 45th president and Pence as the 48th vice president on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20 in Washington.
Rash of heroin overdoses
The trend of increasing heroin use in Bartholomew County continued, and fatalities increased.
Twelve people in Bartholomew County died from heroin overdoses, Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher said. That’s more than all of the past three years combined.
The county’s Emergency Operations Center received more overdose calls than any of the previous seven year-end totals, and overdose calls in the county have increased almost every year since 2009.
Stewart retires as NASCAR driver
Tony Stewart brought recognition to his hometown with his racing achievements, which included an extremely successful 18-year run in the top stock car circuit, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup.
Stewart, who shined while rising through the short track ranks and also won an Indy Racing League championship, said last year that this season would be his last as a NASCAR driver.
After a tough start when he missed races because of a back injury, Stewart regrouped and qualified for the season-ending playoff. Another title was not to be, but Stewart capped his career as one of NASCAR’s best with three season championships (tied for fifth all-time) and 49 wins on his resume (tied for 13th all-time).
He plans to return to his racing roots next season and compete in short-track races whenever he desires, and continue his role as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series.
Cummins employee fatally shot
The Columbus and Seymour communities were hit with tragic news March 10 when a manager and a worker he supervised at the Cummins Technical Center in Seymour were fatally shot that morning in an apparent murder-suicide.
Ward R. Edwards, 49, Columbus, was killed by Qing Chen, 37, Seymour. They were found dead in a meeting room on the second floor of the center. Police recovered a 9mm Glock handgun at the scene.
Many employees had just arrived for work at the Cummins facility in Seymour and began witnessing a massive police response to their workplace.
Edwards, 49, a husband and father of two children, was described as a kind and involved parent.
The incident prompted Cummins to make some changes in its security procedures.
Partnership creates emergency housing facility
The idea of an emergency housing shelter in Columbus had been discussed for years, gaining traction in 2015 and finally opening this September.
Brighter Days Housing, a 36-bed facility for men and women, is located at 421 S. Mapleton St., in what had formerly served as Columbus Township’s firetruck maintenance facility.
The $300,000 project was completed by spending about $100,000 in materials and some labor, with the remainder being donated by contractors, engineers, city workers, businesses, individuals and others who stepped up to help. Steve Ferdon and a group from Columbus’ Asbury United Methodist Church, known as Mission Columbus, organized the many volunteers.
Columbus Township is the landlord for the shelter, leasing it to Love Chapel for $1 a year. Love Chapel is operating the shelter by providing staff members and volunteers.
The once-cavernous garage now is a modern looking group-housing facility, with bunk rooms for men and women, modern bathrooms and home-like artwork on newly painted walls. The building has all new mechanicals, with the modern touch of allowing the spiral ductwork to be visible from the rooms below.
County OKs CAFO zoning changes
In May, after nearly two years of intense debate, Bartholomew County’s three commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance creating new setbacks for confined animal feeding operations.
The new ordinance calls for quarter-mile setbacks for confined feeding operations from schools, health care facilities and churches and 500 feet from a residential lot in an agricultural zone. The new setbacks also require a 500-foot setback from any well.
Many speakers at public hearings during the process expressed support for more restrictive setbacks that were recommended in a minority report issued by the Bartholomew County CFO/CAFO Regulation Study Committee.
The setbacks approved by the commissioners, which are less restrictive, originated from a majority of the study committee members.
BCSC gender identity policy
In May, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. board members approved a change to the school district’s equal opportunity policies to add gender identity to the list of protected classes under sex, which is its own protected class.
The vote for the change was made despite extensive public discussion that included parents sharing their displeasure with such a change and expressing fear for the safety of female students in locker rooms and restrooms.
The school board’s decision came about the same time the U.S. Education and Justice departments handed down a directive advising all public schools to allow transgender students to use restroom and locker room facilities that align with their gender identity. Schools that refuse to comply will be at risk of losing federal funding.
School officials also maintained that the policy change was in language only. The board voted in 2013 to include “transgender status” as a protected class, so the addition of “gender identity” was a change meant to keep up with the current terminology used to discuss LGBT issues.
Some parents threatened to keep their children home from the first day of the 2016-17 school year, but the protest never materialized.
Reserve officer charged after chasing motorcyclist
A former reserve Nashville police officer was charged with two misdemeanors in a police pursuit of a motorcyclist who later died in an accident on Sunland Road in eastern Bartholomew County.
Leonard Burch, 25, who lives on Pearl Street in Columbus, was charged in Bartholomew Superior Court 2 with false informing, a Class B misdemeanor, and reckless driving, a Class C misdemeanor. The probable-cause affidavit filed in court accuses Burch, who was off-duty, of pursuing 18-year-old motorcyclist Xavier Scrogham of Hope recklessly at a high rate of speed through Columbus and part of rural Bartholomew County at about 11:36 p.m. Aug. 29.
The affidavit also accuses Burch of making a false statement to a 911 dispatcher that Scrogham’s motorcycle had passed Burch’s police car going 120 mph before Burch began his pursuit at about 11:36 p.m. in the southbound lanes of U.S. 31 near Lowell Road. Investigators concluded that Scrogham was going no faster than 70 mph in the 55 mph speed zone when the motorcycle first caught Burch’s attention, according to court records.
A Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputy later found Scrogham, who had been thrown from his motorcycle, in a field off Sunland Road east of Columbus at about 11:43 p.m. Aug. 29.
Scrogham had missed a 90-degree turn and went off the road, striking a telephone pole guide wire that knocked him off the motorcycle, sheriff deputies said. The impact knocked off Scrogham’s helmet, and he died at the scene from head and neck trauma, Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher determined.
Independent movie filmed in Columbus
Columbus intersected with Hollywood during the summer when an independent movie company filmed in the city for three weeks, wrapping up in late August.
The movie “Columbus” featured actor John Cho, known for playing Lt. Hikaru Sulu in “Star Trek” movies. In “Columbus,” Cho plays the role of Jin, a 29-year-old Korean-born writer who arrived in Columbus to be at the side of his dying architect father who came from Korea to study the city’s noted buildings.
A crew of about 40 people shot at 16 architecturally significant sites, including First Christian Church, the Miller House and Columbus City Hall.
City OKs chickens as pets
The Columbus City Council voted 6-1 during its Oct. 4 meeting to approve an amendment allowing residents to have up to four backyard chickens. Until that point, the city ordinance restricted farm-related animals to properties of 5 acres or bigger. But some residents with chickens on their properties had claimed their animals were pets, which put enforcement in question and triggered the need for more study.
The council had initially voted in June to ban ownership of chickens outright within city limits. But when the meeting for the second reading of the ordinance rolled around, the council formed a 10-person citizen committee to review the matter and make a recommendation to the council.
The committee included five pro-chicken members and five anti-chicken members, assigned to work with council members Tom Dell, a Democrat, and Laurie Booher, a Republican. Their months-long collaboration resulted in a recommendation, in a 6-4 committee vote, which stipulated:
- A limit of six chickens, all hens, in backyard coops
- No roosters
- Parameters for code enforcement of coops and treatment of chickens
The council ultimately settled on limit of four chickens — all hens — along with the other recommendations.