This was the year that spelled the end of ECOT, the beginning of the end of the Urban Era at Ohio State, and a new beginning for Columbus Crew SC.
In central Ohio in 2018, scandals erupted at the Statehouse and Ohio State. Heroin and fentanyl retained their grim hold on the state. Homicidal violence claimed an additional 100 lives and counting in the capital city, a total far from “good” but certainly better than the record 143 killings that occurred in 2017.
And a new plague settled upon the capital city when hundreds of electric scooters raced into our daily lives.
There were triumphs, too. The Smart Columbus Experience Center opened Downtown, as did the National Veterans Memorial and Museum just across the river in Franklinton. Construction cranes dotted the skyline all year as construction boomed, and in April, the jobless rate in central Ohio fell to its lowest point in 17 years.
The long-simmering scandal surrounding the state’s largest charter school finally boiled over in January, when the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow was forced by its sponsor to close. ECOT ended up owing the state $80 million after attendance reviews found that many students had logged in for far less than their required 920 hours.
Its fancy-schmancy headquarters building on the South Side was snatched up by Columbus City Schools, a district that weathered its own share of controversy when the state auditor warned the school board to start its superintendent search over or risk liability for violations of the open-meetings law.
For the third year in a row, central Ohio lost law enforcement officers in the line of duty. In 2018, a double tragedy befell Westerville, where Officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli were ambushed and shot to death while responding to a domestic disturbance.
The suspect, Quentin Smith, was wounded but survived. He awaits a trial in which prosecutors will seek his execution if he is convicted. The man who bought Smith the gun pleaded guilty and is serving five years in federal prison.
A legal conclusion to one of 2017′s most horrific crimes came in March, when Brian L. Golsby was convicted of the kidnapping, rape and murder of Ohio State senior Reagan Tokes. He was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole, rather than execution, after a jury gave him what he had denied Tokes — the slightest shred of mercy. In October, Reagan’s mother and local parks officials broke Golsby’s hold on Scioto Grove Metro Park, where they chose to magnify nature’s grace and beauty by constructing an elaborate memorial to Reagan not far from the spot where Golsby had brutalized her.
Columbus lost the fledgling ride-sharing business Car2Go in May but made up for that in July, when the ratio of scooters to residents jumped to 178:1. Initially caught off guard by a new mode of transportation darting through Columbus like shoals of spooked sardines, city leaders regained their footing a month later and devised rules and regulations that brought some order to the chaos. By late fall, there seemed to be more scooters idle than not, whether due to lost novelty or the onset of Ohio’s grayest season.
The Statehouse had its usual share of petty bickering and shameless behavior, perhaps most notably former House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s penchant for world travel, which eventually caught the eye of the FBI.
At Ohio State, the scandals began in April, when OSU announced an investigation into Dr. Richard Strauss, who was hired in 1978 to treat students and athletes and retired 20 years later as an emeritus faculty member. He killed himself in 2005.
The investigation began with a single allegation of sexual abuse but widened to include at least 150 people who came forward with firsthand accounts of abuse by Strauss. The revelations have touched off a series of legal skirmishes.
And then there was August, when OSU placed head football coach Urban Meyer on paid administrative leave while the school tried to determine when he learned of domestic-violence allegations against Zach Smith, an assistant coach under Meyer and a grandson of the late Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce. Ultimately, the university’s board of trustees sidelined Meyer for the team’s first three games of the season.
As the season progressed, Meyer revealed that he suffers from severe headaches brought on by an enlarged arachnoid cyst in his brain. In disclosing the condition, he made a statement that sent shivers through Buckeye Nation: “I am fully committed to Ohio State, the football program, as long as I can.”
What could those last five words mean? Fans found out this month, when Meyer announced that his coaching days are over after Tuesday’s Rose Bowl.
A smaller but no less passionate fan base of another sport worked miracles this year, aided by city leaders and investors who include Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam. A little more than a year ago, it seemed to be a certainty that Columbus’ Major League Soccer team would pull up its goal nets and run off to Austin, Texas, the apple of owner-operator-whiner Anthony Precourt’s eye. But the grass-roots effort to save the Crew was unrelenting both in and out of court, and on Friday, the city felt confident that Columbus had prevailed.
“Today, we are proud to announce an achievement many said was unattainable: The Columbus Crew is saved,” Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Alex Fischer, CEO of the Columbus Partnership, said in a joint statement.
“This is a story that will be passed down for generations,” said a second statement, from the #SaveTheCrew movement.
That claim might strike non-soccer fans as a bit of hyperbole. It also affords the opportunity to imagine Columbus some 200 years into the future — well after a worldwide apocalypse — in which a merry band of flute-tooting minstrels sing and play by firelight “The Legend of Alex Fischer.”
Teasing aside, in the past year, Crew fans proved they are the most committed in Major League Soccer and truly deserving of their slogan, MASSIVE.
Attorney General Mike DeWine’s 2018 might not have been MASSIVE, but his November in particular proved to be PROFESSIONALLY SIGNIFICANT.
DeWine was elected governor on Nov. 6. A week later, he announced arrests in the April 2016 slayings of eight family members in rural Pike County, one of Ohio’s most infamous crimes and one that some speculated might never be solved.
Not to be outdone, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader also grabbed headlines twice this fall. About a month after Reader stood with DeWine to announce the break in the Rhoden family slayings, Reader was facing an accusation that he had been stealing money seized during drug investigations to blow on gambling. That investigation is pending.
Columbus police vice officers found themselves in hot water, too, beginning with their ill-conceived idea to target Stormy Daniels, the official porn star of the 45th presidency, on ginned-up charges during her appearance at a local topless club. The charges stuck for only a few hours, when Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein tossed them, and Daniels bounced.
Not long after that debacle, a vice officer shot and killed a woman with a history of prostitution arrests after, he said, she had stabbed him inside his cruiser. That incident remains under investigation, and it was announced soon afterward that the unit had caught the attention of the FBI.
Local radio personality John Corby died in January, and OSU’s Bruce in April. Civil rights champion Sybil Edwards-McNabb died in August, two months before Columbus unveiled the Washington Gladden Social Justice Park on East Broad Street. A month after the park’s dedication, Columbus lost Nancy Jeffrey, a local philanthropist who had been instrumental in funding its construction.
Central Ohio also lost Robin Hinch in 2018. You might not recognize the name, but if you spent anytime at all Downtown, you’d recognize her cheery face.
Hinch, who died in the spring at 49, was one of the earliest vendors of Street Speech, the social-justice newspaper that has been published by the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless since 2008.
Downtown denizens could count on seeing Hinch at her post on the southeast corner of South 3rd and East Broad streets in front of Trinity Episcopal Church. She had a smile and kind words ready whether you took a copy of her papers or not, and her corner hasn’t been the same since.
Hinch stood for something important, just as Washington Gladden Social Justice Park does. That with a commitment to positivity and perseverance, and an interest in the well-being of others, our impact can be — to borrow from those diehard Crew fans — simply massive.