Courts

Second man pleads guilty of attempted rape of teens at BG hotel; two others still at-large

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG  Independent News A man found by the U.S. Marshals Service, hiding under a bed in Lubbock, Texas, has pleaded guilty to attempted rape and abduction of two teenage girls last summer in Bowling Green. David Ramos Contreras, 29, of Lubbock, will be sentenced on Feb. 22, by Wood County Common Pleas Judge Matthew Reger. Contreras was one of four men staying at the Days Inn in Bowling Green while working in the area last June. The two teenage sisters, ages 13 and 14, were also staying at the hotel with family. Two of the suspects were apprehended within days of the charges, but a national manhunt ensued for the other two – Juan Garcia Rios Adiel and Arnulfo Ramos. Those men remain at large. “I do not believe either have been apprehended,” Bowling Green Police Lt. Dan Mancuso said this morning. Simon Thomas Simon Juan, 24, was arrested by Bowling Green Police Division the day after the mother of the two girls took them to Wood County Hospital. Juan has also pleaded guilty and was sentenced in November to 14 months in prison. A few days later after the assaults, David Ramos Contreras, 29, was apprehended by the U.S. Marshals Service, in Lubbock, Texas. Police initially received a tip that Contreras was seen at the Walmart in Spring Meadows, in Lucas County, shortly after the assaults. A store video captured images of Contreras walking with two women. Police were able to locate the women and determined they were not connected to the suspect. “They believed he needed some assistance,” Mancuso said last summer. “They believed they were doing a good deed helping someone out.” Information was then developed placing Contreras in Lubbock, after investigators for the U.S. Marshals Service and Bowling Green Police followed leads. Contreras, who was found by marshals hiding under a bed in Lubbock, was extradited back to Ohio. Nationwide warrants were issued for the remaining two men at large, and numerous law enforcement agencies, including ICE, are working to find them. The case received national attention, being posted on CNN news…

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Opiate addicts find lifeline in local ARC program

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Fighting the opioid crisis can be like aiming at a moving target. Drugs get more potent, people are prone to relapse, and some proposed laws work against success. But it appears that Wood County’s Addiction Response Collaborative is having an impact. “We’re making inroads,” Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Dobson told the county commissioners Tuesday morning. In the six months that the ARC has been up and running, the program has been alerted to 80 individuals who have overdosed. “Some of those have overdosed multiple times,” Dobson said. Of those 80, five died. While tragic, that number is far less than the 16 people who died of opiate overdoses in 2016 in Wood County. The ARC team, made up of Belinda Brooks and Det. Sgt. Ryan Richards, had contact with the 75 addicts who overdosed, three of whom refused help. Of the addicts, 55 cases were referred to ARC by law enforcement officers, and 22 were referred by family members. “Those are great numbers,” Dobson said of those referred by family. That means the word is getting out to more than just law enforcement. “I was pleasantly surprised. People are contacting the program.” Of those working with the ARC program, four overdosed a second time and are currently in treatment. “That’s a great number when you’re talking about 75 people.” The ARC Quick Response Team responds to overdose incidents and other addiction-related incidents and calls. The team initiates a conversation with the survivor and family members. The goal is to encourage and offer assistance in obtaining treatment and counseling through multiple local behavioral health providers. During the past six months, Brooks and Richards have made 611 contacts with the 75 addicts – following up with them, encouraging them, looking for any gaps in the services, Dobson said. In addition to the Quick Response Team, the program works with programs in the court system, including a diversion program, analyzing the current intervention process being used by the court and the implementation of a court docket specific to addiction. Initially, some of the law…


New justice likely to swing U.S. Supreme Court further to right

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Abortion rights and gay marriage are two issues that could hang in the balance with the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. The 82-year-old justice announced his retirement on Wednesday. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, said two political scientists who teach at Bowling Green State University. Melissa Miller said that Supreme Court Justices have lifetime appointments, and they most often decide to retire when a president of the same party that appointed them is in office, she said. Niki Kalaf-Hughes said some have opined that the timing of Kennedy’s retirement, giving President Donald Trump a second chance to nominate someone for the high court, sullies his reputation. That all depends, she said, on who eventually assumes the bench and how they rule. Kennedy, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, is considered the court’s swing vote. He wrote the majority decision in Obergefeld v. Hodges that found that same sex couples had right to marry. He also wrote the opinion for the conservative majority to Citizens United that said political spending was protected speech under the First Amendment. If he is replaced by a more conservative justice then some rights that had been assumed to be settled matters, including the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy and the right of same sex couples to marry, could now be in jeopardy. Some in the women’s movement have been warning, Miller said, that “we shouldn’t one shouldn’t take Roe v Wade for granted.” State legislators in conservative states continue to push bills that cut into those rights. “I don’t think that will stop in very conservative states,” she said, “because politicians are rewarded by their conservative voters for passing such laws.” Trump promised when he campaigned that he would appoint more conservative justices. And by some measures, his first appointee Neil Gorsuch is more conservative than the justice he replaced, the late Antonin Scalia, though not as conservative as Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Because of actions by Senate Republicans, who said they were reacting to changes instituted earlier by Democrats…


New sheriff’s deputy in town for courthouse security

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Rob Eaton walked into a mess this morning on his first day on the job as director of security for the Wood County Courthouse Complex. “I walked in and there are alarms going off everywhere. I thought – Holy Toledo,” Eaton said this morning. The phones were down because of a system-wide problem with the phone lines, causing the alarms to blare at the courthouse. “It was baptism by fire,” Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said as he introduced Eaton to the county commissioners this morning. The phones were back in service by 8:20 a.m. Eaton has been with the sheriff’s office for 26 years, starting on the corrections staff, moving to road patrol, serving on the Special Response Team, and most recently in the civil division. He also served 14 years in the Army National Guard. Eaton will receive an annual salary of $65,894. He has no plans to change operations in courthouse security, set up under his predecessor Becky Ewing. “I’m looking forward to this challenge of working with everyone,” he said. Since October, the security at the courthouse complex has been divided. The sheriff’s office is in charge of the grounds, buildings and entrances. The court constables, led by Ron Dicus, are in charge of the courtrooms and adult probation. The primary challenge of the job is clear, Eaton said. “Making sure everyone is safe,” from the public to county employees, he said. At the same time, citizens must feel the courthouse complex is a public facility, Wasylyshyn said. “There’s a tough balance between making everyone feel welcome” and making sure they are save, the sheriff said. Also during his meeting with the county commissioners, Wasylyshyn reported that security staff members are now offering fingerprinting in the atrium at the request of the judges. He also mentioned that the security staff is trying to be more visible in the courthouse and county office building. The commissioners acknowledged seeing the staff throughout the complex.


Courthouse tour lays down the law for BG students

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   There was a bit of disorder in the courts  Monday as Bowling Green sixth graders got a close-up view of “Lady Justice.” They sat in on a court case, they offered ideas for new laws, and they met with the sheriff. And as a bonus, they learned a bit on how the county handles emergencies. The kids were awestruck by the court proceedings, and suitably impressed by the grand Wood County Courthouse. But kids being kids – they sometimes found a different focus than the intended. For example, as architect Heidi Reger pointed out the intricate stone work on the front of the 1896 courthouse, she asked the students to find the faces and animals carved into the stone. “They liked to tell a lot of stories in the stones,” she said. But during one group’s tour, Reger had some competition from above when one of the Peregrine falcons roosting in the courthouse clock tower snatched a bird for breakfast. It wasn’t long before a burst of feathers came floating down from the clock tower. Once inside the courthouse, the students got to listen to cases presented to the Sixth District Court of Appeals. The lesson there might have been that real court cases aren’t necessarily as exciting as those portrayed on television. But the students sat respectfully with little fidgeting as a case was argued about who was responsible for paying for roadwork and causeway maintenance for Johnson Island. Though the legal arguments were tedious, technical and long-winded, the students sat quietly. One court constable suggested that the sixth graders were likely intimidated by the panel of three robed judges, or by the ornate courtroom with its stained glass ceiling. After sitting through the governmental arm that rules on the law, the students heard from state legislators that make the laws. State Senator Randy Gardner and State Rep. Theresa Gavarone, both R-Bowling Green, talked about their routes to the statehouse. Gardner started out as a teacher, and Gavarone as an attorney and part-owner of Mr. Spots – which seemed to impress…


Wood County healthy, but facing some challenges

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County’s finances are strong – but they are facing some heavy lifting in the next few years. The county is staring down a potential $4.2 million bill for new voting machines, $6 million to renovate the booking area of the county jail, and more than it can afford to fix its road and bridge repairs. But the county commissioners assured their audience at the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce’s State of the County Address on Tuesday that Wood County government is quite healthy. The combination of conservative spending and the highest ever sales tax revenue of $21.7 million last year has positioned the county on solid ground, Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said. Business looking bright Wood County businesses are thriving, with many upping production and updating machinery, Commissioner Craig LaHote said. The issue now is the shortage of employees to fill new positions. “That’s a good problem to have,” he said. LaHote specifically mentioned growth at First Solar in Perrysburg Township, and a $16 million expansion promising 100 jobs at Continental Structural Plastics in North Baltimore – a company that was considered close to failing a few years ago. The numbers at county building inspection reached a record high, Wood Haven Health Care has seen major renovations, glass recycling was reinstated last year, and permanent satellite recycling stations will be opened this summer. Efforts are underway to establish the Toledo Area Water Authority, which would regionalize the Toledo system and potentially serve the northern part of Wood County. “As commissioners, we believe a cooperative approach is best,” LaHote said. However, if Toledo fails to approve the project, Wood County has other options, he added. Expenses on the horizon All electronic voting machines in Ohio must be replaced by the 2020 election. That comes with a hefty price tag of $4.2 million. The commissioners are working with state legislators to find state funding to help with the expense. The county is also facing a $6 million renovation project enlarging the booking area of the Wood County Justice Center. The current booking area is…


Landlords sue city for limiting renters per house

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 23 Bowling Green landlords and three student renters against the city of Bowling Green and its code enforcement officer. The landlords and the students object to a city ordinance that limits the number of unrelated people who can live in a rental property. The landlords reportedly own more than 161 homes that cannot be rented out to more than three unrelated people – even though the homes have four or more bedrooms and ample parking. The three students who signed onto the lawsuit were reportedly threatened with eviction. Leading the lawsuit is Maurice Thompson, of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law in Columbus. Thompson recently represented rural Wood County residents who did not want Utopia pipeline running through their land. He won against the pipeline company. In this lawsuit, Thompson said the city’s ordinance violates the Ohio Constitution by suppressing private property rights and equal protection and imposing vague standards and excessive fines of $500 per day. Thompson is one of the landlords affected by the city ordinance. And the three students are his tenants at his rental property on East Merry Street. Bowling Green City Attorney Mike Marsh said the renter limit has been in place as long as the city zoning – and was upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1974. “He’s claiming the limit is arbitrary,” that it doesn’t take into account the size of the home and the parking space available, Marsh said. That’s true, he agreed. The purpose of the law is to help maintain the density of single-family neighborhoods. “These are traditional single-family homes converted into rental housing,” Marsh said. A handful of other college towns in Ohio have similar ordinances, Thompson said. “Bowling Green is by no means the only city that has this,” he said from his Columbus office on Monday. “But one thing that makes Bowling Green’s unique is that the city claims it is to control population density, yet there are all kinds of exemptions.” Many properties are “grandfathered in,” but which properties…