Canal Winchester uses minnows as well as pesticides in mosquito battle

As urban forester Dick Miller hoisted 50 pounds of minnows and waded into muddy wetlands, he swatted away mosquitoes buzzing in his ear. He slit the bag open and released thousands of tiny fish into the water, freeing them to do what they do best: eat and kill.

Instead of pesticides and chemicals, Canal Winchester is using a more-natural approach to get rid of pesky mosquitoes for the summer. Members of the city’s urban forestry department released 11,000 fathead minnows into five wetland areas and ponds around the city this week in hopes of decreasing the mosquito count during a particularly wet and hot season. The minnows — which Miller called “voracious eaters” — consume mosquito larvae in the water before they mature.

The city’s program is the only one of its kind in the area and complements what Franklin County already does to prevent mosquito-population growth, such as spraying pesticides. Miller said the city has been releasing minnows for three years, and he believes the approach is more efficient — and definitely more natural.

“When you fog, within minutes, it’s on the ground, and it’s not killing anything after that,” Miller said. “It all helps, but with the minnows, you’re releasing a native fish in their native habitat in their native state to do what they do best without any chemicals or pesticides.”

Miller said he can’t quantify the program’s results, but he said it’s so simple that it was worth a try. It’s relatively cheap, too, at $425 for about 11,000 fish. In comparison, Canal Winchester paid $6,200 to the Franklin County Health Department for mosquito control in 2017.

“For a few hundred dollars and a little bit of time, why not?” he said. “How could it not help?”

Summer hikes or barbecues might be disturbed by a larger mosquito population this year because of a particularly wet few months. According to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, June’s temperatures and precipitation have been above average. Rainfall and heat create ideal breeding conditions for some species of mosquitoes that lay their eggs in standing water.

Fortunately, Miller said, most mosquitoes are simply a nuisance.

The Ohio Department of Health has tested 27,000 mosquitoes in 33 counties this year. Of those, six tested positive for West Nile virus, a disease carried by infected mosquitoes that can be deadly. Three of those positive tests were in Franklin County. There has been no documented human case of West Nile in Ohio this year, said Richard Gary, the state public-health entomologist.

The Franklin County Health Department — whose jurisdiction is the entire county outside Columbus and Worthington — uses a variety of methods to deter growth of the mosquito population. The department targets larvae early by locating standing water and releasing bacteria that affects only mosquito eggs. But as the summer goes on and mosquitoes hatch, the county begins fogging with pesticides. The county also responds to calls about high mosquito activity and will spray specific areas.

People who do not want pesticides in their neighborhood can fill out a no-spray request on the county health department’s website. Columbus Public Health has a similar request process for city residents. Some people prefer this option if they have specific concerns about allergies, health or the environment.

“You can’t ever get rid of mosquitoes,” Miller said. “They’ll always be there, but we can manage them as best we can.”

Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on June 14, 2018.

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Newark foster parent charged in 5-year-old’s death

A Newark foster parent has been charged with child endangerment and potentially faces more-serious charges following the death of a 5-year-old he planned to adopt.

Kenneth S. Schulz, 29, was arrested June 4 after 5-year-old Nathaniel Gard was taken to Licking Memorial Hospital with multiple injuries consistent with physical abuse.

Nathaniel died Wednesday at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus of injuries that included severe head trauma, detached retinas, retinal hemorrhages, bruises and two cuts on the genitals, according to the Licking County’s Prosecutor’s Office.

Schulz was being held at the Licking County jail with bail set at $500,000.

Licking County Assistant Prosecutor Paula Sawyers said her office will take the second-degree felony charge to a grand jury this week. The office could consider other charges after reviewing autopsy reports from the Franklin County Coroner’s Office, she said.

Nathaniel and a biological brother were placed in Schulz’s Jefferson Road home in Newark as a pre-adoptive placement in December 2017, Sawyers said. The boys’ biological parents had no parental rights, and they were in permanent custody of the Department of Job and Family Services. In addition to his brother, Nathaniel is survived by five other siblings.

Nathaniel’s brother has been removed from the home.

Schulz and his partner, who is not facing any charges, were licensed as foster parents through Caring for Kids, a private agency.

Caring for Kids follows guidelines set by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services that licensed foster parents must follow, the agency’s Director of Domestic Adoptions Jill Davies said. The process includes full background checks, home visits and required training that usually takes three to four months to complete, she said.

Davies would not say whether Schulz and his partner had previously hosted foster children, citing confidentiality reasons. She said the agency is fully cooperating with the investigation.

“We are very, very saddened by this whole tragic event,” Davies said.

Originally published for The Columbus Dispatch on June 11, 2018.

Thousands expected at Christian-focused home-school convention

Kristin Marino drove two hours from her hometown of Orrville in Wayne County to attend “Teach Them Diligently,” Columbus’ first Christian-focused, home-school convention.

“I came to get some encouragement from other teachers and moms like me,” Marino said. “My time with my kids is so short. I want to be involved in their lives as much as possible.”

Marino, 30, feels strongly about home schooling her three children, so she made the trip from northeastern Ohio to the Greater Columbus Convention Center to attend the three-day event that began Thursday.

She was among 5,000 like-minded parents and students at the convention, which includes workshops, speakers and an expo featuring vendors of curriculum and educational materials. Many of the workshops deal with faith.

Vendors at the expo selling history or science curriculum dealing with mankind’s beginning are required to sign a statement of faith of the Bible and young-Earth creationism — a belief that God created the Earth and humans on a much shorter timeline than the theory of evolution. Vendors dealing with other subject areas, such as math or grammar, are not required to do so.

Though the event is organized by a Christian organization, people of all faiths or no faith who are interested in home schooling are welcome, said David Nunnery, co-founder of Teach Them Diligently, a Christian home-schooling convention organizer based in South Carolina that organizes events across the country.

For the past three years, the Ohio convention has been held in Sandusky. Nunnery said the move to Columbus came about because he could not book the resort in Sandusky for the 2018 dates. He said the group did not want to skip Ohio because of its partnership with Christian Home Educators of Ohio.

The more central location is expected to boost attendance, so the group intends to return to Columbus in 2019.

“We love the community,” Nunnery said. “There’s a lot of home-schoolers in Columbus, and they’re very active. They want us here.”

The Ohio Department of Education does not collect official numbers on home-schooled students because students are required only to notify their home school districts. But the state estimates that more than 30,000 students — about 3 percent of Ohio students — are home-schooled.

Nunnery, who co-founded Teach Them Diligently with his wife, Leslie, said they believe home schooling is a way to foster good relationships between parents and their children.

“If you go to a public school, you’re there for eight hours a day, and then they have sports, and then they go to church and they’re separated in a youth group,” Nunnery said. “Children need engaged parents that they have meaningful relationships with, which are built on time spent together.”

Tickets are $85 for families and $65 for individuals attending all three days of the convention. It’s $65 for a single-day pass.

Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on June 7, 2018.

Former London auditor sentenced for theft in office

A former London city auditor was sentenced Thursday to 28 days in jail and two years of probation following a conviction for theft in office.

Nicholas Szabo, 30, pleaded guilty to the fourth-degree felony May 9 after failing to pay more than $3,000 for his government health benefits and giving an unauthorized pay raise to a colleague.

He will be granted work release privileges while serving his jail sentence. If he violates his terms of probation, Madison County Common Pleas Court Judge Eamon Costello said Szabo could face up to 18 months in prison.

“There are consequences for those who abuse their positions of trust for personal gain,” state Auditor Dave Yost said in a written statement. “This man clearly thought he was clever enough to sidestep the law without drawing attention. But he wasn’t, and now he’ll answer for his crimes.”

State auditors discovered that months after Szabo became London’s auditor on Jan. 1, 2016, he gave a payroll clerk a copy of an old city ordinance requiring the city to pay all health-insurance costs. He was the deputy auditor when a new law voided that ordinance, so officials said he knew about the change.

In May 2016, he also gave an unauthorized pay raise to Debbie Elliott, a clerk in his office at the time, but the error was caught by the city law director and reversed. He tried and failed to get Elliott a raise during collective bargaining. Even though he was unauthorized to do so, he then signed a memorandum of understanding in December 2016 to give Elliot a 4 percent raise, which cost the city $2,000.

Szabo resigned in December when faced with the allegations.

Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on June 7, 2018.

Investigators hope bones reveal identity of serial killer’s victim

She’s the one nobody knows.

After serial killer Shawn Grate, 41, was sentenced to death Friday in Ashland County for the aggravated murder of two women, there was a feeling of closure and relief among family members and their communities.

But there’s a woman whose family and friends don’t even know she was murdered.

More than a decade after police uncovered her body in a roadside ditch in Marion County, Ohio authorities are expanding the search to identify another woman Grate confessed to killing. He was not charged with her murder and told investigators he believed her to be a magazine saleswoman, but did not know her identity. Authorities believed Grate when he told them he said he dumped her body in a roadside ditch off Victory Road and returned months later to burn it, leaving nothing but her bones.

Recent scientific discovery regarding those bones may have helped authorities uncover where she was from, getting them one step closer to finding out about the life of a woman who met a tragic end.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Marion County Sheriff Tim Bailey requested help from law enforcement in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas in a public bulletin sent Tuesday morning. The request was made after recent isotope analysis of the victim’s bones by the University of South Florida, where the remains were sent for testing.

Oxygen isotope values indicate she was likely born in one of the six states, according to the bulletin. The test also revealed she likely spent the last five years of her life in Texas, Florida or the Caribbean. A full DNA profile has been generated from her remains, but no matches have been found. The victim was 15 to 30 years old at the time of her death. She had brown hair, was between 5-foot-3 inches and 5-foot-9 inches and weighed 100-150 pounds.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said expanding the search to those states increases the likelihood of someone recognizing the woman’s face based on a previous sketch and a facial reconstruction created last year. The bulletin requests that authorities in those states also examine missing-persons reports and contact the Marion County Sheriff’s Office if any case is a potential match.

“We want to do everything we can to notify the relatives and friends,” DeWine said. “We feel a moral obligation to do everything we can do (to identify the victim.)”

Bailey said his office has spent the last 11 years dealing with the frustration over the the case, following leads all over the country and even the world. He remains hopeful about discovering her identity.

“We are going to continue to persevere and work this with the idea that eventually, somewhere, somehow, we’re going to find out who this young woman is,” he said.

Grate was arrested on Sept. 13, 2016, after the bodies of Elizabeth Griffith and Stacey Stanley were found in his Ashland house. Their bodies were discovered after a third woman Grate abducted was able to escape and call the police on his phone while he was sleeping. Since his arrest, Grate confessed to three additional murders, including the Marion County woman and two other Richland County women. The Richland County Prosecutor’s Office is currently reviewing the Richland County cases.

Anyone with information on the identity of the female found in Marion County is urged to call the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 740-845-2406 or Marion County Sheriff’s Detective Chris Utley at 740-382-8244 ext. 5120.

Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on June 6, 2018.

9 anti-poverty protesters arrested after blocking State Street Downtown

Nine people were arrested Monday after blocking traffic on State Street during a protest Downtown by the Ohio Poor People’s Campaign.

The protest was part of the fourth consecutive week of the organization’s actions advocating for legislation that better assists people in poverty, said Ohio Poor People’s Campaign co-chairman Larry Bresler.

Every Monday, activists have gathered for an hour-long rally at 2 p.m. outside the Statehouse to bring attention to poverty in Ohio and nationwide. Monday’s rally was followed by nine people sitting in the middle of State Street to bring attention to the lack of adequate healthcare for many Americans, Bresler said.

“It’s a very organized, very strategic effort to draw attention to the fact that we the people hire those people who make laws by voting them in,” Ohio Poor People’s Campaign co-chairwoman Susan Smith said. “We’re going to hold them accountable because we are tired of people being poor.”

The nine people volunteered to take part in the protest on the street knowing they would be arrested, Smith said.

“Part of nonviolent, direct action is the willingness to sacrifice your own freedom for the freedom of other people,” Smith said.

The group has two more weeks of rallies and actions planned Monday afternoons outside the Statehouse, leading up to a national rally in Washington, D.C., on June 23.

Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on June 4, 2018.

Group plans alternative Pride celebration

Some local activists have a message for people of color within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community: “Pick a Pride.”

Ariana Steele, the co-founder of Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus, is offering an alternative to the annual Stonewall Columbus Pride festival and parade which draws hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people and their supporters Downtown. Steele’s group is planning its own event, Columbus Community Pride, on June 16 — the same day as Stonewall’s parade.

The move to create a separate Pride event, which will take place at Mayme Moore Park in the King-Lincoln neighborhood, was prompted by a series of events last year that Steele said illustrated Stonewall Columbus’ inability to accommodate marginalized groups within the LGBTQ community.

Last summer, four protesters — two of whom regularly attended meetings of Steele’s group — were arrested after interrupting the Stonewall Columbus Pride parade. Steele said the four were protesting the lack of intersectionality — a term used to describe accommodating multiple identities within a movement — as well as the “overwhelming” volume of police at Stonewall Columbus Pride.

″(Collaboration with police) makes it not inclusive because people of color historically have had bad experiences with police,” Steele said. “By collaborating with the police for their Pride … Stonewall is showing they’re not taking into account the needs of people of color in their community.”

Three of the protesters were sentenced in March to community service and probation. A fourth protester was accused of reaching for an officer’s gun during the incident. That case is still pending.

Steele and BQIC co-founder Dkeama Alexis began thinking about changes after the arrests. They organized protests in support of the #BlackPride4 and began planning what they call a more-inclusive Pride festival.

Columbus Community Pride kicks off June 2 with a dance party at The Summit, 2210 Summit St., and will be followed by a series of educational events leading up to the June 16 festival.

Through fundraising, all events will be free to the public.

“We make an explicit effort to hear the most-marginalized voices,” Steele said. “When I say marginalized, I mean folks who are black and trans and poor and disabled and immigrants.”

BQIC hired a black, trans-owned security company to monitor the festival. There will be about eight security guards, and they will be armed, Steele said.

Unlike Stonewall Columbus, Columbus Community Pride organizers say they will not accept corporate sponsors.

Stonewall Columbus officials say the the scope of the annual Pride festival requires a police presence.

The annual festival attracts 500,000 to 700,000 people, so security is not only a city requirement but necessary for protection, said Stonewall Columbus Pride coordinator Sabrina Boykin.

“While I completely understand and respect (BQIC’s) perspective, we still have a need to make sure that the very credible threats we are given every year … are not threats that are carried out,” she said.

Stonewall Columbus was required by the court to testify “involuntarily” during the #BlackPride4 trial and sent a letter requesting leniency in sentencing and no jail time, said Stonewall Columbus Interim Director Deb Steele.

Deb Steele — no relation to Ariana Steele — said Stonewall Columbus is “very much” in support of BQIC’s event and message.

“Stonewall does not have a monopoly on Pride,” Boykin said. “Pride is something that should be experienced in every community. … I think it’s wonderful they’re doing their own Pride.”

But, Boykin said, the growth of the Stonewall Columbus Pride event and having corporate sponsors aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

“It wasn’t that long ago that people were being fired for marching in the parade,” Boykin said. “The fact that we can march proudly with our corporate sponsors is a true testament to how far we’ve come. It’s something I wouldn’t want to take away from those employees.”

Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on June 1, 2018.