8 Dayton Daily News investigations that made a difference in 2020

Nick Latessa, an election operations specialist at the Montgomery County Board of Elections, adds a bracket to secure a power cord within a voting machine safe on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Ohio elections boards were required to meet a number of requirements spelled out in a secretary of state directive to ensure election integrity. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
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Nick Latessa, an election operations specialist at the Montgomery County Board of Elections, adds a bracket to secure a power cord within a voting machine safe on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Ohio elections boards were required to meet a number of requirements spelled out in a secretary of state directive to ensure election integrity. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF

In a year like no other in recent memory, Dayton Daily News reporters have brought you the in-depth reporting and investigations needed to know what is really going on in your community, state and nation.

While keeping readers up-to-date on the stories of the year — the coronavirus pandemic, racial justice protests and the 2020 elections — the newspaper delivered original reporting that made a difference.

Examples include:

Children Services tragedies lead to reforms

Takoda Collins' father ruled competent to stand trial in abuse case
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Takoda Collins' father ruled competent to stand trial in abuse case

After the December 2019 death of 10-year-old Takoda Collins, the Dayton Daily News began investigating holes in the safety net that is supposed to protect children like Takoda. Our investigation found Montgomery County Children Services, Dayton police and others missed warning signs that Takoda was in danger before he was killed, allegedly by his father.

The Dayton Daily News widened its investigation and found Montgomery County Children Services routinely falls short of state standards. And after another child died shortly after involvement with the agency, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered a review.

Meanwhile, the Dayton Daily News exclusively reported that Montgomery County Children Services placed two children in a home with two accused sexual assault suspects. One of the men in the home has since been sentenced to life in prison for abusing one of the children. A criminal investigation of the children services caseworker is ongoing.

ExploreTimeline of Dayton Daily News coverage of children services controversy

Calls for reforms grew, including from a newly formed grassroots group called Takoda’s Call.

In light of the newspaper’s findings, children services has pledged reforms. Some were laid out by Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck, others by the agency itself. State lawmakers are looking at additional changes, some of which may be included in an overhaul of the state’s child welfare system undertaken by DeWine.

The Dayton Daily News will continue digging into systemic failings and holding accountable agencies tasked with keeping children safe.

Victims compensation reforms proposed

Dion Green places a portrait of his father, Derrick Fudge, on Fifth St. in the Oregon District.
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Dion Green places a portrait of his father, Derrick Fudge, on Fifth St. in the Oregon District.

Credit: JIM NOEKLER

Credit: JIM NOEKLER

A Dayton Daily News investigation found that several victims of the Oregon District mass shooting were denied aid from a state victims compensation program because of strict program rules.

This included Dion Green, whose father Derrick Fudge was killed in the Oregon District shooting. Green was denied financial assistance to help with funeral expenses and other costs because Fudge was convicted in 2011 of drug trafficking.

Dayton Daily News investigations this year and in previous years found the state’s victims compensation program routinely denies more claims than it pays out. Claims can be denied because a victim had drugs in his or her system or was accused of a crime, even if those things had nothing to do with their victimization.

The newspaper’s findings prompted lawmakers to propose legislation altering the program so more victims of violent crime would qualify for help. A bill passed the Senate but didn’t get a full vote in the House.

Area lawmakers and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said they will continue discussing potential reforms.

In-depth race and equity reporting

Two young boys take part in a rally for George Floyd Saturday, May 30, in Downtown Dayton. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF
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Two young boys take part in a rally for George Floyd Saturday, May 30, in Downtown Dayton. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

The fatal shooting of Black people by police brought renewed attention this year to issues surrounding race and equity that have long plagued our country and region.

In addition to being on the front lines reporting on protests, we investigated in-depth how Black Miami Valley residents see inequities in the quality of their lives spanning from the cradle to the grave.

ExploreHow to talk with your kids about unrest, racism: ‘Be honest’

Our reporters analyzed and explained how the city of Dayton and other area jurisdictions are adopting changes in how their police operate to help address bias. We tracked how state leaders plan to address these issues, and revealed how a Dayton-area state senator’s comments in a committee hearing offended many Black residents.

The Dayton Daily News will continue to investigate and report on what can be done in the present to overcome racial inequities shaped by the past and create a more equitable future.

Investigating election security

Montgomery County Board of Elections workers audit the results of the Nov. 3 general election.
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Montgomery County Board of Elections workers audit the results of the Nov. 3 general election.

Credit: Josh Sweigart

Credit: Josh Sweigart

This year’s presidential election brought with it unprecedented concerns about voters being able to cast their ballots amid the pandemic, as well as heightened fears of voter fraud.

The Dayton Daily News exhaustively covered changes to the voting process and how voters could be sure their votes were counted, including conducting a test of the U.S. Postal Service that identified some issues that could arise with mail-in ballots.

We also had reporters registered as official poll watchers in battleground Montgomery County to file a full report on exactly how ballots were being processed before Election Night and counted after the polls closed.

ExploreExperts: Ohio voters should be confident in voting security

This was in addition to the normal in-depth reporting the newspaper provides to help voters decide on issues and candidates.

Statehouse bribery scandal

The Dayton Daily News led the way in revealing how federal prosecutors say Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four other powerful Ohio men ran a criminal enterprise amassing cash and political power in exchange for pushing through a nuclear energy bailout.

ExploreHow prosecutors say the Ohio House Speaker built a political machine on a ‘corrupt bargain’

Our statehouse bureau led the way in subsequent reporting on the scandal, including how federal agents raided the home of the chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and that the energy company FirstEnergy Corp. reported it paid $4 million to end a contract with a state regulator.

Most recently, we reported that a nonprofit linked to FirstEnergy Corp. poured more than $13 million into Ohio political groups in 2019, including $100,000 to one tied to former Dayton mayor Rhine McLin, $300,000 to one that backs Gov. Mike DeWine and $75,000 to one that pushed to elect Alice DeWine as Greene County prosecutor.

We will continue to cover the federal court case, unraveling scandal and debate about what state lawmakers should do about the energy company next year.

Revealing threats to our drinking water

Sean Mormino, environmental education and animal care coordinator at the Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center, stands near jugs the staff uses to transport water for animals after PFAS was discovered  in the facility's drinking water system. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
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Sean Mormino, environmental education and animal care coordinator at the Aullwood Audubon Farm Discovery Center, stands near jugs the staff uses to transport water for animals after PFAS was discovered in the facility's drinking water system. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

After a major 2019 water main break and contaminants being found in area groundwater, the Dayton Daily News Path Forward project spent much of 2020 digging into solutions to concerns about the safety and sustainability of our drinking water.

In July, we revealed that Dayton loses billions of gallons of treated water every year to costly water leaks and examined how aging infrastructure causes water loss and what Ohio and Dayton are doing about it.

In November, the newspaper talked to health officials about a PFAS contamination at Aullwood Farm, and why private well owners nearby are being urged to test their water for the contaminants.

Throughout the year, our reporting has kept tabs on steps the city of Dayton is taking to monitor and respond to these issues. This important coverage will continue next year.

Senator calls for action after bus safety investigation

FILE – This Jan. 5, 2020 image from video, provided by KDKA-TV, shows the scene near Greensburg, Pa. along the Pennsylvania Turnpike where five people were killed and dozens were injured in the crash that involved multiple vehicles. (KDKA TV via AP, File)
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FILE – This Jan. 5, 2020 image from video, provided by KDKA-TV, shows the scene near Greensburg, Pa. along the Pennsylvania Turnpike where five people were killed and dozens were injured in the crash that involved multiple vehicles. (KDKA TV via AP, File)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

The Jan. 5, 2020 death of a Dayton fourth grader and another passenger in a motorcoach bus crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike highlighted the federal government’s failure to require retrofitting older tour buses with seat belts and slowness in implementing other safety measures approved by Congress in 2012 in the wake of the fatal 2007 motorcoach bus crash involving a tour bus carrying Bluffton College students in Georgia.

The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly called for the seat belts to be installed on the older motorcoach buses. As of 2016 shoulder and lap belts are required for new motorcoach buses but not older ones or any large school buses. Dayton School Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said it is time for the school district to consider requiring seat belts on its buses.

After our story published, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and John Betts, whose son was killed in the Bluffton crash, held a conference call demanding that the Trump administration release rules implementing the bus safety reforms passed by Congress in 2012.

Dayton city commissioner corruption investigation

Former Dayton City Commissioner Joey Williams (right) outside the federal building in Dayton in January. File photo
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Former Dayton City Commissioner Joey Williams (right) outside the federal building in Dayton in January. File photo

Former Dayton City Commissioner Joey D. Williams was one of seven people and two companies indicted in the federal government’s investigation of Dayton region corruption that became public in 2019.

Williams and two other individuals pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison. Both companies pleaded guilty in exchange for charges being dropped against three of those who were indicted. Sentencing for the companies is scheduled March. One defendant is awaiting trial.

The Dayton Daily News obtained a federal search warrant and supporting documents from the 2015 search of Williams’ home revealing Williams bribery scheme involved a local demolition contractor who Williams agreed to help get city demolition contracts. The contractor ultimately did such poor work that the city withheld payments on those contracts.

City officials said they would implement reforms, which the Dayton Daily News will continue to examine.