Sheriffs seek financial help after Pike County mass murders

The gravesite of Christopher Rhoden Sr., who was killed along with seven other family members in rural Pike County. The three locations where the murders took place remain uninhabited six months after the execution style killings on April 22, 2016. Investigators have released scant information, and no clear motive has been revealed. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Caption
The gravesite of Christopher Rhoden Sr., who was killed along with seven other family members in rural Pike County. The three locations where the murders took place remain uninhabited six months after the execution style killings on April 22, 2016. Investigators have released scant information, and no clear motive has been revealed. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Six months after 8 family members executed, costs mount for investigation, evidence preservation.

Officials in Pike County and sheriffs offices across Ohio are seeking state help to offset the cost of the continuing investigation into the murder of eight people in Pike County six months ago.

The Pike County Sheriff’s Office has tallied more than $135,000 spent just breaking down, moving and storing evidence in the case — a huge cost for a department with an annual budget of $1.6 million.

Investigators relocated four mobile homes from three properties in Pike County to preserve crime scene evidence, as well as numerous other vehicles and items on the properties. A family member estimated they had up to 80 cars.

Pike County has paid $15,000 to a chemical company to house all of this material through mid-May 2017, plus $6,800 treating the property for bed bugs, and additional costs upgrading security at the facility outside of Waverly.

Pike County Commissioner Blaine Beekman said they are asking for $200,000 in state support as they expect the cost to grow.

“It’s a lot of money, and it’s something that isn’t budgeted,” he said. “We don’t know how much longer this is going to go on or how much more it’s going to end up costing.”

The Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association says 39 sheriff’s departments from across Ohio rushed to help, providing seven deputies per shift for six weeks to protect three crime scenes miles apart from each other.

Bob Cornwell, executive director of the sheriffs’ association, said he asked sheriffs to submit reimbursement forms, and he plans to approach state leaders seeing if they can recoup some of the $182,000 total cost to these departments, as well as the $11,000 his organization spent on hotel rooms for deputies.

Cornwell said he is in line behind Pike County, because he knows how desperately they need the money.

“If Pike County can get money first, great. If we can get money second, great,” he said.

“We know if another county needed it, they (Pike County) would have been there too,” he said. “Because that’s what we do.”

Carolyn Best, spokeswoman for Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, said Friday they are in discussion with local law enforcement and the Attorney General’s Office about the cost of the investigation.

“(Rosenberger’s) goal continues to be to ensure that the extra costs associated with the investigation can be taken care of by the state in some way in order to help relieve the county of this added financial burden,” she said.

The lead agency in the investigation is the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Agency spokesman Dan Tierney said the cost of the investigation — including more than 90 state agents and more than 100 pieces of evidence tested — so far fits within their $18 million investigations budget.

“The AG’s office budget annually anticipates we’re going to have to investigate major crimes around the state,” he said.

He said Pike County’s central location allows agents from Columbus, Cincinnati and Athens to not generally require overnight stays.

In an interview Friday, Attorney General Mike DeWine said he expects the General Assembly would try to help offset Pike County’s cost.

“It’s an extraordinary circumstance, could not have been foreseen,” he said. “For a county as small as Pike County, the economic burden has been very, very heavy on the sheriff’s office.”

DeWine said his office will stay in Pike County until they arrest someone and said he is “very confident that we will find who did this.”

“While we don’t have the ability yet to arrest someone or say we’re going to take them to trial, I will tell you I know an awful lot more about Pike County and some of the things that have been going on in Pike County over the years than we ever did before,” he said.

Beekman said while they are only seeking help with outlying expenses of the investigation, the cost of the crimes go far beyond that. He said tension in the community has meant more deputy patrols and increased security at government buildings.

“This is a small county, and when you hear that eight people were literally murdered, it puts a fright into everyone else,” Beekman said, adding that he has noticed a difference as he canvasses neighborhoods this year seeking support in getting re-elected.

“The front doors are not open. It’s different than what it was before,” he said. “Those front doors are kept shut. The insecurity is still there, because we don’t know who did this, and we don’t know if someone is going to do something else.”

Staff Writer Lauren Clark contributed to this report.

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