It was a momentous 2019 in the Dayton region, with a mass shooter killing nine people in the Oregon District in August, Memorial Day tornadoes wreaking havoc across multiple counties and a federal investigation of public corruption unveiled in April.
Dayton Daily News investigations touched all of those major events and more. Here is some of our best work.
The Daily News uncovered multiple red flags in past behavior and comments by Connor Betts, the 24-year-old Bellbrook man who opened fire in the Oregon District on Aug. 4. Betts was shot to death by police after killing nine people, including his sister, and wounding multiple others.
The newspaper found that Betts had been removed from a school bus by police in high school because he had a created a hit list of classmates he wanted to kill, he held a knife near someone’s throat and he talked about the possibility of opening fire inside Timothy’s bar on Brown Street.
The Daily News, WHIO-TV and multiple other news organizations are currently fighting in court for the release of Betts’ Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school records. The office of Ohio Attorney General David Yost filed a friend-of-the-court brief this month supporting the news organization’s efforts.
During the shooting Betts wore body armor and used a 100-round drum ammunition magazine that a friend allegedly purchased for him.
The shooting has led to calls for the state to improve background checks and crack down on high capacity ammunition magazine and assault-style weapons. Gun legislation is pending in the Ohio legislature.
The newspaper also found that the state is spending millions to protect students from mass shooters but there is little transparency on how the money is being spent and how effective it is.
Dayton public corruption
Seven people were indicted in a long-term federal investigation of public corruption in the Dayton region announced in April. The allegations mostly involve public contracting, particularly the city of Dayton programs that give preference to disadvantaged companies. The Daily News investigations raised questions about oversight of those problems and lack of safeguards to make sure that the programs are not abused.
The newspaper investigated the wide reach of the federal investigation and also found that some of those indicted faced financial problems. The newspaper also looked at what the city of Dayton is doing to tighten its procedures and policies.
Those indicted include former Dayton City Commissioner Joey D. Williams, who pleaded guilty to a single count of corruptly soliciting a bribe, and former state lawmaker Clayton Luckie, who was sentenced to prison for mail fraud.
Awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to various charges are former city employee RoShawn Winburn, former Trotwood Mayor Joyce Sutton Cameron and Dayton businessmen Steve Rauch and Brian Higgins. Sutton Cameron’s husband, James Cameron, 81, of Trotwood, was indicted but has not yet appeared in court.
A water main break in one of the city of Dayton’s water lines located in the embankment of the Great Miami River caused a widespread boil advisory and the loss of 150 million gallons of treated water. Even thought the water main that broke was relatively new, experts said the incident pointed to weaknesses in aging water systems. The city has spent about $100 million over the last nine years updating it water system.
The newspaper’s investigations revealed that the city, Montgomery County and a contractor were arguing over who was responsible for the break, which the city said was related to work being done on the Keowee Street bridge replacement project. The county and its contractor dispute that.
Another county-wide boil advisory lasted three days after power outages caused by the June tornadoes led to a loss of water pressure, raising questions about the need for and cost of expensive backup systems.
They city used borrowed generators to get the water system back online,
PFAS contamination of water
Debate heated up over the presence of of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in public water supplies. Officials believe the substance got into city of Dayton and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base groundwater because it was in foam used in firefighter training both on base and at a nearby city training site. City wells where it was detected were shut down and Wright-Patt installed a filter to remove PFAS from water, but debate continues over what levels of the chemical are safe.
The newspaper found that levels in Dayton’s drinking water are well below current federal advisory guidelines but have tested at or above limits established or proposed by other U.S. states. City officials say the water is safe and protected.
In September a state-wide PFAS testing program was announced.
Ohio Parole Board
Daily News stories about the Ohio Parole Board prompted Gov. Mike DeWine to order reviews and reforms. The newspaper investigated issues raised by former state lawmaker Shirley Smith, a Cleveland Democrat, who resigned and said the board was dysfunctional and operated like a “secret society.”
Following the newspaper stories, DeWine and Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Director Annette Chambers-Smith made changes in board training and make-up and added transparency measures.
When Raymond Walters Jr was accused of a crime spree that left two six-year-old girls dead, the Daily News asked what went wrong with Walters’ post-release supervision. Again, DeWine ordered a review and shared its results first with the newspaper.
The newspaper also had an exclusive interview with James Earl Young, a Dayton man who received DeWine’s first pardon and covered DeWine’s plan to offer an expedited pardon project in Ohio.
Dayton School spending
As the city of Dayton schools struggled to improve student performance the Daily News took a hard look at spending. The newspaper found the district does not have a clear plan for spending $30 million budgeted to repair relatively new school buildings.
Some board members criticized the lack of clarity, objecting to borrowing money for repairs without more specific information.
When the newspaper requested more details the school district produced a one-page document listing planned spending totals in 14 general categories but no indication of what buildings would need the repairs.
The newspaper also revealed in March that the district was projected to have a nearly $100 million surplus but there was no consensus on what to do with it.
The school board in June released a three-year, $60 million plan to boost student performance by bringing back high school busing, improving staff pay, adding mental health counselors and making other improvements.
After an increase in the number of nursing homes in the region that received the lowest federal government rating for staffing a Daily News investigation found that those with the lowest ratings tended to also perform worse in health inspections.
The nursing home industry struggles to fill jobs and some resort to using outside agencies to fill jobs. The investigation also found that some nursing homes managed to keep quality up and get higher ratings even though they struggled with staffing shortages.
Youth suicide is on the rise and a Daily News investigation found the need for more consistent screening of teens and adolescents for mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. There also needs to be more training on what risk factors and warning signs to look for and on how to talk about suicide with youth.
Experts said suicide prevention needs to be more proactive and comprehensive and should address the root causes of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Top officials of now-closed Springboro pharmaceutical distributor Miami-Luken were indicted the federal government in 2019 and accused of shipping millions of opioid pills to West Virginia while ignoring signs that the drugs were being diverted and abused.
The case is pending in federal court against Miami-Luken, its former president Anthony Rattini and compliance officer James Barclay, and two West Virginia pharmacists. All pleaded not guilty to one count each of conspiring to distribute controlled substances.
A newspaper investigation found documents and data showing that the company exceeded thresholds it sent for shipping pills to the pharmacies and continued shipping the pills even after becoming aware of multiple red-flags.
After a missing 14-year-old girl was found with a man in Springboro the newspaper looked at the problem of human trafficking and the role internet sites play in helping traffickers lure vulnerable victims.
There were 242 human trafficking investigations leading to 80 arrests and 61 successful criminal convictions in the state in 2018, the investigation found.