Eleven stories that shaped 2017 in northwest Ohio

Eleven stories that shaped 2017 in northwest Ohio
(Source: WTOL)

(WTOL) - As all of northwest Ohio looks forward to 2018, it is important to remember the significant stories that defined 2017 as a memorable year in Toledo as well as the surrounding areas.

In 2017, old issues like flooding in Findlay and algae blooms on Lake Erie converged with significant changes like the development of downtown Toledo and the last Cherokee rolling off the Jeep assembly line in north Toledo.

There were stories of tragedy and loss, of hope and inspiration, of unspeakable crimes and of communities bonding together. With so many great and diverse stories, limiting this list to only 11 stories perhaps cannot describe the significance of this year.

However, our hope is that this list serves not only as a way to remember the past, but also serve as a way to better our community, one story at a time.

1) July Flooding

In mid-July, the First Alert Weather Team predicted torrential rain, particularly in the southern counties of northwest Ohio. The Blanchard River overflowed in Findlay with water spilling onto downtown streets. The river eventually crested at 17 feet, the fourth-highest in the its history. At the height of the flooding on July 13, the river closed a number of roads, swallowed cars, invaded homes and caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

Feature Story: Findlay resident making the best of historic flooding near his home

The worst of the flooding hit the village of Carey, which saw nearly six inches of rain in just 12 hours. Much of the downtown area was underwater. In all, the flood affected 60 homes and 15 businesses in the village. It was the worst flood in Carey since 2013.

2) Last Jeep Cherokee Rolls of Toledo Assembly Plant

Jeep and Toledo have become synonymous with each other, beginning with World War II when the Glass City produced the original Jeep Willys MB. Over time, Jeep turned out more vehicles including the Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Cherokee. In September of 2015, Fiat Chrysler announced the Jeep Wrangler will continue production in Toledo while the Jeep Cherokee would be moving. The Scrambler, a pickup vehicle which was unveiled in November of 2017, will eventually take the Cherokee's place.

At 5 p.m. on April 6, the last Jeep Cherokee rolled off the assembly line, making the end of an area in Toledo's history with the Jeep brand. While the Cherokee was a big seller, the new pickup vehicle is slated to begin production in 2019. With a new vehicle hitting the market, along with a redesigned Wrangler, local Jeep dealers remain confident that the Jeep brand's relationship with Toledo will continue for years to come.

3) WTOL and St. Jude give away $400,000 home to lucky donor

Those that give to a charitable cause rarely do so for personal gain. They do it out love for people or passion for a cause. But rewarding someone for charity is nearly as heartwarming as the act of charitable giving itself. That is why WTOL and St. Jude Children's Hospital teamed up for the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway.

Workers broke ground in February on the home and completed it in July, with local businesses offering time, materials and money to help make the house perfect. Meanwhile, people bought raffle tickets at $100 to not only have a chance to win the home, but have their money used to save a child's life.

Feature Story: Former St. Jude patient beats cancer, becomes doctor

On August 10, WTOL announced that grandmother Anna Garza was the winner of the $400,000 home in Perrysburg. She found out only after we showed up at her home to congratulate her, as she was studying for school during the announcement.

Garza herself said it best: "Everybody give to charity, it comes right back to you."

4) Toledo's Mayoral Election

In 2017, the city of Toledo had a decision to make between two philosophies that seemed similar on the surface, but represented a deeper divide within the city.

In the 2017 election, democratic mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson hoped to retain her office against fellow democrat Wade Kapszukiewicz, Republican Tom Waniewski and the radical and persistent Opal Covey. Both Waniewski and Covey lost in the primary, leaving Kapszukiewicz to face off against Hicks-Hudson in the general election.

Hicks-Hudson ran on a platform that focused on her achievements with the growth of Toledo during her brief term while Kapszukiewicz ran on a platform of change. While Hicks-Hudson had the official backing of the party, Kapszukiewicz acquired several endorsements from local unions and former opponent Tom Wanieski.

On November 7, the citizens officially cast their votes and Kapszukiewicz was declared the winner. He will officially be sworn into office January 2.

5) Andersons closes retail stores

The Andersons retail stores were a staple of northwest Ohio for generations of shopers, but in January of 2017, the company announced that it would close all of its stores late in June. The announcement shocked not only its customer base, but also the providers who relied on steady sales from the store for revenue.

Liquidation sales began soon after and customers flooded the stores in Toledo, Maumee and beyond for their last chance to shop at a store where many of them grew up shopping.

Special Report: Closing day nears for Andersons retail stores, customers nostalgic

Finally on June 2, the Andersons closed their doors for the last time. There was little left in the stores other than empty shelves, retail furniture and a scrapbook full of memories for generations of loyal customers shoppers.

6) Algae bloom in the Maumee River

While algae blooms are nothing new to Toledo, 2017's Harmful Algae Bloom season brought images that renewed anger within the community. In late-September, algae from Lake Erie began to seep into the Maumee River. At its height, the bloom stretched a mile upstream.

Throughout the season, the city updated the water quality dashboard between 'Clear' and 'Watch,' while adding a chemicals to the water to keep it safe to drink. But as the algae made its way into downtown Toledo, residents voiced frustration and anger with the bloom.

WTOL Special Reports on Lake Erie Algae: How did we get here? / How do we know what we know? / What's the plan?

While the season was finally declared over in early November, residents were left with an indelible image of the third-largest algae bloom on record and a city still struggling to find a permanent solution.

7) Lucas County resident accused in Charlottesville tragedy

Political and social unrest reached a boiling point in August when protesters from a white nationalist group and counter protesters confronted each other in Charlottesville, VA. A riot broke out during the rally, injuring dozens of people. On the afternoon of August 12, Maumee resident James Fields, allegedly drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter protesters, killing Heather Heyer.

For some, the death of Heyer and the rally itself, was a call to action as more protests marched through American street. For most Americans however, it was a time to call for peace and healing of wounds that were first opened during the nation's founding and continue to bleed to this day.

As for Fields, he faces ten felony charges including first-degree murder in Virginia.

8) Ray Abou Arab Trial

In January of 2014, Ray Abou Arab set a fire that killed two Toledo firefighters and shook the city to its core. For the next three years, the families of Stephen Machcinski and James Dickman waited for justice and a trial that never seemed to come. Finally in April of 2017, after several motions and pre-trial hearings, the murder trial against Abou Arab got underway.

Testimony began on May 1 and continued for more than a week. On May 10, a TPD detective accidentally divulged the results of Abou Arab's lie detector test, which was not supposed to be heard by the jury, forcing Judge Stacy Cook to immediately halt the trial and declare a mistrial the next day. The prosecution offered Abou Arab a plea deal requiring Abou Arab to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and spend 20 years in prison.

The prosecution decided to offer the deal for several reasons including the cost of beginning a new trial and the emotional burden a second round of testimony would do to the family. Abou Arab is now serving his time at the London Correction Facility in central Ohio.

9) Toledo pastors accused of child sex trafficking

On April 7, the Toledo community was shocked when they learned the news that two pastors, Cordell Jenkins and Anthony Haynes, were indicted on federal child sex trafficking charges. The graphic details released by the U.S. Justice Department disgusted the community and caused a renewed outrage against sex trafficking in the Toledo-area.

Special Report: UT's Human Trafficking Seminar brings people from all over the world

In October, a third pastor, Kenneth Butler, was also accused of sex trafficking in the case.

Meanwhile, Cordell Jenkins's wife Laura Lloyd-Jenkins, was forced to resign from her position from the child services board and later removed from her role as county administrator. In mid-December, Lloyd-Jenkins was formally indicted on obstruction charges related to the case.

10) Downtown Development

Throughout 2017, Toledo's downtown district continued the growth that added a new draw to the city. This year, restaurants like the Chop House opened as well as the long-awaited Renaissance Hotel. In addition, Middlegrounds Metropark opened under the Anthony Wayne Bridge and Promenade Park opened along Summit Street.

Robert Easter Jr. retained his IBF championship belt at the Huntington Center. The city implemented DORA as well, allowing patrons to drink alcohol outside of bars with a clear container.

The city expects growth to continue downtown with more businesses investing in downtown as well as the return of JeepFest.

11) ProMedica moves headquarters to downtown Toledo

Perhaps the single most important development in Toledo in 2017 was ProMedica moving its headquarters to the downtown district. The healthcare giant announced their intention to move downtown in 2014 and broke ground at their headquarters the following year. The biggest part of their plan was to renovate the historic steam plant along the Maumee River.

The headquarters was ready by August of this year and officially opened on August 28.  Since the grand opening, downtown has seen a boom in business as well as more businesses, including the YMCA.  ProMedica announced a $50 million investment in the city in October and will also be the sponsor for concerts at Promenade Park.

Other significant stories this year not making our list include:

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