2011, The Year In Review

December 31, 2011 by staff 

2011, The Year In Review, The year ended on a sad note with the death of Aliahna Lemmon. Many in the community gathered to search and pray for the missing 9-year-old, only to find out that she likely was killed before she’d been reported missing Dec. 23.

Michael L. Plumadore, a “trusted family friend” was being held without bail on charges of murder, abuse of a corpse and removing a body from the scene of a suspicious death “with intent to hinder a criminal investigation.”

Plumadore, who was said to be taking care of Lemmon and her two sisters in his trailer of the mobile home park they all lived in while their mother was ill, had said he last saw the little girl at around 6 a.m. Dec. 23. Through a miscommunication, he learned the girl was not with her mother, he said. She was reported missing late that night.

Police and others searched a five-mile radius, missing posters went up and people gathered near the mobile home park for a candlelight vigil. Missing were Plumadore and Lemmon’s mother and stepfather, who were being questioned again. Within hours of the vigil, people learned that the girl’s remains had been found in a freezer at Plumadore’s mobile home as well as in a trash bin of a nearby business that Plumadore was on camera visiting in the early morning of Dec. 23.

Plumadore allegedly said he killed the girl with a brick early Dec. 22, put her body in a freezer and later that night sawed apart her body.

Many questions still remain in the case.

Harry Bails’ name bounces worldwide

What started as a simple effort at civic involvement turned into a national punch line. In January, the administration of Mayor Tom Henry set up a website for the public to offer suggestions in the naming of the new government building at 200 E. Berry St. Soon someone decided that the name of a late former mayor might be nice: Harry Bails (pronounced “balls,” of course, or there wouldn’t be a story), who served the city for four terms after being elected in 1934, 1938, 1942 and 1951. Though the Harry Bails Government Center was a runaway favorite with 23,817 votes – earning mention on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s TV show – in March, Henry announced the new name, Citizens Square. Henry said they wanted to choose a name that would reflect the historic unification of the city and the county in one office complex. Henry said to use Bails’ name would honor only one man’s contributions to the community.

Election drama

Sometimes getting onto the ballot is the hard part. But when your own party doesn’t support you after you win, there’s a problem. In May, Tommy Schrader came out of nowhere to win a City Council at-large seat in the primary, only to lose his spot on the Nov. 8 ballot after Kevin Knuth, on behalf of the Allen County Democratic Party, challenged his qualifications. The Allen County Election Board disqualified him because he had been living in Wisconsin for weeks before the primary and even voted in the Green Bay mayoral election.

Later, things got heated before the general election when Republican Paula Hughes threatened to sue if Mayor Tom Henry didn’t retract and apologize for campaign mail distributed by the Indiana Democratic Party that alleged “Paula Hughes didn’t pay her taxes.” Hughes’ attorney said in a letter to Henry that the statements were “patently false,” defamed Hughes’ character and implied that she was a criminal. So far, weeks after voters decided to keep Henry in office, no word from either side on the issue.

Harrison developer gets FINAL final deadline

Developers of the Harrison secured funding Aug. 31 – barely meeting a deadline to negotiate a loan in a breakthrough that could allow the delay-plagued project to move forward. Under a nonbinding agreement formed in June and meant to bring the $18 million residential, commercial and office building to completion, the city and its private-sector development partners faced a deadline to reach a deal with the bank. In June, Henry said construction would start by Nov. 30. So far, the city has prepped the area along Ewing Street and Jefferson Boulevard, but no groundbreaking has been set. If project is finished by March 2013, as recorded in a memoranda of understanding, it will be nearly four years late.

Air disasters

James Ken “Jimmy” Leeward, 74, a stunt pilot who had grown up in Fort Wayne, died Sept. 16 at an air show in Reno, crashing his World War II-era racing aircraft into a crowd of spectators. Eleven people, including Leeward, were killed when his P-51 hit the ground at 400 mph as thousands of spectators in the grandstands watched. Leeward grew up in Fort Wayne. His father, Al, owned Leeward Aeronautical Services at Baer Field, where Leeward worked in his teens, having gotten his pilot’s license. Leeward moved to Ocala, Fla., in 1962 to start the Leeward Air Ranch, a residential air park.

Leeward’s accident followed one in June that killed Dr. Stephen Hatch, 46, and his wife, Kimberly, 44, and left his son, Austin, severely injured. Stephen Hatch, an anesthesiologist and partner in Pain Management Associates who started Smith Field Air Services in 2003, had piloted the plane from Smith Field in Fort Wayne on June 24 before it crashed in Charlevoix, Mich. Austin, a junior-to-be at Canterbury High School and this year’s News-Sentinel PrepSports Player of the Year in basketball, remained hospitalized for several weeks but eventually returned to school.

In 2003, Stephen Hatch’s first wife, Julie, 38, and their daughter Lindsay, 11, and son, Ian, 5, were killed in a plane crash that he and Austin survived.

Hatch’s Smith Field Air Services continued on in August, when Sweetwter’s owner Chuck Surack launched Sweet Aviation. Then on Nov. 3, Surack and five others suffered minor injuries after a crash of the single-engine Eurocopter EC130 he was flying to Indianapolis from Fort Wayne. The helicopter had encountered heavy rain and tried to divert to Noblesville Airport but crashed on its side in a harvested cornfield a few hundred feet behind a home. Surack returned to work the next day.

An $80 million legacy

After months of meetings, which included public hearings, a task force said in September it still didn’t have clear suggestions for how the city might use nearly $80 million from the lease and sale of the old City Light utility. Legacy Fort Wayne members told City Council that their report will be delayed as they go through 900 suggestions. However, the group did recommend that the mayor and the city support three initiatives – core economic investments meant to spur job growth, development of downtown and riverfronts, and support of youth/prep sports – while hoping to leave some money in a trust to potentially be awarded each year.

The city will get about $39 million over the next 15 years, with a $5 million down payment from Indiana Michigan Power, for the sale of the rights to the former City Light utility, while the city had already banked about $38 million from leasing the utility since the 1970s. In return, I&M becomes the exclusive electric-power provider in the utility’s service area in the city.

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