Thursday, June 27, 2002

Tristate A.M. Report

Man gets 18 months for cemetery theft

        The former operator of a Northside cemetery was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in prison for failing to maintain its endowment and looting its maintenance and upkeep fund.

        Robert Merkle, 62, who describes himself as “an unordained Methodist minister” and had been convicted on two counts of theft and one count of failing to maintain the endowment fund, stole $93,000 from the maintenance account of Wesleyan Cemetery between 1995 and 1999.

        During a rambling statement before visiting Judge John O'Connor in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, Mr. Merkle said: “I think we put forth a wholesome effort to make the cemetery succeed. We didn't try to sneak anything or pull anything.”

        Judge O'Connor told Mr. Merkle his crimes had the consequence of disrespecting “the deceased as well as the living.”

        Betty Krieg of Cleves, who has family members buried there, said she thought Mr. Merkle's sentence should have been longer. “I feel he should have received a year for every dollar he took from our loved ones. He can never replace what he took from us,” she said.

Officer back on duty after off-duty pursuit

        A Cincinnati police officer is back on duty after the Hamilton County prosecutor's office ruled that his off-duty pursuit was not a criminal act.

        Officer Joshua Phillips, 27, a four-year veteran of the department, got his police powers back. He was transferred to a different police district when he went back on patrol Sunday.

        Officer Phillips remains under investigation for getting involved in a pursuit in his personal vehicle and for allegedly running into the driver with his truck when the man got out to run away.

        The driver, Gregory Orr, of Colerain Township, is suing the city, alleging that Officer Phillips violated his rights.

AK Steel suit claims racial discrimination

        Sixteen African-Americans claimed in a federal lawsuit Wednesday that they were passed over for jobs at AK Steel Corp. because of their race.

        The class-action lawsuit says that the job applicants sought work at the steel company's Middletown and Ashland, Ky., plants between September 2001 and May.

        The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, contends that the applicants were qualified for jobs, but none was hired. They accuse AK Steel of engaging in “systemic racial discrimination in hiring.”

        “Defendant intentionally discriminates against African-American applicants and arbitrarily denies them employement in positions for which they are qualified,” the lawsuit states.

        A spokesman for AK Steel declined comment Wednesday, saying company officials had not seen the lawsuit.

Charge: Man stole thousands at car show

        HAMILTON — A Dayton, Ohio, man is facing a felony theft charge after more than $41,000 in cash was taken from a business trailer at a car show on Saturday.

        Jack Allen, 45, surrendered at the Middletown Police Department on Tuesday.

        Butler County sheriff's deputies said the cash was reported taken from a trailer at a four-wheeler parts show in Madison Township. Deputies spotted Mr. Allen leaving the show, and pulled him over. When he refused to allow a search of the vehicle, they let him go but towed the car until a search warrant could be obtained.

        A search of the vehicle turned up $39,000 in cash. A warrant was issued for Mr. Allen's arrest.

Part of I-275 at exit for Milford collapses

        A section of northbound Interstate 275 at Ohio 28, the Milford exit, in Clermont County collapsed this afternoon, reducing traffic to one lane.

        Northbound traffic was already down to two lanes because of road construction. The roadway collapse occurred about 4 p.m., an ARTIMIS spokeswoman said.

        Ohio Department of Transportation crews will be working overnight to repair the roadway.

Jury gets case in murder retrial

        The jury in the retrial of Montez Taylor, who is charged with murder in a shooting last summer, began deliberations Wednesday after receiving instructions from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Fred Cartolano.

        Judge Cartolano ordered the retrial after another jury deadlocked earlier this month.

        In that trial, two black jurors said they did not believe witnesses positively identified Mr. Taylor as the killer in a July Pleasant Ridge shooting that left two dead, while the other 10 white jurors did.

        Mr. Taylor, who is black, is charged with two counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of Clem Turner III, 20, of Mount Auburn, and Lornie P. Starkey, 22, of Kennedy Heights. The men were killed after a car chase.

        If convicted, Mr. Taylor faces the death penalty.

Developer sues Deerfield over land deal

        LEBANON — A Warren County developer has sued Deerfield Township, saying trustees broke their agreement when they backed out of a real estate deal allowing the company to buy 104 acres of prime land off Mason-Montgomery Road.

        Meridian Land Group Ltd., which planned to build 230 upscale homes at the Fleckenstein Farm, filed suit in Warren County Common Pleas Court last week, accusing the township of breach of contract and asking a judge to decide whether their agreement was valid.

        The township accepted Meridian's bid in January 2001 to buy the property for $4.9 million, or roughly $47,900 an acre, contingent on zoning approval and other conditions.

        Meridian contends that the company met all the township's conditions for the property, but that township officials refused to close the sale and eventually would not discuss the matter.

Lebanon raising water, sewer rates

        LEBANON — City Council approved water and sewer rate increases in a 6-0 vote Tuesday night.

        Beginning Aug. 1, the average homeowner's monthly water bill will rise from $11.58 to $15.40.

        Monthly sewer rates will go from $14.60 to $19.42, compared with an average regional rate of about $21.50.

        The ordinance also raises rates an additional 3 percent to 5 percent annually through 2010. The increases are to pay for an estimated $33.5 million in repairs and upgrades.

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