A high-speed chase in September resulted in the death of a Spencerville man. (Photo submitted)
A high-speed chase in September resulted in the death of a Spencerville man. (Photo submitted)

VAN WERT – Each year we take a look back at some of the top stories of the year.

As always, the Top 10 is subjective, but I do use a few tools to determine what the most important stories are for readers. First, I use our website’s analytics tool to see what stories were viewed the most. Then, I take a look at Facebook to see what stories had the most shares and comments. It’s important for me to include stories in this Top 10 that had the biggest impact on Van Wert – stories that mattered most to the community.

The Top 10 ends today. Here are the #2 and #1 stories of 2019: 

#2 – High-speed chase ends in man’s death

Stories relating to accidents often gain the most attention by citizens, but one, in particular, took the community by surprise and had many talking. In September, a high-speed chase ended in the unfortunate death of a Spencerville man.

The chase began in Spencerville when a police officer attempted to stop an individual operating a semi-truck due to a criminal complaint involving the operator. The operator, however, refused to stop.

The individual was later identified as 46-year-old Terry Pierce Jr. Pierce was driving a stolen GLM transport semi-tractor.

Pierce fled throughout Allen County and eventually entered U.S. 30 westbound near Delphos. During the course of the pursuit, multiple attempts were made to stop Pierce via negotiators over the phone, stop sticks, shooting remaining tires and vehicle maneuvers. Pierce refused all orders to stop and made multiple and repeated threats to kill people.

While fleeing on U.S. 30 westbound, Pierce drove into the eastbound lanes of travel and continued to travel west against oncoming traffic. At that time, pursuing officers determined the operator and semi were an imminent threat to the safety of citizens and made the determination to neutralize the threat by firing on Pierce.

The semi cab eventually came to a complete stop in the eastbound lanes of travel near the intersection of U.S. 30 and Feasby Wisener Road in Van Wert County.

SWAT officers were the only ones to fire on Pierce.

In phone negotiations released later, Pierce expressed that life had not been going well and stated that the only way he was going to stop was when he was dead.

#1 – Trouble in the County

In August, the Van Wert County Sheriff’s Office announced an investigation into alleged criminal activity involving the Van Wert County Auditor’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office had received a complaint of possible criminal activities within the Auditor’s Office. Sheriff Tom Riggenbach contacted the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to request they conduct a criminal investigation into allegations that were made.

In November, Van Wert County Auditor Philip Baxter and Deputy Auditors Julienne Rolsten and Juliann Zinn were all indicted on various charges stemming from a breaking and entering allegation involving the Van Wert Treasurer’s Office. The trio appeared in the Van Wert Court of Common Pleas where they all pled “not guilty” to the charges.

Baxter was handed indictments for breaking and entering, a felony of the fifth degree; intimidation, a misdemeanor of the first degree; and unauthorized use of property, a felony of the fifth degree.

Rolsten was handed indictments for breaking and entering, a felony of the fifth degree; tampering with records, a felony of the third degree; and unauthorized use of property, a felony of the fifth degree.

Zinn was handed an indictment for breaking and entering, a felony of the fifth degree.

The trio will appear again in court in January for a pre-trial. As part of the sentence, Baxter was released from his Auditor’s duties until the trial is over.

In late November, the County Commissioners announced that retired auditor Nancy Dixion has temporarily stepped back into her position to help get the office sorted out.

Meanwhile, the County Commissioners also hired an outside auditing firm to audit the county financial books in both the Treasurer’s and Auditor’s Offices.

Undoubtedly, the trouble occurring in county offices was the biggest story of 2019 in Van Wert and will likely continue to be the biggest story into 2020.