Akron attorney William Dowling likes helping people, as well as giving legal advice.

Among the highlights of his nearly 40-year legal career is a popular program that guides low-income Akron-area residents through the process of getting their driver’s licenses reinstated.

“We can’t get their licenses back for them, but we can tell them what they have to do,” Dowling said. “I am convinced that we have helped many of them and that, if nothing else, we have demonstrated we care.”

Dowling’s work with the license program and his other pro bono efforts have earned him statewide recognition. He is one of two attorneys who will receive the 2018 John and Ginny Elam Pro Bono Award, an honor given annually by the Ohio State Bar Association. He will attend an awards ceremony in Columbus Thursday.

“Bill deserves this award because he never stops pushing for attorneys to do pro bono work and he also leads with programs and on boards so that the people who need it the most get help,” said Barberton Judge Todd McKenney, who has assisted Dowling with the license program and nominated him for the pro bono award.

The Beacon Journal talked to Dowling about his pro bono work and, in particular, Volunteers Assisting Licensed Individual Drivers (VALID), an effort that has helped more than 2,000 drivers since it started in early 2017. The program has been adopted by the Ohio State Bar Association and may be replicated in other locations across the state.

Q: What was your reaction to learning you had received the pro bono award?

A: I think that any lawyer would be very happy to receive the Elam Award and I am no exception … It is quite an honor.

Q: Why do you think pro bono work is important?

A: Studies have shown only about 20 percent of the legitimate civil legal needs of poor people are being met. This is unacceptable in a society based on the rule of law. The legal needs of the poor are just as serious as the needs of people who can afford an attorney. These people include abused spouses, wrongfully evicted tenants and cheated consumers.

Q: How did you see the need for the VALID program?

A: About five or six years ago, when I was the chair of the Akron Bar’s Pro Bono Committee, we met with local municipal court judges to talk about where they thought pro bono services were needed. With a unanimous voice, they told us that there was a tremendous need to help people whose driver’s licenses have been suspended.

Q: How does the program work?

A: We hold monthly clinics that draw between 50 and 150 people … When attendees arrive, we obtain the BMV (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) printouts of their driving records. Then, they meet with the volunteers to learn what they have to do to become valid. We provide them with written instructions and forms that will be useful. For some, reinstatement is relatively straightforward. For others, the process can be long, complicated and expensive.

Q: Why is that process so complex?

A: There are literally dozens of reasons why an Ohioan’s driver’s license can be suspended. Many of the reasons are related to driving offenses, like drunk driving, 12-point suspensions, failure to have insurance, etc. Others are not related to driving, like failure to pay child support or truancy from school … Each type of suspension has different requirements for reinstatement and fees required … The process can be hard for lawyers to understand and it can be overwhelming for members of the public.

Q: What can you tell me about the BMV amnesty bill that was recently signed into law?

A: An “amnesty” bill was recently signed into law that will provide relief to some poor people who owe reinstatement fees to the BMV. We believe that the amnesty procedures will be established by early 2019 and will be in effect for six months. It is still unclear exactly how this bill will be interpreted and instituted, but it has great promise and will be a focus of our clinics.

Q: Do you think other law changes are needed in Ohio to simplify this process?

A: I hope that lawmakers will look at other aspects of the law that create barriers to reinstatement of licenses, perhaps by reducing the amounts of reinstatement fees or eliminating suspensions for non-driving related offenses. The bottom line is that barriers to driving should not be insurmountable for Ohioans. We all benefit when competent drivers can get on the road to self-sufficiency.

Q: What advice do you have for people who have lost their driver’s licenses and want to get them back?

A: The system can be complicated and the expense may seem too much, but you can become a legal driver if you take it one step at a time and get some help in deciding how to attack the problem. Our clinics are a good start.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, [email protected] and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.

The increasingly politicized debate over when or whether to hold the city’s primary election has now divided leaders in the black community with the president of the local NAACP accusing her predecessor of being untruthful.

Mayor Dan Horrigan favors shortening the primary season, bumping up the partisan election from September to May. The move aims to save money, boost voter turnout and help election officials meet ballot-making deadline — all of which could also be accomplished by not having a primary.

But as elections have consequences, so does tinkering with them. Members of the city council led by Bruce Kilby and Russ Neal say trimming the primary season could hurt diversity on the elected body because minority candidates with few loyal donors would have less time to mount an effective campaign to unseat well-known incumbents.

At a special meeting Monday night, a divided city council was unable to garner nine votes to advance either plan to the voters. Both sides remain committed to collecting 4,200 valid signatures to get their plans on the November ballot.

The two issues — letting voters decide between eliminating or moving the September primary to May — could not be voted on simultaneously. They had to be handled separately. Kilby called the scenario a “Mexican standoff” with no guarantee that if one side helped the other pass the first plan that the favor would be returned when it came time to vote on the second proposal.

In the end, only Tara Samples voted yes for both, advocating for the people to choose. Everyone else voted only for the plan he or she favored.

Judith Hill, the current president of the Akron NAACP, will take no position on the matter until her organization’s board researches the issue and then votes. That’s what she told Horrigan’s staff when they asked about her opinion earlier this month.

After that conversation, Hill was “disappointed” to see that her predecessor, Ophelia Averitt, had backed the mayor’s May primary move in a letter to the editor published Saturday in the Akron Beacon Journal.

“As the former longtime president of the Akron Chapter of the NAACP and a member of the organization’s national board of directors,” Averitt wrote, “I strive to support issues that uphold the equality of political, educational, social and economic rights for all.”

Hill crafted a strongly worded statement Monday condemning what she believed to be the city asking Averitt to help influence voters on a matter that may be on the ballot this November, if the mayor’s team can get enough signatures to place the issue.

“It is unfortunate the mayor’s cabinet chose to ask the former president to make a comment on such an important issue without the input of the membership,” Hill said in her statement. “This is the very issue the city is fighting against — a few making decisions for the greater community. Again the Akron NAACP has not taken a vote.”

Reached by phone, Averitt denied the allegation that the city solicited her help. “I wasn’t speaking for them. I was speaking for myself,” she said, adding that its her prerogative to engage the community as an Akron resident and a national NAACP board member, which oversees all the Ohio chapters.

A reporter told Hill that Averitt denied being asked to offer her opinion. “If that’s what she’s saying to you then that’s fine,” Hill said on the phone. “But she and I both know that’s not true.”

Hill said she got the impression that the mayor’s staff took her inability to pick a side as open opposition to Horrigan’s choice. And, just days later, the timing of Averitt’s newspaper endorsement had her convinced that the city intervened.

City spokesperson Ellen Lander Nischt said traditionally the NAACP is not asked for an endorsement until election issues are approved for an upcoming ballot. This time, the mayor’s team engaged Hill early on. Nischt said without knowing who at the city is thought to have contacted Averitt, she could not definitively say whether anybody reached out to Averitt to ask for the public endorsement.

“The mayor’s office respects the leadership of the NAACP organization, and both Ms. Hill and Ms. Averitt, in the Akron community. Any concern regarding a past local president writing a letter to the editor would seem to be an internal issue unrelated to the mayor’s office or the proposal itself,” Nischt said.

At the monthly meeting Thursday, the Akron NAACP decided to postpone taking a vote on whether to support a May primary or no primary. Hill said the board will attend a free, public informational session 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Northwest Akron Branch Library, 1720 Shatto Ave., at 6 p.m., then come back together to make a collective decision. That meeting is being hosted by the Summit County Progressive Democrats PAC.

Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or [email protected]. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92 on Facebook.

NEW YORK: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, could be charged before the end of the month with bank fraud in his dealings with the taxi industry and with committing other financial crimes, two people familiar with the federal probe said Monday.

The people confirmed reports that federal prosecutors in Manhattan were considering charging Cohen after months of speculation over a case that has been a distraction for the White House with the midterm elections approaching.

The New York Times reported Sunday, based on anonymous sources, that prosecutors have been focusing on more than $20 million in loans obtained by taxi businesses that Cohen and his family own.

As part of the investigation, prosecutors have subpoenaed records from Sterling National Bank, one of the institutions that loaned Cohen money with his ownership in taxi cabs as collateral, one of the people said. The material was sought because it’s suspected Cohen falsified some of the paperwork, the person said.

The people, who weren’t authorized to discuss the case and spoke Monday on condition of anonymity, refused to answer questions about speculation that Cohen still might strike a plea deal with prosecutors requiring his cooperation.

Absent a quick resolution, it’s believed that prosecutors would put off a decision on how to go forward with the case until after the election in compliance with an informal Justice Department policy of avoiding bringing prosecutions that could be seen as political and influence voters.

Both the U.S. attorney’s office and an attorney for Cohen, Lanny Davis, declined to comment Monday. A spokesman for Sterling National Bank declined to comment.

Cohen had gained notoriety as Trump’s loyal “fixer” before FBI agents raided his offices and a hotel where he was staying while renovations were being done on his apartment in a Trump-developed building.

Prosecutors were initially silent about why Cohen was under investigation. Some details became public after lawyers for Cohen and Trump asked a judge to temporarily prevent investigators from viewing some of the seized material, on the grounds that it was protected by attorney-client privilege.

The search of Cohen’s files sought bank records, communications with the Trump campaign and information on hush money payments made in 2016 to two women: former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who received $150,000, and the porn actress Stormy Daniels, who got $130,000.

At the time, Trump branded the raid “a witch hunt,” an assault on attorney-client privilege and a politically motivated attack.

The president’s initial support for Cohen degenerated over the summer into a public feud, prompting speculation that, to save himself, Cohen might be willing to tell prosecutors some of the secrets he’d help Trump keep.

Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, has been sending signals of his own. First, he went on CNN with a tape of Trump talking about the McDougal payment. Then, he revealed that he’s been having conversations with John Dean, the White House lawyer who helped bring down President Richard Nixon.

Davis said Monday that he sees major parallels between Cohen and Dean and that he wanted to hear what he’d learned from Watergate and his perspective on what Cohen is going through.

Neighbors Ronald and Misty Waddy heard the threat.

The man stood in front of the brick house at 601 Chittenden St. — which neighbors say they suspect was a drug house — on Thursday and yelled: “I will burn this house down!”

Friday night, the house was ablaze.

The following night, the house next door at 597 Chittenden exploded.

No one was injured in either fire. But people living in the East Akron neighborhood, a block east of South Arlington Street, are on edge, not knowing if their home is going to be next.

“A lot of us are worried,” Ronald Waddy said Monday as he stood in his front yard and looked at the two burned shells across the street. “We are installing security. I just have to protect my family. Keep my eyes open and my head on a swivel.”

Franita Cooper and Clarron Wright, who live next door to the house that exploded, said they are moving. They said they are scared for their safety.

“Is somebody going to come back and blow up our house?” Cooper said as she stood on her front porch.

Akron firefighters are investigating both fires and have labeled them as suspicious.

“They are being looked at to see if there is a relationship between the two,” fire department spokeswoman Lt. Sierjie Lash said.

No one has been charged, she said.

Akron police spokesman Rick Edwards referred questions about fires to the fire department.

The two-story homes, which were both rented, sustained extensive damage.

The first fire was reported just after 7 p.m. Friday. The home was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived at the scene.

The Waddys said they watched the man who made the threat leave the home and nonchalantly walk down the street shortly after the fire started.

He was questioned by authorities at the scene, but then released, they said.

The man had run a methamphetamine operation out of the home but then went to prison, Ronald Waddy said.

He was upset when he got out and found out someone had taken over the location, Waddy said.

People were home at the time of the fire, but they got out.

“I’m just glad nobody got hurt,” Waddy said.

According to the fire incident report, responders “determined the home was producing illegal drug products.”

Edwards with the Akron Police Department said on Monday that he didn’t have any information available about whether there was any drug activity at the house.

The second fire, which began with an explosion, started at 597 Chittenden just after 11 p.m. Saturday.

No one was home at the time. The people living there had planned to move, and their last day at the house was Sunday, neighbors said.

Half the roof is gone, and the walls are bowed out. That home was set to be torn down Monday or Tuesday.

Cooper and Wright said someone banged on their front door Saturday to alert them to the fire next door.

“It went up so fast,” Cooper said.

“A big ol’ red ball of fire,” Wright added.

Staff writer Brandon Bounds contributed to this report. Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis vowed Monday that “no effort must be spared” to root out priestly sex abuse and cover-up from the Catholic Church, but gave no indication that he would take action to sanction complicit bishops or end the Vatican culture of secrecy that has allowed the crisis to fester.

In a letter to Catholics worldwide following damning new revelations of misconduct in the U.S., Francis sought to project a get-tough response to the perpetrators and a compassionate shoulder for victims ahead of a fraught trip to Ireland this weekend.

Francis begged forgiveness for the pain suffered by victims and said lay Catholics must be included in the effort to root out abuse and cover-up. He blasted the clerical culture that has been blamed for the crisis, with church leaders more concerned about their own reputations than the safety of children.

“We showed no care for the little ones,” Francis wrote. “We abandoned them.”

But Francis alone can sanction bishops and he offered no hint that he would change the Vatican’s long-standing practice of giving religious superiors a pass when they botch abuse cases or are negligent in protecting their flocks.

He said he was aware of the “effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world” to ensure children are protected and hold accountable those who commit abuse and cover it up.

But he made no reference to what the Vatican plans to do, saying only: “We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.”

The letter was viewed by abuse survivors as little more than recycled rhetoric that fails to acknowledge the Vatican’s own role in turning a blind eye to predatory priests and fomenting a culture of secrecy that has allowed crimes to go unpunished for decades.

“That culture was overseen by #Vatican & codified into its laws,” tweeted Colm O’Gorman, a prominent Irish abuse victim who is organizing a solidarity demonstration of survivors in Dublin during Francis’ visit. “He needs to name & own that.”

Marie Collins, another prominent Irish survivor who resigned in frustration from the pope’s sex abuse advisory commission, said statements about how terrible abuse is and how bishops must be held accountable are meaningless.

“Tell us instead what you are doing to hold them accountable,” she tweeted. “That is what we want to hear. ‘Working on it’ is not an acceptable explanation for decades of ‘delay.’ ”

Priestly sex abuse was always expected to dominate the pope’s trip to Ireland, a once staunchly Roman Catholic country where the church’s credibility has been devastated by years of revelations that priests raped and molested children with impunity and their superiors covered it up.

But the issue has taken on new gravity after revelations in the U.S. that one of Francis’ trusted cardinals, the retired archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, allegedly sexually abused and harassed minors as well as adult seminarians.

In addition, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania last week revealed that at least 1,000 children were abused by some 300 priests over the past 70 years, and that generations of bishops failed to take measures to protect their flock or punish the rapists.

“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all,” the report said.

The letter from Latin America’s first pope also comes on the heels of a spiraling sex abuse scandal in Chile, where law enforcement has staged multiple raids on church archives to try to determine what was known and kept hidden about pedophile priests.

The three-page letter, issued in seven languages, referred to the Pennsylvania report but stressed that its message was to a much broader global audience. In it, Francis acknowledged that no effort to beg forgiveness of the victims would be sufficient but vowed “never again.”

Police have arrested two men following two reportedly unrelated Sunday shootings in Akron.

Cody J. Czerpak, 22, of Akron, was shot and killed Sunday night in the 500 block of Rothrock Avenue in the Summit Lake neighborhood. And an unidentified 46-year-old woman survived a gunshot to the forehead in West Hill.

Following an alleged argument, police say Czerpak was shot in the chest by his grandfather, Dann E. Schaffer, 61.

Schaffer was arrested on a charge of murder and booked in the Summit County Jail. The shooting occurred at 10:48 p.m. Czerpak was pronounced dead on the scene. The Summit County Medical Examiner is conducting an autopsy.

Police also arrested a second person in an apparently unrelated second shooting that occurred earlier Sunday.

Shortly after 1 a.m., officers responded to a gunshot in the 100 block of Crosby Street in Akron’s West Hill neighborhood.

They found a 46-year-old female shot in the forehead. She was taken to Cleveland Clinic Akron General with non-life threatening injuries.

Police searched the home and found a handgun in a clothes hamper. Another resident there, Johnny J. Jones Jr., 38, was arrested on a charge of having weapons under disability and transported to the county jail.

Police investigating the matter say they received multiple stories about how the shooting unfolded.

LAKE TWP.: Police officer Josh Miktarian’s life ended tragically 10 years ago, but his wife and daughter do their best to make sure his death wasn’t in vain.

“I talk to police academies, sharing Josh’s story,” explained his wife, Holly Miktarian. “My goal is not to scare them, but just let them know what can happen … to anyone at any time, because Josh was a good officer. Also, to let them know to remember the fallen.”

Holly Miktarian and her now 10-year-old daughter, Thea, were grand marshals for Saturday afternoon’s Uniontown Lions Club parade. It was one of the final events in the 24th annual four-day Lions Club Festival, held at Hartville Marketplace.

It was a natural to extend the Miktarians an invitation, because the theme of this year’s event was “Thanks to Our First Responders,” said Harold Britt, the “King Lion,” and a former Uniontown police chief.

Josh Miktarian was 33 years old in 2008, when he was a full-time officer in Twinsburg in Summit County and a part-time officer on Uniontown’s police force.

His daughter, Thea, was all of 3 months old.

In the early morning of July 13, while on duty in Twinsburg, Josh Miktarian made a traffic stop of a vehicle for loud music. During that stop, he was shot in the head multiple times by Ashford Thompson — he later was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death.

Holly Miktarian, a former police officer herself, said her mission these days is to care for her daughter and to keep her late husband’s legacy in the public eye.

That includes involvement with a scholarship fund that awards $3,500 a year to a graduating senior from Tallmadge and Twinsburg high schools. A poker run — the main fundraiser for the scholarships — is set for Saturday at Brewsters Cafe, Bistro & Pub in Twinsburg.

Thea Miktarian, who plays fastpitch softball for a Brimfield travel team, as well as the Tallmadge Little League program, where she and her mom live, wears number 45 on her jerseys.

“It was my dad’s badge number, and it has a nice ring to it,” she said, smiling, as she pointed her index fingers straight ahead, a few minutes before she and her mom climbed inside a black Mercedes-Benz convertible, to lead the parade.

PERRY TWP.: Christine Slinger left her home a year ago, getting into a vehicle with her daughter’s father.

“I’ll be back,” she told her mom, Betty Slinger, who was sitting at the kitchen table.

“I told her ‘I love you,’ and she said, ‘I love you’ back and that was it. She was gone,” Betty Slinger recalled.

It was the last time she talked to her daughter. Since that day, Christine’s family, friends, law enforcement and a nationally known search group have scoured various areas looking for signs of the missing woman.

Her mother won’t rest until she can bring her daughter home.

Betty Slinger doesn’t know what happened to her daughter. Like other family members, she said she believes that Steven T. Stafford II, the father of Christine’s daughter, had something to do with the disappearance.

Her daughter and Stafford dated and never married. Stafford proposed, but they never made it down the aisle, Betty Slinger said.

For the earliest years of their daughter’s life, Stafford had custody. Christine later gained custody of the girl. That’s when Betty believes things between the two began to deteriorate.

On the night she disappeared, Stafford told Christine they needed to talk. He also said he would take her to his New Philadelphia home to pick up their then-8-year-old daughter, who had been staying with him.

When she didn’t return home, Betty called her cellphone but got no answer. She then called Stafford, who said he dropped off Christine at the Sandy Valley Estates Mobile Home park on state Route 800.

The next day, Betty reported her daughter missing to police.

New Philadelphia police officers found Stafford and Christine’s daughter at his home. They questioned him and he was set to come in the next day to talk to investigators. He never showed up. He later was found by police dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Christine’s daughter — who turns 10 in October — is in the custody of Stafford’s parents.

Stafford’s actions solidify Betty’s belief that he hurt her daughter.

“I want her to come home but in my heart I think she is already gone,” Betty said. “I know 100 percent he is responsible.”

The Stark County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the case. Betty said she is in contact with the investigator who continues to run down leads.

Sheriff’s officials were not immediately available for comment.

Since Christine vanished, searches across Stark and neighboring counties have been conducted.

The Ohio/Midwest Chapter of the nonprofit Texas EquuSearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team has conducted searches using dogs and all-terrain vehicles to no avail.

Though formal searches have stopped, Christine’s family continues to look for her.

Her cousins, Jessica and Mariah Slinger, search for her any time they can. A Facebook page — Help Find Christine Slinger — was created.

Knowing what happened would allow Betty to cope with the loss.

“I keep praying and hoping for the best,” she said.

“If she is gone. I can put closure to it and we can give her the funeral she deserves. It’s not good to lose a daughter or a son, but to lose her like this, it is hard.”

Sunflowers decorated Crown Point Ecology Center for the 20th annual Taste of Earth Saturday evening. Mary Anne Krejci and Libby Upton co-chaired the event, with Betsy Kling, chief meteorologist of WKYC 3 News as celebrity chair.

“It’s hard to believe this is our 20th year,” said Ellen Otto, special events coordinator, as she greeted guests.

Bruce Fahey and Mark and Marie Dusani enjoyed petting the baby dwarf goats from Bramblestone Farm as they posed for photos with guests. One goat found Sister Barbara Ebner’s lap a comfortable place to sit as she enjoyed the event with Sister Marguerite Chandler and Sister Rose Ann Van Buren, who came from Shepherd’s Corner in Columbus for the event.

Guests sipped Luscious Lemon Lifts, served by Ozzie’s Beverage Service, as they looked over hundreds of silent auction items in the Century Barn. While placing their bids, David and Susan Barson, Debbie Farris, Toby Gorant, Linda Shippy, Marian Calvin, Jo Ann Oeslager, Pat Brubaker, Patty Dill and Bill Silver enjoyed the toe-tapping country music of the Moonshine Trio, while Sarah and Chloe Weidrick offered “Year of Fine Dining” raffle tickets.

Betsy Kling rang the dinner bell calling guests to a delicious dinner prepared by Hudson’s Catering, utilizing vegetables grown at Crown Point. Father Norman Douglas gave the invocation. Dr. Tom and Mary Ann Jackson dined with Tom and Margaret Medzic, Alice Bergstrom, and Dr. Doug and Karen Lefton.

Following dinner, Jim Simon, chairman of the board of trustees, thanked everyone for their support and introduced Monica Bongue-Bartelsman, executive director, who announced an exciting new project at Crown Point — a Honey House for bees and bee keepers.

Dick Kiko conducted the live auction, where Mark and Kim Hemminger had the winning bid for a New England Escape,

Fran Bittle won a steak roast at historic Valentine Farm, and Dave and Cathy Fischer were the winners of a clam bake at Crown Point.

NORTH JACKSON: Devin Hampton sees the signs along Interstate 76 every day on her way to work, especially the electronic one announcing how many days it’s been since the last serious accident.

It’s been as high as 30 and as low as zero. The sign is updated daily.

“I notice that sign every time I pass it,” said Hampton, who lives in Brimfield Township and works at the Shelly & Sands office in Mahoning County.

She and co-worker Samantha Semko Truitt will even comment on the number with each other.

That’s exactly what the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Ohio Department of Transportation want — motorists noticing and paying attention to the signs that were erected in April and identify the state’s first “Distracted Driving Safety Corridor.”

The series of signs — there are about 50 in all — are scattered along the 17-mile, high-accident portions of I-76 and Interstate 80 that pass through Mahoning and Trumbull counties in Northeast Ohio.

The signs, which promise “zero tolerance” for distracted driving, are designed to remind motorists to pay closer attention to the road. In other words, people shouldn’t be playing with their smartphones or radios, focused on eating or doing anything else that takes their eyes off the highway.

Distracted motorists can receive anything from a warning to a ticket depending on the offense and whether it involved an accident. A new law that makes distracted driving — everything from talking on the phone to reading a book — a secondary offense in Ohio takes effect in late October and motorists could face fines up to $100 if stopped on a different violation.

Though it’s early in the program, State Highway Patrol Lts. Jerad Sutton and Antonio Matos believe the new safety corridor is getting results.

Total crashes in the corridor dropped 38 percent in the second quarter, compared with the same time period from the previous year. Fatal and injury crashes are down 47 percent.

Meanwhile, distracted driving violations are up 320 percent.

“Our goal is voluntary compliance to prevent [violations and crashes] from happening,” Sutton said. “It’s not to write you a ticket after they happen. It’s to prevent you from getting the ticket.”

Those sections of I-76 and I-80 are heavily traveled, with anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 vehicles a day passing by, depending on the specific location. And it’s one of the state’s most traveled stretches for trucks, with about 30 percent of the traffic being tractor-trailers, ODOT said.

The Highway Patrol and ODOT opted to put the Safety Corridor along I-76 and I-80 because they noticed there were a lot of accidents there for such a straight, flat stretch of road. There’s nothing that should distract drivers along the highway.

There were 305 crashes there in 2016 and 255 last year. Through June of this year, there have been 123 — with a noticeable drop coming after the signs were installed.

“It’s not hilly. It’s not curvy,” ODOT spokesman Justin Chesnic said. “Yet we were having crashes out there.”

The conclusion was that people were distracted.

Distracted driving is a serious problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that distracted driving was responsible for 3,450 deaths nationwide in 2016, according to the latest statistics available.

In Ohio last year, there were nearly 14,000 crashes involving distracted drivers, with 51 people being killed.

Sutton recalled driving behind a woman who was weaving on the highway. When he pulled up next to her, he noticed she was holding an iPad up to her face and looking at herself to put on makeup.

He pulled her over for a marked lanes violation.

Her excuse? She was late for work.

Troopers also have seen people reading books while driving and men shaving.

Matos has driven up alongside motorists with his lights on but the drivers who are cruising at 85 mph are too busy texting to notice him.

“Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see those things,” he said.

Several people who work within the Distracted Driving Safety Corridor said they aren’t sure the signs are working. They said they still see people texting and not paying attention.

“Until [motorists] get into an accident, they feel they are invincible, honestly,” said one woman, who declined to give her name.

In addition to the signs, the patrol has beefed up enforcement in the area and has been handing out pamphlets designed to educate people about the dangers of driving distracted.

Sutton and Matos admitted that they were concerned that the signs along the highway might be a distraction themselves.

But they believe the messages are short enough — for example, one says: “How Important is that Text?” — that they don’t divert the attention of motorists for long.

To make sure drivers who regularly travel there don’t tune out the message, the signs are changed every three months.

The Distracted Driving Safety Corridor was designed to be mobile. It will remain in Mahoning and Trumbull counties for two years as state authorities gather data to gauge its effectiveness.

If it’s declared a success, then the signs and program can be picked up and moved to another troublesome area in the state.

“We can take it to where the problem is,” Sutton said.

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.

About 75 volunteers helped 39 Northeast Ohio residents with developmental disabilities learn how to ride a bike last month during the iCan Bike Camp at Copley High School.

The camp, organized by the Autism Society of Greater Akron, teaches individuals with different abilities how to ride a two-wheel bike independently.

Each year, iCan Shine, a nonprofit headquartered in Alexandria, Va., provides ASGA with adapted biking equipment and two staff members to help run the camp. The GPD Employees’ Foundation provided scholarships for riders and Akron Children’s Hospital donated bicycle helmets.

Riders used a specialized bicycle with the goal of learning appropriate balance.

Eleven Allstate employees supported Stow-based Bulldog Bags Inc. in the spring by packing meals for students in need at Stow-Munroe Falls City School District as part of Allstate’s annual Bring Out the Good Month. The program encourages Allstate employees to volunteer for and donate to the causes they care about most in their local communities.

During the volunteer event, Allstate volunteers filled bags with healthy foods and personal care items, packing more than 515 bags. Bulldog Bags are distributed to qualified students every Friday. This is the third consecutive year that Allstate volunteers have worked alongside Bulldog Bags as part of the Bring Out the Good Month initiative.

Pro-Model and Talent Management says it donated 3,103 pounds of non-perishable food to the Haven of Rest Ministries as part of its summer food drive.

“I am so grateful for the Pro-Model and Talent family and their dedication in helping us donate such an abundance of food to help serve our local community members in need,” company Vice President Mary Sklamba said in a prepared statement. “To see the community come together like this is truly incredible.”

As a part of the Italian Festival, the following students were awarded scholarships from the Italian Council last month at their annual breakfast: Rachael Abood, Marissa Bowers, Justin Hofacker, Amanda Huelsman, Helena Krejsa, Angelina Lee, Julia Rauhe, Anna Signorino, Brianna Tersigni, Anthony Tomaro, Carlo Valletta, Samantha Wentz and Garrielle Zita.

The weekly Good News column features awards and recognitions, military and scholastic achievements and other good works. Please fax information to 330-996-3033, email it to [email protected] or send it to Good News, Akron Beacon Journal, 44 E. Exchange St., Akron, OH 44309. Include a photograph if one is available. Identify all individuals in the photo.

His wise, old face was cracked and scarred.

The gigantic feathers fanning out of his tribal headband have long been removed, and the back of his head, chewed by insects, has been filled and re-sculpted to match the rest of his flowing hair.

But try as they might, no one could keep Rotaynah from showing his age.

On Sunday, the tired-looking wooden Native American statue at Resnik Community Learning Center gazed out at the small crowd of people who came to say their final goodbyes before a crane plucks him out of the ground and puts him into storage — if he makes it that far.

With the help of Barberton Tree Service, the Akron Public School District will attempt to remove the deteriorating statue, which has been worn by weather and eaten away at by bugs, to store it indoors indefinitely.

Rotaynah — the Tuscarora word for “chief” — was donated to the district in 1985 by Peter “Wolf” Toth, a Hungarian native and Akron Public Schools graduate.

Toth, whose family fled Hungary during the 1956 uprising, was inspired by the similar injustices he and Native Americans endured in their home countries. He has carved more than 70 different towering Native American statues in every state and around the world in a series he calls the Trail of the Whispering Giants. Rotaynah was his 51st statue in that series.

In 2006, Toth told the Beacon Journal he predicted the statue would last nearly a full century.

Yet less than 35 years after its dedication, the 20-foot statue is so deteriorated that the district has determined it a safety hazard to keep standing.

Once carved out of solid 20-ton Kentucky red oak and standing a stately 36 feet tall, Rotaynah’s 16-foot feathers were removed in 2011, when the weight of them became too heavy for his head to hold.

Over the years, Rotaynah has been stuffed with foam and fiberglass, doused in polyurethane and preservative and even reinforced with steel poles running up his back “to strengthen him,” said Jeanne Ott, the widow of former Akron school Superintendent Conrad Ott.

Toth has advised the district on Rotaynah’s upkeep, and he’s even taken several trips up from his home in Florida to make repairs himself.

“I think we gave our best efforts” to keep the statue preserved, said Debra Foulk, the executive director of business affairs for the district. “The board has taken care to address issues as they come about.”

Ott agrees that the efforts have been extensive. Rotaynah’s place at an Akron school was, in part, sealed by her husband, who was superintendent at the time and was interested in the history of the Native Americans who once roamed Summit County.

Ott was one of about 20 people who gathered around the statue Sunday to honor its legacy in the community.

Many had memories of visiting Toth as he chipped away at the tree for nearly three months and formed Rotaynah’s lined face.

“As a child, I remember seeing him doing his art,” said Ronald Neal, 51, of Barberton. “When I saw how big it was, I thought, ‘This is really amazing.’ It was in all its glory then.”

Uncertain outcomes

The school district and Barberton Tree Service, which is removing the statue for free, are still working out the exact date to remove the statue.

Officials are hopeful that they will be able to preserve Rotaynah’s stone base, move him and his plaque into storage with his feathers and find a permanent indoor location to display him.

But the removal procedure could get messy.

When the time comes, Barberton Tree Service will send out a crew of four to five men and a crane to lift Rotaynah from his base.

“If that pressure is too great, it could just crush because it’s so fragile … I’ve seen our guys pick up trees where the entire inside is just sawdust,” said Barberton Tree Service manager Lisa Devenport. “We’re going to do every possible thing we can. We just want the best outcome for everyone.”

District officials hope they can save at least some part of the statue, even if just his face.

Toth could not be reached for comment, but district officials said they and Barberton Tree Service have been working with him to find out how to best remove and preserve Rotaynah. For now, his base will remain, but there are no current plans for another statue.

“We’ll put him somewhere,” Ott said. “Now how much of him, I don’t know. But he’s just too magnificent to lose.”

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.

Akron businessman Ted Bare’s graduation from Kent State has been decades in the making.

Saturday’s stroll across the stage to finally collect his bachelor’s degree came after taking a 47-year “break” to pursue a career that includes entertaining tens of thousands of movie lovers along with serving more pizza than you can shake a stick of pepperoni at.

He dreamed of being a dentist.

Then a business major.

Back to pre-dentistry.

And back to business again.

All the while studying medicine and business at Kent State in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were Spanish classes along with some history and political science classes that also piqued his interest.

By the time 1971 rolled around, Bare by then a “super” senior had tallied up 216 credit hours with just 192 hours needed for graduation.

He just lacked one required course to walk across the stage and collect his diploma.

But the demands of his college job of running the movie theater in Medina’s Square became too much so he put off his college career and traded for one in the movie biz.

He would go on to own that theater and 11 others throughout the region.

Bare still owns the Highland and Linda theaters in Akron.

He also dabbled in the pizza business and still owns the Leonardo’s pizza shops in Akron and Fairlawn.

Running all the theaters and pizza shops demanded a lot of time along with raising two kids with his wife, Linda, a teacher at Revere schools. Their son, Sonny went on to be a doctor and daughter Betsy is an attorney.

At one point, Bare was the largest independent movie theater owner in Northeast Ohio.

While he has no regrets, Bare said, the approach to turning 70 this past March made him think about the unfinished college degree.

He said he’s surrounded by all these “smart” people from his wife to his two kids and he didn’t want to be the only one at the dinner table without a college degree.

“The chain is only as good as its weakest link,” he said with a laugh.

So he quietly set out to finish his last required class.

And since his college catalog is so out of date, Kent State folks enrolled him in a writing course to “officially” complete his studies.

Kent State spokesman Eric Mansfield said Bare worked with Associate Dean David Odell-Scott to complete the degree.

His task was to write a paper he titled The Urbanization of Ted Bare about growing up in a pretty culturally isolated neighborhood to establishing and running businesses in ethically and socially diverse parts of the city and the state.

His paper ended up being more of a treatise weighing in at some 50 pages.

“They told me I was an overachiever,” Bare said.

As an Eagle Scout, he said, looking back, it is odd that he didn’t finish his college studies sooner as he is not one to walk away from a challenge or leave something unfinished.

“This wasn’t about some bucket list,” he said. “This was about finishing a job.”

Of the 1,325 diplomas handed out including 834 bachelor’s degrees, 410 master’s degrees, 68 doctoral degrees and 13 educational specialist degrees at Kent’s summer commencement, Bare said, his was by far the longest to come to fruition with a bachelor’s of science in education studies.

“I suppose one could say I was a slow learner,” he said.

Craig Webb, who is working on his own master’s degree for four years some 28 years after graduating from Kent the first time, can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3547.

Megan May and Molly Bregar have no fear returning to Akron’s Firestone High School this year — they’re just ready to continue the work they’ve started.

Megan and Molly are among the thousands of students and community members around the country who have mobilized to demand safer schools in the six months since the mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

And school districts have responded.

Whether it’s amped-up security and mental health supports, extra cameras, classroom barricades, giant walls or armed teachers, districts around the country and across the region have spent thousands on upgrades for this school year.

“We called [safety issues] out at the walkout, and now I think it’s time to bring the community together and create change,” said 16-year-old Megan, who worked with Molly to help lead the Student Coalition Against Violence and Firestone’s participation in the national school walkout in March.

Parkland aftermath

Amy Klinger, co-founder of the Genoa-based Educator’s School Safety Network, said strong student involvement is a large reason why the tragedy had such a rippling effect throughout the country.

But the unusually high spike in violence afterward — especially in Ohio — is another factor. The Educator’s School Safety Network, an advocacy organization that has tracked news reports of threats and violence since 2014, found that Ohio had the largest number of media-reported threats and violent school incidents in the months that followed.

The violence has been apparent at a local level, with numerous threats and a string of youth suicides, including one inside Jackson Middle School just days after the Parkland shooting. The 13-year-old who died inside the school initially had plans to shoot others, but he turned the rifle on himself instead, authorities determined.

While the organization found that incidents of violence were slowly on the rise before February, Parkland was the earthquake that sent many districts into action to avoid the aftershock.

“The need to implement ideas is more vital now than ever,” said Lisa Blough, superintendent of Coventry Local Schools. “We’ve always put [security improvements] off because of funding and not having the money to support it … But then with all the tragedies happening not just in Parkland, but our local situations throughout Northeast Ohio, it really solidified the need to put these things in place now and not wait.”

Investing in personnel

Klinger recommends that if schools pursue one thing, it should be staff training for all school safety issues — not just active shooter situations.

“If every gun on the planet disappears, we still have school safety issues. We have to broaden our view of school safety,” Klinger said. “If you only have X amount to spend, it should be on people.”

Many districts have expanded their staff training options beyond ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) this school year to include training on emergency medical response, how to identify students with mental health needs and how to build relationships with students.

Some districts, however, have determined safety training isn’t enough.

In the northern part of Tuscarawas County, Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools voted in June to arm a select number of staff members. The names of the staff members who will have guns in the schools won’t be disclosed to the public, but they will have to undergo their own special trainings, including FASTER (Faculty/Administrator Safety Training & Emergency Response) and Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy training.

“We are committed to continuously updating our safety standards given the reality and challenges we face today,” Superintendent Mark Murphy said in an email to GateHouse Media. “The board of education unanimously approved a resolution to arm employees at its meeting. None of us are excited about the endeavor, yet it is a significant safety measure the board authorized.”

Along with training existing personnel, many districts have made at least one new hire, whether it is an extra security guard, school resource officer or mental health specialist. Several have hired a combination of additional staff members.

Building upgrades

Other districts have directed their resources into upgrading building equipment — from changing locks and adding security cameras to increasing the use of metal detectors and improving security software. University Hospitals is working with every school in Portage County to donate “Go Buckets.” The 5-gallon buckets, filled with $100 worth of supplies, serve as an emergency place for students to “go” relieve themselves if they’re stuck in the classroom.

A major addition in many buildings is some sort of barrier preventing easy access to schools. Some districts added security vestibules at school entrances, while others invested in shatterproof barricades that shield the classroom door.

Wooster High School is building a wall.

The school is currently connected to the Gault Recreation Center and Ellen Shapiro Natatorium. The district is working on a barrier to put between the academic and public portions of the building. It will be constructed with three sets of double-aluminum storefront glass doors that can be locked or unlocked electronically and opened by staff members via their ID badges.

“The burden (of school safety) has never been so great as it is now,” Wooster City Schools Superintendent Michael Tefs said.

Money needed

While many districts have made improvements, some are still waiting for funding to make even more changes.

Nordonia Hills schools in Summit County, along with Dalton and Northwestern school districts in Wayne County, have levies on the November ballot for additional safety and security improvements.

In Stark County, 16 school districts recently participated in a joint safety and security levy spearheaded by the county’s Education Service Center (ESC) for the special August election.

The levy failed, but Joe Chaddock, the superintendent of the Stark County ESC, said districts across the county still are making necessary safety adjustments.

“Safety and security is the No. 1 priority for all of our schools,” Chaddock said. “Ultimately, it would’ve been steady source of revenue for [safety and security] … But we’re just going to keep working toward it.”

Meanwhile, Green schools in Summit County opted out of the Stark joint levy and instead pursued its own safety and security funding, which was approved by voters Aug. 7. That funding will go toward security upgrades to be in place by the time school starts this week.

Some districts have come up with other creative ways to fund new initiatives in time for this school year. Jackson Township trustees, for example, recently approved a one-year agreement with the school district to split the cost of hiring six school resource officers to be in place at each school throughout the district.

Ongoing work

This year, the Student Coalition Against Violence that students formed at Firestone High School has inspired two new student groups — one that will work on the ground level with students and parents to gauge their concerns, and another to work with the principal on putting safety policies into place both at the district and state level.

“I just hope that our activism has helped some, or even just started a change,” Megan said.

There is evidence that student activism has sparked action beyond school walls.

Ginger Poore, a resident in the Manchester school district, said a student from Parkland, Emma Gonzalez, inspired her to hold a prayer vigil for the school district on Saturday when Gonzalez said “thoughts and prayers” weren’t enough after a tragedy.

“That was just, like, this huge trigger to me that we need to be proactive rather than reactive,” Poore said. “I mean, prayers and well-wishes, they help to a point after the fact, but they don’t help in making the event never happen … So let’s cover the district in prayer and hopefully stop anything before it can get started.”

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.

West Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood is known for being eclectic, and for the sixth year the neighborhood welcomed thousands of its friends, neighbors and anyone looking for a fun day on Akron streets to the annual PorchRokr Music and Art Festival on Saturday.

The seventh festival in six years — bordered by West Market Street, Belvidere Way, South Portage Path, Crosby Street and South Highland Avenue — featured more than 130 acts rocking nearly 20 porches as well as sponsored stages and a gaggle of local vendors and community organizations.

Throughout the hot, humid but mostly rain-free day, the foot traffic was constant, with West Market Street packed with festivalgoers. Some folks checked the maps to ensure they caught the bands they wanted to see, while others just wandered and stopped when something interesting caught their eyes and ears.

“This is one of Akron’s best events,” Stephanie Leonardi of Akron said.

Leonardi had just finished watching local rapper Floco Torres perform an energetic set in front of Annabell’s Bar and Lounge with her friend Cliff Harris, and the pair were plotting their next move.

“It’s just the spirit that brings everybody together. It has that atmosphere where you can make your adult choices but families are welcome, and that doesn’t happen usually,” Leonardi said.

On Market Street, the patios of Ray’s and neighbor Mr. Zub’s were packed as the Kahuna Kings rocked surf music between the two businesses.

Nearby, Luke Davis of Akron and Rebecca Kaszar of Bath were wandering and enjoying the opportunity to see many local bands in one day and enjoy the feeling of inclusion.

“It’s a great way to promote local bands,” Davis said.

It’s good to see a bunch of people in Highland Square, and it’s such an eclectic group. You don’t see that very often, Kaszar said.

“Yeah, it’s very diverse and accepting. It’s the true America, the true melting pot. Acceptance of all and coming together. We’re here to be accepting and live and learn,” Davis said.

Meanwhile, on the main drag, porches throughout the festival borders were filled with live music from local and touring bands.

In the Grand Marketplace, Drumline, the drum corps of Firestone High School’s marching band, impressed a crowd with a few of its complex, syncopated routines with help from a bubble-spewing assistant and a young lady working some mini hula hoops.

Farther down South Portage Path, New York-based indie pop trio Foxy Dads played to a small but enthusiastic crowd, including a little boy who was wiggling and jiggling to the music while holding his mother’s hand.

Over in the heavily populated beer garden on Byers Avenue, singer-songwriter, guitarist and rock and soul man Hayden Gilbert with his band the Ruckus walked into the crowd to play a bluesy guitar solo and wound up dancing with a fan.

“I’ve never seen that happen before,” he said, pointing to his dance partner from the stage.

On Grand Avenue, Maria Varonis and her boyfriend, Justin Seeker, were double dipping in the PorchRokr festivities. The couple were hosting bands on their porch including Stems, singer-guitarist Seeker’s Akron-based band.

Seeker and his band have played three past PorchRokrs and attended all of them, but it was the couple’s first time hosting.

“Well, you can use your own bathroom and there’s air conditioning upstairs,” he said, listing some of the benefits of playing and hosting bands on your own porch with a chuckle.

Varonis spearheaded the idea of hosting bands.

“I’ve attended PorchRokr since year one … we happen to be on a street that’s hosting a bandstand, my boyfriend and love of my life plays in a band, and we happen to have a porch, so it was serendipitous,” she said.

There was another very important factor.

“I’m Greek on both sides, so I’m an over-hoster, so this is literally my perfect day. Bands, boyfriend, beer, brats, vegan dogs — we have it all,” Varonis said.

Aside from conveniently setting up her “perfect day,” Varonis said it’s “incredible” that the festival moves around the neighborhood every year.

“I love that every hour there’s something different going on and people can be a part of the community, enjoy themselves and be surprised,” she said.

After a few years in a row of festivalgoers having to endure blazing heat and humidity, rain or all of the above, the dry and relatively balmy low-80s temperatures seemed to keep people coming and staying to check out as much of the festival as they wanted.

PorchRokr has grown in size and popularity each year, and the 2018 edition kept the good vibes rolling.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml and/or follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.

I’ve been away for a while, so I suppose I’ll have to turn in an essay about how I spent my summer vacation.

I will focus on one episode. It was brief, but magical — almost as magical as the experience that spawned it, my trip to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, which I wrote about on July 28.

The man who prompted that trip, Ethan Bryan, a Missourian who has vowed to play catch every day of 2018, is acquainted with Dwier Brown, the actor who played Kevin Costner’s father in the classic movie.

After Ethan sent Dwier a link to his blog entry about our encounter, Dwier emailed him and said he would be appearing at a sports memorabilia show at the I-X Center in Cleveland and, being a former Akron-area resident, would be happy to meet me and/or my octogenarian hero, Stan Sipka, 83, of Cuyahoga Falls, the focus of my Field of Dreams column.

It took Stan about a millisecond to say yes when I asked whether he was interested in meeting the man who stole the show during the last six minutes of the 1989 film that was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture, and is on plenty of people’s lists of best all-time movies.

Stan said he would bring his glove.

As I noted last time, the North Hill native so loves to play catch that on his annual vacation to Hilton Head, he walks down the beach with two gloves and asks people to play.

He didn’t have to bring a glove this time. When he showed up at the Tri-Star National Sports Show at the I-X Center on Aug. 4, Dwier — aka John Kinsella — had his late father’s 1930s split-fingered glove at the booth where he was signing autographs.

It’s the cherished glove he used while growing up on a 52-acre farm in Sharon Center in a house that lacked indoor plumbing.

After some pleasant introductory chatter, we found a relatively isolated spot on the convention floor and swung into action.

Drawing a crowd

What a scene. Dwier and Stan connected flawlessly for about five minutes, occasionally calling brief timeouts to allow patrons to arrive unscathed at the bathroom behind them.

As the catch continued, with Dwier sporting the ancient glove and a pinstriped jersey with “Kinsella” across the back, more and more people took notice. You could see them light up when they made the connection to the movie.

We undoubtedly cost Dwier some business at his booth, where he was selling autographed photos as well as his excellent 2014 book, If You Build It .

I hadn’t read it at that point, but opened a copy about a week later — and finished it in one day.

It is beautifully written and captivating. The book is not just an inside view of the making of the movie — which alone would have been worth the price of admission — but a moving account of his relationship with his father, a Depression-era youth and World War II vet who, in terms of emotion and affection, hid behind an impenetrable wall of concrete for most of his life.

I’m not the only reader who was blown away. A New York Times review said: “Many actors have bigger names, but few could write as artfully about his craft. Read this book and you’ll know much more about the movie, the meaning and the man behind the magic.”

The New York Daily News was effusive as well.

“The book is amazing. With If You Build It …, Brown makes a powerful literary statement of his own, and reminds us again about the magical, complicated bond between fathers and sons.”

The author in question is a funny, pleasant, humble, attentive soul who graduated from Highland High School and Ashland University and now lives in Ojai, Calif.

(For more about his career and the book, check out a fine 2017 Beacon Journal profile of him at tinyurl.com/y7k3cg49)

Dwier, 59, has performed in more than 100 movies and plays and on TV shows such as The Thorn Birds, ER, Ally McBeal and CSI. But he is best known — by far — for that electric closing scene with Costner, a scene that earned them a spot in the Top 100 Movie Moments of All Time.

Quest continues

Meanwhile, out in Missouri, Ethan Bryan’s daily romp continues. On Thursday, he celebrated his 44th birthday by tossing with State Rep. Crystal Quade, who, as a former member of the Springfield Roller Derby team, was certainly athletic enough to hold up her end.

For those of you scoring at home, that was Day 228.

Ethan was thrilled to hear about the rendezvous in Cleveland. He also was pumped to learn that Stan, his Field of Dreams throwing partner, has remained in touch with a Wisconsin resident we met at the field, an 83-year-old guy we watched slowly circle the bases with a cane.

“Baseball brings people together,” Ethan texted. “I love it!”

During the 2018 season, Ethan Bryan is leading the league in bringing people together.

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or [email protected]. He also is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31

BATH: Authorities on Saturday captured a New York man accused of intentionally running over and killing a North Olmsted man at a northbound rest area on Interstate 77.

The incident happened about 11:15 p.m. Friday, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said.

Witnesses told troopers that they saw two men quarreling.

One of the men — later identified as Paul D. Randall Jr., 34, of Dolgeville, N.Y. — stole the other’s Ford F-350 and ran over him with the truck, authorities said.

Troopers said Randall never stopped, and the truck — which weighs between 5,876 and 7,739 pounds — was later found abandoned in a downtown Cleveland parking lot.

The truck’s owner — Scott Reichard, 42, of North Olmsted — died after being run over.

Troopers did not say what the two men were fighting about, whether they knew each other or if Randall had a vehicle of his own.

Following a 17-hour manhunt, troopers arrested Randall during a traffic stop at 6:44 p.m. Saturday on Interstate 70 in Guernsey County.

Authorities said he was a passenger in a car driven by a woman believed to be his girlfriend.

A trooper recognized the vehicle based on a police bulletin from earlier in the day, officers said.

Randall was taken into custody without incident, and the driver was detained for questioning.

Randall faces murder and robbery charges, authorities said.

Public records show no obvious ties between Randall and Ohio. He’s spent most of his life in or near Dolgeville, a village of about 2,200 people east of Utica and just north of Interstate 90.

It may be best known as the home of a Rawlings plant that makes most of the baseball bats used in major-league baseball.

A little more than a year ago, a New York television station reported that Randall had a bizarre and possibly drunken run-in with authorities there.

In June 2017, WKTV in Utica reported that Dolgeville police tried to stop Randall for a traffic violation, but he sped away before ultimately driving off the road and running into the woods, where he was taken into custody and later purposely damaged property in the police station.

Randall faced a slew of charges in the incident, including drinking alcohol in a motor vehicle on a highway, leaving the scene of an accident and failing to yield at a stop sign. The disposition of those charges was not clear.

The county land bank got outbid at a sheriff’s sale last week in the first fully contested battle between a “slumlord” — who doesn’t pay taxes while evicting hundreds of tenants — and the public officials trying to hold him accountable.

In the first of 55 foreclosure cases headed to public auction this year, Gary L. Thomas opened with a minimum bid of $16,759.70. That’s how much he owes in unpaid property taxes, court costs, legal fees and civil penalties on Game 7 Bar and Grille at 627 S Arlington St.

The South Akron nightclub made headlines in 2017 with two deadly shootings and an assault on police officers during a bar brawl, all on separate occasions.

With several limited liability companies at his disposal, Thomas used TXS Properties Services LLC to buy the old bar for $130,000 in 2014. He transferred the property at no cost to 627 S Arlington St LLC months later. Last week, he used XE Properties LLC to bid on keeping it.

It’s unclear whether Thomas even owns the property. Court documents indicate that proceeds from the property, including rent, are “for the benefit of” the personal retirement account of Maria Bush, a private investor who could not be reached for comment through an attorney also representing Thomas.

In a separate and even lengthier lawsuit, city prosecutors convinced a judge this spring to padlock the troubled bar for a year. Thomas is appealing that decision, and the bar’s multiple operators have applied with the state to renew their liquor permits, which the city is also fighting.

At the sheriff’s sale last week, only one other bidder showed: Patrick Bravo, executive director of the Summit County Land Bank, which works with the county, city and private property owners to acquire problem properties.

In increments of $1,000, Thomas prevailed with a final $57,000 offer. Despite his companies and family owing nearly $950,000 in delinquent taxes, there’s no state law barring him from participating in a sheriff’s sale.

After the victory, Thomas paid his $1,000 deposit then offered Bravo the property — appraised at less than $60,000 — for $80,000. “I said, ‘well, I don’t know if I can go that high.’ At that point, we introduced ourselves,” said Bravo, who as the head of the land bank has worked closely with the Fiscal Office this past year to push 69 of Thomas’ properties covering 73 parcels into foreclosure, including the bar.

“The conversation didn’t go on much longer after that,” Bravo said.

In Akron’s poorest neighborhoods, Thomas has perfected a business model that sustains profits despite bad credit and foreclosures.

Many of his properties are now vacant lots. The houses that stood on them, some of which he purchased out of foreclosure from banks, were rented for years as taxes went unpaid and low-income tenants interviewed by the Beacon Journal complained of repairs not being made. The city has used taxpayer funds to demolish many of them.

Targeted foreclosures

In October, 48 more of Thomas’ properties are scheduled to go to sheriff’s sale. If no one bids, the land bank will assume ownership through an expedited process. If someone buys them, the minimum bid will at least recoup the unpaid taxes.

The glut of tax foreclosures filed by Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Pete Nischt on behalf of the land bank and Fiscal Office is an unprecedented model for collecting public dues from some of Akron’s savviest tax-delinquent landlords — starting with Thomas. While the litigious landlord lives in a $340,000 Wadsworth home, in Akron, Fiscal Officer Kristen Scalise and others call him a “slumlord.”

The joint tax foreclosure sting has forced Thomas to forfeit seven vacant or blighted properties with barely any value after accounting for the back taxes. He’s contested other properties, which are headed to sheriff’s sale instead.

Facing numerous foreclosures this past year, about $13,000 in back taxes have been paid on five properties owned by Thomas — who once told a reporter that “it’s not illegal to not pay your taxes.” Two more have been redeemed after being sold to PR 31 LLC, which is controlled by his son, and another buyer.

The bar is the first property to be contested all the way through the grueling legal process. Thomas missed the Wednesday deadline to pay the remaining $56,000 balance. With an annual 10 percent late fee compounding daily, he has until Sept. 6 to pay the rest or forfeit the commercial property.

“We have to see if this is a stall tactic, or if he really is going to pay,” Scalise said.

Lessons to learn

County auditors across Ohio are closely watching Summit County’s collaborative experiment in tax enforcement, which targets a single actor who uses shell companies to insulate some of his properties from the troubles of others.

“I am not aware that this type of situation has happened in any other county,” said Fran Lesser, head of the Ohio County Auditors’ Association. “I am going to make a big assumption that it’s not happening anywhere else in the country.”

The outcome of the special task force could rewrite how public tax collectors and quasi-public agencies like land banks work together in urban settings with lots of rentals to put pressure on negligent landlords.

As county officials start tallying more of Thomas’ properties now falling into delinquency, how he reacts to the current enforcement proceedings could strengthen the process when applied elsewhere or in the future.

The case already has caught the attention of state Rep. Emilia Sykes of Akron, a former staffer in the Summit County Fiscal Office who worked for Community Legal Services helping tenants in Akron and also clerked for a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Georgia. Scalise asked Sykes to look into loopholes in state law that allow tax-delinquent property owners like Thomas to participate in public auctions, transfer property deeds and use shell companies to shuffle real estate, which Thomas admitted is done to isolate his troubles from spreading like disease to all of his assets.

With age-old state laws favoring property owners, Sykes has reached out to other auditors, fiscal offices and legislative researchers at the Statehouse to gather information on “a really challenging issue.”

Eviction notice

Thomas hasn’t spoken with the Beacon Journal since a reporter caught up with him at an eviction hearing in September — one of the few he’s lost since the county started targeting his business. A man who answered his cellphone this week would not give his name but said, “I’ll be sure to have [Thomas] call you.”

Attorney Tyler Whitney, who represents Thomas in several foreclosure and eviction cases, said his client is best-suited to answer a reporter’s questions.

As a single landlord who shuffles properties through at least 25 entities, Thomas is one of the most tax-delinquent real estate owners in Summit County. According to Fiscal Office records, which will be updated soon to reflect another six months of tax bills, there are 12,629 properties with a collective tax delinquency of $118.3 million. Thomas is connected to at least 91 of them totaling $947,128 in back taxes that would otherwise support schools, libraries and a range of public services.

Aside from his regular appearances at the county courthouse, Thomas and his companies have filed at least 472 municipal court cases since 1996, almost always to evict his tenants. Many of the cases are filed on the same day by different companies using Thomas’ signature post office box.

Since last summer when the fiscal office and land bank teamed up on this case, Thomas has evicted or tried to evict 16 of his tenants.

Bravo tried to soften the blow for tenants caught in the middle by hosting clinics that explain to tenants their rights, and a chance to become owners of the troubled properties if they could survive eviction hearings and reports of poor living conditions.

But Thomas, who sometimes speaks for his legal counsel in court, has also used tenants to his advantage. Earlier this year, he moved a tenant into the shuttered bar at 627 S. Arlington St.

Once occupied, the property could not be possessed by the county. Like 48 others headed to sheriff’s sale this year, Thomas now will have to sell them or buy them back from the brink of foreclosure — forced to pay his back taxes in the process.

Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or [email protected]. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter or http://www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92 on Facebook.

Acme Fresh Market will expand its grocery pickup service, offering same-day pickup at all of its 16 stores beginning Thursday.

Also, pickups will be free beginning Thursday through September if customers order at least $30 worth of groceries.

Currently, the Akron-headquartered grocery chain offers pickup at six of its stores at a cost of $4.95 per order.

Thursday through September, pickup orders under $30 will cost $2.95.

“Pickups are strong” at the six stores. “We’re really excited about the program and that’s why we are pushing it,” Acme spokeswoman Katie Swartz said.

The grocery business is highly competitive, and this is a way for Acme to distinguish itself from others in the industry. Pickup services at groceries are becoming increasingly common as busy consumers look for more conveniences.

Acme pickup customers order online and then select the store location where they want to pick up groceries. Customers choose a two-hour time slot for the pickup at the store, where they park in a designated spot.

The website is orderacme.com.

“Ordering online from any device — phone, iPad, laptop, makes it easier for our customers, and that’s our goal,” Swartz said.

Acme began its grocery pickup service last year at the limited number of stores.

Acme rival Giant Eagle offers curbside grocery pickup at various Northeast Ohio stores, including its Market District stores in Cuyahoga Falls and Green, and at stores in Stow, Wadsworth, Green, Medina Township and Brunswick. Giant Eagle charges $4.95 per order.

Acme has trained employees at stores to be “personal shoppers.” They select items ordered online by pickup customers.

Customers wanting to pick up groceries from Acme stores offering pickup service beginning Thursday can begin placing their orders online Tuesday. The first pickup times will be 8 a.m. Thursday.

Pickup from all the stores will be available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

Acme launched its grocery delivery service last year, at the same time it began its limited pickup service that is now being expanded to all stores.

Acme grocery delivery is available to most ZIP codes where Acme Fresh Market operates stores, the chain said.

Acme is a family-owned company. Swartz declined to provide information on the costs associated with the pickup service.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or [email protected]thebeaconjournal.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com.

The president of a group that represents about 6,000 Ohio professors sent a scathing letter Friday to the University of Akron president and its board of trustees, questioning their push into competitive video gaming while eliminating academic programs.

“It is as though you are saying: Well, we are bored with education so let’s play games instead,” penned John T. McNay, who leads the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

He said UA appears to be thinking like a corporation rather than an academic institution, valuing any product that generates revenue as the same as any other.

“So playing games is the same as educating Ohio’s students for life and careers,” the letter said. “This shows a serious lack of judgment and indicates that you are violating the trust that has been placed in your hands for protecting and enhancing the University of Akron.”

The letter follows news this week that the university will phase out 80 degree programs, or about 20 percent of what it now offers. The programs account for less than 5 percent of overall student enrollment, according to university officials.

Those programs include 10 doctoral programs, 33 master’s programs, 20 bachelor’s programs, and 17 associate degree programs, including both the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics and a master’s degree and doctorate in history.

Enrollment, ability to generate research dollars and growth opportunities were among the factors officials examined when determining which programs to cut.

UA has been facing overall enrollment declines in recent years.

The changes, which involve no layoffs, will allow the UA to bolster “key areas of strength and opportunity,” school officials say.

McNay countered by asking UA officials what they had done to promote the degrees before deciding to kill them.

“When did you take a special interest, for example, in promoting the History graduate program?” he asked in the letter. “What quality university does not have a History graduate program?”

McNay said his group watched “baffled and outraged by the destructive and senseless acts” of former UA President Scott Scarborough, who abruptly stepped down in 2016 after a tumultuous couple of years that included moves to rebrand the school as a polytechnic institution.

Scarborough was replaced by the dean of the University of Akron Law School, Matthew Wilson, who stepped down this year. He has been temporarily replaced by John Green, dean of the university’s College of Buchtel Arts and Sciences, while university officials do a national search to find the school’s next leader.

“We had hoped that we were beyond [Scarborough’s ideas to change the school] now but it appears that these actions are simply a replay of the whole shameful episode,” McNay wrote.

His letter comes on the heels of a joint statement by two University of Akron faculty organizations that criticized the process leading up to the decision to cut the 80 degree programs.

On Friday, one of those groups — AAUP’s University of Akron chapter — sent a follow-up to make clear the group’s chief negotiator and past President John Zipp was involved in the review process. But, the group said, he was not part of the final decision-making process that led to the decision to cut 80 academic programs, nor was any other member of the Akron AAUP executive committee.

“While faculty leaders engaged in the process in an attempt to make it as fair and useful as possible, their criticisms of the process are strong and on the record,” the group wrote in a statement.

University of Akron spokesman Wayne Hill said the “yearlong, faculty-led, comprehensive Academic Program Review was fully compliant with and actually exceeded the university’s shared governance principles and processes.

“Substantial and meaningful faculty input was obtained throughout the process, but, ultimately, it is the president’s responsibility to recommend and the role of the board of trustees to make these types of decisions,” Hill said. “The in-depth study revealed that less than 5 percent of UA students were seeking a degree that is to be phased out and it also highlighted areas of investment and opportunity to build on the university’s strengths and distinctive academic programs. We are proceeding with those initiatives.”

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or [email protected].