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Diggin In
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Local officials broke ground on the new Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Criminal Justice Center Friday morning, signaling the beginning of a construction project slated to be completed in 2023 at a cost of up to $45 million.

“It’s been an interesting road to get here,” Commission President David Bramer said of the project, which began in 2017 when state officials told the county to correct its jail overcrowding or face penalties.

“Something needs to happen with our jail” and they have worked to make sure it’s all done in the best way possible every step of the way, Bramer said.

A process that began with a feasibility study, continued with site acquisition, needs assessment, design and project management, finance and bond sales, bid advertisement and approval finally resulted in shovels being turned at the site, 1150 J.A. Berry Lane on Madison’s hilltop.

“This facility is going to be set up in an efficient, management style that allows for the safety of our officers,” said Sheriff Dave Thomas.

For example, Thomas said there will be a recreation area which each inmate will be able to access for required recreation time in close proximity to a cell. “It will provide for officer safety and efficiency of time,” said Thomas. “Instead of taking a week for required recreation time, it can be done in two days, and maybe one.”

“There are reasons we are here doing what we are doing today,” Council President Pam Crozier said. “Primarily, we want to protect our jail staff from overcrowding of the jail we now have, and from injury and harm.”

However, she added that the current jail is not large enough to sufficiently house the county’s inmates, so the county has to send the overflow to other jails, paying for their housing and transportation. “We need to keep them in Jefferson County, and keep those dollars in our county,” Crozier said.

Crozier also expressed appreciation to county residents and their support for the project. “It’s with you and your voices of support that this couldn’t have been done,” she said.

Scott Carnegie, representing DLZ, the jail’s architectural firm, commended county officials for “having the courage it takes to start a project like this. Jails are not popular, but they are a necessity.” He noted the 300-bed, 84,779 gross square feet facility is designed so that it’s capable of expanding.

Owner’s representative Jack Krouse has been working with the county on the jail project since 2019 and will continue to be involved until it’s completed. “I have been constructing jails since 1980, and I can honestly tell you that in all the projects without a doubt, this is the smoothest a project has gone of any I have ever been involved.”

Shireman Construction’s Mark Shireman, construction manager for the project, said he’s “honored to be on this team.

“This is going to be a great team,” Shireman said. “We work well together and will continue to work well together.”

Autopsy planned to ID victim of rural fire
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Authorities are looking to an autopsy on Monday to help positively identify a body discovered at a Thursday morning house fire on Greenbrier Road in rural Milton Township north of Brooksburg and east of Manville.

County Coroner Rodney Nay said Friday morning that an autopsy is scheduled on Monday to identify the body and cause of death.

The fire was first reported shortly before 7 a.m. Thursday and by the time firefighters arrived, flames had already engulfed the house, a manufactured home located in the 3300 block of North Greenbrier Road, as well as a nearby storage building.

Rykers’ Ridge Fire Chief Art Peters said he could not speculate exactly when the fire began, but Jefferson County Sheriff’s Investigator C.J. Miller confirmed the call was made to county emergency services at 6:53 a.m.

The residence is located in a remote area of Jefferson County well off main highways near the Switzerland County line and the roads emergency units traveled to the site wind around turns and through hills. Firefighters arrived quickly — the first responding firefighters from Milton Township Fire Department arriving at 7:04 a.m., just 11 minutes after the initial call — but the home was already totally engulfed and the roof had collapsed.

Peters said Rykers’ Ridge Fire Department arrived at 7:16 a.m. and the structure was “already falling down when we got there. It had a good head start before we got there.” Peters speculated that the fire probably had been burning for some time before anyone noticed it, but that investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s Office will better determine that.

Two engines and two tankers from Milton Township and Rykers’ Ridge fire departments battled the blaze. Peters said multiple one-half mile trips were made to refill tanker trucks to keep putting water on the fire. At 11 a.m., more than four hours after the fire was reported, the house totally burned to its metal frame and firefighters were tending to hot spots and smoldering flames to keep the fire from rekindling.

Miller noted that while the house and storage shed both burned “the grass between was not burned.”

Peters said he wasn’t sure what caused the two different structures to catch fire since there was some distance between the buildings but noted “if the wind blows enough” fire is likely to spread.

The fire remains under investigation by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Jefferson County Coroner Rodney Nay and the State Fire Marshal’s office.

DNR staffers tour Hanover Park ahead of grant application
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Four representatives of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources toured Hanover Community Park last week as part of the city’s application for grant funding to make park improvements.

Parks Committee Chairman Don Server reported on the visit to the Hanover Park Board at Tuesday’s meeting.

“They were very receptive and had some very good comments,” said Server. “Everything was well received and provided good feedback.”

Hanover Town Clerk-Treasurer Keith Mefford said the DNR has received 16 grant applications totaling $6.2 million, and only has $5.7 million available. Mefford said Hanover asked for $240,000 in its application, which the town must match for an overall $480,000 project.

Improvements would include a restroom/storage building near the park amphitheater, extending trails by one-half mile in the vicinity of Fields 1 and 2, installing 72 lights for the park trails as well as lights for Fields 1 and 2 and the tennis court, refurbish an existing equipment storage building, and adding an officials building near Fields 1 and 2, and refurbishing the tennis courts.

After the tour, which took place on July 7, it was recommended that restrooms be added to the officials building. Server said he will must submit a final updated version of the proposal by July 28 that will include additional restrooms in the officials building.

Parks Director Scott Davidson said it is anticipated that the grant will be awarded in the fall. If Hanover receives funding, Davidson said that another DNR grant cannot be sought until the currently proposed project is substantially completed. Hanover would be allowed to apply for one more grant over the next eight years.

One project on the community’s wish list is a Splash Park, and council member Debbie Kroger asked the park committee to pursue possible grant opportunities for that feature.

In other business:

• Davidson reported that Hanover hosted a Major League Baseball Pitch and Hit competition in which about 20 children competed. Two local divisional champions, Kennedy Rowlett and Kyra Ayler, have qualified for team competition this coming Saturday in Cincinnati.

• Hanover Bush League Softball is now playing on Thursdays with five teams and another league will start in September. Davidson said the Hanover Bush League has contributed several sets of catchers gear and a push mower to the parks department.

• Davidson recommended an adjustment in rental fees for the park community building. He said there have been several rental requests with only a few bookings. The current fee to rent the community building is a $50 refundable deposit and a four-hour minimum fee of $150 with additional costs for extended hours and kitchen use.

“The goal is to increase the use of the facility,” said Davidson, who plans to submit an adjusted contract/fee structure at the next meeting.

• Announced a co-ed softball tournament on Saturday, July 31 as well as a concert at the amphitheater featuring Buffalo Wabs. Concert tickets are $15 in advance and $20 on the day of the show. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. with Wes Shipp and the Jacob DeAtley Trio opening for Buffalo Wabs.

Jefferson man charged with child porn
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A Jefferson County man was arrested by Indiana State Police Wednesday on five felony child pornography charges linked to a previous Crimes Against Children investigation involving another Jefferson County man.

In April of this year, ISP investigators assigned to the Internet Crimes against Children unit arrested Donald Victor Weil, 74, of Hanover, Indiana, for Child Solicitation and Sexual Misconduct with a Minor, both Level 4 felonies. Information gained as a result of that case then lead officers to investigate Matthew D. Riddle, 35, of Lexington, Indiana.

On July 12, a search warrant for Riddle’s residence was granted by Jefferson County Circuit Court including searching digital devices used by Riddle. The warrant was executed on July 13 and information collected from that search and investigation then led investigators to request a warrant for Riddle’s arrest.

On July 21, investigators arrested Riddle on three counts of Possession of Child Pornography, all Level 5 felonies; and two counts of Possession of Child Pornography, both Level 6 felonies.

Matthew Riddle was taken into custody without incident and transported to the Jefferson County Jail where he is being held on a $200,00 cash bond. Weil also remains incarcerated at the Jefferson County Jail where he is being held on a $100,000 cash bond.

Both cases are still under investigation.