The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Jan. 27, 2023

Top stories: Economy 4, fatal shooting 3

Editor’s note: With 2019 nearly over, the Van Wert independent has again selected its top 10 stories of the year, and will be including those stories through Tuesday, December 31. After a break to celebrate New Year’s Day, the series will continue Thursday, January 2, with a story on possible important news coming in 2020. 

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Van Wert County Emergency Management Director Rick McCoy got some drone footage of a multi-county vehicle chase when it passed on U.S. 30, near Marsh Road. The incident resulted in the driver, Spencerville resident Terry Pierce Jr., being shot and killed. photo by Rick McCoy for the Van Wert independent

Today’s top stories include the local economy — with special attention for the current hospital construction project — and a fatal highway shooting on U.S. 30 following a chase through Allen and Van Wert counties.

The No. 4 story of 2019 involved economic development as a whole in Van Wert County, but primarily focused on the ongoing hospital project. While the Business Development Corporation campaign received a nod on its own, as did houses going up in the first new residential subdivision in a decade, Van Wert County saw a number of economic positives — and some negatives — during 2019.

One major project begun in August 2018 was ongoing all year long as workers continued construction of a $46-million addition to Van Wert Health. A topping off ceremony was held on the project in July of this year to celebrate the placing of the last steel beam on the exterior structure of the addition. 

Hospital President/CEO Jim Pope said the facility will include new surgical suites, enhanced patient accommodations, labor and delivery rooms, and a C-section suite and additional OB-GYN rooms,

Also included are new endoscopy rooms, new private acute-care patient rooms, intensive care unit rooms, a critical care area, a post-anesthesia care unit, a pre-admission testing area with access to lab and imaging services, an enhanced IT area, new café and lobby, and private post-surgery pick-up area.

As part of the topping off ceremony, hospital staff and community members were given the chance to sign the final 32-foot steel beam that completed the exterior skeleton of the hospital structure.

Meanwhile, construction continues on the hospital addition, which is to be completed sometime in 2020.

A number of local companies also added employees during the year, including National Door & Trim, which expected to eventually double its workforce, while Eaton Corporation saw a downturn near the end of 2019 that resulted in a number of layoffs by Van Wert County’s largest employer.

Although national economic news was mostly positive in 2019, the local economy still appears a bit stagnant, with unemployment remaining about the same throughout the year. Hopefully, U.S.-Chinese trade talks and other possible negative impacts on the global, and even local, economy will end this coming year and local companies will thrive in 2020.

The No. 3 story of the year was the first fatal shooting on a county highway in more than 70 years. On September 3, 46-year-old Spencerville resident Terry Pierce Jr. failed to heed a village police officer’s to stop the semi-tractor-truck unit he was driving and led officers from Van Wert and Allen County Sheriff’s Offices and the Ohio State Highway Patrol on a chase that went through two counties and ended up on U.S. in Van Wert County when Pierce was shot while driving the semi, which was stopped near the intersection with Feasby-Wisener Road.

Officers had made numerous attempts to stop the semi, including the use of stop sticks, shooting out tires on the semi, and other methods, but Pierce ignored all orders to stop the vehicle. However, when the westbound semi drove into eastbound lanes of the highway to avoid pursuing cruisers, creating a traffic hazard for other vehicles, officers made the decision to shoot Pierce to get the semi stopped before others were injured.

The incident has some definite parallels to a fatal shooting that took place July 23, 1948. Both shootings involved larger trucks, although in the 1948 shooting, the truck was stopped at a roadblock placed on U.S. 224 by local law enforcement officers.

The 1948 shooting involved serial killers John West and Robert Daniels, who had killed six people before they were stopped in Van Wert County. West was driving the automobile transport truck the men had hijacked while Daniels was asleep in one of the cars on the trailer. While then County Sheriff Roy Shaffer climbed on the trailer and captured Daniels without incident, West came out shooting from the truck’s cab, wounding Game Warden Frank Friemoth in the arm and Van Wert Police Sgt. Leonard Conn in the chest. Conn was able to return fire and killed West. Daniels was later tried and sentenced to death in 1949. The officers both recovered from their injuries.

While Pierce had not killed anyone prior to the two-hour chase, the chance for someone to be seriously injured or killed, other than the Spencerville man, increased as Pierce drove more and more recklessly on the four-lane highway. 

Hopefully, it will be another 70 years — or more — before Van Wert County sees another such incident.

Tuesday: The No. 1 and No. 2 top stories will be published in the Van Wert independent.

POSTED: 12/30/19 at 1:54 am. FILED UNDER: News