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By Taylor Riley

The year 2018 has come to an end and many of you are ready for a fresh start. But, we’ve come to the time of the year to reflect on previous days–and boy–this year was a doozy!

From the darker court cases to lighter stories about the strength of the farming community and development of new businesses, this county produced a lot of news in the past year.

Just for our loyal readers, we’ve broken down the top five news and sports stories of the past year (in no particular order). Enjoy!

2018 General Election

The county narrowed down its local political leaders in May and then chose the offices in the November General Election.

In May, five contests were decided with a total of 2,531 voters going out to the polls. In the race for judge-executive in the primary, voters chose Democrat incumbent John Logan Brent over Glenn Baxter. On the Republican ballot, Sheriff Danny Cravens won over Bonnie Martin-Duke.

In the November final election, Brent narrowly defeated Cravens 3,224 to 3,102.

“I was extremely surprised with how close it was,” Brent said in November. “We campaigned hard … I’m not happy with the result. For one thing, it showed me how disengaged our county is becoming.”

Republican Keith Perry and Democrat Danny Stivers competed for the sheriff’s position vacated by Cravens. In the November election, Deputy Perry won 3,574 to 2,750.

“I was very pleased with the result,” Perry said, thanking everyone for their support in November. “The hard work paid off .. I’m ready to prove myself.”

A couple of incumbent magistrates lost their races, including District 2 Democrat Rickey Timberlake, who fell to Republican Roger Hartlage, 700-505. Voters chose Democrat Chuck Smith, owner of Smith-Berry Winery, over Republican Terri Cummings, 509-469.

Another surprise was the race for New Castle Mayor. Bobby King won over incumbent Dennis Benham by only one vote, 150-149.

All incumbents won in the general election state races, including U.S. House District 4 Rep. Thomas Massey, Kentucky Sen. Paul Hornback and Kentucky Rep. Rick Rand.

A murder in Smithfield

In October, a construction worker found a body in a burned vehicle on Six Mile Creek Road in Lockport. The male body was unidentifiable until dental records and DNA were processed in Louisville.

Meanwhile, the family of Elijah Creekmore filed a missing person’s report after their loved one was involved in a dispute at Lake Jericho Road in Smithfield, including Gregory Heightchew, 20, of Smithfield, Joshua Jackson, 22, of Bethlehem and Marcus Pinion.

According to court documents, the dispute began because of an alleged burglary. During the argument, police say Heightchew retrieved a gun and pointed it at Pinion’s head, attempted to shoot three times but the safety was on. Heightchew then disengaged and fired five rounds.

Creekmore was then identified by police as the victim in the burning car. Jackson was originally charged with tampering with physical evidence and Heightchew was charged with attempted murder and wanton endangerment.

In December, the men’s charges were upgraded. Heightchew was charged with murder, arson, tampering with physical evidence and persistent felony offender.

Both men are now being held on a $2.5 million bond and could face the death penalty.

Women’s soccer reaches new heights

The Henry County Lady Cats topped the year’s sports news as they made history this season.

The team, led by Megan Abney, Presley Crowe, Janey Thompson, Jenna Hardin, Allison Johnson and Erica Bratcher, won more games, scored more goals and held opponents to the fewest goals in program history in the 2018 season.

They were disappointed, though, when Owen County upset them in the district at the end of the season.

Abney received all-state honors at the end of the season. She is the first HCHS soccer player to be named all-state. She later signed to play college soccer with Georgetown College.

Coach Shelby Mings built a program that can withstand the loss of a strong group of seniors, as many of the team’s leaders will not return. Only Hardin and Crowe will be present next season.

The Lady Cats are expected to be the 31st District favorites again next year. They lose a lot of talent and experience but have many talented players returning to fill the shoes of players like Bratcher, Abney, Thompson and Johnson.

Dairy farmers hit hard

Milk prices took a nosedive as mega retailers demanded decreased pricing with each new contract, lower than small producers could bear.

Two Henry County dairies suffered directly this year when Dean Foods decided to end its contracts with the farms on May 31. Jericho Acres LLC, the Coombs’ family farm in Smithfield, and the Taylor dairy farm in New Castle were a ffected.

“Unfortunately, Dean Foods has made the difficult decision to end milk procurement contracts with (more than 100 farmers), the company said. “We regret this decision had to be made.”

The food company listed factors in its decision as a surplus of raw milk, decreased consumption and retailers, such as Walmart and Meijer, expanding their own presence in a highly competitive market.

For the remainder of 2018, the families struggled to find what was next for not only their farms but also their careers.

Both families pondered several options including raising beef cattle, growing crops and turning to agritourism.

After the Local’s story was published in April, featuring the Coombs and Taylor families, national news outlets picked up the sad story.

A couple of viewers of an NBC News special on the topic were HGTV personalities Chip and Joanna Gaines. The Gaines’ met with the Coombs family at Silobration, in Waco, Texas, an annual festival featuring a vendor fair, food trucks and activities, hosted by the Gaines’ parent company Magnolia.

At a nighttime concert, Chip Gaines asked the family to come up on stage and showed a clip of the family on their farm. After the video, Chip gave the family a large check with no stings attached.

The check was made out for $50,000.

Now, the Coombs family has decided to build and operate a micro dairy processing plant, just for milk from eight cows, and possibly a future farm store.

The money received from the Gaines, along with state grants, will help the farm–and farmers–stay alive.

New distilleries move in

The most controversy this year stemmed from the influx of bourbon distilleries and rack houses into the county.

It started back in May when each of the communities in the county approved ordinances that would allow distilleries into the county under certain conditions.

The conditions included 10 deliveries a week, not counting grain; and the language of “tasting rooms” to include the word “restaurant.”

Henry County Public Schools and other institutions would receive thousands in revenue from state barrel and property taxes. Judge-Executive John Logan Brent said $10,532 of each $1 million would go to the county (subtracting $1,220 state real estate tax): $7,430 of each $1 million would go to HCPS and the remaining $3,102 would go to the library, conservation district, extension office, health department and county government.

While the new companies moving in sounded like a good plan to some, others had a problem.

In June, Rabbit Hole Distilling Company anncounced its venture in Smithfield but residents voiced concerns about the whiskey bringing black fungus to their homes. In late June, the owner, Kaveh Zamanian, pulled out of the plan.

In early July, two option agreements gave Rabbit Hole a right to purchase 37 acres of property in Campbellsburg. The property will be used for storage and, potentially, bottling.

The board of adjustments approved the plan in September, but an appeal was filed in late October by 30 parties against the distilling company, and the suit is ongoing.

Other companies planning to, or who have already, moved to Henry County are Angel’s Envy, Peerless Distilling Company, Six Mile Creek Distillery and Old Blue Ribbon.