School threats, interstate construction top stories of 2015

A rash of threats at Franklin Community High School unnerved parents and students, led to a lockdown and eventually canceled classes the last day before Christmas break. In the span of a few days, school officials found two drawings inside bathrooms of a gun with the words “shoot up the school,” and then a bomb threat was called into the school. The threats were made around the same time as multiple threats made to schools in central Indiana and nationwide.

For more than half of the year, the majority of Interstate 65 through Johnson County was under construction. Crews were adding lanes, building a new interchange, repaving the interstate and rebuilding bridges between Southport Road to south of Edinburgh. The miles of construction led to frequent backups and multiple accidents, including some that were fatal. Motorists questioned and criticized the state’s decision to do all the projects at once, but state officials said drivers needed to pay more attention and slow down in order to avoid accidents.

Parents and school officials raised concerns when a new version of the ISTEP would require students to spend 18 or more hours on practice and actual exams. Legislators approved changes, cutting the test by three hours. School officials worried the new version of the test would still lower scores, but the results were delayed multiple times. For the first time, parents had the chance to ask for a rescore if their student’s preliminary scores seemed lower than expected, and thousands statewide made that request, again delaying the release of the results.

For weeks, jurors heard from dozens of witnesses that Mark Leonard was the mastermind of a plot to blow up a southside home to collect insurance proceeds that wound up destroying a neighborhood and killing the couple who lived next door. Leonard was on trial for multiple felonies, including murder and arson. He was found guilty of all the charges against him by a jury in a South Bend court. Jurors heard from neighbors of the home in the Richmond Hill subdivision, just north of the county line, and the family of Jennifer Longworth, a Southwest Elementary School teacher, and Dion Longworth, who lived next door and died after the explosion, and homeowner Monserrate Shirley, Leonard’s girlfriend, who pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for her testimony. Leonard was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Greenwood got another interchange off Interstate 65 at Worthsville Road, making it the third into the city. And the design of that interchange was unique. Using a diverging diamond design, which has only been built one other time in Indiana, the new exit was able to eliminate left turns, making the area safer for traffic but also requiring traffic to shift to the other side of the road. The new interchange at Worthsville Road was part of a deal the city and state agreed to years ago to split the cost of the $22 million project. In addition, the city also spent another $9.5 million to improve Worthsville Road around I-65, with wider lanes, trails and a boulevard-design. City officials also laid out standards for how the area around the new interchange should develop, including high-end housing and office space. The city allowed one gas station, which residents raised concerns about, but won’t allow truck stops, fast food restaurants or other gas stations, similar to what has developed around the exit off Main Street in Greenwood.

A federal agency approved a plan to upgrade the Louisville & Indiana Railroad tracks on the east side of the county, which would allow CSX to run more, faster and heavier trains. By 2020, once upgrades to the rail line are done, CSX can increase train speeds from 30 mph to 49 mph, and nearly triple the number of trains passing through Johnson County each day, from about six to 17. Those numbers concerned local officials, who made repeated requests for upgrades to multiple crossings throughout the county. The railroad company and federal office both turned down the requests, so officials continued talking to lawmakers and lobbyists and banded together to apply for grants. The goal is to upgrade every crossing along the route to have crossing arms and flashing lights, which would cost more than $5 million. Local officials applied for a grant at the end of the year, which would pay for all the crossings to be upgraded.

Police investigated and made arrests in three different murders.

A Center Grove man was killed in a plot set up by his wife, Opal Williams, her boyfriend, Ricky King, and a relative Charles Lehman, police said. Police said Steven Williams pleaded for his life on the phone to his wife before the two men stabbed him and dumped his body under a bridge in Indianapolis. Cases for all three are pending in Marion County.

A Bargersville man was killed in what police called a drug deal gone awry. Police said 20-year-old Douglas Anre Lee Lane was shot in the head in the bedroom of a Greenwood apartment when he thought he was buying drugs from Marcus Hardy, who investigators said shot Lane and took his money. Hardy has been charged with murder, and his case is pending.

A Greenwood restaurant employee was shot and killed in the parking lot before his shift by a man who police said was upset about an affair his wife was having. Investigators quickly focused in on Candelario Cruz-Trujillo in the death of Miguel Angel Hernandez. Hernandez’s wife told police that Hernandez and Cruz-Trujillo’s wife had been having an affair. Cruz-Trujillo has been charged with murder, and his case is pending.

After a years-long lull, school construction began again with three different multimillion-dollar projects. Greenwood schools approved spending $38 million to build a new middle school near Freedom Park to replace the building near downtown Greenwood and a fieldhouse next to the high school where sports teams and other teams could practice and compete. Center Grove approved building a $10 million student activity center, with a six-lane indoor track and four basketball courts, that could be used by athletic and academic teams. But the proposal was the subject of a petition and remonstrance process, where supporters and opponents competed to gather the most signatures. The signatures collected were being counted at the end of the year. And construction began on a new $10 million Indian Creek Elementary School, which was being connected to the intermediate school.

Dozens of cars were broken into during the summer, many that were left unlocked, in Center Grove area neighborhoods. Residents woke up to their cars rifled through and electronics, change and credit cards missing. Police changed the ways they patrolled neighborhoods at night to try to catch the thieves. Residents in one neighborhood woke up to deputies searching their yards, when one thief was nearly caught. And three teens were arrested, after investigators asked for the public’s help identifying them on surveillance video from stores where stolen credit cards were used.

Hundreds of students in the county’s two largest school districts had to move to another school due to redistricting. Center Grove moved more than 700 elementary and middle school students to make more room at schools that were getting full, especially in the southern White River Township area. But parents later complained that class sizes, especially at Center Grove Elementary School, had gotten too large, and asked school officials to make changes to address the issue.

Clark-Pleasant approved adding sixth grade to the middle school, having all elementary schools include kindergarten through fifth grade, making the intermediate school into an elementary school and closing Sawmill Woods Elementary School in a redistricting plan that will move nearly 900 students in the 2016-17 school year.

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2718.