Here are 9 times the Evansville area made national news in 2022

2022-12-06 16:36:15 By : Mr. David Gong

EVANSVILLE – Casey and Vicky White wanted some pizza.

Holed up inside their room at Motel 41 in Evansville, they called Dominos and placed an order. A few minutes later, the delivery man met Vicky in the parking lot.

He had no idea he was providing dinner for the two of the most wanted fugitives in the U.S.

The Whites – who were unrelated, despite the shared last name – captured the nation’s attention in late April and early May. Casey was a 6-foot-9 felon about to stand trial for murder, and Vicky was a former corrections officer who helped him escape the Alabama jail where she worked.

Authorities across the country searched for them while millions of true-crime fanatics concocted theories on the unlikely couple’s whereabouts. Somehow they ended up in Evansville, tucked away at a roadside motel for six days before federal and local authorities – aided by the keen eye of a car wash employee – chased them down on U.S. 41 on May 9.

The fugitives’ story brought hordes of media to town. And it wasn’t the only time the city made national headlines in 2022.

The stories ranged from ridiculous to tragic. Here are a few examples.

At 12:57 p.m. on Aug. 10, North Weinbach Avenue was quiet. Cars plodded down the street and a mailman delivered packages nearby.

One minute later, everything changed.

Married couple Charles and Martina Hite were killed when their home at 1010 N. Weinbach exploded. The blast also killed their neighbor, Jessica Teague, and damaged dozens of nearby homes and business – some of which were ultimately torn down.

Earlier this month, the Indiana State Fire Marshal ruled the blast accidental, blaming it on a “leaking gas line in the basement of the home.”

“The line was found uncapped, with the valve in the open position,” an Indiana State Fire Marshal news release stated on Nov. 2. “Meter data taken after the incident showed a sharp increase in gas usage beginning two days before the blast. No additional evidence was found to determine how the valve was opened.”

Both the fire marshal’s office and CenterPoint have declined to answer additional questions from the Courier & Press about the investigation.

Charlie and Martina were active with the Special Olympics, and both worked for Fresh Market. They also had a flea market table at Cowboy Jims on South Green River Road, and Charlie served as equipment manager for the Harrison High School football team.

Teague was a graduate of Henderson County High School, according to obituary. She worked for Toyota and had two cats named Bell and Pepper.

Survivors, meanwhile, have been left to battle PTSD and a maze of insurance woes.

More:'The worst thing': Neighbors struggle to move on 3 months after Evansville house explosion

Ron Ryan was one of the nearby residents who lost his home in the blast. He’s been forced to navigate increasingly complicated insurance policies. After spending months living in a 240-square foot RV, he finally received cash value for his home: much less than he could have gotten on the open market, he told the Courier & Press earlier this month.

Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc. and a specialist in gas and liquid pipeline investigations, said it’s highly unusual for a gas line’s cap to come off on its own. The state fire marshal’s office has said they don’t know how that occurred.

“Caps on gas lines, they’re supposed to be sealed, they’re supposed to be closed. They don't just fall off,” Kuprewicz told the Courier & Press. “It’s a valid question to ask: Why would the cap come off?”

After mulling the decision for decades, the University of Southern Indiana finally took the leap to Division I athletics in 2022.

The Board of Trustees unanimously ratified the move on Feb. 7. And on Nov. 13, the USI men’s basketball team shocked the Southern Illinois Salukis 71-53 for its first D-I win.

For subscribers:'Absolutely electrifying': Inside USI's first D1 statement win against Southern Illinois

Not everyone, however, was on board.

In February, multiple faculty members told the Courier & Press they were worried a move to D-I would only exacerbate the school’s financial woes and deepen the salary divide between high-paid coaches and administrators and lower-compensated instructors and staff members.

“They’ve been telling people for years, ‘We can’t afford to give raises and we can’t afford to staff the counseling center to the extent people would like.’ There are all these things they can’t afford to do,” said Crystal Young, a USI grad and former psychology professor. “But suddenly it comes to sports and they can somehow find (millions).”

Out of the three oldest active baseball stadiums in the country, Bosse Field is the only one that doesn’t house a Major League Baseball team.

That could change soon – at least for one night.

In August, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke told the Courier & Press that MLB officials have visited the city twice this year, and they’re considering playing an MLB game at Bosse at some hazy point in the future.

It would likely be in line with the recent “Field of Dreams” games played in Iowa. Like the cornfield-surrounded field there, Bosse has a connection to a famous baseball movie, “A League of Their Own," which was partly filmed here in the 1990s.

But if the game happens, historic Bosse Field could get a little less historic.

To meet MLB standards, the field would have to be surfaced, and the dugouts would be ripped out and rebuilt farther from home plate, among other changes. Winnecke has said that could cost at least $2.2 million. None of that would come from taxpayers, he claimed.

Two men were killed and others were injured on Aug. 25 when a shooter opened fire at Harbor House Christian Center in Henderson, Kentucky: the city's only homeless shelter for men.

The victims were identified as Steven Wathen, 67, and 44-year-old Chad Holmes. According to his obituary, Wathen was a father and avid sports fan who was known as the "quiet, humble gentlemen" around the shelter. Holmes, meanwhile, wanted to become a preacher, a friend told the Courier & Press.

Police identified the shooter as Kenneth B. Gibbs, a resident of the shelter.

Brian McClain, another resident at the home, said the nightly church service had just ended when he went to the dormitory area to rest before heading to his third-shift job. That's when a man he identified as Gibbs flipped on the lights.

"He looked at me funny and shut the light back off, and when he went out the dorm room, it wasn’t five seconds later I heard shots," he said.

He rushed toward the dorm window to escape. He thought about breaking it, but eventually "got my mind about me and unlocked the window and got out."

He said Wathen and Holmes were "two of the nicest guys you've ever met."

"It's crazy," he said. "I don’t know what the hell is wrong with people, man.”

In May, the Washington Post wrote a lengthy article marking the 50th anniversary of George Wallace’s last presidential run in 1972.

They highlighted three towns that embraced the racist and segregationist former Alabama governor and tracked the racial struggles those communities still face today.

One of those towns was Evansville. Our city hosted big Wallace rallies during several of his presidential runs. The article compared those to similar rallies in recent years by former President Donald Trump.

Reporter Peter Jamison spoke to several local officials, including city councilors Alex Burton and Missy Mosby and Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding, about Evansville’s past and current struggles with race relations. 

Wedding claimed in the article that the city’s real problem was “black-on-black crime.” An Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. teacher, meanwhile, compared Evansville to the “The Sunken Place”: the metaphorical purgatory for oppressed African Americans from the 2017 film “Get Out.”

More:Evansville's racial struggles profiled in Washington Post article about George Wallace

The article painted Evansville as a struggling, Trump-loving city with little diversity.

“You take what the 45th president has said – is saying,” Burton is quoted as saying in the article. “I mean, you make that into the 21st Century and you have what George Wallace was in 1972.”

In July, a camper showed up on a sandbar just off the Ohio River. No one is completely sure who lugged it out there – or how. But within days, it was a citywide sensation.

Boaters surrounded it and had a makeshift beach party. Families trekked to the riverfront to have their photos taken in front of it from afar. And one day, some local poet put a sign over the camper that gave it its name: The P**n Saloon.

More:'The best thing.' The Ohio River camper captured Evansville's attention. Why?

The honeymoon ended when the Ohio River swallowed the vehicle, causing it to break apart during a water rescue.

But a few weeks later, the saloon got a second life in The Weekly World News.

The infamous black-and-white tabloid, which followed the fictional adventures of Bat Boy in the 1990s and constantly claimed Hillary Clinton was days away from delivering an alien baby, featured the P**n Saloon in a joke about former “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson, who was fresh off a relationship with Kim Kardashian.

Davidson had a brief public feud with Kanye West, Kardashian’s ex-husband. So the “News” photoshopped Davidson alongside a picture of the camper.

“Pete Davidson Seen Leaving a Questionable Establishment in Utah’s West Desert,” the headline says.

“With Kanye stalking him,” a caption read, “he (sic) to hideout somewhere.”

Actors with ties to the Evansville area popped up in shows and movies all through 2022.

Newburgh native Jerri Tubbs (“Stranger Things”) appeared in “Where the Crawdads Sing” this summer, while Reitz High School alum Matthew Gerbig – known as Matthew Alan, and once the star of an infamous Folgers commercial – appeared in the Netflix hit “Dahmer.”

As usual, University of Evansville theatre grads had a good year as well.

“30 Rock” star Jack McBrayer unveiled the second season of his AppleTV+ kids show, “Hello Jack! The Kindness Show,” while Oscar winner Rami Malek showed up in “Amsterdam” alongside Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington and Timothy Olyphant.

“A mob watching African Americans hang has been replaced by a crowd watching us speak and lead.”

Sophie Kloppenburg spoke those words on Oct. 24 after a hard-fought project of hers finally came to fruition. The 17-year-old Mount Vernon High School senior spent months advocating for a memorial to be placed at the Posey County courthouse to commemorate the horrific deaths of seven Black men at the hands of a bloodthirsty white mob.

In October 1878, a horde of angry residents shot, stabbed, burned and lynched the men, some who had been accused of raping three white women. None of the men were ever given a trial. Instead, citizens killed them without evidence and left their bodies strewn out in public.

The victims were identified Daniel Harrison Jr., and John Harrison, their father Daniel Harrison Sr., and Jim Good, William Chambers, Edward Warner and Jeff Hopkins.

Local media, as well as CBS News, were on hand for the dedication.

Kloppenburg worked with scores of local officials, as well as University of Southern Indiana historians, to make the marker happen.

“While they were accused of various crimes, the accusations were questionable, they never received a trial, and no one responsible for their deaths faced prosecution,” the memorial reads in part. “Let us never forget what happened here, including this community’s work toward mending the bitter legacy those injustices left behind.”

James Stinson may have been the first person to see the fugitives in Evansville.

A worker at Weinbach Car Wash, he found a dark blue Ford F-150 abandoned in one of the wash bays. Normally, he’d just have it towed, he later told the Courier & Press. But this time, he decided to check the security footage.

And there, standing next to the truck, was a man who looked a lot like Casey White. Stinson was certain it was him. After all, an NBA-sized man covered with tattoos is hard to miss.

He contacted authorities, and eventually U.S. marshals reviewed the footage.

Marty Keely, U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Alabama, told the Courier & Press that authorities knew the Whites had purchased a similar truck. Their Ford Edge had broken down a few days before in rural Tennessee, and a man marshals found in Williamson County told them he’d sold an F-150 for $6,000 to two people fitting the Whites’ descriptions.

But authorities had lost track of the Whites from there – until they saw Stinson’s footage.

On it, they also spotted Casey leaving with Vicky in a gray Cadillac sedan. And that’s what kicked the manhunt into even-higher gear.

According to EPD spokeswoman Sgt. Anna Gray, there was a miscommunication between local authorities and the marshals. EPD initially thought the truck wasn’t tied to the Whites, but to a different crime in Kentucky.

Stinson thought the authorities were slow to act, so he released the footage to a local TV station. As the media was churning out their own stories, authorities spotted the Cadillac parked outside Motel 41. They hunkered down and waited.

It was May 9. Police would later learn the Whites had been in the city for six days, obtaining the room by offering a convicted sex offender $100 to rent it for them. They’d ordered some pizza, Vanderburgh County Sheriff Dave Wedding later said, and pondered their next move.

Around 3:30 p.m., they walked outside and got in the car. With Casey driving and Vicky wearing a wig, local and federal authorities tailed them up U.S. 41.

“They realized they were being followed,” Keely said.

About two miles later, Casey White yanked the Cadillac into a grassy area outside Anchor Industries near Baumgart Road. Marshals followed and pinned him in, eventually colliding with the vehicle and sending it skidding into a ditch.

According to the Vanderburgh County Coroner’s office, that’s when Vicky White shot and killed herself. She was 56 years old.

“Help my wife,” Casey reportedly said as officials approached the car, even though there was no evidence he and Vicky were legally married. “She shot herself. I didn’t do it.”

National news organizations flocked to a press conference outside the Vanderburgh County jail the next day, where Wedding said Casey White told authorities he had planned for a “shootout” with police if he hadn’t been caught. He was extradited back to Alabama to face his murder charge.

Prosecutors have now charged him with felony murder in connection to Vicky White’s death, as well.

Wedding said the Whites had no personal connection to Evansville. It’s still not known why the couple ended up here.

"Their plan was pretty faulty," he said. "And it failed."