$260 million deal averts 1st federal trial on opioid crisis

By JULIE CARR SMYTH and GEOFF MULVIHILL Associated Press
CLEVELAND (AP) — The nation’s three biggest drug distributors and a major drugmaker agreed to an 11th-hour, $260 million settlement Monday over the terrible toll taken by opioids in two Ohio counties, averting the first federal trial over the crisis.
The trial, involving Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and Akron’s Summit County, was seen as a critical test case that could have gauged the strength of the opposing sides’ arguments and prodded the industry and its foes toward a nationwide resolution of nearly all lawsuits over opioids, the scourge blamed for 400,000 U.S. deaths in the past two decades.
The agreement was struck in the middle of the night, just hours before a jury that was selected last week was scheduled to hear opening arguments in federal court in Cleveland.
Drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson will pay a combined $215 million, said Hunter Shkolnik, a lawyer for Cuyahoga County. Israeli-based drugmaker Teva will contribute $20 million in cash and $25 million worth of generic Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction.
“People can’t lose sight of the fact that the counties got a very good deal for themselves, but we also set an important national benchmark for the others,” Shkolnik said.
The deal contains no admission of wrongdoing by the defendants.
Across the U.S., the pharmaceutical industry still faces more than 2,600 other lawsuits over the deadly disaster. Participants in those cases said the Ohio deal buys them time to try to work out a nationwide settlement of all claims.
It could also turn up the pressure to work out such a deal, because every partial settlement reached reduces the amount of money the companies have available to pay other plaintiffs.
The barrage of lawsuits was brought against drug manufacturers, suppliers and sellers by state and local governments, Native American tribes, hospitals and others. For nearly two years, a federal judge in Ohio has been pushing the parties toward one big settlement.
The only defendant left in the trial that had been scheduled for Monday is the drugstore chain Walgreens. The new plan is for Walgreens and other pharmacies to go to trial within six months.
The settlement enables both sides to avoid the risks and uncertainties involved in a trial: The counties immediately lock in money they can use to deal with the crisis, and the drug companies avoid a possible finding of wrongdoing and a huge jury verdict.
“There’s no amount of money that’s going to change the devastation and destruction that they’ve done to families not only all across our county but all across the country,” said Travis Bornstein, who was preparing to testify in the Cleveland trial. But he said the settlement should help provide services for people who are struggling.
Bornstein said his son, Tyler, became hooked on opioids as a teenager after receiving a prescription following surgery on his arm. He died of a heroin overdose five years later, in 2014.
Better funding for treatment programs might have helped his son, who was on a waiting list when he died, Bornstein said.
Ohio in 2017 had the second-highest death rate from drug overdoses in the U.S., behind only West Virginia.
In a statement, the three major distributors said the settlement money should be used on such things as treatment, rehab and mental health services.
The settlement also means that the evidence prepared for the trial won’t be fully aired.
Lawyers for the counties were preparing to show the jury a 1900 first edition of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” featuring the poppy fields that put Dorothy to sleep, and a 3,000-year-old Sumerian poppy jug to show that the world has long known the dangers of opioids.
Those suing the industry have accused it of aggressively marketing opioids while downplaying the risks of addiction and turning a blind eye toward suspiciously large shipments of the drugs. The industry has denied wrongdoing.
Industry CEOs and attorneys general from four states met Friday in Cleveland, where the offer on the table was a deal worth potentially $48 billion in cash and addiction-treatment drugs to settle cases nationally.
Those attorney generals reiterated Monday that they have worked out a “framework” for a settlement. They said they hope other states and local governments sign on.
But the reception wasn’t promising. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost called the idea “a pile of lumber,” not a framework. And Paul Hanly, one of the lead lawyers for the local governments, said the companies should be forced to pay more.
OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, often cast as the biggest villain in the crisis, reached a tentative settlement last month that could be worth up to $12 billion. But half the states and hundreds of local governments oppose it. It remains to be seen whether the settlement will receive the approvals it needs.
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Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
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This story has been corrected to say that the tentative deal would settle only claims brought by the Ohio counties of Cuyahoga and Summit, not other lawsuits.

General: Georgia soldiers died when vehicle fell from bridge

By RUSS BYNUM Associated Press
FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) — Soldiers were training in darkness when their armored vehicle fell from a bridge and landed upside down in water below, killing three of those inside and injuring three others, the commanding general of Fort Stewart said Monday.
Maj. Gen. Antonio Aguto struggled to hold back tears at a news conference as he read the names of the soldiers who died Sunday during a training exercise hours before dawn.
“It is hard enough when you lose one soldier,” Aguto said. “But when you lose three at one time, that pain is amplified. And we are really feeling and sharing that pain.”
The Army identified the soldiers who died as Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Jenkins, 41, of Gainesville, Florida; Cpl. Thomas Walker, 22, of Conneaut, Ohio; and Pfc. Antonio Garcia, 21, of Peoria, Arizona.
The soldiers belonged to the 1st Armored Brigade of the Fort Stewart-based 3rd Infantry Division. Aguto said the deadly crash happened shortly before 3:30 a.m. Sunday as the brigade was training for a rotation early next year at the Army’s National Training Center in California.
Six soldiers were riding in a Bradley fighting vehicle in a training area of the sprawling Army post southwest of Savannah when it “rolled off a bridge and was submerged upside down in a stream,” Aguto said.
Aguto and Michael Barksdale, the Army’s lead investigator on the crash, declined to give further details such as how far the vehicle fell and the depth of the water. The Army is conducting autopsies to determine how the soldiers died. Investigators from the Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama, expect to take up to four weeks before giving Fort Stewart commanders a preliminary report, Barksdale said.
Three other soldiers in the vehicle were injured. Two were treated and released from an Army hospital the day of the crash. The third remained hospitalized Monday with injuries that weren’t considered life-threatening, Aguto said.
The training exercise being conducted early Sunday had been planned and rehearsed ahead of time, Aguto said. And while the remnants of Tropical Storm Nestor swept across southeast Georgia late Saturday and early Sunday, Aguto said there had been no severe weather warnings and the storm’s rain and winds had already passed before the crash occurred.
At least 12 Army soldiers have died in nine training accidents across the U.S. in 2019, including the crash Sunday at Fort Stewart, according to the Army Combat Readiness Center, which investigates fatal accidents.
“The training is tough, realistic and we train for all sorts of conditions no matter where we would go,” Aguto said. “You would expect us to do that. And that was the case in this instance.”
Aguto said Fort Stewart would plan a memorial service for the soldiers who died. Jenkins recently finished his 18th year in the Army and was a veteran of two tours in Iraq.
Walker and Garcia, roughly 20 years younger, had never deployed overseas. Walker enlisted in 2016, while Garcia joined the Army last year.

Governor orders flags lowered to honor Ohio soldier killed

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. Mike DeWine has ordered flags in parts of the state lowered to half-staff to honor an Ohio soldier killed in an Army training accident in Georgia.
Ohio’s Republican governor on Tuesday ordered U.S. and Ohio flags flown at half-staff at all public buildings and grounds in Ashtabula County and at the Ohio Statehouse, the Vern Riffe Center and the Rhodes State Office Tower in Columbus to honor of Cpl. Thomas Walker. The Army says the 22-year-old Conneaut man and two other soldiers died Sunday when their armored vehicle rolled off a bridge and was submerged in a stream during training at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
DeWine’s order is effective until sunset the day of Walker’s funeral. Details about the timing of the funeral weren’t immediately announced.

Judge issues insanity ruling against man accused of arson

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio man accused of starting a fire that killed his mother and injured his brother has been found not guilty by reason of insanity.
A judge in Dayton made the decision Monday, ruling that 25-year-old James Dennis will remain at a mental health facility.
A prosecutor said that judge’s verdict was fair. She also said that Dennis would be in the mental health system for the rest of his life.
Dennis was charged with murder and aggravated arson after the fire in Dayton in February 2018.
Firefighters said they found him standing outside the home when they arrived and that his brother was trapped on the roof and his mother was trapped inside the home.
A message seeking comment was left with Dennis, attorney.

Fired TV weatherman pleads not guilty to child porn charges

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A former television weatherman accused of downloading pornographic images depicting children has pleaded not guilty in Ohio to four child pornography-related charges.
Sixty-year-old Mike Davis pleaded not guilty Monday in Columbus to counts of pandering sexually-oriented matter involving a minor. The indictment alleges Davis downloaded and emailed to himself videos and images depicting young children engaging in sexual activity.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien has said Davis downloaded and emailed the images to himself between October 2018 and September 2019.
A message seeking comment was left with Davis’ lawyer.
Davis worked at WBNS-TV in Columbus more than three decades. He was fired after his arrest in September.
O’Brien said a county task force began investigating Davis after receiving a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

News groups push ahead in bid for gunman’s school records

CINCINNATI (AP) — News organizations seeking school records of a gunman who killed nine people in Dayton have appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court after a lower court rejected their bid for access to the files.
The organizations filed a notice of appeal Monday over the decision by three 2nd District Court of Appeals judges.
That Oct. 2 ruling upheld Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools’ denial of access to Connor Betts’ high school files.
Police killed Betts to end an Aug. 4 massacre in Dayton.
The appellate court ruled the organizations hadn’t established a clear legal right to the records. The school district argued such records are generally protected by federal and state laws.
Ohio’s attorney general sided with the organizations including The Associated Press, saying federal privacy protections don’t apply after a student’s death.

Is Ohio in play? GOP tilt working against Democrats

By JULIE CARR SMYTH Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Chris Gagin says he hasn’t changed much politically, even as so much around him has.
The attorney from rural Belmont County, Ohio, became a Republican in 2013 after Democrats embraced environmental policies that he believed were detrimental to the area’s coal mining and fracking industries. As an anti-abortion-rights, pro-gun conservative, he felt unwelcome.
“Conservative Democrats have become all but extinct,” said Gagin, who served for a time as county Republican chairman. He’s among many former Democrats in blue-collar Ohio who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and for an all-GOP statewide ticket last year. Those ballots helped turn large swaths of territory along the Ohio River — places that supported Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — from blue to bright red.
As Democrats bring their next primary debate to Ohio on Tuesday, they’re grappling with whether the new Republican dominance in those industrial and rural pockets has pushed Ohio out of their reach.
Some Democratic presidential campaigns are contemplating once unheard-of White House victory scenarios that leave out Ohio. The storied swing state — a place that sided with the winning presidential candidate in all but one election since 1944 — seems likely to be eclipsed by Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in next year’s election.
“Ohio isn’t at the center of the political universe as it used to be,” said Kyle Kondik, an elections analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
At this same time during the last presidential campaign, in October 2015, presidential campaigning in Ohio was so vigorous there were fears it was drowning out that year’s elections. A group concerned about one of that year’s ballot issues, the American Policy Roundtable, even bought an online ad reminding voters the presidential election was still a year away. The run-up to the 2020 election has been quieter, with Ohio seeing only a handful of notable campaign events since spring.
Trump won Ohio in 2016 by 8 percentage points — a larger margin than any winner since George H.W. Bush in 1988. While Democrats surged in many other swing states in 2018, they lost every statewide race in Ohio but one.
Democratic presidential candidates will debate Tuesday in Westerville, a suburb outside Columbus replete with the college-educated women and young voters who Democrats see as representing the party’s best prospects of an Ohio comeback, along with minorities.
“I think it’s totally winnable,” said Democratic political consultant Aaron Pickrell, an Ohio campaign director and adviser to Obama’s successful 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Any victory will depend on finding the right balance of supporters in urban, suburban, rural and former industrial communities, he said.
Ohio was long a bellwether because its population resembled that of the United States as a whole. It hasn’t picked a losing presidential candidate since voting for Richard Nixon in 1960. But the state no longer mirrors the nation.
It’s whiter and slightly older than the national average. Just 29% of Ohio residents have a college degree, compared with the national average of nearly 32.6%. That education gap has translated into lower earnings. The state’s median household income is $56,111, nearly $6,000 below the national median.
Republicans run stronger with those groups. The GOP tilt is even more pronounced in places like Belmont County, which sits on the state line with Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Gagin said voters there are looking for politicians who channel their frustration. Trump took more than two-thirds of the county’s vote in 2016. In 2008, Republican John McCain lost narrowly to Obama.
“Not to get racial about it, but lots of white folks feel others are either getting ahead or getting a handout, while they’re just having to go to work every day and just falling further and further behind,” Gagin said. “That’s how you get to the politics of aggrievement.”
Republican consultant Karl Rove, who engineered President George W. Bush’s two wins in Ohio, said the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“I’m not one of these people who believes demographics is necessarily destiny, so I do think it has to do with things other than that it’s a blue-collar, white state,” he said. “Maybe it has to do with the quality of the arguments being made rather than simple demographics.”
In a twist, one sign of hope for Democrats might be the type of Republicans Ohio elects to state office.
The state’s last two Republican governors — John Kasich and now Mike DeWine — are politically pragmatic politicians who have embraced bipartisan ideas, including on health care and guns. Kasich is a vocal Trump detractor and DeWine walked a careful line with the president, appearing with him only at the finale of the 2018 campaign.
Democrats also point to consistent statewide victories by Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of his chamber’s most liberal members and the sole Democrat to win statewide last year. The party looks to Brown’s straight-talking, dignity-of-work message as a model for regaining traction in blue-collar areas.
“Ohio is in play,” said Gerald Austin, a Cleveland-based Democratic strategist. “The No. 1 way to beat an incumbent is on the incumbent’s record. Did Donald Trump bring back coal jobs? Have more steel plants opened up here? Did something happen on that infrastructure bill he was going to get done that I’m not aware of? You remind voters of what they said and what they haven’t done.”
Pickrell said Democrats can win those disenfranchised voters by focusing on health care and the economy. He also argued that views on environmental policy may be shifting and climate change is no longer a fringe issue.
“Now people understand the need and utility of solar panels,” he said. “They understand the utility of an electric car. They understand algae blooms in Lake Erie.” Pickrell added: “I don’t think it’s as polarizing as it once was. And in a lot of areas, it’s probably swinging people our way.”
Mandi Merritt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said the party is not taking Ohio for granted. She said the GOP is prepared to hit Democrats for “radical” ideas like universal health care and the Green New Deal. They are too expensive and impractical for Midwestern voters, she said.
“It’s a race to the left, and it’s not going to resonate with everyday Ohioans,” she said.
She said impeachment proceedings in Washington are energizing, not alienating, Trump’s base.
That is not the case with Gagin, who resigned as Belmont County GOP chairman last summer after the president appeared to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial that his country interfered in the 2016 election.
Though Trump later said he misspoke, Gagin chose the moment to leave the party leadership. He now directs Defending Democracy Together, a group of Republicans pushing back against Trump.
Gagin said he’s the exception in Belmont County. He doesn’t believe most of rural Ohio has been turned off by the scandals over Russia or Ukraine that have dogged Trump.
For him, 2020 remains an open question. But he said he won’t vote for Trump under any circumstances.
Conservative Democrats and even card-carrying Republicans are “really in a no man’s land right now,” he said.
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AP Economics Writer Joshua Boak in Washington contributed to this report.

2 killed in Columbus collisions

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two people have been killed and two seriously injured in collisions in a Columbus intersection.
Police in central Ohio say the driver of a Toyota Camry and a female passenger were dead at the scene, while another female passenger had life-threatening injuries after the crash late Saturday.
The driver of an Audi A6 and a 17-year-old male passenger escaped serious injury, but another 17-year-old male passenger was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.
Police say after the initial collision with the Camry, the Audi hit a Toyota Tacoma that was the stopped and unoccupied. Police says passers-by helped the Audi’s occupants out before it caught fire.
The Audi’s driver was identified as 18-year-old Kobie Stillwell. The Camry’s driver, a woman, hasn’t been identified.
Police are investigating.

Sen. Sherrod Brown to deliver Ohio State University address

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is set to deliver the commencement address at Ohio State University.
The school announced Tuesday that Brown will speak to 3,600 students graduating this December at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
The three-term Democratic Ohio senator is an alumus of the state university after he received his master’s degrees in education and public administration from the school in 1979 and 1981.
Michael V. Drake, president of the university, says in a statement that he applauds Brown for many years of public service.
Drake adds he hopes Brown’s “passion for public service” will be an inspiration for graduating students.

State seeks nominations for Senior Citizens Hall of Fame

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s Department of Aging is accepting nominations for the state’s Senior Citizens Hall of Fame.
It honors current or long-time Ohio residents age 60 and older who have made and continue to make a lasting impact on their communities, professions or vocations.
The department says 486 older Ohioans have been inducted into the Hall of Fame since 1976.
Nominees must have been born in Ohio or have been residents of the state for at least 10 years. The department says posthumous nominations are accepted if the nominee died within the last five years and was 60 or older at the time of death.
Nominations must be received by Nov. 29 of this year to be considered for induction in 2020. The annual inductions are held in May.