The year that was

Daily Press presents its stories of 2006


Daily Press staff

Before we welcome in the new year properly, we must say our final goodbyes to its predecessor, 2006. And, before we pile the dirt on the year that was, let's push the sun back up in the sky and take one final trip down memory lane.

Like any year, the last 365 days weren't without memorable news and events.

True, we were not without our share of tragedy.

Community members were taken far too soon in fatal accidents. Methamphetamine continued its assault on area law enforcement and families. School shootings across the country once again reminded us of how hostile the world can be.

But, if these stories dampened our spirits, there were many inspiring tales to balance out these sad happenings. And, we didn't have to look hard to find them.

From the generosity the local community showed in a record-setting year for the Moffat County United Way to the resurgence of entities like The Memorial Hospital and Colorado Northwestern Community College to a mission trip by local youths to rebuild Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, the Daily Press is proud to roll back the calendar and present its year in review.

Below are stories 11-20 in a two-part feature recapping 2006's top news stories. Stories 1 to 10 will appear in Tuesday's edition.

11. On A Mission: Local youths, adults assist with Hurricane Katrina cleanup

Twenty Craig teenagers sacrificed their spring breaks in March to gut New Orleans houses ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Seven chaperones accompanied the students, who are members of First Christian Church. A group of adults from Hayden Congregational Church completed mission work there during the same time.

The teenagers described their trip as shocking, saying that they didn't expect to see houses abandoned and so much devastation seven months after the hurricane hit the coast.

"It's really hard to think about our houses being that damaged," teen Emily Willems said in March. "And it wasn't like these people planned on it or had any warning."

Youth pastor John Graler organized the trip and was impressed with the teens' speed and enthusiasm in their work. By the end of their weeklong trip, the 20 students had gutted six homes to their studs so homeowners could begin the rebuilding process.

Students said they hoped their work and faith were contagious, and they could inspire the residents of the broken city. Some have expressed interest in returning. And many said it's an experience they will keep in their hearts forever.

12. National school shootings reverberate in Craig

It didn't take long for Moffat County School District administrators to react to September's tragic shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey. The shooting occurred on Sept. 27, a Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, school district superintendent Pete Bergmann sent out an e-mail to all school district leaders, a message that reinforced the district's need to continually review and update crisis plans.

"The unfortunate events at Platte Canyon yesterday again puts school safety and security at the forefront of our minds," Bergmann wrote. He added, "Not as an overreaction, but as a proactive activity, we should all review our emergency response plans with staff in the near future and plan regular drills to ensure our preparedness."

If Bergmann's message didn't hit home in September, it most likely did six days later when news spread of another school shooting, at the West Nickel Mines Amish School in Pennsylvania.

Bergmann said it's an unfortunate reality of schools today that districts must put in time, money and resources to develop, maintain and update school crisis and response plans. Moffat County, he said, continually reviews its crisis plans and the practice will remain a staple of administrative procedures.

Bergmann said he hopes the district never has to utilize the emergency response plans, but as the shootings in Bailey and Pennsylvania exampled, it's better to have them than not.

"Schools used to be sacred ground, a place for learning where you didn't have to worry about the degree of violence you see today," he said.

13. GRAMNET and C.O.M.A. continue fight to the meth

The Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotic Enforcement Team, a local drug task force, and the Communities Overcoming Meth Abuse, continued to fight the war on methamphetamine, the highly addictive drug that plagues the area.

In 2006, GRAMNET made 74 arrests and took about $82,590 worth of illegal drugs off the street. C.O.M.A. contributed its part of the fight against meth by continuing to offer educational seminars, lobbying state and federal officials and helping craft policies limiting addicts' access to products.

C.O.M.A.'s efforts capped off in October when it launched red ribbon month, a massive anti-meth campaign.

"It's not about feeling sorry for somebody," said Annette Dunckley, C.OM.A. chairwoman. "It's more about fixing a problem and giving someone hope for the future.

"We don't have all the answers, but boy do we want to help people understand that you can't try this stuff. Not even once."

GRAMNET is slated to continue targeting drug trafficking in 2007 with a new leader -- officer Garrett Wiggins, who will replace Dusty Schulze as task force commander.

14. Elkhead Reservoir

expansion project completed

The dam construction phase of the $31 million project to enlarge Elkhead Reservoir was completed in December 2006.

While closed to the public for two years, the dam was raised 25 feet and the capacity of the reservoir was increased by 11,750 acre feet of water.

The reservoir is expected to fill by the summer of 2007 with the spring runoff.

New picnic areas and campgrounds are scheduled for construction in the summer of 2007, with boat ramps and bathrooms already available for public use.

A community celebration is planned for the summer of 2007.

15. Mines, power plant

experience accidents

Two train derailments, a tower collapse, a crane accident and a landslide at area mines and the Craig Station power plant made headlines this year.

Multiple Union Pacific cars derailed twice in two months in October and November at the power plant. The first sent eight cars off the track, five on their sides, and damaged more than 100 feet of track. Three locomotives and four coal cars derailed in the second. Officials said the derailment did not affect production.

In January, one subcontractor was injured when one of the plant's three cooling towers collapsed. The collapse cut the plant's power-generating capacities by 30 percent, but customers did not lose power.

On June 1, a 22-ton crane trapped its driver for a half hour at Colowyo Coal Co. The driver was not injured. Officials said the crane hit a soft spot in a road, causing it to tip over.

A "massive landslide" in October at Trapper Mine encompassed nearly 200 acres and affected the mine's long-term operations. No was injured in the accident, which occurred on a Sunday.

16. New leaders take helm at college, hospital

In March, two key public entities -- The Memorial Hospital and Colorado Northwestern Community College -- welcomed in new leaders.

George Rohrich, an administrator with nearly three decades of experience, took over as chief executive officer at TMH on March 20 and helped steady the ship rocked by allegations from former chief of staff Dr. Michael Crane.

At CNCC, a seven-month search to anoint a new president culminated with the hiring of John Boyd, who assumed office March 13.

Both leaders have helped bring about sweeping changes to their respective organizations.

At TMH, Rohrich has restructured administrative staff roles and responsibilities, dictated that more emphasis be placed on quality service, and has overseen a resurgence in finances. He's also continued TMH's efforts to build a new facility in Craig.

It's much the same story for Boyd at CNCC. The college president has helped CNCC pass its mill levy extension, which essentially keeps the Craig campus open indefinitely, and orchestrated new course offerings, classes designed to compliment the local economies.

17. Several fatalities in Moffat County

A murder, a plane crash and several car accidents contributed to the many fatalities in Moffat County this year.

In March, Josh Jackson shot twice and killed Mario Vigil, 60, after Vigil, Jackson's mother's former boyfriend, broke into his home and threatened him and his 9-year-old son. The Jacksons were not injured. Police said the incident was justifiable self-defense.

In September, a single-engine plane crash in western Moffat County killed two New York men. Officials said inclement weather likely contributed to the crash.

Several auto accidents claimed the lives of people in Moffat County this year, including 18-year-old Lucas Wiser, of Hamilton, in April. Wiser was a passenger in a pickup driven by Jesse Haskins. State Patrol officials said they suspected drugs and/or alcohol played a role in the crash, as the teens were likely attending a party in Routt County.

Another April accident killed Craig man Jess P. Wilson, on the road leading to Yampa Valley Golf Course. Wilson was ejected from the vehicle, which rolled two and a half times. No one else was injured.

Michael Bailey, of Craig, died in February after a vehicle driven by Morrison man Dustin Lund collided with his on U.S. Highway 40 near Hayden. Bailey's family is currently lobbying for stiffer charges against Lund, who was allegedly under the influence of methamphetamine.

Doug Seward, who worked with meth addicts at Moffat County Jail and owned Lifestyle Therapy in Craig, died in a one-car rollover accident in November in Poudre Canyon.

An Idaho man died in October near Hamilton on Colorado Highway 317 after his vehicle went airborne and landed on its roof.

18. United Way sets

fundraising record -- again

Thanks to the record-setting efforts of Moffat County United Way, nearly half a million dollars will be funneled into about 50 health and human services organizations.

For the second consecutive year, the local United Way organization exceeded its goal. On Dec. 18, director Corrie Scott announced that United Way had raised about $445,000, roughly $30,000 more than its $415,000 goal.

"I know I've said this before, but it's true -- this community is so generous and supportive," Scott said.

Twenty-four businesses contributed to the fundraising drive, equaling between 1,200 to 1,400 total donors.

19. Elections

In an election tailored more around issues more than candidates, Moffat County voters elected Nov. 7 a new sheriff, county commissioner and approved two bond issues, a rarity for the normally frugal community.

Tim Jantz, a Republican, defeated challengers Don Kroese and Vic Alton in the Nov. 7 general election to earn the sheriff's position. He will be sworn into office Jan. 9.

Tom Mathers, also a Republican and a former county commissioner, earned a return trip to public office by defeating fellow GOP challengers Vicki Burns and Dan W. Martin in the August primary election. He ran uncontested in the November general. He also will be sworn in Jan. 9.

Perhaps the biggest Election Day drama surrounded were the outcomes of two mill levy questions, which turned out to be no question at all.

By an overwhelming margin, voters approved raising Craig Rural Fire Protection District's mill levy by 1.5 mills and extending Colorado Northwestern Community College's three-mill levy indefinitely.

The money will be used by the fire district and the college to sustain and improve services, officials from both entities said.

20. Jantz announces choice for undersheriff

Moffat County Sheriff-elect Tim Jantz, himself a somewhat surprising victor in the 2006 sheriff's race, lived up to the vow he made to voters -- shaking up the sheriff's office -- at the end of November.

Jantz announced Nov. 29 that Charlene Abdella, a former juvenile detective and Drug Resistance Education officer with the Craig Police Department, would work for him as undersheriff.

By all accounts, the appointment represents the first time in the county's 96-year history that a woman has served in that capacity with the sheriff's office.

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