Au revoir, '06

A look at the top 10 stories of 2006, brought to you by the Craig Daily Press


The ball dropped, the clock turned 12:01 a.m. and the calendar now reads 2007.

Before rushing into the next 365 days, here's one last look at the top happenings in 2006.

It was a year that brought news of a new mega-retail store coming to town, a renegade doctor raging against colleagues and administrators at The Memorial Hospital and a poignant tribute to a fallen American soldier in Iraq, among numerous others.

In the second part of a two-part feature on the top 20 stories of the last year, the Daily Press is proud to present stories one to 10.

Elk believed to have killed man

Public support for a 9-year-old elk named Clyde poured out in February after a man died in the elk's pen.

John Renner, 56, died in Clyde's pen at the Wyman Living History Ranch and Museum. Renner was found by fellow ranch workers slumped over, face down in a feeding trough after Renner reportedly entered the pen to feed the animal.

Renner suffered some injuries from the elk, and initial reports inferred Clyde might have gored Renner to death.

Community members hung signs to show their support for Clyde, whom many said was not dangerous. A Craig Daily Press online poll reported 94 percent of voters called for Clyde's life to be spared.

An autopsy later revealed, despite antler abrasions, that Renner died of a heart attack.

Clyde still resides at the Wyman ranch, east of Craig.

Six Craig suspects charged in shootout

Two adults and four teenagers are suspected in Moffat County of burglarizing various businesses from Nov. 20 to 29. However, their criminal troubles escalated when the six crossed state lines into Wyoming.

The adults -- Paul Martin Howell, 29, and Michael Garren, 19 -- face several counts of attempted murder. The juveniles -- Daniel Merwin, 16, James Gore, 17, Steven Liljedahl, 16, and Johnathan Milligan, 16 -- also face severe charges, including attempted murder.

"These guys are in a world of hurt," said Michael Blonigen, district attorney for the Seventh Judicial District in Natrona County, Wyo. He added, "What we have here is a very serious case."

The charges stem from a botched robbery and subsequent shootout with police in Casper.

The most severe charges the suspects face -- attempted murder -- carry a sentence of life in prison. Other charges carry penalties ranging from five to 25 years in prison.

The suspects will have to answer to charges in Wyoming before facing any criminal charges in Moffat County, said Rick Holford, public information officer for the Moffat County Sheriff's Office.

"They're in big trouble up there," Holford said. "They've entered into federal charges. It grew into a whole different deal when it went to Casper. These guys are in big, big trouble.

"They'll wish they never went to Casper."

Wal-Mart SuperCenter coming to town

Rumors of a Craig Wal-Mart in years past became a reality in 2006 with the approval of plans to build a SuperCenter.

The 100,000-square foot retail store is expected to include a pharmacy, optical center, groceries and gas pumps while employing 200 people at a starting wage of $10.71 per hour.

Construction will begin in the spring on 23 acres purchased by the Bentonville, Ark., company on U.S. Highway 40 on the west side of Craig.

Taking an estimated 10 months to build, the facility is scheduled for a fall 2007 opening.

The building will feature an alpine design suitable for mountain towns with twice the trees, plants and shrubs required by local building codes.

Embezzlements at jail, high school

While the case of one government employee bilking public funds has been resolved, another is continuing. Combined, the two are suspected of chiseling about $70,000 from public coffers.

Sandy Herndon, of Craig, a former Moffat County Jail employee, pleaded guilty in August to a felony count of theft between $500 and $15,000. She was sentenced to serve 90 days in jail in Routt County, 50 hours of community service and two years of probation.

Herndon, a food service manager, was responsible for managing the jail commissary and making bank deposits. A jail employee for five years, she was fired after an investigation revealed missing money.

Prosecutors said Herndon has repaid money taken from the jail, or about $11,955.

While Herndon's case was wrapping up in August, another embezzlement case was just beginning. Police and officials from the Moffat County School District announced in August that an investigation into missing money had centered on former bookkeeper Susan Lord.

Lord, who resigned from her post in the wake of the investigation, is suspected of stealing about $57,000 from the district.

In November, Lord was charged with three felonies: theft in a series between $500 to $15,000, embezzlement of public property and forgery of a government-issued document.

The money found missing allegedly was taken from the high school activities account.

Lord is scheduled for an arraignment hearing Jan. 9.

DA's office controversy

2006 also brought about criticisms of Bonnie Roesink, district attorney for the 14th Judicial District.

In a three-month period, the district attorney's office, which serves Moffat, Routt and Grand counties, lost four of its eight deputy district attorneys. Roesink had to replace all three prosecutors in the Craig office.

Roesink chalked up the turnover rate to low pay and high cost of living. She also said the turnover in her office is similar to what you'd see at other area businesses.

"Everyone has turnover -- everybody," she said.

Roesink again was criticized in 2006 when the family of local man Michael Bailey protested the charge filed against Morrison resident Dustin Lund, whose vehicle crashed into Bailey in October, taking his life.

Lund, who allegedly was under the influence of methamphetamine during the crash, was charged with careless driving resulting in death, a misdemeanor. After Bailey's family lobbied for a harsher penalty, Roesink vacated the charge and vowed to re-evaluate the case.

Bailey's family is urging the district attorney to file vehicular homicide charges against Lund.

Roesink has not yet made a decision on the case.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Kathy Oberwitte, Bailey's sister. "We're coming up on 11 months. I just feel that they're putting us off, but I will stay a thorn in her side."

American Legion post renamed for Lawton

A sea of people in different dress decorated the hall inside the American Legion Post No. 62 on Aug. 21. Although separated by the garb of military fatigues and uniforms, civilian wear and the black leather of motorcyclists, the 500-plus people shared a common trait.

They traveled, some across great distances, to pay tribute to late Staff Sgt. Mark Lawton. The American Legion Post was renamed after Lawton, a soldier killed in Aug. 2003 while serving in Iraq.

The post now is known as the Mark Anthony Evans-Lawton American Legion Post No. 62.

The ceremony included short speeches from Lawton's friends, family and comrades.

His wife, Sherri, and two sons, Dustin and Tanner, also attended.

Sherri Lawton, a former Hayden resident, said the day was steeped in equal parts joy and sadness.

"It's a little bit of both," she said, while holding a shiny medal necklace emblazoned with the image of her late husband. "It's always hard when it comes to talking about my husband. ... This was such an amazing thing. How do you even begin to thank all the people who made this happen? I think Mark would have been very happy today."

Johnathan Gill's disappearance, recovery

A Craig family's worst fears came true in November when an investigator from the Moffat County Sheriff's Office delivered news that a missing loved one was found dead.

The body of 20-year-old Johnathan Gill was recovered from a pond in the area of the Yampa River and Loudy-Simpson Park. Sheriff's office investigators said they did not suspect foul play.

"The physical evidence, at this point, does not lead us to believe that foul play played a part in Mr. Gill's death," investigator K.C. Hume said.

Gill was reported missing Nov. 1.

An autopsy revealed that he died from drowning.

Gill's family paid an emotional farewell to Gill. His death was difficult to take, family members said.

"He was good," his brother, Daniel Gill said. "He was strong. ... It's all just a shame. It's devastating. You never would have imagined in a million years that something like this would happen.

"We are all taking this hard."

Dinosaur school, Moffat County district split

After a turbulent two-year relationship, Dinosaur Com-munity Charter School and Moffat County School District parted ways in August.

The Dinosaur school became a Hope Online Learning Academy, which school officials said has been a seamless transition.

Hope Online is a tuition-free, public charter school offered through the Vilas School District in southeast Colorado.

Students at Dinosaur now complete coursework through Hope Online's curriculum via computers at the school. The school employs three teachers, or mentors.

Tensions between Dinosaur school and the district had run high since November 2005, when Moffat County revoked the school's charter for non-compliance with state and federal laws.

School officials said Hope Online's curriculum meets those mandates.

TMH, Michael Crane investigation

The strange saga of Dr. Michael Crane, the former medical chief of staff at The Memorial Hospital in Craig, began March 3, the same day he claimed another doctor assaulted him.

The alleged incident, coupled with the district attorney's office refusal to press charges in the case, prompted Crane to protest by sleeping on the hospital front lawn for a night and go on a three-day hunger strike.

But, Crane didn't stop there.

During a hospital board meeting in late March, Crane lashed out at colleagues, hospital administrators and board members. He also issued claims of misconduct and neglect at TMH, allegations that caused the hospital to conduct an investigation.

The investigation did not substantiate any of Crane's claims, hospital officials said. The doctor, who was asked to resign by fellow physicians, no longer practices at TMH.

Oil and gas boom anticipated

Northwest Colorado is preparing for the next energy boom as gas and oil exploration development expands in the state.

Booms in Garfield and Rio Blanco Counties are expected to continue their northern migration as Shell expands its exploration and Chevron applies for more leases.

New technology developed by Shell heats oil trapped in shale to nearly 700 degrees to ease extraction from formations 1,000 feet below the surface.

Piceance Basin in Rio Blanco County is estimated to be a rich reserve containing up to 25 barrels of oil in each ton of shale.

Northwest Colorado is estimated to contain 800 billion recoverable barrels of oil, with 70 percent of that lying under federally controlled land.

Natural gas production also is expanding in the county, with three new pipelines being constructed across the county in 2006.

Gas wells normally produce for 30 to 40 years after being drilled.

Wages in the gas and oil fields start at about $15 per hour.

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