Year in review, part 1

A look at the stories that gripped Craig in 2009

Large building projects, a first-degree murder trial and a former Craig police detective’s arrest were just some of the stories that gripped Craig and Moffat County in 2009.

The end of the year invites many to reflect on how they spent the past year, the challenges they faced and the accomplishments they achieved.

It also allows for a look back at the top news stories of the year that was.

What follows are some of the biggest stories of the year, as chosen by the Daily Press staff.

Murder in the first

Craig resident Terry Hankins, who had spent roughly the past two years of his life in Moffat County Jail, stood trial in August for the murder of his wife, Cynthia.

The case took several twists and turns in Moffat County District Court, but even a year or more of looking through the evidence did not keep Judge Michael O’Hara from balking at some of the photographs offered to the jury by the prosecution.

Hankins was convicted Aug. 26 of first-degree murder in what O’Hara called one of the most gruesome proceedings he’d ever witnessed.

Hankins was sentenced to life in prison without parole based on evidence that he strangled his wife, beat her skull with a crowbar and dismembered her body, finally burying her remains on his gold claim north of town.

Rusted shield

Former Craig Police Detective Ken Johnson had received numerous community and department accolades throughout the course of a nine-year career with the Craig Police Department.

What many will remember of him in 2009, however, is a criminal scandal that still reverberates through the offices of regional law enforcement and political officials.

Johnson was forced to resign in September after investigations by the police department and 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office turned up evidence alleging he committed a number of crimes while in a reported sexual relationship with a woman convicted of drug use and distribution.

The former detective pleaded not guilty to three felony charges in the case and is scheduled for a May 24 jury trial in district court.

The Craig Police Department and All Crimes Enforcement Team drug task force — which Johnson was assigned to when he allegedly broke the law — have both been subject to outside reviews, and the Craig City Council plans to have a public workshop at 5:30 p.m. Jan 12 to discuss ACET and surrounding issues.

Community investment

Residents saw the first returns on their decision to approve multi-million-dollar tax bonds in 2007 for the Mo¬ff¬¬at County School District and The Memorial Hospital.

The new Craig Middle School — which bears little resemblance to the old building — opened to students this fall and offers the latest in educational technology, as well as traditional comforts the old facility lacked, such as a roof that doesn’t leak and fully-working chemical labs.

The Memorial Hospital opened its new, 77,000-square-foot building Nov. 12 on Craig’s west side.

The hospital has three operating rooms, each twice the size of one of the old building’s rooms, a new MRI, digital mammography machine and full-size restaurant.

Hospital officials also hope to build a new medical office park in the same area with hospital physicians and specialists who can serve the community from new and up-to-date clinics.

There is no set timetable for when the office park would open.

A new superintendent

Dr. Joseph Petrone started his first day as Moffat County School District superintendent July 1, after the school board voted unanimously for him to replace former superintendent Pete Bergmann, who retired, and take the district in a new direction.

Petrone’s resumé was starkly different from the position’s other two candidates, most notably because he spent more than 11 years living in Jakarta, Indonesia, helping run an American international school.

Petrone said then, and several times since, that student achievement will be his No. 1 focus for the district.

He said he learned in Jakarta that no matter where a school happened to be, the parents wanted the same thing for their children: the best education possible and a chance to compete on the global job market.

School district officials likely will have to make some tough choices in the future, though, as the state plans to cut K-12 public education funding to help balance its budget deficit.

Petrone said he hopes to keep all cuts as far away from classrooms as possible to help preserve the quality of education.

Power plant upgrade

One of the largest coal-fired power plants in the United States, the Tri-State Generation & Transmission Craig station supplies electricity to communities across the West.

Its owners know, however, that power demands will only increase in the future, and so they set about a $39 million environmental renovation to the plant’s third unit.

The project was completed in late spring and allows the plant to produce an additional 30 megawatts of electricity without increasing emissions.

Work did not go smoothly, though, as 19 contract workers were taken in ambulances to The Memorial Hospital for a mysterious illness in April while working inside the plant. Each of them were released within a few hours.

Separate investigations by Craig Fire/Rescue, Tri-State and the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration never determined the incident’s cause, though the federal government handed down $15,500 in fines to various subcontractors for unsafe work practices.

Tri-State was not issued any citations.

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