2020: Year in Review, No. 20-11
2020: Year in Review, No. 20-11
The year in news for 2020 was full of both stories of cheer and unfortunate incidents alike at the local level, from feel-good stories, to unfortunate crime incidents and the overwhelming wave of COVID-19 news.
While social media and other online outlets have afforded the Craig Press significant internet views throughout the year, the Craig Press staff narrowed down the top 20 stories based purely on pageviews at CraigDailyPress.com.
Story — Total online pageviews
No. 20 — Craig woman receives breast cancer diagnosis, joining her mother in on-going battle — 4,332
When Craig resident Tina Schukar felt a sharp pain in her side and in her arm in late May, she thought it was just a torn muscle at first. When the pain wouldn’t go away, she went to see a doctor, who then discovered a lump in her breast.
Near the end of July, Schukar had the mammogram, confirming the breast cancer. That diagnosis stung Schukar, but breast cancer is something she’s familiar with, as her mom is currently battling it in Utah.
Schukar’s mom came into town for her Oct. 8 surgery at UCHealth, where Schukar has worked for the last 14 years as part of the Environmental Services Team. Going in, Schukar wasn’t worried so much about the mastectomy itself, rather the possibility of there being complications within the surgery. Good news is, Schukar came out of the Oct. 8 6.5-hour surgery, which was about an hour and a half more than anticipated, in good spirits as doctors told her there were no complications.
No. 19 — Moffat County Coroner identifies pilot who died in Thursday night plane crash — 4,501
In late April, the Moffat County Coroner identified Scott Dewayne Mendez, 40, as the pilot who died in a plance crash that occurred in the Powder Wash area off of Moffat County Road 4.
Mendez, from San Jose, CA., was piloting a small twin-engine Aerostar 601 propeller plane when it crashed into the ground. The Moffat County Sheriff’s Office was able to locate the crash around 3:20 a.m. in the morning on April 24.
No. 18 — Jenkins sentenced to 90 days in jail, four years probation in negligent death of son — 4,603
Craig resident Vanessa Jenkins was sentenced to 90 days in jail and four years of probation during her sentencing hearing in early February. Jenkins was scheduled to serve 88 days behind bars due to a 2-day credit from her original arrest.
Jenkins, the mother of 3-year-old Lane E. Cullen who died in the 2018 Christmas Eve house fire, pleaded guilty to Criminally Negligent Homicide, a class 5 felony, on Nov. 25, 2019. In that plea agreement, Jenkins was able to secure an Alford deal, which is essentially a plea of guilty by a defendant who proclaims their innocence, but admits the prosecution has enough evidence to prove they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
During the initial investigation into the child’s death, several of Jenkins’ family members, as well as witnesses interviewed by police, said they were aware Jenkins’ boy had learned how to play with lighters whose safety devices had been removed.
The prosecution argued against probation because of the seriousness of the crime, and argued that Jenkins hadn’t learned from her mistakes, stating she needed to serve three years in jail – the maximum allowed within the Alford plea.
Jenkins’ defense team argued that Jenkins should received 90 days in jail and two years of probation, allowing her to rehabilitate herself once she’s folded back into society.
Chief Judge Michael O’Hara sentenced Jenkins to serve 90 days in jail and four years of probation. Part of the stipulation with her probation is that she must pay restitution, and must also serve 250 hours of community service.
No. 17 — 3 Meeker residents plead guilty in Moffat County Elk Poaching case — 4,650
Three Meeker residents were sentenced for the poaching of two trophy bull elk last fall. The case began on Sept. 25, 2019, when a witness in the Sand Wash Basin area reported a wounded bull elk and a suspicious truck to Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer Jeff Goncalves.
Goncalves responded and found evidence that eventually led to a truck owned by 18-year-old Henry Musser of Meeker. Questioning of Henry Musser and further evidence gathered from his vehicle and home led officers to the involvement of his father, John Allen Musser, also of Meeker, as well as a juvenile offender. Information was gathered about a second bull elk that was poached by the three suspects. Officers also determined that John Musser had taken efforts to hide evidence in the case. Citations related to the case were issued on March 19, 2020 and all three individuals entered guilty pleas last week in Moffat County courtrooms.
The poaching incident on Sept. 25, 2019 occurred in an area along Moffat County Road 67 in Sand Wash Basin. The area is part of Game Management Unit (GMU) 2, which is a highly valued trophy unit where hunters may wait more than 20 years to draw a license. The second elk was poached a few days prior to Sept. 25th. Both elk that were killed are large trophy elk, meaning fines in the case were enhanced under the state’s “Samson law.” The “Samson law” is named for a popular and quite visible, 1,000 pound bull elk that was killed illegally in Estes Park in 1995, leading to public desire for higher penalties in egregious poaching cases.
In court in Craig on July 27, Henry Musser, 18, pleaded guilty to hunting without a license, illegal possession of wildlife, and aggravated illegal possession of wildlife. He was ordered by the court to 18 months of supervised probation, 48 hours of community service, and $15,341.50 in fines and court costs.
John Allen Musser, 44, pleaded guilty and received a deferred felony sentence for tampering with evidence. In addition, John Musser pleaded guilty to hunting without a license, illegal possession of wildlife, and aggravated illegal possession of wildlife. John was ordered by the court to perform 48 hours of community service and pay $15,483.50 in fines and court costs.
The juvenile in the case entered a plea of guilty to hunting without a license, hunting with an illegal method of take and hunting big game without an adult present. The juvenile will serve unsupervised probation, must perform 48 hours of community service, and pay fines and court costs of $1,962.50.
In addition, all three were ordered to forfeit hunting equipment. They will also face a separate administrative hearing process where they will be subject to the loss of hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado and 48 other states.
No. 16 — Craig Police investigating alleged sexual assault at MCHS — 4,862
The Craig Police Department investigated an alleged sexual assault at Moffat County High School in mid-January.
The alleged sexual assault reportedly took place in the east stairwell at the high school, which happens to be an area of the school that does not have cameras at this time.
According to Capt. Bill Leonard, a report of alleged sexual assault at the high school was filed to the police department by the school district on Dec. 3, 2019.
No. 15 — Craig holds emotional protest in response to death of George Floyd — 5,533
Jemima Gonzalez Aguirre, along with a handful of other women, organized a June 5 peaceful protest at Alice Pleasant Park in response to the death of George Floyd, who died at the knee of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, May 25.
As some demonstrations turned violent and destructive across the country throughout the summer, Craig’s was peaceful. People held signs, clenched fists in the air, chanted the names of several black individuals who had recently died unjustly including Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
The group of protesters also laid face down in the grass and on the sidewalk with their hands behind their backs in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, marking the amount of time Officer Chauvin kept his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck. The former officer has now been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with Floyd’s death.
No. 14 — Craig police officers face suit following tasing of man in February — 5,902
Three Craig Police Department officers found themselves facing a civil suit from a Craig resident stemming from a February 2020 incident in which the officers repeatedly tased the man who they knew was unarmed, was not wanted for a crime, and had himself called 911 for help with a mental health crisis.
The lawsuit was filed Oct. 15 by the law firm of Holland, Holland, Edwards & Grossman in federal court against Officers Grant Laehr, Joshua Lyons, and Daron Hashir. The lawsuit alleges that the officers knew Grayson Dennis, 27, was having a mental health breakdown and could not fully understand why he was being escorted to the ambulance by police officers, according to the lawsuit. When Dennis later requested the opportunity to speak with his father and girlfriend, officers refused and continued to move Dennis towards the ambulance, causing him to become upset and worsening his mental health crisis, according to the lawsuit.
The incident between Dennis and the three officers occurred Feb. 18, according to the civil suit. After calling 911 for help during a mental health crisis, Dennis had fallen asleep and was in bed next to his girlfriend when the officers arrived. After waking, Dennis told them that “he had been having breakdowns, hearing voices, wanted to hurt himself, and that he had taken ‘a lot of different things’ in an attempt to kill himself that day.”
A list of items he’d ingested included an “unknown amount of Benadryl, Xanax, and Cyanide,” according to his girlfriend, as stated in the lawsuit. She added that “he hadn’t slept for days because he was ‘having a problem with meth,’” and his lethargic nature and slurred speech strongly suggested that he remained under the influence of the assorted substances.
After speaking with Dennis, officers tried to transport him to a waiting ambulance, which culminated with Dennis being tased at least five times, four of which occurred while he was handcuffed, the lawsuit states.
No. 13 — Death of famous horse leads to latest push for CDOT fencing at Sand Wash Basin from wild horse advocates — 6,114
The news that Van Gogh was struck and killed by a vehicle on Highway 318 in early October led to another push from wild horse advocates to have the Colorado Department of Transportation put up fencing along the highway to protect not only the horses, but travelers in the area.
Previously, WHW, the Bureau of Land Management and CDOT made significant progress towards a fence, starting with signage along the highway to warn travelers that wild horses are in the area and can be on the road. In late October 2019, CDOT installed four portable, flashing LED signs to warn travelers. Shortly after, CDOT installed two permanent signs along Highway 318 warning travelers of wild horses in the area with another five signs on order.
WHW wasn’t done pushing for fencing though, which all started due to the number of horses that were being struck and killed in the area. In the fall and winter, the horses migrate to the south end of the basin to eat the vegetation at the southern end.
In 2018, WHW raised more than $30,000 to put towards the fence with hopes of paying a third for the $90,000 bid along with BLM and CDOT. For now, WHW and other horse advocates continue to fight for fencing to protect the horses and travelers along Highway 318.
No. 12 — Search for missing party in Dinosaur National Monument finds one injured, one deceased — 6,157
A 58-year-old man was found dead, and a 65-year-old man was found injured in Dinosaur National Monument in mid-March following a two-day search.
Park Rangers at Dinosaur National Monument responded to a request from the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, March 19, to assist in the search for two missing Colorado residents. The two men were last reported to be snowmobiling in the Wild Mountain area near the northwest boundary of Dinosaur National Monument, along the border of Utah and Colorado.
The men were eventually located using helicopter surveillance inside a remote area of Dinosaur National Monument on Saturday, March 21. The 65-year-old male was transported to a nearby hospital, according to a press release from Park Rangers at Dinosaur National Monument.
No. 11 — Craig Kum & Go employee being tested for COVID-19, leading to temporary closure — 7,040
The Kum & Go location west of town temporarily shut down in mid-March with no notice. The very next day a Kum & Go corporate employee notified the Craig Press that an employee was being tested for COVID-19, leading to the temporary closure.
Located at 1302 W. Victory Way, gas pumps are wrapped in plastic and signs posted alerting customers to the closure. No positive test returned, allowing the store to open up.
Just two weeks later though, the first case of COVID-19 hit Moffat County, bringing the pandemic to the community.
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While the state of Colorado will receive much less in vaccines in the second major rollout than expected, Moffat County continues to roll along vaccinating community members with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.