Top 10 stories of 2014 | CraigDailyPress.com

Top 10 stories of 2014

Craig Daily Press Staff Report

Craig City Council member Ray Beck speaks at a rally for Friends of Coal in July in Denver. Northwest Colorado residents traveled to speak out against the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed regulations on coal-fired power plants, an ongoing story that was one of the top subjects of the year for the Craig Daily Press.

As news stories about the NFL, recreational marijuana and the ebola virus and other pertinent topics attracted attention across the nation this year, Craig and Moffat County had its own updates, both good and bad. Here are some of the most noteworthy subjects of 2014 that got people buzzing both within the community and in many cases beyond.

The Memorial Hospital administration

Chris Smolik, former chief executive officer for The Memorial Hospital, turned in his resignation on Jan. 7, following six months in the position. Smolik replaced George Rohrich in the job, after Rohrich left the hospital in January 2013.

The reasons for Smolik's departure were unclear beyond a press release explanation that he was pursuing "other opportunities."

Outgoing Chief Financial Officer Bryan Chalmers temporarily took on the CEO role before John Rossfeld stepped in as an interim CEO later that month, as appointed by Quorum Health Resources.

TMH continued to search for a permanent candidate for the position — that had seen a great deal of turnover — for several months, and ultimately Rossfeld was selected by the TMH Board of Trustees to stay as CEO in late July.

"When John notified the board that he was interested in staying, there was a collective sigh of relief," Board Vice Chairman Forrest Luke said, when Rossfeld was confirmed. "We have seen so much progress in six months, and we didn't want to lose forward momentum. We are confident that John's experience in both large and small hospitals and communities will benefit TMH."

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Rossfeld also expressed confidence in sticking with TMH.

"We want to be viewed as the organization of choice," Rossfeld said. "We know that we have to earn that. We have to prove to people that we can provide the type of care that they can expect and want to have."

Craig Daily Press barred from public meeting

Following a Jan. 21 tour of Moffat County lands for visiting Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sally Jewell, United States Secretary of the Interior, a public meeting about sage grouse conservation was closed to the Craig Daily Press.

Former Daily Press reporter Erin Fenner was twice denied access to the public meeting, which included local government representatives.

Following the meeting, Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said he was surprised the Daily Press was not allowed.

"It would be beneficial to get more information out and to let reporters carry the whole story," he said. "If anything, you'd want to bend over backward and be transparent and make the public feel like their voices are being heard and that there's an openness there."

CDP Editor Noelle Leavitt Riley brought up the actions as a violation of Colorado's Sunshine Law.

Media attorney Steve Zansberg wrote the letter to Jewell's office on behalf of the Colorado Press Association and the Daily Press, requesting Jewell ensured reporters aren't held out of meetings that should be open to the public.

Jewell's office replied with its own letter, stating that the incident was a miscommunication. A portion of the letter read:

"The Department of the Interior strives to maintain an open and transparent relationship with the press and the public, and we sincerely regret the incident and any role we had in the miscommunication. As you suggest, we are redoubling our efforts to coordinate with local government offices to ensure transparency and respect for important press freedoms."

Leavitt Riley said she was pleased with the response.

"This situation is an example of how the press and federal officials can solve breakdowns in communication and work together in getting important news to the community," she said.

Car crashes into Craig City Hall

On Feb. 3, a car driven along Fourth Street swerved off the road and crashed into the front door of Craig City Hall significantly damaging the sliding door.

The driver of the Mercury Sable was not identified by name, but police said she was an elderly woman who was suffering from a medical issue that may have caused her to crash.

The building did not sustain any extensive structural damage from the vehicle, which was temporarily stuck in the vestibule entryway.

Tractor gets stuck on Swinging Bridge

On June 25, Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge staff discovered a tractor stuck on Swinging Bridge, partially plunged through the middle of the overpass. The equipment remained for several days before being removed.

The tractor, owned by rancher and former Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson, fell partway through the bridge while crossing. While Dickinson didn't know the exact weight of the equipment, he admitted it was significantly heavier than the 3-ton capacity the bridge could handle.

Dickinson said the incident occurred because of a misunderstanding. One of his new employees took the Swinging Bridge route instead of the alternative Utah route.

Hazing incident among Moffat County High School football team

In June, the police departments of Craig and Evanston, Wyoming, began investigating an incident in Evanston, in which members of the Moffat County High School football were accused of hazing incoming freshmen in a manner ranging from reports of urine-filled balloons to alleged sexual assault.

The members of the coaching staff were all asked to resign from their positions as a result by then new MCHS Principal Kelly McCormick, though the investigation by Evanston, which continued for weeks and into September, resulted in no charges filed against the students accused of committing the hazing.

Community members have continued to express their distress over the incident, with some praising the response and others saying the former coaches were treated unfairly.

"I was terribly disappointed in the way we handled the situation and that we did not wait for the police report," said Tony St. John, member of the Moffat County School District Board of Education. "(The coaches) shouldn't have been let go until we got everything in. I think we acted very hastily."

Moffat County sounds off to EPA

During the summer, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations for coal-fired power plants, prompting proponents of the energy industry of Northwest Colorado to take part in a Friends of Coal rally in Denver on July 29.

Miners from across the region, as well as their families, attended the event to speak out on how the EPA's actions could hurt the economy and their livelihood.

After many attempts to get the agency to the area, EPA personnel visited Craig in September and faced a great deal of commentary from residents about the proposed Clean Power Plan.

Shortly after this, the EPA extended a comment period on the plan to allow further discussion.

"The proposed regulations have a far-reaching impact, and I think we need to go slow on this," said Commissioner Kinkaid, also formerly a longtime employee with Tri-State's Craig station.

Women arrested for stealing from nonprofit

In July, two former associates of Advocates Crisis Support Services in Craig were arrested and charged with felony theft and conspiracy for allegedly embezzling more than $450,000 from the nonprofit between 2009 and 2013.

Renae Virden, former secretary/treasurer for the Advocates board and Kimberly Gardner, former grants and financial manager for the organization, were able to bilk the nonprofit organization, providing assistance to victims of abuse, out of thousands.

"It's not just a professional betrayal, but it's been a very personal betrayal," Executive Director Sharon Farquhar said. "The only people they were answering to were themselves. They were just very charismatic."

The pair were arraigned in October. Gardner pled guilty to theft, $20,000 to $100,000, a class four felony. If convicted, she could face up to six years in jail plus fines. Virden also pled guilty to her theft charge, $5,000 to $20,000, a class five felony. This charge carries a penalty of one to three years in prison in addition to fines.

Both defendants, who will be sentenced Jan. 9, will also be required to pay restitution to Advocates.

Alkali fire scorches thousands of acres of Moffat County land

In late July, the Alkali Fire sprung up in Moffat County north of Maybell, damaging more than 20,000 acres of land, much of it private property belonging to ranching families, as well as portions belonging to Bureau of Land Management.

The blaze, which took several days for area firefighters to maintain, also killed several cattle and destroyed structures such as a homestead cabin and a barn. The dry, windy conditions helped the fire to spread quickly, and firefighters also had to cope with simultaneous, smaller situations with the Carl's Hole Fire and the Elk Springs Fire.

Fate of fish at Elkhead Reservoir

Colorado Parks & Wildlife began meeting with local representatives in early September on options to handle non-native fish in Elkhead Reservoir and how species such as the northern pike and small-mouth bass are impacting the waters of the region, specifically the Yampa River, where the fish eat endangered species.

Solutions ranging from draining the body of water to poisoning the water to control the fish population to placing a net over the spillway that leads to the river have been introduced, though local government officials have been unable to finalize a plan, most recently meeting Dec. 9 to discuss the matter.

"I think it's a sad day when we put those (animals) ahead of human need, and I think that's what's happening here," Craig City Council member Kent Nielson said during the recent meeting. "I wish there was a way that we could do this so we could benefit the people and I don't know if there is."

Moffat County High School student killed in accident

Torivio "Tory" Tovar was killed Dec. 19, when his pickup truck struck a semi truck from Herod Industries, causing the larger vehicle to roll over, blocking traffic for hours.

Shock and sadness was immediate across the community and on social media for the loss of the 17-year-old, who had just finished his course work and was planning to get a good job to support his girlfriend and two-month-old son.

"He was very loved, and he was just such a good boy," said Tovar's grandmother, Reta Hall.

A candlelight vigil was held Sunday night to honor Tovar, and memorial funds to assist his family are in place. A memory book project is also in the works so that Tovar's son, Caemden, will know what his father was like.