|911 call on BP train wreck|
A Union Pacific Railroad dispatcher calls 911, reaching the Maricopa County Sheriff's office to relay information on the crash that killed two Border Patrol agents Thursday morning near Gila Bend. (Image courtesy MGN Online)
|Two BP agents die in train wreck|
Two Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents killed Thursday morning in an on-duty accident when the SUV they were in was struck by a train. Video footage courtesy Fox 10 in Phoenix
The memorial service for Agent Rojas and Agent Clark begins as an honor guard of fellow Border Patrol Agents stand at attention while the two caskets are taken inside.
In a day of remembrance, the U.S. Border Patrol laid to rest two of their own Friday afternoon in a joint funeral service for agents Hector Clark and Eduardo Rojas, Jr., who were both killed in the line of duty last week.
|AWC Flips the Switch to Solar|
Arizona Western College is now solar, marking the completion of construction on a 5-megawatt solar array and the beginning of its use. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer spoke on the educational opportunities the facility will provide in the solar industry.
|Rich and Nancy Wilson speak|
Following the execution of Richard Bible, who was convicted of brutally raping and killing 9-year-old Jennifer Wilson in 1988, Rich and Nancy Wilson thanked the communities that supported them spoke on their 23-year ordeal.
|After the execution|
Steve Twist, who helped draft the legislation for Victim's Rights laws in Arizona, speaks about the Wilson family and how the wording of the law is a tribute to Rich Wilson preserving and protecting Jennifer when her body was found.
|One year later: The scene on day of multiple shootings|
One year ago Saturday, multiple shootings were reported in Yuma County, including one in downtown Yuma. This was the scene last year as Yuma Police officers pieced together what happened in Yuma while Sheriff's officials investigated in Wellton.
|Remembering Jerrold Shelley|
Sheriff Ralph Ogden and Judge Andrew Gould, a good friend of slain Yuma lawyer Jerrold Shelley, speak about the man they knew during a press conference at city hall.
|One year later: Timeline of calls|
Capt. Eben Bratcher with the Yuma Sheriff's Dept. details when each call came as residents of Yuma County had their day torn apart by a series of shootings on June 2, 2011.
|What happened during shooting|
Linda Clatone describes what happened to her when she answered the door to her home the morning she was shot. LOANED VIDEO/FOX 10 PHOENIX
|Shooting on 2nd Ave|
Yuma Police and other area law enforcement responded to a shooting on 2nd Ave near Giss Pkwy.
Most Viewed Stories
Yuma's top 10 news stories of 2011
Yuma has seen its share of news in 2011. The Yuma Sun staff has chosen 10 of the biggest stories of the year:
1. Five slain in shooting spree before gunman kills himself
The June 2 shooting rampage in Wellton and Yuma by a 73-year-old man that left six people dead and one injured has been picked as the top story in 2011 by the Yuma Sun staff.
The gunman, identified as Carey Hal Dyess, was found dead inside his silver Mazda in the area of Blaisdell and Highway 95 at 10:47 a.m. that morning by Yuma County sheriff's deputies. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The Yuma County Sheriff's Office began receiving reports of shootings at about 5 a.m. that morning, responding to six in all before the spree ended.
Theresa Sigurdson, Henry Scott Finney, Cindy Finney and James P. Simpson, all of Wellton, and Jerrold Shelley, a Yuma attorney, were killed that morning. Linda Kay Clatone of Wellton was also shot but survived.
The murders were the result of a bitter divorce involving Dyess and Sigurdson.
Rounding out the top 10 news stories in Yuma County over the past year were:
2. Massive outage leaves Southwest and parts of Mexico in the dark
A massive power outage knocked out electricity to 7 million people in the Southwest U.S., including 56,000 Arizona Public Service customers in Yuma County, and parts of Mexico on Sept. 8.
According to APS, an employee made a mistake while performing a maintenance procedure at the Gila Substation northeast of Yuma, tripping off the North Gila-Hassayampa 500-kilovolt transmission line that runs from Phoenix to Yuma. This caused a rippling effect that led to the loss of power for up to 12 hours in Arizona, Southern California and Mexico's Baja California.
The utility company said the error should not have resulted in the massive outage, as multiple layers of redundancies are in place to prevent such situations. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. have launched a joint investigation that is expected to take several months.
3. Southwest Airlines flight makes emergency landing in Yuma
It was no April Fool's Day joke when a portion of the fuselage on a Boeing 737-300 passenger jet blew out during a flight on April 1.
A 5-feet-wide aperture opened above the passenger cabin shortly after Southwest Airlines flight 812 took off from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. The plane had been cruising at about 34,000 feet when the incident occurred.
The hole caused rapid depressurization in the passenger cabin, and forced the pilot, whose name was not released, to make an emergency landing at Yuma International Airport.
The plane landed safely in Yuma at approximately 4:07 p.m., less than an hour after takeoff from Phoenix. No passengers were hurt in the incident, but a flight attendant suffered a minor injury during the plane's descent and was treated on scene.
Passengers on the plane were later placed on a second plane, which safely transported them to their original destination of Sacramento.
As a result of the incident, Southwest grounded about 80 other Boeing 737s in their fleet. After inspections, it was discovered that five of those jets had similar cracks.
The damaged aircraft that landed in Yuma was repaired and flown to Texas for further inspections and maintenance later in April.
4. Richard Bible executed for 1988 murder of Yuma child
On June 30, 23 years to the day that he committed the heinous murder of 9-year-old Jennifer Marie Wilson, Richard Lynn Bible, 49, was executed at the state prison in Florence. Jennifer's parents, Richard and Nancy Wilson, her older sister, two younger brothers and 13 other members of the family witnessed Bible's execution.
Bible had been on death row since 1990 after being convicted of kidnapping, molesting and fatally bludgeoning Jennifer Wilson. The Yuma child had been on vacation with her family in Flagstaff. Her body was found three weeks after she went missing.
Blood found on Bible's shirt was consistent with Jennifer's, and multiple items found in a car Bible had stolen were found near her body, including vodka bottles, cigars and rubber bands. Bible always maintained his innocence during his more than two decades on death row, but investigators said evidence in the case was overwhelming.
5. Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents die in collision with train
On May 13, two Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents were killed in an on-duty accident while rushing to help fellow agents capture suspected illegal entrants smuggling drugs.
The agents, 34-year-old Eduardo Rojas Jr. and 39-year-old Hector Clark, both of whom were 10-year veterans of the force, were driving an official unmarked black SUV at about 6 a.m. when it was struck by a three-engine, 90-car Union Pacific freight train at the railroad crossing of Paloma Road near Exit 106 of Interstate 8, about nine miles west of Gila Bend. The railroad crossing is marked but does not have railroad crossing arms.
Clark and Rojas were trying to position themselves on a road north of where other agents were trying to capture the group.
6. AEA fallout continues
AEA Federal Credit Union's ongoing efforts to recover from the insolvency that led to its conservatorship by the National Credit Union Administration a year ago was ranked sixth in the year's Top 10 local stories. Last year, it was ranked as the top story for 2010.
During 2011, the financial institution has improved its total worth/assets ratio as it wrote off millions of dollars in bad debt. Much of that debt was run up by businessman Frank Ruiz, who in a plea agreement pleaded guilty in a kickback scheme to defraud the credit union that also involved William Liddle, AEA's former business lending officer. Ruiz is awaiting sentencing while Liddle and his wife face a trial in January.
AEA also has gone through the process of foreclosing on various properties that had been collateral for those debts and found buyers for the Yuma Fun Factory, the Desert Best Distributing warehouse and Lee Hotel, and is in the process of taking over ownership of the Top of the Kress.
7. Continuing economic woes impact Yuma County, city of Yuma
Most of the pain resulted from the Legislature's ongoing practice of using cost shifts, budget cuts and fund sweeps as budget balancing mechanisms.
“Cities and counties have never seen so many intrusive bills,” Yuma City Administrator Greg Wilkinson said in response to the Legislature's flurry of activity at the beginning of 2011 in an attempt to balance its budget.
One of the biggest decreases was to the Highway User Revenue Fund since the state has been shifting money from the fund to pay for the Arizona Department of Transportation.
The city of Yuma estimates it has lost close to $3 million in highway funds over the past few years, while the county has lost around $1.7 million.
As a result, roads have deteriorated in the area and the county even experienced a downgrade in road quality this past summer.
Cuts to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the loss of county assistance funds and other cuts forced the Yuma County Board of Supervisors to raise the tax rate 2 percent to help offset the added expenses.
And 2012 doesn't look much brighter for the city and county.
With an end to the one-cent sales tax approaching, impending federal health care mandates, and other prominent issues facing the state, it appears unlikely the Legislature will be reversing any of the budget cuts during its next session.
8. AWC flips the switch on new solar installation
Thanks to an idea instituted by district board member Steve Shadle, the topic of using renewable energy at Arizona Western College's campus in Yuma, the sunniest city on earth, was initially discussed back in 2007, and the project became a reality in 2011.
After a May groundbreaking, it wasn't long before the 5-megawatt solar installation was completed in December. The energy from the panels will cover 100 percent of the school's daytime electricity needs and provide educational learning opportunities for students on campus.
The project spans over 23 acres of land surrounding the campus and features five different types of solar panel technologies from companies including Green Volts Inc., SolFocus, Sharp, SolarWorld and Suntech.
During the “Flip the Switch” ceremony at the project's completion, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer traveled to Yuma to be the featured speaker at the event, joined by representatives from Arizona Public Service, Main Street Power, PPA Partners, Rosendin Electric and other project partners.
In the coming years AWC will save $3.5 million in 10 years and $15.4 million in 20 years, and the project could be worth $62 million in 30 years.
9. Redistricting controversies shake Yuma County
Redistricting controversies at the state and county level were ranked ninth by the Yuma Sun in the year's top 10 local stories.
For the county, most of the rancor came from South County officials who disagreed with Somerton's being removed from District 4 and placed with the north side of Yuma in District 1.
“Voters in historic downtown Yuma have different priorities than residents in Somerton,” Somerton Mayor Martin Porchas said at a September Yuma County Board of Supervisors meeting. “It is clear the commission went out of its way to gerrymander District 1 ... and (it) failed to recognize what we wanted.”
The map was eventually approved by the Board of Supervisors on a 3-2 roll call vote, and it currently awaits preclearance from the Department of Justice.
At the state level, local politicians railed against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission's congressional and legislative redistricting maps that would divide Yuma County and place it with parts of Maricopa and Pima counties.
Many believe the split would dilute Yuma's voting base and diminish political influence.
“I am very much afraid for the political future of our area,” Rep. Russ Jones said about the proposed legislative map. “Everyone should be adamantly opposed to this map because it makes Yuma County superfluous.”
After weeks of partisan political battles in the media and the courts, the IRC finally voted to approve the maps. Currently, the maps are undergoing a final review by IRC lawyers before they are submitted to the DOJ.
10. Border Patrol agent arrested on drug charges
On April 4, Yuma Sector Border Patrol agent Michael Atondo was arrested after 745 pounds of marijuana were found stacked in his marked Border Patrol truck.
In October, a federal jury found Atondo guilty in October of conspiracy to import 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, conspiracy to possess 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, and possession with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. He is due to be sentenced on those charges on Jan. 9.
The arrest happened about 30-40 miles east of the U.S. Port of Entry at San Luis, Ariz. Atondo set off a sensor in a patrol zone several miles away from where he was assigned to be working. As two Border Patrol agents approached the area, they found Atondo with his Border Patrol vehicle backed up against the eastern edge of the fence that marks the border between the U.S. and Mexico. The vehicle's rear door was open, and the marijuana was stacked inside.
A number of events made 2011 a newsy year in Yuma County. Those events included:
• Area schools on lockdown several times — Multiple schools in Yuma were placed on lockdown this year after campuses faced possible threats to their students. Although most lockdowns were primarily for precautionary reasons due to a suspect's being pursued by authorities near the campuses, one lockdown took place after a 911 call was made threatening the use of a gun at Yuma High School. One boy was taken into custody during the investigation, which included bomb-sniffing dogs from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and officers from the Yuma Police Department. No students were injured during the incident, and no gun was found. Several schools were also placed on lockdown during the shootings that occurred in the Yuma area in June.
• Work ongoing at MCAS Yuma for F-35 — The final steel beam for the world's first operational Joint Strike Fighter hangar was hoisted during a traditional topping-off ceremony at MCAS Yuma on Nov. 20. It marked the completion of the aircraft hangar's frame.
As the future home of the first F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in the country, MCAS Yuma will get five squadrons, each with 16 aircraft, and one operational test and evaluation squadron of eight aircraft. The 88 aircraft will replace Yuma's four existing squadrons of 56 AV-8B Harriers.
Ground was symbolically broken for the hangar in June as part of $150 million worth of construction projects that will be taking place at the air station in the coming years.
• MCAS, YPG get new commanders — Both of Yuma's military installations changed commanders in May of 2011. In a ceremony at Yuma Proving Ground, which included the firing of three field artillery pieces in an 5-gun salute, Col. Reed F. Young took charge of the post from Col. Thomas Payne.
With the passing of the Marine Corps Battle Colors during a formal change-of-command ceremony at the parade field, Col. Mark Werth formally relinquished command of MCAS Yuma to Col. Robert Kuckuk. In doing so, Kuckuk became the 23rd commander at MCAS Yuma since 1959.
• YPD gets green vehicles — Yuma became the first city in the country to receive a fleet of plug-in hybrid electric Ram pickup trucks with Hemi V8 engines from Dodge. In all, the city was given 10 of the vehicles, with eight of them to be outfitted as police vehicles and used on patrol.
The trucks hit the streets in December.
• Missing Marine found dead — The body of Cpl. Joshua Barron was recovered from a canal near County 12½ Street and Avenue D in March. His body was found by a farmer seven days after he was reported missing. He had sustained a single gunshot wound to the back of his head.
• Changes to YCAT, Dial-A-Ride — Over the past year, the Yuma Metropolitan Planning Organization authorized changes to Dial-A-Ride and YCAT (Yuma County Area Transit) bus service to offset budget cuts and inefficiencies. DAR routes were eliminated and limited to disabled and certified passengers. Among the YCAT changes were a $2 flat fare structure for all one-way routes, longer operation times, night service to Northern Arizona University-Yuma and Arizona Western College, an increase in service to San Luis and Yuma and an end to bus stops in parking lots. The changes were proposed by the Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority.
• Yuma marks 10th anniversary of 9/11 — Ten years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, Yumans recalled the frightful events of that day. Among the tributes, the Yuma police and fire departments gathered with students, staff and other officials at the Fourth Avenue Junior High School for a memorial tribute. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8242 retired an American flag owned by Bob Tuffly and measuring 65 feet in height and 112 feet during a ceremony in honor of the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. The Yuma Sun honored the date with a special commemorative edition — We Remember — featuring three sections devoted to the anniversary.
• Mike Jackson out as Quechan Tribe chairman — Keeny Escalanti, who served four terms as vice president, became the new Quechan tribal president in May after defeating Mike Jackson Sr., who had served four terms as president. Joining the council for the first time were Ronda C. Aguerro, who was elected the new vice president, and council members Darnella Melancon, Virgil S. Smith, Clivia Cyndee Miller and Felix J. Montague. Only one incumbent council member, James A. Montague, returned to office.
• Mendoza out; no pay raise for council — In the race for a remaining Yuma City Council seat, Edward C. Thomas ousted incumbent Raul Mendoza. Voters also nixed Proposition 401, which asked voters to decide if the mayor and council members should receive pay raises, as recommended by a city charter review committee.
• Federal courthouse groundbreaking — Ground was broken in June for the long-awaited federal courthouse at 98 W. 1st St. that is considered to be a key project for redevelopment of the riverfront. Construction is expected to be completed in the spring of 2013. The courthouse has been named the John M. Roll U.S. Courthouse in memory of the federal judge who worked tirelessly to make it a reality. Roll was one of six people killed during the shooting in Tucson in January in which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was wounded.
• Crossroads' new building finished but unoccupied — Construction was completed in the fall for the new Crossroads Mission family shelter at 944 S. Arizona Ave. with the help of a $1 million grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. However, the new shelter sits empty as the mission seeks funding to finish furnishing it. The 100-bed facility has twice the capacity of the existing shelter, and it was built to house homeless women and their children as well as families in the mission's recovery program.
• Hilton, Pivot Point auctioned off — The Hilton Garden Inn and Pivot Point Conference Center in downtown Yuma were auctioned off during a trustee sale in August after developer Craig Clark was unable to refinance his loan. Purchaser of the assets is S2 Acquisition, an investment company in New York. Under the terms of the 50-year lease under which the properties were developed and continue to operate, the city of Yuma retains ownership of the land and at the end of the lease will own the hotel and conference center.
• Airport controversy over privately owned vehicles — The use of privately owned vehicles inside the perimeter of Yuma International Airport has been a sore subject for months. Col. Robert Kuckuk, commander of MCAS Yuma, announced in the fall that private vehicles on the airfield is a breach of security that no longer can be allowed with the impending arrival of the F-35 Joint Striker Fighter. General aviation pilots say they need vehicle access to their hangars to transport passengers, tools, materials and heavy equipment to their aircraft. Airport and military officials continue to seek a solution.
• Councilmen in hot water over travel funds — In separate cases, San Luis Councilman Rafael Torres and Yuma Councilman Cody Beeson were on the hot seat for their lengthy delays in returning unused travel money. Torres was sentenced in August to one year of supervised probation for a misdemeanor charge of obstructing governmental operations for belatedly returning $1,239 in unused travel funds and lost his council seat. In Beeson's case, the Office of the Arizona Auditor General concluded there was insufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution for his taking nearly a year to return $223 in unused travel funds.
• Fun Factory reopens — After being closed for more than a year, the Yuma Fun Factory at 4446 E. County 10th St. was purchased by Brice and Becky Zeller and reopened Thanksgiving Day as Z Fun Factory. The Zellers also plan to develop a water park as part of the family entertainment center, with a target opening in June. The Zellers purchased the Fun Factory from AEA Federal Credit Union, which had foreclosed on it.
• Yuma takes on animal control issue — Animal control was the hot topic for much of the year for the Yuma City Council as it struggled first to adopt an ordinance addressing the issue of uncontrolled populations of feral cats. With that accomplished, the council again faced controversy when it decided the city would begin providing animal control enforcement services itself effective Jan. 1 after failing to reach an agreement with the Humane Society of Yuma. Animal licensing also is now through the city for city residents.
• Solar plant in progress near Dateland — Construction began on one of the largest solar plants in North America just north of Dateland this year.
The Agua Caliente Solar Plant covers 2,400 acres of farmland and employs hundreds of area workers who will install approximately 4 million solar panels before the 2013 completion date.
When completed, the plant will produce enough electricity to meet the needs of 100,000 homes and replace approximately 220,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
• Bank robber stops for pizza, beer — After robbing a Yuma bank, a former Oklahoma resident decided to stop by the pizza parlor next door and enjoy a beer and a slice.
Henry Elmer, 56, was apprehended by police while he was waiting for the Village Inn staff to bring him his pizza. He was later charged with armed robbery and held on a $200,000 bond.
• Work continues to find historic plane a home — For over a decade, a committed group of Yuma residents has been trying to find a permanent home to display the City of Yuma endurance flight plane, but to no avail.
“We are 14 years down the road and we still haven't (found) it a home,” said Ron Spencer, chairman of the Endurance Flight Committee. “We thought finding a home for it would be the easiest thing, but it's become the hardest thing.”
In August of 2010, the city council passed a measure to hang it in the lobby of city hall, but the money had to come from private sources.
After fundraising for over a year, the Endurance Flight Committee is close to its goal and hopes to have the plane displayed in city hall sometime in early 2012.
• C4 incident at Yuma International Airport — U.S. Army Private Christopher Eric Wey, 19, was arrested and charged with attempting to board an airplane at Yuma International Airport while allegedly carrying explosives on July 13. Wey was stationed at Fort Carson, Colo.
According to the Arizona District Attorney's Office in Phoenix, Wey was trying to board United Airlines flight 6455 from Yuma to Los Angeles when a Transportation Security Administration officers allegedly found one-half ounce of C4 explosive hidden in an empty can of smokeless tobacco in his baggage. Wey allegedly stole the C4 during a training course at Yuma Proving Ground.
• Woman strangled, allegedly by son — Michael Anthony Allen, 21, allegedly strangled his mother, Cynthia Allen, 47, to death on Dec. 3. Allen's body was discovered by Yuma police at a residence in the 400 block of South 2nd Avenue, after Michael Allen allegedly told an acquaintance he may have killed her at about 4 a.m. Police found Cynthia Allen lying on the floor of the living room with signs of trauma to her face and neck. After being arrested, Michael allegedly told the police he thought his mother was Satan and that he had killed her.
• Yuma Marines in Afghanistan — About 900 Marines based at MCAS Yuma were deployed overseas in 2011. About 350 Marines assigned to Marine Attack Squadron 513 and Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 served in Afghanistan this year to take part in the ongoing combat operations there. The 371 will remain in that country into 2012.
Another 530 Marines assigned to Marine Attack Squadrons 214, 211 and 311 served overseas with various Marine Expeditionary Units.
• Suicide at Crescent Center —— Yuma native Mariela Aguilar, 21, plunged to her death after apparently leaping from the Crescent Center roof on Jan. 26. Aguilar was transported to Yuma Regional Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead. Police believe the incident was a suicide.
• Teacher accused of sex crimes — Jessica Coz, 30, was arrested in April for allegedly participating in an ongoing sexual relationship with one of her students, who was 13 years old.
Coz, who had been the band director at Castle Dome Middle School, was accused of performing oral sex on the male student and having sexual intercourse with him on several occasions. She also allegedly showed the victim pornography on her computer.
Coz was arrested after an investigation by the Yuma Police Department, which began after the alleged relationship was reported by the victim's family.
• YPD police sergeant arrested on sex charges — Torrin Fannin, who had served as a sergeant in the Yuma Police Department before being terminated on Oct. 18, has been accused of demanding sexual acts from a victim in exchange for police assistance.
YPD believes that Fannin's alleged criminal conduct began in early 2010 and continued through September 2011.
Fannin is currently facing one count of bribery of a public servant — a class four felony, and one count of obstructing a criminal investigation — a class five felony.
• Kids left in car while parents gambled — A mother and father from Yuma were charged with three felonies in early October for leaving their small children unattended in their car while they gambled at Cocopah Casino.
Three children — ages 2, 4 and 6 — had allegedly been left unattended in their parents' vehicle without access to food or water.
The parents had been gambling for about 45 minutes when the children were discovered.