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A look at top Yuma news stories for 2012
Yuma has seen its share of news in 2012. Here's a look at the top 10 stories of 2012, as selected by the Yuma Sun staff:
1. F-35 arrives at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma
In what was history in the making, the first F-35B Lightning II landed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma on Nov. 16. Marine pilot Maj. Aric Liberman flew the new supersonic stealth fighter jet to the air station directly from Lockheed Martin's production plant in Fort Worth, Texas.
A second F-35B arrived at the air station four days later during the a rededication ceremony for the Green Knights of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, the first F-35B squadron to be formed.
During the ceremony, Sen. John McCain said the plane's arrival meant the beginning of Joint Strike Fighters flying over the skies of Arizona for the next 50 years.
A third F-35B has since arrived at the air station and an additional F-35 is expected to arrive each month until a full squadron is stationed at the base, which is expected by late spring or early summer. The total transition from old aircraft to new aircraft and personnel for the F-35 squadrons is scheduled for 2020.
MCAS Yuma will eventually be home to 88 F-35Bs – five squadrons each with 16 aircraft, and one operational test and evaluation squadron of eight aircraft.
The F-35B is slated to replace the Marine Corps' F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler.
About $400 million has been invested in the construction of infrastructure at MCAS Yuma so far. In total, as much as $500 million could be allotted to the air station by 2015, including $100 million in 2013. Some future projects over the next three years include a Security Operations building and new Combat Aircraft Loading apron.
2. Yuma-based Marines killed, Harriers destroyed in attack in Afghanistan
Two Yuma-based Marines, Lt. Col. Christopher “Otis” K. Raible and Sgt. Bradley W. Atwell, were killed in an insurgent attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on Sept. 15.
Raible, 40, was the commanding officer of VMA-211 attack squadron and Atwell, 27, was a member of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13. The attack on the flight line also destroyed six Harriers, heavily damaged two more, destroyed three refueling stations and damaged six hangars.
The fighting flared when a group of insurgents breached the perimeter fence at Camp Bastion at about 10 p.m. and attacked the flight line with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and suicide bomb vests.
Coalition forces killed 14 of the 15 insurgents, who were reportedly wearing U.S. Army uniforms, and wounded and captured the remaining enemy combatant.
3. Problems at voting centers, long lines at polls during 2012 general election
Yuma County voting centers had lines of up to four hours if not more, frustrating many voters and forcing some to walk away without casting ballots because they had run out of time to wait.
Yuma County made the switch this year from 39 polling sites to 11 voting centers where any registered voter could cast a ballot. The switch saved the county about $50,000, and officials hoped the ability to vote anywhere in the county would make the process more accessible and convenient. Voters first started using the centers, along with early mail voting and early in-person voting at the recorder's office, for this year's presidential and local primaries. But the general election on Nov. 6 had much higher turnout than the primaries, and that plus technical difficulties – such as on-demand ballot printer malfunctions – meant logjams that lasted well into the night. Lines were closed at 7 p.m. but people were still waiting at 10 p.m., after President Barack Obama's second term and other races had been called.
County leaders said that the voting centers are a good concept, but they need refining. Officials promised further study into how the process could be improved.
4. Ruiz and Liddle sentenced
A jury found William Liddle, the former vice president of business lending for AEA Federal Credit, guilty of 54 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering during a trial in February in U.S. District Court for his role in a kickback scheme that cost the financial institution an estimated $25 million in bad loans. Liddle, 51, was sentenced in June to 15 years in prison and is incarcerated at a federal prison in Safford, Ariz. He had missed his first court date for sentencing after suffering an alleged stab wound at his home shortly before he was due in court.
Liddle's wife, Rhonda, was convicted of 36 counts of conspiracy and money laundering for her role in the case. She was sentenced to 12 months of house incarceration, allowing her to remain with the couple's two young children.
The Liddles' codefendant, Frank Ruiz, was sentenced to two years in prison and is serving his term at the Florence, Colo., Federal Correctional Complex. Ruiz had reached a plea agreement, agreeing to testify against the Liddles in turn for a lighter sentence.
5. September storm leaves 19,000 without power
A severe storm hit Yuma on Sept. 9, knocking down 65 power poles and leaving about 19,000 APS customers without power.
According to Accuweather.com, the thunderstorm produced damaging winds reaching up to 66 mph blowing dust and heavy rainfall throughout the area, bringing the year to date inches of rain to 2.17.
While about 12,000 customers were back online by 10:30 p.m. Monday, others remained without power until early Tuesday morning.
Many who were without power also experienced a lack of running water due to Far West Water and Sewer's wells, booster stations, the water treatment plant, all of the sewage treatment plants and lift stations, as well as the customer service and administrative offices, were without power. About 10 to 20 percent of their customer base had no water while others had very low water pressure.
Volunteers from the Yuma branch of the American Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter opened a cooling station the day after the storm at Mt. Zion church where they were giving out water, dry ice provided by APS and sack lunches provided by the Salvation Army. APS also distributed about 18,000 pounds of dry ice at an area Walmart.
The Red Cross also opened an overnight shelter at Castle Dome Middle School for anyone affected by the storm-related power outage. The Red Cross offered meals, snacks, water, showers, locker rooms, restrooms and cots.
6. Drug tunnel discovered in San Luis
In itself, the discovery in July of a smuggling tunnel between San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., and San Luis, Ariz., was not unusual. It was the fourth one to turn up in the area since 2007, and was one of a total of 89 tunnels discovered all along the Arizona-Sonora border in a decade.
What was notable this time was the money and labor went into constructing the 240-yard-long tunnel, which could be used by traffickers to smuggle drugs north to the United States and weapons south to Mexico.
Equipped with electricity and a ventilation system, reinforced with beams and lined with plywood, the tunnel cost up to $1.5 million and likely was build over a yearlong period with the help of engineers, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The tunnel connected in San Luis, Ariz., to a building on Archibald Street that had been under surveillance as a possible drug stash house. Law enforcement officers discovered the tunnel while serving a search warrant for the building.
7. Yuma mayor, council clash
A conflict between Mayor Al Krieger and the Yuma City Council led to an investigation into possible misconduct by the mayor and a recall effort against two councilmen for their action in the case. The allegations against Krieger were first brought to the council on Jan. 4 by former Mayor Marilyn Young.
The council initially voted not to pursue an investigation, then later reversed that decision. After hearing a lengthy presentation by the attorney it hired to investigate the allegations, the council voted 5-1 to censure the mayor. The council also voted to direct their special counsel to forward his 32-page report and supporting documentation to “the appropriate authorities for consideration of enforcement action.” There has been no further word on the status of the investigation.
Meanwhile, backers of a recall effort against Councilmen Paul Johnson and Jerry Stuart filed a lawsuit after city and county officials determined several signatures on the recall petitions were invalid. A panel of the Arizona Appeals Court recently remanded Recall Them All's lawsuit back to trial court to review the signatures.
8. YRMC joins the Mayo Clinic Care Network
In November, Yuma Regional Medical Center announced it is now a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, a partnership that will provide cancer patients in Yuma access to cutting-edge treatment and expertise close to home.
It's all part of the hospital's ongoing mission to provide the highest level of care in Yuma whenever possible for local residents and visitors, said Pat Walz, president and CEO of YRMC. Being part of the Mayo Clinic family “gives us a connection with their research and development,” he noted.
In December, YRMC also announced that a site has been found for the new comprehensive cancer center the hospital plans to develop. The new 38,000-square-foot facility will be built on a vacant lot across the street from the hospital acquired from the Yuma Elks through a property exchange. The facility, with a targeted opening in March 2014, will provide medical oncology services, radiation therapy, infusion therapy and ancillary and community services under one roof.
9. Dome Valley couple's videos released after 2011 shootout, explosion
The Yuma County Sheriff's Office released videos on Jan. 20 of a Dome Valley couple discussing their plans to commit suicide after luring as many sheriff's deputies as they could to their residence and shooting them. The couple, Jesse Lee Firestone, 65, and his wife Diedre Firestone had also planned to wait for the YCSO Special Response Team (SRT) to arrive and take them out as well by intentionally blowing up the residence as team members entered their home.
In another video, Jesse Firestone is seen standing inside his home using a cell phone to call 911 to report that he had just mercifully shot his wife, which was how they planned to lure deputies to their Bat Mountain Ranch residence.
In one of the eeriest videos, Jesse Firestone is seen videotaping the .357 magnum rifle he planned to use and even shows the hole in the front door of the home he was going to fire from. He even mentions some sheriff deputies by name saying, “it's nothing personal, anyway — adios.”
On Dec. 23, 2011, Wellton police and sheriff deputies responded to a report of a murder at about 1:30 p.m. at the 22300 block of East County 8th Street. When deputies and police arrived at the scene, Jesse Firestone allegedly shot at them from inside the residence, striking a law enforcement vehicle. While he reportedly continued to shoot, a large explosion occurred inside the home. Both Firestones were killed.
10. Preston Strong trial
Following a 39-day bench trial Yuma County Superior Court, Judge John Nelson found Preston Strong guilty of two counts of first-degree murder on Oct. 11 in the 2007 murder of Dr. Satinder Gill.
They also convicted Strong, who showed no emotion as he read the verdicts, on one count of kidnapping, one count of armed robbery, one count of burglary, two counts of aggravated assault and one count of attempted arson.
Then on Nov. 16, Strong was sentenced to two life terms in prison with no chance for release for the murder. He was also given a combined 25-1/2 years for kidnapping, one count of armed robbery, one count of burglary, two counts of aggravated assault and one count of attempted arson to run consecutively with the two life sentences.
The 62-year-old Gill was found dead inside his home at 4596 W. La Quinta Loop on Nov. 2, 2007, a day after he had been murdered. He had been suffocated and had received blunt-force trauma to his head. A large sum of money was missing.
Strong is also a suspect in the 2005 murders of six people at a La Mesa Street home.