Other newsworthy items round out 2012 in Yuma
A number of events made 2012 a newsy year in Yuma County, including the following:
Changes/charges at Arizona Market Place – The Arizona Market Place, 3351 S. Avenue 4E, opened this fall under new ownership while the former owner faces criminal charges. Scott Awar, managing member of AZMKT LLC, obtained the deed for the property following two auction sales in mid-July. Meanwhile, former owner Daniel Dinwiddie is awaiting trial on felony charges of fraudulent schemes and theft for allegedly obtaining about $90,000 illegally from multiple vendors of the market place.
Waylon's Water World opens – At last Yuma has a water slide park with the opening in June of Waylon's Water World at the Z Fun Factory, 4446 E. County 10th St. With 15 slides and tube attractions, the multimillion-dollar water park owned by Brice and Becky Zeller is the second-biggest in the state, according to Z Fun Factory.
Diamond Brooks Water raided – Diamond Brooks Water, 3025 S. Avenue 4E, was the subject of a raid by federal agents last summer as part of a joint investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Yuma Police Department. Sgt. Clint Norred, YPD spokesman, said it was determined that Diamond Brooks allegedly had illegally tapped into a city water line, obtaining water without paying for it. The company would then process the water and sell it back to the public, he said.
Jones/Mitchell saga – Former Yuma lawmaker Russ Jones filed a lawsuit challenging rival candidate Darin Mitchell's eligibility to run for office in the newly formed Legislative District 13 that includes parts of Yuma and Maricopa counties. Jones, who lost to Mitchell and another candidate in the primary election for two seats in the state House of Representatives, alleged that Mitchell did not live in the district he was seeking to represent. Just before the general election, the Arizona Court of Appeals declared Mitchell was a legitimate candidate.
NationsHealth opens call center – NationsHealth, which provides support and outsourced services for a number of major government and private health insurers, opened a call center in Yuma in early October a short two months after announcing its plans. Ultimately, the company expects to hire about 750 people. After a scramble to find a location, the call center is temporarily operating at 3150 S. Winsor Ave. The permanent location will be in the former Target building on 32nd Street through an agreement with Yuma Regional Medical Center.
AEA works to improve net worth – Two years after being placed under conservatorship by the National Credit Union Administration, AEA Federal Credit Union continues to slowly improve its net worth, according to its third quarter call report. Its net worth to total assets had improved to 3.34 percent and its bad debt and loan losses are down significantly from a year ago. But it remains propped up by a $20 million capital deposit it received from NCUA in December 2011.
Airport invests in infrastructure – There has been a bustle of activity on the civilian side of the airport. Since 2007, more than $35 million in both public and private money has been invested in Yuma International Airport's infrastructure, creating hundreds of construction jobs and permanent jobs and providing opportunities to attract defense contractors to the community.
City of Yuma airplane has new home – At last the City of Yuma, the airplane flown in the historic endurance flight in 1949 that brought national attention to the area, has a permanent home aloft in the lobby of Yuma City Hall. The aircraft was piloted by Woody Jongeward and co-pilot Bob Woodhouse for 47 days of nonstop flight. The flight was organized by the Yuma Jaycees in hopes of convincing the military to reopen the air base that had been closed after World War II. Today, it is home to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
Cactus accident injuries Yuman – William “Billy” Mason, an employee of the city of Yuma Utilities Department, was seriously injured when a 16-foot saguaro cactus fell on him while responding to an emergency water leak in the Del Oro Estates one early morning in June. Mason suffered a compressed vertebra in his back, a broken leg and hundreds of cactus spines in his body. The accident resulted in an outpouring of support for Mason and his wife.
County votes – Yuma County government will have a lot of familiar faces, and a few new ones. Incumbent supervisors Greg Ferguson, Russell McCloud and Tony Reyes handily bested their competitors in the general election, while Lenore Lorona Stuart won the primary election and went on to retain her seat unopposed in the general. Russ Clark is the new supervisor for District 3 upon the retirement of Casey Prochaska. Leon Wilmot is the new Yuma County sheriff upon the retirement of Ralph Ogden. Angela Pancrazi Moreno is the new treasurer, narrowly beating incumbent David Egeberg. James Clark is a new Yuma County Superior Court judge, closely beating current Judge David M. Haws. Incumbents for Yuma County schools superintendent, recorder, assessor and other judge seats were unopposed. Yuma County's voter turnout was about 56 percent in the general, representing more than 42,000 votes.
City, county take over animal control – The city of Yuma and unincorporated Yuma County are now handling their own animal control. The Humane Society of Yuma formerly provided full animal control duties for both municipalities, but now only holds the contracts for kennelling. The city and county animal control units handle calls for disruptive, loose, injured and abused animals. The city agency is a civilian component of the Yuma Police Department, while the county agency is a division of the county health department.
Cocopah holds election – Cocopah voters retained all five of their tribal council incumbents in July, something that had never been done before. That meant victory again for Sherry Cordova as chairwoman, Dale Phillips as vice chairman, and Neil White, Irwin Twist and Carlos Pereyra as councilmen. All council members serve two-year terms and they are voted in town hall-style.
Great Yuma County Diamond Hunt – Yuma County and the Yuma Sun celebrated Arizona's centennial with the Great Yuma County Diamond Hunt. Over seven consecutive days, Yuma County released a GPS coordinate on its Twitter account — as did the Yuma Sun on its own Twitter — and “diamond hunters” would head to the spot to grab a glass diamond and instructions to claim their seats at the Yuma County Centennial Celebration. The theme was based on a diamond-searching frenzy that swept Yuma after the falsely reported tale of a diamond field here in 1871. The Yuma Sun also ran a series of articles that were hints for the hiding places. The project earned the Yuma County Communications Team an Award of Excellence from the national Savvy Awards, given by the City, County, Communications & Marketing Association.
Dogs maul horse – Two pit bulls escaped from their yard in the Foothills on Nov. 5 and felled a neighbor's horse, mauling it so badly it had to be euthanized. The dogs were initially allowed to stay with their owners, but eventually impounded, found vicious by a Yuma Justice Court judge and put down.
Fort Yuma firefighter killed – Anthony Polk, a Bureau of Indian Affairs wildland firefighter assigned to the Fort Yuma agency, was killed June 8 when the fire truck he was riding in on duty rolled in rough terrain as he and colleagues approached a fire near Sells. Two other firefighters were injured. Andy Rosales, also from Yuma, suffered a broken neck in the crash and is still recovering.
Wind tunnels proposed – In 2012, officials of Maryland-based Clean Wind Energy came to San Luis, Ariz., with a proposal to convert wind to electricity inside two towers reaching thousands of feet into the sky. The San Luis City Council has approved a series of rezonings to allow the towers to be established on city's southeast corner, but the future project has met opposition from area residents concerned about its impact on the environment and about potential conflicts with surrounding land uses.
San Luis candidate removed from ballot over English fluency – San Luis, Ariz., attracted national and international attention in 2012 after the city's then-mayor filed a court challenge to city council candidate Alejandrina Cabrera, alleging she did not possess the required level of English fluency to serve in public office. In a decision later upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court, a judge sided with the challenge, removing her from the ballot for the March election. Cabrera went on to campaign briefly as a write-in candidate for vice president on the Utopian Party ticket in the U.S. presidential election.
San Luis Rio Colorado police chief slain – As he was driving away from his home in San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., the night of May 19, city Police Chief Luis Rodriguez Soqui was riddled by bullets fired from a passing vehicle. No suspects were ever arrested in his killing, but the attack was widely believed to have been ordered by drug traffickers.
Grocery store manager killed – Ramiro Marquez, the 52-year-old manager of the Food City grocery store in San Luis, Ariz., was found murdered in his home in San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., in July, in what was suspected as a robbery-related homicide. Marcos Rafael Andrade Loera, a resident of the Mexican border city described as a having a long criminal record, was arrested as the suspect, and, according to police, confessed to the killing.
YUHSD gets $3.9 million grant for Ready Now Yuma – The Helios Education Foundation announced a five-year partnership with YUHSD in June by awarding them with a $3.9 million grant. Funds given to YUHSD were earmarked to support its Ready Now Yuma program with a focus on continuing to provide students with a rigorous curriculum to help them prepare for success after high school while also providing necessary professional development for instructors.
Yuma Sun's parent company gets new owners – Freedom Communications, parent company of the Yuma Sun, came under new ownership on July 25 with the completion of the transaction by which it agreed to be acquired by media company 2100 Trust, LLC, Freedom and 2100 Trust. It was also announced that the company, under its new ownership, would continue to operate as Freedom Communications.
Yuma Sun named state's top newspaper – The Yuma Sun was named the 2012 Better Newspaper Contest Newspaper of the Year by the Arizona Newspapers Association (ANA). The Yuma Sun staff earned 34 accolades, including 16 first-place awards, during the annual ANA conference in Scottsdale. To maintain impartiality, the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association judged the contest entries from newspapers all over Arizona and assigned the awards.
Yuma Sun editor retires – Longtime Yuma Sun Editor Terry Ross announced his retirement after 30 years with the newspaper. Roxanne Molenar, Yuma Sun's assignments editor, will replace Ross with the start of the new year.
Yuma County sheriff retires – Sheriff Ralph Ogden, who has served with the Yuma County Sheriff's Office for 42 years, including 20 as the sheriff, retired. Ogden's undersheriff, Maj. Leon Wilmot, was elected in November to replace him.
Humane Society opens new shelter – The Humane Society opened up their new shelter, located at 4050 Avenue 4-1/2E, in December after six years of planning, fundraising and construction. The new facility includes more kennel space as it houses a quarantine wing and a stray wing that will be separate from the two adoption wings. HSOY's low-cost spay and neuter clinic has also been moved to the facility so that animals have access to veterinarian care on site.
Inca Lanes closes, reopens – Just months after AMF Inca Lanes closed its doors in July, the facility opened back up again as Inca Lanes in September, renovated in time for the fall bowling leagues. Property owners Jerry and Nancy Thomas worked quickly to reopen the bowling alley after AMF abandoned the building.
Work to expand Avenue 3E begins – Work on a stretch of Avenue 3E that has been a bottleneck for years started in the fall. The long-awaited widening of the Avenue 3E bridge from 24th Street to Gila Ridge Road will accommodate traffic with six lanes over the Union Pacific railroad tracks far below. The city project, which is being managed by the Arizona Department of Transportation, is expected to take about 18 months.
Unemployment levels still high – Yuma County once again had the dubious honor of having the highest unemployment rate in the nation. The unemployment rate peaked at 31.4 percent in July, meaning 29,775 people were unemployed and seeking work, according to the Arizona Department of Administration. The jobless rate hovered near 30 percent most of the year, with 28.9 percent in May, 28.1 percent in June, 29.9 percent in August, 29.7 percent in September, 29.9 percent in October and 27.5 percent in November.
Amberly's Place Law now reality – Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law Senate Bill 1369, commonly known as Amberly's Place Law. It keeps conversations between a victim and an advocate confidential even in the presence of a third person. The law has set a precedent and is being copied by several states across the nation. The legislation originated in Yuma County, with the language drafted by Amberly's Place Executive Director Diane Umphress, Yuma County Attorney Jon Smith and Steve Twist, a Phoenix-area attorney who was instrumental in getting the Arizona Victims' Rights constitutional amendment on the Arizona ballot in 1990. Sen. Don Shooter (R-Yuma) and Rep. Russ Jones (R-Yuma) sponsored the bill.
Nurse fired over social media comments – A nurse's social media comment blaming the victim of a fatal collision between an ambulance and a motorcycle ignited a storm of online fury, leading to her dismissal in August from Yuma's hospital. Nurse Angela Gusta commented on YumaSun.com that the victim, Todd McIntire, was at fault when his motorcycle struck an ambulance making a U-turn Sunday on Highway 95. Officials with Yuma Regional Medical Center, responding to numerous furious online responses, announced via its own social media comment that Gusta's contract with the hospital had been terminated.
Mrs. G dies – The matriarch of one of Yuma's most notable families, “Mrs. G” died Aug. 17, leaving behind a legacy of well-loved recipes and restaurants. Bessie Gutierrez, the founder of The Chile Pepper, La Casa Gutierrez and Mr. G's restaurants, died in Yuma at the age of 96.
Tacna man loses leg in pipe bomb incident – On Dec. 4, a 31-year-old Tacna man lost a leg in a pipe bomb explosion. Kobey Coulter was found by sheriff's deputies on his property with severe wounds after a homemade pipe bomb exploded in a workshop near his home.
YHS teacher arrested on child porn charges – Michael Aaron Cox was arrested Aug. 7 by the Arizona Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and YPD following a monthlong investigation leading to the discovery of child porn on Cox's home computer and external storage devices. Cox had been a teacher and athletic trainer at YHS for many years. He was sentenced to five years in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervision.
NASA conducts parachute testing at YPG – NASA engineers conducted three successful space capsule parachute drops at Yuma Proving Ground in 2012. The parachute tests were conducted in February, July and August. NASA is testing the parachutes as part of the Orion program, the next generation of space exploration created to replace the shuttle program. Altogether, 18 similar tests will be made by 2014.
Mother arrested in 2008 kidnapping – Chrystal Abren Lopez was arrested in May after turning herself in at the U.S. Port of Entry at San Luis, Ariz. She had fled to Mexico with her daughter in 2008 after a court order gave the girl's father, Rey Herrera, permanent custody of her following his divorce with Lopez. The girl, Damaris Lopez-Herrera, was initially taken into custody by Child Protective Services after being returned to the U.S.
Marine helicopter crashes – Six Camp Pendleton-based Marines and one Yuma-based Marine were killed Feb. 22 when their helicopter crashed during a training exercise in the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range. The Yuma-based Marine was Capt. Nathan W. Anderson, 32, of Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One.
Fire at Bruce Church Packing plant – A fire at Bruce Church Packing plant Nov. 21 destroyed three buildings and damaged a fourth containing ammonia. Because of the risk of an ammonia leak, a one-mile radius was evacuated around the shed. Three people were injured during the blaze, including one who was transported to YRMC. The fire continued to smoulder for several days.
YPD substation breaks ground in east Yuma – Yuma Police Chief John Lekan, Mayor Al Krieger, City Councilman Edward Thomas, Deputy Police Chief Susan Otero and City Administrator Greg Wilkinson took part in ground breaking ceremony for a new police substation in May. The new substation, located on a five-acre lot at 6390 E. 26th St., was built to improve service to residents living in the eastern portions of the city of Yuma.
Murder suicide in Foothills – On Sept. 3, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Robert C. Nelson fatally shot his girlfriend, 34-year-old Briana Kilty, then killed himself inside a residence in the 11800 block of Calle Gaudi in Mesa Del Sol. Nelson, 36, was not on duty at the time. An 11-year-old girl found unharmed inside the home after the murder/suicide was temporarily placed into the care of Child Protective Services.
YPG breaks ground for world's largest wind tunnel – On Sept. 26, a ground breaking ceremony was held at YPG for what will eventually be the world's largest vertical wind tunnel. The two-story tall vertical wind tunnel will be used by YPG's Military Freefall School to train elite paratroopers from all branches of the U.S. military. Its features include a flight chamber with all-glass walls at ground level and enough space to allow up to eight people to belly-fly at once.
Ex-Somerton police officer sentenced on theft charges – Felipe Navarro, a former Somerton police officer, was sentenced to 24 months of supervised probation for trying to sell an automobile that didn't exist. In November 2011, Navarro was accused of taking money from a victim by falsely stating there was a Cadillac available at a police auction and that he would help the victim obtain it. Navarro was a 13-year veteran of the department who was serving as a school resource officer at Somerton Middle School.
DPS officer commits suicide in wake of investigation – Veteran Department of Public Safety officer James Howard committed suicide Sept. 6 at the Adair Park Shooting Range northeast of Yuma after being informed that he was under investigation for sexual abuse and child molestation.
Jeep gets stuck on border fence – Two suspected drug smugglers in a silver Jeep Cherokee attempted to use a makeshift ramp extending from Mexico into the United States to drive over the International Boundary fence, but got stuck on top of the fence 20 miles west of Yuma.
Man arrested for allegations of sexual abuse, beastiality – Cody Slaughter, 22, was arrested on July 6 for allegedly having sexual relations with a child and several species of animals. He was released from custody four days later on July 10 following his arraignment when no charges were filed against him. Slaughter allegedly admitted to the crimes during a pre-employment screening with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Two killed after road rage incident – Two Yuma men, 27-year-old Jason Snellings and 26-year-old Glenn Currie, were shot to death on May 12 after they allegedly threatened another man after a series of road rage incidents. The alleged shooter, 23-year-old Daniel Dillman, was released from police custody.
Man arrested in baseball bat slaying – Manuel Bustamante, the man wanted in connection to the April 18th baseball bat slaying of Kendal Smith, 33, was arrested May 10, in San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., and later turned over U.S. authorities. Bustamante had been arrested in Mexico on charges of attempted homicide stemming from a shooting he was allegedly involved in while hiding in Mexico.
BP agent arrested for drug smuggling – Yuma Sector Border Patrol agent Aaron Anaya was arrested on Dec. 4 for allegedly using his patrol vehicle to smuggle drugs while on duty. Charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and carrying a firearm, he had been observed stopping along the international border to loaded up several bundles of marijuana that had been dropped over the fence from Mexico.
Man murdered in downtown shooting – Frank Martin Salazar Jr., 28 of Yuma, was murdered on Oct. 15, in a shooting in a parking lot at 38 W. 2nd St. He was taken to Yuma Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead from a gunshot wound.