News agencies have a habit at the end of each year of looking back and creating lists of the “biggest news stories” of the year. Most times, these lists are presented in the form of a “Top 10 stories of the year” format, an arbitrary ranking based on what reporters and editors with a given news outlet felt were the stories that had the biggest impact on the community. Looking back on Cache Valley in 2009, however, the list of stories that would be classified as “most impactful” or “biggest news” turns out to be a list heavy with tragedy. From the July landslide in Logan’s Island neighborhood that claimed the lives of a mother and her two children to several other deaths, especially those of young people lost before their time, 2009 was a year of sadness and loss for many in the valley. It’s because of the heavy losses suffered in the valley this year that we will not be ranking the top news stories of the year as we look back and remember what was 2009. It seems inappropriate to assign certain criteria to rank the loss of one of our neighbors as more important than that of another, so we present this year’s list of the top Cache Valley news stories to you as just that: a list of some of the biggest stories of the year, in no particular order. It’s a list full of much sadness, but one that hopefully will allow us to remember the good memories of friends and family lost, and look forward to, hopefully, a better 2010.
<strong>A Year of Tragedy</strong>
When looking back on 2009 in Cache Valley, it seemed that every few weeks a new story was in the news about loss of life. The most attention-gathering of these stories came in early July, when a mother, Jacqueline Leavey, and her two children, Victor and Abbey Alanis, were killed in a mudslide in Logan’s Island neighborhood. The failure of the canal above Leavey’s home caused the mountain just below 400 North to fall away, sending literal tons of mud, rock, vegetation and water down the hill, trapping Leavey and her children inside their home while sending a torrent of debris throughout the rest of the Island. Public officials and the community responded en force to the tragedy, however, assisting in the cleanup starting immediately after the incident on a Saturday afternoon and working bravely in the several days following to try and restore some order to the otherwise quiet Logan neighborhood. Other lives lost during the year included Celina Roye, the 18-year-old Las Vegas woman who disappeared in the Northern Utah mountains in August and prompted local search crews to spend weeks looking for her in the back country. At the end of August, however, Roye was found to have apparently hanged herself in Green Canyon. During the time crews were searching for Roye, rescue crews were also deployed to Tony Grove Lake, where 19-year-old John Doucette was found to have drowned while swimming in the cold waters of the mountain lake. In May, Tim Andrus, a Wyoming man attending the Mountain Man Rendevous in Blacksmith Fork Canyon, was pronounced dead after a stabbing that reportedly happened during the course of a friendly wrestling match with another patron of the event. Several lives were lost on Cache Valley’s roads during the year, but a couple of deaths in August hit the community particularly hard. On Aug. 12, USU Professor Mary E. Doty was killed in a head-on collision on Valley View Highway after the 18-year-old driver of another vehicle reportedly fell asleep at the wheel and drifted into the opposite lane, colliding with Doty’s vehicle. Also in August, 19-year-old Jacob Brent Hawkes, the nephew of North Park Police Chief Kim Hawkes, was killed in a U.S. Highway 91 car crash. Hawkes allegedly was texting while driving at the time of the crash, according to law enforcement. Those two distracted driving deaths, coupled with a number of other highway fatalities due to texting while driving, drunk driving or drowsy driving, prompted the Cache County Attorney’s Office to convene a distracted driving summit in November, where family members of those lost in various types of crashes were on hand to discuss their stories. The summit was part of a supercharged effort from local law enforcement to increase awareness of the dangers of distracted driving in the community. Not all tragedy in the valley happened with the loss of life, however. In October, a leaking propane tank caused an explosion destroying a College Ward home. The two people inside the home both sustained injuries, including a man who was taken to Salt Lake City to receive treatment from a University of Utah burn unit. Both, fortunately, didn’t lose their lives in the incident that left the home completely destroyed.
Continued budget cuts at the state level brought havoc and much concern to faculty and administrators at state institutions like Utah State University. Employees at the school were ordered to take an unpaid furlough during Spring Break, and many positions at the school were lost by way of layoffs throughout the year. Concern was heavy toward the end of 2009 that more budget cuts would be coming during the 2010 Legislative session. Perhaps a necessity of the down economy and changing demographics in the state, USU and the College of Eastern Utah agreed to a merger, which ultimately meant the Carbon County school would become part of USU, but would retain its own identity in many ways. Other Northern Utah companies, namely ATK Launch Systems, suffered a number of layoffs. Still, the Logan Metropolitan Area retained one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, although the rate increase several percentage points from Logan’s historic low unemployment rate numbers of 2.4 percent just a couple years ago.
<strong>Local politics remain hot</strong>
With 2009 being a municipal election year, local politics were once again the topic
in the valley. In Logan, the council and mayoral races became unexpectedly hot thanks to an upstart political group that endorsed a trio of candidates. The Independence Caucus entered played a significant role in the race, especially on the mayoral front when their endorsed candidate, Mike Morrill, gave incumbent Randy Watts a run for his money on election night, with election results coming down to the last few reporting precincts. Watts, however, did win re-election, and was joined in victory on election night by what most would say were like-minded council candidates Dean Quayle and Holly Daines. The victories could, more or less, be seen as a mandate in support of the policies of Watts and some members of the council such as instituting a landlord licensing program in Logan and reclaiming park strips in the city’s inner core. Outside of the election, controversy was found in the Logan Police Department with the dismissal of Logan Police Chief Russ Roper. After just a few years on the job, Roper was ousted and replaced by former Vernal Police Chief Gary Jensen. Roper’s dismissal came with an aire of discontent from some officers in the department about leadership issues.
<strong>The year in sports</strong>
The first few months of 2009 were a magical time for Utah State’s always-successful men’s basketball team. Stew Morrill’s squad compiled its first 30-win season in program history and made it to the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies, as an 11-seed, lost a one-point game in the first round to Marquette, however, ending one of the most successful seasons in recent Aggie memory. Also on campus, new head football coach Gary Andersen injected a tremendous amount of enthusiasm into the struggling Aggie football program, and led the team to a 4-8 record, its most wins in several years. The Aggies lost three conference games by a combined 10 points, giving Aggie fans hope that the program could be on the turnaround heading into the 2010 season when star players in running back Robert Turbin and quarterback Diondre Borel both will return. Also on the USU football scene, USU announced it would name the field at Romney Stadium after Aggie great Merlin Olsen. Olsen, one of the greatest NFL players of all time and an All American lineman during his time at USU, was honored at a time that he was suffering from severe health problems.