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High Desert 2013: Fiery year of crime, challenges

By Barney Lerten
Published On: Dec 29 2013 02:47:53 AM CST
Updated On: Dec 31 2013 03:16:39 PM CST
High Desert 2013 in review

The year 2013 was a busy one in news on the High Desert, especially in court cases and crime, such as the sentencing of Tami and Kevin Sawyer and the controversial injuries and heartwarming recovery of Chance the pit bull mix; the future of Mirror Pond was one of two big water debates in Bend; wildfires broke out and forced evacuations from N. Klamath County to Warm Springs; OSU-Cascades picked a controversial Westside location for its four-year campus a riderless horse at the Sisters rodeo grounds honored fallen contract tree-faller John Hammack; and a string of early-morning arson fires in downtown Bend, one that ravaged an historic church, remained unsolved at year's end.

BEND, Ore. -

Violent crime, storms and wildfires captured headlines throughout 2013 on the High Desert -- and while all three proved deadly in tragic fashion, there were also good-news items to lift spirits, from a badly injured, recovering pit-bull mix to governments succeeding in requests to voters and a pair of Central Oregon athletes reaching new heights on the world stage.

Some years lend themselves to neat, orderly lists -- one or two obvious biggest stories of the year in Central Oregon, followed by ones that also captivated attention for months if not all year. But this was a very busy year on many fronts, so here's a more all-inclusive, encyclopedic memory-jogger of the year that was.

The online world can carve its own path, of course, which helps explain how the top-viewed news story on KTVZ.COM wasn't local but regional -- it was about that AMBER Alert and manhunt for the California killer who abducted 16-year-old Hannah Anderson, rescued after a chance sighting in the Idaho wilderness in August, when FBI agents shot and killed James Lee DiMaggio.

No. 2 -- and sparking 279 comments during one story's week of updates -- was the late-November fatal shooting of Tyler Keinonen, 31, by Bend police Office Erick Supplee as Keinonen left a home that had been the focus of a drug raid hours earlier.

Third was the late-August chase and shooting of a 34-year-old Texas man, William Edward Hall, by OSP troopers after they say he drew a gun during a traffic stop, triggering a chase over Santiam Pass and through Sisters, to the Cloverdale area. District Attorney Patrick Flaherty later said an investigation found that officers fired 20 shots, four of which hit Hall -- but before those bullets could take his life, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The fourth-viewed story was the search and eventual sad outcome of the hunt for a missing Bend man, Jonathan Sullivan-Shipley, whose body was found by a hunter near Chemult after almost three weeks, and whose death was ruled a suicide.

No. 5 on the KTVZ.COM most-viewed list was the frightening, 330-acre Stagecoach Fire northeast of Gilchrist in northern Klamath County that miraculously spared a cabin thought lost, thanks to defensible space. A La Pine man was arrested and accused of leaving a campfire unattended on BLM land that sparked the blaze, which prompted evacuation of 120 homes in two subdivisions south of La Pine.

No. 6 was a story on the frigid cold snap that hit the High Desert in early December, with record or near-record lows, like 32-below in La Pine, gelled school bus fuel to delay or cancel classes, broke many sprinkler and water pipes and canceled Bend's Christmas Parade for the first time ever.

No. 7 on our most-clicked list was a mid-October crash that killed two Sisters residents when the driver swerved to avoid a deer and lost control of his car on rain-slickened Hwy. 20 west of Sisters.

No. 8 was a 100-acre-plus Browns Creek wildfire that forced the evacuations of hundreds of campers near Wickiup Reservoir in late July.

No. 9 was the 51,000-acre Sunnyside Turnoff Fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation that cost more than $5 million to put out and also forced evacuations, including the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort, which was then used as a base for firefighters.

No. 10 (when stories are combined) was the tragic string of three deaths in the Oregon woods among crews that fight fires or support those who do, including contract tree-faller John Hammack, 58, of Madras, a well-known long-time rodeo cowboy who was struck by a falling tree-top on Aug. 1 while helping on a small fire about seven miles west of Sisters. Another man was injured by the falling snag.

Firefighter Jesse Trader, 19, of Albany, died days later when his water truck overturned on southern Oregon's Big Windy Fire complex, and on the day of Trader's memorial service, another contractor, Kevin Hall of Ontario, died of a medical emergency while working on an Eastern Oregon wildfire.

Crimes, solved and unsolved, capture attention

Possibly the biggest Bend story of the year, in terms of one-day drama, was a string of early-morning arson fires on March 6 that heavily damaged the Trinity Hall of Trinity Episcopal Church. By year's end, there still was no word of suspects or any arrests.

Another big Bend story that promises lasting impacts in coming years  across the High Desert was OSU-Cascades' selection of a west Bend campus site for its four-year expansion.

An iconic piece of Bend -- Mirror Pond -- continued to spark controversy all year, as the silt problem defied easy solution of community consensus while turning parts of the pond into more of a swampy wetlands. Some sought restoration and others thought removing the dam to make the area more natural was the ticket. And then the century-old Pacific Power hydroelectric dam that formed the pond sprang a leak. The pond was lowered for an inspection -- and when the utility said it wanted to hand off the dam, rather than fix and operate it, talks ensued and the pond's fate continued to be murky.

Water also was at the heart of another Bend political debate that began well before 2013 and lasted all year long. There were more delays and a continued court fight, but toward the end, glimmers of hope in talks toward a possible compromise to resolve the years-old dispute over the city of Bend's proposed water pipeline replacement project.

Political issues that prompted tumult in Washington, D.C., also had serious impacts on the High Desert, from the spring sequestration cuts and the October federal government shutdown to the trouble-plagued rollout of the Cover Oregon health insurance Website. Also, several Central Oregon runners were near the Boston Marathon finish line when two blasts rocked the area in April.

The war in Afghanistan may be winding down, but it continued to hit home hard on the High Desert, as in May, an IED killed five troops in an armored vehicle, including Spc. Brandon Prescott, 24, of Bend.

There was better news on the Central Oregon economic front, as the recovery from the Great Recession solidified in reduced unemployment, fewer foreclosures and plenty of housing starts and sales. The signs of growth also were back in other ways, such as major road projects under way on the south end of Bend, at Reed Market and Murphy roads.

Also among the top-headline stories of the year in Central Oregon, and surely among the most emotional was the survival saga of Chance, a dog dragged and severely injured by a car in Terrebonne last July -- what appeared at first to be intentional but investigators insisted was a tragic combination in which the dog apparently jumped or fell out out of the window and was then dragged by its leash beneath a car. Details released by the DA didn't convince many it was a tragic accident, but all marveled and greeted the dog's return to health.

Several court cases drew headlines, including the mid-January guilty pleas and late-April sentencing of disgraced Bend real estate agent Tami Sawyer and her former police captain husband, Kevin, who avoided trial with a plea deal and were sentenced to years in prison -- nine for her, two-plus for him -- for fraud, money-laundering and other crimes. They also were ordered to repay nearly $6 million to investors they defrauded, but when victims might see any of that money is hard to say.

Another long and controversial Bend criminal case ended in June, when Bend resident Bret Biedscheid got a 90-day jail term in the hit-and-run crash that killed Anthony "Tony" Martin as he crossed NE Third Street with his bike on Jan. 26, 2011.

While some cases reached a conclusion in 2013, there were several new deadly crimes on the High Desert as well, including the late January arrest of a La Pine man, Lawrence Loeffler, 86, in the shooting death of his wife of 39 years, Betty, 83, which brought a jury conviction and life prison sentence in September. Not much later, in early February, came the arrest of Luke Wirkkala in the fatal shooting of David Ryder at a Bend home.

The drumbeat of violent crime continued to make news through the year, including the late-April fatal shooting of Devon Moschetti, 19, during a rabbit-hunting outing south of Madras. Montana Silk Marlatt, 24, was arrested on murder and manslaughter charges in that case.

In early July, a Deschutes County sheriff's deputy fatally shot Cindy Shepard after going to a home to investigate a report of suspicious activity. DA Patrick Flaherty ruled the shooting justified after the woman ignored verbal commands to disarm and fired several shots, then raised a shotgun toward deputies before the fatal shooting by Deputy Mike Sundberg.

A violent storm of heavy rain, hail and lightning in late August raked the region with 6,500 lightning strikes in a day, destroyed crops and did other destruction in Jefferson County, but the biggest tragedy was the death of Madras farmer Bret Hemenway, whose wife Connie also was injured when lightning struck the large tree the motorcyclists had taken shelter under during an intense thunderstorm north of Madras.

Another tragedy hit the area around that time, as a Prineville man allegedly ran a stop sign and struck a motorcycle on Highway 97 south of Madras, fatally injuring Jefferson County EMS Chief Don Heckathorn. Gerald Green surrendered to face charges of criminally negligent homicide and felony hit-and-run.

Late August also was when Joshua Leo Jokinen was arrested in the killing of Cloverdale horse breeder Carolyn Burdick, 78, who was fatally hit on the head with a shovel at her home.

Late in the year, a familiar, if hidden face returned to the headlines, as the "Big-Belly Bandit," as some came to call Bend's serial bank robber, struck for the first time in nearly a year -- but his third holdup of the same downtown Home Federal Bank branch in 18 months, and fifth overall, police believe. Officers were following up on every lead they could in hopes of stopping him from striking again.

A pair of elections brought good news for local agencies, as in May, voters approved a new Bend-La Pine School Bond and five years of funding for Deschutes County 911 and the La Pine Rural Fire District The November election saw new room taxes and other money measures pass -- and Culver schools get a long-sought bond measure by the barest of margins.

Wild weather, in the form of strong winds also made news in early December when gusts sent a tall Ponderosa pine toppling and crashing through the Ski Inn Restaurant in downtown Sisters, fortunately causing no serious injuries.

The sports world brought some great news for two Central Oregonians on the global stage, as 2012 Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton captured another gold medal, this time in the world championships in Moscow. And Chris Horner gave hope and a lift to middle-aged cyclists everywhere when the 42-year-old Bend resident became the oldest competitor to win the Tour of Spain.

Central Oregon travelers, for business or pleasure, could look to the skies for other good news, as Redmond Airport landed a new non-stop American Airlines flight to LAX.

The coming year promises to bring its share challenges and triumphs as well, from the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia to the already heating up May primary and November general elections, and a worrisome long dry spell toward the end of 2013 that could bring the "D word" -- drought -- and related issues back before us in 2014.

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