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Year in Review: Dear old 2006, it seems like we hardly knew yaTell North Platte what you think
 

The year 2006 was the Chinese Year of the Dog, and it’s definitely time to put this puppy down.

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After all, this year saw a dentist charged with 23 counts of fraud in an overseas banking scheme, doctors accused of not paying their taxes and a former mayor and city council candidate duking it out in court.

We also saw a custom car dealer accused of bilking 21 customers out of $1.2 million. We saw gasoline prices reach $3.50 a gallon and watched our gas company sold off to Australians. In other foreigner news, Ted Turner became the largest landowner in Nebraska. The City Council allowed cows to graze in yards but filed a lawsuit against a man who keeps horses outside the city limits.

Numerous restaurants went non-smoking and the police chief offered to ticket people who smoked with a kid in the car. Lake Maloney turned to sand, the lawsuit against the Golden Spike got tarnished and the majority of council members and commissioners got replaced. The year was full of highs, lows and lots of interesting characters. We can’t wait to see what 2007 has in store.

2006 Year in Review

January

A joyful New Year’s Day turned tragic in Arnold after a 21-year-old resident was shot and killed. Thomas “Tiff” Varney was killed after he was shot at close range by Seth Strasburg, 27, also of Arnold, in the early morning hours.

Varney, the son of funeral director Tiff Varney, was attending school in Laramie, Wyo., to become a funeral director. He was home in Arnold on a Christmas break.

Strasburg, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq where he worked for special forces as a sniper, was standing beside a Suburban outside the residence when a short argument occurred. Varney, 20-year-old Brandon Nansel and several others were inside the vehicle. Strasburg was sentenced to consecutive terms of from 22 to 36 years in prison for manslaughter and use of a weapon to commit a felony.

Ronald Sawicki, 71, was killed after the 1983 Datsun pickup he was driving left the roadway southeast of Maxwell.

It took the North Platte City Council two meetings and several tries before it elected Ward 2 council member Judy Pederson the new council president for 2006.

The largely ceremonial position is elected each year by the council to preside over meetings when the mayor isn’t present and to appear for the mayor at public functions should the mayor be absent.

On Dec. 2, the council deadlocked on two candidates – Ward 1 member Jerry Stoll and Pederson. After the secret vote deadlocked 4-4, council member Janet Fear suggested the candidates simply flip a coin.

But the council decided to wait until after the holidays and vote again when all members were once again present. Council member Dan McGuire was scheduled to be gone throughout the holiday.

A North Platte man who boarded and moved a Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train about 40 feet in Thomas County in November 2005 pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to one year probation. Daren J. Hall, 25, also pleaded guilty to trespassing. Kent D. Sonneman, 32, also of North Platte, pleaded guilty to the same offense and received the same sentence. Three others –Trevor Hall, 23, Kylee Hall, 23, and Tierney Witt, 22 – each pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing charges for going onto BNSF property during the incident and each was fined $200 Dec. 6.

Three more North Platte residents and the kingpin of a drug trafficking ring were sentenced recently to federal prison after the largest drug bust in North Platte’s history in 2004. The four men received a total of 35½ years in prison, bringing the total number of years in prison from the April drug roundup to more than 80. The suspects were arrested for trafficking methamphetamine and cocaine throughout west central Nebraska.

There were 11 local residents arrested in the sting that focused on drug trafficking in and around North Platte for 15 months prior to the April 22, 2004 roundup. Of the 11 arrested, 10 have been sentenced to federal prison. All but one pleaded guilty to the charges. Only one suspect pleaded not guilty and is still facing a trial.

Dan O’Neill and his wife Judy purchased the Kwik Stop convenience stores from Paul and Jacque Trumble. The O’Neills assumed operating control of 20 retail convenience stores throughout central and western Nebraska and northeastern Colorado.

Men from California and Minnesota sued a North Platte custom car company, claiming the owner – Scott Pearson – took nearly $90,000 from them and never delivered the cars he promised. The lawsuits opened up the floodgates on Pearson Mustang of North Platte who eventually faced numerous lawsuits in Lincoln County District Court. Pearson was forced to declare bankruptcy in August. Court papers indicate he had at least 21 customers who had given him more than $1.26 million for cars he allegedly never delivered. Pearson’s bankruptcy proceedings continue to this day and both local and federal law enforcement officials are investigating the case for fraud.

Murder charges against a North Platte woman accused of helping strangle a Sutherland woman in 2002 were dismissed after a psychiatrist testified that Melissa K. Riley’s mental illness and mental retardation prevented her from being competent to stand trial.

Riley was accused, along with Irvin Surber, of strangling Janis Divis of Sutherland in 2002 and dumping her body near the Sutherland Reservoir. Surber was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the murder in 2003. Charges against Riley could be refiled should her condition improve in the future. She was sent to the Lincoln Regional Center where she remains to this day.

The animal-loving Bethlehem, Penn., couple who offered to bequeath their home and possessions worth $750,000 to Paws-Itive Partners Humane Society have withdrawn their offer.According to former Mayor Jim Whitaker, Marvin and Marie Spivak were concerned about the number of animals killed at the North Platte Animal Shelter and the publicity it has received. Dianne Morales, president of Paws-Itive Partners, said the group is grateful for all the Spivaks’ donations through the years. She said they have donated several thousand dollars to the group in the last eight years.

The Spivaks, both in their 80s, are animal lovers and began donating after Whitaker’s famous “Walk Naked” fundraiser. In September 2002, the couple announced they were leaving their home and personal belongings to Paws-Itive Partners in their will. Morales said the group had hoped to be able to build a no-kill shelter with the funds.

A Lincoln County potato farmer is battling a Texas potato wholesaler in Lincoln County District Court over $3.4 millon worth of the tasty tubers.

Don Opplinger, a potato farmer near Wallace, contracted to sell his 2003 potato crop to Farming Technology of Houston, which employs 150 people and generated $15.3 million in gross revenues last year.

Contract in hand, Oppliger then contracted with the J.R. Simplot Co. to apply fertilizer to his potato crop. But Opplinger claims the fertilizer was improperly applied and ruined his crop.

Farming Technology sued to get their potatoes and Opplinger sued Simplot. The case has not yet been decided.

Volunteer firefighters west central Nebraska battled a wildfire at the Halsey National Forest Sunday that spread over nearly 2,000 acres and spread to grassland around the forest.

Foot Locker learned in January that it had two weeks to vacate its space in the Platte River Mall to make room for the new Hibbett Sporting Goods coming to North Platte.

Dial Properties of Omaha, the owner of Platte River Mall, confirmed that Hibbett Sporting Goods was opening a store in the mall.

“The Canteen Spirit” a movie about the North Platte Canteen that began in 1941 during World War II, ran for 51 months and served more than 6 million soldiers, was shown nationally on the Public Broadcasting System.

The City of North Platte filed a lawsuit to prevent a Lincoln County man, who lives one-half mile north of city limits, from having horses, mules and chickens on his land. Jack and Mary Gier live on three acres at 2672 N. Hwy. 83 that is zoned agricultural, and fought back. Neighbors near the Giers complained to city officials that they had too many horses and, even though the Giers live outside the city limits, they live within the two-mile jurisdiction of the city. City Attorney Doug Stack requested that a judge order Gier to get rid of the horses. The lawsuit is continuing.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency finally approved a new flood plain map for the City of North Platte, effectively moving a number of homes between the North and South Platte Rivers out of the flood plain. The new flood plain also put some homes, previously out of the flood plain, into it. The map was effective May 4, FEMA announced.

Politicians and hopeful office holders were filing left and right for the May primary.


February

The seventh annual Hoggy Doggy Shadow Splash set all kinds of new records – the most jumpers, the largest amount of money ever raised and the warmest temperatures in the event’s history. At an outdoor temperature of 57 degrees, 157 people took the plunge into the frigid waters of the South Platte River to raise money for the Lincoln Connection, North Platte’s homeless shelter. The jumpers bested by 53 the former record of 104 participants set in 2001. Organizers raised more than $25,000 for the Lincoln Connection – the largest amount ever raised for the shelter. Since the event’s inception, it has raised more than $150,000 total for the Lincoln Connection.

Several North Platte restaurants banned smoking anywhere inside.

The second trial involving the formerly dangerous intersection of Newberry Access Road and East Highway 30 was held in four hours Jan. 31.

The intersection was opened in September 2002 after a north/south viaduct was completed and provided a Highway 30 bypass north through the city. Within the next several months, at least nine people were injured in seven accidents there. One person was killed. After a four day trial in 2005, Lincoln County District Judge John Murphy awarded $3.39 million to two families involved in accidents there.

The North Platte City Council approved a $7.3 million loan to pay for the new wastewater treatment plant Tuesday night. The ordinance allows the city to enter into the promissory note with the state through the Nebraska Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

Utility manager Jerry Bodeen told the council the city would repay the loan at an interest rate of 4.16 percent. The council recently awarded a contract to construct the new wastewater treatment plant for 14.6 million. The city is expected to have to borrow about $14 million to complete it, according to Bodeen, with half being financed through revenue bonds and half through a state-revolving loan that would be paid off in 20 years. The plant is presently under construction and is due to come online next summer.

A former prominent North Platte businessman, convicted in 1988 of selling cocaine based on a videotape he made of himself and his girlfriend having sex, was granted a pardon from his conviction.

Richard Watson, former owner of Rich Watson Auto Center, spent three years in prison after a Lincoln County jury found him guilty of cocaine distribution.

The trial was highly publicized and the verdict was controversial. Watson’s case marked the first time anyone was convicted for distribution in Nebraska without a chemically analyzed sample of the drug introduced into evidence. Now living in Colorado, he sought the pardon so he could go hunting with his grandsons.

A North Platte man who hired a Denver, Colo., law firm to represent him after he was injured on the railroad, sued the law firm for negligence and inadequate representation. Aron Geiger says that the law firm of Rossi, Cox and Vucinovich of Denver, Eagan Minn., and Lincoln, failed to provide reasonably competent legal representation, breached their duty to their client and failed to protect him from adverse interests. On the advice of his attorneys, according to the lawsuit, Geiger took out at least 22 loans for a total of more than $83,000 and at an interest rate of 11 percent to support his family during the litigation. The loans Geiger faced including interest totaled more than $122,000, according to the suit. The law firm advised Geiger to ask for a $1 million settlement but eventually advised him to settle for much less, cents on the dollar.

The white powdery substance that fell from a mail bag in the U.S. Postal Service Processing Center and stopped the production of mail for six hours turned out to be inert, according to Postmaster Dan Becker. A spokesman from the North Platte Fire Department, who responded to the call along with the State Fire Marshall's office, said the substance appeared to be powder from a fire extinguisher.

The North Platte City Council began the process of removing traffic lights from four downtown intersections. The lights – at Third and Bailey, Fifth and Bailey, Second and Dewey and Third and Dewey – were replaced with stop signs. A study showed that the volume of traffic passing through those intersections did not warrant automated traffic signals, and the engineering department recommended to the council that the signals be removed.

The North Platte City Council voted 5-3 to allow Soap Box Derby races three more times on the Jeffers Street viaduct during the summer. The popular races caused headaches for businesspeople on Jeffers Street and impeded traffic on the state highway. The derby was facing possible extinction, but later in the year the council agreed to let the racers use the Willow Street viaduct.

A man wanted by Lincoln County sheriff’s deputies for questioning in the death of a man found near the Union Pacific Railroad track June 11, 2005, was charged with attempted first-degree murder in Wyoming Feb. 1. James S. Sali, 40, led Laramie County, Wyo., deputies on a high-speed chase through Cheyenne, firing a gun at police. Lincoln County deputies want to speak to Sali about the death of Jason M. Remsen. The deputies stop short of calling Remsen’s death a murder but admit they are suspicious that he could have been shoved from a moving train. The badly damaged body of Remsen, 39, of Vancouver, Wash., was discovered on the railroad track at 11 p.m. June 11. He had been traveling on the train with Sali.

A sixth medical malpractice lawsuit was filed against a former North Platte physician. The same month, another lawsuit against Dr. Andrew Chontos was dismissed. Late in the year, Chontos tried to get the lawsuits moved from Lincoln County claiming adverse publicity. Lincoln County Judges disagreed and scheduled his trials for early 2007.


March

Lincoln County deputy treasurer Sue Fleck filed for the County Treasurer position, then lost her job just hours later. Fleck, a 26-year employee of the treasurer’s office, filed as a Republican. Her boss, Connie Chrisman, who was also running as a Republican for the same job, fired Fleck from her deputy treasurer job after learning she had filed as an opposition candidate.

Chrisman said she felt she lost that “loyalty factor” after Fleck filed against her. Fleck soundly defeated Chrisman in the May primary and took over as treasurer after the general election in November.

An investigation into the mysterious shooting of Joshua Whartman, 22, of Cedar Rapids Iowa, continued. Whartman was driving on Highway 26, about six miles west of Ogallala, when the vehicle left the roadway and ended up in a ditch. His father, who was traveling with him, discovered Whartman with facial cuts and slurred speech. Once he arrived at the hospital, doctors determined that Whartman had a bullet wound to the left side of his head. Nebraska State Patrol investigators have never been able to determine where the bullet came from.

Dr. Thomas Miller, a North Platte dentist, told a federal magistrate in Omaha that his fraud case would take two years or more to prepare for trial. Miller, 74, is facing 23 counts of fraud related to an investment and offshore banking scheme. Federal officials said Miller received more than $2.4 million from investors and converted $1.3 million to his personal use. The indictment – which charged Miller with money laundering, swindling and wire and mail fraud – said Miller promised high interest return on investments then kept the money for his own use. He could face up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 or $500,000. Miller is scheduled to go to trial in 2007. Late in the year he billed the North Platte Bulletin $16 million for using his “copyrighted” name in a story and billed Lincoln County Judge Kent Florom $1 million for saying it twice in open court during a traffic hearing. Miller was found guilty of the traffic charges and ordered to pay fines.

A fire that broke out in an abandoned home at 718 East 13th Street destroyed a second home and damaged a third. The home just east of the burning house, at 720 E. 13th, was occupied at the time the blaze began. Two plumbers helped the occupants out of the house. Firefighters concentrated on saving the house just east of the burning home but were not able to. The west wall at 720 East 13th, that faced the abandoned house, caught fire and smoke filled the home. The abandoned, burnt out house at 718 E. 13th is caught in legal limbo and cannot be torn down.

A former Linden Court employee was charged with abusing patients and making terroristic threats against the facility. James A. McDaniel, 25, 2401 E. Second, was arrested by the North Platte police for two counts of abuse of a vulnerable adult. The police said two female patients of Linden Court, 4000 W. Philip Ave., had been handled roughly by McDaniel March 2. McDaniel was a certified nursing assistant at the retirement home. He was eventually sentenced to two years probation in November.

An attorney for the National Association of Realtors asked a federal judge to issue a contempt of court citation against Lincoln County Commissioner Robert “Bob” Lowe because he has the word “Realtor” on the window of his office on Fourth Street. The word was etched in the window in gold leaf and had been present there for nearly 60 years. On Oct. 25, 2004, a federal judge ordered Lowe to remove the offending word since Lowe had not worked as a realtor for many years. Both sides eventually settled, and the word remains on Lowe’s front window, accompanied by the phrase “Retired, not a realtor.”

Attending North Platte Community College got even more expensive. The Board of Directors voted to raise the cost per credit hour 6 percent, from $65 to $69 for in-state students. Out-of-state students will pay a 6 percent increase, from $82 to $87 per credit hour. Out-of-state tuition is about 30 percent greater than in-state students. A Nebraska resident enrolled in 15 semester hours are currently paying $975 in tuition and fees. The new rates will raise that cost to $1,035 after July 1.

A former Miss Rodeo America was named Executive Director of Nebraskaland Days.

Lori Bortner replaced Ann Helberg, who resigned to pursue other business interests. Bortner, originally from McCook, was the 2003 Miss Rodeo America. She was Miss Rodeo Nebraska when she won the title.

Calling the Golden Spike observation tower “the most universally disliked project ever dreamed up and pushed on voters of North Platte,” resident Leonard Hiatt give the city council petitions March 21 signed by 3,202 people opposing the project. The council accepted the petitions without comment. Hiatt and three other residents awaited an appeal of their lawsuit against the Spike, alleging it is an illegal use of motel occupancy tax money. The case was never argued before the state Supreme Court because Hiatt agreed to dismiss it before argument. Hiatt’s attorney withdrew because he hadn’t been paid and later sued Hiatt for the bill.

The North Platte City Council voted unanimously to appoint City Administrator Jim Hawks as interim utility manager to replace Jerry Bodeen until Mayor G. Keith Richardson can select a permanent replacement. Richardon said Hawks’ appointment would only be temporary, until he could review the applications for the position and bring a selection to the council. Richardson also said that Hawks would accept no additional compensation for the two weeks to a month he held the position. Later, Richardson said none of the applicants were superior to Hawks and he remained the temporary utility manager through the end of the year.

Residents around Lake Maloney were up in arms over the four to six feet of sand and silt blown into their yards, cars and homes from the lake bottom. With the lake at an estimated 37 percent of capacity, the sandy lake bottom piled into yards and into homes, causing residents aggravation. The last year Lake Maloney was full was 1999, according to Brian Barels, water research manager for the Nebraska Public Power District. He said last spring’s crisis was the result of a six-year drought in western Nebraska. Barels said the water level in Lake Maloney was the lowest ever seen. Residents took their complaints to NPPD but got no relief until the lake was filled again in April.

A Lincoln County rancher was charged with 170 counts of animal neglect after deputies seized approximately 170 head of cattle from his pasture south of Sutherland. Ronald E. Tenbensel, 53, 1815 W 13th, was processed and released on his own recognizance. According to deputies, the cattle were in various stages of malnutrition, dehydration and starvation. He pleaded guilty to five counts of neglect and ordered to serve 45 days in jail in September. The cattle were sold at auction.


April

Former Lincoln County District Judge Hugh Stuart, who presided over the most notorious murder case in Lincoln County’s history, died April 3, in Omaha at age 84.

Stuart presided over the Erwin Charles Simants murder trial in North Platte in 1976. His media gag order was challenged by Nebraska media organizations and the Nebraska Press Association and led to a landmark decision in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court said Stuart’s gag order, limiting what was reported at Simants’ preliminary hearing in Lincoln County Court, was unconstitutional. The ruling is cited almost annually in press cases throughout the U.S. even today.

Shawn and Brandy Barrett purchased the Video Kingdom Electronics store in North Platte. The store is transitioning to a full audio and installation outlet with products and services in home audio, home theatre, mobile audio and video, mobile security, commercial audio and video, residential structured wiring and commercial networking.

Jan Falkner of Sutherland, a bodybuilder and former personal trainer, claimed that she was discriminated against by the Union Pacific Railroad because she was a woman. She believes she passed the UP strength and agility test but was told she failed.

Kevin Burbach, who led North Platte St. Patrick to its first win in the state basketball tournament since the Great Depression, resigned as coach. Burbach’s eight-year tenure at St. Pat’s and his 109 victories were longer than any other Irish basketball coach since the late 1940s, when complete records began to be kept. No other Irish basketball coach has 100 wins.

Outspoken perennial political candidate Tracy Martinez said a scuffle with former North Platte Mayor Jim Whitaker at City Hall in 2002 left him partially disabled. He filed a lawsuit against Whitaker in Lincoln County Court. In the suit, Martinez said Whitaker pulled him into the hallway and assaulted him by pinching his arm. The lawsuit says Martinez suffered a pinched nerve, which caused severe bruising, pain and temporary disability of the use of his arm. He said Whitaker used “abusive language,” causing him “severe emotional distress, severe emotional harm, lost weight, experienced fear and anxiety and lost sleep for a period of time thereafter.”

“This latest hoax is not worthy of comment,” Whitaker said. The suit still has not been resolved.

Gas prices surged again as summer approached, eventually reaching $3.50 a gallon at some stations. North Platte was frequently ranked as having the highest average gas price in the state.

Dr. Byron Barksdale got tired of hearing negative comments about North Platte and Lincoln County so he put pen to paper and wrote a list of the reasons he and his family love our town and why they want to stay. He said all the negative talk about high taxes, gas prices and bickering politicians got him to thinking.

“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” Barksdale said, “so I decided to list the reasons why.”

Barksdale decided the positives far outweigh the negatives in North Platte and Nebraska.

Laura Miller, the coach of the North Platte High School junior varsity volleyball team, was named the new varsity coach, replacing Amanda Miller. Miller is a 1979 North Platte graduate and former player under coach Linda Carlson, as well as a former assistant. She said becoming the head coach of the Lady Bulldogs was like a dream come true.

In October 2005, the North Platte Bulletin published the names and addresses of all the potentially dangerous dogs in North Platte. There were 15 at the time. In April 2006, all but two potentially dangerous dogs had either moved, been surrendered or euthanized. The Bulletin ran the latest list.

For the second year in a row, the North Platte Bulletin was judged as one of the top weekly newspapers in Nebraska. Competing with weekly newspapers with the largest paid circulations in the state, the Bulletin tied with the Plattsmouth Journal for third place in the number of overall awards at the annual Nebraska Press Association contest. The Bulletin won 11 awards in a variety of categories.

A Hershey couple bought a Powerball ticket worth $40,000. Ivan and Jan Durham played Powerball every week. The week they won, they bought a single quick pick and one set of numbers they always play.

A Lincoln County judge awarded the City of North Platte a $19,292 judgment against a Central City man who did not deliver the drive-through window it bought from him.

Judge John Murphy awarded the judgment to the city against Jay Culver, who sells used banking equipment. Culver sold the city a Diebold Bay drive-through window and depository box for $4,100 in October 2003 but he never delivered it. The city had to purchase another window and sued Culver. The project cost $109,450 and opened in November 2005. City Administrator Jim Hawks said at the time that the drive-through window had been contemplated for more than 30 years.

NorthWestern Corp., the company who provides natural gas to North Platte, Grand Island and Kearney was sold to an Australian investment bank. Babcock and Brown Infrastructure Group purchased the company for $2.2 billion. Skeptics worry that consumers could be harmed by the sale to an Australian group.

Criminal charges against a Sutherland teacher, who was cited for third-degree assault after she struck an 11-year-old student repeatedly over the head with a musical instrument, were dismissed. Kathy Hopping of Paxton did not have to face criminal charges in Lincoln County Court. Hopping, 55, a music teacher, was forced to resign from the Sutherland schools after she struck a student on the head with a Boomwhacker.

A North Platte woman was killed when the ambulance she was riding in slammed into a semi truck on I-76, 15 miles west of Sterling Colo. Vicky Thomas of North Platte and Karen Woods, 43, of Elizabeth Colo., were pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Colorado State Patrol. Thomas was an ultrasound technician from Great Plains Regional Medical Center. She was on board the ambulance, which was transporting her pregnant sister-in-law, Kelsey Schlichenmayer of Burlingame, to a Denver hospital.

Two Lincoln County courthouse leaders were recognized for their years of service when the Lincoln County Bar Association presented Bette Tatman and Anita Childerston with the Liberty Bell Award. Tatman was the Lincoln County Register of Deeds for 24 years, and Childerston, who has been the Clerk of the District Court for 20 years, each retired from their jobs at the end of the year.

In fear of potential lawsuits, Mayor G. Keith Richardson discontinued the opportunity for residents to speak to council meetings once a month in an open forum. He later rescinded his order and opened the meetings back up to comments from the public.

Three different Lincoln County judges questioned four traffic stops by the Nebraska State Patrol, ruling them unconstitutional. The judges believed the troopers may have been racial profiling on some of the stops and searches. The hubbub created by the opinion got the attention of NSP officials and Lincoln, prompting a series of meetings and an internal investigation. Not surprisingly, no foul play was uncovered.


May

Lincoln County Sheriff Jim Carman was defeated in the May primary by longtime deputy Jerome Kramer. Since there was no Democratic challenger for the job, Kramer was unopposed in the general election. Carman officially stepped down in August and Kramer took over.

Billionaire Ted Turner became the largest landowner in Cherry County after purchasing more than 8,000 acres at a public auction May 1. Turner purchased the 18 parcels of land, 8,834.82 acres in all, for $2.79 million at an auction at the Cherry County courthouse. The overall average cost per acre was $317, with a range from $240 to $480 per acre.

With these purchases, Turner now owns about 196,994 acres in Cherry County.

Turner representatives also purchased an additional 1,904.53 acres in Sheridan County May 2 for the minimum bid price of $315,000. They also bought 624.53 acres located 18 miles south of Gordon for $156,100. Turner’s five ranches now comprise at least 357,719 acres in the Nebraska

The cleanup of large petroleum spills that have reached the groundwater underneath Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard in North Platte continues, according to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. Quinn Krikac, a geologist with the NDEQ’s Petroleum Assessment and Remediation division, said UP has been moving forward and is currently investigating newly discovered releases as well as cleaning up older contaminated sites. The plume of contamination underneath North Platte that resulted in the closing of seven residential water wells and one city well in 2004 has proven impossible to track, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The city could become a Superfund cleanup site —the 12th in the state.

A 15-year-old North Platte boy, accused of shooting a 17-year-old friend in the leg in March, pleaded guilty in Lincoln County Court. Troy G. King, 614 N. Oak, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in juvenile court and was sentenced to 18 months probation and counseling. The boys were playing with a .38-caliber, five-shot revolver that King’s mother kept underneath her mattress for protection. She was at work when King allegedly pointed the gun at his friend and, over his friend’s protestations, pulled the trigger twice. When the gun didn’t fire, he pulled it a third time, shooting his friend in the leg.

A 50-year-old Sidney man, convicted of two counts sexual assault of a child, will not go to prison. On Wednesday, a Cheyenne County judge said he was too short.

Richard W. Thompson, 5-foot-1, was sentenced to 10 years probation by District Judge Kristine Cecava because she said he was too small to survive prison. Cecava followed the recommendation of the probation department and the Cheyenne County Attorney who did not ask for prison for Thompson.

The only female Lincoln County Deputy, Season Trevino, was cleared of physically abusing a handcuffed man after an internal investigation at the Sheriff’s office, according to Chief Deputy Jerry Wilson.Wilson said that after an investigation, Trevino was exonerated from any wrongdoing in the arrest of Daniel Graham in May.

Graham said that Trevino slammed the door of the patrol cruiser repeatedly against his leg, causing cuts and bruises, when he was arrested for refusing to sign a ticket for not wearing his seat belt.

The number of illegal aliens picked up by Nebraska State Patrol troopers and law enforcement across Nebraska is estimated to be in the thousands each year. The vast majority of them are turned loose, according to a source within Immigration and Customs Enforcement in North Platte. Last month, nearly 50 illegal aliens were captured in the West Central Nebraska area. All but one were released after being given a federal court date. On May 25, nine more illegal aliens who were captured in Lincoln County were released. Each was given a court date in federal court in Omaha. The earliest court date issued was 1½ years from now, the longest was three years from now, according to the source. The aliens are free to roam the country until then. The policy is called “catch and release,” and is practiced nationally.

North Platte High School activities director Tom Millsap announced he was leaving after 18 years on the job to join the Nebraska School Activities Association staff.

A travel article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune warned motorists about buying gasoline in North Platte. Published under Travel Tips and written by Troy Melhus, the article was published May 27.

“Let the gas buyer beware,” the article said. “In North Platte, Neb., recently, a gas station just off Interstate Hwy. 80 advertised a price of $2.49 per gallon. The reality? The deal was available at only two pumps. The rest of the nearly 20 were charging $2.69, a fact announced by a small sign taped to the door of the convenience store.”

“A nearby station was practicing the same bait-and-switch, and a business in the area tried to warn travelers with a flashing sign declaring ‘Check pump prices.’”


June

The mother and stepfather of an 11-year-old girl were charged with allegedly prostituting the little girl to truck drivers over a CB radio frequency. Ronald Ham, 44, and Joyce Ham, 48, were each charged with felony child abuse and pandering after police officers found the little girl in the cab of a truck with a truck driver. Other drivers had alerted officers of the scheme. The girl was removed from the couple’s custody and placed with relatives in Iowa. In December, charges against the couple were dismissed for lack of evidence. They can be charged again in the future.

The North Platte City Council unanimously approved allowing cows to graze in city limits to reduce the number of drifting corn shucks in yards. The problem came before the council because of blowing and drifting corn shucks from a corn field on the west end of town. The blowing husks landed in yards and drifted up against houses and fences, irritating residents.

Dan Erdman, Doug Streeter and Todd Streeter were honored for heroism for saving 18-month-old Logan Streeter after he fell into a backyard swimming pool and was discovered floating face-up. Doug Streeter, Logan’s father, ran to the pool and pulled his son out. Logan didn’t respond, he was unconscious and turning blue, Laurie Streeter said.

As a niece ran into the house to call 911, Logan’s uncle Todd Streeter and cousin, Dan Erdman, began to perform cardio pulmonary resuscitation on the boy.

A North Platte man who was found dead May 8 died of a methamphetamine overdose, according to autopsy reports. Christopher Kennel, 24, was found by a friend dead on the couch of the home that belonged to Charles Lynch. Lynch was later charged with distribution of drugs for using a syringe to remove Dilaudid, a narcotic, from his surgically implanted pain pump in order to share it with others.

The Golden Spike Tower and Visitor’s Center board met and decided to go full steam ahead with the project after the demise of Leonard Hiatt’s suit against the project. The Golden Spike is an approximately $2.5 million, 120-foot observation tower that organizers hope to erect near the diesel shop just south of Bailey Yards. They optioned the land in December and plan to go full steam ahead, according to the committee.

The Colorado Court of Appeals June 8 upheld a jury’s decision to award a North Platte man more than $6 million for injuries he suffered in a fall down the stairs of a locomotive in 1998. Frank Aloi, who filed the lawsuit in 1999, said the case has dragged on for seven years. With interest, the amount owed Aloi is approximately $7.5 million, growing at a rate of $1,500 per day, according to Aloi’s attorney, Lou Jungbauer of Minneapolis.

The owners of the Royal Colonial Inn motel in North Platte caught up their past-due debt to the city. Ryan Sellers and Greg Gifford faced a lawsuit from the City of North Platte for failure to pay a 2-percent occupancy tax on rooms. The occupancy tax, charged to every motel room in North Platte, was passed by the North Platte City Council in 1999. The money is earmarked for repayment of a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan to the Golden Spike Tower and Visitors’ Center board for construction of the tourist attraction. The tax generates between $280,000 and $300,000 annually. Since Sellers and Gifford purchased the former Stockman Inn in April 2004, they refused to pay the occupancy tax to the city. The men opposed the tax on philosophical grounds.

For his consistent volunteer service to the state celebration, Lynn Meyer was the winner of the 2006 Nebraskaland Days Dale Studley Award, given each year to an outstanding volunteer. Veteran rodeo announcer and Lincoln County cattle rancher Hadley Barrett was selected as the 2006 Nebraskaland Days Buffalo Bill Award winner.

The North Platte Bulletin published its annual sex offenders list and map, and this year’s was the largest ever. According to the sex offender statistics provided by the Nebraska State Patrol, North Platte has the heaviest concentration of sex offenders per capita in the state among Class-I and larger cities. With 32 registered sex offenders assessed “likely to re-offend” living in North Platte, that’s one sex offender for every 748 people.

By June 27, North Platte had experienced five pedestrian or bicycle accidents with cars including two hit-and-run car/pedestrian accidents so far this year. In 2004, North Platte saw 14 accidents involving pedestrians and bicycles. That number dropped by one in 2005 with only 13 pedestrian and bicycle accidents.


July

A woman tried for four years to clear her credit ratings after her identity was stolen in 2002. Two thieves stole $186,000 from retailers using the identify of Mary Harrison of North Platte. The thieves bought retail items and opened and closed cell phone accounts.

“Banks and credit card companies tried to help, but “the mess became so tangled there was no one place to go to clear it up,” Harrison said.

The lower-end price of gasoline in North Platte soared from $2.64 on June 22 to $2.99 eight days later. The price reached $3.18 at some stations near Interstate-80.

Petitioners were kicked out of Cody Park trying to gather signatures for Initiative 423, a petition to limit increases in state spending. I-423 brought fierce opposition from government employees and was overwhelmingly defeated at the polls in November.

Paid petition circulator Crockett Benson said he had been harassed, but also had met some of the friendliest people anywhere in North Platte. In Lincoln and Omaha, a court intervened to uphold the constitutional right to carry petitions on public property.

People who smoke in cars that carry children are child abusers, North Platte Police Chief Marty Gutschenritter said. Lincoln County Attorney Jeff Meyer was not so sure and feared that would be hard to prove in court.

More teachers’ aides helped kindergarteners and first-graders learn, North Platte school principals told the school board. The board ordered the district to hire more aides for those classrooms after learning that an average of 15 percent of kindergarteners (about 50 students) were not ready for first grade during each of the last five years.

North Platte residents on North Bryan squared off over sheep in the backyard. Tim Axthelm’s 20 sheep irritated neighbor Billie Motsinger, who complained of odor, flies and bleating. The land is in a residential zone, but Axtehlm has had sheep there “forever,” code officer Barb Long said. Long said Axthelm’s right to have sheep was grandfathered. Motsinger said it was a crime.

The city council turned a skeptical eye on temporary liquor permits, tabling a request to serve alcohol to adults at the state rodeo finals. The council extensively debated a permit for a boxing match at the D&N Event Center before finally approving it, 6-2.

At a meeting of the county board of commissioners, vocal opposition encouraged the commissioners to reject a permit to serve booze and beer at a beer garden at the county fair.

Brandi Stroud Bogus, a woman who used her son as collateral in a drug deal, returned from jail and wanted her 6-year-old son James back. Stroud Bogus served five years for drug crimes. Foster parents Alan and Diane Sears were heartbroken at the possibility and feared the system would fail young James. The birth parents have first rights, according policies and practices of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Hershey resident Kirk Slack was taken hostage at his rural home, and then went on a 5½-hour trip with Silvio Coronado of California. Coronado said a drug deal had gone bad and the Mafia would get him, or else he would end up in jail and be killed there by other inmates.

Near dawn, law officers shot Coronado in the head after his car was disabled near Big Springs. He had run over spikes placed on the interstate.

Afterward, Kirk said many neighbors and friends had stopped by the house to wish him and his family well, which he greatly appreciated.

“But I tell you what. I’ll never open the door to another stranger,” Kirk said.

Divers searched the canal inlet at Lake Maloney until midnight July 25 for the body of John Harris, a man who drove his pickup into the canal around 8 p.m. The canal is 15 feet deep. They found no trace of the man.

Area 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders wrote stories during a children’s art festival and some were reprinted in the Bulletin. Several young authors spoke at the Open Mic Night at A to Z Books, hosted by George Lauby of the Bulletin.


August

Contributions were accepted to help Chadron area residents hurt by a massive grass and forest fire that raged there for nearly a week. The blaze came within blocks of the Chadron State College campus.

Gasoline reached $3 a gallon at the lowest cost outlets in North Platte.

A feud between attorney Allen Fugate and business owners Ken and Connie Bible turned downright nasty when Fugate blocked the back doors to the Bible’s Midwest Screen Printing shop with a car and trailer. Fugate and the Bibles each own half the building, but Fugate owns the parking lot. Fugate would not discuss it. No local judge was willing to hear the case because they all know Fugate, but an impartial judge was appointed and will sort the thing out in 2007.

Class I schools were hammered under LB 126, a forced merger law that took effect June 15. Option students were not allowed to attend the Rosedale or Platte Valley schools west of North Platte, by order of Hershey school district. Oconto students had to travel to Callaway for classes on Friday afternoon, by order of the Callaway district. Rural families north of Lexington now pay $800 each a year for transportation to school. Class I advocates urged voters to repeal the law in November.

Larry Lee Britton became the only candidate for the Ward 4 seat on the city council after probation office director Doug Watson withdrew from the race. Sitting Councilwoman Rita Hernandez made it onto the ballot later by petition, although she lost the general election to Britton.

Seven youths were arrested for drinking at the Lincoln County Fair. Also, fair officials said they will consider building a new expo hall on the grounds, because many buildings are outdated.

Custom chopper builder Matt Fhuere of North Platte earned three trophies at the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally.

Work began on a $1.25 million project to resurface and reseal many city streets. While they were nearby, the crew resealed the parking lot of the former True Value Super Center on East Fourth Street. That property was for sale.

A Boys and Girls Club came to North Platte at the St. Patrick’s Youth Center on East Fourth Street. The club is partially financed by $115,000 grant from state and federal sources. Conflicts with the after school Kids Klub program are in the wind.

A jury deliberated for 50 minutes before awarding a North Dakota man $344,000 for facial injuries from a fight outside a Stapleton bar after a rodeo.

Two private mental health care agencies squabbled with Region II Human Services. Region II is monopolistic, borders on the corrupt and is arrogant as well as ignorant, according to James Pinkerton of North Platte’s Liberty House.

After months of study, researchers decided the endangered burying beetle would not be threatened when the $12 million Buffalo Bill Avenue overpass is built. Final design is under way in earnest on the long-planned, much delayed project. Also, on the west edge of North Platte, plans took shape for a $6 million overpass over the UP railroad.

Elderly residents at Regency Retirement Residence expressed shock that they would lose from $30,000 to $80,000 each when the residence refinanced. Some residents questioned the trustworthiness of Great Plains Regional Medical Center, which sponsored the retirement residence in the late 1990s. Residents paid a hefty deposit when they moved in, thinking it would be secure equity in the building. Not so, hospital president Cindy Bradley said.


September

Former Class I school teachers went to court over a contract dispute with larger districts under LB126. Larger districts, including North Platte, issued contracts that could be voided if LB126 was repealed. However, state law does not allow void clauses in teacher contracts and the contracts were later rewritten.

The North Platte school district paid student Derek Enderle $94,315 in damages because another student, Micheal Lohman, hit Enderle with a hockey stick. After a two-day trial, Judge John Murphy held the school district responsible.

Lincoln County commissioners reduced the county tax call from the year earlier, cutting about $200,000 in expenses. Chairman Joe Hewgley said the county elected officials did a responsible job of holding the line on spending. Meanwhile, a contentious city council approved a slightly higher city budget on a 5-3 vote. The budget included an 8.2-percent increase to residents for electricity and a 15-percent hike in sewer rates.

After two years, the city took delivery of a rescue truck for hazardous materials. Two companies that agreed to deliver the truck went out of business before they did so, but the third time was apparently a charm. The long-awaited truck cost $277,737. Unfortunately, it was missing some agreed-upon features and had to go back to the manufacturer.

North Platte teachers got a 4.42 percent raise. Administrators got an average 4.7 percent raise. That brings the average teacher pay to $53,000. The top administrator, Superintendent Paul Brochtrup, gets $154,000, plus a $6,000 travel allowance. Property taxpayers will pay 10 percent more for the schools.

A 34-year-old who claimed he was a CIA agent after he was caught stealing $502 from a Subway restaurant served a 10-day sentence in the county jail. When confronted with the theft, Joshua Shores claimed to be a CIA agent, then said he was the son of President George Bush. His story failed to impress investigators or the judge.

Ghosts of Lincoln County came alive at the annual North Platte Literary Festival, when they appeared at the cemetery to tell visitors the tale of their deaths. Local actors filled the roles and hundreds of people braved cold, blustery weather to hear their grisly, real-life stories.

One-fourth of high school freshmen have been failing English, administrators told the school board Sept. 11. To stop the slide, tests and report cards will be improved.


October

Local legend Whitey White. 79, was named to the Nebraska Country Music Hall of Fame. White performed, usually with his own band, for nearly 50 years.

As many as eight local doctors came under the IRS microscope for allegedly setting up dummy corporations to dodge taxes. An estimated $3 million in taxes is unpaid as a result, federal investigators say.

Mayor Keith Richardson appointed retired railroad worker Larry Campbell to fill the Ward 4 seat of Don McFarland on the city council. McFarland resigned because of health problems, He died in December.

Nebraska State Patrol troopers will take a new look at recent unsolved murders, with help from a $226,000 federal grant.

Accused killer John Epting pleaded no contest to manslaughter and first-degree assault in a plea bargain arrangement. He was sentenced to from 25 to 40 years in prison for the September 2005 death of girlfriend Michelle Bernt-Masters.

In agriculture news, the groundwork was laid for a massive expansion of the Sutherland ethanol plant, but plant officials refused to comment. They are rather hostile about the Bulletin’s reporting on a boiler accident at the plant early in the year. Also, sixth-generation ranchers of the Abbott family took steps to own beef from birth to the dinner plate, working with Kansas cattle feeder and businessman Mike Callicrate.

Local postal employees picketed to protest national legislation that they say could close post offices and distribution centers.

Winemaker David Jurena was charged with destroying the first substantial batch of wine at Feather River Winery, located in the hills five miles southeast of North Platte. Investigators said Jurena apparently was trying to cover up a mistake in the fermentation process. There was an appearance that intruders broke in and opened the taps of wine vats.


November

A telephone election poll predicted the outcome of 15 races. North Platte Community College students got the opinions of 384 respondents. They worked four days and made 2,200 phone calls.

Voters rejected a proposal to expand the county board of commissioners from three to five members. Otherwise, they seemed ready for changes. In three of four city council wards, challengers defeated incumbents. Voters also repealed LB126, the rural-school consolidation law, statewide by a 56-44 percent margin. More than 70 percent of Lincoln County voters voted to have it repealed. In a North Platte school board races, challenger Judy Hansen came within an eyelash of defeating incumbent Molly O’Holleran. Challenger Julie Nielsen defeated former board member Rod Dye by about 100 voters. Fourth generation rancher Tom Hansen captured a seat in the Legislature.

Skateboarders asked the city council to reopen the skate park near the city recreation center. The park closed Oct. 6 after the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that public recreation property could be removed from liability insurance protection. Skateparks were closed statewide as well as in North Platte. City manager Jim Hawks promised to look into it.

Cars belonging to Pearson Mustang will were auctioned, gaining $93,000 toward the company’s $1.2 million debt.

A federal judge, Lyle Strom, ruled that Class I school districts were not legally reestablished when voters repealed the law that dissolved the districts.

Although the name of Lincoln County judge Kent Florom was left off the ballot in two out of 17 counties of the 11th judicial district, state election officials eventually decided the oversight was not enough to put the judge’s job in jeopardy. They say this sort of thing happens with surprising frequency.

Ted Huebner, 92, bowled a 190 in senior league play.

Record high prices were bid for 14 parcels of farm and ranch land south of Paxton. A land auction netted nearly $3.4 million for Janell Beveridge, the former owner of the Paxton Bank. The former CEO of the Paxton Bank is under scrutiny after the bank posted nearly $5 million in losses earlier in the year. Beveridge remains on the board at the bank, now owned by the Pony Express Community Bancorp, a small bank from St. Joseph, Kan.


December

Western Nebraska outdoor experts gathered to find ways and funds to destroy the 20-foot tall phragmite reeds that invaded the Platte River during the past eight years. They hope to begin in the spring of 2007.

North Platte schools are slowly preparing to put student records online where parents can check them as often as they want. Teachers can also post comments online when the program is up and running in 2007, administrator Dan Twarling said.

Nearly nine years after the vicious murder of Sheri Fhuere in 1998, killer Jay Amaya wants a new trial or reduction of his life sentence. Amaya claims he had ineffective counsel from two North Platte attorneys.

Former fire captain Pat Doyle requested and received psychiatric treatment after he was jailed on a $500,000 bond for repeatedly violating a protection order obtained by his estranged wife Linda. Prosecutors believe Doyle continually stalked his wife.

After nearly a decade of plans, the beleaguered but always faithful Golden Spike observation tower will be built in 2007 near Bailey Yard, the world’s largest railroad yard. The $6 million project looks to be a go after a federal low-interest loan was extended and 10 acres of land purchased near the superintendent’s offices, about a mile from the hump at the west classification yard.

An inmate at the Lincoln County Jail was charged with assault for farting too often and too near another inmate. The story was reported Dec. 20 in the Bulletin and circulated nationwide. The situation was exacerbated by the overcrowded conditions at the jail, Sheriff Kramer said.

Fines and lost materials at the North Platte Library add up to $134,311 since 1995, librarian Cecilia Lawrence said. Pam Steeby, one of the worst offenders, was recently fined $423.53 for back charges and placed on six month probation. More prosecutions could come soon. The library, meanwhile, will hire a collection agency.

An ethanol plant proposed near Wallace will use about 3 gallons of water for every gallon of ethanol it produces, according to a natural resources manager. Plant owners purchased three irrigation wells to provide the majority of water. Another 300 acre-feet – the equivalent of two center pivot wells -- will be drawn from underground water in the area. The plant will produce 100 million gallons of ethanol a year and should generate about 45 jobs, officials said.


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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 1/1/2007
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The postal service wants to close the downtown North Platte post office, but before they do, they will take public comments by mail during the season of slowest mail deliveries. We have the details on their reasons, objections voiced by the community, the time this was proposed before, and the alternatives. Also... JD Bennett departs the North Platte Housing Authority, so now what?... A pictorial review of recent and developing business moves around town... letters about the Sutherland Depot, Visitors Center, post office and Republicans in Congress who vote like Democrats... and much more.

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