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2013, part 2: Blagdon's fame grows, flood hits, Pawnee closes, alum disgracedTell North Platte what you think
 
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A valiant attempt by city officials to bring a new state veterans home to North Platte, and thereby spark development, fell short during the last half of 2013.

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In Florida, a distinguished North Platte High School alumni was disgraced. In North Platte, the old Catholic school on East Fourth was demolished and the Pawnee Hotel closed.

History buffs observed the 150th anniversary of Ft. McPherson. Emory Blagdon’s fame continued to grow, surpassing his humble home in Logan County.

One of the worst South Platte River floods hit North Platte in late September. City officials were prepared and residents pitched in to help each other. Unfazed, the Rail Fest celebration was held as scheduled.

Those were some of the highlights of the second half of 2013.

Here are those, and more:


June

State Veterans’ home

The city offered June 4 to pitch in $3.5 million for a new, 100 million-plus state veterans home if it is built in North Platte. North Platte is vigorously with Kearney, Hastings and Grand Island for the new veterans’ home to replace the 126-year-old home in Grand Island.

The money would come from quality growth funds -- an account that is projected to have more than $3 million by year's end. Earmarked for economic development or "quality growth," the fund comes from a slice of city sales tax money that slowly and steadily accumulates.

The council threw more incentives into the hopper a few days later, upping the ante to a whopping $8.6 million in incentives, including a $450,000 grant from the Northwestern Energy Development Fund.

But in July, Gov. Dave Heineman said the new $120 million veterans home would be built in Kearney, not North Platte, Grand Island or Hastings. North Platte's offer was fourth best, according to a site selection committee that reviewed applications and visited each community.

Infuriated Grand Island officials promised to go to the Legislature to challenge the Kearney’s designation.


Pawnee connected, for now

An electrical contractor fixed a fuse panel June 12 at the Pawnee Hotel, bringing the hotel up to state requirements, Director Sandy Schade said.

Schade said the operation at the Pawnee is relatively stable. It is home to 40 people with mental and emotional disabilities. It has a capacity of 75. Schade said the inspector's notice was the start of a chain reaction that exaggerated electrical issues and alarmed residents.


Cursed speed limit

Officials are going to study speed limits on South Buffalo Bill Avenue, which could lead to a higher speed limit on the two-year-old avenue. The speed limit was set at 35-miles-an-hour when the extension of the avenue opened two years ago, even though the road runs through relatively open country. The result: Speeding tickets and complaints. Traffic coming from Lake Maloney travels at 55 mph until it nears the intersection of State Farm Road. From there for nearly two miles, the limit is 35.

The speed limit was raised to 45 mph on most of the route, following the study.


New windows

The county commissioners approved a $358,000 bid to install new energy-saving doors and windows in the courthouse. As part of the work, windows in the probation office across Fifth Street will also be replaced. All-City Glass, headquartered in Kearney with an office in North Platte, submitted the low bid.


Stay-at-home troublemakers

Juvenile criminals will be rehabilitated at home with the help of probation officers, under a reform adopted in the legislature. The change affects roughly 3,000 offenders, intending to keep them in their homes except for the most serious offenders, who will go to state-run detention centers in Kearney and Geneva.

"This has been 20 years in the making," District 11 Chief Probation Officer Lonnie Folchert said. "It's a totally different way of handling these situations.”


Drug, theft busts grow

A series of arrests continues, reaching into a circle of alleged drug users, dealers and burglars. The busts began June 1 with arrests of Cody Jollife, 29, and Jacob Moser, 24 for a break-in at Kohler Trailer Sales. Ryan Walsh, 30, was arrested a few days later.

On and around June 5, sheriff's deputies also picked up Terry Houchin, 29, and Cara Harder, 27, of Grand Island woman at a motel room. A day later they picked up Jason Sullivan, 29. On June 8, two more North Platte men were charged with theft -- Aaron Kirts and Joshua Hennek. Eight suspects are suspected to have been involved in the May 23 burglary of Kohler’s.


Gold watches

A gold Buffalo Bill pocket watch came to the light, said to have been commissioned in 1887 by the Prince of Wales. It was unlocked June 18 at the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Park for the Bulletin. History buff Judy Herbst-Brown couldn't have been happier. The 125-year-old watch is decorated with five kinds and colors of gold with a quarter-karat mine-cut diamond in the middle. The gold images depict leaves, flowers and a dog.

Two other watches were also brought out of storage, both gifts from Buffalo Bill. One was "Presented to Johnny Baker -- champion boy shot of the world, by his guardian William F. Cody 'Buffalo Bill'” in 1886.

Cody gave a third gold watch to William Sweeney, the leader of the band of the Wild West Show, in 1909.


Pawnee restoration considered

Talks began between the Pawnee Assisted Living hotel and an Omaha developer who specializes in restoring historical buildings. John C. Foley of Central States Developments said he could renovate the building under one condition -- the assisted living operation must be solvent.

Foley's company has financed the renovation of such buildings in four states.


Quiet in the court

While waiting his turn in court, defendant Arthur Towne’s cell phone rang loudly. In the middle of the hearing, it rang again. Judge Kent Turnbull told Towne to turn his phone over to a sheriff's deputy. He charged Towne with contempt of court and fined him $50.


Fraudulent grad

Linda Ballou, a 1960 North Platte high school graduate who was named a distinguished alumnus in 2009, is under criminal investigation in Florida for fraud. Citing bogus medical and academic experience, Ballou posed as a doctor while recruiting donors, according to the Sarasota Herald Tribune newspaper. It is the second time Ballou's honesty and integrity has been investigated. She was investigated for federal securities fraud in 2009.


Bumpy ride

When antique cars drive into North Platte on the Lincoln Highway, they will find remnants of what was once a bustling line of motels, trailer parks, restaurants and tourist attractions on Rodeo Road and East Fourth. Hundreds of antique cars were expected to pass through North Platte June 28-29, headed for the official Lincoln Highway centennial celebration in Kearney. However, participation turned out to be disappointing.


Rainy concert

Kid Rock’s highly anticipated Nebraskaland Days concert was marred by a heavy thunderstorm.

As Thomas Rhett finished his opening set, ominous clouds approached from the west and people were advised to get clear of the steel around the stage. The wait turned out to be nearly two hours long. Police arrested a man who stripped to his underwear for mud-sliding on the arena floor. Kid Rock finally performed for about 45 minutes. Then the concert ended because of the late hour.


July

Drug court

Eight people were arrested or sentenced in just a week in North Platte form June 25 to July 1 on drug related charges. Of the 103 prisoners in the Lincoln County Jail, many have been there before. From 80-90 percent of inmates return to jail because of drug or alcohol abuse, Chief Deputy Sheriff Roland Kramer said.

To help addicts, counseling programs are held at the jail three times a week for six weeks. During the last year, 84 inmates have participated, but only 34 finished the program.

Drug court is another option for non-violent offenders. The stringent program takes two years and is designed to help addicts develop a non-drug lifestyle.


Facelift

The Fort McPherson statue will finally get a facelift. For 85 years, he has stood at attention at his post in the south end of Cottonwood Canyon, a testament to the soldiers that manned the fort in the late 1800s.

Years ago, a shotgun blast took his nose off.

This year, in the 150th year anniversary of the founding of the fort, artist Mary Tanner reconstructed the nose as well as about four inches of missing gun barrel, under the supervision of the Lincoln County Historical Museum Director Jim Griffin.


Machete attack

A North Platte man and his son were severely cut in their faces July 3 with a machete. Richard Cooper came to the Great Plains Regional Center with a cut on the left side of his face and his forehead. He also had a broken bone above his left eye. Both Cooper and son Richard Beck said George Trejo, 35, attacked Cooper. Beck said he tried to intervene and was cut on his right hand as well as his right cheek and lip. Trejo was charged with two counts of first-degree assault and use of a deadly weapon.


Bloody knife attack

A furious struggle erupted at a home for boys in North Platte on July 9. Two women were attacked by two teens wielding knives. The attacks came shortly after midnight as the women watched the home, which his home to a dozen boys who have nowhere else to turn.

The women fought off their attackers and locked the office door, bound their wounds with makeshift rags and called for help.

Suspects Keenan M. Lambert, 18, of Amherst-Miller and Jordan M. Baker, 16, of Hastings ran outside and took off in a Dodge Avenger that belonged to one of the women and headed for I-80. Officers in Dawson County spotted the getaway car and stopped the boys a mile east of Lexington.


Building down

The 97-year-old original St. Pat's school went down, after years as a well-known feature on East Fourth near downtown North Platte. Workers from Cement Products of North Platte started demolition July 9. The old school reached the end of its original purpose in the year 2000, with the construction of McDaid Elementary School on East E Street.


Parking ticket battle heads to court

Three Hershey families who were ticketed in April at the North Platte Recreation Center for parking in handicapped zones will contest the charges in court. Defense Attorney Russ Jones said the overall situation seemed inherently wrong.


Convict escapes camp

Would-be bank robber Drew Steier escaped from the McCook Work Ethic Camp and stole a car. Steier went over the fence around 8 p.m. July 5. He was last seen that night around 10 p.m., driving east out of Ogallala, 100 miles from McCook, according to the Nebraska State Patrol.

Steier was one of two men who tried to rob the Farmer's State Bank in Wallace a year ago. His accomplice, Tracy Black waited outside in a pickup. They were caught about an hour later near Imperial on Nebraska Highway 61.


Challenging the mighty evenhandedly

When Tom Gosinski left his hometown of Cozad in 1977, he had no idea his work would lead him into the tangle of drug abuse by Cindy McCain, the wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain, a presidential candidate. Gosinski worked for the glamorous Cindy McCain in the early 1990s.

On the job, Gosinski came to see that McCain was moody and manipulative. He discussed the situation with top staff members and learned that McCain was basically writing her own prescriptions and using doctor's names without their consent.

After her behavior deteriorated and other interventions failed, Gosinki talked to the Drug Enforcement Agency, who forced the issue into the spotlight. McCain was taking up to 20 Percocet or Vicadin pills a day. Gosinski, who is living in Cozad again, detailed his experiences in his book, The Wrong Side of Right, released in June.


150th anniversary

Fort McPherson -- an outpost of law and order in the Platte Valley in the late 1800s -- commemorates its 150th anniversary this year with a permanent display of artifacts, speakers and re-enactments at the Lincoln County Historical Museum.

The fort It stood along the east-west Oregon Trail and the north-south trail to the Republican River Valley at the foot of Cottonwood Canyon, southeast of what is today Maxwell. The fort covered 40 acres and was staffed by 400 soldiers and nearly 1,000 horses.

Recovered guns, a sword, bayonets, canteens, shell casings, a full uniform, remnants of the fort’s post office and an account of a high scoring baseball game between the soldiers and a North Platte team were displayed at the museum.


Veteran farmer

While most corn looks good in the valley, dry land corn is on the verge of dying. Weather continues to play havoc. A cold spring kept planters out of the fields throughout April, delaying the start of the growing season 10-14 days.

But the situation doesn't rattle Darold Miller of Maxwell, who is in his 80s. Miller started farming at age 14, when his father was ill. By the 1980s, he was farming 1,200 acres with two sons, taking care of 400 cows and feeding cattle. He reduced the operation when his sons left to pursue other jobs, but he still works his farm everyday.


Keep signals

In a random survey, most courthouse employees told the Bulletin they don't want the traffic signals at Third and Fifth Streets along Jeffers to be removed.

Lincoln County Attorney Rebecca Harling she the pedestrian crosswalk at Third St. can be dangerous. District Court Clerk Deb McCarthy said a lot of clients use that crosswalk every day, as well as staff from the courthouse and the jail.

On the other hand, Mayor Dwight Livingston thinks the lights should go. Livingston said he listens to the experts from the state.

“As time went by I came to agree with the engineers," he said.


State patrol payback

The Nebraska State Patrol will pay more than $1 million, plus interest, to a former stripper after they confiscated her money more than a year ago at a traffic stop near North Platte.

On March 3, 2012 Trooper Ryan Hayes stopped Rajesh Dheri for going 93 mph on I-80. Dheri and his wife Marina had rented a vehicle to drive home to New Jersey.

Troopers found bags with rubber-banded bundles of 100 dollar bills, along with dryer sheets, in their car. The former stripper and her husband said the money was her life savings, legally earned and taxed and was intended to open a night club on the East Coast. She said she put dryer sheets in the bags because the money smelled like an ash tray after she removed it from her safe deposit boxes.

U.S. District judge Joseph Battaillon said the state failed to provide statistical evidence to support its claim that cash in that quantity and packaged that way is connected to drugs.


Healer

Twenty-seven years after Emory Blagdon died, the unkempt rural Stapleton man still teaches people. Blagdon tried to invent ways to harness invisible electro-magnetic energy to cure illness.

At a small farmstead near Stapleton, Blagdon spent 30 years making wire sculptures, paintings and intricate, often glittery, wire hangings. His medical aim was unrealized, but he left some 600-wire sculptures hung from the ceiling and nailed to the walls of a shed. The glittering thicket was looped and woven with twisted shapes of copper, foil, beads and other objects.

After his death, his collection was purchased at an auction by North Platte natives Dan Dryden and Don Christensen. The works were considered art and are not valued in the millions of dollars. Blagdon’s work was recounted on a documentary on Nebraska Educational Television.


Back in jail

Convicted "kid kenneler" Ashly Ann Clark was arrested near Omaha and jailed in Lincoln County for violating probation. Clark is the mother of two boys, ages 3 and 5, who were locked in a dog kennel inside their home in North Platte. She was convicted in 2012 of child abuse and sentenced to two years of probation, plus 120 days in jail, most of which she had already served.

Under probation, Clark was confined to a 17-county area of west-central Nebraska but left the area. According to court files, Clark was hanging out in Lexington and Wahoo for 3-4 weeks and missed several required group sessions. The report said she has been generally uncooperative during her probation.


Donation

Renovation of the new Prairie Arts Center was boosted by a $25,000 grant from FHLBank, a wholesale financial institution of which Nebraskaland National Bank is a member.


Heirloom

Carrol Hiatt Sr.'s love for old cars is evidenced by a large collection of about 75 antique cars, some in various stages of restoration. One vintage truck in his collection is extra special -- a 1930 Chevy Roadster truck that his great uncle, George Clouse of Bartley, bought new in Lincoln for $675.

Hiatt completely restored the Roadster.

"It's a family heirloom, and priceless," Hiatt told the Bulletin.


August

Running craze

More than 140 runners turned out Aug. 3 for the first North Platte Community Playhouse 5K run that wound through the core of North Platte. Organizers said it was a roaring success, adding to an ever-expanding series of 5K runs in the Platte Valley Fitness Series.

"You really form a bond," said Leland Poppe, a banker and member of North Platte's core of devoted runners. "We support each other. We watch each other improve.”


Stoplights down

Stoplights were taken down bright and early in the morning Aug. 1 at two downtown intersections on Jeffers Street -- at Third and Fifth streets. The lights were removed by a crew from the city’s public services department, although the Nebraska Department of Roads ordered the lights to be taken out, City Administrator Jim Hawks said.


Budget intro

The North Platte City Council was introduced to a preliminary $26.6 million budget for the next fiscal year, up a smidgeon (1.2 percent) from the $26.3 million budget this year.

City Administrator Jim Hawks also said the city’s reserve fund, which has been relatively empty for several years, would increase from $200,000 to $752,241 in the coming year.


Hullabaloo

The Kris Lager Band put on the second annual "Hullabaloo" festival at the Lakehouse at Lake Maloney, headlining six bands during an afternoon and evening of outdoor music. KLB is a perennial choice as the best blues band in Omaha and they typically fill North Platte's Rail Bar 3-4 times a year as they tour the area.


Bailey Yard lawsuit

Four years ago, a car ran over UP employee Bryan Petersen’s feet in a parking lot at Bailey Yard. Petersen, who was taking a break at the time, was wearing steel toed work boots and not badly injured. He reported it and spent three hours filing the report and seeing the company nurse.

The next day he was suspended from work. He had a newborn baby and toddler at home.

Petersen, 29, returned to work, but he stepped up on some potentially slippery Timken bearings to read the serial numbers on some stacked equipment. Then he was fired.

But on Aug. 8, Administrative Law Judge Pamela Lakes of the Department of Labor ordered UP to reinstate Petersen as an apprentice machinist "as soon as possible” and pay his back wages with interest, plus compensatory damages of $75,000, punitive damages of $100,000 and legal fees.

The total is nearly $325,000. UP appealed the decision.


Pawnee closing

Financial pressures finally forced the closure of the downtown Pawnee Hotel. Thirty-seven residents scrambled to find a new home and 12 employees lost their jobs, manager Sandy Schade said.

Schade said it has been a difficult emotional decision to close. The hotel has served people with behavioral disabilities for nearly 20 years. The hotel, built in 1929, is on the National Register of Historic Places.


High city debt

The city property tax call could increase by 9.5 percent because the city’s debt service is increasing, due to heavy use of bonds to finance projects. Councilman Brook Baker raised questions as the North Platte City Council hashed out the proposed 2013-14 city budget.

Council Jim Carman said the city needs to cut. “Every time we get to where we can see light at the end of our debt, we get foxy and think we can build something else," he said.


Odd promotion budget

Baker and Councilman Tim Barrett both asked why advertising and promotions were listed the Municipal Light and Water budget, in the amount of $133,750.

"That is how it has been done for a number of years," City Administrator Jim Hawks responded.


Obamacare cut

A North Platte woman, already working less than 40 hours a week, learned that her hours are reduced to 28 per week at Mid-Plains Community College. College officials blame Obamacare. Companies are cutting hours of part-time employees to fewer than 30 hours a week, so companies don’t have to provide health insurance. At the college, adjunct teachers, advisers, clerical workers and maintenance workers have been working 2-3 part time jobs at the college, working as much as 39 hours a week, but now they will work even less.


Water farm: ‘Bad deal’

A multi-million dollar water farm in southern Lincoln County would be a double-bad deal for the county and won't do what it is intended to do, Lincoln County farmer Dan Estermann told the Lincoln County Commissioners.

The "water farm" rippled into public awareness a year ago: 19,000 acres of farmland in southern Lincoln County would be converted to grass; the water from the farm pumped out of the aquifer and sent to the Republican and Platte rivers.

The $110 million project was intended to meet required minimum river flows under federal regulations. Estermann spent about 30 minutes with the commissioners on Monday, Aug. 19, armed with a file of documents, photos and plans of the controversial farm.


Stabbing details

Accused teenage stabbers Keenan Lambert, 18, and Jordan Baker, 16, told investigators during questioning that they planned the attack and escape for weeks. They said Baker got two knives from a kitchen drawer while cleaning the kitchen, and they tried to recruit other boys by threatening them.

Lambert told investigators that at one time Baker called him a "pussy" for having second thoughts, which upset him, so he kept going along.

Lincoln County Judge Kent Turnbull bound the case over to district court saying, "Clearly the intent was to kill, based on the evidence so far."


DNA tests: Too slow

Commonly, it takes 6-7 months to process a DNA sample at the Nebraska State Patrol Crime Lab in Lincoln. In the meantime, criminals walk free and innocent people remain in jail.

For example, after the DNA tests were complete, Joshua James Walsh of North Platte was arrested Aug. 22 for an alleged rape that happened 10 months earlier. Also, charges against Virgil Apodaca Sr. and three of his sons for the alleged rape of three teenage women were reduced or dropped after DNA tests were complete.

Lincoln County Chief Deputy County Attorney Tanya Roberts-Connick said the primary reason for the long turn-around time is the proliferation of drug crimes in recent years, creating a huge backlog of lab work.


Higher electric rates

Not only are city property taxes increasing, so are utility bills. Electric rates are tentatively set to increase 5.9 percent and property taxes could increase 4.4 percent per $100 of valuation. City sewer and water rates are not expected to increase.


September

Big sign, little cafe

A big new sign points the way to North Platte's small, mostly hidden restaurant -- the Pink Poodle. The little cafe has been mired in a parking lot dispute with attorney Allen Fugate, who owns the adjoining lot. In August 2012, Fugate had a concrete block wall erected along the edge of his lot, right next to the entrance to the Pink Poodle.

In response, the Bibles erected a billboard-size sign that can be seen from U.S. Highway 83/Jeffers St.


Historical park closes

North Platte's historic state park will close in mid-September until May, causing concern that the Christmas at the Cody's celebration will be lost.

The Game and Parks Commission said the closure was a cost-cutting move.


Cocaine

A California woman lost her son and landed in the Lincoln County jail Aug. 30 for carrying more than 20 pounds of cocaine in her car.

Nichole M. Rhoads of California was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. She was traveling east on I-80 about three miles west of North Platte when she was stopped for a traffic violation.


Pawnee closes

The doors of the Pawnee Assisted Living hotel were locked Sept. 1, as the hotel stood empty for the first time since it was built in 1929.

John Gorman, 77, said he is being forced to go from an $800 room at the Pawnee to a $2,750 a month room at Premier Estates.

"I don't think I should have to spend the money my wife and I saved in our lifetimes," he said. Gorman said there were a lot of sad people at the hotel the last day or two. "The girls were crying," he said. "Some of the residents had to move 150 miles to find another assisted living home."


Film plans stall

A movie will not begin this fall about the life and times of the notorious Annie Cook, co-producer Jon Robinson said Sept. 4. Robinson said the final piece of funding from an investment company has not fallen into place, so he and co-producer Robert Manciero have decided to wait until spring to start shooting. Nevertheless, casting will begin this fall, and "rather prominent actors have expressed serious interest" in leading roles, he said.

The film will be based on the book Evil Obsession by Nellie Snyder Yost, written in 1991.


Cook in cemetery

Annie Cook and the lawless underworld of old North Platte was depicted in the unique North Platte attraction – a cemetery tour. Annie Cook exemplified the rough days, an evil, greedy woman who ran Lincoln County's "poor farm" for people who had nothing.

On Sept. 20-21, Cook, as well as other characters of the times, rose from the dead to tell their stories, portrayed by actors from the community playhouse.


Kohler burglar gets 6-14 years

Convicted of two burglaries in July, Jacob Moser, of North Platte, was sentenced to two consecutive terms of 2-6 years and 4-8 years in the penitentiary. Moser was arrested along with Cody Jolliffe for the May 22 theft of a safe and other items, including security cameras, from Kohler Trailer Sales in North Platte.

Both men were already facing charges for the burglary of Ideal Linen, in which another safe was taken, and the theft of a safe from Justin Wood’s home on Kaneb Road.


Budget disagreements

Disagreements spiced up a meeting Sept. 5 to adopt the city budget.

Councilman Larry Campbell moved to reduce the city’s contribution to the Chamber of Commerce and Development from $100,000 to $50,000. Campbell's motion sparked spirited discussion and the motion was amended to a $75,000 contribution, instead of $50,000. The vote was 5-3 to contribute $75,000 to the Chamber. Councilmen Tim Barrett, Brook Baker and Campbell voted no.

After much discussion, the council then voted 4-4 on the overall budget, with Lee, Carman, Barrett and Baker voting no. That forced Mayor Dwight Livingston to cast the tie-breaking yes vote.

"We've worked hard to do the right thing and I vote to pass the budget," he said.

By the end of the meeting, Barrett and Baker were visibly angry.

“Next year maybe we can do this so the council is not coerced into something like this,” Baker said.


Parking tickets nullified

Two Hershey residents tore up their parking tickets after fighting them all the way to a bench trial in Lincoln County Court. Judge Michael Piccolo dismissed $100 tickets against Monte Davison and Mark Crow that were issued prom night at the rec center.

Piccolo ruled that the handicapped parking signs in the lot were improperly posted, as defense attorney Russ Jones had argued.


Flood coming

Unprecedented rains along the front of the Rocky Mountain range in Colorado Sept. 11-13 wreaked havoc there, killing six people, wiping out roads, equipment, vehicles and buildings and stranding nearly 1,000 others on high ground for most of a week.

The water will roar down the South Platte River. By Sept. 16, Sutherland and Hershey residents were filling sandbags as fast as they could.


Rail Fest

The annual Rail Fest celebration drew people from 12 countries and 24 states to North Platte for a close look at the world’s largest trainyard, some of the people who work there, and a weekend of exhibits and entertainment in Cody Park.


Train ride

A special Operation Lifesaver train carried 800 passengers Sept. 20-21 from North Platte to Maxwell and back, as part of the Rail Fest celebration. The train departed Front Street downtown. Passengers filled the cars. Law officers, media and public officials rode in the cab to see traffic violations from an engineer’s point of view, to better understand the railroad's focus on safety.


Burglar sentenced

After 129 days in jail, Cody Jolliffe, 29 will move to the state penitentiary for 7-17 years. Jolliffe was convicted of three burglaries -- Kohler Trailer Sales, Ideal Linen and a home south of Lake Maloney, and possession of methamphetamine.


Teen to be tried as adult

Defense attorney Pat Hays said Jordan Baker, 16, of Hastings, should be tried in juvenile court. Baker is the youngest of two boys accused of stabbing two women who worked at the Nebraska Youth Center in North Platte.

But Lincoln County Attorney Rebecca Harling said state statutes are clear, that a crime committed with aggression, violence, weapons and premeditation is to be tried in an adult court.

Lincoln County District Judge Donald Rowlands agreed, ruling that Baker must be tried in district court.


Old age disease

Alzheimer’s disease strikes fear in the hearts of brave, bold baby boomers. No one survives Alzheimer's. Often times, victims turn hostile, according to family members who lost loved ones to the disease.

After nine years of caring for her husband, Helen Bell started a support group for caregivers and she has kept it going for 28 years. Each year, the group organizes a fund raising walk and donates around $25,000 to the Alzheimer's Association. Peggy Mata personally raises more than $3,000 in pledges, soliticing most of it $5-25 at a time from people and businesses that she visits.

The fundraising walk is two miles long. Some walk further. Tommy Camargo, 62, of North Platte, walked 30.1 miles in 2012, around Cody Park from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. He did it for his uncle. "My last memory is of him strapped to a wheelchair, looking at me and not knowing who I was," Camargo said. "I jumped on the bandwagon."


Terrible wreck

A sport utility vehicle was virtually destroyed near Hershey and three teenagers were badly injured. Justin Duca, 16, of North Platte was driving. He was flown to a Denver hospital.

The wreck occurred around 5:30 p.m. on Oregon Trail Road southeast of Hershey. The 2002 Ford Explorer went into the ditch, flipped end over end several times and also ejected Victor Grandy, 18, and Wyatt Edington, 17. Another passenger, Hershey resident Kaiden Vondal was not seriously injured. Vondal was the only one wearing a seat belt.


Flood arrives

Flood water came roaring down the South Platte River Sept. 21. By mid-day, water covered a large part of the Iron Eagle Golf course. In Hershey, water filled a road ditch along the I-80 link road and headed into the village. In North Platte, water reached a depth of 14.3 feet Sunday afternoon and remained there long into the night, far above the flood stage of 13 feet.

At peak level Sunday morning, water reached the edge of Buffalo Bill Ave. at the north end of the bridge, contained by a three-foot berm the city built Saturday night to contain the water.

Sheets of water began to spread across some North Platte streets, caused by backwash through storm sewers. Many residents came out to help protect their homes with sandbags, working together. The result was thousands of sandbags neatly stacked on curbs and corners along Philip, McDonald, Sunset, William and some adjoining streets. Water in the streets started to recede shortly before midnight Sunday and most of it was gone by Monday morning, thanks to a strategically placed pump from the city.

Elsewhere in town, water edged onto a few streets in the industrial park area south of East Philip. A few inches of water lapped at the end of a driveway at the postal distribution center. The base of the Dawson Public Power tower went under water. Philip Ave. was closed for one block from Industrial to Prospect, but the water there was shallow.

With that, the historic flood water slowly receded. The South Platte River had dropped by two feet by noon Wednesday -- the fifth day of the flood. Water was expected to stop flooding Iron Eagle Golf Course around sunup Thursday, but the river remained above 10 feet -- twice as high as normal -- for the several days.


October

Saving grace

Bobbi Walter, whose husband Levern was killed in 2011 in a tragic car-bicycle collision on State Farm Road, received comforting news on Sept. 30.

A man, a former inmate, approached her in a restaurant and told her that she’d changed his life.

When the young man who killed Bobbi’s husband Levern was sentenced, Bobbi, unable to contain herself, exclaimed from the gallery, “He deserved more than that. He was drunk...”

The young man heard her and her words changed his life.

Her short outburst, full of outrage and pain, made it clear to him how much suffering he could cause if he continued down the path he was on, he said. He resolved to turn his life around.

Bobbi said it gave new meaning to her life too.


Obamacare failure

To an impatient person, the first two days of Obamacare were about as bad as life gets. Hardly anyone could get on the government’s website to learn their options and obligations to enroll in the Obamacare program, also known as the Affordable Care Act.

It was a rough beginning for the program that will bring sweeping changes, for better or worse, in the marriage of people and their government.

Ironically, the website trouble coincided with a freeze up of several parts of the federal government due to bitter debate over Obamacare. The government ran out of cash and for two weeks, the conservative controlled House of Representatives refused to authorize more money.


Train-truck crash

A loaded Union Pacific coal train hit the side of a semi-tractor Sept. 27 at a private road crossing about a mile west of Oshkosh, some 90 miles west of North Platte. No one on the train was injured, but a fresh locomotive had to be brought from North Platte.


Schools rank low

State tests show North Platte is near the bottom in standardized test scores compared to other school districts.

In average reading scores, North Platte ranked 200 out of 249 districts, and number 208 in science and 178 in math.

‘We know we have a lot of work to do,” Supt. Marty Bassett said. The bright spot was that overall North Platte math and science scores ticked up a little from the year before, but not as much as most districts in the state.


Grandparents’ success

Don and Daisy Miller celebrated the success of three grandsons that they raised. All three are decorated soldiers. Don is the retired director of the North Platte National Guard Armory. They raised the boys when drug and alcohol problems plagued their parents.


Meth heads sentenced

Matt Bobo and Britton Renfrow were sentenced to the state penitentiary Oct. 7 for weapons and assault crimes, in a shooting and meth deal that went bad on April 11. Prosecutors have said the men attempted to steal an 8-ball (about 3.5 ounces) of meth from Benjamin Newman in a car parked in the 1700 block of North Franklin.

Newman managed to get out of the car and run. Renfrow allegedly stepped out and shot him in the leg.

Renfrow got a 5-10 year sentence. Bobo, who was found later carrying a stolen gun, was sentenced to 1.5-3 years.


Golf course survives

Floodwater reached a height of three feet in the lowest parts of the city’s Iron Eagle golf course during the late September flood, but greens keepers waded though muck to promptly clean the damaged putting greens, and the city donated a pump that sent the water back into the river. Damage was confined to a couple of fairways that will need some reseeding.


Hefty effort

The Backyard BBQ and ‘Steppin Out for Education” march raised a record $62,500, organizers told the North Platte board of education. The twin fundraisers were held Sept. 20. McDonald Elementary students broke the record for the largest check from a school, with $4,455. Since the two fundraisers began in 2005, they have raised a total of $321,000 for education projects above and beyond the standard classroom.


Good time, bad result

A battle over Nebraska’s “good time” jail law is brewing after a man who was released from prison randomly killed four people in Omaha, including the mother of three children. The convict, Nikko Jenkins, allegedly pulled the woman Andrea Kruger from her car at an intersection and shot her dead in the street.

Jenkins got out of prison after serving only 10.5 years of a 21-year sentence. He was released because he’d accumulated “good time” -- a day that is removed from a prison sentence for each day a prisoner serves without trouble.

The Legislature is expected to consider revising the good time program during the session that begins Jan. 8.


Water line

A new city water line near 15th and Bryan brought objections from resident Mitch Fagan, who said he had his own system. The city is charging Fagan more than $10,000 for the line.

“Quite honestly, I am not prepared for this,” he told the city council. “I cannot afford it and I am maxxed out at the bank.”

Fagan did not recall receiving any advance notification. Prompted by Fagan’s plight, the council took no action, agreeing to postpone the assessment for a few weeks to see what might be done. Ultimately, the assessment was lowered slightly, but Fagan was charged for the line.


Water farm

One piece of pipe at a time, the day is coming when water will be pumped from the Nebraska aquifer into Medicine Creek, headed on a nearly impossible journey downriver to farms in Kansas.

Some Kansas doubters, as well as Nebraskans, say it’s a dumb idea.

The goal is to fulfill a long-standing agreement between Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas to let a fair share of water pass down the Republican River. Kansas claims it is getting short-changed, but some of them doubt this water will hardly, if ever, reach their state after a 200-mile trip through the creek and the river.

Nevertheless, a pipeline is being buried at what has become known as “the water farm,” the former Oppliger farm 10 miles south of North Platte. The project is slated to cost $115 million.


Simants remains locked up

Charles Simants will remain incarcerated at the Lincoln County Regional Center for another year, Lincoln County District Judge Donald Rowlands ruled.

Rowlands agreed with evaluations during the last decade that Simants might well revert to his previous behavior if he were released.

Simants killed six people in 1975 in a house in Sutherland, and sexually molested three of the victims. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1979 and confined to the Regional Center, where he remains, along with 27 other inmates.

Defense attorney Bob Lindemeier said Simants is no longer mentally ill, based on reports of psychologists and psychiatrists at the regional center.

But Rowlands said if Simants were released, he would probably withdraw from society, start drinking excessively as he did before, become a loner and start hallucinating, which would result in more violence. He noted that Simants has virtually no family support.


Food stamp fraud

Melanie Burke of North Platte stood accused of illegally collecting more than $35,000 in food stamps. Officials said Burke did not fully report that her husband lived with her or report he had income from worker’s compensation disability payments.

However, HHS records were inconsistent.

Lincoln County Judge Michael Piccolo bound Burke’s case over to district court.


Theatrics

The State Game and Parks Commission drew the ire of former park superintendent Steve Kemper, who said closing Buffalo Bill State Historical Park during the fall, winter and spring is unnecessary. Kemper said officials have dollar signs in their eyes and are making bogus claims that their budget is tight.

Sen. Tom Hansen agreed that the closing seemed mostly theatrical.

North Platte groups and businesses pitched in $9,000 to pay the cost of a Christmas celebration at the ranch. In past years, the Game and Parks Commission has helped pay the costs of the Christmas at the Cody’s celebration, which nearly 1,500 people attend.


Two country concerts set

There will be two country music concerts during Nebraskaland Days in June, and no rock concert, Executive Director David Fudge announced. Fudge said Billy Currington, whose hits include “People Are Crazy,” will perform June 28, rounding out the weekend. The superstar trio, Lady Antebellum, will perform the night before, June 27.


Breast cancer

The annual breast cancer awareness drive at Gary’s Superfoods netted nearly $3,500 for the Callahan Cancer Center at the medical center in North Platte. Gary’s effort was one of many in the community.


Fighting paralysis

Josh O’Neill was paralyzed in a car crash nine years ago when he was a freshman at Hershey High School. But O’Neill didn’t give up. He was named in October to a national team of wheelchair rugby players, a monumental achievement for the man who had to learn to use his arms again.


Sixth grade

“It seems like rolling the dice,” said a parent, Jody Ewing, at a public forum about putting all sixth graders in Madison school. “We shouldn’t be rolling the dice with our children’s education.”

A citizen’s committee made it clear they want the all-sixth-grade school to equalize class sizes, foster collaboration between teachers and help students get to know the classmates that they will be in school with until they graduate.


Bedbugs

Bedbugs were reported at Liberty House, a home for people with emotional and behavioral disabilities, and the tiny bugs were so bad that city buses were prohibited from picking up residents until the place was cleaned up.


Jones withdraws

North Platte Attorney Russ Jones decided not to run for the state Legislature. He said he went home and saw his son, a high school freshman, and realized he had to make a choice. He decided that even though his son was okay with his run for office, he was not.


November

Cigarettes squashed

Pitched battles over tobacco have raged for 15 years, and tobacco use is decreasing. George Haws of the Lincoln County Tobacco Free Coalition said smoke free apartments are becoming commonplace, and local agencies will give out “baby bibs” that carry a smoke free message in 2014, in a project with Great Plains Regional Medical Center.


Teen dies

Teenager Chandler Synder, 17, was found dead in a small camper trailer Nov. 2 at 818 Griffith St. in North Platte. There were no signs of trauma to the body and no charges were filed.


Historical hotel

The city council officially designated the 1929 Hotel Pawnee an historical building. Backers of the designation hope to stay or slow any demolitions that might be planned in the future, and save the eight-story building that was once called the Palace of the Plains.


Wedding ban

A would-be bride and groom defied a no-contact order and tried to get a marriage license at the Lincoln County Courthouse, but Sgt. Wayne Connell of the sheriff’s office broke it up and took the prospective groom, James Thompson Jr., to jail.


Spilt garbage

A North Platte city semi-truck overturned in Perkins County, spilling garbage into the ditch. The truck hit a patch of ice as it approached an intersection on the way to J Bar J Landfill. Driver Fred Kline suffered non-disabling injuries to his shoulder and arm.


Wanted burglar

Christopher Herring of North Platte is at large after a Nov. 6 break-in at Winfield’s Coffee at B and Dewey. The main door was shattered and the cash register stolen. Herring was identified by a surveillance camera, along with Cory Rowan, who was arrested the next day.


Marijuana next door

Retail sales of marijuana will become legal in Colorado on Jan. 1, and attitudes are changing in Nebraska too. North Platte Police spokesman Rodney Brown said the Drug Awareness Education program for students no longer includes a section on marijuana. Police Chief Mike Swain said he understands marijuana’s benefits to terminal cancer patients and glaucoma patients, but he said the drug is clearly illegal in Nebraska.


Gas price discrepancy

The price of regular gas dipped to $2.77 a gallon in Omaha on Nov. 11 – 40 cents a gallon less than in North Platte. Demand for gas is plummeting while supplies increase from the Bakkan oil field in North Dakota and other states.


Private rec study

Proponents of a city recreation study agreed to privately fund a new study. Eric Seacrest asked the city to be involved, but not financially, as the study comes together in 2014. The council agreed, appointing Glenn Peterson to sit on the citizen’s recreation study committee.


Robberies, meth use

The number of robberies in Nebraska increased 14 percent from 2011 to 2012, along with a corresponding increase in the use of methamphetamine. Users steal to finance their compulsive habit, according to a report from the Nebraska Crime Commission, cited in a comprehensive Bulletin overview of the drug.


Lindemeier honored

Lincoln County Public Defender Bob Lindemeier was honored with a state award for excellence in criminal defense. Lindemeier is the first attorney in western Nebraska to receive the award.


Not DNA after all

Rape charges were dropped Nov. 19 against Joshua Walsh, 20, who was arrested in August in connection with a rape that allegedly occurred 10 months earlier. Prosecutors at first said Walsh’s DNA matched up, but Defense Attorney Bob Lindemeier said the alleged victim not only lied about where it happened, but the DNA test only gave a 1 in 10 chance that Walsh was involved. He said if the results were taken seriously, odds were good that about any male in the courtroom could be convicted.


Former coach sentenced

Former Stapleton teacher and coach Matthew Brown was sentenced to a year of probation after he was convicted for contributing to the delinquency of a minor in McPherson County Court. Brown was originally charged with sexual assault of a minor, but the charge was reduced in a plea bargain.


Guardian arrested

Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley revealed more illegalities at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. A Scottsbluff woman, Judith Widener, confessed to embezzling money from state wards who could not take care of themselves. Widener, 70, was a legal guardian for 46 wards in Lincoln County and more than 600 across the state. Foley said she held an array of credit cards and more than 40 bank accounts containing a total of $600,000.

He said HHS ignored several red flags that indicated Widener’s alleged crimes.

A series of scandals have rocked HHS during the last two years that involve tens of millions of dollars that have been misspent or wasted.

“The whole sorry episode is yet another glaring example of the need to reform HHS,” Foley said. “How many more must I provide?”


TV merger

The company that owns Channels 10-11 TV bought the company that owns KNOP TV, bringing uncertainty to the future of North Platte’s television. KNOP station manager Lewys Carlini said KNOP shows that serve the community, such as Friday Night Sports Heros and th Jacque Harms’ at Midday show, will continue.

“We are going to fight to keep it, if it comes to that,” Carlini said. “That’s part of our heritage.”


Hershey coach remembered

Greg Miller, a longtime coach and teacher at Hershey High School, passed on to a sports field in the sky. Miller, 56, started at Hershey in 1982 and became a force at the school, guiding hundreds of students.

“He was always accessible; he always encouraged them,” school board member Floydene Brown said.


December

Kohler’s burglars sentenced

Jason Sullivan, 30, of North Platte was sentenced to 300 days in jail. He was originally charged with disposing stolen property from Kohler Trailer Sales but the charge was reduced to being an accessory to a felony.

On the same day, Cara Harder, 28, of Grand Island, was sentenced to 230 days in jail after she pled no contest to possession of amphetamine and receiving stolen property. Harder was also indirectly involved in the Kohler burglary.


Hild: Work, enjoy life

North Platte's hard working nonagenarian (a person who is from 90-99 years old) celebrates a 67-year career. In 1946, Pearson's Appliance store in North Platte was hiring help, and Roy Hild was looking for a job. Hild, a Brady native who flew B-29 bombers over Japan during World War II, settled in North Platte after the war with his wife Lily.

Today, at 93, he works six days a week at his company, Hild Propane, regardless of the weather.

His advice for a long life: Get up every morning and go to work.


Surgeon killed

North Platte hand surgeon Scott Carroll was killed in a car accident near Denver on Dec. 4. The Colorado State Patrol said his westbound 2010 Ford pickup skidded into the guardrail near the median, sailed over, went airborne and landed on its top.

Caroll was dead when officers arrived. Speed is listed as one factor and ice may have also been a factor, the CSP said.


Burglars charged

Ronald Ware was charged Dec. 5 with stealing a duffel bag that contained electronic items from a pickup while the driver was inside a Casey's convenience store on Rodeo Road. Tthe theft fit the pattern of items stolen from unlocked vehicles.

About 70 thefts occured in North Platte Nov. 15-25. Police hoped they quashed the outbreak on Dec. 19 with the arrests of two teenagers, but the thefts continued. Police found KC Lee Betancud and Logan Reed with cash, stolen property and prescription drugs. Betancud, 18, was convicted Dec. 5.

Andrew Lauber, 23, was also arrested for trying to steal a car. And, police caught Lukas Camacho, 19, trying to break into a home in the 200 block of East 10th.

The number of thefts and burglaries gradually decreased during Thanksgiving week.


New super

Jason Tonsfeldt was named the park superintendent at North Platte's Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park and recreation area. He will also supervise Lake Maloney and Sutherland State Recreation Areas.


Big bank opens

Nebraskaland National Bank officially opened their expansive new building near the south entrance of the city, culminating a year-and-a-half-long construction project. The building illustrated the progress of the bank, which started 15 years ago in a downtown storefront. At the time, the start-up bank was the smallest of more than a dozen banks in Lincoln County.


Parish retires

Nebraska State Patrol Captain Jim Parish announced his retirement after 36 years, many of them in North Platte as the commander of Troop D, covering west central Nebraska.


Sex assault

Billy Schrader and domestic partner Julia Thiemann were charged Dec. 16 with having sex with a seven-year-old girl in their house and filming it.

The arrests stemmed from reports in November at the Bridge of Hope Advocacy Center. Law officers seized a computer and cell phone from Schrader’s home at that time, and on Dec. 13, North Platte police analyzed them. One phone showed at least four images of suspected child porn, the sheriff’s office said. If convicted, Schrader and Thiemann face life imprisonment.


Sixth grade

The North Platte school board approved all sixth-graders in Madison school building, but told Superintendent Marty Bassett to take a year to be sure a good plan is in place. Bassett assured them that administrators are capable of working out the details.

“This is what we do everyday,” Bassett said. “It is your job to set policy and direction; it is our job to carry it out.”

The vote was 5-1, with Jack Price voting no. Price said this is a major shift but a lot of groundwork would be accomplished in the next year.


Missing daughter

Omaha mom Kim Streit looked frantically for her missing 16-year-old daughter, Madison Pacheco. Pacheco’s father and grandparents live near North Platte. Streit hoped for the best, that Maddy ran away, but feared the worst, that she was abducted. Maddy had still not appeared by year’s end.


Dog fight

A dog fight in North Platte led to the arrest of Pastor Ron Lauber and the seizure of Jasmine, a boxer, lab and pit bull cross. Jasmine was in a new neighborhood when he got out of the yard and scuffled with two other dogs.

Jasmine’s owner Kendra Burkholder pressed a claim that her dog was not potentially dangerous before the city council, but the council upheld the declaration, which will cost Burkholder nearly $800 in permits, fines and fees.

Burkholder, who was not home at the time, is living in the Lauber family’s basement. Lauber questioned the need to choke Jasmine down and take her to the animal shelter and was cited for obstruction of justice.

Burkholder told the council it is a double blow, that she is impoverished by high medical bills after a propane tank blew up and injured her.

Burkholder offered to take her dog to obedience class pledged to lead an effort to revise the city’s ordinance about potentially dangerous animals.


Sex assault

Edward Maline, 41, of North Platte was convicted Dec. 16 of attempted sexual assault of a child. Maline, a former community playhouse actor, was charged with inappropriately touching a girl who was nine years old at the time, and continuing for a decade.


This recap was first published in the Jan. 2 print edition of the Bulletin. Back issues of the Bulletin are available at our office at 1300 East Fourth St.


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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 1/12/2014
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