Year in review

Stories of the year in the south metro area

A look back at the news events that shaped 2018

Posted 12/31/18

The year began with mourning. On the last day of 2017, Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Zackari Parrish, 29, was fatally shot by a man authorities believe was mentally ill at an apartment complex in …

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Year in review

Stories of the year in the south metro area

A look back at the news events that shaped 2018

Posted

The year began with mourning.

On the last day of 2017, Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Zackari Parrish, 29, was fatally shot by a man authorities believe was mentally ill at an apartment complex in Highlands Ranch. Matthew Riehl, 37, also wounded four law enforcement officers and two civilians before being shot to death by members of the regional SWAT team, according to the sheriff’s office.

By New Year’s Day, details would emerge about Riehl, a military veteran and lawyer who waged what Sheriff Tony Spurlock called “an ambush-type of attack” on Parrish and the other officers.

At the same time, grief over the loss of Parrish, a husband and father of two young children, gripped the community. His funeral on Jan. 5 drew law enforcement personnel from around the nation. The procession that preceded it drew hundreds, maybe thousands, of community members, who lined roadways to pay their respects to the Parrish family and to show support for law enforcement.

During the funeral service, Spurlock spoke proudly of Parrish, whom the sheriff said remained calm and compassionate as he offered to help the man who would ultimately kill him.

“It’s up to us to remember him and to be like him,” Spurlock said of the fallen deputy.

The following is a look at some of the other stories that helped shape 2018 in the south metro Denver area, as chosen by editor Chris Rotar, with input from the reporting staff.

New superintendent for DCSD

The Douglas County Board of Education voted to hire Thomas Tucker as the new superintendent in April, following two years without a permanent leader. Erin Kane had served in the role in an interim capacity after Elizabeth Fagen’s departure for a new job in Texas in the summer of 2016.

It was among the first major decisions for the current school board, which had seen a power shift in the November 2017 election. Seven like-minded members now sat on the board after voters said no to candidates who espoused reform policies that stirred controversy in the district for years.

Tucker’s long career in education has included jobs as a classroom teacher and principal. He came to Douglas County from Princeton City Schools in Cincinnati, where he was named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2016.

“I’ve enjoyed all my jobs, but being able to work with young people on day-to-day basis and seeing them mature is what really excites me,” Tucker told Colorado Community Media after taking over the post during the summer.

No deal, after all

The announcement heralded a major economic boon to the south metro area and beyond.

In August 2017, media and technology company Redbarre publicized plans to build a $1 billion campus in Parker that would create roughly 4,000 jobs. The campus was touted as a place where, among other things, production could take place for film and television.

The announcement was made to much fanfare on the steps of the state Capitol, with Gov. John Hickenlooper and officials from the town and Douglas County in attendance.

A litle more than half a year later, those plans for the Compark area in the northwestern part of Parker were no more.

In April, Redbarre said through a spokesman that it had run into an impasse with the landowner and would look to build its 68-acre campus elsewhere. As of late December, it was not known where the campus would be built.

Fatal flood in Englewood

A devastating thunderstorm slammed parts of the metro area the evening of July 24, packing powerful winds, hail and heavy rain that fell so hard and so quickly that flooding hit pockets of Englewood and Littleton.

Englewood was hit particularly hard, as rivers flowed down city streets and flooding in one neighborhood hit with fatal force. In the 4600 block of Acoma Street, Rachael Marie Haber, 32, was trapped in a basement apartment and drowned. Residents of several other nearby homes were forced out by the flooding, left to wonder where they would go.

One Acoma Street resident said the storm started out like many that time of year, “like a basic summer storm.”

“But it rolled in so hard, so fast . . . it was flooded in a matter of 15 to 20 minutes,” Isaac Maldonado said.

Democrats rise in Arapahoe

Five-term Congressman Mike Coffman was vulnerable this time around, pundits said. But that had been predicted before, and yet the Republican from Aurora always emerged with a November victory.

This time was indeed different. Democrat Jason Crow, also of Aurora, unseated Coffman in the 6th Congressional District, capitalizing on what some political experts called backlash against President Donald Trump and his policies. Coffman had held the seat in the district known for its racial and ethnic diversity since 2008. The district includes parts of three counties, but the bulk of it is in Arapahoe County, including Aurora, Centennial and Littleton.

Coffman had publicly put distance between himself and Trump since 2016, but it wasn’t enough as a blue wave hit Arapahoe County — a place that had long been thought of as purple but which often voted red, even as Democrats began to soundly outnumber Republicans in recent years.

In November, Democrats unseated Republican incumbents for sheriff, assessor and county clerk, as well as state House District 37, which largely is made up of Centennial.

“I’d say (the blue wave) hit harder than we expected it to,” said Rich Sokol, chairman of the Arapahoe County Republican Party.

More money for schools

Voters approved funding measures for schools in the Douglas County, Littleton and Elizabeth districts in the November election.

• The Douglas County School District saw two measures pass: a $250 million bond and a $40 million mill levy override.

The bond measure will fund urgent building needs, among other things, while the MLO will go toward school programming and pay raises for teachers and staff.

• Voters in the Littleton Public Schools district said yes to a $298 million bond measure that will largely be spent on rebuilding many of the district’s schools.

• A $1.59 million mill levy override gained approval in the Elizabeth School District. A major chunk of that will be used to give raises to teachers in a district that has lagged behind other area districts in teacher pay for years.

Fatal fire in Littleton

On a frigid Saturday morning, as Thanksgiving approached, residents of a Littleton apartment building for seniors awoke to a fire that would prove to be a nightmare for weeks.

The Nov. 17 fire at the Windermere apartments on South Datura Street was contained to a first-floor unit, but smoke made its way throughout the five-floor building and asbestos was stirred up, officials said. The resident of the apartment in which the fire started, Michael Craig Mitchell, 70, died. More than a dozen other people were injured. The fire was ruled accidental, but the specific cause had not been released as of late December.

Some residents spent nights on cots at a nearby shelter, some stayed in hotels and others with family, but for weeks, all were left without the majority of their belongings or any idea of when they would be able to return home.

On Dec. 3, all of the building’s 163 residents learned the building was ruled uninhabitable and they would have to move out, a process that started nearly two weeks later, as Christmas approached. For some, this was the second time in 2 1/2 years they were evicted from the same complex — a fire forced all residents out of its other tower in 2016.

A cold case

A suspect’s arrest in December 2017 inspired hope of justice among friends and family members of Randy Wilson, a Kiowa teacher who was found dead, believed by authorities to have been murdered, in 2010. But a year later, the case turned cold once more.

On Dec. 3, the murder charge against Dan Pesch, 35, was dismissed. Prosecutors said they no longer believed they could convince a jury that Pesch was guilty.

In 2017, Pesch had told authorities he killed Wilson. He later said he was lying, and police records show that Pesch had falsely confessed to crimes in the past. Meanwhile, evidence failed to make a compelling case against Pesch. Testimony from investigators showed that his confessions didn’t match the crime scene and DNA tests failed to connect him to crucial pieces of evidence.

District Attorney George Brauchler said his office remains steadfast in hopes of convicting a killer in the case.

“Someone out there hasn’t been held accountable,” Brauchler said. “I want to bring justice on behalf of Mr. Wilson and his family, and that hasn’t been done yet.”

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