Weather and drought seemed to be a recurring theme for stories in 2012, while a rash of homicides and a massive methamphetamine ring bust dominated crime news and a Shawnee community showed patriotism while mourning a local sailor killed at war.
Water worries and restrictions, a burn ban and city of Shawnee politics also made news, along with many notable moments in local sports.
Sailor killed at war Eric Warren, 23, died in May while serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The 2008 graduate of McLoud High School was a hospitalman in the U.S. Navy. As his remains returned home in a processional of police escorts, residents from the community gathered with American flags in hand and saluted the hearse as it traveled the route from Interstate 40 to Resthaven Cemetery in Shawnee.
Law enforcement's war on drugs continued to make headlines in 2012, including several methamphetamine busts followed by a massive meth raid June 27.
More than 125 state and local law enforcement officers gathered in Shawnee that morning and disbursed to various locations as numerous arrest warrants were served simultaneously. After it was over, more than 40 were arrested, including several high profile targets in the Shawnee area. Trials are pending for most charged in the case, although some have pleaded guilty and were sentenced in charges they faced from the ordeal.
Drug agents said the raid shut down a major supply of Mexican meth coming into the area.
Criminal cases involving former teachers
A pornography case that began in 2011 involving a former McLoud teacher continued in 2012 as the Pennsylvania man also charged in the case was extradited back to Shawnee in March and both appeared together in a Pottawatomie County courtroom for a preliminary hearing in May.
Kimberly Ann Crain, 49, Shawnee, and Gary J. Doby, 66, of Bloomsburg, Pa., face 18 counts of sexual exploitation of a child under age 12, one count of conspiracy to commit sexual exploitation and one count of lewd molestation. Crain also faces 11 counts of possession of juvenile pornography.
Crain taught third grade at McLoud Elementary School until she resigned amid an ongoing investigation on Nov. 28, 2011. Prosecutors allege Crain, while working as an elementary school teacher, took photos of as many as 14 young girls while they were changing clothes, either while in her classroom at the school and some at her home. She then is accused of sharing those images of her students with Doby. Both are scheduled for separate trials in January.
In another case involving an educator, a former Bethel teacher was arrested for inappropriate contact with a student in August and was formally charged in September.
Wendy L. Hickman, 40, is accused of having sex with a 16-year-old male student. Hickman, who was beginning her third year as a freshman English teacher at Bethel, resigned Aug. 21 and was arrested in the case the following day.
Hickman is charged with second-degree rape and is accused of having sexual intercourse with a 16-yearold Bethel High School student on or about July 28, at which time Hickman was age 40 and an employee of Bethel High School. In a count of soliciting sexual conduct by use of technology, Hickman is accused, between May 1 and Aug. 21, of facilitating, encouraging, offering or soliciting sexual conduct or engaging in communication with the same teen, who is a minor, by use of a cell phone and by sending sexually explicit photographs of herself to that teen for the purpose of instigating sexual contact, the charge reads. According to court documents, Hickman was the teen's English teacher during the 2011-12 school year. Her preliminary hearing in that matter is scheduled this month in Pottawatomie County District Court.
A slew of homicides were investigated throughout the year, with most occurring in the fall months.
The first murder occurred in February. In that case, Heather Checotah, 23, is charged with firstdegree murder, deliberate intent, for the Feb. 5 stabbing death of an Oklahoma City woman in the parking lot of Chapel Ridge Apartments, 130 E. 45th. Checotah is accused of stabbing Gina Raechel Swain in the chest with a knife. Her case is scheduled for trial in January.
Three suspects from Oklahoma City face charges in a Pottawatomie County homicide from Oct. 8. Charged with murder in the first degree are James Isaac South, 35, and Bradley Austin Keith, 28. Charges allege they caused the death of Albert L. Rider, 53, of Norman, by shooting him in a Pottawatomie County roadway. A third defendant, Michael Preston Choate, 24, is charged with second-degree murder in the case. The three are waiting scheduling of preliminary hearings.
Joseph Neay, 22, is charged with murder in the first degree, deliberate intent, for the Nov. 2 stabbing death of his stepfather, Marty Lee Jones, 45, who was found dead in his home.
Pottawatomie County's latest homicide occurred Dec. 6.
Jerrod Murray, 18, of Asher, is charged with firstdegree murder, deliberate intent, in the shooting death of his East Central University classmate, Generro Sanchez, 18, who was killed and left in a ditch north of Asher.
Authorities in Lincoln County continue to probe the death of 35-year-old Gustavo Barragan Valencia, who was found dead near Wellston Oct. 24 with gunshot wounds to the head. The homicide remains unsolved.
City and government news
Several government issues made the news in 2012, including city, county, and state elections.
Mayor Wes Mainord was elected to Shawnee, Mainord replaced then-Mayor Linda Peterson. Two new commissioners were also elected to the city commission – Linda Agee for Ward 2 and Keith Hall, Ward 4. They replaced Ward 2 commissioner Frank Sims and Ward 4 commissioner Billy J. Collier.
The Pottawatomie County District 2 seat went to republican candidate Randy Thomas in a threeway race against democrat Bryan Richards and independent Scott Reynolds.
Republican newcomer Justin Wood was elected to the State House District 26 seat, after Kris Steele was unable to run again because he termed out.
Republican incumbent Josh Cockroft, District 27, retained his seat against Randy Gilbert, and republican incumbent Tom Newell, District 28, retained his seat against Marilyn Rainwater.
In February, Shawnee citizens voted down several sales tax increases that would have led to capital improvements, including a sports park. Nearly 80 percent of voters turned down the tax increases.
The proposition that was approved included a change to the city charter, which allowed new commissioners to be seated in September, instead of November.
In August, after the commission voted to sever an 18-year contract with the Greater Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce, the chamber filed a lawsuit against the city to uphold the contract.
The city moved to create a new entity to promote tourism, and to be funded through the Hotel Occupancy Surcharge, which had been going to the chamber.
In the same month, the city counter-sued and Judge Cynthia Ashwood-Ferrell granted a temporary restraining order to the chamber. This kept the city from placing the Hotel Occupancy Surcharge elsewhere, and allowed the chamber to continue running normally.
After the new city commission was seated in early September, negotiations began to update the contract. In December, the chamber Board of Directors voted to approve the new eight-page contract. This will allow the chamber to continue promoting tourism, but also calls for more regulation from the city commission.
The contract is expected to approved by the city commission in January.
Weather, drought and burn ban
The area saw weather in many extremes for 2012.
Due to a drought, many farmers were worried about how their crops would fair until harvest. Additionally, Tecumseh Lake was dry, which required Tecumseh to purchase treated water from Shawnee in March.
Less than two weeks later a heavy rain came and caused some minor flooding in some areas. However, the flood caused no major problems.
However, by July, a new drought plan had been approved by the city of Shawnee, and was put into action. This plan reduced outdoor water use for Shawnee residents, and per the contract, further required those purchasing water from Shawnee to follow the same plan.
Those purchasing water from Shawnee included Tecumseh, Meeker, and the Pottawatomie County Development Authority.
In early August, wildfires erupted across the state, including Earlsboro, McLoud, and Shawnee. After the massive fires, Governor Mary Fallin declared a statewide burn ban.
The statewide ban was lifted after more than a month.
The drought continued through the rest of the year, and will likely leave central Oklahoma nearly 7 inches below normal for precipitation.
Notable moments in sports
News in the world of sports also dominated headlines in the News-Star.
The past year was big for many local sports teams, for reasons both good and bad.
In March, Oklahoma Baptist University student Ivan Maciuniak — a member of the men's swim team — died following an accident in OBU's pool. He was 22.
Maciuniak, just one week before his death, helped Oklahoma Baptist's firstyear program win the 2012 national championship at Oklahoma City Community College.
At the high school level, Shawnee's Lady Wolves capped a 29-0 season by defeating Tulsa East Central, 45-41, to claim their first-ever Class 5A state basketball crown. It was the second time in history that the Lady Wolves finished a regular season with 20 or more wins, and it was only their second time to make an appearance in the state tournament.
Shawnee's girls' track team also claimed a Class 5A state crown in 2012, topping all entrants in May at Yukon High School. It was their second title since 2009.
Dale's Pirates recorded a 10-0 run-rule victory over Latta to claim the Class A fall baseball state title in October. The Pirates also shut out Silo, 11-0, in May to claim the Class 2A spring crown.
This brings the total of fall and spring titles for Dale's baseball program to 19.
Dale's Lady Pirates plundered Latta by a 13-2 count in the Class 4A slow-pitch state championship game in May to win their first-ever slow-pitch title.
Prague's Lady Red Devils reached the Class 3A state basketball finals in March, and came away as runnersup following a 64-50 setback to Millwood.
Chandler's girls reached the 2012 Class 3A basketball quarterfinals, where they fell 54-47 to Kansas.
Oklahoma Baptist's men's basketball team reached the 2012 NAIA Finals, and finished as runners-up following a three-point setback to Concordia.
Reporter compiled by Reporters Kim Morava, Carmen Bourlon and Sports Editor Jason Smith.