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A look back at the top 2018 news of Central Oregon


What made news on the High Desert in 2018? As a busy, tumultuous year draws to a close, It might actually be easier to answer, what didn’t?

Before the internet took root, it usually took some head scratching and a stack of newspaper front pages to help determine what was the biggest news of the year.

Now, you can slice and dice it so many ways, such as what got the most mouse clicks on a website or app, or what drew the most Facebook/social media “engagement.” A broader view, though just as humanly imperfect.

Because even with all the new ways to put news in front of your eyes – headlines can pop onto your smartwatch, pipe up from your Alexa or Google device, even on a car’s dashboard – we all still have only 24 hours a day, seven days a week, two eyes and one brain to keep track of it all.

And some news will hit harder than others, for a wide variety of reasons, whether it involves people you know or touch you in some fashion, an issue you care about or place you call (or used to call) home.

Take wildfires: It’s not all about location, but it’s close. A relatively tiny fire, compared to the ones we see racing across rangeland or chewing through dense forests, can still be the most memorable to many – especially when it breaks out on the slopes of Bend’s Pilot Butte on the Fourth of July.

Or that related question that seems to be asked more and more each year, especially in late summer: “Where’s all this smoke coming from?” It could be a tiny fire just out of view, a much-debated prescribed burn, or from hundreds or thousands of miles away, like the calamitous Camp Fire in Northern California. Because smoke blows. (Literally.) And winds shift, and the smoke from one fire mixes with others, meaning there’s often no simple answer. (VERY often, and not just about smoke.)

So let’s start with something based on what used to be the only way to do this: editorial judgment – the things we remember, because they either lingered in the news or had the biggest impact when they broke.

And to do so in a form that often prompts debate, an actual ranking of:


1. THE DISAPPEARANCE, KILLING OF SARA GOMEZ: Months of prayers and searches by friends, family and strangers end in tragic discovery of the missing Bend woman’s body SE of Bend; her ex-boyfriend killed himself in jail months before her body was found.

2. WILDFIRES HIT NEAR AND FAR, DESTROY HOMES, BLANKET REGION IN SMOKE: From Pilot Butte’s Fourth of July illegal fireworks-sparked blaze to a scary one near Bessie Butte southeast of Bend; the Graham Fire destroys two homes near Lake Billy Chinook; another fire destroys two homes near Cloverdale and far-off fires coat the region in late-summer smoke for a second straight year.

3. A WILD ELECTION YEAR: Bend state Rep. Knute Buehler loses (again) to Kate Brown; Nathan Boddie, under fire, refuses to give up his Bend City Council seat or the House District 54 nomination under a cloud of allegations.Top Democrats back Working Families Party candidate Amanda La Bell – until a false statement about her education in the Voters Pamphlet prompts her to withdraw; Sally Russell is Bend’s first directly elected mayor in nearly a century; Republicans Cheri Helt, Jack Zika win open House seats; Redmond’s $70 million school bond measure is narrowly defeated. Controversial statewide ballot measures go down to defeat.

4. THE RESCUE OF BABY BRADLEY: Brandon Blouin of Ohio allegedly left his 1-year-old son on the forest floor south of Bend while he went to look for the boy’s mom; a detective finds the boy amid a major search six hours later; father now faces charges.

5.: BEND MOTHER ACCUSED OF FATALLY SHOOTING 7-YEAR-OLD DISABLED SON: Tashina Jordan fatally shot young Mason, then tried to kill herself with a drug overdose, officials said, but she recovered and now faces charges.

6. ‘I FAILED YOU ALL’: January Neatherlin, an unlicensed Bend day care operator who left young kids alone and gave them melatonin to sleep while she went out for a tan or workout, tearfully apologizes as she’s sentenced to more than 21 years in prison.

7. TRAGEDY ON SIERRA DRIVE: A northeast Bend neighborhood is rocked when police say resident Tyler Herrick fatally shoots a neighbor, then goes “hunting” (according to the DA) for the man’s hiding roommate, who kills him in a confrontation; at year’s end, DA John Hummel still awaits toxicology results, for some insight into why it happened.

8. BIG BUSINESSES GROW, OTHERS FADE: Facebook announces yet another big ($750 million) Prineville Data Center expansion; struggling Kah-Nee-Ta Resort on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation closes, costing 146 workers their jobs after five decades of operation, but the tribes open the Plateau Travel Plaza.

9. DA: OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS JUSTIFIED: Deschutes County DA John Hummel says Deputy Randy Zilk was justified fatally shooting Jesse Powell of Springfield at campsite off South Century Drive, later finds Deputy Chris Jones justified in shooting, wounding fleeing fugitive Brandon Berrett at the Funny Farm as his car sped toward him, fellow deputy.

10. OFF-DUTY BEND FIREFIGHTER KILLED: In what has to be considered a freak crash, Rhett Larsen’s motorcycle hits a large bear on Highway 26 on the Warm Springs Reservation; thousands line Highway 97 during a procession back to Bend; crowd fills the Expo Center in Redmond for memorial service.

But years are not air-tight containers, and many news events extend beyond and take months, even years to conclude. For example, Shantel Witt, who allegedly struck and killed cyclist Marika Stone at the end of 2017, had numerous court hearings and key rulings in 2018, paving the way for a trial set to begin in late January.

But “most-clicked story” lists also need some editorial assessment, as they often don’t, for example, show the multiple stories online about one event or topic. Some issues get a lot of attention all year – marijuana regulations, for example, or efforts to provide more affordable housing — but not that one thunderclap of breaking news that brings them to the top of the list, even though they are very important for those involved in the issue.

To share another perspective, here are the top 15 most-viewed local news stories of 2018 from KTVZ.COM, led, surprisingly, by an item from early in 2018 that wasn’t revisited all year.

1. UPS stopped delivering packages to off-the-grid Juniper Acres due to safety concerns; residents must get them at the Alfalfa Store.

2. (and Sierra Drive double-killing, DA awaits toxicology results to help determine why neighbor shot, killed man, “hunted” for roommate who killed him in confrontation.

3, A stunning double-tragedy: A Eugene woman falls into a tree well while skiing at Mt. Bachelor and dies, hours after a Bend snowboarder does much the same, in early March

4. Tepee Fire southeast of Bend reaches 2,000 acres, prompts evacuation alerts.

5. Bend-area ER nurse missing since she left home barefoot in May is found in a garage after two days in May.

6. Autopsy confirms body found wrapped in tarp 20 miles SE of Bend is Sara Gomez, 24, who vanished three months earlier.

7. Tashina Jordan is accused of shooting and killing her disabled 7-year-old son, Mason, in August. A two-day hearing on bail and other motions is set for March 5-6.

8. Off-duty Bend firefighter Rhett Larsen’s motorcycle struck a large bear that ran into his path on Highway 26 on the Warm Springs Reservation.

9. A wind-fanned wildfire destroyed two Cloverdale-area homes, closed Highway 20 for hours, caused by electrical problem with travel trailer.

10. A December crash on Highway 97 in Redmond killed a Prineville man, 73.

11. Gavin Smith-Brown surrenders to police in Tualatin, accused of killing mother Gayla Smith at her Crooked River Ranch home.

12. An Illegal firework sparks a 10-acre fire on the slopes of Pilot Butte that shuts Highway 20, cuts power to thousands and prompts nearby evacuations; two men arrested, one has charges dismissed; Joel Hastings gets 90-day jail sentence.

13. January Neatherlin gets 21-year prison sentence after grabbing world headlines for leaving young kids alone at her unlicensed day care, giving them melatonin to sleep while she went for a tan or workout.

14. A 21-year-old Bend man is killed when his motorcycle collides with a pickup truck on Third Street in Bend; two grieving family members speak to us.

15. Two Jefferson County residents are arrested in the stabbing of Canby man in May outside downtown Bend nightclub.

And here, chronologically, are some of the other top news stories of the year that didn’t make either list but are worth noting:

Jan. 22: Edwin Lara pleads guilty to aggravated murder, gets life in prison without parole in the July 2016 murder of Kaylee Sawyer.

March 26: Deschutes County authorities seize 83 neglected horses from Terrebonne owners; 16 are euthanized, the mother and daughter owner and caretaker enter no-contest pleas in September, get 30 days in jail, community service and probation.

April 6: Three Jefferson County Jail officers are indicted on criminally negligent homicide charges in the 2017 death of an inmate being held on drug charges; a judge acquits all three after a trial in December.

May 16: Among other election results, Bend city charter changes are approved, returning the city to an independently elected mayor after many decades when they were appointed by fellow councilors.

May 18: Adult film star Stormy Daniels, at the center of a presidential scandal, cuts short her headline act at Stars Cabaret when a patron hits her in the head with his wallet.

June 12: Deschutes County DA John Hummel drops all charges in an alleged road rage case, saying he had no faith in what the accusers alleged.

June 19: DA John Hummel won’t criminally charge a Medford man who shot another man who pulled a switchblade outside the Jack in the Box in northeast Bend.

June 21: Lightning sparks the Graham Fire near Lake Billy Chinook, a fast-moving blaze that burned more than 2,000 acres and two homes, prompting evacuation orders.

June 26: A Bend man pulled over for failing to use his turn signal shoots himself in his car and prompts an officer to also fire.

July 12: Alaska Blockbuster managers announce their plans to close, leaving Bend with the nation’s only surviving Blockbuster Video, which draws worldwide attention and visitors from far and wide (as well as a beer named after it).

July 22: A tall, worrisome smoke plume draws attention as the Bessie Butte Fire breaks out eight miles southeast of Bend and is stopped at about 50 acres.

August 23: Blind Bend Paralympian Nancy Stevens and her visiting 84-year-old father, Ronald Stevens of Wyoming, are thrown from their overturned canoe on the Deschutes River and swept over the rapids at Dillon Falls, killing the father and injuring his daughter.

Sept. 10: Joshua Horner, a Redmond man facing 50 years in prison after a child sex abuse conviction, is exonerated after an organization’s new investigation finds major flaws in the testimony against him.

Oct. 29: St. Charles Health System announces a controversial decision to close the St. Charles Redmond Family Birthing Center, despite opposition by the city and others; later in the year, it announces an expansion of cancer services in Redmond, as negotiations for a new contract for Bend nurses involve a federal mediator.

Oct. 30: Gregory Thoma, well-known in Bend’s theater scene, is arraigned on 16 criminal counts alleging he sexually abused a child under 16, having been arrested in early September at Sawyer Park after allegedly connecting online with a child.

Nov. 5: One other election note: After their only debate airs on KTVZ, Democratic challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner loses to GOP incumbent Rep. Greg Walden — but defeats him in Deschutes County, though by fewer than 1,000 votes.

​​​​​​Dec. 5: The Bend City Council adopts an ordinance banning retailers’ use of single-use plastic bags, with some exceptions; enforcement won’t begin until 2020 (here’s a city page with details about it).

But of course, on social media, many of the most engaging stories have nothing to do with crime, crashes, politics or mayhem.

So we also took a look using a Facebook tool called CrowdTangle at the most engaging posts of the year (in terms of shares, comments and/or likes/emotions). Many are covered above, of course, but the list also brings some other stories back into view, such as: A 10-year-old Prineville boy goes missing after school in September, prompting a public alert, but he’s found OK along Highway 26 by a Portland resident and taken into state protective custody. (video) – the story of a Summit High student named Callan Valentine – seriously – who raised funds so that he and his friends could hand a rose on Valentine’s Day to every girl at the school.

While we at NewsChannel 21 can’t give each of our wonderful viewers and website visitors a rose for New Year’s, we want to thank you for your time and interest, and to wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019.

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