Top 10 News Stories of 2012
Four died in a Lake City house fire in November. They are (from left) Tyra Pierson, 22, her infant son Xavier, her brother Wyatt, 3, and her sister Madison, 8.
The top story of 2012 for the Carroll area — and no doubt its most tragic event — was a November house fire in Lake City that killed four people.
The fire ignited in the early hours of Nov. 13 in a modest home on the south side of town in a sleeper sofa, where an electrical cord from a ceiling lamp apparently overheated or sparked.
The fire swiftly consumed the house and the lives of Tyra Pierson, 22, her sister Madison Pierson, 8, her brother Wyatt Pierson, 3, and her infant son Xavier.
Tyra’s parents, Tony Pierson and Kim Kraft, were working overnight shifts at Farner-Bocken Company in Carroll with another daughter at the time.
There were no working smoke detectors in the house. The four died while trying to escape.
A police officer first spotted the fire while on patrol when he smelled smoke. There was little he or firefighters could do to save the family.
The community rallied. Hundreds attended the visitation and funeral. A local car dealership owner offered a house to Pierson and Kraft where they could live rent-free until they found a new home.
Farmer-Bocken loaned them a vehicle, gave them a van-load of food, solicited donations from its employees.
Firefighters and other volunteers walked door-to-door in Lake City this month to install smoke detectors and give fire-prevention tips.
“We don’t know what to say about these things,” said Rev. Betty Weidert, who presided over the funeral service. “They were only on this Earth for such a short time.”
2. The Farm Economy
Rainfall, or rather, the lack of it, dominated much of the rural talk this summer and fall, when widespread drought gripped much of the Midwest. Iowa State University agriculture experts predicted in July that corn yields could be about half of what would normally be expected. The latest federal estimates show that overall corn production in the United States dipped by more than 10 percent due to the lack of rain.
The drought drove up corn and soybean prices, which put a pinch on livestock producers who rely on the grains to feed their animals. Further, the State Fire Marshal’s office warned that a hot and dry period in July created “tinder box” conditions, in which a small fire could rapidly spread in rural areas. No such fires happened in the Carroll area. More than half of the state’s counties implemented a ban on the outdoor burning of trash and other debris without the use of a trash can or other container to keep the fires from spreading.
Carroll County cropland prices soared this year to a record high — for the second straight year — of more than $10,000 per acre as an unabated drought pushed grain prices to new records, an Iowa State University survey shows.
The value of the average Carroll farmland acre jumped 31 percent to about $10,400, the 17th-highest among Iowa counties, according to the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Iowa Land Value Survey.
This year was “one of the most remarkable years in Iowa land-value history,” wrote Mike Duffy, the ISU economics professor who conducts the survey.
The northwest quadrant of Iowa holds the highest-priced cropland, according to the ISU survey, with O’Brien County leading the pack with its $12,800 acre.
Average land values per acre for the counties that surround Carroll are: Sac, $11,072; Calhoun, $10,530; Crawford, $9,475; Greene, $9,206; Audubon, $9,215; and Guthrie, $8,220.
3. New Manning Hospital/Carroll McFarland Clinic Opening
Joined by more than a 100 community advocates, economic-development advocates and government officials, the Manning Regional Healthcare Center in July officially broke ground for a 62,000-square-foot hospital that is expected to be in operation in the summer of 2014. The 17-bed health-care facility will be a critical-access hospital that also can provide substance-abuse treatment for up to 16 patients in a partial residential setting. “To me, what is most important is that we are growing for the future, and we’re planning for the future, and not just Manning, but all the areas around us,” said Manning Regional Healthcare Center CEO John O’Brien. “The new facility that’s coming will be very flexible because none of us can tell what’s going to happen with health care over the next 15 or 20 years. I can tell you it’s going to change.”
The new 41,932-square-foot Carroll McFarland Clinic facility, which opened in October, represents a $7.4 million commitment by the McFarland Carroll physicians to provide improved access and a patient-friendly clinic. The new clinic in southern Carroll nearly doubles the size of the two former McFarland Clinic offices..
“We are excited to be building this new clinic to better serve the needs of our patients,” said Dr. John Evans, family medicine physician and department chairman for the McFarland Carroll Office. “We have heard directly from our patients the desire for improved parking, access and a more comfortable, private environment.”
4. Wall Lake Icon Passes
The smooth familiar lyrics of “Moon River” that strolled up to the ears of millions for decades have their origins in Wall Lake. Andy Williams, Wall Lake native and international music superstar, made “Moon River” his signature song decades ago. In recent years, keeping a tireless schedule, Williams delighted crowds of fans at the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre in Branson, Mo., with a playlist of American treasures. “I know what kind of an effect it has on the audience, and I know what kind of an effect it has on me every time I sing it,” Williams said of “Moon River” and other classics such as the “The Hawaiian Wedding Song” during a 1997 interview with The Daily Times Herald. Williams died in September at his home in Branson following a year-long battle with cancer. He was 84.
5. The Bizarre Case of Jonathan Elwell
Perhaps the most perplexing story of this past year was that of a 44-year-old Pennsylvania man who drove more than 1,100 miles to Carroll in one April day, bought an iced tea and ditched his rental car on a gravel road near Westside. His body was found about two months later near a railway about a mile away.
On April 20, the sheriff’s office towed Jonathan Elwell’s car from a gravel road two miles west of Westside.
Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters searched ditches, creeks and farmland near where Elwell’s rental car was found, but they saw no evidence of the man.
Star 1 Search and Rescue, a Story County-based team of volunteers who assist with missing-person searches across the state, canvassed the area again, but their search didn’t extend to where the body was found.
Elwell suffered from depression and had mostly cut ties from his family for the prior two years. His body had no obvious clues of what killed him, and officials have not released an official cause of death.
“Although we still — and probably always will — have unanswered questions about how he came to this place and this end, we are grateful that we will be able to bring him home to rest,” his family said in a statement after Elwell’s body was found.
6. Bank Robberies
Area banks were on alert early this year when a Wall Lake couple robbed four banks in three months in Early, Lytton, Odebolt and Vail.
Jeffrey Schoon, 48, admitted this month in federal court that he went into the banks and demanded money. He threatened to use a gun — and in one case, a Molotov cocktail — to force bank tellers to comply.
His wife, Roxena L. Schoon, 40, also admitted this month in court to her role in the string of robberies. She drove the getaway car.
The couple stole a total of about $33,000.
Jeffrey Schoon’s daughter, Brittany Schoon, 17, told investigators about the schemes after Sac County Sheriff’s deputies searched the Schoons’ house and found a $20 bill that matched one stolen in one of the robberies and clothes that matched those used by the robber.
The Schoons drove to Las Vegas after the Vail robbery and married so that they wouldn’t be required to testify against each other if arrested. Her previous surname was Doyle.
A federal judge has yet to determine how much time the Schoons will spend in federal prison, where there is no parole.
7. School Days
Several local schools experienced big changes during 2012.
Coon Rapids-Bayard spent $3.1 million on a new addition at its building in Coon Rapids. The addition moved pre-kindergarten through second grade to the building, which means the entire school district is now operating out of one building. The change is expected to save the district between $50,000 and $60,000 annually in transportation and general upkeep costs, according to Superintendent Rich Stoffers.
Coon Rapids-Bayard also received 120 new computers through a grant from Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids.
The Ar-We-Va School District also moved its students into one school after building on to its facility in Westside. The addition cost about $2 million and gave space to pre-kindergarten through fifth grades. The addition also included a new weight room, a library and a multipurpose room.
The Rockwell City-Lytton and Southern Calhoun School Districts decided they will hold a vote on Feb. 5 to consolidate the districts into the South Central Calhoun Community School District. The decision was made after a few years of the two schools whole-grade sharing and joining forces in sports. The new district will combine its two five-member boards into one seven-member school board. The district is expecting to receive $750,000 in state funding during a three-year period for consolidating.
The Carroll Community School District has voted to hire an architect to look at building an addition to its Carroll Middle School. The vote came after Fairview Elementary ran out of space because the school took on more than 100 4-year-olds for its preschool program. If the district moves forward with the Middle School addition, it’s expected that fifth-grade students will attend class at the middle school and third-grade students will be moved to Adams Elementary.
In 2012, Glidden-Ralston decided it will share its new superintendent, and possibly some classes, with Paton-Churdan after being approached by the district. Glidden-Ralston is in the process of choosing a new superintendent, because the current superintendent, Dave Haggard, was hired in an interim position. The new superintendent will be at Paton-Churdan one day per week and at Glidden-Ralston the rest of the time. Glidden-Ralston is in charge of choosing the new superintendent and will hold his or her contract.
8. The Crime Beat
This year also saw its fair share of crime.
A Breda man, Chad Daniel, 37, was sentenced this month to up to 40 years in prison for the serial sex abuse of five children, one of whom he had sexual intercourse with. Court records showed that the children were all younger than 12 at the time of the crimes. He had faced 24 felony charges from sex crimes that dated back to June 2011. “The defendant is a 37-year-old person who was engaged in long-term, systematic, serial abuse of five different children,” Carroll County Attorney John Werden said at Daniel’s sentencing hearing. “He has affected their lives. Their lives will continue to be affected for many years. At age 37 we think it is appropriate that Mr. Daniel never breathe free air again. We think he should be in prison for the rest of his life.”
The Carroll Taco John’s owner, Dan Salem, 61, pleaded guilty in July to offering a woman money for sex — the second time he was arrested for the crime in the past six years. He received a suspended prison sentence.
A Kiron woman, Mary Brodersen, 45, was sentenced to 44 days in jail for 93 animal-neglect charges — for the 87 dogs, five dead pups and one cat found January in a wooden shed on the woman’s acreage near Kiron. The animals were crammed into cages without food, water or heat for an unspecified amount of time. The cages were stacked, and many of the dogs were covered with urine and feces.
A Manning man, David Wurr, 56, fired a gun in the direction of sheriff’s deputies in an 11-hour, overnight standoff at his house in March. He suffered from an undisclosed mental illness and died while he awaited trial on felony charges for the standoff from cancer.
A Glidden man, Albert Wolfe, 20, was arrested in November for allegedly spray-painting obscene language on much of the Carroll Skate Park in October. A 14-year-old Carroll girl allegedly helped him. Someone reported the obscene skate-park language — which included swear words and racial and sexual slanders in black and purple paint — the morning of Oct. 25, and the city’s parks department paid an estimated $500 to scrub it from the concrete that afternoon. Wolfe’s criminal case has not concluded in court.
9. A Year of Politics
It was a big year for politics in the Carroll area. U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, earned re-election to a sixth-term in the sweeping new Fourth District in a hotly contested race with Democrat Christie Vilsack, Iowa’s former first lady. The race featured a high-profile, late-October debate at the Santa Maria Winery in Carroll broadcast statewide on Iowa Public Television. Carroll Mayor Adam Schweers created something of a local political firestorm when, weeks into his job at City Hall, he announced a bid for the Iowa Senate as a Republican. After earning the designation of political “superstar” from Gov. Terry Branstad, who campaigned in Carroll for Schweers in the Republican primary, Schweers lost to the more seasoned Mark Segebart, a long-time Crawford County Supervisor. Segebart, a Vail Republican, defeated Carroll Democrat Mary Bruner in the general election.
Early in the year, Carroll County voters rewarded former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with a local win in the Iowa Caucuses. Santorum campaigned aggressively in the Carroll area.
10. St. Lawrence Improvements and Expansion
In the renovated church, parishioners can experience a taste of heaven. In the new fellowship hall and narthex, church-goers are enjoying enriched community spirit.
Those observations underscore pride in projects at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Carroll, where Bishop R. Walker Nickless of the Sioux City Diocese conducted a blessing ceremony in May. Nickless celebrated Mass and then led the procession from the church to the narthex, family room and Collison Hall. Following the celebration, Nickless praised St. Lawrence Parish for both the church renovation and fellowship hall/narthex building addition. The project was completed in the parish’s Second Century Campaign, which kicked off with a donation from longtime St. Lawrence parishioner Richard Collison. He donated 75 acres of land a couple miles east of Glidden that he and his late wife, Maxine, owned. The land sold for nearly $480,000.
The Second Century project totals about $3.1 million, including $2.3 million for the new construction and $480,000 for the renovation.
— St. Anthony Regional Hospital officials named long-time executive Ed Smith as president and chief executive of the Catholic health-care institution in September.
— Carroll Fire Chief Greg Schreck marked 25 years as chief in 2012. Firemen just elected him to another year in that leadership post.
— A California-based surveillance drone manufacturer, AirCover Intergrated Solutions, on Nov. 11 officially started operations in Carroll at a facility west of U.S. 71-north.
— The City of Carroll opened a new six-court tennis complex in Graham Park in October.
— Mount Carmel native, Scott Siepker, trading on his Internet “Iowa Nice” guy fame, earned spots on ESPN where he showcased a trademark snark.
— Long-time Carroll car dealer Lou Walsh sold his dealership to Motor Inn Auto Group in December.
— Casey’s General Stores opened a new location in Carroll just southwest of the U.S. 30/Grant Road intersection and renovated its second location in the central business district.
— Kuemper Catholic High School alum Nick Nurse served as a coach for the British Men’s Olympic Basketball team — and had a conversation with the queen.
— Culver’s restaurant opened in the Carroll Depot Business Center in August.