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Archive for Sunday, December 29, 2002

2002 ushers in highs, lows in area

December 29, 2002

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Here's a month-by-month look at the events that, for us, shaped 2002.

January

January was a month for political battles as Kansas legislators sweated at the budget chopping block and insurance companies introduced a controversial merger.

Kansas University and the Lawrence public school district grappled with state budget cuts in what proved to be a yearlong process, while Kansas Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius heard testimony concerning the sale of Blue Cross and Blue Shield to Anthem Insurance Cos.

State legislators were greeted with protests when the session began Jan. 14. Lawmakers faced a projected $426 million budget gap for the 2003 fiscal year. Gov. Bill Graves proposed a $228 million tax increase to ease the budget whammy on public schools.

Meanwhile, policyholders of Blue Cross of Kansas voted in favor of the company's sale to Indiana-based Anthem. The Jan. 15 vote put the largest insurance deal in state history in the hands of Sebelius, who later in the year would be elected governor.

While state legislators had their hands full slashing the budget, later in the month city and county officials were charged with ironing out the controversy surrounding road improvements on 31st Street. A consultant's preliminary report priced the construction at $4.85 million.

On Jan. 4, a Costa Rican woman, Katia Vanesa Cruz Murillo, 27, was detained in connection with the 2001 slaying of KU student Shannon Martin.

Inclement weather forced closing of the KU campus for only the ninth time in 30 years, when up to five inches of sleet and snow fell in Lawrence, making roadways too dangerous for travel during the last two days of the month.

February

The Jayhawks celebrated their win over Oregon and their advancement
to the Final Four in Atlanta. The Jayhawks lost in the Final Four
to eventual national champion Maryland, 97-88, but before the
season-ending loss tournament victories over Oregon, Illinois,
Stanford and Holy Cross gave fans a lot to cheer about. And even
before the NCAA Tournament, KU posted a perfect 16-0 league record,
the first time in Big 12 history that has happened.

The Jayhawks celebrated their win over Oregon and their advancement to the Final Four in Atlanta. The Jayhawks lost in the Final Four to eventual national champion Maryland, 97-88, but before the season-ending loss tournament victories over Oregon, Illinois, Stanford and Holy Cross gave fans a lot to cheer about. And even before the NCAA Tournament, KU posted a perfect 16-0 league record, the first time in Big 12 history that has happened.

For many Lawrence-area residents, February was a month best forgotten.

For starters, more than 2,100 Westar Energy customers were without electricity, a consequence of the late-January ice storm that caused more than $600,000 in damages.

On Feb. 15, 500 workers at the Sprint PCS Customer Service Center in the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza were told the center would be closed and their jobs eliminated in late May. Company officials blamed the closing on the nation's sluggish economy.

Three days later, a fire at Coach Light Apartments, 1002 W. 24th St., killed resident Janet Murphy, 59. An additional 20 residents were forced to seek other accommodations.

Throughout the month, Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway and USD 497 Supt. Randy Weseman warned the community of dire consequences of deep spending cuts proposed by a cash-strapped Legislature.

At the time, KU had been told to cut its spending by 4 percent, and Weseman and school board members were looking for ways to carve $3 million from the district's budget.

Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius on Feb. 11 rejected Indiana-based Anthem Insurance Co.'s bid to buy the state's largest health insurance company, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, for $190 million.

Nine days later, company officials announced plans to appeal Sebelius' decision.

KU Continuing Education brought the Langston Hughes Symposium to Lawrence, honoring the hometown author and poet with four days of events. Actor Danny Glover addressed a Feb. 7 assembly at Central Junior High School en route to headlining a reading of Hughes' poetry at the Lied Center. More than 2,000 people attended "An Evening with Langston."

Bluegrass pioneers Jim and Jesse McReynolds and their band made a Feb. 9-10 appearance at the first annual Free State Music Festival at the Lawrence Holidome.

A winter landscape of sun-struck ice reached as far as the eye
could see as a KU student began a long climb to campus up 14th
Street in January. Inclement weather forced school closings on KU's
campus for only the ninth time in 30 years, when up to five inches
of sleet and snow fell in Lawrence, making roadways too dangerous
for travel.

A winter landscape of sun-struck ice reached as far as the eye could see as a KU student began a long climb to campus up 14th Street in January. Inclement weather forced school closings on KU's campus for only the ninth time in 30 years, when up to five inches of sleet and snow fell in Lawrence, making roadways too dangerous for travel.

The KU men's basketball team clinched the Big 12 title Feb. 24, defeating Nebraska 88-87 in Lincoln.

March

Only two questions matter in March: How soon is it going to get warm and how hot are the Jayhawks going to get?

Kansas University's basketball team didn't disappoint. Oh sure, the Jayhawks lost in the Final Four, 97-88, to Maryland, but before the season-ending loss, victories over Oregon, Illinois, Stanford and Holy Cross gave fans a lot to cheer about.

And even before the NCAA tournament, KU ended league play in March with a perfect record, the first time in Big 12 history. And they did it with a final victory over Missouri.

When the Jayhawks fell to Maryland on March 30, KU battled back from a 20-point deficit to within five with 2:04 remaining, but couldn't get closer.

A snowstorm blanketed Kansas the first days of the month, including two inches in Lawrence that felt like more as strong winds piled the snow in deep drifts.

Republican Tim Shallenburger started the month by marching through 46 towns on a tour announcing his bid for the Governor's Office.

Miss Kansas Lindsey Douglas, a Kansas University student, was first runner-up in the Miss USA competition; a Leon high school biology teacher was criticized for his plan to feed puppies to the class's pet boa constrictor; and the 40th anniversary passed of one of the most stunning achievements in basketball -- KU alum Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in the NBA.

As March progressed, Kim Wilcox, executive director of the Kansas Board of Regents, announced he was applying to be KU's dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a job he eventually got.

In city government, Mayor Mike Rundle passed the baton of leadership to Sue Hack.

In Topeka, the Legislature was stuck in the ditch, fighting about taxes and cuts and starting the move toward splitting Lawrence between two congressional districts. Anticipating bad news from the legislative session, the Lawrence school board adopted $4.7 million in cuts and fee increases.

April

Kansas University's most successful men's basketball season in nearly a decade was over by the time April rolled around, but the Jayhawks still provided one of the biggest stories of the month.

All-American Drew Gooden, leader of the Jayhawks' Final Four team, announced late in the month he would forgo his senior season of eligibility and enter the NBA draft. He did so with the support of coach Roy Williams, and promised to still earn his college degree.

The environment was a hot topic, too. American Rivers, a Washington D.C.-based group dedicated to protecting the nation's rivers and enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act, declared the Kansas River to be one of the nation's 11 most endangered waterways. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. came to Kansas later in the month to promote efforts to reduce pollution in the Kaw.

In the Baker Wetlands, state archaeologists said they were unable to find graves of American Indians along a proposed route of the South Lawrence Trafficway. Trafficway opponents had said road construction would disturb the graves; American Indian advocates said the state showed disrespect by searching for the graves in the first place.

The Lawrence school district's woes continued. The district laid off 65 educators to meet the demands of a shrinking budget, and school officials said they wouldn't cooperate with a private fund-raising drive to keep the teachers employed.

Financial woes also contributed to the closing of Hannah's House. The group home for pregnant teens had been open for 12 years.

In the annals of crime, the fortress-like Douglas County Jail saw its first escape since it opened in 1999. Vernon Folks, 29, Eudora, escaped through a door used by work-release prisoners. He was serving a six-month sentence for misdemeanor convictions of fleeing and eluding police and battery. Folks was later recaptured.

Doug Compton, owner of First Management Inc. watched the May 18
fire that destroyed a nearly finished 21 unit building at Chase
Court Apartments, 1942 Stewart Ave. Two occupied apartment
buildings were damaged in the blaze. A thick column of black smoke
and flames could be seen for miles. No one was injured.

Doug Compton, owner of First Management Inc. watched the May 18 fire that destroyed a nearly finished 21 unit building at Chase Court Apartments, 1942 Stewart Ave. Two occupied apartment buildings were damaged in the blaze. A thick column of black smoke and flames could be seen for miles. No one was injured.

And after Clarence Rinke's 1999 shooting death in Jefferson County had gone unsolved for three years, authorities finally brought charges in the crime. Collin Cady, Noah Gleason and Charlotte Bennett all were charged in connection with Rinke's death.

May

Early in May, reports surfaced that the Rev. Dennis Schmitz, a Catholic priest who once lived and worked in Lawrence, was under investigation for sexual misconduct. Several weeks later he would face charges in Douglas and Nemaha counties.

As the school year drew to a close, more than a dozen Lawrence High School seniors were suspended from school and banned from participating in Senior Week activities for hazing sophomores.

The Kansas Legislature agreed to a plan that would split Lawrence between the 3rd and 2nd congressional districts. The division was mainly along Iowa Street.

The Legislature also struck an agreement with Kansas Gov. Bill Graves for imposing a $250 million tax package to try to shore the treasury against the state's budget crunch.

A spectacular afternoon fire May 18 destroyed an apartment building under construction at Chase Court, 1942 Stewart Ave. Two occupied apartment buildings were damaged in the blaze. A thick column of black smoke and flames could be seen for miles. No one was injured.

The Kansas Department of Transportation announced it was going ahead with plans for the South Lawrence Trafficway. But approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the road still was lacking.

Grant School dismissed classes and closed its doors for the last time. Current and former students, parents and teachers gathered for a celebration to honor the school's history.

Lawrence Police chased a man on foot in the 1600 block of Davis Road after receiving a complaint about him. The 57-year-old Lawrence man eventually was caught. His crime? Pulling up someone's petunias.

Democratic governor-elect Kathleen Sebelius celebrates her victory
in the November election with supporters at the Holidome in Topeka.
This year Kansas voters did something they hadn't done for nearly a
decade -- elect a Democrat as governor. Sebelius became the first
Democrat to hold the state's top office since Joan Finney by
beating GOP candidate Tim Shallenburger, 53 percent to 45 percent.

Democratic governor-elect Kathleen Sebelius celebrates her victory in the November election with supporters at the Holidome in Topeka. This year Kansas voters did something they hadn't done for nearly a decade -- elect a Democrat as governor. Sebelius became the first Democrat to hold the state's top office since Joan Finney by beating GOP candidate Tim Shallenburger, 53 percent to 45 percent.

The Lawrence community was stunned when it learned someone had stolen 83-year-old Sarah Miller's purse from her car on Memorial Day weekend while she was a short distance away at the graves of her husband and infant son in Oak Hill Cemetery.

June

The five candidates for governor -- Republicans Fred Kerr, Dan Bloom, Bob Knight and Tim Shallenburger and Democrat Kathleen Sebelius -- gathered June 2 at the News Center in Lawrence for their first joint debate.

Sue Neustifter, register of deeds, retired after 43 years working in the office. She oversaw the office as it went from the typewriter era to computer scanning.

Teachers in the Lawrence public schools received a 5 percent raise despite the state budget crunch. The raises cost the district $2.5 million for the 900 teachers. Kansas University faculty and staff, meanwhile, didn't receive raises.

KU also announced it would close the public area of its Museum of Anthropology, a section of the Kansas Geological Survey and discontinue a team that removes asbestos, as well as eliminating 22 filled and 32 unfilled staff positions.

Lynn Parman, vice president of business development for the St. Joseph, Mo., Chamber of Commerce, was introduced as the director of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. She replaced Debi Moore, who resigned in February for health reasons.

Data released by the U.S. Census showed that Douglas County had the nation's sixth-highest percentage of adults with at least a bachelor's degree.

Kansans grieved the death of Martin Burnham, the missionary from Rose Hill who was held by Muslim rebels for a year in the Philippines. He was killed during a rescue attempt. His wife, Gracia, was rescued.

Three Topeka men were charged in connection with the death of Dale Alan Miller, whose body was found in April 2001 off East 225 Road, just north of North 2190 Road.

George "Pete" Wallace and Wyona Chandlee were found slain in their
home at 1530 Learnard Ave. on July 10. Damien Lewis was accused of
the killings, charged with capital murder, the first in Douglas
County since the death penalty was reinstated in Kansas in 1994.

George "Pete" Wallace and Wyona Chandlee were found slain in their home at 1530 Learnard Ave. on July 10. Damien Lewis was accused of the killings, charged with capital murder, the first in Douglas County since the death penalty was reinstated in Kansas in 1994.

Lawrence city commissioners voted to allow Lawrence Open Shelter Inc. to open St. John's School, 1208 Ky., in the summer to homeless residents -- even those who were intoxicated.

Dick Bond, a former Overland Park legislator, was appointed to the Kansas Board of Regents. Donna Shank of Liberal and James Grier of Wichita also were appointed.

Lawrence Police were scrutinized about the three-hour interrogation of Jason Hawkins, a 17-year-old McDonald's employee accused of putting lint in an officer's chicken strips.

The Memphis Grizzlies picked Drew Gooden fourth in the NBA draft, the best pick for a KU player since Raef LaFrentz was picked third by the Denver Nuggets in 1998.

KU students were bracing for a 25.2 percent tuition increase approved by the Kansas Board of Regents.

July

Lawrence was stunned in mid-July to learn of the double slaying of an elderly couple, George "Pete" Wallace and Wyona Chandlee, in their home at 1530 Learnard Ave. Police suspected the couple had interrupted a burglary.

The next week, Damien C. Lewis of Lawrence was charged with capital murder, the first time the charge had been filed in Douglas County since the Kansas death penalty was reinstated in 1994.

On July 3, a panel of federal judges upheld the Kansas Legislature's plan to split Lawrence between two congressional districts.

The Americans for the Arts of Washington, D.C., determined Lawrence's nonprofit arts industry generated $33.4 million in spending during 2000 and attracted about 550,000 people.

Nearly 3,000 people, including Kansas University students, wanting
to commemorate the anniversary of Sept. 11 gathered at the
Campanile Wednesday night to pay their respects to those who died
last year in the terrorist attacks.

Nearly 3,000 people, including Kansas University students, wanting to commemorate the anniversary of Sept. 11 gathered at the Campanile Wednesday night to pay their respects to those who died last year in the terrorist attacks.

Lawrence resident Chris Gallaway, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, admitted he had $18,000 in unpaid Topeka parking tickets.

Failure to file paperwork on time landed Haskell Indian Nations University on NAIA probation for the 2002-2003 school year.

Joseph Cramer, a retired geologist living in Denver, donated $1 million to Kansas University to finance research on Midwest artifacts at least 11,500 years old.

Kim Wilcox, executive director of the Kansas Board of Regents, became dean of KU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

KU shut down its study abroad program in Costa Rica. The decision came one year after KU student Shannon Martin was stabbed to death while completing research at the campus in Golfito.

At the end of the month, former KU basketball player Raef LaFrentz signed a seven-year, $69 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks.

August

August saw its share of disappointments and tragedies.

Levi Boothe, an 11-year-old boy from Iowa, died late Aug. 26 after being struck by a vehicle on the Kansas Turnpike near the Leavenworth County line. Police arrested his father, Raymond Boothe, and accused him of stabbing Levi with needle-nosed pliers and leaving him for dead on the side of the highway.

Police picked up Boothe after the man crashed his Dodge Neon into the yard of a home near 27th Street and Lawrence Avenue, in what was billed as an attempt to kill himself and his three surviving children.

Lawrence police shot and killed Drama, a pit bull terrier, after neighbors complained of the dog's aggressive behavior. The incident would add weight to efforts by Douglas County commissioners to seek tighter regulations on such dogs.

Davol Inc., a manufacturer of medical devices, announced it would close its Lawrence plant in March, pushing 130 people out of work. LaGarde Inc., a software-development firm with 27 employees, announced it would relocate to an office complex in Olathe.

Traci Pillard, a 21-year-old Kansas University student, survived being struck by lightning as she walked near Potter Lake during a thunderstorm.

Wal-Mart proposed plans for a new 200,000-square-foot Supercenter at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.

Gov. Bill Graves announced $41 million in budget cuts to help bridge a widening gap between expenses and tax revenues in state government.

Douglas County health officials confirmed a case of West Nile virus in a dead bird.

KU opened the Mark Mangino coaching era by losing its opener, 45-3, at Iowa State University.

Before opening his sixth season as a KU wide receiver, Harrison Hill quit the football team because of his problems with chronic dehydration.

September

September opened solemnly in Lawrence, as it did, no doubt, just about everywhere else in the world.

The reason: the approaching one-year anniversary of the stunning terrorist attacks against America on Sept. 11, 2001.

There was a city-sponsored memorial at Haskell Stadium, and about 1,500 people turned out for a candlelight memorial ceremony at Kansas University's Campanile.

But there were other important stories making headlines in September, too.

Federal authorities in Topeka opened an investigation into Westar Energy, capping a week of setbacks for the state's largest electrical utility.

The company was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in Topeka for documents and testimony related to the annual shareholder meeting and use of aircraft leased by Westar's subsidiaries.

School district consultants unveiled 10 options for upgrading or reorganizing Lawrence school buildings. Among the options were plans for at least $50 million in construction spending. Others would close six of the city's elementary schools.

Lawrence resident Heather Coulter, 24, a social worker noted for her work with children, died nearly a week after suffering injuries when she was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Iowa Street.

At Kansas University, budget cuts forced an additional 13 layoffs and the elimination of 38 vacant positions. Staff leaders said the cuts would further harm student services and the attitudes of KU employees.

On the brighter side, the school's football team recorded the first victory of the Mark Mangino era -- a 44-24 blowout of the Division I-AA Southwest Missouri State Bears at Memorial Stadium.

But Mangino later found himself in hot water after hundreds of spectators watched him chew out referees after a Lawrence High School football game at Haskell Stadium. Mangino later explained he was angry about a hard hit his son, Tommy, quarterback of the Lions, took during the contest against Olathe East.

October

October was a month of ups and downs.

Kansas University tore down a trio of dilapidated houses in the 1300 block of Ohio Street to make way for scholarship halls, ending a hotly contested debate about the historic value of the homes.

In Topeka, a 3,900-pound Kansa Indian statue ascended the Statehouse dome Oct. 7 only to come back down the same day because the bolts to hold it in place didn't line up correctly. "Ad Astra" went up to stay Oct. 10.

In the courts, a Douglas County judge sentenced the Rev. Dennis Schmitz to 32 months in prison after the former Lawrence priest pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a 15-year-old boy in the fall of 1998.

Ashleigh N. Juola, 17, was charged in the death of Lawrence social worker Heather Coulter. Juola allegedly struck Coulter with her car in late September as Coulter stood outside her stalled vehicle on Iowa Street.

Blocks away, another car accident ended less tragically. Fifteen-year-old Valerie J. Baum drove a Honda Accord through a plate glass window at Panera Bread Bakery, 520 W. 23rd St., narrowly missing a customer eating lunch inside. She told police her sandal got caught on the accelerator.

As drought continued to ravage the state, Douglas County farmers harvested below-average yields from their soybean fields, and area lakes and rivers dried to near-record low levels.

The Lawrence school board endorsed a plan that would close Centennial, East Heights and Riverside schools as part of districtwide improvements that will be rolled into a $50 million school bond issue Lawrence voters will weigh April 1.

The Lawrence City Commission banned fireworks, approved the less-restrictive of two versions of new floodplain regulations and rejected a plan by Wal-Mart to rezone land for a Supercenter at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.

Late Night with Roy Williams gave Jayhawk fans their first seasonal taste of Kansas basketball. KU alum Vernon Smith won the Nobel Prize in economics.

November

November is election time, and Kansas voters did something they hadn't done for nearly a decade -- elect a Democrat as governor.

Kathleen Sebelius became the first Democrat to hold the state's top office since Joan Finney by beating GOP candidate Tim Shallenburger, 53 percent to 45 percent.

Voters also elected Lawrence Republican Sandy Praeger as state insurance commissioner. Praeger will give up her seat in the state Senate to begin her new position.

Democrat Dennis Moore also narrowly defeated Republican Adam Taff to keep his 3rd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The state's attorney general's race, however, was too close to call on election night. It wasn't until a week later that state officials determined Republican Phill Kline had beaten Democrat Chris Biggs by 4,296 votes, or 0.523 percent.

Also on Election Day, state officials announced the state's budget was facing a $255 million shortfall because of lower-than-expected state revenues. Later in the month, outgoing Gov. Bill Graves ordered $78.1 million in cuts to help reduce the shortfall. Kansas University was expected to lose $9.4 million in state funding as a result of the cuts.

November also marked one of the most difficult months for Westar Energy, the state's largest utility. On Nov. 7, David Wittig, the company's president and chief executive, was charged, along with former Topeka banker Clinton Odell Weidner II, with defrauding Weidner's former bank on a $1.5 million loan.

By the end of the month, Wittig had resigned his post at Westar. Westar named Jim Haines, a former Westar executive who had left to lead a Texas electric company, as the company's new president and CEO.

On the Lawrence business front, NCS Pearson announced a project to expand its facility at the East Hills Business Park by 45,000 square feet. The expansion was expected to add 150 jobs at the company, which holds a variety of call center contracts for government agencies.

The month also showed how tough economic times had become in the area. For the second year in a row, the United Way of Douglas County failed to reach its goal of soliciting $1.46 million in donations to help finance area nonprofit organizations.

December

December brought bad news to friends and relatives of Shannon Martin, the 23-year-old Kansas University senior stabbed to death in May 2001 in Costa Rica. A man suspected in her killing was freed from jail for lack of evidence.

Officials with the Menninger Clinic in Topeka announced a deal had been reached for a partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and The Methodist Hospital in Houston, where the clinic will move. Kansas University had been a finalist to partner with the clinic.

Lawrence city officials unveiled plans to cut the 2003 city budget because of a $1.3 million shortfall in state funding. The city will eliminate newly created jobs and slow replacement of employees who resign or retire.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office announced they were taking a second look at the nearly 15-year-old case of a missing Linwood teenager. Randy Leach was never again seen or heard from after attending a party the night of April 15, 1988. A special task force was formed to investigate.

Ken and Patricia Meyer were startled one morning to discover someone had stolen the nativity scene they had set up in their yard in the 400 block of Cattleman Court. The nativity figures were recovered, however, a couple of days later.

More than 8,000 gallons of gasoline caused a mess on the Roger Pine farm north of Lawrence after a plow ruptured a pipeline. The incident resulted in a massive cleanup effort and concern for the below-ground water table.

The Kansas State Board of Education increased high school graduation requirements in science, math, fine arts and history and government, starting in the 2008-2009 academic year.

Douglas County District Judge Michael Malone ruled there was enough evidence to order Damien C. Lewis to be tried for capital murder and other charges in the shooting deaths of an elderly Lawrence couple in July.

Records showed that Lawrence district school teachers missed 10,000 days of class each of the past two years, or about 11 days each per school year.

Lawrence Police arrested a man suspected of burglarizing several apartments and stealing thousands of dollars in personal property. Police think the suspect was monitoring occupants of the apartments by sticking pieces of paper in the doors to determine if anyone was opening those doors.

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