by: FILE PHOTOS - The year 2013 saw a variety of headlines from the start of the Interstate 5 Interchange Project (top right), heralded in by local government officials to one of Oregon's largest animal neglect cases (bottom right) to an eventful summer, including the 50th Fiesta Mexicana, a protest and a murder, as featured in the Aug. 7 issue (left).2013 will likely go down in Woodburn history as the year of the Interstate 5 Interchange Project. But other milestones were reached, like the 50th Fiesta Mexicana, and many headlines of a criminal or tragic nature dominated the news.

Here’s a look back at the past year’s top stories for the Woodburn area.

Neglected dogs seized from shelter

The year 2013 opened with one of the largest animal abuse cases in Oregon’s history. On Jan. 13, Marion County deputies and Oregon Humane Society workers discovered 149 malnourished dogs at Brooks’ Willamette Valley Animal Rescue.

The dogs were living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions but all have since recovered. Police arrested the organization’s president Alicia Inglish, of Salem, secretary and board member Amanda Oakley, also of Salem and board member Merissa Noonan, of Woodburn. The trio awaits trial in August and each faces 51 counts of animal neglect II.

Former St. Luke priest pleads guilty

Seven months after allegations of sex abuse were levied against St. Luke Catholic Church’s Rev. Angel Perez, he pleaded guilty in Marion County Circuit Court on April 1. The priest had been arrested in August 2012 and charged with sex abuse I, DUII and two counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor. Perez, who had been at St. Luke since 2008, was sentenced to a minimum of six years, three months. St. Luke has moved on, bringing on a new priest in Rev. James Coleman in July.

Donald boy killed in accidental shooting

In April, the small town of Donald was rocked by the death of Cody Hall Erickson, a 4-year-old who was killed at home by a gunshot wound. Cody had accessed a loaded handgun stored in an unlocked gun case when he was supposed to be napping. No charges were filed in the incident. Donald dubbed May 26, which would have been Cody’s 5th birthday, as Cody Hall Erickson Day.

Vandalism sprees plague The Estates

The Estates has been the target for two vandalism sprees this year, first in June and then in December. The first time, nearly 30 cases were reported to police, including incidents of spray paint on houses, lug nuts removed from four vehicles and brake lines cut on three cars. December’s crime spree was of a smaller scale, with at least 14 incidents reported, including cases of spray paint on houses, cable cords cut and lawn furniture strewn over the golf course. Police don’t believe the vandalism is gang-related, but The Estates is looking at increasing security.

North Marion grad drowns in Molalla River

On June 30, former Hubbard resident Andrew Moats, 19, met an untimely death while tubing on the Molalla River with two friends, also North Marion graduates. The 2011 grad was pinned down by underwater tree roots.

I-5 interchange project begins

After years of anticipation, Woodburn’s Interstate 5 interchange finally got the start of a makeover in 2013. The groundbreaking ceremony July 29 capped off the four-year construction project that costs $70 million. The project, expected to be completed in 2016, focuses on new on- and off-ramps, widened roads, a sound wall and more.

Businesses uneasy with Highway 99E robberies

This year saw multiple armed robberies at businesses along Highway 99E in Woodburn. What started in July at Casa Mexico escalated in September, and police have struggled to find a suspect due to lack of surveillance. Only one alleged perpetrator has been arrested: Richard Young, 53, was arrested Nov. 27 in connection with the robbery of Crossroads Deli on Nov. 1. He is not believed to have been connected to the other robberies, according to police.

Four arrested in Woodburn murder case

Juan Pedro Bravo Luna, 23, was stabbed to death in his apartment on James Street in Woodburn Aug. 4. Police arrested three men in connection with the case on Sept. 3: Juan Torres-Santizo, charged with attempted murder, Felipe Torres-Morales and Gaspar Torres-Morales, the last two being charged as material witnesses. A fourth suspect, Mateo Torres-Morales, was arrested a couple weeks later and charged with murder. Both Bravo Luna and his alleged assailant were farmworkers. The suspects are all being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and will face trial in March, except for Torres-Santizo, whose trial is scheduled for February.

Gervais School District moves to one campus

After failing to pass a bond in the November 2012 election, Gervais School District decided to take out a loan, keep three of its buildings on the market to sell and continue toward consolidating its district onto one campus. The new campus was unveiled at the opening of the school year, with elementary school students not having to be bused to Eldriedge and Brooks elementary schools miles from Gervais. Those two schools consolidated to become Gervais Elementary School, located at the old middle school. The new middle school moved closer the high school, and Douglas Avenue Alternative School changed its name to Samuel Brown Academy and moved into a modular by the district office. The district is currently devising plans on selling both Eldriedge and Brooks and has said its general fund is increasing by $789,600 due to consolidation of services. As a result, the district eliminated 2.4 licensed, 1 confidential and 1.6 classified full-time employees effective June 30, 2013.

Gervais brothers arrested for Woodburn man’s murder

In September, two Gervais residents were arrested for the murder of 23-year-old Charlie Rivera, of Woodburn. Rivera was found shot in a vehicle parked at Londonaire Apartments in Salem early Sept. 7. He died later that evening at Salem Hospital. The brothers, Eddie and Lorenzo Lopez, ages 23 and 22, respectively, were discovered by Independence police six days after the shooting. A trial date has not yet been set.

CAPACES unveils Woodburn’s first mural

by: FILE PHOTO - Crowds gathered for the unveiling of Woodburn's first public mural at CAPACES Leadership Institute in September.

A year after Woodburn City Council approved a mural ordinance, CAPACES Leadership Institute applied for a mural and was granted permission. A mere two months later, in September, the institute unveiled Woodburn’s first public mural, which encompassed four sides of the building and was themed “Farmworkers’ Struggles.” Dozens of community volunteers and even volunteers from outside Woodburn worked together under the leadership of California-based artist and designer Juanishi Orosco.

Gervais boy killed by train

Gervais also dealt with the untimely death of a young man when 13-year-old Diego Rodriguez was struck by an Amtrak train Oct. 15. Although no one else was injured, even though the train was carrying 65 passengers and Diego had been accompanied by a friend, the town was shaken, with as many as nine grief counselors in the schools at a time. The community immediately rallied together to support the family, raising considerably more than $1,000 at a fundraiser the following weekend. The incident also sparked more discussion among leaders in the city and schools as to what can be done to increase railroad safety.

Two guilty pleas in 2012 murder case

Daniel Nepomuceno and Mark Camarena were arrested in September 2012 shortly after the murder of Michael McGovern on Hardcastle Avenue. Both entered a guilty plea in October this fall to avoid trial. Nepomuceno, who is alleged to have pulled the trigger that killed McGovern, was sentenced to life and Camarena, who was allegedly driving, has yet to be sentenced.

Leadership changes

The year saw an unusual rate of turnover when it came to city and school leadership.

In Woodburn, city councilor Horst Raustein resigned in May. Teresa Alonso Leon was sworn in to replace him in August, becoming Woodburn’s third Hispanic city councilor.

Also in the Woodburn city, Public Works Director Dan Brown was fired without cause in August, citing different leadership styles. Randy Scott, a city employees from the water division, has been acting Public Works director ever since, with a new director planned to be hired in the coming months.

Woodburn schools also saw a slight change in leadership. In February, Superintendent David Bautista announced he would leave in April to serve as an assistant superintendent for the Oregon State Department of Education. His replacement was Chuck Ransom, a longtime leader in the school district who has served as coach, teacher, principal and curriculum director.

Ransom’s curriculum position was taken over by Laurie Cooper, who most recently had served as principal of North Marion Middle School. Barb Keeton was hired into that position in August when it was vacated by Cooper.

St. Paul School District also saw a leadership shift. Sid Hobgood, superintendent and high school principal, resigned in the summer, making way for Joe Wehrli to take over as superintendent. Since Wehrli took over elementary principalship, Wes Owens was hired to become the high school principal.

Although it hasn’t happened yet, Rick Hensel, superintendent of Gervais School District, announced in November his intent to resign at the end of the school year.

Gervais city will also see a change in leadership with city manager Sam Sasaki having stepped down at the end of the year. City Recorder Susie Zwemke is assuming that role effective today.

Mount Angel City Hall underwent a change this year, with Susan Muir, city administrator, resigning to take a position with League of Oregon Cities. This made way for?Eileen Stein, who was most recently city manager of Sisters, to step in on July 1.

Aurora’s city government certainly has had its share of changes, with four of its six positions having turnover, mostly due to retirements. However, the city’s mayor resigned in August after getting a DUII in Canby. City council president Bill Graupp stepped up to serve as mayor.

Lastly, the executive director of the Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce, Don Judson, announced in August he and his wife, Rhonda, who serves as the chamber’s office manager, would be retiring in December. The chamber will announce its new executive director at its annual meeting?Jan. 10.

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