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A look back at the top stories of the past year



Crook County underwent many newsworthy events throughout the last year, making it a challenge to whittle them all down to a top 10 list.

In doing so, the goal was to find the event or series of events that had the greatest impact on the community. Below is a summary of each of the 10 stories as reported in the Central Oregonian that left a major mark on the county in 2014.

1. City of Prineville fires Police Chief Eric Bush

The City of Prineville started the year in the midst of an investigation of its police chief Eric Bush. Having been put on paid leave in the fall of 2013, Bush was under investigation for undisclosed reasons. Despite repeated attempts from the Central Oregonian and other media outlet to learn the reasons behind the probe, city officials and staff kept quiet about the matter.

As the investigation passed the six-month mark, with Bush still receiving pay from the city, people began to raise questions and concerns about the investigation. City leaders expressed frustration over the matter, and stated that the process had drawn on much longer than anticipated.

In July, the public finally saw some action by the city as they fired the police chief. No explanation behind the decision was given at the time. The next day, Bush’s attorneys announced plans to sue the city for $2 million for wrongful termination, claiming it had much to do with his service as a brigadier general in the Oregon National Guard. The filed complaint revealed for the first time that Bush was investigated and fired over allegations that he misused flex time, city equipment, vehicles and gas cards, falsified time records, and had lost the trust and respect of members of the department.

The city hired retired Deschutes County Sheriff Les Stiles to serve as interim chief, and within a week, Police Captain Michael Boyd, who had served as interim chief in Bush’s absence, announced his retirement.

Despite publicly stating that it intended to defend the termination, the city was strongly advised by its insurance company to accept judgment and settle for $666,000, the maximum amount allowed by state law. Bush's lawsuit against the company that conducted the city's investigation of him — the Local Government Personnel Institute — continues.

Going into 2015, Stiles is completing a bottom-to-top best practices review and will help the city develop a profile for choosing a permanent chief. The city is also in the process of finding a new police captain.

2. Woodgrain lays off more than 200 workers

On Nov. 14, a section of the roof at the Woodgrain Millwork complex caved in as a result of an early season snowfall that blanketed the county.

The incident was serious enough to cause damage to the building’s water, power and gas lines and resulted in the closing of the plant for the day.

Crook County Fire and Rescue Fire Marshal Casey Kump remarked at the time of the collapse that since the incident occurred at 7 a.m. a disaster had been averted.

“We are talking about something that could be very dangerous,” he said at the time. “With a roof collapse, we are talking about a rescue of many people. It could have been real bad.”

But, damage to the building was serious enough that, two weeks later, most of the plant was still closed. Then, at a meeting at Carey Foster Hall, over 200 employees learned that they were losing their jobs.

“After analyzing the situation and the available options, the company has decided to cease many of the operations at the Prineville locations for the foreseeable future,” said Greg Easton, vice-president of the millwork division. “A significant portion of the workforce will be affected in the coming weeks.”

One hundred and 30 employees were laid off immediately, with another 85 workers retained through December.

Additionally, insurance benefits for those losing their jobs went away the day of the announcement on Nov. 25, two days before Thanksgiving.

The loss of 200 jobs to the local economy came in the wake of a slow, but steady recovery from the 2008 recession, when unemployment topped 20 percent. In October, the unemployment rate had improved to just over 10 percent.

In the days following the announcement, the local community rallied behind the workers, offering a major job fair and a number of help sessions organized by the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council.

Local food banks ramped up their inventories as best as possible, the Crook County Holiday Partnership provided gifts and food boxes, and Carriage Place opened their doors to affected families for Christmas dinner.

Woodgrain Millwork currently plans to continue to operate its MDF moulding line and pellet mill that were not impacted by the roof collapse.

3. Congress passes Bowman Dam bill

With 2014 drawing to a close, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Greg Walden announced that, after a five-year process, the long-awaited Bowman Dam bill had finally passed Congress.

The bill was first proposed to help Prineville and Crook County in a variety of ways. It would move the federal wild and scenic boundary on the Crooked River from atop Bowman Dam to a location a quarter-mile downriver, enabling construction of a hydroelectric power plant. In addition, it allocates 5,100-acre feet of water in Prineville Reservoir to the City of Prineville, providing the municipality enough water to supply growth throughout its urban growth boundary. Meanwhile, the bill provides more certainty to local irrigators and meets the needs of different environmentalist stakeholders.

The bill took several attempts to pass. Walden passed a bill unanimously in the House in 2012 and Merkley and Sen. Ron Wyden passed similar legislation in the Senate. However, neither bill managed to pass Congress as the Senate failed to take any action on the Walden’s bill and Merkley’s legislation never passed out of committee. Following the 2012 general election, Congress seats changed and Walden and Merkley were left having to start over passing new bills. The lawmakers did just that with Walden passing a nearly identical version of his House bill in early 2013. Merkley likewise passed a new Senate bill within the same timeframe.

With the bills so closely mirroring their 2012 versions, local leaders began to wonder as 2014 drew to a close whether or not the bills would pass or meet the same fate as before. They were pleasantly surprised when Congress passed them with days to spare before Congress left the Capitol for the holidays.

4. Wildfires surround Crook County

July’s weather filled the sky with lightning strikes resulting in wildfires that, at times, reduced visibility in Prineville and created hazardous air quality concerns.

This past summer saw a number of major fires surround the city, including the Waterman Complex near Mitchell that burned in excess of 11,000 acres, and the Ochoco Complex fire near Post and Paulina that exceeded 6,000.

To the west, the Bridge 99 fire outside of Sisters burned as did the Shaniko Fire and Logging Unit fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

The fires in the Ochocos were severe enough that U.S. Highway 26 was closed for a number of days, stretching for almost 20 miles between Prineville and Mitchell.

Crook County School District facilities came into play as the high school served as a shelter for Mitchell residents and the middle school was transformed into a command post for the Great Basic Incident Management Team 6, responsible for managing the Ochoco Complex.

September remained at high risk, seeing fires near John Day, Hells Canyon and Ashland, even as full containment was achieved for the Ochoco and Waterman complex fires.

Local authorities rated this past summer fire activity as one of the busiest in recent years.

“On average here in Central Oregon, we might have two incident management teams in a year,” said Lisa Clark with the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch. “This year we hosted 17 teams.

According to Clark, the region experienced 482 fires, well above the 10-year average of 363, with a total acreage burned exceeding 480,000.

Patrick Lair, public affairs specialist with the Ochoco National Forest, said that significant lightning through the month of July kept fire fighters busy.

“It seems like the fire season started a month earlier than normal,” said Lair. “At one point we had two incident management teams operating at the same time, which is unheard of in this area.”

In late October, the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Central Oregon District announced that the 2014 wildfire season on state-protected lands had come to an end.

The announcement lifted all fire season-related rules on the 2.2 million acres of private and public forest and rangeland in 10 counties in the region.

5. New school and hospital

By the fall of 2015, two major construction projects underway in Prineville will open their doors for business.

In September, the Crook County School District will welcome students to Barnes Butte Elementary, a 700-student capacity grade school built as a result of a 2013 $33 million school bond.

In the fall of 2015, Ochoco Elementary will close its doors permanently while Crooked River will remain open for one more year pending completion of renovations at Cecil Sly. In the fall of 2016, Cecil Sly will reopen and Crooked River will close.

The new school will be approximately 73,000 square feet and incorporate a pod configuration of classrooms, something the district describes as “a grouping of classrooms surrounding a central 'community' room pod.”

The seven pods in the school will be named after geological sites, creeks and rivers in Crook County.  The upstairs pods will be named Summit Prairie, Grizzly Mountain and Lookout Mountain while the downstairs pods will be called Crooked River, Ochoco Creek, McKay Creek and Beaver Creek.  The school will also include a library with a computer room, a music room and a full-size gym with a court surface. The school’s mascot will be the “Badgers” and its colors will be black and silver.

Over 40 sub-contractors are involved in the construction including local companies American Sprinkler, 7 Peaks Paving, Fab Tec, Gowdy Brothers Electrical, Shamrock Northwest, Miller Lumber and Vernan Crane Service.

Since June, progress at the construction site has been viewable via a web-based camera. Every 10 to 20 minutes, during daylight, an image is uploaded to the web and can be seen on the district’s web page. Go to crookcounty.k12.or.us, click on the “About Us/Capital Projects” tab and follow the link to “Live Elementary Cam.”

There are no definite plans yet announced as to the disposition of the Ochoco and Crooked River Elementary school sites.

A drive south from the site of the school on Combs Flat Road and across Third Street reaches Prineville’s other major construction project – St. Charles Hospital of Prineville.

Its own $30 million project, the new hospital will feature 62,000 square feet and offer a wide range of patient, family and visitor services, including primary care and specialty care clinics, emergency department, lab, radiology and rehab. The facility will contain 16 single-occupancy patient rooms, enough, according to St. Charles, to meet demand 99 percent of the time. The hospital will also include a clinic with 10 available doctors.

Renovations of the existing Prineville Memorial Hospital were deemed prohibitive at an expected price tag of almost $50 million.

With the hospital, St. Charles Health System will have a facility that offers a “transition from a medical model to a team-based, integrated patient-centered care model.”

The design eliminates individual physician offices in favor of central work and lounge spaces for the entire patient-care team. The traditional patient waiting area has been replaced with a concierge-style patient greeting desk and the public area includes seating and a café, which may also be used for community events and gatherings.

The project was initially delayed due to groundwater contamination issues that surfaced when the city began digging test pits for extending the city’s sewer line project to the site.

6. High school powerhouses

Two local high school powerhouse sports teams saw different results this past year while they were vying for a state title. The Crook County High School volleyball team saw their impressive state championship streak snapped at eight, while the Cowboy wrestling team won its second straight state title in record-breaking fashion.

Of the 23 Cowboys who qualified for the state championships, five won state titles, 11 reached the weight-class finals, and 20 placed in the tournament. In addition, the Cowboys shattered the tournament scoring record by more than 100 points, scoring 406.5 points. The point-total is one of the highest scores in U.S. history, besting Graham High School, of St. Paris, Ohio, which had the previous highest score of 404.5 points. The Cowboys had already eclipsed the state record by the end of the championship semi-finals Saturday morning.

The Cowboys look poised for another dominant running this year, having placed high at early prestigious tournaments drawing teams from throughout multiple states.

The Crook County High School volleyball team went into the OSAA Class 4A State Championships riding a streak of eight straight state titles. Sporting one of the youngest teams in the state with just three seniors, seven sophomores and two freshmen on the varsity roster, the team was unable to make it nine in a row, losing to eventual champion Sister in the semi-final round of the tournament. The team rebounded the next day to easily defeat Marshfield and finish third.

The Cowgirls started the year by going undefeated at the Summit Jamboree. However once the season officially started, the team struggled to an 0-4 start. They then rebounded from the slow start, winning 20 of their final 24 contests.

The team is hoping to start a new streak next year with nine varsity members of this year’s squad returning next year.

7. Pot legalized in Oregon

Leading up to the November general election, city and county government officials and law enforcement leaders began preparing for the possibility of Oregon voters legalizing marijuana. With Measure 91, which would legalize the drug for recreational use, on the ballot, city councilors and county commissioners began looking for ways to tax the drug. Since the measure would not enable communities to tax marijuana, the belief was that passing a tax ordinance prior to the November election would enable them to grandfather it in after passage of the measure.

The measure prompted considerable public outrage leading up to the election, with police and sheriff leaders speaking out against legalization of the drug as well as city and county elected officials.

In the election, Crook County voters soundly rejected the measure, but the statewide vote came out differently as the measure passed by a close margin. The state joined Colorado and Washington as the third state to legalize the drug for recreational use.

As 2015 begins, city and county staff and law enforcement are now working to determine how use of the drug will be regulated. Recreational use of the drug will become legal on July 1.

8. Stryder has a big year

Stryder Doescher turned 7 this past November, and for most kids that wouldn't be a big deal but, for Stryder, every birthday is a big deal.

For a number of years Stryder, his parents Angela and Warren, and his sister, Kasiah, have been told by doctors that he might not make it past his sixth birthday.

Styder's young life has been filled with terms like retroflexed odontoid, clivo axial angle, basilar invagination, uneven tonsils, diffuse cervical bulge, levoscoliosis, and pansinusitis. The list goes on to include epilepsy, Landau-Kleffner syndrome- PFO (hole in the heart), and an aortic root dilation (aneurysm).

As 2014 comes to an end, Stryder is at home recovering from brain surgery to correct Arnold-Chiari malformation type 1, a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal.

Throughout his challenges, Stryder has enjoyed the support of a community that has worn purple shirts emblazoned with the words “We Love Stryder,” and held Zumba classes, golf tournaments and numerous other fundraisers.

That community support has seen the family through and, in large part, enabled them to acquire Keebler, probably the most recognized service dog in Crook County. With Keebler by his side, trained to detect seizures in advance, Stryder now sleeps in his own bedroom and Angela simply gets some sleep.

Checking in with the Doeschers this Christmas season is met with the, unfortunately, expected response — there is good news and there is bad news.

First, Angela terms Stryder's latest brain surgery as a “huge success!”

“He healed extremely fast and the scar even looks great!” she said. “Everyone at school saw dramatic changes in his personality, most likely due to less pain and sensory issues he was silently enduring.”

But, as Angela has come to expect, Stryder's challenges continue.

It's Stryder's collagen deficiency that is the root cause of many issues due to weak connective tissue, now apparently failing to support his lungs, causing dangerous drops in his oxygen levels.

“We were unsure if it was caused from the hole in his heart, but after some pulmonary testing, we found that his lungs are not doing great,” said Angela. “We will start the new year off with appointments and testing at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland.”

Angela said that testing for this latest challenge is in the beginning stages, but is still tough to deal with.

“It was hard adding another organ, I was really hoping it was his heart, since we already knew the problems and that surgery would fix the hole,” she said. “I was hoping it would have been 'that easy,' nothing I would have said prior to brain surgery, though. I have no idea what this means for his future, yet, but I am hopeful and he is still smiling, as usual!”

Angela's thoughts quickly turned to Keebler, a dog that has been a member of the family for almost one year.

“Keebler is doing great! I am going to start working with him on some new tasks, not that he doesn't have enough to do already,” she said. “But he is doing such a great job and we love him so much.”

Through it all, Angela has always felt blessed by a community that has helped, loved and prayed for Stryder.

“Stryder would not be where he is today without the support of everyone in our town,” she said. “He wants to prove to everyone how strong he is and make his story a happy story! Keep praying for him as we go through this (never-ending) journey.”

9. Major land deals completed

Two multimillion-dollar property deals were made during the second half of 2014 involving historic parcels of land. The Foley Butte Block timberland, a longtime holding of Ochoco Lumber Company, was purchased by Stafford Ranches, LLC for about $18.5 million.

Stafford Ranches, comprised of a partnership between brothers Michael, Milton, Mark and Samuel Stafford, purchased the 32,475-acre Foley Butte Block timberland property north of Prineville with several uses in mind, including hunting and logging as well as other recreation.

Just a few weeks later, another property transaction was disclosed as Arturo Gutierrez Sr., who is the founder of a Massachusetts-based construction and real estate development company, sold the 21,500-acre Gutierrez Ranch and adjacent 50,000 acres of public grazing land near Paulina to Kelley and Janet Tovar-Hamilton, of Salem, for $14.4 million. Kelley Hamilton is the CEO and co-owner of Bonaventure Senior Living.

Roger Dryden, a real estate broker with Wyoming-based Hall & Hall, which markets ranch properties throughout the Western United States, said that Gutierrez purchased the ranch in the 1980s. He chose to sell it due to his advancing years and his lack of proximity to the property.

The historic ranch dates back to the 1880s, when the property then known as the Bennett Ranch gained land from another owner near the property. The ranch then changed owners three times before Gutierrez purchased it.

At more than 130 years old, the ranch is among the oldest in Crook County, said Crook County historian Steve Lent, and it has a historical distinction tied to the Civil War.

10. Changes in leadership

Three highly-visible positions in Crook County changed hands this year, bringing new leadership to areas that support local business, economic development and the community.

As diverse as the positions may be on paper, each position was filled by a Prineville native that had grown up in the community and left to explore the world, only to return to give back to a community they believe in.

Casey Kaiser, a 1989 graduate of Crook County High School, left to attend Central Oregon Community College in Bend and subsequently built a career in finance, eventually ending up at Combined Communications as their national sales manager. In November, he became the new executive director of the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce.

Currently a resident of Redmond, Kaiser is planing to move to Prineville with his wife, Renae, in the spring.

“The most exciting thing for me is to be a part of the Prineville business community and move the Chamber forward,” Kaiser said when he first started the job on Nov. 26. “I will look to focus on marketing to the Central Oregon community and driving day-tourism into the area.”

A fifth-generation Prineville native, Kara Snider, took over the reins of the Crook County Foundation, taking the place of Kristi Steber.

Much like Kaiser, Snider left Central Oregon to attend college – both Oregon State and Oklahoma State.

While at Oklahaoma State, Snider earned a degree in agricultural communications and met her future husband, Jason, whom she convinced to return to Oregon with her.

Snider worked for the Oregon Farm Bureau in Salem before returning to her roots in Prineville, staying at home to raise her two children.

While tending to her children, Snider established a part-time relationship with the foundation, providing graphic design services for events such as Picnic in the Park.

When Steber asked her if she was interested in taking on the position, Snider jumped at the chance, realizing it was time for her to get out of the house and into the community.

In her position, Snider is committed to bringing more awareness of the foundation and is excited to be a part of a community that she feels is growing.

“It's exciting to be part of a community that is involved,” she said. “We are building a new school and hospital and it is fun for me to see Prineville change.”

When Caroline Ervin accepted the vacant position as Crook County Director of at Economic Development for Central Oregon, she became the third community-minded former resident to return to her roots.

After graduating from CCHS in 2002, Ervin worked for most of her career in Central Oregon before heading to Wyoming to work in human resources.

But the draw to return was too much to resist and Ervin was looking for a way to come home and she felt the EDCO position was a good fit.

Taking on a position that played a role in attracting Facebook and Apple to Crook County, Ervin wanted to return to a community that she termed “growing and thriving.”

She looks forward to bringing her skills in human resources to her new position.

“Collaboration and communication between organizations is critical to achieving goals and using resources strategically,” she said when she started her new job on Nov. 24.

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