Smoke Clears On Tumultuous 2002

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From contentious town elections to forest fires that threatened our homes, 2002 was a year of ups and downs for Rim country residents.

Our year began on a literary note when the Payson Public Library opened its new location at Rumsey Park.

For the next few months, campaigns between council and mayor candidates dominated the news, but by summer, such political battles seemed trivial when the Rodeo Fire joined with the Chediski Fire to create the biggest wildland forest fire in Arizona history.

But those fires did allow us to show all of Arizona just what our leaders and our community was made of, as Rim country residents opened their hearts and their wallets to those evacuated by the blazes.

By summer's end, the smoke had cleared, and all eyes turned to the drought that continued to plague central Arizona, and the advancement of the bark beetle which threatens to destroy much of the Tonto National Forest.

It was a year of scandal, a year of triumph, a year of compassion for our fellow man.

These are the headlines that highlighted the news in 2002.

Jan. 4: Gilker named county attorney

Daisy Gilker, a Globe native, was unanimously appointed to the position of Gila County attorney by the board of supervisors. Gilker, 30, was selected to replace Jim Hazel who resigned following his appointment by Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull to replace retiring Superior Court Judge Edd Dawson.

Jan. 4: Haught released early

Roy George Haught, sentenced to 12 months in jail for his involvement in the 1997 death of Strawberry mechanic James Cooper, was released from jail after serving just five months. He was released early after being given credit for 180 days previously served under house arrest.

Jan. 11: Historic bar at Kohl's Ranch razed

The old cowboy bar at Kohl's Ranch, a Rim country social center for nearly three-quarters of a century, was demolished to make way for a two-unit residential time share. Current Kohl's Ranch owners, Phoenix-based ILX Resorts, said they planned to "honor the history of the area and the site" by using "lumber and other components of the building" in the new time share.

Jan. 12: Payson Public Library celebrates grand opening

After the kind of lengthy wait that usually accompanies ice ages and blue moons, the brand-new Payson Public Library celebrated its gala grand opening Jan. 12.

The festivities kicked off with the official ribbon-cutting by Mayor Ray Schum, Library Director Terry Morris, Library Friends President Mary Nolan, and library architect Larry Enyart. Folks were invited to take self-guided tours of the new 15,765-square-foot literary palace.

Jan. 18: Local air improving

Despite rapid growth, tests conducted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality showed the area's air quality is actually improving. As a result, ADEQ made a formal request to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate the Payson area in compliance for small dust particles. The area had been out of compliance since 1993.

Jan. 29: Group wants to move county seat

A group of more than 40 people from northern Gila County announced an "exploratory mission" to determine how county tax dollars are spent. Chuck Heron, one of the group's leaders, said that an initiative to move the county seat from Globe to Payson is a possibility if the group determines that the northern half of the county is being "short changed."

Jan. 29: Four survive plane crash

Crosswinds at Payson Municipal Airport caused a Cessna 172 to crash on the north side of the runway. Pilot Howard Faltz said he was within inches of touching down when an errant gust pushed his plane off the runway. The pilot and three passengers, all from Phoenix, suffered bumps, bruises and one broken arm.

Feb. 8: Ox Bow meth lab raided

Three Rim country residents were arrested after a search of a 24-foot travel trailer in Ox Bow Estates turned up a methamphetamine lab. Detective John Huffman called it "a sad case of humanity gone astray."

Feb. 12: Water moratorium relaxed

The moratorium on new water hookups in Pine -- in effect since 1989 -- was relaxed by Arizona Corporation Commission to allow 25 new hookups per month. A disastrously dry summer would cause the commission to revisit the issue later in the year.

Feb. 19: Body of missing man found

The body of 85-year-old Paul Gaither was discovered in a wash seven miles west of Payson by three hikers. Gaither, an avid hiker, had been missing from his home near Green Valley Park since Sept. 9, 2001.

Feb. 26: Police seize drugs

Payson police intercepted a load of cocaine and marijuana with an estimated street value of more than $125,000 at a local motel.

Mar. 5: New fire truck burned on delivery

The town's new ladder truck -- a used 1999 model -- never made it to Payson. The vehicle was consumed by fire 50 miles south of town as it was being delivered.

Mar. 12: Ox Bow makes historic register

The Ox Bow Inn was declared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the nation's official list of properties considered worthy of preservation. Other Rim country places already on the list -- the Historic Lodge at Tonto National Bridge and Shoofly Village Indian Ruins on Houston Mesa Road.

Mar. 12: Voters force mayoral runoff

Mayoral candidate Jim White tallied 46.6 percent of the vote, forcing him into a runoff with Ken Murphy. Judy Buettner and Dick Reese won town council seats outright, while Kenny Knapp and Robert Henley also failed to garner majorities and will face a runoff.

Mar. 22: Rim country infant gets new liver

Rim Country infant Geoffrey Byrne underwent a successful liver transplant at the University of Southern California Medical Center. Two months after Geoffrey's birth on Aug. 10, 2001, he was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a deadly disease.

Mar. 26: Vertielee Floyd dies

The Rim country lost a legend when Vertielee Floyd died two days after her 73rd birthday. Floyd singlehandedly kept Payson's Old-Time Fiddlers Contest alive for 31 years.

April 5: Gov. visits parched forests

Gov. Jane Hull flew over the Rim country's parched forests and then attended a briefing at Payson Town Hall on local plans to combat what promised to be a long and dangerous forest fire season.

The governor said the flyover dramatically brought home how much growth had occurred in the Rim country and the urgency of the situation.

April 12: Council ignores petitioners

Mayor Ray Schum gaveled the town council meeting to a close with no action taken on a petition signed by 1,476 residents asking for a subdivision and land division moratorium until an adequate new water supply is found.

April 16: Students share in youth's triumph

Twenty-five Julia Randall Elementary School students journeyed to the Valley to watch classmate Dustin Stroud get fitted for the $4,000 electric wheelchair they helped acquire for him.

Dustin, a fifth-grader, cannot walk because of cerebral palsy. The students raised more than $3,000, mostly by doing extra chores at home.

April 26: Water study shows Payson holding its own

A brand new water study conducted by the town water department showed that Payson's water supply was holding its own coming off the driest winter recharge season on record.

The Groundwater Management 2002 Status Report concluded that "current production capabilities are sufficient to meet demands for the 2002 summer season even amidst the worst winter drought recorded."

April 30: Applause illegal in meetings

There was no applause after the town council voted to approve a new set of procedural rules that allow the mayor to curtail "unauthorized" acts, such as applause, if they are disruptive.

May 7: Crime down around town

The Payson Police Department's annual report showed that crime declined slightly during 2001. The burglary rate, however, continued to increase as local police investigated 117 cases during the year.

May 16: Forest closed

Parts of the Tonto National Forest were closed north of the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and the Control Road due to extreme fire danger.

May 22: Fire danger shuts forest

Most of the rest of the Tonto National Forest was closed, including the entire Payson Ranger District, a step forest officials called "the most severe fire restrictions in the forest's history."

May 24: Murphy wins mayoral race

With all the votes finally counted, Ken Murphy beat Jim White 1,556 to 1,532 in the contentious mayoral runoff contest. In another close race, Robert Henley defeated Kenny Knapp by 54 votes for the lone contested town council seat.

June 7: Charges made for animal neglect

Payson police found 36 cats abandoned in a local motel room. By the end of the day, 100 cats, two dogs, seven rabbits and a horse -- a total of 110 neglected animals -- were collected at the Mesa del Caballo home of Lisa Harmon, who was arrested.

June 14: State wants to close bridge

The Arizona State Parks Department recommended the closure of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and 10 other state parks due to budget cuts imposed by the legislature. The move triggered a firestorm of protest from local residents.

June 21: Ferocious fire biggest on Rim

The Rodeo Fire near Show Low exploded to 90,000 acres, three times the size of the Dude Fire, previously the worst in Arizona history. Meanwhile a second blaze, dubbed the Chediski Fire, reached 5,000 acres. The first wave of evacuees from the Heber-Overgaard area began arriving in Payson.

June 21: County, EAC at odds

Gila County and Eastern Arizona College reached a stalemate in their attempt to negotiate a new contract for the coming school year. As a precautionary measure, then EAC-Payson Assistant Dean Barbara Ganz ended the summer session three weeks early.

June 25: Rim fires merge

The Rodeo and Chediski fires joined forces to wreak havoc on northeastern Arizona. Among the 30,000-plus evacuees, 767 registered at a shelter hastily set up at Rim Country Middle School. Local residents began responding with a spontaneous outpouring of kindness and generosity that town leaders and disaster relief experts called "unprecedented."

July 2: Rodeo-Chediski evacuees get good news

The 800-plus evacuees at the Rim Country Middle School got some good news July 1 -- they'd be going home in a few days. Most of those staying at the shelter are from Heber and Overgaard -- communities where more than 200 homes were destroyed. Residents were finally allowed to return home July 3, and the fire was finally contained July 7.

July 9: Pine water woes

Pine residents that are customers of Brooke Utilities were upset that turning on the faucet has become a guessing game. Sunday night in a matter of 30 minutes, five people filled water jugs from the 5,000-gallon water tanker provided by Gila County Emergency Services, stationed at the corner of Hardscrabble Mesa Road and Highway 87.

July 9: Corporation commission comes to Pine

The three members of the Arizona Corporation Commission were among the more than 1,000 people who packed the Pine-Strawberry Elementary School Gym to discuss the water crisis in Pine. About 800 water customers in Pine have been without water for days at a time.

July 15: Robot dispatches suspected pipe bomb

A suspected pipe bomb found in a Payson neighborhood was dispatched with the help of a high-tech robot imported from the Valley. Payson police officials summoned Department of Public Safety bomb technicians from the Valley, who arrived on the scene with an Andros Mark VI-A explosive ordnance disposal unit.

July 19: Chediski firestarter will face no charges

Valinda Jo Elliott will face no criminal charges for setting the signal fire that raged into the Chediski half of the Rodeo-Chediski fire.

Explaining the decision, the federal prosecutor said there was no proof Elliott acted with criminal intent and that the facts supported a "necessity defense," which allows a person to break the law in order to save a life.

July 26: Wickenburg man offered town manager's job

Fred Carpenter of Wickenburg accepted the Payson Town Council's offer to become the new town manager. Carpenter was one of five finalists for the job, out of 137 applicants. Payson's Interim Town Manager L. Kelly Udall was one of the other finalists.

Aug. 1: ‘Highly regarded' Payson officer dies

Family and friends of Payson Police Sgt. Doug Johnson struggled to understand the sudden, unexplained death of the 37-year-old father of four. Preliminary results from the medical examiner suggest that Johnson died of substantial blockage to one of his coronary arteries.

Aug. 16: College chooses Pima

The fall semester was scheduled to start Sept. 16 following approval of an agreement with Pima Community College District to replace Eastern Arizona College. Gila County parted ways with EAC last month when the board of supervisors voted unanimously not to approve a new one-year contract.

Aug. 16: Dryer gets probation and fine, no jail time

Tonto Basin resident John Dryer walked out of the Payson courthouse a happy man Aug. 13, his legal woes behind him at last. Charged with tampering with evidence in connection to the Tonto Basin Cemetery Fund he once administered, Dryer was sentenced by Judge Peter DeNinno to two years probation, 100 hours of community service, and payment of $2,500 in restitution to the fund, a $1,000 fine, and $1,560 in court costs and probation fees.

Aug. 20: Pack Rat Fire grows to 170 acres

The fire burning on the Mogollon Rim near Kehl Springs Campground -- dubbed the Pack Rat Fire -- grew to 170 acres in size. Seven crews, totaling about 195 firefighters, battled the blaze.

Aug. 23: National Fire joins growing Pack Rat

As the Pack Rat Fire continues to grow, yet another lightning-caused blaze -- the National Fire -- has tripled in size. The National Fire is burning about eight miles east of the Pack Rat Fire below Myrtle Point, and had grown to 50 acres by Aug. 22.

Aug. 30: Murphy in, Yampol out, creditors up in the air at Manzanita Manor

The management of Manzanita Manor senior care center has been taken over by the property's landlord, and the facility's former administrator, Payson Mayor Ken Murphy, has been hired to oversee the transition and turn the business around financially with no interruption of service.

Sept. 10: Rabid bobcat attacks man

A bobcat that attacked an 80-year-old man in a Payson neighborhood Saturday morning, Sept. 7, was infected with rabies, county health officials determined Monday, Sept. 9. Tom Garner suffered numerous scratches and bites to his arms, back and neck. Hours after the attack, Garner began a regimen of shots to boost his immune system to fight the virus.

Sept. 24: Tonto Apache Tribe celebrates 30 years

The Tonto Apaches planned two weekends of celebration to commemorate the 30th anniversary of its formal recognition, Sept. 27-29 and Oct. 4-6.

Sept. 27: Murphy investigation

The Arizona Department of Public Safety Special Investigations Unit has been asked to look into the possible criminal behavior of Mayor Ken Murphy during rodeo weekend. The incident under scrutiny was Murphy's possible assault of Fire Marshal Jack Babb and disorderly conduct at the Ox Bow Saloon.

Oct. 11: Air quality problems continue at PES

School district officials were still looking for a solution to a mystery plaguing Payson Elementary School. There have been five air quality studies and a growing number of employees are reporting respiratory ailments. Nineteen staff members have reported symptoms, and four employees have actually had to leave their positions with the school, including Nancy Carlson, a Mesa del Caballo resident and the school's secretary for many years.

Oct. 25: Mesa del man guilty of child molestation

For the first time in history, testimony by closed circuit television was allowed in a Gila County jury trial -- and the result was the conviction of a 75-year-old Mesa del man accused of child molestation. James Collins now faces a mandatory term of between 10 and 24 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections. He was sentenced in November to 17 years in prison with no chance of parole.

Nov. 1: Sheahan dead

Jack Sheahan, decorated World War II veteran and local advocate for patriotic causes and the disabled, died Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the age of 78.

Nov. 1: Symington tests cooking skills in Payson

Former Gov. Fife Symington traveled to Payson to get some hands-on experience with a real Italian oven. Teaching the former politico was Cucina Paradiso owners John Posteraro and Gerardo Moceri.

Nov. 12: Mayor jailed for domestic violence

Payson Mayor Ken Murphy spent the night of Nov. 10 in jail, booked on charges of disorderly conduct-domestic violence and threatening and intimidating-domestic violence. The call came from Julie Barcom, Murphy's fiancee, who told the 911 operator the mayor was throwing her things out of the house, before the call was cut short, according to Chief Gordon Gartner. Barcom later recanted her story.

Nov. 22: Disease forces destruction of cats

Employees of the Payson Humane Society had to euthanize the entire cat population at the animal shelter due to a rare disease. Feline herpes is a highly contagious disease that was first discovered to have infected cats at the shelter in September.

Nov. 26: Call goes out for mayor's resignation

A new, informal organization of concerned residents is calling for the resignation of Ken Murphy as Payson mayor. The Citizens for Better Payson Government is advertising for the mayor to resign. The call for the resignation is in response to long-standing concerns, plus recent reports of Murphy's run-ins with local law enforcement officers. Murphy later stopped all efforts with his promise: "I pledge that, should I be the cause of a public and controversial event during the remainder of my term, I will voluntarily resign my office as mayor."

Dec. 17: Accident claims three lives

A single vehicle accident on the Gisela Road Saturday, Dec. 14, claimed three lives. The deceased, pronounced dead at the scene, were Oscar Steven Spencer, 15, of Gisela, and Randy Diaz, 45, of Phoenix. Katherine Spencer, 33, of Phoenix, the mother of the deceased boy and driver of the vehicle, died Dec. 16 at Scottsdale Healthcare Hospital. She had suffered severe head injuries in the rollover. There were nine people in the vehicle, a Toyota Landcruiser. None of the passengers were wearing seatbelts and all were ejected.

Dec. 31: Plane crash claims life

Payson Airport had what many believe was its first crash fatality Saturday, Dec. 28. An 81-year-old pilot was killed attempting to land his plane. Raymond Ruiz Martinez, of Montebello, Calif., had only recently purchased the plane, a Lancair 235, an experimental aircraft.

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