The year started off with a bang when the Payson Fiesta Bowl Parade float and accompanying dancing ponderosa pine trees were named among the highlights of the Phoenix parade.
As many as 300 local residents worked on the wilderness-themed float for two months, including 20 quilters that handmade each ponderosa pine outfit, complete with pointy pine needle hat and hooped tree dress.
The float was such a hit it garnered the parade’s top two awards — Spirit of Arizona and Children’s Choice.
It wouldn’t be the only time Payson would make state news, although not always for such a happy occasion.
In June, news crews swarmed to Rye when a landmark bike/salvage yard erupted into flames.
The fire started near the back of All Bikes and quickly spread through a dizzying maze of motorcycle and bicycle parts that the business’ owner said he had meticulously arranged. Firefighters couldn’t find a way through though and were severely handicapped in reaching the blaze. Flames soon lapped over a fence and into a neighboring trailer home park, destroying several homes.
Then in November, the town made state news again when a local gardener shot and killed his neighbor over a loose dog in his yard. Mike Voden is now set to stand trial for the murder of Randy Burnett later this year.
Despite making the headlines, officials were disappointed for what the town didn’t make the news for.
Chiefly, there was no grand announcement of a four-year university finally coming to Rim Country. Officials continued to go back and forth with the Forest Service on the sale of a 240-acre plat where backers hope to build a 6,000-student campus. Things remain up in the air as backers figure out where to build.
Also on the education front, change best describes the year at Payson Unified School District.
Every school in the district received a new principal and a new student achievement director was hired to help meet new state and federal mandates.
Finally, the year ended with another bang when Superintendent Ron Hitchcock announced his resignation less than two years into the job. While Hitchcock said he would finish out his contract, the school board paid him to go away at the end of December.
Department of Public Safety Officer Seth Meeske takes the cake for best story of the year. Shot in the back, leg and forearm during a routine traffic stop in September, Meeske drove himself to the hospital using one knee to steer while his uninjured hand held his forearm, where a bullet had severed an artery.
While hospital staff worked on his wounds, his assailant, Cody Archuleta, 22, of Tempe, led police on a high-speed 40-mile chase past Pine-Strawberry and onto the Mogollon Rim.
Archuleta eventually drove into one of the few fields off the highway and was shot.
Later, at a press conference, Meeske explained that he hadn’t suspected anything out of the norm when he approached the passenger side of Archuleta’s vehicle and rapped on the window.
Then Meeske heard the gunshots. He knew he was shot, but didn’t know where.
“I thought I had been shot in the face, but it was just glass,” he said.
He initially thought the glass in his mouth was his teeth.
He spun and felt a bullet hit his vest. Without the vest, he believes he would have died.
He got back into his patrol vehicle, but didn’t realize then he had also been shot in the leg until he made it to the hospital four minutes later.
While staff tended to him, Meeske could only think of his family and officer Robert Derango, a rookie officer working his first night alone.
“I knew my role was over with and I was safe — whatever was going to happen was going to happen,” said Meeske. “But I knew what that individual (Archuleta) was capable of and as I listened to him (Derango) on the radio, I was shocked with how composed he was.”
Derango led the team of squad cars up the highway and ultimately helped end the confrontation before anyone else could get hurt.
Meeske said he was so proud of Derango and thankful for the other law agency that assisted. He also thanked the community for their overwhelming support.
For the Roundup's full year-end review section, see the Jan. 3 print edition.