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Other top stories of ’12 include prison sale, drought

Anna Sacco-Miller points out the latest election numbers as her mother-in-law, Cathy Miller, celebrates Nov. 6 at Mama Cimino’s in Dixon. Sacco-Miller, a Republican, defeated Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon.
Anna Sacco-Miller points out the latest election numbers as her mother-in-law, Cathy Miller, celebrates Nov. 6 at Mama Cimino’s in Dixon. Sacco-Miller, a Republican, defeated Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon.

4. Prison sale to feds will lead to 1,100 jobs, officials say

For years, northwestern Illinois awaited the opening of the Thomson prison. It didn’t happen.

A decade ago, the state built the facility in Thomson, a Carroll County town on the Mississippi River, but didn’t have the money to run it.

In October, after a year of political wrangling, state politicians announced that President Barack Obama had cleared the way for the government to buy the prison for $165 million, a number that officials said fell between two federal appraisals.

The president bypassed Congress, where some feared he would use the prison to house terrorists, using “unobligated” money to pay for it.

The purchase was good news for this economically distressed region. Officials said the prison will bring 1,100 jobs, employing people from throughout the Sauk Valley.

Officials have given no timetable for the prison’s opening.

5. An ‘unprecedented’ drought lingers

It was a warm, dry winter, so little moisture was in the soil when farmers planted their crops in the spring.

From there, things didn’t get any better.

The Sauk Valley suffered the hottest summer in years – with no rain day after day.

Crops started wilting. In mid-July, just 1 percent of the topsoil in northwestern Illinois had adequate moisture, which wasn’t much different from the rest of the state.

Jim Schielein of Dixon, a farmer since the mid-1980s, said in a July interview that the drought was “unprecedented” in his experience.

“I’ve got a couple of [corn] fields pretty much written off,” he said.

Some rain in August helped the soybean crop, but for much of the corn crop, the damage was done.

In December, meteorologist Eric Apel went to Sterling to tell farmers that he expected better farming weather in 2013.

But he made no guarantees, noting last year’s expectations.

“We predicted a cold and snowy winter, and we were wrong.”

6. Community shows support for injured servicemen

DIXON – This year was one in which the Sauk Valley rallied behind two injured servicemen from the area.

On Dec. 28, 2011, Lance Cpl. Adam Devine, a Marine from Dixon, was wounded by an improvised explosive device while on duty in Afghanisan. Devine, who was 21 at the time, lost both legs from above the knees.

Comedian Andy Dick came to Dixon on March 5 to perform at a benefit at the Historic Dixon Theatre with comedy players from the iO Chicago theater.

A parade and benefit were held in Dixon in Devine’s honor July 14, which Mayor Jim Burke declared “Adam Devine Day.”

Army Spc. Michael E. Shoemaker Jr., then 23, of Eldena, was loading an ammunition truck March 29 in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan when an explosion caused him severe head wounds and injuries to his right arm and both legs. The explosion also killed 20-year-old Spc. David Taylor of Dixon, Ky., and injured five other soldiers.

Shoemaker, a 2006 Amboy High graduate, was based out of Fort Bragg, N.C.

Shoemaker, 24 is married to Brittany Shoemaker, 24. Their children are Michael Shoemaker III, 5, Brayden, 3, and Hannah, 1. Shoemaker came home earlier this month. He and his wife are expecting their fourth child, around July 23.

Devine, 22, and his wife, Michelle, have a daughter, Amya, 19 months.

7. 60-year sentence for Adams in 2009 Dixon murder

DIXON – Twice-convicted rapist Byron Adams was sentenced this month to 60 years in prison without parole for suffocating a Dixon woman in her home.

Adams, 54, of Chicago, was convicted of first-degree murder during a weeklong trial in early October.

On Sept. 11, 2009, Adams went to the home of Margaret Atherton, forced her upstairs, bound her hands, shoved two rolled up socks in her mouth, and placed a pillowcase over her head.

Atherton, 35, was asphyxiated, a forensic pathologist testified at trial.

Adams admitted to police and prosecutors after the trial that he went to Atherton’s home to rob her but did not mean to kill her. Police have said they believe he intended to rape her.

The case was held up for more than 3 years by pending motions and a barage of Adams’ hand-written motions seeking to fire his three appointed attorneys and two judges.

8. Jury acquits Rock Falls woman in baby’s death

MORRISON – A Whiteside County jury this summer rejected prosecutors’ claims that a Rock Falls woman shook an 8-month-old to death in September 2009.

Patti Mock, 64, was acquitted of first-degree murder in the death of Xavier Delgado after a 3-week trial in May.

The case largely revolved around the testimony of various medical experts on the extent of Xavier’s injuries.

Prosecutors said Mock, who babysat the boy for about 3 weeks, violently shook Xavier on Sept. 24, 2009, causing a brain bleed that led to his death 5 days later.

Prosecution witnesses testified that the fatal injuries had to be fresh, given his symptoms, and that he had brain swelling and extensive bleeding behind the eyes, indicating he had been shaken. 

The defense countered that no witnesses saw Mock shake the boy and that he had no broken bones or bruises on his body. They also argued that he had a similar incident months before that proved he had a pre-existing injury likely caused during a difficult birth.

The trial was the first in the state at which cameras and recording devices were allowed.

9. Lee, Whiteside get new state's attorneys

Lee and Whiteside counties have new top prosecutors.

Longtime attorney Trish Joyce, a Democrat from Sterling, beat former Assistant State’s Attorney Pat Liston in the Nov. 6 general election to become the new Whiteside County state’s attorney.

Gary Spencer retired Nov. 30 after more than 30 years in office.

In Lee County, Republican attorney Anna Sacco-Miller of Dixon beat incumbent Henry Dixon.

Both women have pledged to implement more alternative courts, such as mental health and juvenile courts.

Both also have two high-profile cases to deal with.

Joyce and lawyers from the state attorney general’s office will handle the trial of Nicholas T. Sheley, 33, charged with killing four people in Rock Falls in late June 2008.

He already has been convicted in Whiteside County of killing an elderly Sterling farmer, and in Knox County of killing a Galesburg man (for which he is serving a life sentence.) He also is charged with killing an Arkansas couple in Festus, Mo.

Sacco-Miller is set to try former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell, 59, who is charged with 60 counts of theft of government property in excess of $100,000.

10. Dixon stepmom to be tried for murder in boy’s death

DIXON – A Dixon woman accused of so severely injuring her then-6-year-old stepson in December 2010 that he died nearly a year later is facing first-degree murder charges.

Tiffany Fassler, 37, was indicted in September on first-degree murder and four counts of aggravated battery of a child. She pleaded not guilty and is free on bond. A trial date has not been set.

Police say she kicked Colton Fassler in the chest Dec. 30, 2010. He hit his head on a bathroom vanity and died nearly a year later from his injuries.

His death was ruled a homicide by a Winnebago County coroner’s jury in August.

Fassler first was charged with two counts of aggravated battery of a child in June 2011. That case has since been dismissed. On Oct. 25, she agreed to an indefinite suspension of her nursing license.

The boy’s father, Andrew Fassler, 41, a former Dixon city firefighter, was charged in June 2011 with aggravated domestic battery in an unrelated case. Police say he threw his then-9-year-old son down some stairs in October 2009, breaking his arm. 

Andrew Fassler has not been charged in connection with Colton’s injuries or death.

11. Local courtrooms among first for pilot camera program

All eyes have been on Sauk Valley courtrooms this year.

In January, the state Supreme Court announced a pilot program that allows still and video cameras and other recording equipment in the courtroom during certain trial court proceedings.

A week later, the 14th Judicial Circuit, which includes Whiteside County, was the first approved to participate. 

In March, the 15th Judicial Circuit, which includes Carroll, Lee, and Ogle counties, was approved. As of Dec. 13, 25 of the state’s 102 counties were taking part . 

The case of Patti Mock, a Rock Falls woman acquitted of shaking a baby boy to death in 2009, was the first murder trial in the state to be filmed since the pilot program was initiated.

Sauk Valley Media also had cameras and live blogging at pretrial conferences for accused child murderer Tiffany Fassler and the October murder trial of Byron Adams, who is serving 60 years for suffocating a Dixon woman in September 2009.

The biggest test yet, though, was Whiteside County’s first trial of Nicholas T. Sheley, 33, of Sterling, held in late October.

During that trial, media from the Sauk Valley and the Quad Cities shot video and photos during every day, and reporters tweeted updates from the trial.

12. Schilling, Manzullo lose re-election bids

STERLING – This year’s elections brought changes in Congress.

On Nov. 6, U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, a freshman Republican from Colona, was unseated by former East Moline Alderwoman Cheri Bustos, a Democrat, in the redrawn 17th Congressional District, which now includes all of Whiteside County.

It was a hard-fought, contentious battle.

After the election, Schilling’s campaign manager, Terry Schilling, said redistricting was the number one factor in his dad’s defeat. Redrawn by a Democratic Legislature, it favored Democrats. Bustos took 53 percent of the vote, Schilling 47 percent.

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, defeated Democrat Wanda Rohl, a hospice worker from the Ottawa area, in the race for the newly redrawn 16th District, which includes all of Lee County.

Kinzinger beat fellow Republican and longtime Rep. Don Manzullo, of Egan, in the March primary. His victory brought Manzullo’s 20 years of service to an end.

13. Sales Tax falls in Lee County: more to come in 2013?

The vote on a 1-cent sales tax in November likely was Round 1.

The Dixon School Board will vote on the sales tax resolution at its January meeting and five of the seven school board members spoke favorably of putting the sales tax question back on the ballot.

The other Lee County schools either have passed or said they will pass the resolution, meaning Round 2 is likely on its way.

If it passes, the revenue generated from the additional penny for every dollar on select items will be earmarked for maintenance or building costs.

The sales tax proposal especially sparked debate in Dixon, where the sales tax funds were planned to go for a sports and activities complex. Other Lee County schools planned to make maintenance upgrades on their buildings.

Despite the efforts of We Are Dixon, a group that raised $9,501 to support the tax hike, 58.9 percent of voters rejected it.

“We’ve been told these things take three tries,” Dixon School Board President Tom Balser said. “So, why not see what happens the second time around with more information out there?”

A similar proposal will be on the April ballot in Whiteside County, where a number of school districts earlier this month approved putting a referendum to voters.

14. First Avenue bridge rebuild finishes early

STERLING – The renovation of the main artery connecting Sterling and Rock Falls began and ended this year.

The $27 million First Avenue bridge rebuild finished a month ahead of schedule, opening on Oct. 15. Freeport-based Civil Constructors began work on the project in mid-January.

The bridge, which carries 27,000 vehicles a day, needed its substructure replaced. It was built in the early 1920s, and its last major rehab was done in 1980-81, Illinois Department of Transportation project engineer Matt Hardt said.

Gov. Pat Quinn came to town for a a ribbon-cutting at the site on Nov. 19. He said the new span was symbolic of things to come for the state.

The project, paid in part with money from Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now! capital program, created or supported 350 jobs, he said.

15. Amboy man facing murder charges

AMBOY – The city saw its first homicide in many years this summer.

Delmar Leroy Daniels, 79, was found dead in a pool of blood in his West Main Street home on July 18.

His wife, Betty, who has health problems, was pinned against a wall near her husband’s body, her motorized scooter on top of her. 

Less than a day later, Lee County sheriff’s deputies arrested Matthew Welling, 32, of Amboy.

He was indicted Aug. 6 on five counts of first-degree murder and two counts of home invasion.

Deputies say Welling admitted to being at the Daniels’ home “with a man and a lot of blood” after drinking at an Amboy bar. 

As he ran from the house, he lost his shirt, flip flops and a necklace that contained his brother’s ashes, court documents say.

Welling, who pleaded not guilty Aug. 8, is in Lee County Jail on $2 million bond. A trial date has not been set; his next pretrial hearing is Jan. 3.

Other big stories from 2012

• Arduini, Seeberg step down as county chairmen

• KSB doctor drowns in Rock River in Dixon

• Erie school board bans children’s book

• Wind farm regulation debates continue in area

• Mitchell retires, Morthland loses re-election bid

• Riverdale school closes; others talk consolidation

• Thieves steal ATMs from two Sterling locations

• Sterling council OK’s loan to buy Sterling Theater

• Murder-suicide discovered in rural Polo

• Two men drown in White Pines State Park

• Deer Grove boy killed while detasseling

• Mabley Center in Dixon spared of closure by state

• 1644th National Guard unit welcomed home

• Rock Falls High School basketball coach fired

• Erie student claims hazing by coaches, wrestlers

• Dixon prison inmate, “The LIpstick Killer,” dies

• Hundreds attend two SVM book-read events

• Turmoil at Latin American Social Club

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