STANISLAUS COUNTY — Can you think of a more news-packed year than 2012?
While there certainly have been 365-day periods with greater historical significance or bigger single news events, Earth's most recent voyage around the sun had more twists and turns than a telenovela plot.
It began with the promise every new year brings. It turned tragic at home in April, with the shocking shooting deaths of a Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy and a locksmith as they served an eviction in Modesto. And it concluded with a crescendo of major stories, including the finality of a hard-fought election and the horrors of an incomprehensible Connecticut elementary school shooting that left 20 children dead.
So as 2012 heads for the history books, let me take you on a tour of what The Bee has brought to your doorsteps, computers, smart phones and tablets the past 12 months.
The Associated Press the world's largest news organization compiles the definitive Top 10 list of stories, with editors in newsrooms across the United States receiving ballots in early December and returning them by midmonth. But this year, that tragic Dec. 14 school shooting prompted AP editors to conduct a do-over.
Not surprisingly, the Sandy Hook Elementary School story pushed "mass shootings" to the top, eclipsing the November general election, which was voted the most significant story of the year on the first ballot.
We're not about to repeat the AP's fine work, so I asked the reporters, editors and photographers of The Bee the talented journalists who closely cover this community 365 days a year to compile a Top 10 list of local stories.
While we didn't agree on every story or placement, here's the consensus local Top 10:
1. Deputy-locksmith killing
The shocking April 12 shooting deaths of Stanislaus sheriff's deputy Bob Paris and locksmith Glendon Engert while serving an eviction at a residence in the 2100 block of Modesto's Chrysler Drive was the near-unanimous choice of Bee editors for the top spot. The tragedy shocked and saddened the community and dominated news coverage for weeks, with follow-up stories investigating every aspect of what happened.
2. Modesto Irrigation District's proposed water sale to San Francisco
This story had legs longer than a supermodel's. The debate stirred intense passions and proved accurate the adage that "water's for fighting." It was an important story, too, because the policy issues surrounding any sale of water are paramount to this region's present and future. The spotlight on the MID also exposed the utility's dysfunction, at the board and management levels.
3. The regional economy
No continuing story impacted more Bee readers than what's happening to their pocketbooks. The news wasn't all negative: Blue Diamond expanded into Turlock, agribusiness in general enjoyed greater success (with dairies being the exception), Amazon announced construction of distribution centers in Patterson and Tracy, and the jobless rate stabilized or even improved when compared with that of previous years.
But those gains were tempered by backward steps. Patterson Vegetable Co. closed in February, with 500 jobs vanishing in its wake; cake mix maker Dawn Foods closed in June, with 265 jobs biting the dust; and the public sector continued to suffer through job eliminations and furlough days. And perhaps most painfully, the local jobless rate however improved remains twice the national average and 4 or 5 percentage points higher than the state rate.
4. Enochs teacher leaves family, quits job, moves in with teenage girlfriend
This story sizzled online, garnering the modbee.com crown for most-read news item of 2012. James Hooker, 42, left his wife and family, quit his job as a business teacher at Enochs High School in Modesto and moved in with Jordan Powers, an 18-year-old former student. After a February interview with The Bee, the couple's story went national, with Hooker and Powers appearing on "Good Morning America" and "Dr. Phil" to discuss their relationship. The story took an abrupt turn in April when Hooker was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a teenage girl 14 years ago. That case is pending.
5. School budget woes
The year wasn't kind to school district budgets across The Bee's coverage area, with many school boards balancing finances through decreased instruction days and other cutbacks. The passage of Proposition 30 in the November election relieved some of the pressure, but problems linger for districts that poorly managed their finances, with Denair being the most egregious example.
6. Crows Landing development falls apart
Sacramento developer Gerry Kamilos' plan to transform the former naval air base west of Modesto into a multimodal distribution center failed to get off the ground after years of promises. Stanislaus County supervisors grew weary of Kamilos' failure to make any concrete progress since he was granted a development permit in 2007. When Kamilos failed to make good on a $2.75 million deposit, supervisors yanked the plug. The process of finding a developer for the county-owned land is back to the application stage.
7. Garrad Marsh elected mayor of Modesto
The results of the February runoff election in which Marsh defeated Brad Hawn marked a new direction for the city. The former two-term member of the City Council and owner of McHenry Bowl advocated better growth planning. What Marsh does in 2013 and beyond will help chart the city's future.
8. Big sports stories
Sports fans had plenty of reasons to cheer the success of local athletes, which was a welcome respite from so much negativity. Turlock native Colin Kaepernick became the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback midway through the NFL season, Modesto native Erin Cafaro won her second Olympic gold medal as part of the U.S. women's eight rowing team, and Central Catholic's football team won the Division IV state championship. The San Francisco Giants' second World Series title in three years also was cause for celebration among the team's many local fans.
9. Roundup of local crime
Criminal activity seemed to be on the uptick in 2012, and Bee reporters covered dozens of violent stories throughout the year that generated substantial interest.
In March, three people were killed at a house across the street from Creekside Golf Course in southeast Modesto. Police continue to investigate the murders, but no arrests have been made.
July was particularly bloody, with a number of homicides on the books, some at the hands of law enforcement officers that were deemed justifiable because those killed were threatening members of the public or the officers themselves.
We also took a closer look at prison realignment and its potential impact on local crime.
10. Father Michael Kelly
The Stockton Diocese priest was found liable in April by a San Joaquin County civil jury of sexually assaulting Travis Trotter, 37, when Trotter was an altar boy decades ago at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton. Kelly abruptly left for his native Ireland before the second phase of the trial, which was to determine the diocese's liability and financial award. Kelly told his attorney he left because his health was poor and he wanted to be close to family before he died.
Two more civil lawsuits since have been filed against Kelly, and the Calaveras County district attorney says her office has not decided whether to file criminal charges on accusations there. Kelly's long career as a priest had stops at Our Lady of Fatima in Modesto and St. Jude's in Ceres, among other parishes.
On the cusp of the local Top 10
Rep. Dennis Cardoza's resignation from Congress, Amazon's location of massive distribution centers in Patterson and Tracy, the dry winter of 2012 and the continuing saga of former Riverbank Councilman Jesse James White. Nearby, the city of Stockton's bankruptcy filing would make any regional Top 10 list.
Finally, you'll notice that the Top 10 list compiled by Bee editors doesn't line up with the list of the year's most-read stories at modbee.com. That's because what proved popular online wasn't necessarily the most important story in the bigger picture.
Let me provide a fresh example. The story about the Turlock woman who posted a racist Facebook status update threatening President Barack Obama after his November re-election was candy to online readers. It was linked on Reddit and appeared on countless news sites worldwide. It racked up hundreds of thousands of page views for modbee.com.
But was the story really that big of a deal? It was interesting, for sure. But the most important stories of the year, as we say in the news biz, have much longer legs.
The modbee.com list is dominated by crime stories. Readers flock to mayhem. Just imagine the important news that would go unnoticed if editors dedicated all resources to crime coverage. We have a responsibility to tell you what you need to know in addition to what you want to know.
With all that happened in 2012, the new year really has a lot to live up to news-wise. But I have a hunch it's going to be just as intense, with continuing stories that demand our attention.
Throughout it all, The Bee will be here to chronicle all the plot twists, dips and turns 2013 throws at us.
We thank you for reading The Bee and modbee.com, and wish you a happy and prosperous new year.
Joe Kieta, The Bee's editor and senior vice president, can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2356.