Nevada’s 2013 in Review

From a historic expulsion, training deaths, a school shooting to the approval of drone development, the year 2013 saw Northern Nevada in the spot-light several times.

Assemblyman Steven Brooks, D-Las Vegas, became the first legislator expelled in Nevada since statehood after a string of public incidents, bizarre behavior and arrests. Brooks was formally expelled from the legislature March 28th and arrested later that day after a highway chase.

Brooks was first arrested January 20 in Las Vegas for allegedly making threatening comments about Nevada Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas. He was arrested a second time February 10th after allegedly attacking a family member and grabbing for an officer’s weapon in Las Vegas.

Brooks remains in jail in San Bernadino County, awaiting trial on felony charges stemming from the arrest.

Speaking of politics and because of its overwhelming population, Clark County has come to dominate the Legislature. A law mandating background checks for gun sales was passed but vetoed by Sandoval.

The Legislature also legalized medical marijuana dispensaries. A constitutional amendment to let voters decide to legalize gay marriage also passed.

Nevada’s state legislature only meets every other year for 120 days, and 2013 was the year. Perhaps the most significant thing was that the session was fairly free of nasty partisan rancor, an accomplishment in itself these days.

Due to term limits, there were numerous new members in both Senate and Assembly. Following the session, Governor Brian Sandoval signed 558 bills and vetoed 17.

On March 1st, it became known that thousands of mental-health patients have been bused out of a Las Vegas hospital with one-way tickets to California cities and other locations. San Francisco sued Nevada over it, saying it cost that city $500,000.

A California legislator called for a federal investigation. This led to an onslaught of criticism of Governor Brian Sandoval by the Nevada Democratic Party spokesman but nothing from top-ranking Democrats.

On December 18th, it was reported some of those patients committed crimes in other cities. Soon after that, Sandoval announced an 18-member, bipartisan Governor’s Behavioral Health and Wellness Council.

Seven Marines were killed in a training accident on March 18th when a mortar tube exploded near the Hawthorne Army Depot. Seven other Marines and a sailor were injured.

Hundreds of people gathered Hawthorne’s Veterans Memorial Park to memorialize the victims of the blast. The Marines came from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Three Marine Corps officers were relieved of their command following the incident. No charges were filed.

Courts across Nevada failed to send almost 2,000 guardianship cases involving those with mental illnesses to a database of people who are not allowed to have firearms, according to the final report on a statewide audit this year.

Nevada courts are required by law to send guardianship records to the Department of Public Safety so they can be added to the National Instant Background Check System, used during gun sales. But it was soon learned after a Reno police sergeant sold a private gun to a mentally ill man, that a glitch caused the courts to miss several cases.

In response, the chief justice of the Nevada Supreme Court ordered a statewide review.

The weekend of Mother’s Day saw the murders of five people, four in Fernley and one in Mustang. Jeremiah Bean is accused of killing Robert and Dorothy Pape, Eliazar Graham, and finally Angie Duff and her boyfriend Lester Leiber.

In September, Bean agreed to a plea negotiation with the Lyon County District Attorney’s office in which they would not seek the death penalty and drop several charges in exchange for his guilty pleas. However, during two arraignment hearings in October, Bean pleaded not guilty, resulting in a delay in criminal proceedings.

Since reneging on the original plea negotiation’s, the possibility of the death penalty being applied, if found guilty has been reinstated.

Barbara Vucanovich, the first woman elected to represent Nevada in Congress, died June 10. Vucanovich was 61 in 1982 when she launched her first political campaign, running for and winning the newly created Second Congressional District seat that represented all of Nevada outside of Las Vegas.

In Congress, she led the charge to repeal the 55 mph speed limit. As a breast cancer survivor, she championed issues related to research and early detection of breast cancer, often saying early detection saved her life.

Vucanovich was elected to seven consecutive terms, retiring at age 75 in 1996 and returning to Reno to be with her family. She remained a force in Nevada Republican politics until her death at age 91.

The Bison Fire was started by a lightning strike on July 4, 2013. This wildfire grew to 24,136 acres before it was contained on July 13.

It burned through rural areas of the Pine Nut Mountains, east of Minden and Gardnerville in Douglas County. Homes in Smith Valley were threatened for a time.

The only structures lost were some old and unused mining structures.

The Rim Fire was hundreds of miles away in California’s Tuolumne and Mariposa counties (including parts of Yosemite National Park), but it had a direct impact on life in the Truckee Meadows. Prevailing winds carried heavy smoke into northern Nevada, creating a choking and unhealthful pall over Reno and vicinity.

Many events and school outdoor activities were curtailed for several days until the air cleared. To the south, Carson City and Douglas County were similarly affected.

The blaze was started by an illegal campfire on August 17, 2013. By the time it was contained on October 24, 2013, the Rim Fire had become the third largest wildfire in California history and the largest ever in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In October, developer and former lobbyist Harvey Whittemore was sentenced to two years in prison and a $100,000 fine after his conviction for using family and employees to make illegal campaign contributions Senator Harry Reid. It came at the end of a six-hour sentencing hearing.

Whittemore is appealing the conviction and the appeal is pending, but must surrender to authorities January 31, 2014, at the Herlong Federal Correctional Institution near Susanville. Meanwhile, Reid remains unscathed by the scandal.

Teacher Michael Landsberry lost his life trying to stop 12-year-old Jose Reyes from shooting his classmate’s jus’ after the first bell rang at Sparks Middle School, October 12. The seventh grader shot two students, then Landsberry in the chest, who died at the scene.

Reyes then turned the gun on himself with deadly results.

Landsberry, a member of the Nevada Air National Guard who retired from the Marine Corps in 1994, worked as an air transportation specialist. He also coached girl’s soccer and volleyball and boys basketball at Sparks High School.

Reyes’ parents say they still don’t know why the boy took the gun, which had been kept in a box above their refrigerator. Police have yet to conclude their investigation.

Reno found itself in the national spotlight once again following the shooting death of Bank of America customer, during a bank robbery.

Van McDuffie faces federal charges of bank robbery with use of a dangerous weapon causing death. He’s accused of killing 80-year-old retired Marine Charles Sperry, who tried to stop McDuffie from stealing $13,000 during the heist.

After months of political wrangling, a proposal to raise money for Washoe County school repairs went down in defeat without a vote before the Washoe County Board of Commissioners.

Four out of five commissioners said they couldn’t support the proposal to raise sales and property taxes for the repairs. A motion by Commissioner Kitty Jung to approve the tax package failed to get a second and died during the meeting in November.

The tax increasing authority was given to the County Commission by the 2013 Nevada Legislature.

After more than a half-century under the Ascuaga family control, Global Gaming & Hospitality in October announced it had purchased John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks. The new owners plan to keep the name on the facade and invest up to $50 million in the coming years to renovate the casino floor, restaurants, hotel rooms and entertainment venues.

The casino sold for $23.12 million.

Six people, including four children, survived sub-zero temperatures for two nights after their Jeep Wrangler tipped over in the Nevada wilderness near Lovelock.

About 200 searchers on the ground and in the air began looking for James Glanton, Christina McIntee and the four children the night they went missing, but the crews faced the rugged terrain in the ‘Seven Troughs Range,’ northwest of Lovelock.

Experts used cellphone tower information to help narrow the search area from thousands of square miles to hundreds. To survive, Glanton burned the Jeep’s spare tire and heated rocks to keep the interior of the vehicle warm.

In the early morning hours of December 17, a man from Lake Almanor, California, walked into a medical building on the Renown Regional Medical Center carrying a shotgun. He took an elevator to the third floor, walked through the reception area at Urology Nevada into the back office and opened fire.

Alan Frazier, who blamed a vasectomy he’d had in 2010 for a painful condition that plagued him for three years, shot and killed Dr. Garo Gholdoian. He critically injured Dr. Christine Lajeunesse and seriously injured 20-year-old Shawntae Spears, who was with a family member at the doctor’s office.

He then shot and killed himself.

In late December, the state made good on its all-out effort to snag a coveted spot as one of the nation’s six testing sites for the commercial development of unmanned aerial vehicles. The Federal Aviation Administration also selected Alaska, North Dakota, Virginia, New York and Texas as drone testing sites.

Nevada’s selection follows a two-year effort that involved elected officials at every level, the state’s higher education system, military partners and commercial drone operators.

Finally, the Reno National Championship Air Races announced it eliminated the position of longtime president and CEO Mike Houghton amid what it calls an ongoing effort to reduce overhead for the 50-year-old event at Reno Stead Airport. The board of directors will fulfill the CEO/president roles and responsibilities for the foreseeable future.

Houghton has held the top spot, since May 1998.

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