Don’t look back

Was 2002 the scariest year ever?

Photo By David Robert





Does everyone recognize the names of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? How about this?

War on Terrorism.

Anthrax. Smallpox.

Angola, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Beltway sniper. Child abductions.

Don’t you love starting a journey on an up note?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” wrote the philosopher, poet, literary and cultural critic George Santayana back in 1905. He was talking about big-picture concepts in The Life of Reason, but there’s a simple elegance to the statement that resonates in our day-to-day lives.

Photo By David Robert

As 2002 completes its cycle—the trees are naked, the family is reconciled after a fine Yule holiday, a certain ball drops at midnight in an Eastern seaboard city—it’s time to take a look back at the events that created the world we live in today and will live in tomorrow.

Last year’s news began on a righteous note in January. The United States was fighting the good fight in Afghanistan, rooting out the Taliban and rounding up some Al-Qaida attack dogs while others cowered under rocks and in caves. There were dread-inducing headlines, too, as on Jan. 5, when it was reported that the first U.S. soldier of the year was killed in action in Afghanistan.

The prisoners in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, were garnering a lot of newsprint: Were the detainees prisoners of war? John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban, was charged, with parents saying their poor boy was misunderstood. Late in January came the news that Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, had been kidnapped. An Accutane-crazed teenager slams his airplane into a building in Florida.

George W. Bush was hawkish. In fact, perusing last year’s newspapers, it becomes obvious that if the Reno News & Review had a Newsmaker of the Year issue, Dubya would be on the cover. For good or ill, he played a part in a huge percentage of the stories that were read in 2002, everything from the War on Terrorism to pretzels to the economy to the elections to the Trent Lott loafer-in-mouth incident.

Bush was prepared to escalate the war wherever it could go, as evinced by his Jan. 30 State of the Union speech in which he called Iran, Iraq and North Korea an “Axis of Evil.” His aides were quick to “tone down” the statement, but every sophisticated media consumer knew Bush’s aides wrote, analyzed and polished that speech. Those who smell something on the breeze but ignore it are condemned to the same future as those who can’t remember walking past the Dumpster.

January was also a sorrow-filled month in Reno. Rollan Melton, a longtime Reno journalist, passed away in his sleep on Jan. 13. Later, Dan Hansen, perennial candidate and adversary of liberals, died in a car accident.

Not all the headlines in Reno were bad. The Olympic torch passed through Reno; a group launched a petition drive to block the train trench; new home sales set a record in 2001; a decision was near about what to do with the Mapes site—the irony drips like jet fuel into the drinking water in Fallon.

January was also the month that Las Vegas fight officials revoked Mike Tyson’s boxing license. It seemed there were some things that were just too hot for Nevada. And then Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham recommended Yucca Mountain to the president as the nation’s nuclear dump.

February looked like it was going to be a sports month. The bookmakers were making bank. The Patriots edged out the Rams for Super Bowl honors. Salt Lake City was in full gear for the 2002 winter games. Locals were heading to the games in droves, and some were even participating, such as Sparks snowboarder Lisa Odynski. The major misstep of this year’s games had a judge on her ass, but the Canadian and Russian ice skaters bravely chose to clone gold medals.

Then the story turns a little more distasteful. Ex-Enron boss Ken Lay backed out of a congressional hearing, fearing for his reputation. Or something. Soon, Lay would be just one of the sinners, as names like WorldCom, Tyco and Adelphia would take over the space above the fold.

George the Second sighted in on $591 billion in tax cuts; took aim on welfare mothers; emphasized terror in the budget; crafted a plan for dealing with Saddam. The power utility targeted rate hikes; the university increased parking costs; ex-Governor Bob List said Yucca could be good for Nevada business; opponents claimed Yucca waste might come through Reno; Bush approved the Yucca site.

Standard fare, it seemed, but there were the occasional fear-heightening news bites, just to keep the populace from sleeping at night. The FBI warned of terror attacks, and three men were charged in the kidnapping of reporter Daniel Pearl. Later in the month, the proof of Pearl’s heinous torture and death came to light in a video the murderers made. The poor little girl, Danielle Van Dam, was also sacrificed to some unrecognizable god in February; she would be the first high-profile child abduction of the year.

The Oil-Dri kitty litter plant in Hungry Valley was turned away for a minute; and three years after 33 horses were shot to death in Storey County, two men got jail time for killing one horse, and a third got probation. There was the incompetent cremator in Georgia, and oh, yeah, the Texas mom who killed her children, Andrea Yates, may have been nuts. Then there was a story more ominous than the passing of Waylon Jennings, “Growth pulling the plug on water"; it seemed there were more houses planned in the Truckee Meadows than there was water to support them.

Photo By David Robert

March came in like a lion. On the first day of the month, it came to light that President Bush had set up a shadow executive branch of the government to run the country in case of devastating attacks on Washington, D.C. What’s this shadow government doing these days? Sen. Harry Reid, in an unpublished interview, asked the most pertinent question: If the shadow government falls, will anybody hear it?

Six months after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, more back-story news had begun to trickle in. Airport security had screened nine of the Sept. 11 attackers. Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge announced his five-stage, color-coded terrorist warning system.

Bush was top newsmaker for the spring month. One story suggested that environmental policy might see broad change; another outlined his policy toward Iraq. The countdown begins: 10,000, 9,999, 9,998 …

But the really big local news had to do with education and budget cuts and educational budget cuts. Three elementary schools in the Truckee Meadows kicked ass on the TerraNova testing—Caughlin Ranch, Elizabeth Lenz and Roy Gomm. On the other hand, three schools—Sierra Vista, Traner Middle School and Desert Heights Elementary—got their asses kicked. In an effort to improve schools (OK, maybe there was an $10 million Washoe County School District budget shortfall), the district began to look for successful programs to cut. Among others, the district went after arts, gifted-and-talented programs, team bus cuts, at-risk and vocational programs, sex education and Truckee Meadows Community High School. Some programs got reprieves, others got the ax. District Superintendent Jim Hagar’s base salary remained on track for an increase to $150,000.

In other news, the United Nations voted in favor of a Palestinian state, the violence in the Holy Land reached new heights with the Seder massacre and Yasser Arafat’s compound went under siege. The owners of the dog that mauled a San Francisco woman to death were found guilty. The Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority suggested that the Liberty Belle might make a good appetizer for the bulldozer. The Catholic Church was having a tough Easter month as the pedophile priest scandal deepened. Nevada lost a former senator when Howard Cannon died; television lost an icon when Milton Berle changed channels; and Britain lost a mom when the Queen Mother turned the page at 101.

April did little to take the edge off the Year of Terror. Can it be that the news is really all bad? Popular lawman Mills Lane’s stroke began the month with a threat of mortality. Wallets were clutched close to the hip when news came that the train trench might cost more than previously suspected. Doctors were sickened by the rising cost of malpractice insurance.

Gov. Kenny Guinn vetoed the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage plan, which, in the minds of the feeble, raised the hope that Yucca could be stopped by political means.

In the month of April, Reno City Councilwoman Sherrie Doyle got another headline related to her campaign finance issues, “Councilwoman indicted on 16 felony counts.” It’s unlikely that 2002 will go down in Sherrie’s memory book as “The Best Year Ever.”

Finally, there was some good news: The Reno City Clerk received in April more than 15,000 signatures requesting a vote on the train trench. Sighs were exhaled across the Truckee Meadows as faith in our democratic system of government was restored. A few days later, the City Council approved a bond sale for the trench. The real election news started, with Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin bowing out of the mayoral race.

Middle East tensions didn’t decrease any in April; Arafat was still under siege and, early in the month, Palestinian gunmen took over Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.

Robert Blake was arrested for the murder of his wife; Peter Bergna started a new trial for the murder of his wife; and a German student killed 18. A police oversight board was decided to be unnecessary in Reno; a suicidal man got his wish when police killed him. Three were killed in a motorcycle gang gunfight in Laughlin.

The Catholic Church, during the month of April, maintained its tenets about priest marriage, birth control, homosexuality, female priests and pope infallibility.

In the merry month of May, a moronic pipe bomber captured America’s attention. “It’s terrorists,” echoed pundits. Five people were hurt in two states, and Midwesterners avoided their mailboxes. But this wasn’t any terrorist—at least not by accepted definitions; this was a drug-addled coward who placed his bombs, then ran away like a recalcitrant schoolboy playing doorbell ditch. Reno made the national wires when Lucas Helder was captured near Lockwood and had his first appearance before a judge. Could he really have been making an explosive smiley face?

Yucca Mountain got the congressional go-ahead in 2002.

Photo By David Robert

America must have needed some comic relief, because Spider-Man set a new record for opening weekend box office receipts by grossing more than $114 million, smashing the previous record of $90.3 million set by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The elections moved to the front burner in May. Fifteen stalwarts signed up to lose to incumbent Kenny Guinn; sensing a wounded adversary, three declared against Doyle (although more would get on the bandwagon); blind to the graffiti on the wall, five signed up for the steel-cage, four-way race for second in the mayor’s race.

In the Truckee Meadows, the five-year regional plan, with its ballooning spheres of influence for Reno and Sparks, was OK’d by the Regional Planning Board. Washoe County would have something to say about it in a court of law before it was all over. Remember those banner headlines about new-home growth and lack of resources?

Five people were killed and two injured in an I-80 crash—this news would only worsen.

In the bigger picture, Jimmy Carter went to Fidel Castro’s pad, tanks moved away from the Bethlehem Church of the Nativity, and the Vatican was praying the priests would move away from the altar boys. Pakistan and India moved to the brink of nuclear war. Chandra Levy’s body surfaced in a park.

On May 31, there was a ceremony to commemorate the completion of the World Trade Center cleanup. Announced on the same day, the FBI got sweeping new powers to root out domestic terrorists and dissenters.

James Russell Lowell might have had his question—What is so rare as a day in June? —answered had he picked up the newspaper and seen the story about Winona Ryder’s preliminary shoplifting hearing being delayed because she got injured by a cameraman.

Stephen Scharosch was looking at the possibility of life in prison for being drunk and stoned when he killed those five people on I-80. Peter Bergna was finally found guilty of killing his wife by staging a crash off a cliff—he got a life sentence.

There was a seven-hour Citifare strike, just for drivers to show that they mean business—not that anyone paid any attention.

Washoe District Judge James Hardesty ruled that it was OK for the city to sell bonds to finance the train trench. A few days later, he would block the public’s imagined right to a vote on the train trench.

Another child, Elizabeth Smart, was stolen from her family.

Fire season began in earnest. While wildfires are headline fodder every year, 2002 seemed drier, hotter and windier than usual. A lot of stuff burned, but when the acres were counted, it wasn’t as bad as 2001. While covering the Cannon fire, near Walker, Calif., KOLO-TV made video as a four-engine C-130 Hercules caught fire and crashed, killing three. This was the single most remarkable footage of the year filmed by a local TV station.

In July, a young man’s fancy turns toward Artown. Believe it or not, Artown is the event most worthy of headlines in the Truckee Meadows—especially in the month of July. This year the event started with $780,000, according to our daily newspaper.

Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge, Sen. Harry Reid and Gov. Kenny Guinn check out an anti-terrorism demonstration at the Nevada Test Site.

Photo By David Robert

Lake Tahoe also began getting ink, not for its famed beauty or fading clarity, but for its elevation. In early July, it was more than a foot below its level the previous year. Tough month for the environment, as July progressed, the Gondola fire sparked up. Northern Nevada was experiencing a drought, but it was nothing compared to what they were seeing in the Midwest.

In July, Rep. James Traficant was expelled from the House of Representatives for taking kickbacks.

Remember how hot it got? Reno set a record with 108 degrees on July 10. It turned out to be the hottest month on record.

It’s easy to point out funny headlines when this sort of research is done, but a July 12 one was a doozy, “Disease is second-leading cause of cancer deaths in men.”

The stock market dive filled some news holes. It was the only thing dropping faster than the skivvies over at the rectory. One of the biggest stories of the year is that American business sucked hind tit—from jobs to the markets to government budgets—and nobody knew what to do about it. In July, with $103.9 billion in assets, WorldCom set a record for the largest bankruptcy ever. And the only people who weren’t worrying about their IRAs were those nine coal miners trapped in a mine in Pennsylvania.

Another child, Samantha Runnion, was stolen from her family.

All in all, it wasn’t what you’d call a great news month.

Hot August Nights. Separation of Siamese twins. Heavy floods in Europe. Reno-Tahoe Open. Nevada State Fair. Showers fire. Burning Man. Pride.

The local bad news was that Artown attendance had declined by about 30,000 people, down from 160,000. The good news was that arrests were down for Hot August Nights. The special session of the Nevada Legislature, which began in July, ended with a malpractice bill. The expanded and renovated Reno-Sparks Convention Center opened with a gala event. The teenagers who bludgeoned the doctor outside of the mosque got 14 to 40 years. The Washoe County Jail escapee and his alleged accomplice were rounded up in San Leandro, Calif.

Citifare workers went on strike; some passengers were surprised. A couple weeks later, the drivers were asked to return. Passengers were relieved; now they could ride the bus instead of dealing with the Spaghetti Bowl construction, which began on the 12th.

Bus drivers weren’t the only ones complaining about money; Gov. Kenny Guinn asked state agencies to cut their budgets by 3 percent to close a gap of $275 million. UNR responded by asking for an extra $254 million.

The trial of Rocky Boice Jr. over the death of Sammy Resendiz began.

Casino owner Sharkey Begovitch died. He was one of the good ones. He didn’t die of tainted seafood, as did one man. No, we didn’t hear which Mexican restaurant (Tacos El Rey) served the tainted food for nearly two weeks, but we did stay away from all Mexican restaurants.

Pot got smoked in Election 2002.

Photo By David Robert

In election news, Bob Cashell got rapped for using his opponents’ relatives on a billboard. The constituents stayed away unapathetically from candidate forums. The fear factor in August was actually low. While the feds cautioned to keep vigilance high, compared to the terrorist rhetoric in July before Independence Day, it was a pretty dull month.

September morns brought news of air races, primary elections and an anniversary that nobody looked forward to. September will no doubt always be a month of remembrance, with Sept. 11, 2001 as important and infamous to the American psyche as Dec. 7, 1941. This September the color-coded terror alert system reached orange, the second-highest rating.

In train trench news, the Nevada Supreme Court said (finally, again) the public wasn’t to be allowed a binding vote on the trench.

Washoe District Judge James Hardesty ordered Reno, Sparks and Washoe County officials into mediation to resolve their differences over the new regional plan. Locals who worried that it was Hardesty who allowed Reno officials to destroy the Mapes Hotel and supported Reno in its battle against the trench predicted the county would get screwed. They were wrong.

In other shocking news, Gov. Kenny Guinn thought some new taxes might be necessary—but not on gaming and not on … gaming. By the way, the $275 million shortfall was looking more like $333 million. Is it possible to increase taxes on cigarettes, air and Similac? Whadayamean, there’s no tax on air? The Governor’s Task Force on Tax Policy, which was formed during the last legislative session, gained headlines as the November deadline approached for its recommendations.

A woman was killed as she tried to flag down a Citifare bus. She was the sixth pedestrian fatality this year. Veteran Reno Police Officer Mike Scofield was killed in a traffic accident; toxicology reports suggest the other driver may have been under the influence of marijuana. Melvin Gordon, a former radio host, was found dead in his home. Homicide was suspected. Rocky Boice Jr. was found guilty of murder. Also in local news, Street Vibrations rumbled into town and the Sierra Safari Zoo got a wallaby.

In the real primary election news, Dwight Dortch and Julie Sferrazza smashed Sherrie Doyle’s reelection chances.

In red October, 10 people were killed and up to eight were wounded by snipers near Washington, D.C. “It’s terrorists,” echoed pundits. Two suspects were arrested on Oct. 24.

Fears about exhausting the available water put Washoe County officials on the offensive. They said they would not accept Judge Hardesty’s negotiated growth settlement, if Reno and Sparks didn’t work toward a sounder method of planning for increases.

On a lighter note, remember how U.S. Navy personnel abused government-supplied credit cards and charged $13,250 at two Nevada brothels? The election was only weeks away and it seemed the only person who was having any fun was George W. Bush, who was raising Republican money like he had something riding on it. Turned out he did: His entire agenda was there for the taking.

On Oct. 11, an 18-year-old fraternity pledge drowned in Manzanita Lake on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus. Allegations of alcohol use and hazing were made. Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick began an immediate investigation. Later in the month, Anna Marie Jackson, the woman who was driving the car that killed Officer Scofield, was arrested. It was claimed that she had three times the legal limit of marijuana in her blood.

Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash.

The Bali bomb killed more than 180 people. “It’s terrorists,” echoed pundits. Sadly, this time they were right. They were right again when terrorists took over a Moscow theater with more than 800 innocents inside.

The Year 2002 seemed just a prelude to war with Iraq. The countdown continues.

Photo By David Robert

All this news was pushed aside as the probe into Martha Stewart’s ImClone insider trading captured the airwaves.

Has anyone come up with a cute name for the Republican nut stomp that was the November election?

The other big November news was that Bush got through his Department of Homeland Security. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is at the helm. It is intended to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States; reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism; minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur; and keep an eye on U.S. citizens through programs like the Information Awareness Office. It’s kind of too bad that George Orwell titled his book 1984. Of course, he was writing about fascism.

December is a month of endings. Events that got their start back in January have wound their way here all the livelong year.

December about blew us away. Winds were clocked at 82 miles an hour in Reno and topped at 134 mph on Squaw Peak. It’s an ill wind that blows no good, though, as hot-air-blowing Trent Lott proved. He gave up his position as the majority leader in the Senate shortly after he gave up his mind in a speech praising the racist virtues of Strom Thurmond.

Sherrie Doyle got her last headline of the year on Dec. 27: Doyle avoids felony with plea bargain. She pled 13 felonies down to one gross misdemeanor. Yeah, Joe Sixpack would get that opportunity.

North Korea finally took the Axis of Evil statement seriously and suggested that a nuclear war wasn’t out of the question.

Five black men who were convicted of beating and raping a woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989 were exonerated of the crime. None were released from prison, as they’d already served their sentences.

Downtown casinos, in an effort to improve bottom lines, said they wouldn’t have New Year’s Eve fireworks this year but recanted. In a bid to endure itself to the local population, the University of Nevada, Reno, announced plans to tear down a copse of trees and the Fleischmann Planetarium to put up a tree museum (parking lot).

Frank Ibarra was found not guilty of killing a drug dealer and his girlfriend.

Lots of nice businesses did lots of nice things for lots of poor people in honor of Christmas.

Rocky Boice Jr. got 10 to 25 years, doubled because of the use of a deadly weapon. That means he’ll spend at least 20 years in prison.

The Liberty Belle won a three-month reprieve.

To end the year as it began, we were warned to be vigilant on New Year’s Eve. Those terrorists like high-profile targets.