TOP 10 STORIES OF 2012
This year, instead of telling you which local news events of the past year we believed were most important, we turned to our website traffic to see which articles grabbed the most attention.
The following 10 news stories were some of the most-viewed among our online readers for many different reasons. Some were well read because of their enormous impact on the community as a whole, or because they raised issues that touched our families. Others made readers laugh, revealed unexpected surprises or just explained where all those fire trucks were headed. That variety, we realized, is what a community newspaper should be doing: informing, entertaining and helping to knit us all together.
1. PCMR Talisker
It was toward the end of the 2011-2012 ski season that Park City’s ski industry, and the town itself, was shaken by a lawsuit filing that could eventually have deep repercussions in the community.
Park City Mountain Resort in March sued its landlord, Talisker Land Holdings, LLC, claiming that the firm was attempting to interfere with its business if not shut down the resort outright. The case, which continues, centered on whether PCMR properly renewed its lease for the Talisker Land Holdings acreage where much of the resort operates.
PCMR’s president and general manager, Jenni Smith, said at the outset PCMR "could be forced to close" if it did not prevail. The resort claimed that it properly exercised an option to extend it lease. Talisker Land Holdings disagreed, though, propelling the two sides into Third District Court.
The two sides faced each other during an October hearing. The attorneys for PCMR and Talisker Land Holdings each outlined a far different scenario. The PCMR attorney warned of a catastrophe if the lease is lost. The attorney for Talisker Land Holdings, though, contended that PCMR’s side did not adhere to the terms of the option and that the court system should not be used to bail the resort out.
Judge Ryan Harris in November issued a ruling dismissing some points of PCMR’s lawsuit, calling the dispute "unfortunate." A trial could be scheduled later on the remaining issues.
2. Westgate founder livid
During a visit to his Park City property in August, David Siegel, the founder of Westgate Resorts, was fuming about the wide release of a Sundance Film Festival documentary that he said defamed his family and his business.
According to Siegel, Lauren Greenfield, a noted filmmaker, originally approached him about documenting his efforts to build a 90,000-square-foot mansion in Florida. The home, dubbed "Versailles" for its extravagant design, was reputed to be the largest house in America. But, during filming, the story took an unexpected turn. The recession forced Siegel to stop construction on the house and also affected plans to complete his flagship timeshare resort in Las Vegas.
Greenfield kept her cameras rolling, though, capturing intimate footage of the family’s financial tumble. So, instead of a portrait of the rich and famous, the film "The Queen of Versailles" told a cautionary tale about a lavish lifestyle pulled up short by a fragile economy.
That infuriated Siegel, who claimed his business, including the successful resort in Park City, was back on track and work had resumed on the house in Florida.
3. Profane Sass sparks altercation
On a July afternoon, a traveling group of musicians arrived on Main Street to perform for the crowds, some acoustic tunes that they did not anticipate being problematic.
But the band, known as Profane Sass, quickly became embroiled in a legal dispute with City Hall that resulted in the arrest of two of the musicians. The police said the band did not have a permit and the musicians were making it difficult for people to pass on the sidewalk. The confrontation, which also involved a Building Department official, escalated and the two musicians were taken into custody.
Another Profane Sass member described the Building Department official as acting "super-aggressively." The police officer, meanwhile, grabbed a mandolin from one of the members, Kim Mullen, the band’s banjo player and a singer, said. She called the episode the "worst police interaction we’ve ever had."
The two arrested musicians were eventually released from the Summit County Jail.
Profane Sass would later suffer a tragedy involving one of the musicians arrested in Park City. Tomas Garreton, a 25-year-old who grew up in Oregon, died in early September in a fall from a freight train outside of Philadelphia.
"He lived the life he chose and he loved the life he lived," his mother, Toni Garreton, said after the death.
The other band member arrested in Park City, Jeremy Sullivan, did not appear at a court date in September. An arrest warrant was issued.
4. Local mom mourns son lost to drugs
In February, Sheila Kirst’s fears were confirmed. Her son, Jacob, a graduate of Park City High School and an avid snowboarder, had died from a heroin overdose. But, instead of hiding the truth, she chose to use her son’s story to warn other families about the dangers of drugs in the community.
Kirst traced her son’s addiction to the use of painkillers following a sports injury. She urged parents to closely monitor their children’s use of medicines especially the potent narcotic Oxycontin.
Like many families, Kirst said she and her husband struggled to find treatment options to help their son overcome his addiction and in the process learned that drugs like heroin were readily available throughout Park City and Summit County.
Her observations were echoed by local law enforcement and medical personnel, who estimated that over the previous two years Summit and Wasatch counties had seen at least one drug-related death a month. A local youth who was at last winning his own battle against drug problems also shared his experiences.
Kirst’s call to action was read and shared throughout the schools and local health agencies and, as she had hoped, helped open a dialog about the abuse of both pharmaceutical and illegal drugs in the community.
5. A date made possible by Sundance
It was one of the more noteworthy only-during-Sundance moments involving a regular Parkite.
Rory Murphy, a 47-year-old developer and father of two, ended up escorting 22-year-old country superstar Taylor Swift for an evening in January. Swift was in Park City for a documentary about Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, and needed someone to accompany her to a dinner and discussion in Old Town.
A publicist involved in the documentary spoke to a Sundance Institute trustee about Swift. The trustee knew Murphy and asked him to take Swift. Murphy had to cancel a date to attend.
Murphy later said he spent three hours with Swift, talking about the singer’s creative process, her family and her upbringing. He talked about his two kids.
"She could not have been a kinder, nicer, more gracious young lady. Truly," Murphy said.
Swift greeted Sundance founder Robert Redford and singer Mary J. Blige while others at the event asked if they could take pictures with her.
Celebrities are drawn to Park City during Sundance, some arriving with films and others heading to the city for the scene. It is rare, though, that a Park City person catches more than a quick glimpse of a star.
Murphy, though, had to admit to Swift he was not much of a fan of her songs.
"I confessed to her at one point in the evening I really didn’t listen to her music," he said. "That was probably the only awkward moment between us."
6. Wolf Mountain lawsuit ends in sheriff’s sale
In March, American Skiing Company purchased more than 1,000 acres at a sheriff’s sale. The land was originally owned by Wolf Mountain Resort, L.C., and included property Canyons Resort operates on. The winning bidder, American Skiing Company, is a subsidiary of Talisker Corp., the parent company of Canyons.
With only one bid of $50 million from ASC, the auction ended only moments after bidding opened in the crowded Third District Court room at the Summit County Justice Center.
The auction followed a $54.4M judgment and six years of litigation in which ASC won a lawsuit against Wolf Mountain. The case stemmed from a dispute in which ASC claimed that Wolf Mountain attempted to stall construction on a golf course, which is currently expected to be completed in 2013. ASC argued its rights under a 200-year lease agreement to develop the property.
The former Wolf Mountain-owned property was auctioned to pay off the judgment. Wolf Mountain was unable to match the $50M put forward by ASC over the redemption period following the auction, releasing the 53 parcels of land to Summit County which then transferred the parcels to the Talisker subsidiary.
7. Neighborhood icon passes away
A well-known zebra, Ace, who lived alongside the Silver Summit exit on U.S. 40, died from unknown causes on Nov. 10. The zebra was well known among kids in the neighborhood who grew up frequenting the two-and-a-half-acre lot where Ace lived, along with a miniature donkey and a buffalo. The owner, Dave Belcher, was out of town when Ace first became sick and when he returned neither he nor a local vet could save the animal.
Belcher said he believed Ace may have contracted colic after eating too many leaves in the pasture. Ace was memorialized with his own Facebook page where many of his human fans posted memories and photos of their days together. Belcher said because the animals are so popular, he will probably purchase another zebra. "The kids come during the summer months right up to the fence. We have a little bit of grain they can feed them. The kids love them," he said
8. Fire at jordanelle
The Fox Bay fire on the west side of the Jordanelle Reservoir burned 550 acres between Aug. 19 and Aug. 21, at a cost of $220,000 to Wasatch County and the Utah State Forestry Department. Fire crews from North and South Summit, Park City, as well as state, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management agencies assisted Wasatch County in fighting the fire which came within 80 feet of the Summit County border.
An electrical substation near the Jordanelle Reservoir was damaged knocking out power to about 2,000 Wasatch and Summit County customers about 250 residences were threatened. Residents in Fox Bay, Stillwater Lodge and town homes, and The Shores neighborhood were evacuated as a precautionary measure, but were allowed to return home the following day. At one point, high winds caused concerns that the fire could cross U.S. 40 and spread into Deer Valley but those fears did not materialize. The rapid multi agency response was credited with preventing any homes from being damaged.
9. Glenwood cemetery death
Tragedy struck a Lehi family during a visit to Park City in July, an accident that left emergency responders sorrowful as they were unable to save a young boy.
The family of Carson Dean Cheney, a 4-year-old, was at the Glenwood Cemetery when a large headstone fell on the boy. The family freed the boy from underneath the headstone and he was rushed to the Park City Medical Center. He could not be saved and died at this hospital.
It was a death that stunned the community. The boy’s grandmother described him as being energetic, sweet and beloved. Phil Kirk, a Park City Police Department captain, said afterward it was a difficult episode.
"Everybody was doing their best to try to save this young boy’s life. We’re all struggling with this one," Kirk said.
The Glenwood Cemetery Association, the organization that oversees the historic cemetery, closed the grounds out of respect. The cemetery reopened more than a month later, posting signs requesting people not touch the headstones and asking that they stay on footpaths.
City Hall, meanwhile, canvassed the Park City Cemetery after the tragedy looking for headstones that could pose a danger. Caution tape was put around some of the headstones. A monument company was later hired to secure the headstones with strengthening rods.
10. Fire at brewpub
In the predawn hours of Nov. 9, the smoke started to billow into the air from the upper reaches of Main Street.
It was coming from the Wasatch Brew Pub, the longtime restaurant and one of the anchors of upper Main Street. The 911 call came in 6:12 a.m., and flames had erupted by the time the police and firefighters arrived at the building.
The flames were estimated to be eight feet tall when firefighters got to the building. The fire spread between a deck and the interior of the Wasatch Brew Pub. It took firefighters approximately 40 minutes to knock down the visible flames and then extinguish the rest of the visible fire.
The damage was extensive inside. A few days later, parts of the interior were charred, there was water damage and the smell of the smoke remained in the air.
The investigation quickly focused on the possibility of the spontaneous combustion of rags that had been used by workers resurfacing the floors. The investigators, though, later determined the cause to be accidental. The early damage estimate was in the tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps $80,000.
The fire damage itself covered an approximate area of 196 square feet, but the smoke and water damage spread well beyond the site of the fire. No beer was lost, Wasatch Brew Pub owner Greg Schirf said, though.
"It’s disheartening to see something you built 25 years ago," Schirf said as he described arriving at the scene. "It was pretty daunting."
The Wasatch Brew Pub has since reopened, ensuring that it did not miss the busiest part of the ski season.
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Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt died Friday from injuries sustained in an off-duty accident earlier in the week, the agency announced.