TOP STORIES: The 17 most-read stories show the highs and lows of 2017

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It was an incredible year of news in Columbia and mid-Missouri, and by looking at what attracted the most readers, 2017 could be seen as a year of setbacks — from MU layoffs to widespread spring flooding in Missouri — but also of renewal and excitement, such as the repair of Cafe Berlin and the promise of new technology to make travel across the state in a flash.

Here are the top 17 stories of the year, based on reader interest:

There were trillions of Japanese beetles in Missouri this year, an entomologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation told us. Thanks to mild winters, the species as thrived and fed on trees, vines, shrubs, flowers and crops. Aggressive pesticides were the only way to contain these tiny monsters.

Keeping with the agriculture theme, morel mushroom season was a blockbuster for readers. Morel recipes aside, mid-Missourians love the hunt for the fungi, which can fetch $25 to $50 a pound in some cases.

The arrest of three men, Kenneth Ronald Jones, Barry Manthe and Ron Clark, brought the difficulty of prosecuting sex trafficking to our attention — and yours. Columbia Police worked closely with the FBI in this case, but the brothel and others like it had operated for years because prostitution by itself was considered a low priority for the understaffed CPD.

A local tragedy became a national headline when an inquest following a 17-year-old Fayette high school student’s suicide found cause to charge his manager at Dairy Queen with manslaughter for repeatedly bullying the teen. The jury also found that Glasgow High School was negligent in bullying prevention. This story isn’t over, as the school district and Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler wrangle over the release of some of the evidence presented at the inquest.

Anxious Missouri travelers watched for updates on the state’s fumbling efforts to become Real ID compliant. Repeated attempts to bring the state into compliance in the legislative session failed, putting us in limbo. Thanks to several extensions from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, your current Missouri license will be allowed at airports until at least October 2018.

Readers were fascinated to learn more about Missouri’s first lady Sheena Chestnut Greitens, a professor at MU and co-director of its Institute for Korean Studies. Her research interests in East Asia and authoritarian regimes, and her political interest in supporting foster care and adoption services, stem from a personal connection: Her sister, Catherine, was adopted from Seoul, South Korea.

One of the biggest stories of the year was MU’s painful layoffs, and the most-read of those stories brought news of the layoffs of longtime student affairs leader Mark Lucas and residential life’s Frankie Minor. Information on layoffs was difficult to come by as MU moved quickly to consolidate departments to meet increasingly tight budget constraints.

When a community favorite comes under attack, Columbia rallies, and Cafe Berlin was no exception. In what the owner called a “calculated attack,” the break-in left shattered glass across the floor and tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Local downtown businesses donated supplies, food and help to get the restaurant and music venue back in operation.

It was a year of cutbacks at MU, and few aspects of campus life were spared. News of reduced parking permits and increased prices drew readers and outrage. Officials said the decision was made to reduce congestion in the core of the campus and encourage more carpooling, bike commuting and use of public transportation, but many MU students weren’t having it.

The nursing shortage in Missouri hospitals was the highest it had ever been, with nearly 16 percent, or about 6,000, of staff nursing positions left vacant. A nationwide shortage has been spurred by an improving economy that makes retirement more attractive. Columbia’s universities are looking for ways to fill the gaps through their nursing programs.

The Columbia Daily Tribune’s Bill Clark caused a stir in a column about a traffic stop in which he claimed he was treated unfairly and wrote, “I’m lucky I didn’t get shot.” Clark, who had been a columnist at the paper for 60 years, was suspended over the incident. He publicly apologized after a dash cam video was released.

Readers were eager to know about a new parking enforcement tactic, the “Barnacle,” which the city began using this summer. If residents accumulate more than four unpaid parking tickets, they may find themselves in a sticky situation: a large plastic shield with suction cups placed over their windshield, with only city parking officials able to remove it.

After a devastating flood hit Van Buren, Missouri, and destroyed many of its buildings, the town of 800 was quick to begin recovery. No one was killed in the flooding, but structures like homes and the Baptist church would have to be torn down or gutted and rebuilt.

Newly-developed technology created the possibility of a 15-minute trip from Kansas City to St. Louis. Missouri submitted a proposal to a contest hosted by the Los Angeles-based startup Hyperloop One in the hopes of bringing the technology to the state and was one of 11 American semifinalists. Judges and engineers “were impressed by the quality of the KC-St. Louis proposal and feel an opportunity exists” for future development of the route.

Tiger basketball fans were hyped about the possibility of recruiting Jeremiah Tilmon and Kevin Knox. Knox ended up choosing Kentucky over Missouri, but Tilmon committed to the team after asking to be released from his letter of intent to play at Illinois. Tilmon had an impressive start in November and continues to be a player to watch.

Following tough budget cuts across the UM System, MU’s student center, recreation center and unions saw reduced hours. Weekends were most affected by the reductions, and some students were disappointed that places like the MU Student Recreation Complex and certain dining halls wouldn’t be open as late.

Lucy’s Corner Cafe closed its doors after three decades of serving up some of Columbia residents’ favorite breakfast food. Owner Lucy J. Reddick said the closing was “sad but necessary” and that she wanted to leave the business on her own terms.

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