The editorial department of The Press whittled down a list of hundreds of local stories written in 2017 to just 20, then cut that list in half to a Top 10 and ranked them.
There is no exact criteria for what constitutes a “top” story, though a number of factors are considered. What was the impact of the story locally? How many readers did it attract digitally? To what degree was it magnetic on social media? Did it generate letters to the editor? How often did you hear people in coffee shops, bars and restaurants, over business water coolers or after-church meetings talking about it?
These and other sometimes awkward measurements were taken into account, but one decision was made early: The deaths of leading citizens would not be relegated to any sort of ranking. That’s why a cat’s demise appears on this list but the loss of beloved civic leaders does not.
We encourage readers to fashion their own Top 10 local stories of 2017 and share them via letters to the editor. Here’s ours.
1. RENFRO TRIAL: A gaping wound in the heart of the community was finally closed on Nov. 4 when a jury declared Jonathan D. Renfro guilty of murdering Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Greg Moore — K27 — on May 5, 2015. Two days after the guilty verdict was returned, Renfro was sentenced to death by District Court Judge Lansing Haynes.
While a long, drawn-out appeals process is likely, Moore’s wife, Lindy, said: “Nothing can bring Greg back, but we feel justice has been served.”
Moore’s ex-wife, Jennifer Brumley, applied salve to an aching community when she said, “We could not have asked to deal with such tragedy in a more compassionate place.”
As a side note, a community-funded K27 memorial project at McEuen Park is now underway, with groundbreaking in September.
2. CONSTRUCTION BOOM: From a Post Falls-to-Coeur d’Alene roadway to new homes and commercial properties popping up all over Kootenai County, 2017 was a year of prolific construction activity. Building permits piled up at near record levels as construction crews completed the first phase of a $5.4 million project that includes a roundabout on Seltice Way and Atlas Road. Thousands of commuters use that stretch daily, so phase 1 completion Dec. 8 was an early Christmas gift for many.
Not all that grows is good, however. Spirit Lake’s construction boom was threatening the community’s sewer capacity, so civic leaders implemented a building permit moratorium late last summer. Meantime, the county and Coeur d’Alene have both put a fine point on a building code debate that promises to continue well into the new year.
3. ODOM SENTENCED: Kyle Odom was a distinguished Marine combat veteran and a top scholar and genetics researcher at Baylor University. In November, he was sentenced by Judge Haynes to spend at least 10 years in prison for shooting Pastor Tim Remington six times.
Remington not only survived the near-fatal assault in his Altar Church parking lot March 6, 2016, but stunned many who do not know him by showing compassion rather than hatred toward the man who tried to kill him.
“There’s enough hate in this community,” Remington told Odom at sentencing. “What you have in me is a friend, no matter what you did.”
The shooting of Pastor Tim was the top local story in 2016.
4. ATLAS MILL PURCHASE: The public payoff is somewhere down the road. But in September, Coeur d’Alene City Council members agreed to purchase 47 acres along the Spokane River for $7.85 million. The objective: Resell a small portion of the former mill site and convert the rest to recreational property open to the public.
Supporters consider the purchase the first step in creating what they hope will become a popular, easily accessible civic centerpiece along the lines of Tubbs Hill. The property, which features nearly half a mile of shoreline, had been vacant for a decade. Adding color to the property’s history, it’s being sold by Holly Lahti, a former Rathdrum bank teller who had bought the land as an investment with some of the proceeds from her $200 million lottery jackpot win four years ago.
5. KELLY PEASE MURDER: On the afternoon of March 8, the body of 37-year-old Kelly Pease was found in the Kootenai Health parking lot, the victim of a gunshot wound to the head. Roughly 24 hours later, the man who murdered her, 61-year-old Steven T. Denson, killed himself as law enforcement was closing in.
Pease, Denson’s former fiance’, was a mother of five working toward a better life, studying nursing at North Idaho College at the time of her death. Friend and former co-worker Misty Hoover described Pease this way:
“She would give anybody the shirt off her back. She’s a beautiful woman inside and out. She loves her kids so much and would always make sure they had everything they needed. When she would be down to her last dollar she would always find a way to make it happen.”
6. SCHOOL THREATS: In the wake of a fatal shooting at an eastern Washington high school, Lake City High School students and staff were threatened through social media by what turned out to be several students who eventually were charged criminally, expelled or otherwise disciplined. The repercussions of the local threats are still being felt, well after the October terror alert.
Coeur d’Alene School District is considering measures that would limit or even outlaw the use of cellphones during class hours. Other area districts are said to be watching Coeur d’Alene’s smartphone debate closely.
7. ADIOS, IRONMAN: What was a pulse-pounding, community-inspiring new event in 2003 bid farewell to the community on Aug. 27, when competitors raced in the last full 140.6-mile Ironman held in Coeur d’Alene. Ironman and Chamber of Commerce spokespeople attributed the event’s demise to several factors, ranging from introduction of a half-Ironman in 2016 that’s more popular and less expensive for local competitors, to the likelihood that the full event had simply run its course.
8. THE SUMMER OF SMOKE: There’s no better time to enjoy the North Idaho outdoors than summer, right? Well, that wasn’t so true in the summer of ’17. With 21 blazes in the area reported in mid-July and a seeming aerial assault from every direction, our summer was choked by smoke, leading to campfire bans and air quality alerts that kept many residents in their homes. Folks weren’t even able to enjoy a deep sigh of relief until well into autumn.
9. MORE ROOM FOR BAD GUYS: Smoke wasn’t the only thing filling the air last summer. There was plenty of dust from one of the county’s largest construction projects ever: Expansion of the Kootenai County Jail. The $12.4 million, 30,000-square-foot project, paid for from reserve county funds, will increase the number of beds from 327 to 441. The bad news? “We will be full the day that it opens,” Sheriff Ben Wolfinger said.
10. CAT TORTURE: More than $12,000 in rewards were offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for an abused cat that had to be euthanized. No arrest was made, however, after the cat was discovered soaked in what appeared to be diesel oil. The veterinarian who treated the cat found bruising, wounds and lacerations on the animal that were consistent with a noose or attempted hanging. Press stories and publication of a photo of the oil-soaked cat sparked a tremendous outcry in the community, with the highest combined level of online reading, letters to the editor and social media interaction of any 2017 local news event.
Editor’s note: The Press wishes to acknowledge just some of the many leading local citizens who passed away in 2017, including Duane Jacklin, Bob Templin, Jack Bannon, Gary Ingram, Doug Magnuson, Todd Hudson, John Adams, Dick Phenneger, Samantha Ramsay and others.
Top stories honorable mention: Low unemployment, transit center debate, Kmart closes, Post Falls opens new drivers license office, new airport director hired, railroad crossing accidents mount, local fascination with solar eclipse, Playland Pier carousel opens, Julian Redman pedals cross country on penny-farthing bicycle.