Authors Articles byMichelle Chance

Michelle Chance

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Miguel Figueroa. PCSO photo

The man accused of killing his wife with a sword in 2016 will face 25 years to life in prison after admitting guilt in court Monday.

Miguel Figueroa pleaded guilty May 21 to the first-degree murder of Olivia Figueroa near the Heritage District in Maricopa.

As part of the plea deal, a kidnapping charge was dropped.

Figueroa also admitted guilt in the attempted aggravated assault of his son with a .22 caliber gun in the same incident. He agreed to serve six years in the Department of Corrections as part of the plea on that charge.

Pinal County Judge Kevin White said Figueroa’s admittance to the two counts resulted in an automatic violation of his probation, stemming from two drug paraphernalia possession convictions in 2015.

The disposition on the probation violation will be heard during sentencing June 18 at 1:30 p.m.

However, sentencing may be delayed by the defense counsel in a future motion which would ask to continue the court date in lieu of hiring an expert to identify the mitigating and aggravating factors in the probation case.

Figueroa’s plea comes nearly two months before his trial date in July. White vacated the trial Monday.


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Supervisor Anthony Smith talks about a recovering economy in his State of the County address. Photo by Michelle Chance

The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce hosted its first State of the County address Thursday evening.

Former city Mayor and current Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith led the conversation May 18 inside Elements Event Center.

Smith touted Pinal’s progress since the economic downturn at the beginning of the last decade.

“We are the first county to recover all the jobs that were lost during the recession,” Smith said.

Pinal’s unemployment rate as the recession peaked was higher than 11 percent. It’s now 4.6 percent, according to Smith.

“That basically means everybody who wants a job, has a job,” Smith said.

Pinal tops the state in growth at 14.49 percent. Maricopa County is second. However, the rapid development brings to the county a fair share of challenges.

Smith said the county has included goals in its strategic plan to lessen tax burdens on residents.

By 2021, the goal is to have the property tax rate reduced to 3.75 percent. Smith said property valuations and state tax revenues are growing.

The biggest slice in the county’s budget, 62 percent of the pie, goes to law enforcement, the adult detention center and the judicial system.

Pinal County Sherriff Mark Lamb said since being elected in 2016, the county jail population has decreased by nearly 200 prisoners.

“It’s not because we’re not arresting people,” Lamb said. “We are protecting these communities, but we’ve been working well with the County Attorney’s Office and we’re reducing your cost for you, the taxpayer.”

Smith talked about problems the county plans to address in the Maricopa area, including State Route 347.

The solution in Smith’s eyes was, of course, last year’s two, successful RTA ballot initiatives that are meant to improve roadways across the county.

Smith often called upon the county’s “brain trust” to speak to the work county employees are doing to increase its job prospects, tourism and big business.

Those appearances featured presentations from County Public Works Director Louis Anderson, County Manager Greg Stanley, Economic Development Program Manager Tim Kanavel and Joel Millman, Workforce Development Program Management for Arizona@Work Pinal County.

A glimpse into Pinal’s ideal future included road improvements, solving chronic flooding issues, reversing the exodus of workers outside the county and local job creation.

Arizona House Rep. Vince Leach (R-District 11), Mayor Christian Price, Maricopa Justice of the Peace Lyle Riggs, Constable Bret Roberts and city council members also attended the event.


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Firefighters knock down a vehicle fire on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. Photo by Michelle Chance

Fire crews responded to a fully engulfed camper trailer Thursday afternoon on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway about one mile east of White and Parker Road.

The roadside blaze closed portions of the highway in both directions for more than an hour. The Maricopa Police Department re-opened the road at approximately 3:40 p.m.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, said MPD Patrol Officer Jeff Brooks.

The camper trailer was reportedly being hauled east toward Casa Grande. Maricopa Fire/Medical Department and Ak-Chin Fire Department responded to the scene.


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About 10 percent of the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce's membership attended the Thursday morning breakfast. Photo by Michelle Chance

The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce is in transition as it once again searches for a new executive director.

Members are brainstorming the Chamber’s evolution and plotting its own survival.

“We are open to ideas; it’s just how do we get these ideas done with the budget that we have and without a captain running the ship?” Chamber Board President Chris Cahall asked members during a meeting May 10.

Former Director Terri Crain resigned last month and is volunteering part-time until the Chamber finds her replacement.

Cahall prompted suggestions from members on who would they would like to see fill that role.

However, in talks about the Chamber’s future, Cahall revealed what’s next could be more complicated than a simple personnel search.

“Everything is on the table,” Cahall explained. “Even closing the chamber.”

Working with a $100,000 annual budget, the Chamber sinks most of it into rent, utilities and the director’s salary, Cahall said.

It’s left with a $20,000 chunk to invest in member services every year.

Cahall urged membership and the Board to innovate the chamber to become a relevant asset to local business owners. There are up 250-300 chamber members; Nearly 30 attended the meeting Thursday morning.

Members answered back with a variety of suggestions, including leaving its space on Honeycutt Road to alleviate overhead costs, increasing the salary and insurance package for its future director and lending an olive branch to local chambers in an effort to combine membership dues, among others.

Chamber member Tom Buessing offered to donate office space from his own company, Highway 238 Industrial Park.

“We can’t dissolve this chamber; it’s not an option,” Buessing said.

UltraStar Multi-tainment Center General Manager Adam Saks suggested adding health insurance to the future director’s benefits package to attract a highly qualified applicant.

Saks echoed other members who said they’d like to hire a candidate who will end the revolving door of high-turnaround hires that have plagued the Chamber in recent years.

Saks also took aim at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Maricopa Power Networking Group, describing the separate chambers as “the biggest detriment to what’s been going on” with perceived fragmentation among the groups.

“Much as the community and the city work together to always weave that fabric tighter, the chambers are just shooting holes in each other, and the fabric is falling apart,” Saks added.

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Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board Member Julia Gusse was in attendance. The Maricopa city councilwoman is also a member of the Maricopa chamber.

Gusse said the Hispanic Chamber was created, in part, to break down language barriers she said the Maricopa Chamber could not tackle.

She said Latino business owners in the city felt disenfranchised.

“I made this recommendation (in the past) to the Chamber that they needed someone who spoke Spanish and not someone necessarily who’s Hispanic,” Gusse said.

Cahall responded to Gusse, saying the Maricopa Chamber offered a seat on their Board to the Hispanic Chamber, but the offer was not taken.

County Supervisor, Anthony Smith, a former Maricopa mayor, suggested the Chamber find ways to compromise with its counterparts and combine.

Smith also voiced his concern over what he called the city council’s “lack of support” toward the Maricopa Chamber.

“I think any city that wants to have strong economic development must have the coupling between city leadership and the business community, and I don’t see that 100 percent from the Maricopa City Council,” Smith said. “To be honest with you, that is unhealthy.”

Mayor Christian Price, a Chamber member, suggested revolutionizing what the Chamber has grown accustomed to in its practices by unifying chamber factions.

“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and we’ve got to tear it all down and restart it. That doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bath water,” Price said.

“It’s going to take all of these groups coming together, and that will help us as a chamber on how we need to function and operate.”

The Chamber Board will meet next week to review director applications.


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Photo by Michelle Chance

Competitive long drivers swung into action Friday morning at Ak-Chin’s inaugural Smash in the Sun event on a custom field north of UltraStar Multi-tainment Center. The community partnered with the World Long Drive organization to host the four-day competition – a portion of which will be aired live on the Golf Channel May 15 at 5 p.m. Male and female long drivers on Friday and Saturday compete in the qualifying series for a chance to advance to the 2018 Volvik World Long Drive Championship. See schedule here and here.

 

Customers stand outside waiting for inspections to end at Dollar Tree. Photo by Michelle Chance

Maricopa’s second discount store held its grand opening and ribbon cutting Thursday morning.

However, Dollar Tree’s newest customers were ushered out of the 10,000-square-foot building soon after doors opened.

City building inspectors and the fire marshal temporarily closed Edison Pointe’s latest retail shop for a little more than an hour to perform final inspections. They did not explain the timing.

Deputy Fire Marshal Eddie Rodriguez with the Maricopa Fire/Medical Department said Dollar Tree received approval by both agencies.

“Everything is OK. They’re opened up again; business is going good as usual,” Rodriguez said.

The store is located at 20595 N. John Wayne Parkway south of Fry’s Marketplace.

Emergency personnel responded Tuesday to a call of a near drowning in Desert Passage. Photo by Michelle Chance

Emergency crews responded to a drowning call in the Desert Passage subdivision Tuesday afternoon.

The Maricopa Fire/Medical Department and an American Medical Response Transportation ambulance arrived around noon at a residence near the 40200 block of West Art Place.

MFMD Capt. Jay Evans said an 8-year-old boy was in stable condition after his parents reported the child being under water for approximately less than 10 seconds while they were swimming together.

Evans said the parents were concerned about secondary drowning after the “slight submersion,” but after an evaluation by medics, the child’s vitals were found to be in good condition.

The child was not transported to a hospital, Evans said.

The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce Board announced it will hold a meeting this week “in an open conversation on the future growth and projects for the Chamber.”

A portion of that growth will be within the Chamber’s personnel, specifically attributed to its future director.

The Chamber recently advertised the full-time position online and set no deadline for submissions.

The breakfast mixer will give members the opportunity to lend their voice in the hiring process and other Chamber matters.

“I’m hoping we have a good amount of people there and we can discuss or address anybody’s concerns,” said Board Chairman Chris Cahall.

Cahall said the director’s salary range still needs to be decided but could be between $30,000-$40,000.

Former Chamber Director Terri Crain resigned last month to accept a position elsewhere. However, Crain is working part-time at the Chamber on a volunteer basis, Cahall said.

The meeting for Chamber members May 10 will be at Elements Event Center at 7 a.m.

“The Board (is) going to be in the room and we’re going to tell everyone that these are the things that the Board has been working on, trying to figure out and what we need to do,” Cahall said. “It’s not the Board’s Chamber, it’s not the City of Maricopa’s Chamber, it’s the memberships’ (Chamber).”


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Photo by Michelle Chance

Drywall dust has settled in a new community within the Santa Rosa Springs subdivision.

Costa Verde Homes cut the ribbon on its new development called Oasis at Santa Rosa Springs May 3.

The cozy community of 109 homesites sold 13 homes before its models opened. A grand opening for the public is scheduled for May 19 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Santa Rosa Springs is southwest of the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and Porter Road intersection on the south side of the railroad tracks.

As Maricopa recovered from the burst bubble of the housing crisis, many builders began their migration back to the city last year to resurrect abandoned projects in existing subdivisions – portions of which were left as virtual ghost towns.

The newest builder attracted to Maricopa is Costa Verde. Around for the past two years, the Arizona-based company has built one other community in Buckeye.

“I think our contemporary look and feel (separates Costa Verde from other developments),” said Susan Paul, vice president of sales and marketing.

The two model homes are a preview of options for potential homebuyers who might be interested in updated exterior and interior design.

A departure from the aesthetic of homes built 15 years ago, Costa Verde Homes feature squared corners and sinks and other modern options. All homes are Energy Star certified; come with stainless steel appliances, as well as front and backyard landscaping, Paul said.

Oasis at Santa Rosa Springs includes four floor plans: two single-story and two two-story homes. The price point ranges from $180,000 to $232,000.

Paul said first-time homebuyers and empty nesters are part of their target demographic.

“We’ve also seen a couple of move-up buyers as well,” she said.

The public can visit the Oasis at Santa Rosa Springs sales office, 42332 W. Ramirez Drive, prior to the grand opening Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Maricopa Unified School District Administrative Office

After a false alarm Wednesday, the Maricopa Unified School District announced Thursday it would reopen at the end of the week.

All nine of MUSD’s school sites will resume classes May 4, according to a district statement.

“We are excited to begin the teaching and learning process again with our wonderful students,” the statement read.

Like the announcement May 2, Thursday’s statement confirmed students and staff will not need to attend additional school days to makeup for the week-long absence due to the teacher walkout.

The last day of school is May 25.


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Cynthia Calhoun directing students. Photo by Mason Callejas

The curtain closed on Maricopa High School’s theater program in 2010 when low interest in enrollment could no longer sustain it.

Then came along Cynthia Calhoun.

At the time, she was already a full-time English teacher at MHS with doctorate and master’s degrees in literature, as well as bachelor degrees in English, Theater and Education.

With $12 and a loan from student council, Calhoun revived interest and took on the theater club as an extra-curricular activity in the days before the high school’s state-of-the-art performing arts center.

“We built this really kooky little set and we did William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors in the lecture hall,” Calhoun recalled.

Dressed in costumes inherited from Calhoun’s predecessor, the cast decorated their humble stage with the few props remaining from the shuttered program.

That spring, Calhoun wrote and directed a cabaret-style musical chronologizing Broadway’s biggest hits.

The following year, MHS drama found a home as it opened the PAC and its cozy Black Box Theatre.

Calhoun has since resurrected the theater program at MHS and developed it into an award-winning, competitive troupe, MHS Theatre Company. In her tenure, she has directed 11 plays and eight musicals while supervising four student-directed plays.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The 2017-18 school year was the first Calhoun spent teaching only drama courses full-time. And it will be her last.

In April, the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board approved Calhoun’s resignation.

“A lot of the decision came down to just trying to manage my health because teaching is an incredibly physically demanding discipline – especially teaching theater,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome as a teenager.

The genetic condition causes chronic health issues in those affected and has spurred Calhoun’s three knee surgeries and a heart operation.

“I’d like to stave off surgeries for a long time and be there for my children, who are in elementary school,” Calhoun said with tears in her eyes. “I decided it was probably best for me to not work as full-time as possible. It sucks.”

Last year at the Arizona High School Drama Coach Convention, she was elected a representative to the Central Region of Arizona Thespians. Her students have gone on to earn scholarships and awards.

A break from the mainstage doesn’t include a permanent absence from her students, however. The celebrated theater teacher plans to register as a volunteer for the drama program at MHS next year.

Many of Calhoun’s students have been under her instruction their entire high school experience and have gained a sense of independence from it, like MHS senior Collin Martin.

Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

“She helped me discover my love for theater, and she’s also taught me many important life lessons, such as getting your stuff together before something big happens, or always act professional and how to have a certain manner about yourself that you can portray to other people to show you’re serious about something,” Martin said.

Calhoun said she hopes the next theater teacher will find ways to challenge the acting students while at the same time know how to have fun with them.

The effect her own compassion has had in the classroom is evident in Calhoun’s students.

“Not many theater teachers truly treat their students as not only professionals but also as equals, and she allows us to learn in so many different ways,” said senior Britney Montgomery.

Calhoun’s departing lesson comes from a line written by American poet Walt Whitman.

“He writes: ‘The powerful play goes on and you will contribute a verse.’” Calhoun said, adding, “And I always want to challenge kids to think about what their verse is going to be. They get to decide that – so, make it a good one.”

Photo by Mason Callejas

Reporter Joycelyn Cabrera contributed to this story. 


This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa. 

 

Schools in the Maricopa Unified School District are scheduled to re-open May 3, according to an MUSD statement.

SEE UPDATE 

The openings come on the week anniversary of a statewide teacher walkout and a day after the state announced two K-12 budget bills.

School children will apparently not need to make-up missed days at the end of the year.

“We have calculated the instructional hours in our current school year calendar and have determined we have sufficient hours to conclude the school year,” according to the district statement.

The last day of school for MUSD students will remain May 25.

Rescheduling of events and activities postponed because of school closures will be communicated to parents and students by school principals.

The statement said the MUSD Art Walk originally planned for Thursday is cancelled and “will not be rescheduled.”

Some teachers have indicated they may stay out another day until the budget has passed. MUSD may allow a delegation of up to 10 teachers to travel to the capitol each day the Legislature is in session until the budget passes.

The closure has affected students in different ways.

“I think the walkout is great, I really respect what teachers are doing and I agree, I don’t think that they’re getting paid the proper amount,” MHS senior Ty Pen said. “Arizona’s one of the lowest funding in education. The only problem I’ve really come across is being able to find transportation to get to school [at CAVIT]. I hope that this movement didn’t go without purpose that the teachers get what they have been fighting for.”

“I think that the walkout is absolutely justified because out teachers work so hard and they do deserve a livable salary,” senior Rachel Knight said. “With that, I agree that AZ students deserve a fully funded education. Personally, it’s affecting me due to AP test preparation, less time in class means less instructional time to prep. However, teachers, such as [Aiden] Balt, are making sure AP testers will be prepared and confident come next week, despite the walkout.

“I’m hoping the state legislators and Gov. Ducey will realize that this movement isn’t going away until there is a comprehensive resolution. Arizona schools and students deserve a competitive education and the teachers that lead that deserve a livable wage.”

Two other schools closed as a result of the #RedForEd movement.

Charter schools Leading Edge Academy closed April 26-27 and Sequoia Pathway Academy closed April 26 and reopened Tuesday.

Legacy Traditional School, Holsteiner Agricultural School, Camino Montessori, Mobile Elementary School District remained opened through the walkout.

“My mom has been a teacher in Arizona for about 14 years and I’m happy they are finally doing something to be getting paid what they are worth, MHS senior Baylen Redfern said. “My mom has worked a second job as a waitress up in town and working summer school to make ends meet. Teachers in general are underpaid and in Arizona it’s even worse.”

Joycelyn Cabrera contributed to this report.


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Marcos Martinez is accused of the brutal murder of Vicky Ten Hoven. (photos PCSO/Facebook)

The man accused of killing his grandmother earlier this year will undergo a mental examination to determine his competency to stand trial.

Pinal County Superior Court Judge Dwight Callahan ordered Marcos Jerell Martinez to a “full Rule 11 examination” in court Wednesday morning.

Martinez, with a full beard and long hair, appeared in a brown jumpsuit for his hearing May 2, but his cooperation with counsel has apparently been an issue.

Callahan recently approved a motion by the defense team to visit with their client at the door of his jail cell after concerns were filed that Martinez repeatedly “denies or refuses” to meet with attorneys, according to court documents filed in April.

The first-degree murder suspect submitted to a rule 11 pre-screening in March where a doctor recommended a full examination.

The state and the public defender’s office both nominated psychologists to fulfill the order.

Those results are expected to be reviewed in court June 27 at 9 a.m.

After the mental examination review hearing this summer, attorneys for Martinez are expected to file a motion to remand the case to a second grand jury for a new probable cause determination.

A grand jury indicted Martinez in February of premediated first-degree murder, punishable by death or life in prison, after the Maricopa Police Department forwarded additional charges of tampering with evidence and unlawful use of means of transportation in the same case. Martinez is held in the Pinal County Detention Center on a $1 million secured bond.

Martinez stands accused in the Jan. 28 blunt-force trauma death of Vicky Ten Hoven in Rancho El Dorado.


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Submitted photo

Golf’s longest drivers will compete in Ak-Chin’s first nationally televised sporting event May 15.

IF YOU GO
What: Ak-Chin Smash in the Sun World Long Drive
When: May 11-12, 14-15
Where: Ak-Chin Circle Field, 16000 N. Maricopa Road
General admission: Free

—-

What: World Long Drive Pro-Am
When: May 15
Where: Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club, 48456 W. Hwy. 238
General admission: Free

Ak-Chin Smash in the Sun is a three-day World Long Drive tour event May 11-12 and 14-15 at a course grid north of UltraStar Multi-tainment Center at Ak-Chin Circle.

It’s the second stop on the World Long Drive Tour, which began in April with Mesquite, Nevada’s Clash in the Canyon.

The sporting spectacle will feature men’s and women’s qualifying competitions.

The last day of the inaugural competition will be broadcast live on The Golf Channel and feature the final eight competitors, whittled down from a bracket of 32.

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes will also host a Pro-Am event the morning of May 15.

“It’s showcasing Ak-Chin and Maricopa as a destination,” said Brady Wilson, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes general manager.

The grid at Ak-Chin Circle was specially groomed for the event by Southern Dunes staff. Stadium seating will be constructed to hold 500 to 1,000 fans. Food and drink will be available for purchase.

Brady Wilson. Photo by Mason Callejas

The event is free and open to the public. It’s expected to appeal to golfers and non-golfers alike.

“If you’re not a golfer, the fun party atmosphere – along with seeing how far these guys hit the ball – and the national television aspect also makes you want to see it,” Wilson said.

It’s the first time the World Long Drive Association will make a tour stop in Arizona, according to its website. Wilson said it will return next year for the same event.

After Ak-Chin’s Smash in the Sun, the tour makes stops in New Jersey, Tennessee, Canada, the Texas/Oklahoma Border and then back to Tennessee before the Volvik World Long Drive Championship returns to Texoma Aug. 30.


This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Jose Valenzuela is accused of the June 2015 murders of Tina and Michael Careccia. PCSO photo

A capital murder case nearing its third anniversary remained without a scheduled trial date Monday in court.

Murder suspect Jose Valenzuela’s new lead defense attorney, Bobbi Falduto, argued her team would need until August 2019 to be prepared for trial.

Special Prosecutor Gary Husk said he was “troubled” by the requested 15-month continuance.

“That extraordinary delay is unwarranted,” he told Pinal County Superior Court Judge Kevin White in court.

Husk said the belated trial is difficult for the family of Tina and Michael Careccia, the couple Valenzuela is accused of murdering and then burying in his yard in 2015, “and, I, quite frankly, can’t blame them,” Husk added.

Husk said prosecution could be ready for trial in six to eight months. However, White’s judicial schedule is clogged with three capital cases around that time.

White suggested trial take place in September of this year, when his docket opens, but Falduto maintained her team needed more time.

“Judge, I’m not going to avow that I can do that, I just know I can’t. It’s right around the corner,” Falduto said.

Falduto cited her recent appointment in the case as one reason for her request for additional time to prepare. In late January, she took over for James Mannato, the former public defender who retired early this year.

Additionally, Falduto revealed she would present a new defense theory in trial.

“Mr. Mannato had the case at a certain posture, and I actually disagreed with his posture, so we have revamped some of the case strategy,” Falduto said.

Monday, Valenzuela’s attorneys motioned the court for access to counseling records of their client’s son, who may have been an eyewitness in the case, Falduto said.

White ordered the records be subject to protective orders and non-disclosure to the public.

Michael and Tina Careccia lived with family members two streets away from the man charged with their murders. (Instagram)

Falduto has until June 8 to submit a memorandum objecting to the state’s request for disclosure of those records. Husk has until June 22 to file a response.

The defense team also argued it would need additional time to interview an out-of-state witness and a medical examiner.

“Our defense team has met about once a week to get me updated and to update everyone else. Everyone’s taken on certain tasks so we are working this as quickly as possible,” Falduto said. “There’s a lot of amount of discovery, and I think some of the experts that we have spoken with are going to be key to putting forth our defense.”

With a September trial not an option, White said his schedule could accommodate a trial date next July.

Nevertheless, the judge held off from affirming a specific date in court April 30. The case is subject to reassignment under a new judge as White takes on a different assignment in the courts July 1 this year.

White said he’s inclined to keep the case, but he will consult with the schedules of the criminal judge and presiding judge in the event the case is handed over.

Valenzuela’s next hearing in court will be June 25 at 3 p.m.


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Miguel Figueroa. PCSO photo

 

The first-degree murder trial for the man accused of killing his wife with a sword in 2016 was rescheduled Monday afternoon.

Miguel Figueroa would have stood trial next week, but “unfinished” DNA disclosure reports from the state prompted defense attorneys to request a new date.

The state did not object and indicated the results could be disclosed later this week.

Judge Kevin White scheduled the new trial for July 18 at 9 a.m. It’s expected to last seven days and be juried by 12 people.

The reports in question center on DNA from the defendant and his alleged victim, as well as nail clippings, evidence from the presumed murder weapon and “defensive wounds,” said Figueroa’s defense counsel, Scott Johnson.

White vacated next week’s trial to allow Johnson and co-council Mark Benson time to “digest” the information included in the DNA analysis ahead of trial.

The judge attempted to schedule the new trial before his upcoming judicial reassignment July 1. However, multiple, upcoming trials and conferences reported between the state and the defense prevented a sooner trial date.

The state alleges Figueroa stabbed to death his wife, Olivia, in a desert area near Maricopa’s Heritage District two years ago.

Figueroa will be in court again May 21 at 1:30 p.m. for a status review hearing.


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Some area schools will remain closed Monday while others plan to hold classes.

Leading Edge Academy was closed Thursday and Friday, however the charter school plans to resume classes on Monday, according to a press release issued Friday.

Sequoia Pathway Academy and the Maricopa Unified School District will not re-open classrooms April 30 as teachers continue a statewide walkout, school officials confirmed Friday.

The strike that shuttered schools began Thursday and continues in many districts statewide.

Legacy Traditional School, Mobile Elementary School District, Holsteiner Agricultural School and Camino Montessori did not close this week and are expected to remain open next week.

InMaricopa will continue to provide updates about school closures as they become available.

Maricopa teachers were among those marching at the capitol Thursday morning, the first day of a walkout. Photo courtesy Jennifer Miller

Maricopa educators rallied afterschool Wednesday on the eve of the statewide teacher walkout.

The demonstration at Copper Sky Recreation Center April 25 included a march around the lake and speeches by various community members.

The activism driven by the #RedForEd movement has permeated the state, driving teachers and school staff into action.

Educators dismissed Gov. Doug Ducey’s salary proposal last week and are demanding increased funding for school children and competitive pay for support staff.

And although teachers were in high spirits and proud of their efforts Wednesday, a subtle unease crept in.

“I’m really proud that after all these years teachers are finally getting together and standing up for everything,” said Maricopa High School art teacher Maria Pour.

“I’m anxious because I know what the kids are going through. I’m anxious because I know the sacrifice that the teachers are making. I’m anxious because I just want a quick resolution and the very least time away from my kids and my classroom,” Pour added.

The walkout closed schools Thursday, and classrooms will remain empty Friday. The length of the walkout is unknown.

Pour said she believes her colleagues would endure a prolonged strike.

Maricopa teachers rallied at Copper Sky Wednesday evening. Photo by Michelle Chance

“I think it would be the overwhelming majority that would be for keeping the walkout,” she said.

Amalia Clark, owner of the Our Children Matter organization, attended the event with boxed food packs for children affected by the walkout.

The Maricopa Unified School District announced it would feed students while its nine schools are closed, but Clark said her agency would step in for those who need additional help.

“I think that a lot of people use the school system not only for learning, but they also use it for nutrition, and now that it’s closed down, they’re realizing there is a big importance to our school system,” Clark said.

Educators awoke Thursday morning and commuted to downtown Phoenix instead of their school sites.

They marched in a statewide demonstration to the Arizona capitol building alongside thousands of others.

Maricopa High School Teacher Jennifer Miller said the experience was “incredibly positive.”

“Teachers from all over the state are talking to each other and encouraging each other – even teachers from rival schools are here in solidarity,” Miller said. “I’ve never seen a group of educators this unified for a cause.”


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Teachers are having a RedForEd rally Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Schools are partnering with a local organization Wednesday to distribute student food packs on the eve of Arizona’s teacher walkout.

Maricopa Unified School District, Leading Edge Academy and Our Children Matter will dispense two-day food packs at three locations April 25:

  • Copper Sky: 5-6 p.m.
  • Pacana Park south parking lot (adjacent to Leading Edge): 6-7 p.m.
  • Park next to Santa Cruz Elementary school: 7-8 p.m.

MUSD will also serve students breakfast and lunch during the walkout that will close schools April 26-27 and possibly longer.

The Copper Sky distribution is in conjunction with a #RedForEd rally. Teachers will meet at 5 p.m. near the tennis courts.

 

Maricopa Unified School District will feed students breakfast and lunch throughout the walkout, according to a district press release.

“The district is making special arrangements to provide food service for our students who depend on us for breakfast and lunch,” the document states.

MUSD schools will close April 26-27; and could remain closed into next week as teachers statewide walk-out in protest of low pay and in support of increased salaries for support staff, funding for students and better working conditions.

All nine MUSD schools will serve breakfast and lunch at these times:

Breakfast: 7:30 – 8:30 a.m.

Lunch: Noon – 1 p.m.

Children are instructed to eat meals at the schools they attend — a parent or guardian must accompany them. Student supervision is unavailable and there will be no access to playground equipment. Meals will be available for purchase for family members.

Photo by Michelle Chance

Tortosa’s youngest royalty attended a tea party with Disney Princesses Belle and Cinderella Saturday. The event was hosted by Tortosa HOA by CCMC April 21. Children learned how to curtsy, bow and wave; and were also serenaded by Belle and Cinderella before the tea party.

 

The impending walk-out of local educators is expected to close all of Maricopa Unified School District’s nine schools Thursday and could also affect area charter schools.

Known agencies providing walk-out childcare:

Children’s Learning Adventure, 20600 N. John Wayne Parkway

520-214-5737

Registration fee will be waived, and all new families will receive their first day free.

Copper Sky, 44345 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

520-635-1511

Free childcare provided by Maricopa Springs Family Church and other local churches at Copper Sky from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. There are 500 spots available; seeking 70 childcare volunteers. Morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack provided.

Click here to register.

Rockstar Cheer, 12501 N. Murphy Road

856-624-3375

rockstararizona@gmail.com

Located at Rockstar Cheer gym from 7 a.m.–5 p.m. $25 per day, per child. Includes pizza lunch. Snacks and drinks for sale or bring your own. Ages: Kindergarten through eighth grade. 50 spots available.

Food Disbursement:

With help from Our Children Matter and Maricopa Pantry, food boxes will be dispersed at a #RedForEd teacher-led event at Copper Sky Wednesday at 5 p.m. to parents of affected students.


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Photo by Michelle Chance

Maricopa High School students participated in a demonstration Friday morning on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

More than 100 students began the event with a 17-minute moment of silence in remembrance of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victims in Parkland, Florida.

The student-led event occurred during National School Walk-Out Day – a countrywide protest in which students walked out of school for the day in commemoration of school shooting victims and in frustration with what many view as a lack of action by lawmakers against classroom gun violence.

MHS students held their demonstration on campus and deemed it non-political. Previously, students walked-out Feb. 17, days after the Parkland shooting, but eventually returned to class.

“We didn’t want it to be so political because honestly the problem is right here in our own schools,” said Brianna Barnes, 17, with the Student Concord Club.

Barnes said students are asking for more lockdown drills and additional safety measures on campus.

Law enforcement and first responders were at MHS during the event and held a static display of vehicles and equipment during lunchtime.

“We want our students to be aware of the resources available to the high school and community in the event of an emergency situation,” an email from MHS to parents stated.

Friday’s demonstration included a passionate speech authored by 16-year-old Simon Crawford during the first two classes of the morning.

The self-described introvert wanted to speak about school safety during the February walk-out, but didn’t have the courage.

Friday, Crawford found the bravery, climbed atop a lunch table and read the message aloud.

“People need to be aware because there’s so much misinformation and misconceptions spread about all these issues,” Crawford said after the event. “People try to make this such a heavy political issue when it’s not — and we should not be treating it as such.

“This is a safety issue. This is a lives issue. This is a human issue,” Crawford added.


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Schools in the Maricopa Unified School District could close late next week after teachers voted to approve a statewide walk-out.

Leaders of the #RedForEd movement announced Thursday evening the walk-out is slated to begin April 26 following three consecutive days of walk-in events that week.

Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United collation have not placed a limit on how long the walk-out will last.

Educators voted on the matter this week and the results showed they “overwhelmingly support” a walk-out, according to the AEA and AEU.

AEA President Joe Thomas said in a press conference Thursday evening that 78 percent of the 57,000 votes cast supported a strike.

The vote comes after widespread rebuke from the Arizona education community regarding Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget proposal last week which he said would increase teacher salaries by 20 percent – including the one percent raise approved last year.

Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United coalition have criticized the proposal as hastily presented and shortsighted.

“This vote was not an easy decision for educators,” AEA Vice President and Isaac Middle School teacher Marisol Garcia said in a news release. “As I turned in my ballot today, I thought about my son, my colleagues, and my students. By voting today, I am standing up for my son and all students in Arizona and the public schools they deserve.”

Educators in the trenches argue the movement is about more than just teacher salary, but also increased compensation for support staff and per-pupil funding among other issues.

Walk-out information was posted to the MUSD website Thursday evening ahead of the highly anticipated announcement by the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United coalition.

Parents will have to utilize alternative child care in the event of a walk-out, according to the document.

“If a walkout occurs, the only way to ensure the safety and well-being of our students is to close our schools. We notified families of the possibility of a walk out and we have asked parents to make a plan for alternate arrangements for their children if a walk out occurs. The district will not have staff to provide any services at the school site. The district could not vet outside resources, so would not be able to make any recommendations for child care options, feeding options, or any services not directly provided by the district.”

Any days MUSD schools are spent in closure will have to be made up at the end of the school year.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman encouraged parents in a district email to rely on the MUSD internal communication “ConnectEd” to stay informed on possible school closures:

“Dear MUSD parents,

You may be aware that many of our teachers and staff have been participating in statewide efforts to increase awareness for teacher and staff salaries and the need for additional public education funding.

These efforts have included a rally at the State Capitol, social media campaigns and peaceful walk-ins to schools each Wednesday morning. Staff are organizing independently and on their own time. We respect our teachers and staff in their unity efforts and appreciate that they are non-disruptive of the instructional day.

We want to make you aware that there is the potential for teacher walk-outs across Arizona. No decision or date has been set by the organizers, but as a district we are working to determine the impact on school operations. In the event of a work stoppage, we would more than likely close the schools and do everything we can to provide you with advanced notice. We will use our ConnectEd notification system to get information to you. Please make sure that your phone numbers and email address are current in our student information system.

We are fortunate to have a community that consistently supports our schools. We appreciate our dedicated employees who continue to focus on meeting the needs of our students. And we appreciate all of you and your support of our schools while these statewide actions are under way.

Sincerely,

Dr. Tracey Lopeman and Superintendent’s Cabinet”


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sres-walkin9

Schools could close if teachers in the Maricopa Unified School District walk-out in the future. Information posted to the MUSD website was published Thursday evening ahead of a highly anticipated announcement by leaders of the #RedForEd movement.

Information posted to the MUSD website was published Thursday evening ahead of a highly anticipated announcement by leaders of the #RedForEd movement.

The Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United coalition are expected to reveal the results of a statewide vote April 19 at 8 p.m. to determine teachers’ support of a future walk-out.

Teachers participated in the voting this week, as well as their second walk-in on April 18.

The vote comes after widespread rebuke from the Arizona education community regarding Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget proposal that he said would increase teacher salaries by 20 percent – including the one percent raise approved last year.

AEU and AEA leaders have criticized the proposal as hastily presented and shortsighted.

The date and length of the proposed walk-out is still unknown. MUSD Human Resources Director Tom Beckett said leaders of the local teacher association assured district officials “no walk-out is scheduled for Friday.”

Any days MUSD schools are spent in closure due to the walk-out will have to be made up at the end of the school year, according to the district document.

“If a walkout occurs, the only way to ensure the safety and well-being of our students is to close our schools. We notified families of the possibility of a walk out and we have asked parents to make a plan for alternate arrangements for their children if a walk out occurs. The district will not have staff to provide any services at the school site. The district could not vet outside resources, so would not be able to make any recommendations for child care options, feeding options, or any services not directly provided by the district.”

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman encouraged parents in a district email to rely on the MUSD internal communication “ConnectEd” to stay informed on possible school closures:

“Dear MUSD parents,
You may be aware that many of our teachers and staff have been participating in statewide efforts to increase awareness for teacher and staff salaries and the need for additional public education funding.
These efforts have included a rally at the State Capitol, social media campaigns and peaceful walk-ins to schools each Wednesday morning. Staff are organizing independently and on their own time. We respect our teachers and staff in their unity efforts and appreciate that they are non-disruptive of the instructional day.
We want to make you aware that there is the potential for teacher walk-outs across Arizona. No decision or date has been set by the organizers, but as a district we are working to determine the impact on school operations. In the event of a work stoppage, we would more than likely close the schools and do everything we can to provide you with advanced notice. We will use our ConnectEd notification system to get information to you. Please make sure that your phone numbers and email address are current in our student information system.
We are fortunate to have a community that consistently supports our schools. We appreciate our dedicated employees who continue to focus on meeting the needs of our students. And we appreciate all of you and your support of our schools while these statewide actions are under way.
Sincerely,
Dr. Tracey Lopeman and Superintendent’s Cabinet”

Stay with InMaricopa.com and check in with our social media for updates on the walk-out vote.

Turner Stanek, 15, went after his own state records. Submitted photo

A Maricopa teenager raised the bar during his first power lifting competition last year and is building on his reputation this year.

Turner Stanek, 15, broke state records in the back squat (352 pounds), deadlift (435 pounds) and bench press (198 pounds) at the USA Powerlifting Apeman Strong Fest in Phoenix Sept. 23.

“This is all new to him and it’s pretty awesome,” said Stanek’s mother, Danica.

Last Sunday at the USA Powerlifting Arizona 2018 State Championship, the Mountain Pointe sophomore beat his own records in back squat and deadlift and maintained his previous holding in the bench press category.

He’s now qualified to participate in the 2018 USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals this October in Spokane, Washington.

Turner’s passion for the sport began with encouragement and training from friends and staff at Maricopa CrossFit.

“It’s astonishing because two years ago today I wouldn’t have thought I would hold three records or that I could back squat 402 pounds,” Turner said.

The process produced a physical and mental metamorphosis.

Turner gained muscle and lost pounds with cross fit and powerlifting competitions.

“He has literally gone from kind of a chubby adolescent to looking like a 25-year-old man,” said Danica Stanek. “It’s crazy.”

The once introverted teen also increased his confidence and has since broadened his social horizons by joining clubs at school and encouraging others to accomplish their own fitness goals.

Work inside the gym taught Turner to deal with his emotions.

“I can put all that anger into the bar and take it out on the bar because that’s all the bar wants me to do,” Turner said.

He plans to compete in regional competitions this summer ahead of the national event in September.

Stanek said he wants to be a well-known powerlifter and help others with their fitness ambitions.

“It’s a great feeling what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it as much as you do for powerlifting,” Turner said.

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Superintendent Tracey Lopeman. Photo by Michelle Chance

Tracey Lopeman is officially Maricopa Unified School District’s new superintendent.

The MUSD Governing Board unanimously approved a three-year contract Monday. Lopeman will receive $140,000 per year and begin contract work July 1.

The contract ends June 30, 2021.

Lopeman’s superintendent contract includes health insurance, car and cell phone allowances, a retirement plan, performance pay and vacation days.

Until July, Lopeman will work part-time as a superintendent consultant for MUSD while she finishes her duties as assistant superintendent of the Alhambra Elementary School District.

The board approved Monday afternoon up to a $20,000 payment for Lopeman’s 2.5 months of consultant work from now until July 1.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said the decision to hire Lopeman part-time until the fiscal year begins will allow the new superintendent to be involved in cabinet meetings and budget discussions.

“It’s not a set amount; it’s up to $20,000,” Knorr said regarding Lopeman’s consulting contract. “So, because of state procurement laws, typically when it could be up to a certain amount, we have to go up to bid, but in the case where it’s something like this – it’s a sole source because there is nobody else that we want.”

Knorr said consultant payment will be calculated by the hour. The Board had no estimate how many hours Lopeman will contribute or a ballpark total for what Lopeman will eventually receive.

Wednesday concludes the Board’s ambitious superintendent search timeline originally approved in December.

The effort was spearheaded by former President Patti Coutré before Knorr took the reins.

It’s considered the first major accomplishment for Knorr in her new leadership role.

“I’m excited for the future and bringing her on board. I’ve enjoyed every step of the process – it’s been extremely time consuming, but well worth it,” Knorr said.

Lopeman was present during the board’s announcement and said she is excited to work with “a great board and a great community.”

The new district figurehead’s initial impression of her new job reflects its slogan.

“Like the (MUSD) motto says, ‘a community dedicated to success,’” Lopeman said. “Every person that I’ve met has a purpose here and it’s clear.”

The board meets again for a regular meeting at the district administration building April 25 at 6:30 p.m.


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Gov. Doug Ducey

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday afternoon his proposal to increase teacher pay by 20 percent by fall 2020.

The announcement comes the day after a statewide teacher walk-in.

“I’ve been listening, and I’ve been impressed,” Ducey said during a press conference April 12.

The pay increase figure aligns with Arizona Educators United pay-increase demand, albeit over a period of two years. The increase includes the 1-percent increase paid to teachers in 2017.

Ducey projected the average teacher salary in two years will be $58,130.

The plan first needs to be passed in the state Legislature’s budget session, which is expected to end in the coming days.

If approved, teachers would receive a gradual pay increase:

  • 2017: 1 percent increase
  • 2018: 9 percent increase
  • 2019: 5 percent increase
  • 2020: 5 percent increase

Additionally, Ducey proposed $371 million for Arizona school districts’ “most pressing needs,” including: infrastructure, curriculum, school buses and technology.

“We can do this and do it in a responsible and sustainable way,” Ducey said. “As a result of Arizona’s thriving economy and Arizona’s record population of 7 million residents, our state revenues are on the rise. With a reduction in state government operating budgets, strategic efficiencies, case load savings and a roll-back of some of the Governor’s Office proposals of fiscal year 19 executive budget, more dollars are available to invest into two of Arizona’s most important priorities: Arizona’s teachers and Arizona’s classrooms.” 

Maricopa Unified School District teachers wore red to address the school board Wednesday night. Not all were on board with Gov. Doug Ducey’s Thursday proposal. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa Unified School District Board Member Patti Coutré called the move “a step in the right direction.”

“I just want to know more details,” Coutré added. “You know what they say, ‘the devil’s in the details.’”

Maybe I’m an optimist but I’m hopeful,” said Allie Krigbaum, a second grade teacher at Butterfield Elementary. “I feel like the #RedforEd movement made a difference and that Ducey was able to see communities come together in support of teachers and kids. I feel hopeful that he means what he says.”

Not all local teachers were convinced.

MUSD Technology Integration Specialist Christine Dickinson said she applauded the state’s decision to take action, but it failed overall to address the movement’s demands.

“I am concerned that this action puts a Band-Aid on the teacher-pay issue and opens wounds elsewhere,” Dickinson said.

Many, like Dickinson, viewed the announcement as addressing only a portion of demands from the Arizona Educators United coalition.

“It misses the point of this entire movement,” said Maricopa High School English teacher Becky Gaul. “Teacher raises were just one part of the much larger picture. Where’s the money for our support staff?”

In addition to salary increases, teachers want to see competitive pay for support professionals, permanent teacher salary structure with annual raises, a restoration of education funding to 2008 levels and no new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average.

Janean Jump teaches fourth grade at Saddleback Elementary. She fears Ducey’s proposal could strangle AEU’s efforts to raise salaries for support staff.

“Right now, we are almost backed into a corner with this. If we stop our movement because we received the raises, we will leave out those who are in just as much need as teachers. Pushing forward with our movement after this announcement will allow us to be painted as greedy and not satisfied with our raise, when, in reality, that was only one of our five demands.”

AEU leads the #RedforEd movement, and coalition leaders announced earlier this week a possible walk-out event could be a possibility.

“I say keep fighting. We will still be behind,” said Sue Swanno, a teacher at Saddleback Elementary.


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Firefighters in Maricopa Fire/Medical Department’s Ladder 571 assisted local veterans April 10 with a very tall order. John Anderson, director of American Legion Riders Bernie G. Crouse Post 133, said firefighters replaced a worn cable that anchors the American flag to a pole outside the center. Old Glory is the centerpiece for numerous flag-raising ceremonies at the vet center every year. The next is scheduled for May 1.

Joshua Paulsen (left) and County Attorney Kent Volkmer present Tyler Pappas with an award during Crime Victims Rights Week. Photo by Michelle Chance

Tyler Pappas grew up admiring his grandfather’s career in law enforcement and consumed his stories of comradery and bravery.

“It kind of stuck with me,” he said.

Pappas, now 26 years old, recently concluded his first year as an officer with the Maricopa Police Department.

His rookie year on the force has not gone without notice. In fact, it’s being celebrated.

Pappas was one of 11 law enforcement personnel recognized by the Pinal County Attorney’s Office April 10 at the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Law Enforcement Appreciation event.

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is April 8-14.

“He definitely has an extra something special,” said Mary Witkofski, MPD Community Programs Manager.

Witkofski presented an award to Pappas for his compassionate behavior toward crime victims.

Pappas regularly stops by MPD’s victim services unit to fill a bag with stuffed animals and care items for adolescent crime victims, Witkofski told a room filled with county officers, prosecutors and Sheriff Mark Lamb.

The acts of kindness are something Pappas learned from a Chandler Police officer who comforted him as a child when he was exposed to his father’s alleged abusive behavior toward his mother.

Tyler Pappas. Photo by Michelle Chance

“Seeing that growing up gives me an edge and an insight on how to deal with other people that have been in my shoes,” Pappas said after the ceremony.

The officer who helped Pappas as a child left a lasting impression.

“(Pappas) is paying the acts forward from what he received as a child, and that’s so inspirational,” Witkofski said.

The young lawman is already excelling in his career in ways beyond his recent accolade.

Pappas said he recently made MPD’s Special Response Team.

He encourages crime victims who may be weary of law enforcement to give officers a chance.

“Reach out to us and let us show our true heart and our true side,” Pappas said. “Yes, we wear the uniform, but we’re human as well. We all go through stuff in life.”

Mary Witkofski. Photo by Michelle Chance