Authors Articles byRaquel Hendrickson

Raquel Hendrickson

Raquel Hendrickson
1236 Articles 4 COMMENTS
Raquel, a.k.a. Rocky, is a sixth-generation Arizonan who spent her formative years in the Missouri Ozarks. After attending Temple University in Philadelphia, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and has been in the newspaper business since 1990. She has been a sports editor, general-assignment reporter, business editor, arts & entertainment editor, education reporter, government reporter and managing editor. After 16 years in the Verde Valley-Sedona, she moved to Maricopa in 2014. She loves the outdoors, the arts, great books and all kinds of animals.

Ryan Smalley won the All-Arizona Slam in Maricopa, taking home cash and a new painting. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

With sharp and funny observations of modern relationships and the desperation to connect behind social-media facades, Flagstaff poet Ryan Smalley, representing the Sedona Poetry Slam, won the All-Arizona Slam in Maricopa Saturday. He finished just 0.1 point ahead of Flagstaff champion Gabbi Jue, who spoke out on stereotypes with biting wit. Just 0.3 point behind Jue in third place was Maricopa champ Stacy Renee Eden and her poems on very personal experiences.

The action drew a full house to Honeycutt Coffee. It was the third year Maricopa has hosted the All-Arizona Slam.

Gabbi Jue was second.
Stacy Renee Eden was third.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maricopa Unified School District presented its monthly recognition awards to community members, staff and students Wednesday.

Community members honored were Marissa Smith, parent volunteer at Butterfield Elementary, Mary Breden, volunteer at Maricopa Elementary, Fabrizia Hunt, parent volunteer and PTO officer at Pima Butte Elementary, Alyshea Shaw, volunteer yoga instructor at Saddleback Elementary, Sara Armstrong, PTO president at Santa Cruz Elementary, Sarah Barraza, volunteer at Santa Rosa Elementary, Douglas Fortunato, volunteer at Desert Wind Middle School, and Tahani Hanania, parent volunteer at Maricopa High School.

Staff members recognized were Ben Descoteaux, school psychologist at Butterfield, Lea Talsness, second-grade teacher at Maricopa Elementary, Jessica Ansley, fifth-grade teacher at Pima Butte, Brandi Bailey, fourth-grade teacher at Saddleback, Peter Petrides, PE teacher at Santa Cruz, Jessica Montes, music teacher at Santa Rosa, Johnny Bochat, custodian at Desert Wind, Leonard Bratspir, social studies teacher at Maricopa Wells Middle School, Kevin Piquette, technical theater instructor at MHS, and Becky Teller, accounts payable in the Business Department.

Students in the spotlight were Daryn Infiesto, second grader at Butterfield, Daniel Retana Balguer, fifth grader at MES, Diego Flores-Bustamante, first grader at Pima Butte, Averie Patterson, fifth grader at Saddleback, Jacob Rivera, third grader at Santa Cruz, Markus Talbert, first grader at Santa Rosa, Robert Knorr, seventh grader at Desert Wind, Camille Troyer, eighth grader at Maricopa Wells, and Freya Abraham, senior at MHS.

Ronald Bragonier (PCSO)

A Maricopa man has been convicted on five counts of sexually abusing a minor in 2017.

Ronald Bragonier, 56, remained still as a clerk read the jury’s findings Thursday on each count. The jury had taken more than two days to determine his guilt on each of the charges after a two-week trial in Pinal County Superior Court.

He was accused of four counts of molestation of a child and one count of sexual conduct with a minor. He was arrested in 2017.

Though already incarcerated at Pinal County Adult Detention, Bragonier was cuffed shortly after the conviction announcement and taken back to the jail.

Sentencing comes at a later date. By state statute, child molestation has a maximum penalty of 24 years and a minimum of 10 years, with a presumptive time served of 17 years. The range for sexual conduct with a minor under 15 years of age is 13-27 years, with presumptive sentencing of 20 years.

According to prosecutor Kristen Sharifi, a deputy county attorney, Bragonier started abusing the victim when the child was 13 years old. Sharifi used a little physical evidence and a barrage of text messages in the case against him.

Bragonier had claimed the victim was lying.

Bragonier had been a trusted friend of the victim’s family. The victim and Bragonier’s child were both involved in Rockstar Cheer Arizona, a cheerleading gymnasium where Bragonier also volunteered as a handyman. The incidents cited the charges occurred in private homes.

Pinal County Superior Court
Ronald Bragonier. PCSO photo

After a day and a half of deliberations, no verdict has yet been rendered by the jury in the child-molestation case against Maricopan Ronald Bragonier.

Jurors met for about four hours Wednesday and all day Thursday, seemingly coming “close” to a decision several times. But when the 5 o’clock hour approached, heralding closure of the Superior Court building for the day, Judge Jason Holmberg sent everybody home.

“I’m calling it quits,” he announced.

The jury is to reconvene Friday morning to attempt a verdict again. Holmberg said he did not want to rush the jury, nor did he want court staff staying after hours.

Bragonier, 56, is charged with four counts of child molestation and one count of sexual conduct with a minor under age 15. The charges stem from a 2017 arrest. All of the counts involve one child, who was 13 and 14 at the time of the alleged conduct.

During the day, the jury sent two questions to the judge for clarifications at a time Holmberg was hearing evidence in a drug case in the same courtroom. Each time, the other case was paused and its attorneys and defendant were sent out of the well as the attorneys and defendant in Bragonier’s case came in to hear the question.

Bragonier sat alone as his attorney, Vickie Lopez, could only attend by phone until very late in the day.

The jury first asked if the definition of sexual contact also applies to sexual molestation of a child. After corroborating that fact was clear in the instructions to the jury and with the assent of the attorneys, Holmberg sent back the note, “Yes.”

Later, the judge and attorneys were a bit flummoxed by the simplicity of the jury’s next question, asking for definition of “to wit,” as used in the court documents ahead of the list of charges. Holmberg sent back a note stating, “’To wit’ is used to distinguish charges from one another. ‘To wit’ means ‘namely’ or ‘specifically.’”

Originally, the jury was expected to have a verdict by 4 p.m. At 5:13 p.m., Holmberg gave the court a play-by-play of what was happening outside the jury room. He said at 4:51, the bailiff knocked and asked their timeline. They told him they thought they were close. However, at 5:10, when he knocked again they still did not have a firm response.

Though the trial used some physical evidence – a towel and a comforter – the jury has been asked whether they found the accused or the teen more believable.

Global Water is the main water utility in Maricopa.

Near the end of last year, Global Water customers received notifications they needed to change the address where they were sending their payments and correspondence.

The message was straight-forward, but behind the scenes the company was scrambling.

FATHOM Water Systems, the company that handled much of Global Water’s customer relations – including billing and call center, announced it was closing down. FATHOM had been formed by Global Water during the recession before it was sold in 2013 to an investor group led by a private equity firm.

“FATHOM notified us Nov. 9 that they would be terminating operations as of Nov. 30,” General Manager Jon Corwin said in a presentation to Maricopa City Council Tuesday. “That’s a pretty short timeline, only about three weeks. We had to essentially take their services and find an alternative solution or bring it in-house.”

Jon Corwin updates Maricopa City Council on activities at Global Water Resources. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

He said typically that kind of transition takes at least six months.

Across the country, FATHOM’s 16 municipal and private utility clients were left in the same boat as Fathom announced it was shutting down “due to financial difficulties.”

A statement reading, “Despite a massive effort this year, we have not been able to secure an investment or additional debt to save our business,” was about the only explanation FATHOM provided to clients. Its shutdown timeline eventually was extended into mid-December.

FATHOM, Corwin said, gave Global the opportunity to go with another vendor. However, Corwin said that would have included an eight-year contract and a 65% increase in costs. For the company and the rate-payers, he said, that would have been “unacceptable.”

“So, ultimately, we decided to go it alone and bring those services back in-house.”

Corwin said Global had a contingency plan in case Fathom stopped operating. That included hiring 12 former FATHOM employees. He said Global had expected to transition away from FATHOM to in-house serves eventually, though not anticipating it would go in “the manner that it did or as quickly as it did.”

From Covina, California, to Rutland, Vermont, municipal and private utilities rushed to find solutions as well. Some quickly found new vendors, while others chose Global Water’s path of moving the services in-house.

Reestablishing relationships with other vendors and signing new contracts were a priority. There were also delays in information being updated in the customer portal. In Cedar Hill, Texas, January bills were delayed, so a moratorium was placed on disconnects and extra fees. Menlo Park, California, too, anticipating late billing, lifted all late fees even before the transition.

Corwin said Global Water “worked intensely” with several vendors to acquire software platforms to continue services as smoothly as possible. Services needed were customer portal, billing, call center, customer information center, advanced metering data collection and work orders.

The call center, he said, had “reduced functionality for about a week and a half.”

The transition is ongoing, but some hiccups are expected. “The Process went about as smoothly as it could have gone.”

Mayor Christian Price thanked Global for the accommodation made to customers. “I know it could have been a very ugly process.”

Global Water also provided updates on completed, ongoing and new projects, including the upcoming extension of a 16-inch water main to Loma Road to serve Estrella Gin Business Park.

In response to a query from Councilman Henry Wade, Corwin said he thinks the Corporation Commission appreciates and respects the work Global Water is putting into the projects.

Councilwoman Julia Gusse publicly commended Corwin for the company’s behind-the-scenes accommodations for veterans. “I know one of the things we’ve been talking about back and forth is making sure our vets that are deployed aren’t paying the exorbitant cost of having their water on when they’re not even at home, so thank you for addressing those.”

The auto-repair portion of NAPA is scheduled to close Feb. 1.

Tom and Tena Dugan, owners of NAPA in Maricopa, announced the auto-repair half of the business, Mel’s Auto, will close Feb. 1. The auto-parts store will remain open “as we prepare for the construction of a new building,” they announced in a statement.

The repair equipment will be moved to their Stanfield location. A concierge service is to planned to open by April, at which point they will operate on an appointment-only basis. The Dugans have owned the business since 2002. They said they will continue to be involved in the community as they have since the 1990s.

“We thank all our customers who have remained loyal since we took ownership in 2002. Those of you who went above and beyond to utilize our service during the construction deserve a medal for braving the closures and police intervention to have your vehicles worked on. Please remember to utilize the “mom & pop” businesses here in town. They are the ones that support our community and have the loyalty you have found with us. Thank you for 18 years of support of our auto repair,” they stated.

The State of Arizona, through the Department of Transportation, bought the NAPA building as part of the overpass construction with the intention of demolishing it. Earlier, the property belonged to Don Pearce, who bought it as Valley Auto Parts in 1959.

In August, the Maricopa City Council approved a contract to sell two acres of Estrella Gin Business Park on Edison Road to Mels’ Auto/NAPA for around $150,000.

From left, Francisco Servian, Jessica Bailin, Elin Dayley and Abigayil Gindiri.

Five Maricopa students were honored by the Maricopa Rotary Club Tuesday with its Students of the Month presentation before Maricopa City Council.

The group included four eighth graders from Maricopa Wells Middle School.

Francisco Servian, son of Rochelle Servian, is on the Decathlon team and After School Club. He is on the baseball, cross country and soccer teams. “He is a high-achieving example of what the staff at Maricopa Wells strives for. He displays leadership skills in his everyday behavior. Making good decisions and showinga high degree of respect for all adults while continually keeping his grades high.”

Jessica Bailin, daughter of Dominic and Rebecca Bailin, is a member of the orchestra, choir and After School Club. “She constantly displays leadership skills in her daily behavior, helping with community affairs, church organization and maintaining a very high GPA.”

Elin Dayley, daughter of Trevor and Shirley Dayley, is involved the After School Club, Orchestra and soccer, where she was the key member to the Maricopa Wells Championship Girls’ Team this year. She does all this while maintaining high-achieving grades in all her subjects.”

Abigayil Gindiri, daughter of Joshua and Shalom Gindiri, is a member of Student Council, orchestra, drama, the After School Club and many community organizations. “She is the president of the National Junior Honor Society, which helped organize two canned-food drives and the Penny Wars competition, and organized the Maricopa Wells Blood Drive, which will take place Jan. 24.”

Also recognized but not in attendance was Maricopa High School senior Briley Hoffman, daughter of Brian and Terrell Hoffman. President of the National Honor Society, she is in Honors English, geometry and biology. She plays violin for the MHS Orchestra, is on the varsity girls’ golf team and has been a community volunteer for many organizations such as the City of Maricopa, Red Cross Blood Drive nad Homecoming Committee, and is active in her church. “She has been beyond invaluable to the National Honor Socieyt. Not only has she organized the largest group of NHS members in the existence of NHS on MHS’s campus, she has done it with grace, humor and a timeliness that is astounding.”

The possibility of the City of Maricopa acquiring commercial land from a developer and a $435,000 contract for economic development services are on Tuesday’s city council agenda.

Thompson Thrift Development, planning the Sonoran Creek Marketplace on John Wayne Parkway next to Culver’s and Dutch Bros, developed an agreement with the City of Maricopa that would sell 4.22 acres of the 20-acre lot to the City for “future commercial development.”

Those acres are known as Lot 3 and are on the west side of the development. The purchase agreement requires the City to purchase Lot 3 and a bordering drainage area for $4 per square foot, equaling more than $735,000.

The Development Incentive Agreement would require Thompson Thrift to begin construction of Sonoran Creek by March 30, 2021, and open by Nov. 30 of the same year. For its part, the City would waive development fees. City officials have not publicly described what use is planned for Lot 3.

Sonoran Creek is expected to be anchored by a grocery that has not been officially named in public. It is one of several developments in the Heritage District.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda is Maricopa Economic Development Alliance.

Shortly after creating an Economic & Community Development Department, the City of Maricopa introduced an agreement with MEDA “to provide economic development services for the City.”

The contract has MEDA, a nonprofit, working as an independent contractor. The contract fee is $435,000 for a fiscal year. The contract is for five years.

MEDA is an alliance of business, government and education leaders. The current board of directors consists of Chairman John Shurz, president of Orbitel Communications, El Dorado Holdings President James Kenny, Electrical District 3 Director Brett Benedict, City Councilmember Marvin Brown, Global Water CEO Ron Fleming, Great Western Bank Group President Mike Adams, City Manager Rick Horst, Banner Health Senior Planner Ryan Hutchinson, Pinal County Economic Development Director Tim Kanavel, Ak-Chin Indian Community Chairman Robert Miguel, Mayor Christian Price, Maricopa Ace Hardware owner Mike Richey, UltraStar Multi-tainment Center General Manager Adam Saks and Southwest Gas District Manager Daniel J. Wolf.

The meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers, also has items on development impact fees and the city’s investment practices.

City and county officials turn dirt at the site of a future county complex.

 

About a month later than anticipated, Pinal County broke ground on a new administrative complex in Maricopa Friday.

The project expands current court facilities, which house Western Pinal Justice Court and Maricopa Municipal Court, a creates satellite offices for county services like the sheriff’s office, clerk of the court, assessor’s office and the recorder’s office. It will also provide space for the District 4 supervisor.

Current District 4 Supervisor Anthony Smith led the ceremony. He chairs the board of supervisors this year, which will be his last on the board, meaning he will not benefit from the new offices. The former Maricopa mayor said he has a history of planting buildings if not opening them.

With Johnson Carlier as general contractor, it may take up to 14 months to complete the $9.9 million, 41,000-square-foot expansion. The address for the county complex has been changed to 20025 N. Wilson Ave.

“We look forward to working here,” said Johnson Carlier Senior Project Manager Tim Lewis. “We look forward to building a quality product that everybody is proud of.”

Judge Lyle Riggs is both the city magistrate and the county’s justice of the peace for District 4. He said though the courts were already collocated when he took office, but the agreement that made it so was “pretty one-sided in favor of the City.”

A new deal struck between the City of Maricopa and Pinal County for the collocation saves both entities money, he said.

“In my own estimates hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are being saved,” Riggs said. “While some of that goes to the county and some of it goes to the City, bottom line, it goes to all of the taxpayers, who now pay less to get the services they have the right to receive.”

He said Maricopa Police Department and Pinal County Sheriff’s Office are also already doing “some amazing things” to be efficient. Instead of a police officer leaving his patrol to transport a defendant back and forth from the municipal court to the county jail in Florence, PCSO brings defendants over once a week.

“This building will be a manifestation of that cooperative spirit that often is absent where governments cross,” Riggs said.

 

As the night air cooled, balloon operators started the inflation process for the night's Glow. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The City of Maricopa’s inaugural Copa Glow hot air balloon fest and marketplace packed a crowd into Copper Sky Saturday evening. Balloon operators showed off their burner skills as residents got up close and personal to see how it all worked. While most of the colorful balloons were tethered to focus on “glowing,” two balloons gave paying customers a chance to ride a few dozen feet into the air. The sights and sounds from the park even elicited calls to police by unsuspecting residents at home. The free event also touted vendors, music and an outdoor movie.

Nyesa and Josiah Cartwright show off their dad's catch Saturday morning at Family Fishing Day.

Dozens of Maricopans turned out early Monday morning for the annual Family Fishing Day at the Copper Sky lake. They were able to fish for free without a license, with instructions, rods and bait available. The lake was freshly stocked with rainbow trout. Corn bait seemed particularly effective. The City of Maricopa works with Arizona Game and Fish Department to offer the experience each January.

Manuel Lopez (MCSO)
Kris Mickell (submitted photo)

Phoenix Police have arrested a suspect in the murder of a Maricopa teen that occurred Tuesday.

Manuel Isideo Lopez, 22, faces a recommended charge of first-degree murder in the death of Kristopher Mickell, 15. Mickell was stabbed four times, including though the heart.

The probable cause report states a fight may have started over a girl. While interviewed by police, Lopez claimed Mickell pulled a knife on him. He said he disarmed the teen, “at which time the knife accidentally went into the victim’s chest.”

According to the report, Lopez said he then stabbed Mickell  in the left side. When Mickell started to walk away, Lopez ran up to him and stabbed him twice more, he allegedly stated to police.

Police noted that Lopez’s statements “were not consistent with the witness statements and observations.”

Lopez was arrested Wednesday. He is also charged with parole violation. A bond is set for $1 million.

State Route 347. Photo by Victor Moreno

 

Almost from the moment voters approved Prop 416/417 in 2017, Pinal County has been in court trying to put it into action. A ruling handed down today from the Arizona Court of Appeals is a step toward that goal.

Prop 417 created a sales tax as the funding mechanism for countywide road improvements, including the widening of State Route 347. It is part of the county’s Regional Transportation Authority.

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think-tank, sued the county, saying the proposition violated taxpayer rights, in the case Vangilder, et al. v. Pinal County, et al. The tax court agreed. However, today’s ruling from the appeals court overturned the tax court judge’s ruling.

“We find the Prop 417 tax to be valid,” Judge Kenton D. Jones wrote in the court opinion. “The RTA’s authorizing resolution does not change the substance of the question posed to and approved by the voters; the tax, by its terms, applies across all transaction privilege tax (TPT) classifications; and the tax includes a valid, constitutional modified rate as applied to the retail sales classification. Accordingly, we reverse the order invalidating the tax.”

Mayor Christian Price said while the tax court is legitimate and important, that ruling involved only one judge. He said the Court of Appeals had three judges and a much larger staff to tackle the complexities of the case.

“It is a very big validation,” Price said.

During the court filings, Pinal County was allowed to continue collecting the sales tax. That now amounts to over $27 million and may be closer to $29 million, according to Andy Smith, the RTA general manager.

Smith said he’s anxious to get started after talking about the road projects for so long. The Goldwater Institute has 30 days to indicate whether it will appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.

“It’s good news, but we want it to be 100%,” Smith said.

The RTA was not allowed to implement the monies for the improvement projects specified in Prop 416, which include State Route 347 improvements and the creation of an east-west corridor from Maricopa through Casa Grande to Interstate 10.

Price said the City can celebrate the win for what it is and see if the Goldwater Institute opts to continue the case.

County Supervisor Anthony Smith called the ruling, “Super-duper.”

“We felt, and I felt in particular, that we had the winning argument,” he said, adding the lawsuit has wasted taxpayer money.

Goldwater attorney Timothy Sandefur had argued the tax applies only to retail sales, in violation of the constitution. The appeals court judges disagreed and dismissed several cases cited by Sandefur as inapplicable to Prop 417.

“The people of Maricopa spoke years ago by approving 416/417, and this is great for Maricopa,” said Maricopa City Councilmember Vincent Manfredi. “The fight may not be over as Goldwater can and will likely appeal to Arizona Supreme Court.”

Anthony Smith said that requires more patience from everybody involved, but the county “is in it for the long game.” He said he hoped the challengers would come to understand continuing the case is “all in vain” and may be endangering people on county roadways that need improvement. “It’s shameful,” he said.

The Goldwater Institute had claimed an authorizing resolution by the RTA ran counter to what the voters approved in Prop 417. The appellate judges disagreed.

“The RTA is not authorized to enact a tax and the June Resolution did not purport to do so,” Jones wrote in the opinion. “Nor did the June Resolution ask the voters to enact the tax. It simply asked the Board to put a transportation excise tax on the County ballot.”

If ultimately Pinal County wins the case, Price said it would be huge for Maricopa, especially regarding SR 347 expansion.

“Having that collateral would let Gila River know and let ADOT know that we’re serious,” he said.

Prop 417 intends to collect $640 million. Of that about $110 million is for projects in and around Maricopa and impacting its residents, Price said.

In the two years since the proposition was meant to be implemented, costs of construction from materials and labor, including the minimum wage, have increased. Finding construction workers has been a concern as many projects across the state are underway, but Andy Smith said there are signs that is leveling off.


Vincent Manfredi is a minority owner of InMaricopa.

Submitted photos of Kris Mikell playing basketball for MWMS.

A memorial event for Kristopher Mickell, 15, has been planned by his friends and teachers at Maricopa Unified School District.

In what is planned as a private event Wednesday, after the final bell Wednesday at Maricopa High School (around 12:30 p.m.) students will walk from MHS down Honeycutt Avenue to Maricopa Wells Middle School, where Kris had been a student. There will be a balloon release at the MWMS campus.

Participants are asked to wear red and bring black and gray balloons.

Kris was living in Phoenix when he was stabbed to death Tuesday. A suspect was arrested Wednesday.

Adam Saks

By Adam Saks

Most people’s first job will be in the retail or hospitality business.  These industries offer flexible schedules that are perfect for teenagers looking to gain valuable experience and earn some income.  I’m proud to play my part in providing these types of opportunities to the up-and-coming workforce.

But entry-level employment opportunities are only part of the equation in preparing for a career and serious income.  As a community, we need to invest in our schools and our educators.  Because within those classrooms are future managers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, pilots, astronauts, artists and, yes, retail and hospitality executives.

As a life-long advocate for education, this was never more important to me than when my kids starting going to public school. My fervor for education became even more pronounced through my service on the board of directors for First Things First, Pinal Regional Partnership Council. The Pinal region encompasses Pinal County, including the City of Maricopa and the Ak-Chin Indian Community.

The Pinal Regional Partnership Council makes it a priority to support the healthy development and learning of the young children in the region. Recognizing that a quality education begins at a very young age, the Council’s programs include:

  • Improving the quality of child care and preschool programs
  • Scholarships for children to access high-quality early learning
  • Improving the quality of family, friend and neighbor care
  • Strengthening families through voluntary home visiting and parenting education
  • Developmental, sensory and oral health screenings
  • Effective collaboration among system partners

One of the things I know for sure, both as a dad and an employer, is that kids who are engaged at a young age, learning coping skills, playing (working) with others, will have the type of “spirit” and work ethic that makes them a good employee. In the workforce, 20% of what you bring to the table is skill, but 80% is the “person that you are,” which is developed and nurtured at home and in our schools.

Investing in quality education means supporting our teachers – giving them the financial resources they need to make their classrooms a place of learning, innovation and discovery.  Investing in education means voting “yes” when our schools have a bond issue on a ballot. Investing in education means volunteering your time to programs like DECA or other on-campus programs.

We have an unparalleled opportunity for the Pinal County region to be recognized as the hub for technology, growth and economic prosperity.  Let’s continue to invest in the people that are cultivating and preparing our youth to become the people who will help us realize this goal. My business depends on an educated workforce. I bet yours does, too.


Adam Saks is general manager of UltraStar Multi-tainment Center at Ak-Chin Circle.  He is vice chair of the Pinal Regional Partnership Council for First Things First and currently serves on the Maricopa Economic Development Alliance and is a founding Board Member of the Maricopa Community Foundation. Saks and his wife, Lynn and their children reside in Chandler.

Ronald Bragonier (PCSO)

In opening salvos, prosecuting and defense attorneys laid out their strategies in the trial of Ronald Bragonier of Maricopa Tuesday.

Deputy County Attorney Kristen Sharifi described the defendant as manipulative and obsessed with the reported victim. Defense attorney Vicki Lopez said the accusations against her client were all lies.

“The defendant has stated outright he didn’t do this,” Lopez told the jury.

Bragonier is accused of child molestation and sexual conduct with a minor. The alleged crimes are said to have been committed when the victim was 13 and 14 years old. Bragonier was arrested in 2017.

Sharifi showed the jury photos of the child with family and with Bragonier, who was a long-time friend of the family. Though not related, the child called Bragonier “tio” or uncle, Sharifi said.

“This whole family trusted this defendant,” she told the jury, who stayed mainly expressionless through the opening statements of the attorneys.

The child first met Bragonier during karate lessons the child was taking along with Bragonier’s child. Years later, the families encountered each other again at a local gym where the alleged victim was asked to join the cheerleading team. That became in-state and out-of-state competitions. Bragonier sometimes volunteered as a handyman at the gym, Sharifi said.

“It became apparent the defendant took a strong interest in [the victim],” Sharifi said.

Sharifi said Bragonier had access to the child “whenever he wanted” and described actions of getting close to the child, being alone with the child, inviting the child to sleepovers and buying hundreds of collectible cars as well as clothing and underwear for the child.

The four counts of molestation involve accusations that Bragonier, at various times, handled the child’s genitals, rubbed his own genitals on the child, touched the child’s buttocks and touched the child’s genitals with a blanket. The single count of sexual conduct with a minor is purported oral sex.

Meanwhile, the reported victim, Sharifi said, was helpless, did not know what to do and decided “the only option was to go with it.” During some alleged incidents, she told the jury, the child pretended to be asleep or would simply freeze.

Sharifi said the child’s mother “had a gut feeling” about the child’s relationship with Bragonier. When she asked the child about it, however, the child denied there was anything wrong.

One of the owners of the cheerleading gym is expected to testify to overhearing an argument between Bragonier and the child Nov. 18, 2017. Police allegedly discovered hundreds of text messages per week between the two.

Sharifi displayed copies of some of Bragonier’s purported texts expressing anger in harsh language, castigating the child for apparently avoiding or ignoring him.

Sometime over Thanksgiving weekend that year, the child reportedly told a sister of being sexually abused by Bragonier. The child was forensically interviewed Nov. 28. The child described incidents happening in a vehicle, Bragonier’s home, in Florida and in the Desert Passage house of a “snowbird” Bragonier was homesitting.

“He was happy he finally told someone,” Sharifi said.

Physical evidence expected to be introduced are 3-by-3-centimeter samples of a blanket (comforter) and a towel. Lopez told the jury there are reasons Bragonier’s semen would be on the items that had nothing to do with molestation claims.

“Lies make a defendant helpless,” Lopez said.

Bragonier, Lopez said, has denied all charges from the beginning and insisted on a trial. She said he was falsely accused and heart-broken over the accusations.

Instead of being a molester and manipulator, Lopez said, Bragonier was a mentor who had collections of his own he liked to share. She said explanations for all accusations would come through her upcoming cross-examination.

“Every relationship between an adult and a child can be misunderstood,” Lopez said.

While Sharifi claimed Bragonier showed the child pornography, Lopez told the jury there was no indication of any porn on any of Bragonier’s devices.

Sophomore McKinley Hacker is a region leader in girls' soccer. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Arizona high school soccer rankings were announced today, and the Maricopa High School girls’ varsity team is No. 5 in 5A.

The Rams trail only Campo Verde, Millennium, Casteel and Cienega in the rankings unveiled by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. Campo Verde and Casteel are in the San Tan Region with Maricopa. None of those teams have yet competed against each other.

Maricopa is 6-1-1 overall and 5-0 in regular season play.

“We are hoping to continue that into region play where 3-4 of the teams are usually top 15 in the state,” head coach Cortney Kellenaers said in an email.

The girls are next at home Jan. 24 against Goldwater. Then Maricopa boys’ and girls’ teams will host Campo Verde Jan. 28 in a game supporting pediatric cancer research in Arizona.

“Both Campo Verde and MHS players will be wearing gold shoe laces in support with the profits of the purchase of shoe laces going to the Go4theGoal foundation,” Kellenaers said. “In addition, we are inviting out the local boys’ club players.”

 

A committee is mapping out MUSD school calendars through graduation 2024.

Three years ago, Maricopa Unified School District set up a three-year calendar that eased into the current modified schedule, which sees three two-week breaks.

See the proposed calendars

A committee is now working on a four-year calendar that would let parents and students plan out their school years through spring 2024.

“This is the first time we’re doing four consecutive years,” Board member Joshua Judd said at Wednesday’s meeting of the governing board.

“The calendar obviously has a great impact upon not only our teachers and students but also our community,” said Human Resources Director Tom Beckett, who organized the committee.

He said having the committee craft the calendar was a move in the right direction. The committee worked to “uphold commitments” that were made in 2016 such as the two-week breaks for fall, winter and spring.

“We had made a pretty dramatic shift to move from a traditional calendar to a modified calendar,” Beckett said. “It was obviously not without some growing pangs. We actually took that first year to remain on the traditional calendar, and then on the second and third year we moved to the modified calendars.”

Maintaining the modified calendar was a “non-negotiable” element of the calendar planning.

The committee was formed after Beckett sent out a notice to MUSD employees asking for membership. He ended up with 34 staff members.

“We had a real strong turnout for this particular committee, and our meetings were well attended,” he said, explaining it included classified, certified and administrative staff members.

Board member Patti Coutre said she would like the committee to get feedback from stakeholders as well.

For the past three years, the school year has started on a Monday, but Beckett said teachers were concerned that makes for a long week for students transitioning from summer. On the draft calendars for the next four years, the start day is on a Thursday.

The proposed plan sees next school year starting July 23. The start date remains on that same Thursday the subsequent three years until it starts July 20 for the 2023-24 year.

Beckett said the committee had expected to create a five-year calendar, “but the fifth year got a little convoluted.” The holiday breaks were moving the start date even earlier in July, and a suggestion arose to cut a week from one of the other breaks.

Instead of making that decision, Beckett said the committee “just let it go” and opted for a four-year proposal.

Winter break already causes some concern on the proposed 2022-23 and 2023-24 calendars. Staff and students get New Year’s Day off during the school week, whether it falls during the school week or not. In 2023, it falls on a Sunday, and in 2024 it is on a Saturday.

To accommodate the vacation time, those two proposed calendars add one day to the winter break.

What has not yet been determined is the placement of parent-teacher conferences. Beckett said MUSD wants them to be effective but predictable and unified. “We have not had a lot of continuity with that.”

Ronald Bragonier (PCSO)

Opening arguments are scheduled for Tuesday in the child-molestation trial of a Maricopa man.

Ronald Bragonier, 56, is charged with four counts of child molestation and one count of sexual conduct with a minor under age 15. He was arrested in 2017 after the family of the victim reported the alleged “inappropriate relationship” of the child, who was 14 at the time, with Bragonier.

A jury of 12 with two alternates was seated Monday. The jury is comprised of nine women and five men. One of the jurors is a Maricopa resident.

Witnesses expected to testify include Maricopa Police detectives, the victim’s family members and the owners of a local cheerleading gym, where Bragonier, as a parent of one of the students, occasionally volunteered making repairs. He did not volunteer with the children.

Bragonier, too, may speak for himself.

“As of right now, he’s planning on testifying,” defense attorney Vicki Lopez told the court Monday.

Though, Lopez had challenged expert witness Wendy Dutton, a forensic interviewer who has testified frequently in similar cases, she was cleared to participate on behalf of the prosecution.

Judge Jason Holmberg is presiding at the trial. It is expected to run through Jan. 23, not including Friday or Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.

Alice Johnson-McKinney stays on independent path

Alice Johnson McKinney at the Stanfield homestead where she has lived since 1969. Photo by Victor Moreno

Alice Kulbeth Johnson-McKinney first traveled from Arkansas to Arizona in 1955 at age 15.

“My dad had a heart condition, and the doctor said, ‘If you lived in a warmer climate and didn’t work so hard, you could increase your life expectancy.’ He had a brother that worked for the mines in Globe, so we sold the house and everything and moved to Arizona.”

It was just the beginning of a remarkable life that included picking cotton, performing country music, waitressing, flipping houses before it was cool, marrying four times (twice to the same man), being caretaker to ailing spouses and standing centerstage in one of the most iconic friendships in Pinal County history.

“Oh, she’s a great lady,” said Paul Shirk, president of the Maricopa Historical Society. “And she has so many stories. Every time I talk to her, I hear a story I haven’t heard before.”

People like to ask her for stories about John Wayne, but she likes to share the full history as much as she can while she’s still here and can remember the details.

“There’s not too many of us left, the older farmers,” she said. “We’re getting old and passing on.”

In the 1950s, Johnson-McKinney’s father was a logger and took a little time to land a job with the Globe mining companies. Back in Arkansas he had played fiddle in a country band that also included 11-year-old Alice on upright bass and her little brother Larry playing mandolin/guitar. They had a regular gig on a local radio station. Based on that youthful experience, Alice and Larry landed jobs in Arizona before their parents did.

She marched into a Globe radio station and said they wanted to play on air and get paid.

Johnson-McKinney keeps a collection of family photos, including this one of her and her brother when they were a musical act in the 1950s.

“She said, ‘We can’t pay you unless you get sponsors,’” Alice recalled. “So, I went to town to a men’s store, and they said they’d be a sponsor. And I went to a furniture store, and they were a sponsor. We went back to the radio station, so they gave us a 30-minute program on Saturday mornings, and they paid us.”

She also landed a job as a car-hop at a foot-long hot dog place in Chandler.

Johnson-McKinney lasted in Globe through six weeks of school before deciding to return to her grandparents in Arkansas and finish high school in a school with more amenities. She also picked a lot of cotton on their small farm, up to 300 pounds a day while daydreaming of being a movie star. After graduation, she returned to Arizona.

When she was 19 and Larry was 14, they went to California to make a record. While waiting for their own recording session, Alice ended up recording two lines of a commercial for a clothing outlet because the chosen model could not fake a southern accent. They drew the interest of a talent scout, but their parents were not prepared to quit their jobs in Globe.

By 1965, Alice was married and divorced with a 6-year-old daughter, Becky, when she was waitressing at Copper Hills Restaurant in Globe. The owner, local icon Danko Gurovich, set her up on a blind date with a much-older, well-to-do farmer named Louis Johnson. It definitely was not a meet-cute.

John Wayne and Louis Johnson at their annual cattle sale.
Alice knew John Wayne during the last decade of his life through his friendship and partnership with her husband Louis Johnson.

“I was supposed to meet Louis at Durant’s Restaurant in Phoenix. It’s an hour and a half drive from Globe, and I never had gone on a blind date, so I just decided not to go. I didn’t show up,” she said. “Well, apparently he had had John Wayne fly over and was with him at Durant’s. Louis was really embarrassed and took a lot of razzing from the Duke because I didn’t show up.”

Johnson and Wayne had been partners growing cotton in Pinal County since 1958. Widely dubbed the best cotton farmer in the state, Johnson grew up picking cotton in Arizona and bought his first acres near Stanfield for $50 an acre when he was just 19.

“The Anderson Clayton Company would buy the land for you,” Johnson-McKinney said. “You would agree to use his gins, and then you just paid them back.”

Johnson and Wayne eventually combined their neighboring properties, and Johnson managed the 10,000 acres.

By 1965, when Gurovich tried to be matchmaker, Johnson and Wayne were moving into the cattle business after the federal government cut back on water allotments for cotton. Able to grow cotton on only a section of his land, Johnson created a feedlot.

He and Wayne put together 50,000 acres for a grassland ranch near Springerville in Apache County and bought purebred Herefords, paying over $100,000 for a single bull. Wayne and Johnson were in the middle of the effort to construct the 26 Bar Ranch when Alice came into the picture.

The day after that failed blind date, Gurovich pushed Alice to call Johnson and apologize. “Out of sympathy, I made another date with him because he asked me to bring Becky along. So, I said, ‘That’s pretty smart.’”

The 26 Bar Ranch sales barn on White and Parker Road. Photo by Kyle Norby

That first date was to the ranch he and Wayne were putting together. “Everyone” had told Alice how smart Johnson was. While that was not her first impression, she said she soon learned “everyone” was right. Johnson was intelligent, wise and a heck of a farmer.

“He wasn’t a big man, but his heart made up for it.”

She dated Johnson for a while, but Becky’s father came back into the picture. She decided to try marriage with him again for Becky’s sake. Not only did it break Johnson’s heart, but it didn’t take. “You should never marry a person a second time, because the problems are still there.”

When she divorced again, Johnson was waiting for her.

“We were very compatible,” she said. “Before we got married, we talked about a lot of things. It seemed like everything that suited him suited me… We were able to converse about everything.”

Johnson-McKinney said a level of trust built because she would never take money from him while they were dating. “I had a job and I was able to pay my bills and I had my own house.”

She also worked at a bank for a time and at Roosevelt Lake Estates, where she waitressed.

She married Louis Johnson in 1969, and they moved to the ranch between Stanfield and Maricopa, where they were surrounded by cotton.

Alice and Louis Johnson

“When I first came here in ’69, I don’t think the road had been paved that many years,” she said of Maricopa. “It looked like Stanfield. It had a bar and a service station and a small grocery store.”

Never one to be idle, she got to work in the four-acre yard and planted trees all over the property. She wanted evergreens to remind her of the pines in Arkansas. She and her brother stuccoed the 17-year-old, block house, a large but modest home.

Still sensing she was bored and a little isolated as a young woman used to working, Johnson had friend Verna Cooper take his wife to a meeting of the Cotton Wives Club, part of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association. Under Cooper’s wing, Alice joined the club and eventually became president. She still maintains friendships from the group.

Johnson and Wayne had started their annual cattle sale in 1968 at the Stanfield farm. He and Wayne trucked bulls and heifers down from Springerville. The sale started small but grew to national renown.

“One year we had ranches represented from 37 states,” Johnson-McKinney said. “John Wayne being a partner didn’t hurt any, as far as people wanted to see him, but the cattle were very good. That took precedent over celebrities.”

Alice proving to her new husband and friends she could pick cotton.

Louis Johnson did not leave cotton behind.

“He stayed with it. He wasn’t playing golf. He wasn’t going on vacation. He was looking at it every day,” Johnson-McKinney said. “He would look at the cotton in the morning with the sun shining on it from one direction, and in the evening he would look at it with the sun from the west shining on it.

“He said anytime you see a shoot off the main stem and there are four cotton bolls in there, it means you’re gonna get four bales per acre.”

Each year, Wayne and Johnson had a bet that if Johnson produced four bales of cotton per acre, Wayne would buy him a Cadillac. If not, Johnson would buy Wayne a car. Johnson received a Cadillac every year but one.

They played high-stakes jokes on each other as well. When Wayne said the Johnsons could eat free at Danko Gurovich’s restaurant, Johnson took full advantage one evening. He made off with a case of vodka and boxes of steaks, shrimp and bacon.

“They didn’t have enough bacon the next morning to serve in the restaurant,” Johnson-McKinney said. “We had bacon. I had an aunt that lived down the road, and we took it to her, and she divided it with all her neighbors down the street.”

Johnson and Gurovich also pretended to buy a racehorse named Snickerbar Dan, giving Wayne a share for $12,500. The horse did not exist.

Still, Wayne trusted Johnson when it came to business.

“Louis saved him,” Johnson-McKinney said. “He was in financial duress. They were repossessing all the farm stuff. He bought this farmland and didn’t know what he was doing.”

Alice Johnson-McKinney keeps books of photos from the 26 Bar Ranch days.

She said Wayne was actually “pretty gullible” and could be suckered in by just about anyone with an investment scheme until he got in the habit of turning them over to Johnson first. They were, in fact, like family, each called “uncle” by the other’s kids.

Alice speaks of The Duke with great affection. She said he felt perfectly at home in Maricopa and Stanfield and at the Johnson house in particular.

“He loved coming here. He liked visiting with the people, with the locals,” she said. “Even when he came and it wasn’t bull sale time, we’d have some local people [like Donna and Jimmie Kerr] come out and have dinner. He liked the ranch and farm people.

“He was just like he is. He either was not an actor, or he was acting all the time. What you see on screen is just the way he is in person.”

The Johnsons visited Wayne several times when he was filming on location, having dinner with him and Katharine Hepburn in Oregon during “Rooster Cogburn” and dropping in on him in Texas during “The Cowboys” and for the Houston premiere of “Hellfighters.”

John Wayne filming “The Cowboys” in Texas, where the Johnsons visited him on set.

Back at home, Alice still needed intellectual stimulation. She floated the idea of going back to college, but Louis couldn’t agree to that. So, when her stepson Johnny went off to New Mexico State University, she had him buy books for her.

“When Louis went to work at 4 o’clock in the morning, I would just read,” she said.

In the mid-1970s, when beef went into a slump, Alice and Becky started “flipping” houses. With money invested from the sale of her home after she married Johnson, McKinney bought a second house. She and Becky worked it into shape and sold it two months later for a profit.

“Becky and I flipped before flipping was flipping,” she said.

They continued that process through a series of houses as 50-50 partners. Then they decided to keep some of the houses they flipped to put up for rent as mines shut down around Casa Grande during a strike.

Alice Johnson-McKinney. Photo by Kyle Norby

“Men were going to other states for work. Women were wanting to reunite with the family,” she said. “I could give them $5,000 for their house, and they would sign it over to us. We didn’t have to go and borrow the money. You could assume somebody else’s mortgage, back in that day. You can’t do that now.”

Word got around among those who were losing their homes in Casa Grande that Alice and Becky would buy it for $2,000-$5,000, and they wouldn’t have to ruin their credit.

“That was very lucrative, because they might have paid on that house 10-15 years,” Johnson-McKinney said. “That’s how Becky and I formed a business, and now she has rental properties.”

Alice gave her own house the works, too.

“The master bedroom had its own bathroom, but all the other bedrooms had to share a common bathroom down the hall, and I didn’t like that,” she said. “I made all the bedrooms bigger, and they have their own bathrooms.”

She had told Johnson what elements she might want if she built her dream house. That included a deck, a dome and skylights to see the stars.

He gave her carte blanche to do whatever she wanted to the house. The result is a unique ranch house that is both western and Hollywood. She maintains a John Wayne suite, but also has The Duke memorabilia spread throughout the house. There are two kitchens, though she declares she’s not much of a cook. There is a bar, a pool and a tennis court. There are also unique family paintings.

Detail of one of the family paintings done of Louis, Alice and Becky.

After Wayne died of cancer in 1979, the Johnsons began selling off some of their assets as well. Alice and Becky continued their construction business and built houses for all the kids in the blended family. Then, as the end of the century neared, Louis fell ill.

“One day, everything was normal, and the next day, it was never the same,” Johnson-McKinney said.

After a grueling battle, Louis Johnson died of cancer in 2001.

Alice and Verne McKinney

That left Alice taking care of much of their assets around the country including an office building in Montana. She also bought a home there. She had to travel to Billings with a nephew to deal with a legal issue concerning the office building. There, she met a local rodeo cowboy and truck driver named Verne McKinney, who had been single for 30 years and had just retired.

Dancing in the Northern Hotel, they hit it off quickly.

After a long-distance correspondence, Alice and Verne married in 2003. During 14 years of marriage, they did some world traveling, and Alice’s ring of acquaintances widened even more.

But life was never a breeze. Johnson-McKinney cared for her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother for the final three years of her life. Then cancer again hit home, taking Verne McKinney in 2017.

Alice continues to live independently but looked after. Her daughter lives in a house on the property, and there are laborers to help with upkeep.

She feels the housing developments in Maricopa inching closer and said she has had offers for her surrounding acreage. She now maintains 160 acres as a cushion.

“I won’t ever sell it,” she said. “This is my roots.”


This story appears in part in the January issue of InMaricopa.

ADWR warns Pinal County will fall short of its 100-year demand of water.

We will deepen wells. We will move wells. That’s our job.

Water is a basic necessity for human existence, and the idea of losing it can cause a visceral reaction.

So, when the director of Arizona Department of Water Resources said Pinal County would be 8 million acre-feet short of meeting demand in 100 years, pushback was almost immediate. Water companies, water groups and elected officials declared the information ADWR included in its update to the Pinal Active Management Area model was flawed.

But while saying ADWR was underestimating water resources and overestimating use, they concurred water conservation is important.

“We definitely need to be using our water as effectively as we can,” said William Garfield, member of Arizona Water Company’s board of directors. “That comes across all water-using sectors. Agriculture has come a long way in improving farming practices. Within our service area in Casa Grande, for example, over the last 20 years, single-family use has dropped 40%.”

That ground-level accounting of current water use sometimes conflicts with the assumptions made at ADWR. The department wanted a comprehensive model that included data from Gila River Indian Community and looked at how communities might impact each other through their water use.

ADWR hydrologists updated and corrected data in the 2014 version of the groundwater model. When they ran the model with the new numbers, the results were alarming. They indicated Pinal County would be 10% shy of meeting demand by 2115.

“Looking out 100 years, there is insufficient groundwater in the Pinal Active Management Area to support all existing uses and issued assured water supply determinations,” ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke said at the time of the release of the information in October and again at a DWR stakeholders meeting in November.

But assumptions behind that declaration have been questioned.

“They assume we are using approximately three times the water we actually are using today,” said Jake Lenderking, director of the Water Resources department at Global Water Resources.

Global Water has a designation of assured water supply of 23,000 acre-feet per year.

“We use about 7,000, so we have lots of room to grow in that proven designation,” he said. The problem is that ADWR’s hydrologists feel impelled to state Global’s current use as 23,000 acre feet.

“From a legal standpoint, because they’ve issued that determination, they feel that they legally have to account for it in the groundwater model because they can’t say whether or not we’re actually using it tomorrow,” Lenderking said. “But I don’t think there’s any practical way we can go from using 7,000 acre feet to 23,000 acre feet next year.”

Lenderking, a board member of the county’s Water Augmentation Authority, has appeared on “Horizon” to discuss such water issues. In November, he, Garfield and Steve Miller, a Pinal County supervisor, tackled the subject as a panel for a Pinal Partnership presentation.

William Garfield of Arizona Water Company, Jake Lenderking of Global Water Resources and Pinal County Supervisor Steve Miller are heading a stakeholders process to rethink the regulating structure in the Pinal AMA.

A legislative ad-hoc committee created in 2019 appointed Miller, Garfield and Lenderking to lead a stakeholders process “to hopefully rethink how we do some of this in a scientific way and in a real practical water way,” Lenderking said. “How can we make changes? Can we import water? Can we provide incentives? Is there a good process we can implement that fixes our existing regulator structure, so we can get farm water transferred to municipal water using less?”

Garfield said it should be easier for those with designations or certificates to change to uses that require less water.

How old is your water?

Global Water draws its water supply from the aquifer in the Maricopa/Stanfield Basin and Eloy Basin. It has been gathering there for centuries. The basins are combined in the groundwater model as the major active basins in the Pinal AMA.

“This is what I would call older groundwater. It’s been here a long time,” Lenderking said. “There are sources of recharge along the mountain fronts and the stream beds. The aquifer is replenished through times when the rivers and streams flow. There is also sub-flow moving underground, but it’s very little, and I believe it’s coming up basically in the Santa Cruz drainage, so from the Tucson AMA. It’s very minimal compared to the other things.”

Global Water has nine active wells and a 10th coming online soon. Its water supply is groundwater and effluent or recycled water. It has done its own groundwater flow modeling over time. ADWR counts water as physically available if it is either between the land surface and the bedrock or 1,100 feet, whichever is shallower. It does not consider it available below 1,100 feet.

“The aquifer over here goes about 8,000 or 9,000 feet below land surface,” Lenderking said. “We’re only allowed to count to 1,100 feet in the assured water supply program.”

ADWR counts water as physically available if it is either between the land surface and the bedrock or 1,100 feet, whichever is shallower.

He said the ADWR model counts only existing wells and their existing depth, which he said is also misleading.

“We will deepen wells. We will move wells. That’s our job,” he said. “I think we’re going to see water supplies imported into the Pinal AMA over time that are going to also help to change this picture. I don’t see any real municipal demand, the way it stands today and the way it’s growing today, being unmet.”

The assumptions about wells in the Pinal AMA skewed the modeling results, he said.

Even in simulated animation of the 100-year flow modeling by ADWR, the Maricopa area looks to be sitting on a surplus of water while the rest of the Pinal AMA dries out. Global Water has long stated Maricopa is in “a very nice place” in its access to water.

Assured Water Supply

ADWR’s groundwater flow model considers all grandfathered rights like agriculture, designated and certificated rights such as municipalities and utilities and then analyses of assured water supply, which are anticipated requests that would need to be converted into certificates. Though they account for 11 million acre feet in the model, ADWR is doubtful any of the analyses would get approval.

Permitted water use is five times what actually is being used today. Those trying to get in line for certificates have a hard row to hoe.

“DWR has made abundantly clear that the water people have asked for, they need subsequent approvals and are very unlikely to get them,” Lenderking said. “When you think about the fact that they’re not going to allow any of those analyses to go forward, is there really a shortfall? Did they really overissue? Are we really in a long-term deficit? No.”

That virtual hold on certificates of assured water are causing frustration. The ad-hoc committee – comprised of lawmakers David L. Cook, Noel Campbell, Rosanna Gabaldón, Gail Griffin, Bret Roberts and Diego Rodriguez, with Buschatzke as a member as well – was created to find solutions to the “groundwater physical availability issue.”

“Having been a builder, a developer, and having gone through the process of getting a certificate of assured water… having close ties to the agricultural community, I’ve seen the issues,” Miller said. “I’ve seen them coming for a long time.”

Garfield said the stakeholder process may be the best option for finding a path for developers to gain a certificate. Some might come to the table with their own water supply, such as an agreement with a Native American community for Central Arizona Project water, but those would be special circumstances.

Miller quoted iconic cattleman and member of the Governor’s Water Augmentation Council Bas Aja’s idiom, “If money can fix the problem, you don’t have a problem.”


This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

by -
Dan Frank

The Republican primary for county supervisor in District 4 just became a contest.

With Anthony Smith saying he will not run for re-election, Jeffrey McClure of Oracle quickly put his name in. Last week, Maricopa’s Dan Frank confirmed he, too, will seek the GOP nomination for the seat.

Frank is a member of Maricopa’s Planning and Zoning Commission and is president of the Maricopa Flood Control District. He previously served on Maricopa City Council as an appointee.

McClure is president of the Oracle School District Governing Board.

A             Excellent
B             Highly performing
C             Performing
D             Minimally performing
F              Failing

When the accounting was done for last school year, Maricopa had moved from having three A-rated schools to one A-rated school. But other schools were happy to see growth.

Fourteen schools in Maricopa were assessed by the Arizona Department of Education for the 2018-19 school year. Nine of them are in Maricopa Unified School District while the others are charter schools. The elementary and secondary schools at Sequoia Pathway were looked as a hybrid for a combined score, but results were also given individually.

K-8 and high school have slightly different measuring tools and different ranges for letter grades, but both have much of the scoring weight in student growth. Student growth is measured in proficiency and subgroup improvement. “Subgroups” are determined by economically disadvantaged, special education and other factors.

Pima Butte Elementary School, an A school last year, excelled by earning 1.5 points more. That gave the MUSD school a percentage of 99.35, the highest in Pinal County. A dearth of English Language Learners made the school eligible for only 90 points rather than 100.

“Pima Butte Elementary School has a smaller ELL population than a number of our elementary sites and as a result that portion of the state’s school letter grade calculation is not a factor to Pima Butte’s overall score and rating,” Principal Randy Lazar said.

When a school already rates “excellent,” showing even more growth can be difficult. But Pima Butte found a way to squeeze in the extra and increase its percentage.

“Under the Acceleration/Readiness section, we earned a couple more points in 2019,” Lazar said. “This helped raise our overall points.”

Among Pinal County schools, 65 percent earned a C-rating or lower.

High schools benefited from better reporting in the way the Department of Education scored the College and Career Readiness Indicators category. Maricopa High, again C-rated, moved very close to a B based on CCRI while Sequoia Pathway jumped into the B category as its CCRI points grew from 11.8 to 18.6.

“2018 was a baseline year for all of our schools, and several points were lost as we were determining the process for data gathering and reporting,” said Mark Plitzuweit, CEO of Edkey Inc., the parent company for Pathway. “Some of our principals reported more accurate information for 2018 than others. 2019 brought the focus on maximizing those points for all of our Edkey Inc. secondary schools.”

He said the result of “judicious” data gathering across the Edkey organization resulting in important CCRI growth.

“We expect these results to be stable in the years to come,” Plitzuweit said.

Though Pathway’s secondary school moved from 69.77 in 2018 to 77.75 in 2019, there were several staffing changes after the school year, including around 10 faculty resignations and terminations during the first semester of this year, with several posts filled by long-term substitutes. The impact on the next assessments is guesswork.

Noting MHS scored 68.5 and needed 70.2 for a B, MUSD Governing Board member Patti Coutré said during a November meeting, “The smallest amount of points can make a big difference… Even though they’re still a C, they’ve significantly increased every year for the last three years. So, they’re making progress. That’s always good to see.”

MUSD’s two middle schools, however, have low C ratings. Desert Wind dropped from 66.8 to 62.87 while Maricopa Wells had only a fraction of a point difference in its results.

MUSD’s Butterfield Elementary, which had jumped from a C to an A last year, lost some growth points to score a high B. Legacy Traditional School, a charter usually posting an A, had a similar fate as a decline in growth points left it with a high B rating. Leading Edge Academy, also a charter, last year was less than a point from an A but this year moved to a low B.

Saddleback Elementary gained growth points and went from being MUSD’s only C-rated elementary to earning a solid B rating.

Meanwhile, the charter school Holsteiner Agricultural School saw all its numbers tumble to fall from a C to an F. According to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, Holsteiner dropped its charter because of low enrollment.

School letter grade quantitative measurements are a mix of federal and state requirements. Schools are assessed on their proficiency and growth in English language arts and math, the proficiency and growth of ELL students, graduation rates, absenteeism, growth of subgroups and results of ACT or SAT, “or earning an industry credential, certificate or license.”

Dennis Koch, director of Assessment Technology at MUSD, reminded board members the district has a goal of “being a highly performing district with school letter grades of B and higher.”

 


This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

2020 rings in the end of an era and the beginning of another. What will the new ‘20s bring to Maricopa?

Last year brought the beginnings of commercial projects and the end of the overpass construction. In this issue we look back at some of our top stories of 2019 and the 2010s as a decade.

On our cover is Alice Johnson-McKinney, a long-time farmer and landowner, who moved to the area in 1969 and has seen a lot of eras come and go. Over the years, she’s been asked often about her late husband Louis Johnson and good friend John Wayne, but she has quite a story of her own that starts in this issue and continues at InMaricopa.com.

This month, we also look inside the water debate between the state’s Department of Water Resources and the Pinal AMA. We break down the letter grades recently assigned to area schools. We also check in with Maricopa Family Advocacy Center after one year to see how its relationship with Maricopa Police Department and Against Abuse is fighting domestic violence.

Police Chief Steve Stahl talks about the past and the future in a Q&A with InMaricopa you can also watch on video. You can also read about the ending lifecycle of smoke detectors, career-preparedness resources for high schoolers and tips for saving your plants during a winter frost.

Much more is in this issue of InMaricopa.

Happy reading,

Raquel Hendrickson is the editor of InMaricopa.


This item appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl. Photo by Kyle Norby

After seven years on the job as Maricopa top cop, Chief Steve Stahl talked with InMaricopa about the challenges of policing a growing community, trends he finds the most disturbing, the use of on-body cameras, fiscal responsibility and what he considers the department’s biggest failure last year (it may not be what you think.)

How is Maricopa Police Department adapting to the growth of the city?
We have people who come with preconceived notions. They come with a set of expectations that they’re used to in their prior jurisdictions. Those are challenges sometimes to us to educated them on, “That doesn’t apply here in Arizona,” or “That doesn’t apply in Maricopa.” The biggest challenge regarding growth is the set of expectations that we are, one, trying to address, trying to meet with these citizens, but also trying to educate everyone on what is a realistic goal for us to accomplish together.

How many officers do you have?
We have about 1.3 officers per thousand. Seventy officers, 53,000 people.

What was the most frequent crime in 2019?
The most frequent crime is still property crime, these series of property crimes – thefts, shoplifts, vehicle burglaries, things like that, commercial burglaries, going onto people’s property, trespass, things like that. It’s still the No. 1 thing here in the city of Maricopa. We still have a long way to go to educate the people on how to properly secure their properties, their vehicle – lock the door, raise the windows, don’t leave anything in your vehicle you want to be there the next morning. Turn coach lights on if you’re going to park your car in your driveway. Those types of things that help us. Policing a safe community can’t be done just by having police officers do everything. It has to be the community working together in concert with the law enforcement officers out there, so we can accomplish the same goal together.

Do you find the nature of crime changing in any way?
I think the nature is just, again, new people coming to the city of Maricopa. We are actually seeing a whole lot more visitors exploring the city of Maricopa, visiting their friends, people from out of town, out of state, trying to determine if they want to live here in Maricopa and/or hide here in the city of Maricopa because they are coming with a history or background that they’re running from in their other jurisdiction. So, they may or may not be used to being identified right away by our law enforcement officers, and our motto still is, get out of the car, introduce yourself to people, good people and criminally oriented people. We want to introduce our officers to all those people and make sure that our community stays safe.

On that vein, your police officers have to deal with a wide array of people every day. How would you describe the diversity within your ranks?
We are very fortunate with diversity amongst our ranks. It’s going to take years to get the female population in law enforcement where it needs to be, but we are well ahead of other jurisdictions when it comes to female population. We have approximately 13% female population amongst our ranks in a notoriously male-dominated occupation. We understand that, we recognize that. They are great officers, regardless of male or female persuasion. They do a great job. Each and every person, regardless of what their gender is, brings a certain, unique talent to this profession that each and every one of them should be proud of. We’re doing very well in the African American population. The Latinos within our police force are doing really well, staying right with the population demographics within our city. Also, we have two Native American officers, and that, again, fall right in line with the demographics in our city.

For the past year, what has been the crime that has concerned you the most?
Along with what we talked about before, which is the property crimes and people failing to secure some of their property, the thing that concerns me the most is the juvenile – and I won’t refer to it as criminal activity, but I’ll refer to it as dangerous behavior that could easily turn into criminal activity. They – and you could talk to some of our partners, Be Awesome Coalition and those types of entities – they recognize that young people are getting alcohol and/or drugs from their own home, with or without parents’ permission. I do not believe that we’ve done a sufficient job in educating parents and children about the dangers of vaping. It is deadly, it is serious and it still such a new thing that people haven’t had time listen to or research the scientific studies. And all the scientific studies say it is a dangerous thing. So those are some of the dangers. I worry about our youth because it leads to other activities with our youth. Vaping won’t give them the sufficient high, so they have to go to a different drug, which may be marijuana. Today’s marijuana is nowhere even close to the marijuana concentrations that were out there when I was growing up. It is much stronger, it is much more dangerous. I just read it in a post over the weekend where someone was talking about, “Why do you care that a young person or a person is using marijuana. It makes them mellower.” We now know – you can talk to our officers – marijuana usage does not make a subject mellower. In fact, the concentration levels make them more paranoid and that means they’re paranoid of even people that they know and they love much less when they have to talk to a law enforcement officer.

Let’s talk about the body-cam program. You were kind of pioneers in that as far as local law enforcement. How many cameras are in use now daily?
Every one of our officers is equipped with an on-body camera.

How is it affecting police work?
I think it’s affecting it greatly to the positive. In fact, if you polled our police officers, if you went out and rode with them on the street, you won’t see them go out on the street without their on-body camera. They want to have that protection. It serves a couple different purposes. They can use it as a tool to de-escalate an angry or upset person. They can remind that person that they’re recording this incident, and that usually calms the situation down. Our officers use it for report writing so they are able to remember certain details they might forget, so our report-writing is better. And we’ve heard that both from our city prosecutors and from our county attorney. Finally, I think it’s a great training tool. Our officers can watch themselves and our training unit can watch the video and formulate some training scenarios from that video so we can learn and be better at what we do.

What is the cost?
The cameras are right around $1,000 per camera. The most costly part of cameras is the storage for Evidence.com. For our communication with the county attorneys and the prosecutors, it’s a necessary thing for them to be able to look at that on-body camera footage and be able to determine whether they want to proceed with the case or whether they would like to plead that case out or dismiss the case.

So, you think it’s worth the cost?
It definitely is. It’s the future. It’s definitely the future of law enforcement. If you look at the world, it is a digital world that is communicating digitally right now. If you want factual information, then you want it to be as factual as possible, and that camera provides that.

What is the department policy on initiating the use of the camera? Is it when they get out of the car? Is it when they talk to someone? Or is it left to the discretion of the officer?
It’s a great question, and it is left up to the discretion of the officer. Many of the officers have taken the philosophy of as soon as they receive the call for service, they will turn their on-body camera on. There are a lot of people who will call us and say, “Hey, we saw one of your officers speeding. They didn’t have their lights and siren on.” If the officers turn the camera on, as they’re en route to the call, it documents their speed, it documents the radio traffic that is coming across the radio at that time. It either justifies or condemns, so to speak, the officer for not obeying the traffic laws or justifies their having a little expedited response to that call.

Are there any new programs or projects MPD will initiate in 2020?
We’re always exploring new things. One of the things that we’re really excited about right now is that we’re changing our computer-aided dispatch. We’ve used a company since I’ve come here, and the company, while it does some good things, it is not as user-friendly, it is not as customer-service-friendly, and it’s not preparing for the future. It is not adapting to the world of law enforcement as quickly as we would like it to happen. So, we’ve been working with a company who will remain unnamed for a while longer until after the first of the year. We’re excited about that partnership. They’ve actually sat with our dispatchers. They’ve sat with our officers, and they’ve made the product from sitting down with all of our people. It is really designed for law enforcement by law enforcement.

Following that, the same company is exploring the world of record-management system, our police reports, our citations, things like that. That same company, hopefully in years to come when I’m retired, that same company will be able to take what’s on that on-body camera footage and translate it into a police report without the officer having to write the police report or type the police report. It’ll decipher all of that language and it will put it right in the police report for the officers to view, correct and things like that before it’s actually submitted. We’re evolving into what I hope is a more efficient police department, and I believe that is what is demanded by the taxpayers right now, a responsible use of their funding so when we ask for more officers, if we need more officers, it is absolutely justified because we have taken all the steps necessary to ensure that our officers are efficient. Once those steps are all taken, the only recourse is to add more resources, more officers.

What do you think were the department’s biggest successes of 2019?
I’m going to brag about our family advocacy center, first and foremost. They have done a phenomenal job. Mary Witkofski has done a phenomenal job there. They have given service to more than 40 criminal cases already in the short period time that they’ve been in existence. Now, that’s both a sad thing and positive thing, because you never want to say, “Oh, we really need this. We can’t do without it.” And yet at the same time, if you talk to those victims, most of them children or their parents, they will agree that service is absolutely necessary to start rebuilding that child, to start making them whole again from the horrific crime that they have either witnessed or suffered through or anything like that. Mary has done a great job. All of our community partners have done a great job with it.

We keep exploring new ways to deliver service. One of those ways is Maricopa Police Department has a DVIRT program, its Domestic Violence Incident Response team. By team I mean we have one victim advocate who reviews all the cases and then they will go out the next day to the victim’s home with an officer and they will ask if there are additional resources that they can give them. In the heat of the moment when it’s really emotional and they’re in the middle of that domestic-violence situation, decisions aren’t necessarily sound decisions by the victim. So, if they’ve had the night to think about it, the day to think about it, there may have been some resources that they have forgotten about that they really want to explore and ask about. So that Domestic Violence Incident Response team goes out and answers those questions for them, gives them the option of additional resources, makes them know that the police department cares about them, the safety of their future and what’s going to happen in the future so they do not become a repeat victim of domestic violence. Unfortunately, if you look nationwide, the repeat [offenders] of domestic violence progressively get more and more violent every time.

I would add another big win for 2019 is the men and women out there who do this each and every day. There are not enough accolades in the dictionary to be able to give to the men and women out there who do that job. They are understaffed. They are doing the very best job they can. They are responding the calls. They are stopping and talking to people. They are preventing, even though it sometimes it may not look like it, they are preventing traffic crashes on a regular basis just by being visible and/or doing traffic enforcement in certain areas of our city where most of our crashes happen. They are doing it each and every day. They are doing it with a purpose of keeping our community safe, and I couldn’t be prouder of all of them.

The other thing that we did last year was we re-accredited once again. We did that in 2018, but now accreditation is different. We have to every year to a digital load of all of our policies. And every year CALEA [Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies] selects 25% of those policies to make sure we have the proofs of compliance. So now when year four comes around it’s just a very smaller snippet of making sure we’re abiding by our policies, and then in year four they actually come and do an onsite. That will allow the accreditors, the assessors, to come out actually and ride along with our officers, see how things are done versus sitting in a conference room looking over proofs of compliance. They will actually get to physically see proof of compliance.

What was MPD’s biggest failure last year?
This is a hard one because you have to self-reflect. You look at things you think you should have known or if you had a crystal ball, what would you do. I still think one of the failures that we still need to address, all of us, not just the police department, is the seriousness of domestic violence. We have to get beyond, “This is a private matter and should only be addressed as a family.” We have to get ride of our ego and we have to get rid of our self-pride and we have to reach out for help. I don’t mean that I want us as a police department to criticize and/or be the state officials of domestic violence. What I mean by that is we now have a service available. We have a family advocacy center that you don’t have to report a crime to, but you can call for services and that system will set you up in the services so that you don’t have to be involved in the system. That’s what I’m hoping we can do a better job of. As a police department, as a community, we had one death, and that was a domestic violence situation. One is too many. It’s unacceptable. We still need to address that collectively.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. Community members, if you have some things you would like to contribute, I’m all open. People know how to get ahold of me via email; they know how to get ahold of me on the phone. I’m an open book. Give me some ideas and we’ll explore them and see if we can’t continue to do a better job in that arena.

I would say one other thing, we still need to get children to understand the dangerous behaviors they’re doing out there. I spoke briefly about the use of vape and the use of marijuana and/or other drugs. There comes a point in time when the use of the drug is not enough, and teenagers, young people, are turning to suicide as a possible option for the pain that they’re going through. To me, that’s a failure. That’s a young person who has a bright future ahead of them. And I want them to understand that bright future is exactly what we want also. In that same vein, I believe our family advocacy center can help in that educational component as well. I’m hoping we can do that as a community.

What is the difference in what training tells you to do if officers are called, “Hey, we hear some screaming at this house,” and on the way there, they’re informed they’ve had previous calls from this same house, how does that change their response?
Every call is different. It’s really hard to pigeon-hole anything. What it does is, if you’ve had prior calls there, it puts the officers on a little bit more of an alert because they know the same statistics. They’ve been to the same trainings where we try to instill in them, the more frequent it happens the more violent it gets. So, it puts them on a little bit more heightened alert. It may cause them to explore other avenues rather than just walking to the door and knocking on the door and saying, “Hi, how are you? We’re here to stop a domestic violence situation.” It may cause them to gather up down the street, formulate a plan and then carry out the plan. If we know there’s weapons in the house, it’s going to change the dynamics as well. We do live in Arizona, so we can assume that every house has a weapon until otherwise proven.

This is something we touched on earlier. MPD and the fire department take up 50% of the city budget. How do you stay fiscally accountable?
That’s an interesting question. I believe, and I’ve said this before to our city council people, we are if you compare us to other police departments throughout the state, we are well under most of those police departments. If you look at Oro Valley PD, who prides themselves on being the second-safest city in the state of Arizona, they have 2.5 officers per 1,000 residents. They have 43,000 residents, and they have 108 police officers. I could do a lot with 108 police officers. But I also understand if I were to get greedy and ask for even more of the budget, which, if you look nationwide, police and fire do take up 50% to even more of city budgets, if I get greedy then that leaves potholes un-taken-care-of in the city, that leaves less room for our libraries for a our kids and grandkids to go, that leaves less money for parks and recreation where we do want our kids to go. So that’s that fine balance of let’s not get greedy and ask for the world; let’s make sure that we are being responsible. We have given back and we’ve stayed within budget. We’ve given back mostly through employee savings. But that’s because we’re always understaffed. It takes time to fill a position when someone leaves. During that time the position is unfilled, there’s savings, there’s employee savings. It takes about 18 months for us to catch up to that. For somebody to go through the background process, to be hired and then go through the academy and then go through field-training, it’s about an 18-month process. I think we’ve been very, very responsible with the budget. Anything we know we can’t get, we’re looking at grant-funding, we’re looking at other ways of doing things. The family advocacy center was put together and continues to operate without a penny of the city’s general fund. I made that promise that for five years, we would not use a penny from the general fund, and as of yet we have not.

What’s the department’s No. 1 need for 2020?
Safety. That could go in a myriad of different directions. I could use the standard caveat of I need more officers, I need more calls or I need more that. Our need is for accountability on everyone’s part. On our part, on citizens’ part, on businesses’ part. That’s going to lead to safety. If we’re accountable, it’s going to lead to a safer community. There’s never been a time in society when the slogan “See something, say something” means more than now. “See something, say something” applies to our kids. “See something, say something” applies to our schools. “See something, say something” applies to domestic violence. It applies to traffic, and it applies to possible terrorist activity. We try to pigeon-hole “See something, say something” to just terrorist activity, but it applies to everything in a safe community. I hope that we take that saying seriously. Use our police department ap. You can report anonymously. Stay involved with us. Come to Coffee with the Chief. We want to communicate with you and we want to help this community be safe.

Triplets Ian, Hayley and Andrew Mase, pictured with their parents Carrie and Larry, have all enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. Photo by Kyle Norby

Carrie and Larry Mase will soon be empty-nesters as, one by one, their triplets depart for service in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Larry Mase said any news of troop deployments has suddenly become much more personal. While proud of her children, Carrie Mase confessed to some anxiety amid uncertainties overseas.

Andrew, Hayley and Ian Mase, 2019 graduates of Maricopa High School, all were involved in the Air Force Junior ROTC program. They also had an uncle who was a Marine and had a major influence in their individual decisions to join the military.

Andrew Mase just finished boot camp in San Diego, what he called “three months of voluntary prison.”

He said 90% of the reason he enlisted was his uncle, who prepared him ahead of time for what he would encounter and sent him encouragement.

“He would just say, ‘Push through it, push through it. It’ll be fine,’” he said.

Haley Mase, who goes to boot camp in February, said she’s in it for the challenge. She is aiming for aircrew.

“It has the hardest physical standards,” she said.

Ian Mase is preparing to head to boot camp in March. He said JROTC taught him to be “a leader, not a follower.”

Andrew said drilling was easy to do, and he was already well versed in military etiquette.

“They drilled a lot of good things into their heads,” Carrie Mase said.

The trio are part of the Marines’ delayed entry program, which gave them up to year after enlistment to report for training. That has allowed them to prepare mentally, physically and emotionally.

Carrie Mase said the various Marine parent support groups on social media “have helped so much.”

“The moderator will ask, ‘OK, what are your highs and lows today?” she said.

The triplets are Arizona natives. Originally from New York, Carrie and Larry Mase moved to Maricopa from Ahwatukee 12 years ago. Their oldest son Nik graduated from MHS in 2017.

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Kyrie Sanders is cuddled by big brother Sam with their parents Jayden and Rachel Sanders at their Homestead home. Submitted photo

Midwife Tips
Nurse Lisa Cohen has suggestions for expectant parents who live a distance from a hospital:
Tip 1: Remain calm
Tip 2: Within in the final couple of weeks, store a plastic lining and a couple of blankets in your car
Tip 3: Have a provider’s number or on-call number easily available
Tip 4: Know how to check the mother’s breathing and the baby’s breathing
Tip 5: See Tip 1

A Maricopa family experienced life and death Dec. 24 as a child was born on State Route 347 about 12 hours before her uncle died on Interstate 10.

Kyrie Eve Sanders decided to arrive a few days earlier than expected, sending her parents scrambling to get to a Mesa birthing center in the early morning. Jayden and Rachel Sanders of Homestead North were expecting their second child Dec. 29.

“It was quite a crazy Christmas Eve,” Jayden Sanders said.

Even when Rachel began experiencing contractions at 2:30 a.m., she wasn’t too worried because her 2-year-old son Sam had needed 24 hours of labor before making his appearance (also on Christmas Eve) in 2017. In fact, the contractions were so erratic, the couple weren’t sure it was actual labor.

That is, until Rachel Sanders felt the baby turn, and contractions began full force at three minutes apart around 5:15 a.m. Jayden said they started calling everyone on their list to get a babysitter for Sam. When he came home from dropping off his son, “the contractions were very strong and relentless.”

Rachel settled into the back of their SUV because she could not sit up. “I think I’m going to have a baby in the car,” she told Jayden.

He dialed an on-call number at 6:14 a.m. as he began to drive to the Willow Midwives birthing center.

The first-call midwife was occupied with another mother giving birth, so the second on-call duty shifted to Lisa Cohen. A nurse since 1998, Cohen has been a midwife since 2008 and part of the Willow Midwives since August.

“I could tell pretty soon after the initial phone call” the couple might not reach the birthing center before their baby arrived, she said. Cohen asked Jayden to let her hear Rachel. By the particular noises she was making even beyond screaming, Cohen knew labor was pretty far along.

“Jayden, are you prepared to deliver your baby in the car?” Cohen asked.

“That was a question I never thought I would be asked my entire life,” he said.

Kyrie Eve Sanders weighed 6 pounds, 14 ounces. Submitted photo

They were starting to encounter SR 347’s commuter traffic as they neared I-10. Rachel could not yet feel the baby’s head with her hand, and Cohen talked her through breathing techniques. Meanwhile, Cohen, too, had jumped in her vehicle and was on her phone with them while driving to the birthing center herself.

As the Sanders’ vehicle approached the overpass bridge to turn onto I-10, Rachel announced she could feel the baby’s head. When he asked her if she wanted him to pull over, she said, “Absolutely not.” They were only 20 minutes from the birthing center. It was about 6:30 a.m.

When he pulled into the left-turn lane, however, Rachel realized the baby was arriving immediately and told him to stop. Because he was trapped in the far left lane, Cohen advised him to turn on his hazard lights. It was 6:37 a.m.

Before he could get out of the vehicle, Rachel said, “O, my gosh! She’s out!” She caught the baby herself and was holding Kyrie in her arms when Jayden turned around.

Cohen had Rachel check the baby’s breathing and, as well as she could on the phone, checked Rachel’s vitals as Jayden drove them on to the birthing center. Cohen arrived about 10-15 minutes ahead of them and was waiting outside when they arrived. Then she was able to have both Kyrie and Rachel properly examined for breathing and heart rate.

Talking parents through a birth remotely is a rarity, she said.

“There’s always a concern when you have an unattended birth,” Cohen said. “I didn’t do anything. It was all Rachel. All I did was try to stay calm for them.”

The family story took a very sad turn at 6:43 p.m. the same day.

Rachel’s parents, Randy and Janise Wooten, drove up from St. David to greet their new grandchild that afternoon. As they were heading home, they encountered heavy traffic on the I-10 near Vail and realized there was an accident.

While the Wootens were waiting in traffic, they received a call their son Brian had been in a crash, the same accident that delayed their journey. When they reached the accident scene, they learned he had been killed instantly when his van collided with a semi-truck. The funeral is planned for this weekend.

“It’s hard to wrap our heads around,” Jayden Sanders said, describing the day as the highest of highs and lowest of lows. “We find comfort in finding that perhaps things happened for a reason.”

The Sanders family has experienced the kindness of their neighbors and the community during the past seven days. This week they had their SUV detailed by a local company, which brought them a baby blanket after hearing their story.

Flag football is one of several popular sports that occupy the fields at Copper Sky.

One of the intents of commercially developing Copper Sky is to bring sports tournaments to the park. While the 98-acre Copper Sky may seem vast compared to Pacana Park, its limitations in that ultimate purpose become apparent when it does host a multi-team event for soccer, baseball, softball, flag football or, as evidenced in December, rugby.

When current fields are filled with tournament play, other youth teams are sidelined. The fields are full more than 30 weekends a year, Community Services Director Nathan Ullyot said, and ideas for additional fields are hovering.

“It’s definitely a goal,” Ullyot said.

Copper Sky has eight multipurpose sports fields typically occupied by soccer and various forms of football. It also has three softball fields and a baseball field, though all four can be used by either sport during tournaments.

The City’s Pacana Park has one baseball field, a softball field and multipurpose fields for other sports.

“The next step is to create community fields,” Ullyot said. “We hope to have two or three, something on the north side.”

That could involve an area near The Lakes at Rancho El Dorado as land becomes available near Global Water. Ullyot said there is buy-in from Maricopa Little League and other entities for additional fields.

The commercial development at Copper Sky is beginning with the construction of a La Quinta Inn near the dog park. Shops and housing units are planned for the west side of the Copper Sky property.

The ability to expand to more fields will allow the City to compete with other communities to host lucrative tournaments, Ullyot said. The future hotel is considered a boon, allowing visiting participants to stay in town for multi-day tourneys.

Jordan Guajardo-Mickell (PCSO)

A Maricopa man, accused of stealing a package from in front of a Glennwilde home, was followed by a witness and arrested by police.

Maricopa Police were called at 2:13 p.m. Monday about the possible theft of the package from the entryway of a home on Chimayo Drive. A witness described the suspect as a black male wearing a black hoodie and a backpack.

The witness followed the suspect, according to the police report, and gave MPD updates on his movements until police stopped the suspect on Toya Street. He was identified as Jordan Guajardo-Mickell, 21, of Maricopa.

Police reported he matched the description given by the witness. According to the probable-cause report, police saw two boxes of new Vans shoes, size 9.5, in the open backpack worn by Guajardo-Mickell.

He allegedly claimed he found the boxes of shoes. After telling him they had a witness, police alleged he admitted to taking the shoes.

After the owner of the shoes told police they wanted to press charges, MPD formally arrested Guajardo-Mickell the next day, Christmas Eve, on one count of theft and booked at Pinal County Adult Detention.