Authors Articles byRaquel Hendrickson

Raquel Hendrickson

Raquel Hendrickson
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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.

Pinal County and the state of Arizona need to grow their “tax pie” instead of adding taxes vertically, lawmakers and county officials said Saturday.

Before the Arizona Legislature went into session Monday, local legislators offered a preview for Maricopans.

About two dozen residents plus elected officials and city staff came to a town hall hosted by Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith. He also had the county assessor and county recorder on hand to answer questions. The event was at Maricopa City Hall.

While Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa) and Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley) described some bills they were backing, Rep. Vincent Leach (R-Saddlebrooke) said he was not working on legislation but was instead focusing on “the budget, the deficit and the debt.”

Leach pointed out the inordinate amount of public lands in Arizona and said a much higher percentage should be private and available for state taxation.

He said lawmakers are looking at a $500 million debt this year and $1 billion next year.

“We need to grow our way out rather than tax our way out,” he said. “We need to find ways to get our federal lands back and working for us.”

County Assessor Doug Wolf said only about 15 percent of Arizona land is in the private sector, compared to around 90 percent in New York. Of the land allotted at statehood more than 100 years ago, he said only about 10 percent has been sold.

That fact, he said, hinders the ability of taxing districts, like the county and schools, to gather funds. Wolf said he hopes the new director of state trust lands will take action on the issue.

Besides the contingent from District 11, Rep. Frank Pratt of District 8 also addressed the crowd. He said about 70 percent of the state budget is on autopilot, with so-called untouchables like universities and public safety. But, he added, “I don’t think anything is off the table.”

Pratt said the state’s $450 million rainy-day fund will help get through the current budget process.

Finchem said he was working on a bill to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Fisher House for military families and a bill to replace Common Core. He wants to resurrect a bill vetoed by Gov. Janet Napolitano that codifies rights of way on public lands. He also backs legislation to require high school students to pass the U.S. citizenship test.

The legislators all said the state needs to put its natural resources to work, including those in Pinal County.

“In so many ways we have so many assets right beneath our feet,” Smith said.

Smith and Finchem both praised incoming Gov. Doug Ducey. Smith said he believes the governor’s budget will closely align with the Senate’s.

“He brings a massive amount of business economy leadership,” he said.

Asked if there were any advocates for public safety in the Legislature, Pratt said they were all aware of the issues of low staffing in the Department of Public Safety, which has lost personnel to lateral transfers into  municipal departments. He said the Gila River community is patrolling a portion of Interstate 10 because of the problem.

Smith said he is upset with the recent perception of “anti-cop” sentiment across the county and said he is planning some legislative hearings. He said DPS was the only department that received pay raises last session.

“I know we’ve got a pretty strong advocacy group,” Finchem said.

A vehicle drove into a community lake in the Rancho Mirage subdivision Monday morning. The two female occupants were extricated. One was unresponsive and both were transported to Chandler Regional Medical Center.

The call came in around 8:40 a.m.

Maricopa Fire Department, Maricopa Police Department and Tempe Fire Department and some bystanders responded to the scene off of Honeycutt Road.

Emergency personnel from MFD immediately went into the water, which was just deep enough to submerge all but the tip of the roof.

Business owner Damon Burke was driving by on Honeycutt when he saw a fire truck and a police car. He got out just to see what was happening and realized the firefighters were in the water and needing help.

He said he and other bystanders jumped in to help bring one of the victims to shore on a backboard. She told them her daughter was still in the car.

For decades a no-hotel town, Maricopa is now a one-hotel town. And that is not enough for those trying to build the economy.

A new feasibility study due out this month concurs with earlier economic studies, developers and elected officials: Maricopa is a good market for hotels.

The much-delayed Holiday Inn Express has not yet been the answer to the need, but it remains on the horizon – at least that is the hope of the developer.

The sign that read “Opening Fall 2011” and later “Opening Spring 2014” told the story of a hotel plan in hiatus. Initially promoted as the first new lodging establishment in Maricopa in more than 50 years, it was dragged to a standstill during the permitting process.

The inertia has distanced the city and the corporation from the project.

In December, Maricopa’s departing Economic Development Director Micah Miranda said there was no new activity on the proposal.

“I checked our records, and we do not have a project in the pipeline in Maricopa,” said Caroline Huston, corporate communications manager for InterContinental Hotels Group, the parent company of Holiday Inn.

According to developer Larry Miller of Matrixx Management, the proposed hotel’s fate was most recently impeded by plans for an overpass on State Route 347.

“The overpass put the kibosh on our plans,” Miller said, adding Matrixx learned of the direction of ADOT’s overpass designs about three months ago. “It will take about a third of the front of our property. It won’t affect the hotel location but it does affect ingress and egress.”

Meanwhile, the City of Maricopa began another hotel feasibility study. City Manager Gregory Rose said the previous study pre-dated his arrival and was from a different company. He said the full report on the new feasibility study may be presented to the council at its Jan. 20 session.

“It is providing good information on the types of hotels that would be the best fit for Maricopa,” he said.

Early evidence points to extended-stay hotels, Rose said. The company hired to do the study indicated Maricopa continues to be a good market for a hotel, whatever may happen with the Holiday Inn Express.

That saga began Feb. 9, 2010, when then-Mayor Anthony Smith announced an imminent Holiday Inn Express during his State of the City address. A groundbreaking was expected as early as that spring.

Almost immediately, however, the project had an issue over access with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the neighboring property. That caused some redesign and another round of approvals, moving back the projected finish date to the summer of 2011.

As planned, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites was to be an 80-room, three-story hotel on six acres on John Wayne Parkway south of Maricopa Self Storage. The proposal included a restaurant, conference room, swimming pool and fitness center.

The first construction drawings were submitted to the city in June 2011. Architects for the project, Architects and Planners International of Phoenix, completed revisions for first review from the city and from ADOT.

With no apparent activity by December, the council began to interrogate developer Miller. He said at the time he was only waiting on access approval from ADOT.

By the spring of 2012, contractor ETW Group was still in discussions with ADOT over access. In October 2013, ADOT withdrew the permit application because of inactivity. Agreements with the city and the neighbor also expired.

By April 2014, the general contractor was Why Hospitality LLC and the project allegedly was being prepared for utilities and other infrastructure. However, ADOT did not receive a new permit application or revised plans.

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During the past year, the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce had no turnover on its board of directors.

That fact, announced by board Chairman Mike Richey of Ace Hardware, drew an enthusiastic round of applause from members during Thursday’s chamber breakfast.

Hinting at a fractious past, Richey cited the board’s stability over the past year and a half, calling it a great transition with CEO Marla Lewis.

“We have nowhere to go but up,” said board member Tena Dugan, owner of Mel’s Napa Auto.

The election to the board of Adam Saks, general manager of UltraStar Multi-tainment Center, and American Family Insurance agent Chris Cahall was also announced at the gathering in the Harrah’s Ak-Chin ballroom.

“I’m looking forward to meeting and working with the board,” Cahall said. He said he wants to bring business “toward a more prosperous future and grow everyone’s businesses as well.”

“I’m thrilled, honored,” Saks said, adding he had been watching the growth and development of the chamber for three years.

 “2015 is the year of Star Wars, so it will be nothing but fun,” he said.

A permit to solve a possible safety issue led to a traffic problem in Maricopa earlier this week. Conversations among the officials involved seems to have solved the problem.

According to Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Dustin Krugel, ADOT issued a permit to Vintage Partners, developer of Maricopa Station, to allow temporary lane closures along State Route 347 at Smith Enke Road. It was an effort to maintain a safe work zone for the development next to CVS.

The closures initially were during the morning rush hour, and traffic backed up in all directions as northbound drivers tried to squeeze into one lane and drivers on other streets were caught in intersections. Officials with the City of Maricopa brought the problem to the attention of Vintage Partners, which then worked to adjust its schedule.

This week, 38 detention officers and three sergeants with Pinal County Sheriff’s Office were informed they were out of a job.

Their reduction-in-force notifications bring the total PCSO job eliminations since May to 112. That is the number of cuts recommended by a report from consultant MGT of America.

The notices were delivered in person by PCSO staff on Monday.

To say Sheriff Paul Babeu is unhappy with the situation is to understate his aggravation and the emotional impact the cuts had on the department.

“It’s not the way to run a government,” Babeu said. “It’s ridiculous that this happened.”

The 112 cuts included one captain, three sergeants and all of the corporals. The overwhelming majority were detention officers.

The RIF is linked directly to a canceled contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which paid PCSO to house its detainees. An audit indicated ICE was under-paying PCSO compared to locations in the rest of the country.

“We were losing $3.2 million a year. It was a bad contract from the beginning,” County Supervisor Anthony Smith said.

Pinal County received an average of $11 million per year from ICE to house the detainees. The current cuts add up to less than $8 million, but the county is also adding estimated savings in overtime, food and utilities.

To make up the remaining gap, Smith said the county will be data-crunching when they receive the rest of the MGT report. He said officials specifically want to look at why the jail population is so large when crime numbers are down.

“Absolutely everything we were told is that this would save money,” Babeu said. “In fact, now we see through these figures that there is no saving of money. In fact, we’re losing far more money, and there are 112 Pinal County residents who are providers of their families who are out of a job. Quite frankly, I’m very disturbed by this.”

Babeu echoed earlier statements from County Manager Greg Stanley that the jail cannot return to pre-ICE staffing because of “overcrowded” conditions even without the ICE detainees. The sheriff also claimed the new board members, in trying to make good conditions, were given bad data and bad advice.

“The audit by Kate Witek, who’s a wonderful woman, presented …  figures based on 400 detainees,” Babeu said. “The average daily population was 537. We were on an uptick before this action was taken.”

He said that created a “false floor” from which the new supervisors based their decision.

But Smith said the board had good information and good advice. “We acted prudently all along the way.”

When the county tried to renegotiate with ICE in February, the federal agency was unresponsive to phone calls and emails. Smith said while the situation did overlap ICE’s crisis of underage immigrants at the border, there still should have been a response.

After the county issued a 100-day notice of ending the contract, the sheriff internally froze hiring the first week in May. That, Babeu said, started natural attrition when the contract ended in the summer. That resulted in about 70 positions being eliminated.

The county approved a RIF policy in June. The ICE contract ended in July.

MGT’s staffing study was released in December. It included four options, of which the county approved Option B, with the advice to cut 112 positions, including those already eliminated.

The rankings of the RIF candidates were based 50 percent on performance, 40 percent on conduct and 10 percent on qualifications. Seniority did not matter under the RIF policy.

The highest staffing level was 342. They are now at 230. All laid-off employees have first right to compete for vacancies. Because of the hiring freeze, there were six vacancies at the detention aide level for those who wished to compete. Seven detention officers were hired as deputies after going through training. They also have priority placement for other county jobs.

The Department of Corrections is providing testing for staff to become DOC officers at the large prison complex in Florence, where there are 300 jobs open.

Some of those cut from PCSO have more than a decade with the department. Babeu said something many of the staff were not prepared for was the survivor’s guilt of not being cut when so many were.

Smith, who remembered being a casualty of a RIF process himself, said the supervisors are being careful in how they discuss the issue. “It’s families we’re dealing with,” he said.

They asked for it. They got it. The Maricopa Police Department was under the microscope in early December in a rigorous accreditation process.

Chief Steve Stahl volunteered his department for the exercise.

He contacted the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) to get put things in action.

MPD is only 7 years old and had policies in place that had come from other jurisdictions. Stahl said some of those policies did not fit. Preparing for the CALEA process was an opportunity to meet higher standards.

Stahl said he had three goals: “We wanted to get all of the policies in line with jurisdictions of similar size. We wanted to bring credibility to our policies, which helps with risk management and helps our lawyers better defend us. And it brings national credibility for the Maricopa Police Department and lets us put their flag or logo at the bottom of our website. When people are looking for employment, sometimes they look at that.”

Two assessors, Maj. Billy Lane of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Lt. Raymond Cornford of Rapid City, South Dakota, worked their way through the department for three days.

“We talk to anybody we want to talk to and we go anywhere we want to go,” said Lane, the lead assessor. A member of the Hattiesburg Police Department, he’s been at this since 1995.

Part of their assessment includes having a public session to allow residents and police personnel to comment on the police department, good or bad. At the meeting Dec. 1, no residents appeared.

Lane said that is not unusual and is not an indication one way of the other of how the department is doing.

CALEA involves 189 standards. The assessors verify each one and write a report that goes before the 21-member commission.

“The standards tell an agency what to do,” Lane said. “How they do it is up to the agency.”

Cornford said one of benefits of CALEA accreditation is easier access to grants. “It has a lot of advantages,” he said.

If MPD gains accreditation, it is good for three years. Then the assessors return to judge them on compliance. “It’s even tougher the second time around,” Lane said.

Stahl is thoroughly familiar with the process. His previous jurisdiction in Mesa went through CALEA accreditation and then eventually went beyond those standards to a different assessment.

For the Maricopa Police Department, CALEA is the starting point.

“Does that mean we’ll go through CALEA for the next 15, 20 years? Maybe, maybe not,” Stahl said. “We may get to the point of my prior jurisdiction and work for even higher standards.”

The process, the chief said, gives frontline first-responders a “comfort level” of knowing the department’s policies are best practices nationwide and can be defended nationwide.

The process reaffirmed Stahl’s conviction that the department needs more civilian employees. In many police departments, he said, there is half a civilian employee for every sworn employee. At MPD there are 11 civilians for more than 60 officers.

That became evident during the assessment, when officers were providing proofs MPD was meeting policy. That would typically be handled by civilian employees, “who can help audit and make sure the paperwork was in line to prove that what the policy says is what we have done,” Stahl said.

Having more civilian employees is a goal as the community grows and the department grows so officers’ time can be dedicated to fighting crime.

Stahl said the officers and command staff that walked the assessors through the department policies “represented the city and the Maricopa Police Department very well, very proudly.”

The policies and professionalism of the department will be evaluated by a commission that is made up of police, a Supreme Court judge, state legislators, attorneys and others interested in keeping law enforcement ahead of the times.

The Desert Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association will host two free workshops at the Maricopa Public Library.

“Alzheimer’s disease is the only one of the top 10 diseases that people die from that has no way to prevent it and no cure and no way to slow it down,” Regional Director Cynthia Vargo said.

She said in Arizona there are 130,000 diagnosed cases of Alzheimer’s disease. The total number is expected to be 200,000 by 2025.

Abby Maestas, a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association, said the group wants to start providing more services in Maricopa.

The topic of the 10-11:30 a.m. workshop on Jan. 16 is “Memory Loss and the Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.” Content includes 10 warning signs and basic information about memory loss.

Feb. 20 is a Memory Loss Mini Conference for Caregivers from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. It will cover the basics of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, challenging behaviors and effective communication, as well as legal and financial planning.

Nationwide, one of every nine people age 65 or older will develop Alzheimer’s, according to the association’s data. That grows to one out of every two age 85 or older. A rarer version called younger onset develops in people in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

“Of the 4.5 million nationwide diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, at least half a million have younger onset,” Vargo said. “And oftentimes they still have young children at home. So it is very difficult.”

She said it is important to identify, because there are medications that can boost memory if the disease is diagnosed early enough.

City officials were almost as upset as the frustrated drivers who faced a traffic log jam on the morning commute this week in Maricopa.

Northbound traffic on State Route 347 was squeezed down to one lane at Smith Enke Road. The results were vehicles at a standstill south of the railroad tracks.

“It was entirely unnecessary,” Public Works Director Bill Fay said. “The developer is doing work right up against the right of way, and [the Arizona Department of Transportation] issued permits for them to close the lanes. We didn’t even know about it until we were driving to work or driving to the grocery store and everything was backed up everywhere.”

Vintage Partners, developers of Maricopa Station, which is being built next to CVS, had been working in the early mornings along State Route 347. ADOT’s permitting section in Tucson issued the permits for the lane closures.

“The city has no control over that,” Fay said. “It’s entirely in ADOT’s hands, and we can’t do anything.”

He said theoretically the police can step in for public safety purposes in an emergency. Maricopa had to do that on recent ADOT projects, such as the timing of a light on the north end of town.

In this case, Fay said, city officials talked to the Vintage developer, “who’s doing exactly what he’s permitted to do.”

Stunning graphic art that is literally out of this world is the next exhibit for the gallery at Maricopa Center for Entrepreneurship.

The gallery will feature more than 10 of Liddell’s creations and will open Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. with a free artist’s reception including Arizona wine and appetizers.

“These are one-of-a-kind images that will never be recreated,” Liddell said.

He describes his work as “abstract, science fiction, planetary, and I do some photography, too.”

At his exhibits, he likes to give visitors a tablet and have them write down what they see in his abstract art, drawing from their own experiences. “They always find something I never knew was there,” he said.

He calls his art “people-friendly.” It is also playful. The door prizes at the opening are ancient archways superimposed on an image of a Roman god – making the arch a door and thus a real door prize.

“I get more enjoyment out of other people enjoying my work,” Liddell said. “It’s like being a comedian that makes people laugh. When they see my art, it brings forth happiness.”

“Giles is a unique and non-traditional artist who uses his computer as his medium and then prints directly to canvas. His style is at the intersection of Peter Max, Romero Britto, and Milton Glaser — bright, bold, and psychedelic,” said Dan Beach, executive director of MCE. “Black artists seem to be underrepresented in American art, and it is rare to find a computer artist being displayed in a gallery. We are excited to share Giles Liddell kaleidoscopic art with our friends in Maricopa.”

Liddell has loved to draw since he was a young boy growing up in the 1950s.

“I loved to listen to Space Ranger, and in school I would draw spaceships and airplanes,” he said.

He won his first artist award in 1962 at the Lake Meadows Art Fair. He continued to gather awards for his work and in 1979 was honored with the Golden Pallet Award at by the Dusable Museum in Chicago.

Liddell said the fact that he is partially colorblind lends a unique aspect to his art. “As a result I do not see the world as most people do,” he said.

Whether poignant or pointed, the printed program for the swearing-in ceremony of Justice of the Peace Lyle Riggs was titled “A New Day.”

Not only is Riggs new to the office in the Maricopa-Stanfield court, but he also brings along new Chief Clerk Maria Lee. Newly elected Constable Bret Roberts was also sworn in during the Friday morning ceremony, but not before friends sent off his predecessor with a plaque.

“A year ago, I assure you, this was not on the radar screen,” Riggs said.

In relating his decision to run for justice of the peace, he said it was one thing to tell his family they were moving for a new job and another to tell them they were moving and he might have a job.

Riggs’ arrival comes after more than a year of cleanup at Precinct 8, during which Judge Scott Sulley was removed and eventually disbarred.

“This has been a year in the making,” said Karna Buckner, chief clerk of the Precinct 2 Justice Court in Casa Grande, in introducing Lee. “We are really proud of the progress they have made in putting this ship right. A lot of us have a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this court.”

Presiding Judge Roger Valdez of Precinct 2 concurred.

“This court had problems. It now has issues,” he said. “The clerks have done a wonderful job.”

Buckner recalled that Riggs told her during the election, “If I win, I’m coming back for Maria.”

Lee said she was appreciative of the staff welcoming her. She got her judicial start in the Casa Grande court before moving to Marana and then back to Casa Grande.

Riggs defeated Russ Kimball in the Republican Primary and independent Julia Gusse and Democrat Kevin Taylor in the General Election.

Riggs swore in Roberts before switching sides and being sworn in by Valdez.

In the Republican primary, Roberts defeated incumbent George Hoffman, who was elected in 2008, and then defeated Dennis Howerton in the general.

Against a gentle sunset, hundreds of friends, family members and classmates lighted candles tonight in memory of lives gone too soon. See the gallery.

The gathering at Copper Sky Regional Park honored Josiah Abbott, 15, and Morgan Martin, 14, friends who died together in a one-vehicle rollover Christmas night.

At the center of the candlelight vigil was Abriana De Quarto, who was shaken by the news of the tragedy.

“I felt so helpless that I wasn’t doing anything for their passing,” she said.

Abriana shared her concerns with her mother and soon the memorial was organized and an event page was posted. Just as many of Josiah’s and Morgan’s friends learned of the accident over social media, they learned of the memorial the same way and turned out on a cold night to pay tribute.

Abriana said the large turnout “makes me feel so strong.”

Stephanie Herrera, who laid flowers at a heart of candles with Morgan’s friend Thalia Quintanilla, 11, and her mother Sandra Quintanilla, said the vigil was an opportunity to “be around people who are feeling the same thing.”

Attendees gathered at the community Christmas tree beside the lake, lighted candles and released balloons in the last light of day. Abriana thanked the crowd for participating, Pastor Rusty Akers led a prayer, and Councilmember Henry Wade shared words about the strength of community.

But the event was mostly a time of silent reflection and small groups sharing the shock of what had happened.

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The outreach continues to grow for the families who lost children in a crash on Christmas Day south of Maricopa.

A memorial service for Morgan Martin and Josiah Abbott is planned for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Copper Sky.

According to family members, the funeral service for Josiah will be Jan. 2 at noon at  Tempe Church of Christ, 2424 S. Mill Ave. The graveside service will be at 3:30 p.m. at Phoenix Memorial Park and Mortuary, 200 W. Beardsley Road.

A family friend has also started a account to help the families and to better direct donations from friends and family.

Yvette Lincoln, who knew Josiah from church, said grief counseling led to the idea of the memorial service on New Year’s Day. “Then people started sending messages wanting to make donations and wanting to help in any way they can,” she said.

Lyle Riggs has been going through some typical training for newly-elected judges. But he is taking over a situation at the Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court that is hardly typical.

A predecessor discredited, no chief clerk and a staff that has been in cleanup mode since January comprise the shadow hanging over the office.

Restoring confidence in the court is priority No. 1 for Riggs, an attorney and part-time judge.

Voted into office at the Nov. 4 General Election, he has “a pretty good idea” what he’ll be facing when he is sworn in, but “I don’t have a complete picture.”

Previous Justice of the Peace Scott Sulley was suspended by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch in February after an audit showed thousands of dollars missing from the court.

After being reassigned during the investigation, he resigned as magistrate in June, was removed from the JP office and then was issued a lifetime ban by the Supreme Court in September.

Of the original $155,000 shortfall reported, around $112,000 was found in areas of the court improperly organized and not secured. While the Supreme Court came down on Sulley, the report did not spare the court staff, either.

Riggs believes the ongoing cleanup “could easily take a year or longer.”

While he intends to be proactive in reviewing files to find mistakes, Riggs expects some errors to come to light as people come to court with varying situations.

The first steps he wants to take are getting the court properly staffed and getting the staff properly trained in court administration. That includes getting a new chief clerk in place.

Riggs also sees accessibility to be an important part of his new job.

Two Maricopa teenagers were killed in a one-vehicle crash on Dec. 25.

According to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, a truck carrying three people rolled on West Papago Road, just east of Pecan Woods Road. PCSO received two 911 calls at around 9:45 p.m.

The three occupants of the vehicle were headed from the Thunderbird Farms area to The Villages at Rancho El Dorado.

Josiah Abbott, 15, and Morgan Martin, 14, died at the scene. The driver of the vehicle, William Gay, 23, of Phoenix, was treated at the scene for serious injuries and then transported to Chandler Regional Hospital.

PCSO spokesman Jim Knupp said Gay was driving a 2001 Dodge truck north on a farm road at a high rate of speed. As the vehicle went through Papago Road, the driver lost control and struck a curb. The truck rolled one time.

Knupp stated none of the three was wearing a seatbelt and all were ejected.

Only Gay had identification on him at the scene, Josiah’s sister Shell Abbott said, which made it difficult for law enforcement to immediately notify family.

The three had been on their way to Shell Abbott’s home and were an hour overdue when Shell called her mother, Ranelle Abbott. She began calling and texting Josiah’s phone. At last, she received a response from a PCSO officer on Josiah’s phone.

The officer did not explain what had happened at that time, waiting until he could talk to family members in person. But Shell Abbott recalled her mother saying, “I think my son is dead.”

It is not the first loss of a child in Robert and Ranelle Abbott’s family of 11. Another son drowned Aug. 12, 2007, at the age of 1 and a half.

Two Maricopa teenagers were killed in a one-vehicle crash on Dec. 25, according to family members.

The incident occurred around 10 p.m. on Papago Road. The three occupants of the vehicle were headed from the Thunderbird Farms area to The Villages at Rancho El Dorado.

Josiah Abbott, 15, and a 14-year-old girl died at the scene. The driver of the vehicle survived and was hospitalized.

Only the driver had identification on him at the scene, Josiah’s sister Shell Abbott said, which made it difficult for law enforcement to immediately notify family.

The three had been on their way to Shell Abbott’s home and were an hour overdue when Shell called her mother, Ranelle Abbott. She began calling and texting Josiah’s phone. At last, she received a response from a Pinal County Sheriff’s officer on Josiah’s phone.

“If people met him they would tell you he had a contagious smile,” Shell Abbott said. She also described her brother as witty, funny, compassionate and stronger than he looked.

The family immediately received an outpouring of sympathy and prayers.

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Theatrical spectacle won the day in this year’s Holiday Homes on Parade.

A musically choreographed set at a Palo Brea home won the prize for Best Overall as well as the People’s Choice Award. David and Sarah Morgan’s home at 43954 W. Palo Abeto Drive continues to draw crowds every night to see the show.

“I was very excited,” Davy Morgan said. “I was happy I could make a display that could bring joy to a lot of people.”

Even on Christmas night, people were still driving by and tuning their radios to get the full experience.

Morgan said he had been stressed because the family had not been able to get the display entirely up until the day judging began. With friends, family and even some hired help, it proved to be a winner.

The prize for Best on Parade was $150. The People’s Choice Award netted a $100 gift card.

“Next year, we hope to build on it and do something grander,” Morgan said.

Thirty-one homeowners competed in the residential contest. A variety of awards was presented.

"Different houses had different attributes that set them apart – some judges scored homes that put a lot of originality and creativity in their efforts while others really liked all of the 'features' some of the houses displayed such as inflatables and lighted reindeer and nativity scenes," Special Event and Marketing Manager Niesha Whitman said. " We had a total of 483 votes but eliminated multiple votes for the same house with the same email address (this total includes all the homes that were entered in the contest)."

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Computer hacking, controversial content, death threats, canceled film releases – what happens inside a major Hollywood studio has repercussions through all theater chains.

Sony Pictures’ “The Interview” created the same roller-coaster ride at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center as it did everywhere else. Now that theater is quickly preparing to screen the film on Thursday.

The comedy about an assassination plot against Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un was allegedly the center of a cyber-attack on Sony offices. When hackers threatened to attack movie theaters, theater chains began telling the studio they would not screen the film.

“We were watching like everybody else,” UltraStar General Manager Adam Saks said. “I think everybody was speculating. We had not made a decision.”

With the chains dropping out, Sony announced it would not release the film theatrically, but was looking at other avenues to get “The Interview” to the public.

Tuesday’s announcement from the studio that it really would release the satire on Christmas Day, albeit in a limited capacity, sent wheels turning quickly at UltraStar.

Saks said theaters usually have film buyers obtaining films a couple of weeks out from scheduled release dates, with the final bookings made days before locally publicizing the film screening. UltraStar, Saks said, has a “direct relationship with Sony” and was on top of information as it was dispersed.

The late announcement from Sony gave the theater less than two days to get the word out. But UltraStar was intent on being one of the theaters involved in the limited release and was able to secure the film.

“We are gratified that we can bring to Ak-Chin and Maricopa Hollywood’s hard work,” Saks said. “We wanted to be one who’s going to get these copies. We felt very strongly that this is an underserved market and we want to bring first-class movies here.”

“The Interview” stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as two TV tabloid producers who land an interview with big fan Kim Jong-un and are asked by the CIA to “take him out.”

In June, North Korea decried the film’s premise. This fall, Sony offices suffered a major hack that made highly confidential and personal information public, including the business details of “The Interview.”

The FBI investigated the cyber-attack at Sony and pointed the finger at North Korea as the culprit. In a statement released Saturday in the Korean Central News Agency, North Korean government officials called the investigation “absurd” and denied the allegations. But the official statement also accused the movie of “hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership” of North Korea.

Saks said Sony’s decision-making was highly personal. “It was more than just business,” he said.

Sony put the safety, security and welfare of its people and the public before all other decisions, he added.

“It was a very difficult and unique decision by Sony,” Saks said.

With Thursday’s release, security remains a top priority.

“We have several security measures in place, and now we have a couple of extra measures,” Saks said.

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In a manner of minutes, at least four gas stations in Maricopa dropped their prices for unleaded gasoline below $2.

Fry’s, QT and the Circle K stations all went to $1.99 for regular unleaded.

The movement correlated with several areas across the state, including Casa Grande, where the low price is $1.98.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, fuel prices have fallen 15 cents a gallon since a week ago and are down 87 cents from last year. reported the lowest prices in the state for regular unleaded at $1.95 at three Phoenix Costco stations.

Diesel fuel fell below $2.80 locally, with some stations in the Phoenix Metro area even below $2.50. On average across the country in the past week, diesel prices have dropped 14 cents per gallon, according to the EIA.

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Baseball players who are 9 years old or younger and outstanding among their peers are being sought for the Maricopa Dukes 9U team.

Head coach Marty McDonald said the team, which formed in late July, has a core set of players and needs to fill out the roster with around five more kids. He said the Dukes are a step above Little League level and went undefeated in the Maricopa Little League season.

Tryouts are Jan. 3 at Copper Sky Field 3. Check-in is from 8:45 to 9:15 a.m. Tryouts start at 9:30 a.m. and last about two hours.

There will now also be tryouts in all age divisons: 12U, 11U, 10U, 9U and machine pitch (7/8 year olds).

Coaches are looking for experienced players with a certain level of competence in all aspects of the game – hitting, fielding, running, throwing and attitude.

Practices will also be at Copper Sky, but most games will be in the Phoenix metro area.

“Later we may be playing tournaments in California, Nevada and New Mexico,” McDonald said.

While the players will be coached to excel, they are expected to come with a strong grounding in baseball fundamentals, he said. Families are also expected to have a high level of commitment and enthusiasm.

The Maricopa Dukes Baseball Club is a nonprofit organization.

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When Julie and Andrew Rosko drove cross-country into Maricopa with their three dogs last Christmas, they had sold off nearly everything in Florida.

That meant a lifetime worth of arts and crafts, including a virtual crafting cottage, was gone. It meant practically no Christmas décor.

For Julie Rosko, a habitual crafter since childhood, the move was an opportunity to try new crafts to enhance a new home with a very personal touch in time for this Christmas.

“I’ve got to have my crafting or I wouldn’t survive,” she said.

Over the years, she has done quilts and potholders and purses and hooked rugs and dresses and baking and cake decorating and rose-making and scrapbooking and card-making (her default craft of choice). She’s also an organizer by nature, and professionally, she was a hair-dresser. What she had never done was beading.

As the Roskos were settling into their new home (and Andrew created another crafting room), Julie discovered a new craft – homemade Christmas ornaments constructed of tiny seed beads and other accoutrements. She decided to give that a try, too.

Most of the beading projects are removable covers for ornament balls that can be stored easily in the off-season. Some are beaded completely around the ornament and need a different level of care. There are waterfalls, pineapples, snowflakes, double-deckers and a new use for earring holders.

“You can be very creative with dangles,” she said.

In books and on the Internet, beading patterns are endless. The patterns tend to be mathematical but not always simple.

“Beading is a challenge,” she said. “Two ornaments made me cry, I was so frustrated.”

With videos to enhance book instruction, she eventually was able to work them out, as Andrew knew she would.

In Florida, Rosko was on a local Craft Council and did the craft shows with her huge artificial roses. With Andrew frequently on the road, she had also been part of an informal “Roadie Wives” club exchanging crafts and recipes.

She loves the networking with fellow crafters when she can find them – it has not been as easy in Maricopa. And despite the huge number of artistic, homemade items in their very organized home, that does not spill over into craft shows. She said there is little payoff for the amount of time, money and heart put into her crafts.

Beading, she discovered, can be an expensive hobby, but Rosko knows where and how to find deals on supplies. Yet it has still been an investment. Even books on beading are expensive.

While she gives them as gifts, that has not been the point of her venture. In fact, parting with one of her creations is like giving up a child, so she is selective in the process.

“I feel a lot of joy in giving them to someone who understands and appreciates what goes into them,” she said.

That has been especially true of her Christmas ornaments. She started working on her collection of ornaments in May, knowing how long it would take.

“In a hot summer, it’s something to do inside,” she said.

Her timing paid off.

A year after their arrival, the Roskos’ white Christmas tree is loaded with Julie’s unique creations. Andrew had the idea of using clear ornament balls, the unexpected result being multiplied light reflections. They had to use dowel rods to strengthen the tree for the ornaments.

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An insistent patient with a particularly difficult orthodontia case has earned a local orthodontist an award at a company conference in Las Vegas.

Dustin Coles, DDS, of Premier Orthodontics was in an Invisalign “Summit Case Shootout” with hundreds of orthodontists across the country. They submitted their most difficult cases with which they had success. In October, Coles was told he was in the top four.

At the Invisalign conference in front of 1,200 people, he was announced as the winner out of 350 cases.

Coles described his case as having “significant crowning, crooked and not a lot of space to work with.”

Initially, Coles assumed braces were the only answer for straightening the patient’s teeth.

“I wasn’t sure if I could do this or not, but he convinced me to do the alignment,” Coles said.

So he got to work, removed a couple of teeth and undertook the long treatment – successfully.

At the Invisalign Summit, the orthodontists each gave a 10-minute presentation of their challenging case.

When Copper Sky was in its planning stages, in the midst of the parks and recreational opportunities was the idea of commercial development.

A commercial site was built into the complex.

“Eighteen acres was reserved as part of the development concept,” said Micah Miranda, the city’s director of Economic Development at the time.

The City of Maricopa is seeking a partner to develop the site. Staff issued a Request for Statement of Qualifications (RSOQ). There was a site tour Dec. 8 for those interested in bidding, and approximately 20 people participated.

The thought was of retail amenities that would enhance the enjoyment of Copper Sky’s recreation, whether alone or in conjunction with the facilities.

“The RSOQ is looking for a mix of retail, hospitality and office space. It’s a true multi-use development concept,” Miranda said.

The commercial site at Copper Sky fronts State Route 347 for 1,100 feet.

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Over history, barbers have been a lot of things – from dentists to priests – but they have always been students of human nature.

Including their own.

Terrence Vyfhuis knew he liked cutting hair, but he also recognized the entrepreneurship bug within. Leaving the former CNC Barbershop and Spa and opening a private salon, he did more than just go out on his own.

For Vyfhuis, opening The Cut Barbershop was another step on a path to his real intentions.

“I want to franchise this in the next two or three years,” he said. “This is like a blueprint.”

The Cut opened Dec. 1 at 19395 N. John Wayne Parkway in Suite B. It operates by appointment. Clients can call 520-858-2117 to schedule their time in the chair.

In a typical salon, a wait can be two or three hours, Vyfhuis said. “This is something people were asking for. It makes their day more efficient.”

The Cut Barbershop is a two-chair salon behind the Maricopa Auto Spa south of the railroad tracks. He said previous clients have transferred over with him to the new location.

“It’s about going back to how barbershops used to be,” Vyhuis said. He describes shops as historically being centers of community, family and culture. They were public forums for issues of the day while engaged in communal shearing. Like a bartender, the barber tended to be an amateur psychologist.

That is the atmosphere, along with the enjoyment of cutting hair, Vyfhuis wants to create in his shop.

Being a machinist engineer in the U.S. Navy did not seem to be a setup for acquiring the skills he actually wished for, but the experience did give him two skills. He learned how to deal with a variety of people and personalities. And he started cutting hair.

As a precursor to budget talks, the Maricopa City Council received a bleak look at its future revenue.

City Manager Gregory Rose brought in Greg Swartz from Piper Jaffray to explain the city’s primary property tax and why Maricopa will be among the 12 Arizona municipalities losing revenue. By his draft estimates, the loss could be $750,000 to $1.5 million annually.

The state’s 1-percent limit is the primary reason Maricopa is losing revenue, he said.

Swartz said Arizona’s tax system is not only the most complex and confusing in the country, “but in some circumstances is deliberately misleading.”

Constitutionally, homeowners cannot pay more than a combined primary tax that amounts to a $10 rate. In Maricopa, that includes taxes for city, county, college and school districts.

“There is no funding to offset the losses,” Swartz said.

With the tax structure of the state, he said he and other economists see a “big tidal wave of problems” coming. One of those problems is the decreasing assessment ratio for businesses and agriculture. The tax burden, he said, is shifted to residential properties.

Government officials had already received the message that growth would continue to be slow from economic consultant Elliott D. Pollack. The CEO of Elliott D. Pollack and Company presented his economic forecast at a Pinal Partnership breakfast Dec. 12.

Though saying 2015 will be better than 2014 and Arizona is having a “very significant” recovery, Pollack noted the state’s economic issues.

Arizona has fewer people in their peak spending years, slower employment growth and high student loan debt.

“Our rate of growth is so slow compared to what we’re used to, people don’t feel so good about it,” he said.

Potential home buyers have declined 50 percent, according to Pollack.

While single-family housing remains a difficult market, “multi-family housing and apartment outlook could not possibly be better,” he said. But the population is shifting to follow employment.

“We’re going to have to build more roads,” he said. “Everything is jobs.”

A full recovery in housing remains years away, he added, but the slow economy is accelerating.

Maricopa Council member Marvin Brown indicated the outlooks from Swartz and Pollack did not seem to match. “Every year he seems to talk about more rooftops, more housing, ergo economic growth,” Brown said of Pollack’s presentation. “I don’t know how you reconcile his optimism as far as rooftops being the answer.”

Swartz said more construction is only a temporary fix.

“Rooftops are a cost center, and businesses are a profit center. If it weren’t for sales taxes, excise taxes and transaction privilege taxes it would be very difficult to run a government,” Swartz said. “Rooftops by themselves, unless followed by employment opportunities, are just that, cost centers.”

State Aid for Education (SAE) is at 44 percent, keeping school district levies down for homeowners. Swartz said just a percentage point or two lower would put several more municipalities into the revenue-losing box. And the state is likely to decrease SAE.

Traffic flow tends to be employment related. That is the driving force behind transportation recommendations that have come to Maricopa.

Every transportation discussion leads to the proposed Interstate 11. That is envisioned as running from Las Vegas to Wickenburg, replacing U.S. 93 and Interstate 515, to become the Hassayampa Freeway, loop west of the Phoenix metropolitan area, run south of Maricopa and east to a proposed Pinal North-South Freeway.

As engineers plan more local parkways to move residents efficiently and safely, they have to work the future I-11 into the mix – even though it still is only in the proposed stage.

“We believe in the I-11,” Mayor Christian Price said.

Bob Hazlett, senior engineer for the Maricopa Association of Governments, presented information on parkway framework studies to the Maricopa City Council Tuesday. His focus was the Interstate 8/Interstate 10/Hidden Valley framework.

He said studies done between 2007 and 2009 pointed to the future traffic flows. The Highway 238 corridor is seen as growing in the future as “a lot of traffic likes to go to the West Valley.”

While saying he supports the I-11 concept, Council member Henry Wade said he was confused by the reference to west side traffic.

“It kind of surprised us, too,” Hazlett said. “The wave of the future there is housing developments and job centers. It is all very employment-related.”

He called it a paradigm shift in Arizona transportation.

“It does go vice versa,” he said. “We see a lot of reverse movement the other way as well.”

Arizona’s lack of north-south freeways instigated talk of I-11. Hazlett said I-11 would give travelers a gateway and close the gap to U.S. 93. The concept also includes coordinating infrastructure plans for the Mexico Federal Highway 15.

Still, it was the east-west travel options that centered the conversation in council chambers. Consultant Berwyn Wilbrink of Jacobs Engineering walked the council through the history of the East-West Corridor study during a work session preceding the regular meeting.

Main interest was in the Val Vista and Anderson Parkway Planning Corridors. The plans are meant to “serve as key components of a master transportation planning network.”

A proposed Val Vista Freeway would link Casa Grande to I-11 using Farrell Road. An proposed Anderson parkway would link the East-West Corridor to I-8. The council approved recommendations from the Transportation Advisory Committee, but not before hearing and accommodating concerns from landowners.

Seth Keeler of W Holdings in Tempe, which plans to develop land  east of State Route 347 across from the casino, had previously stated his property ownership group’s opposition to part of the plan, though they favor the east-west parkway concept. As recommended, the Val Vista freeway would cut southwest through their property and to SR 347 at Farrell Road. The recommendation considers the potential for the road to continue west to the possible I-11.

“We are still not in favor of having our property cut in half with the proposed ending,” Keeler said, later adding the configuration “creates a very difficult-to-develop triangular parcel.”

He said he was told by staff that the Ak-Chin community was driving that particular alignment to have the roadway run between the casino and the entertainment complex. But when Keeler asked more about the road continuing west, he was told there was no guarantee of that.

“We feel like essentially we’re the sacrificial lamb for an idea that may never come to pass,” he said.

After two and a half years as Maricopa’s economic development director, Micah Miranda is moving on to the same post with the City of Chandler.

In his relatively brief time in Maricopa, Miranda’s obligation to carry out the city council’s strategic plan gave him “a lot of tasks.”

Maricopa’s staff of three in the Economic Development Department has been instrumental in the progress of the Estrella Gin Business Park, the creation of the Maricopa Center for Entrepreneurship and the establishment of a revolving loan fund in November.

The latter is meant to serve pre-bankable new businesses that have not established credit. 

“We just began working on our first loan,” Miranda said.

Miranda also points to his department’s ability to attract retail businesses like those going into the Maricopa Station now being constructed near the intersection of John Wayne Parkway and Smith-Enke  Road.

“Micah’s done a stellar job for us,” Mayor Christian Price said. He said Economic Development can be “a tedious, tedious job that can be 24/7,” and the council is “deeply, deeply appreciative” of the work Miranda did for Maricopa.

A high level of communication with the council and the community has been a key lesson Miranda said he learned and will carry forward to Chandler.

 He said the Maricopa Advocate program allowed the department to engage residents. “They could see what we’re working on and why,” he said.

Like all departments, Economic Development is guided by the will of the council. Miranda said he felt fortunate  to work with a city manager and council that understands the department’s work and how to maintain it.

“He will certainly be missed,” City Manager Gregory Rose said. “I think he has a clear vision and real leadership skills, and I begrudgingly wish him well.”

Miranda’s last day is Thursday. With Denyse Airheart out on maternity leave, Michael Winer temporarily will

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An introduction at church was the catalyst for Maricopa’s newest business.

Combining their knowledge and experience, Leonard Bond and John O’Bannon partnered to start Tillers Equipment & Tool Rental. The family-owned company opened its doors Friday at 12501 N. Murphy Road, just off Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

Originally from California, O’Bannon came to Maricopa for college and liked it so much he stayed. Wisconsinite Bond came for family. O’Bannon knew the rental business. Bond ran a variety of businesses over the years, from cleaning to contracting work.

They met at church and wound up talking about the business climate of the city demands for reasonable equipment rentals.

“We saw a need for it,” O’Bannon said.

Tillers provides a range of landscaping tools – trimmers, blowers, cutters, pruners, chainsaws and chippers – in top brands like Stihl, Echo, Husqvarna and DeWalt, as well as step ladders and extension ladders. The inventory includes gas-powered and electric-powered equipment.

“We have a wide array of equipment,” Bond said. “And we’ll be adding tools.”

He said they rent tools from four hours up to a week.

O’Bannon said they walk customers through the proper handling and operation of every tool. They can customize their service to the customers’ needs and have prepared to work with private do-it-yourselfers and major contractors. While a customer’s own household insurance should cover the use of the equipment, O’Bannon said customers can also purchase insurance from Tillers for the time of the equipment use.

Besides rentals, they offer parts, repairs and sales of equipment.

At the moment Bond and O’Bannon are the staff, but they will soon be adding another employee.

Tillers can be reached at 520-568-2009 and at

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Organized chaos hit Walmart on Saturday as 32 children teamed with Maricopa police officers for breakfast and some Christmas shopping.

The annual Shop with a Cop brought Santa and Mrs. Claus back to see the kids. For extra holiday cheer this year, members of the Maricopa Chorus serenaded the group with carols.

Maricopa Police Department spokesman Ricky Alvarado said each had $125 to spend but there were gift cards set aside for extra expenses and Walmart discounts at the register. He said they often have had to tussle with the officers who want to pay any overage out of their own pockets.

The children picked out gifts for their family members. It was not only toys. Alvarado said one of the criteria was they had to buy clothes, too. That led to some children heading directly to the shoe aisles to try on pair after pair.

Besides being an opportunity to help a child, Officer Meredith McLean said it was a nice way “to have positive contact with the kids.”

Part of the requirements of the program is that the child purchase gifts for others. They relied on the officers escorting them through the store to keep it all within budget.

Alvarado said several children who applied to participate in Shop with a Cop did not qualify, but organizers saw a theme in the needs they expressed: Food.

“So this is just the first part,” he said. “Part two is when the officers deliver food to the families of the kids who didn’t qualify for this [Shop with a Cop].”

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Likening it to Dubai, Fred Couples said he was impressed with the changes at the Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club, which officially re-opened Thursday.

He said the last time he and his brother played the course he helped create, the greens were rock-hard and there were few trees of any size. That was seven or eight years ago. There have been changes.

“These trees are like on steroids,” Couples said after sending out scores of invitees for a day of golf. Couples was the guest of honor for the mid-morning ceremony. The winner of the 1992 Masters Tournament, Couples was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year.

"There's something about golf. It's a disaster waiting to happen," Couples said.

After the opening ceremony and Ak-Chin blessing, Couples offered a golf clinic and a glimpse of a day in the life of a golfer.

"I don't know how you can play this game without saying a bad word," he said.

Sitting directly west of Maricopa on land that was the original Ak-Chin reservation, Southern Dunes opened in 2002. Designed by the architect team of Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley (Schmidt-Curley Design, Inc.) coupled with Couples, it was quickly noted for its compelling links and great desert views.

The recent renovation of the course was intended to challenge the pros while keeping the weekend duffers coming back.

Though drawing golfers from all over the Valley of the Sun, Southern Dunes went through some tough years and a couple of changes in ownership.

Four years ago, the Ak-Chin Indian Community purchased the course, which is managed by Troon Golf. Southern Dunes’ major renovation included a new practice facility and the short course #miniDunes. It is listed as one of the top five courses in the state by Golf Magazine.

Tees were added, bunkers removed, native vegetation supplemented and No. 17 was almost completly redesigned. Perhaps most important, and a big deal in Couples’ eyes, was the greens' maintenance.

General Manager Brady Wilson said Southern Dunes now has the best-maintained greens around, and golfers will drive long distances to play them.