In a year that saw a mix of tragedy and triumph, Maricopa survived record heat and withstood dozens of drug smuggling arrests. These are the stories that helped define 2015 in Maricopa:

10. ‘Battle of the Burbs’

For the second year in a row, Maricopa won Mix 96.9’s radio contest to find the best suburb of Phoenix. Maricopa residents showed they are the suburb to beat after voting their beloved city past larger suburbs such as Mesa, Casa Grande and Anthem to earn an acoustic concert from platinum recording group Lifehouse.

9. Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church

Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church had been raising funds for a new location for decades before construction broke ground March 3. The new church is expected to open its doors to thousands of parishioners in February 2016.

“This is a very exciting day, a history-making day to give thanks to God and to have a new church ready for next year,” church spokesperson Patti Coutré said at the ground-breaking.

8. Train Hits MUSD School Bus

A train hitting an empty school bus at the SR 347 crossing was a reminder of the need for an overpass. MPD photo
A train hitting an empty school bus at the SR 347 crossing was a reminder of the need for an overpass. MPD photo

The Arizona Department of Transportation named the railroad crossing on State Route 347 one of the most dangerous in the state. The community saw just how dangerous the crossing is when a freight train collided with a Maricopa Unified School District bus on Nov. 5.

The accident was the realization of many residents’ worst fear for the crossing. Luckily, no children were on the bus and the driver escaped prior to impact.

7. Maricopa Station Opens for Business

After years of rumors and anticipation, the Maricopa Station retail center opened April 27. Starbucks was the first business to open, and Chipotle, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Sport Clips, Zoyo Neighborhood Yogurt and Freddy’s Frozen Custard all opened by November.

“Development is a wonderful thing, but it is not easy,” Maricopa Mayor Christian Price said. “It takes a great deal of cooperation, collaboration and effort between the city and a developer to allow us to build things that will last long after we are all gone.”

Jersey Mike's Subs opened in May at Maricopa Station.
Jersey Mike’s Subs opened in May at Maricopa Station.

6. Sequoia Pathway Administration Turmoil

On Sept. 29, parents and community members were shocked and confused when students left Sequoia Pathways Academy in the middle of the day. Two administrators, Nate Lamma and Diane Silvia, had resigned, and the following week was filled with frustrated parents demanding answers from the charter school’s remaining administration. CEO Doug Pike brought in Keith Greer to be interim principal, but he left after a day. To resolve the issue, the assistant superintendent of parent company EdKey Inc., Tamara Becker, took over the role of interim principal for the school. Lamma and Silvia were re-hired, and Brad Miles was named EdKey’s interim superintendent

5. Nate Ford

Nate Ford. Photo by William Lange
Nate Ford. Photo by William Lange

From July 26 to Aug. 23, three traffic accidents took the lives of four Maricopans. The accidents shocked the community, but there was unique reverberation from the death of high school senior Nate Ford.

Ford was on the MHS football and baseball teams and involved in other youth activities. His death became a rallying cry for seatbelt awareness from the Maricopa Police Department, a source of motivation for his football team, and inspired the creation of the “Mothers of Everyday Heroes” organization that collected 300 bags of supplies for local youth in need.

4. Veteran Killed in Police Standoff

In January, Iraq War veteran Johnathon Guillory, reportedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was killed in a confrontation with Maricopa police after allegedly threatening Sgt. Leonard Perez and Officer Joshua Hawksworth with a weapon in Cobblestone Farms. The incident divided much of the community on whether the shooting was justified.

Maricopa (with an estimated veteran population of 10 percent), Pinal County and state agencies campaigned to spread the word about programs for military veterans.

3. MHS Girls’ Basketball Wins State Championship

Despite losing just five games all season, the MHS girls’ basketball team entered the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II State Tournament as the 12th seed. Overlooked and slighted, the Rams went on a “miracle run” through the playoffs and captured the first girls’ basketball title in school history.

The team was honored throughout the city and across the state, and first-year head coach Kati Burrows collected “Coach of the Year” awards. The accolades would be enough to earn Burrows a job as assistant coach at Montana State University, her alma mater. Assistant coach Melvin Mitchell took over the head coach position for the 2015-16 season.

2. Double Murder Charged in Thunderbird Farms
The eyes of the nation again turned to Maricopa in late June when Thunderbird Farms residents Michael and Tina Careccia went missing. Days of searching for the couple resulted in numerous theories and garnered state and national news coverage. Their bodies were found on the property of family friend Jose Valenzuela.

Valenzuela was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He pled not guilty to the charges in August. His trial is pending.

1. ADOT Approves Overpass Funding

Since Maricopa was incorporated in 2003, it has been a priority of the city government to provide an overpass to circumvent the railroad tracks on State Route 347. After years of speculation on whether the overpass would ever happen, the city of Maricopa received a $15 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The funding will allow the city to move forward with acquiring land for and starting construction of the overpass, once ADOT approves 30 percent of the overpass design. Construction is scheduled for 2020.

ADOT rendering
ADOT rendering

This story was published in the January issue of InMaricopa News.

Other top 10 lists from 2015:

Top 10 Public Safety Stories

Top 10 Youth Stories

Top 10 Government Stories

Top 10 Business Stories