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Top 10 local stories of 2013

People help fill sandbags at Morris Hospital during the April 18 flood. The flooding caused the hospital to shut down and halt operations for two weeks.
People help fill sandbags at Morris Hospital during the April 18 flood. The flooding caused the hospital to shut down and halt operations for two weeks.

As the year 2013 comes to a close and people prepare for the start of 2014, the Morris Daily Herald takes a look back at some of the year's biggest headlines.

From natural disasters forcing families out of their homes around Grundy County to movie star sightings in Minooka, 2013 is a year some will never forget. Here are just a few of the stories, listed in date of occurrence, that grabbed the attention of our readers and staff.

County controversies

The Grundy County Board has faced several points of contention this year.

After the first of the year, it was discovered that more than $30,000 in bonuses were given out of some county departments at the end of last fiscal year. Although not illegal, County Board Chairman Ron
Severson and other board members called this a moral problem. The county clerk, treasurer, state's attorney's, sheriff's and circuit clerk's offices took leftover funds they had from line items that did not get fully spent and gave bonuses with the remaining money. For the sheriff and state's attorney's offices, this was done under Sheriff Terry Marketti and attorney John Bates, not Sheriff Kevin Callahan and attorney Jason Helland.

In the fall of this year, Human Resources Director Dan Hoppe was terminated and days later County Administrator Chris Wittkamp quit stating she could not work for a board chairman who did not support her. Wittkamp recommended Hoppe's termination and Severson publicly degraded her for it. Debra
Johnson has since been hired as the human resources director and Heidi Miller, land use director, has taken over as interim administrator.

The county also made headlines in September when it decided to file a lawsuit against board member Frank Halpin for allegedly misappropriating funds from the county. A previous investigation found no criminal charges.

Explosion, fire destroy Morris home

In February a fire that started with an explosion, destroyed a Barrington Road house belonging to a couple who were out of town.

In the early-morning hours of Feb. 5 a garage fire was reported at 5805 N. Barrington Road. The fire engulfed the house. Firefighters coming from Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District Station 2, which is near the house, could see the fire glowing as they left the station.

Chief Tracey Steffes said Monday the house has been rebuilt. The cause of the fire was because of a build up of a gas vapor in the garage. The investigation was not able to conclude where the gas came from.

"There was nothing the homeowners did to cause it and nothing they could have done to prevent it," Steffes said.

Oswego cop arrested after standoff

After being disorderly in a Channahon pizza restaurant in March, an off-duty Oswego police officer was involved in an armed standoff. On March 13, John Wolfinbarger, 44, of Yorkville, was in a standoff and was arrested on charges of obstructing a peace officer, disorderly conduct and DUI.

The charges came after police held him in his car at gunpoint. Prior to the standoff, he had a gun on his waistband and walked into the restaurant office while yelling and arguing with an employee. He pleaded guilty in August to driving under the influence of alcohol.

April flood displaces many, closes Morris Hospital

Grundy County was declared a major disaster area after the April 18 flood caused the Illinois River and area creeks to flood into city streets, filling some people's homes with water and stranding many.

In 24 hours Morris received 3.88 inches of rain. Continued rain pushed the total over 4 inches. The river crested at 24.91 feet, surpassing the 2008 record of 24.8.

Emergency responders made about 75 rescues, many on Cemetery Road, the first day of the flooding. Morris Hospital had to evacuate patients and halt patient operations for about two weeks. In addition, the historical aqueduct carrying the I&M Canal over Nettle Creek collapsed. No one was killed or severely injured from the flooding.

Man survives being hit by train

Kyle Dornan, 23, survived being hit by a train this summer. Living in Morris at the time of the accident, he broke his femur, hip, pelvis, left ulna and had tearing in his small intestine.

The day of the accident, he had been watching the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup at some bars in Morris and then at someone's house. Dornan ended up at the railroad tracks near Grant Street. He has no recollection, but thought he must have stopped to rest at the tracks and fell asleep.

A freight train came by and its “pilot” – or what is also sometimes called a “cowcatcher” – scooped him up and catapulted him. The pilot looks like a plow in front of the train and is meant to deflect obstacles on the tracks. Dornan was hospitalized for 17 days and underwent four surgeries and received more than 150 stitches.

As of November he was home and starting to walk without assistance.

State representative of the 75th District resigns

Pam Roth, R-Morris, announced in July she was resigning as state representative of the 75th District at the end of the summer to relocate with her family to Texas.

Kendall County Sheriff’s Office Deputy John Anthony, R-Plainfield, was appointed by the Republican Central Committee chairmen from Grundy, Kendall, Will and LaSalle counties. Anthony was chosen from nine candidates who were interviewed.

Anthony is now preparing to run in the Republican primary election against Grundy County Board Chairman Ron Severson.

DNA exonerates a Morris man

In July, Ryan Johnson Jr. of Morris was cleared of sexual assault charges against him after DNA evidence exonerated him.
The May arrest stemmed from an investigation conducted by Morris police into a reported sexual assault of a 36-year-old female.

In June, Johnson pleaded not guilty and in July he was released. During the investigation, state police examined the DNA which was found not to match Johnson. Later Francisco Xolio, 35, of Morris, was indicted on the aggravated criminal sexual assault.

Famous faces visit Minooka

A few famous actors made their way to Minooka this year.

In July, actors Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis were in Minooka filming scenes for their movie "Jupiter Ascending," that is due in theaters July 2014.

Most recently, Nick Offerman of the NBC television show "Parks and Recreation." Offerman, a Minooka native, held a book signing in October at Minooka Elementary School where hundreds came to have him sign his book, "Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living.”

Morris school bus controversy

The new shared busing system between Saratoga School, Morris Elementary School and Morris Community High School districts got off to a bad start this school year.

The new consolidated Morris Community Bus system is run by Saratoga. Under this system, Shabbona Middle School and Morris High students are picked up first and then buses go back for White Oak students. This system uses fewer buses and less labor, saving money for the districts.

On the first day of school, a bus full of students was dropped off at a park as opposed to their assigned bus stops because the driver was unsure of the stops. That driver was terminated. In addition, some students were on the wrong buses and many buses were late picking up and dropping off students.

An open house was held for the public to address the issues. More drivers were hired and after additional changes and time, the new system improved.

Tornado causes extensive damage in Diamond and Coal City area

An EF-2 tornado ripped through the Diamond and Coal City area Nov. 17, injuring four and damaging more than 200 structures in the area.

The tornado was one of dozens reported as severe thunderstorms swept through the region. The winds were so strong, people in Morris reported finding documents from Washington, Ill., where an EF-4 tornado leveled much of that town.

In the Diamond-Coal City area, one of the hardest hit areas was Diamond Estates and a nearby farmhouse where three of the four injuries occurred. Yet again, Grundy County was declared a disaster area.

Area individuals, companies and organizations donated massively to the recovery and continue to, both in volunteering their time for clean up and donating funds. More $325,000 has been raised to help those local families devastated by the tornado. The municipalities and families are still working to repair the damage.

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