1. Brianna Denison Abduction and MurderWhen Brianna Denison was abducted from a house near the University of Nevada, Reno campus on January 20, finding her alive was the subject of a massive search effort by police and hundreds of community volunteers. Sadly, her body was found in a south Reno field almost a month later.
On November 26, Reno Police Chief Michael Poehlman announced the arrest of James Michael Biela as a suspect in the case. He was finally nabbed following a tip to police from his girlfriend and after DNA tests linked him to the murder. The court has determined there is sufficient evident to hold Beila to answer for the crime and, at this writing, he is in no-bail residence at the Washoe County Jail.
2. Nevada and Washoe County Go Blue, Vote DemocraticThe 2008 General Election was historic. We overwhelmingly elected Barack Obama as the first African-American U.S. President and sent even more Democrats to Congress, increasing their existing majorities in both houses. Across the nation, record numbers of voters turned out to cast their ballots. Both Washoe and Clark, Nevada's two most populous counties, went Democratic in a big way, which tipped Nevada to a state-wide Obama victory. His margin over McCain was 55 percent to 45 percent. Since 1968, Nevada voters have only gone Democratic twice (for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996).
3. Reno City Budget Crumbles as Economic Troubles MountWith projected revenue failing to materialize due to the ailing economy, the Reno City Council has had to seriously slash the budget in order to stay in the black and, so far, avoid wholesale layoffs of city employees. The malaise has been spreading for some time; the take at Reno's gambling establishments has declined every month for over a year (Fitzgeralds Casino closed for good in November), room tax has taken a nose dive, and retail sales are in a serious slumb. All of these activities generate much of the tax revenue that supports city services. Further cuts, if required, will be taken up by the City Council in early 2009, once they have a clearer picture of where things are headed.
4. Forest Fire Smoke Chokes Reno for Over a MonthStarting toward the end of June, the Reno / Lake Tahoe region suffered through weeks of choking smoke that poured over the Sierra, generated by an incredible set of forest fires burning simultaneously across much of northern California. Many of us have friends and relatives over on the California side, so anxiety and concern were added to the unhealthy air. The smoke remained an issue through July.
5. Nevada Leads the Nation in Foreclosures
Nevada has maintained the nation's highest foreclosure rate for months. In November, one in 76 homes was in some stage of foreclosure, up 109 percent from a year ago. In Washoe County, the November numbers were one in 159, while Clark County (Las Vegas) sported a one in 61 rate. All of this bodes ill for Nevada's overall economy, which is indeed going to hell. One need only look around Reno to see scads of vacant retail space and residential construction that has stopped in its tracks. Foreclosure sale signs are sprouting from yards like daffodils in spring.
6. Earthquakes Shake Up Northern NevadaThe seismically active nature of the Silver State shook itself into the consciousness of northern Nevadans in 2008. Starting in February, a series of earthquakes rumbled through the Truckee Meadows, centered in the northwest areas of Verdi, Mogul, and Somersett. A 4.7 magnitude shaker in April swayed downtown Reno's tall buildings and caused some minor damage to homes. A wooden flume supplying much of Reno's drinking water was knocked down. It was felt miles away, including by me as I sat working at my desk. The intensity of the quakes decreased during the latter half of the year, but less frequent, minor ones continue. Just before the Reno earthquakes started, a 6.0 caused severe damage on the other side of the state in Wells.
7. Scheels Opens in SparksAt 248,000 square feet, Scheels at the Legends in Sparks Marina is billed as the world's largest all sports store. After checking out the grand opening in September, I think I'll believe the hype. The place is huge, and with arcades, aquariums, 65 foot ferris wheel, sporting goods repair shops, restaurant, and more, it is highly entertaining even if you don't buy anything (probably not exactly what they intended).
8. Nevada Unemployment Steadily Increasing
Nevada's jobless rate has reached 8 percent, significantly higher than the national rate of 6.7 percent. Shrinking construction jobs are a primary factor in Nevada. Tourism is also way down and California's Indian casinos continue to suck the life out of Nevada's casinos. Fitzgeralds in Reno shut down for good in November and the Silver Club in Sparks will go dark in January, 2009.
9. Missing Adventurer Steve Fossett Found Dead With Crashed PlaneSteve Fossett's final adventure began at Barron Hilton's Flying-M Ranch near Yerington, on September 3, 2007. He took off that morning in a small plane and never returned. A massive air and ground search proved fruitless and the effort was abandonded. On February 15, he was declared legally dead by a Chicago court. Then, on October 1, 2008, news broke that a hiker had found a pilot license and other items belonging to Fossett in a remote area of the Sierra Nevada, north of Mammoth Lakes, CA. Searchers found the demolished plane, along with a few human bones. On November 3, it was announced that DNA analysis by the California Department of Justice positively identified the bones as Fossett's remains.
10. Howdy Neighbor - O.J. Doing Time in Lovelock
The saga of O.J. Simpson's ongoing dealings with the criminal justice system have been going on in Nevada since September, 2007, when he was arrested in Las Vegas on numerous felony counts. The case concluded in Clark County on October 3, when a jury found him and another defendant guilty of 12 charges, including kidnapping, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary and conspiracy. I normally don't care what O.J. and other celebrity criminals are up to, but there is a northern Nevada connection. You see, in December he was transferred to the Lovelock Correctional Center, located about 90 miles east of Reno on I80, to serve his 9 to 33 years. Hey O.J., the weather's not like southern California, but you'll get used to it.