In the leap year that was 2012, tragedy turned to hope, sadness questioned pride, outrage preserved inaction, fear gripped the earth and bewilderment seemed to multiply itself many times over in Morgan Hill and South Santa Clara County.
When it was over, the 366 days of 2012 offered about as much as each year that preceded it - a promise that some things will always change.
These stories touched and inspired us
Joshua Valdez, 22, was critically injured in a Jun. 16 hit-and-run accident in Morgan Hill. Valdez continues to make tremendous strides from the numerous injuries – including one to his brain – that he suffered after officers found him lying near the intersection of Butterfield Boulevard and San Pedro Avenue.
After a pair of starving, neglected horses were abandoned by their owners near Murphy Avenue in east Morgan Hill, the pair of equines were nursed back to health by loving caretakers at DreamPower Horsemanship and Perfect Fit Equine Rescue in Morgan Hill. One of the horses has since found a new home.
This story was tragic
Authorities said Stacy Lonnberg, 51, was “unremorseful” after learning that she accidentally killed her husband and 26-year-old daughter while driving the family’s pickup in a heavily intoxicated state.
Lonnberg, a Gilroy resident, allegedly consumed an alcoholic Bloody Mary and popped an oxycodone narcotic on an empty stomach before getting behind the wheel of the Toyota Tacoma pickup Jan. 14. An hour later, the vehicle crashed after it was seen by numerous witnesses exceeding 80 mph on Highway 85 in Los Gatos. The truck side-swiped another vehicle and then rolled multiple times before coming to rest on the freeway.
Killed in the accident were Lonnberg’s daughter Tiffiny Gillette, and Lonnberg’s husband Fred Lonnberg, 57. Injured was Stacy Lonnberg’s 3-year-old grandson - Gillette’s son - who was traveling with the family in the Tacoma and suffered minor scrapes to his hands and feet, according to authorities.
Stacy Lonnberg was charged by Santa Clara County prosecutors with two counts of double murder and one count of child endangerment for her alleged responsibility for the deaths and injuries.
A Morgan Hill woman had to euthanize her 23-year-old Arabian horse after two pit bulls who lived nearby “viciously” attacked the animal. The horse suffered a broken leg in the attack, but didn’t know it as he ran around the pasture in shock and panic before his owners were able to fully assess the injuries.
This story broke our hearts
Residents of Morgan Hill and Gilroy prayed constantly and sent rays of hope to Mike Davenport and his family following a freak accident in which he fell down and hit his head Feb. 20.
The accident, in which Davenport fell from the roof of his motor home at the Chevron gas station on Cochrane Road while making repairs to the vehicle, knocked him unconscious. Sadly, Davenport, a Gavilan College trustee and former Morgan Hill planning commissioner, died of brain trauma March 2 at San Jose Regional Medical Center, at the age of 46.
He left behind his wife and their two young daughters. The family lived in Morgan Hill at the time of Davenport’s death.
This story shocked us
The heartwrenching news of an Iraq war veteran who killed his mother and little sister before taking his own life sent shockwaves through Santa Clara County and beyond. Martha Gutierrez, 52, was shot and killed inside a car by her son Abel Gutierrez, 27. She was last seen March 13, the day before her 11-year-old daughter, Lucero Luna-Gutierrez was murdered by Abel in their apartment in northwest Gilroy. Abel, an Iraq war veteran who apparently was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, shot and killed himself. His family members described him as suicidal after he returned home from his tour in Iraq. Abel would talk to the wall, sleep with his guns and wake up from night terrors, shouting expletives at the Pakistanis and Iraqis out of a dead sleep, said Martha's brother Faustino Gutierrez. “I always wondered if he would kill himself, but never Lucero,” Faustino said.
This story was a long time coming
It took more than 200 years, but a landmark reconciliation ceremony was held between the Amah Mutton Tribal Band of Ohlone/Costonoan Indians and Mission San Juan Bautista, which lies just west of Hollister. Bishop Richard Garcia of the Catholic Diocese of Monterey publicly asked forgiveness for past violent acts committed against the Mutsun and other Native Americans who once lived and worked at the mission.
This story stirred controversy
Hundreds of residents of San Martin, Morgan Hill and Gilroy showed up to a series of public hearings to voice a passionate combination of support, opposition, fear and hope for the proposed Cordoba Center mosque project during the summer of 2012.
That review process culminated in the Sept. 25 Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Following hours of public testimony presented by dozens of residents, the board unanimously approved a permit for the 15-acre site where the South Valley Islamic Community plans to build the mosque and community center.
Since then, a loosely organized group of residents who call themselves the People’s Coalition for Government Accountability has filed a lawsuit alleging the County did not conduct a thorough enough review of the project’s potential impact on the environment.
In May, the Gavilan College board of trustees voted to give its president, Steve Kinsella, a $42,000 salary raise from $234,090 to $276,090, at a time when the school and public agencies throughout the region and state continued to stress the need to cut costs.
This story was bizarre
In what could be the strangest crime to hit the news in 2012, three people allegedly lured a handyman to their north Morgan Hill home, then assaulted and kidnapped him as they forced him to conduct home repairs.
The confrontation, which happened Dec. 3, originated a couple months earlier when a relative of one of the suspects hired the 50-year-old victim to conduct home repairs, after which a dispute over services rendered ensued.
After convincing the handyman to do some more work at two of the suspects’ home on Caldwell Court Dec. 3, the suspects assaulted him upon his arrival, held him against his will, and repeatedly threatened to kill him for several hours while forcing him to work on some home repairs, police said. The three suspects were arrested Dec. 19.
“Crooks stealing from crooks”
There were a number of incidents in 2012 - including at least one in north Morgan Hill and one in Gilroy - of unknown suspects stealing hundreds of live marijuana plants from farmers who were growing the crops illegally, or “crooks stealing from crooks,” in the words of a Gilroy police sergeant.
This story made us proud
The September 2012 kickoff of the Dual Immersion Multicultural Education school – a landmark learning format that fosters bilingualism and biliteracy by teaching 50/50 in English and Spanish – marked the ushering in of a “new era” at San Martin Gwinn Elementary School.
Known as DIME, the program is a direct result of Gwinn's ongoing efforts to gauge community interest in new varieties of educational options for students.
In 2012, Jackson Elementary also changed its name (Jackson Academy for Math and Music) and its scope (now kindergarten through eighth-grade).
At Jackson Academy, teachers now receive coaching to provide students with more math than previously found in the curriculum, along with an instrumental and choral music focus for all grades. The magnet model allows the school more freedom in its achievement choices, though its still governed by the school board and overseen by the district, different from Charter School of Morgan Hill.
This story made us shake our heads
Morgan Hill police officers were disciplined for improperly accessing a suspect’s smartphone and posting a lewd photo to her Facebook account, forcing the City to settle with the woman for $75,000 in 2012.
City staff have said more than one officer was disciplined as a result of the incident which happened in July of 2011, but wasn’t revealed to the public until January 2012 when Gilroy resident Casey Serrano, 36, filed a claim for damages alleging that officers posted a topless photo of her from her phone to her Facebook account while she was in custody.
The City Council agreed to settle with Serrano for $75,000 in June 2012, and in exchange Serrano gave up her right to sue the City.
City staff have declined to say which officers were involved in the incident, and how they were disciplined. But David Ray, who was the city’s K-9 officer at the time and arrested the women that night, no longer works for Morgan Hill.
Marcy Erico, 38 of Morgan Hill, allegedly used her 10-year-old daughter Sept. 19 to attempt to steal beer and other groceries from the Safeway grocery store at Tennant Station.
This story impressed us
They don't just break the gender stereotype - they obliterate it. A talented band of Morgan Hill brothers that have no pom-poms to be found (Calvin Calhoun, Michael DeVos, Xavier Bonton, Cameron Bonton and Napoleon Bonton) are male cheerleaders. Along with childhood friends, Cedric Bushnell, Chris Olivo and Daniel Zavala, the young men hold an impressive list of national and international cheer titles, and have appeared - much to the delight of their mother and cheer supporter, Robin Schaffino - on the “Dr. Phil” show that aired April 6. The all-male squad does not cheer for any sports teams, but competes solely in the sport of recreational cheer, a combination of gymnastic-like tumbling routines, dance moves and stunts. The group has been cheering for 13 years.
This story dragged on forever
Santa Clara County embarked on an ambitious 14-month undertaking to clarify and update laws that regulate the local wine industry. The new regulations, such as those related to outdoor amplified sound and event permits, were unanimously accepted by the Board of Supervisors in November. District 1 Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman – who initiated the process – says he's happy with the outcome. Some winemakers were less than thrilled with the final results, however.
This story will forever impact the community
A core group of volunteers still gather early every Saturday morning at Burnett Elementary School to continue to find the remains or any evidence of the whereabouts of Sierra LaMar, the Sobrato High School sophomore who disappeared March 16 from her mother’s north Morgan Hill home at the age of 15.
Posters labeled “MISSING” and depicting the teenager’s face, listing her description still dot public walls, bulletin boards and signposts throughout South County. Police, parents, searchers and child safety advocates continue to refer to the case which drew national attention as a reminder for children to be watchful of their surroundings, and for adults to pay close attention to their brood.
Sierra, who would now be 16, was likely murdered while walking to her school bus stop near the intersection of Palm and Dougherty avenues, authorities said.
Antolin Garcia Torres, 21 of Morgan Hill, was arrested in May on suspicion of kidnapping and killing Sierra.
On Feb. 1, the state closed the Morgan Hill Redevelopment Agency, which invested hundreds of millions of dollars into economic development efforts and property improvements from 1981 to 2011.
A messy legal battle in which the state department of finance has challenged some of the former RDA’s actions, and in which the City and other local entities created by the RDA closure have challenged the state’s challenge, is promised for the coming months.
This story put Morgan Hill on the map
The 77,000-square-foot retail paradise for crafters, artists, scrapbookers, decorators and photographers opened Aug. 24 at 990 Cocrane Plaza and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Chamber of Commerce and city officials on the following Monday morning.
Manager Steve Canet, a resident of Gilroy, said the store easily surpassed 500 customers throughout the opening weekend, but he couldn't calculate an official tally.
The local business community also expects the new store to be a shot in the arm for economic development.
Morgan Hill City Manager Ed Tewes announced in August that he would be resigning, surprising many residents after his 13 years as City Hall’s top staff member.
Tewes, 61, has been mostly quiet about his post-resignation plans, only saying he wants “to keep (his) options open.”
He initially announced that he would be leaving his Morgan Hill job at the end of December, but in November he agreed to stay until Feb. 15, in order to help the City Council with the transition to a new leader, and to maintain functionality at City Hall after City Attorney Danny Wan announced his unrelated resignation toward the end of the year.
Mayor Steve Tate, who was on the Council that hired Tewes in 1999, said Tewes has been a “fantastic leader.”
“He could squeeze blood out of a turnip,” Tate said in August. “We’ve been able to do so much with so little because of how he manipulates the finances. He’s been a phenomenally successful city manager.”