St. George News Year in Review: Most read and notable stories of 2019

Composite image, St. George News

FEATURE — St. George News had a banner year in 2019, with our highest readership on record, reflective of both a rapidly growing region whose population is hungry for information and a team of reporters dedicated to bringing timely, credible news to – and about – Southern Utah.

While we consider every story we publish to be a worthwhile read, some stories and events clearly stood out for our readers. Read on to see which topics and specific stories grabbed and held our readers’ attention in 2019.

Remembering those we’ve lost

The deaths of several influential people left a hole in the Southern Utah community. These individuals contributed significantly to the betterment of society in their chosen walks of life, and their departures reverberated widely.

The ultimate friend

In early February, 41-year-old Brad Stapley of St. George died after being caught in an avalanche during a snowmobiling trip near Circleville.

Brad Stapley at Stapley Pharmacy in St. George, Utah, March 21, 2015 | File photo courtesy of Stapley Pharmacy, St. George News

Stapley was a well-known and beloved pharmacist, family man and community member who was described as “the ultimate friend.” After his death, an outpouring of support went to his wife and six daughters and to the family business, Stapely Pharmacy, in recognition of the late father’s contributions to the community.

‘The King of Random’

In late July, 38-year-old Jonathan Grant Thompson died after crashing his paraglider in southeastern Washington County.

Thompson’s death made shock waves well beyond his home base of Hurricane. Known as The King of Random, he maintained a YouTube Channel with over 11 million subscribers featuring videos that helped viewers explore the world through life-hacks, experiments and random weekend projects.

A legacy of service

On Aug. 31, the city of St. George announced the death of Councilman Joe Bowcutt, who died unexpectedly at the age of 76.

Bowcutt was a longtime resident of St. George and was in the middle of his second term on the City Council. He was an instrumental member of the Lions Club, particularly in regard to the annual Dixie Round Up Rodeo held at the Dixie Sunbowl. Friends and colleagues said he left behind a legacy of service, optimism and genuineness that will be sorely missed.

Community debates ‘Disney-style’ development in Hurricane

News of a large new development proposed to be built in Hurricane came with both excitement and consternation when it was announced the city would be taking public comment on the proposal in January 2019.

Sitting on 351 acres next to a retirement community, the “Old West” town proposal included an outdoor theater with 1,200 seats and a “Disney-style” amusement area.

After multiple public hearings in which area residents expressed concerns over traffic and the impact such a development would have on Hurricane’s small-town feel, the developer ultimately opted to look for a new location.

New Latter-day Saint temple location

Local farmer Ralph Staheli walks across land he leases from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the future site of a new temple, St. George Utah, Nov. 8, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

While it was known that a new temple was in the works for Washington County since 2018, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remained tight-lipped on the exact location until November 2019 when the announcement of the temple’s location in the Little Valley of St. George garnered intense interest.

The temple will be built on land that has historically been used as farmland but has in recent years become surrounded by new residential developments as the city grows southward. County and city officials have said the new location is “well-positioned” for future community growth.

The temple is the second of its kind in St. George. The historic pioneer-era temple in the downtown area closed for an extensive three-year renovation project in early November.

Alleged cheerleader hazing prompts investigation

Reports of a hazing incident involving Desert Hills High School cheerleaders in early September prompted an investigation by the Washington County School District and St. George Police Department.

Several older cheer team members were reportedly suspended after it was revealed they perpetrated the hazing against younger members.

The incident prompted teachers to comment on what they called a problem of bullying at the school, while some parents of cheer squad members argued the incident did not constitute hazing.

Riot leads to closure of youth treatment center

In late April, a stretch of road encompassing an entire block of St. George Boulevard was closed as police vehicles swarmed Red Rock Canyon School, a treatment center for youth aged 12-18. Authorities reported that a riot erupted at the school, injuring 25 students and resulting in five arrests.

Law enforcement officers respond to a riot at Red Rock Canyon School, St. George, Utah, April 28, 2019 | File photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

In the aftermath of the riot, accusations of abuse and mismanagement came forth from parents, students and former employees, prompting multiple state investigations.

The school was required to complete several steps of corrective action. The institution’s parent company ultimately opted to close the facility, though the option to renew its license remains open.

Insects invade Southern Utah

A particularly wet spring gave rise to a massive amount of insects in Southern Utah and the surrounding region during the summer. Grasshoppers, gnats, false chinch bugs and green stink bugs descended on residents and businesses in uncharacteristically high numbers.

While the insects were, for the most part, harmless, they were nonetheless a major nuisance as they swarmed walls, cars, doorways and light fixtures. Experts described the invasion as a once-in-a-decade occurrence.

Cartels massacre American citizens in Mexico

A boy pauses as he speaks next to the coffins of Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and her sons Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2, who were killed by drug cartel gunmen, during the funeral at a family cemetery in La Mora, Sonora state, Mexico, Nov. 7, 2019 | Associated Press file photo by Marco Ugarte, St. George News

In early November, news of a massacre of women and children in Mexico swept through Southern Utah quickly, as several of those affected have roots in Cedar City and the nearby Short Creek community. The three mothers and their six children, all U.S. citizens who belonged to a polygamist colony, were reportedly shot outside the community of La Mora by members of a drug cartel.

Tiffany Langford, a relative of some of the deceased, told St. George News the group was in the state of Sonora for a number of weddings. Early reports indicated the families were caught in the crossfire of a dispute between cartels, but Langford disputed those reports.

After burying their loved ones, some families said they would not be returning to live in Mexico.

Airport closes for repairs and reopens with new flight destination

The St. George Regional Airport closed to all flights for four months in the middle of the year in order to address a cracked runway resulting from blue clay. The massive project, which spanned from late May through the end of September, required more than a mile of runway to be torn out and replaced.

When the airport finally reopened for normal operations Sept. 26, it welcomed a new flight destination to Dallas-Fort Worth. However, Allegiant Air, which offers significantly discounted airfare, discontinued its “ultra-affordable” flight to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway after officials said the airline was unable to compete.

Shutdown, rockfall plague Zion National Park

An extended shutdown of the federal government led to a major draw-down of staff at the nation’s national parks in January 2019. In Southern Utah, while Zion National Park received some local support to remain open for basic operations, the majority of the park’s staff was furloughed for the duration of the shutdown, prompting St. George News to ask one such employee about the prickly financial situation in which they found themselves.

A plume of dust coming down during a rockfall in Zion National Park, Utah, Aug. 24, 2019 | File photo courtesy of Sandanie Ambalangodage, St. George News

A rockfall and other geological events caused several popular trails to close for an extended period of time throughout the year. However, trail closures didn’t stop the crowds from visiting the park in huge numbers; the park even implemented a queue system for one of the most popular trails to address the influx of visitors.

It wasn’t all dire news for the park, however, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in November and witnessed the birth of condor chick No. 1,000, the first in a decadeslong California Condor recovery program to fledge in the park.

Roadwork in Virgin River Gorge

Interstate 15 through the Virgin River Gorge serves as the main artery connecting travelers from California and Nevada to Southern Utah and beyond. Lately, travel through the area has been hampered by construction, leading to both long delays and relatively frequent crashes.

The $6.4 million project began last spring in order to rehabilitate three bridge decks, and work is expected to continue into spring 2020. In the meantime, officials are asking drivers to pay attention and drive the speed limit of 45 mph through the construction zones.

Other notable and highly read stories of 2019

Traffic stop nets 2 arrests and 40 pounds of methamphetamine

Two women were jailed in early October after a traffic stop on I-15 in St. George turned up a suspicious spare tire packed with 40 pounds of methamphetamine.

Las Vegas man dies in wake of Washington City In-N-Out Burger crash

A Las Vegas man died after a driver crashed into the In-N-Out Burger in Washington City in mid-December.

New LDS stake center near St. George Temple gutted by fire

A nearly-completed chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located just east of the St. George Temple was destroyed by a fire on the night of Jan. 26.

Got a new driver license in the mail with a gold star on it? Here’s why

In order for the state to become compliant with the Real ID Act passed by Congress in 2005, the Utah Department of Public Safety began issuing licenses with gold stars in the upper right-hand corner.

Police: Distracted driver rear-ends vehicle, cited for following too closely

Investigation into a crash was interrupted after one of the cars involved began rolling down the road and slammed into a police vehicle, video of which was caught by St. George News and was subsequently shared virally on Facebook.

All of us at St. George News / Cedar City News and our parent company, Canyon Media, would like to thank you, our readers, for your support in 2019. More than just reading and sharing our articles, you are often also the catalysts for our content, whether it’s telling us about your experiences in our region and giving us story tips or sending us your letters to the editor or photos from out and about in Southern Utah.

We have worked to be your No. 1 source for local news, offering a wide variety of viewpoints and coverage, and with your help and support, we look forward to continued improvement in bringing Southern Utah exclusive, multimedia news coverage in 2020.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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