Editor's Note: This is article not meant to be a comprehensive list of all newsworthy events from the Bear River Valley in the past year, but a selection of some of the biggest local stories.
Another year is in the books, drawing to a close another 12 months of challenges, victories, celebrations, losses and learning.
As we forge ahead into a new year and decade, it's time once again to take a look back at some of the moments that helped make 2019 in the Bear River Valley a unique experience.
• The sesquicentennial year of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory got off to an inauspicious start when a float commemorating the event caught fire during the Tournament of Roses Parade, the annual parade before the Rose Bowl college football game, on Jan. 1. There were no injuries, but the hiccup caused a short delay in the parade and briefly made headlines.
However, it did not prove to be a bad omen, as the 150th anniversary celebration held at Golden Spike National Historical Park the weekend of May 10 was a huge success.
• Elijah Alexander Sorensen was born at 4:07 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 2, to beaming parents Alexander and Meagan Sorensen. Elijah was the first baby born at Bear River Valley Hospital in 2019.
• After more than five years on the job, Garland Police Chief Chad Soffe resigned to take the same position in Woods Cross. Soffe's departure in part led to Garland and Tremonton combining their police forces into one department later in the year.
• A jury in Salt Lake City’s Third District Court found Shannon Fitzgerald, 59, guilty on 11 counts of securities fraud in a case with ties to another that left investors in Box Elder County out of millions of dollars. Fitzgerald and her husband, Michael J. Fitzgerald, have ties to Zane Jeppesen, who has been embroiled in an ongoing case involving fraudulent real estate deals dating to the early 2000s.
• The annual session of the Utah Legislature began with new representation from Box Elder County. Scott Sandall of Tremonton moved to the Senate after four years in the House of Representatives, and Corinne farmer Joel Ferry began his first session as a state legislator.
• A local family and community suffered a devastating blow when 35-year-old Corey Holmgren, a captain in the Utah National Guard, therapist, father of three and member of a prominent local farming family, died while swimming in a West Valley City pool. A Memorial Day program held at the Box Elder County Fairgrounds on May 27 was largely dedicated to Holmgren, with hundreds in attendance.
• The police departments of Tremonton and Garland merged into one following the approval of an interlocal agreement by both city councils. Tremonton Police Chief Kurt Fertig was named the head of the new, combined department, an arrangement that both cities have called mutually beneficial.
• A federal judge in in Salt Lake City denied a motion by brothers Jacob and Isaiah Kingston to be released from jail. The brothers were charged with multiple fraud allegations, including money laundering and filing false tax returns, in connection with their now defunct biofuel business located near Plymouth, Washakie Renewable Energy. The brothers, along with a business partner, are accused of claiming more than $500 million in renewable energy tax credits, using Washakie Renewable Energy as a front for their actions. The Kingston brothers, along with Isaiah’s wife and mother, took plea deals in July.
• Bear River High sophomore Scott Robertson became the next in a long line of state champion wrestlers from the school. Robertson defeated Payson sophomore Deegan Palmer 17-2 in less than three periods to capture the state 4A wrestling title, capping a season in which he went 53-2 overall.
• The Bear River High boys basketball team narrowly missed capturing the school’s fourth state title, falling to region rival Sky View in the waning moments of the 4A state championship game. The overachieving Bears squad took second in Region 12 before pulling playoff upsets over Orem and Bonneville to reach the title game.
• The Tremonton area saw its second murder case in as many years when Jose Gutierrez-Torres was taken into custody following the stabbing death of 53-year-old Mara de Jesus Cervantes at a home in Bothwell on March 3. Gutierrez-Torres was at the scene with a stab wound on his neck, and authorities said he stabbed Cervantes to death before turning the knife on himself. Gutierrez-Torres was found incompetent to stand trial in November. A competency review hearing is scheduled for Feb. 10, 2020.
• Jenny Christensen, a longtime employee at the Bear River Valley Senior Center in Tremonton, was named the new director of the center following the retirement of Marion Layne, who had held the position for more than 10 years.
• The Box Elder School District approved a realignment of school boundaries intended to balance the demands and needs of five elementary schools in northern Box Elder County, with some schools operating at over 100 percent capacity and others well below 100 percent. Parents turned out in force at public hearings to weigh in on the changes.
• Zane Jeppesen was sentenced to 30 days in jail in an ongoing case that bilked local investors out of millions of dollars in a fraudulent real estate investment scheme. A judge ordered Jeppesen to pay nearly $500,000 in restitution payments by March 21, 2020.
• Kelton Bronson, a Box Elder County Sheriff deputy, returned home to Corinne from a Salt Lake City hospital after a second successful liver transplant. Thirty years ago, Bronson became the first boy in the United States to receive a live-donor liver transplant, but that liver failed early in 2019, necessitating the second operation. Bronson and his wife, Kelsee, arrived home to a surprise of dozens of people lining the streets, cheering and welcoming them back.
• Tremonton City secured $3.4 million in bond financing to build the most ambitious phase of a project to bring secondary water service to homes throughout the city. The financing allowed the city to move forward with putting in new pipes and other infrastructure across most of the downtown area.
• May in Box Elder County was all about the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike. On May 10, 1869, workers for two major railroads, one building from the east coast westward and another from the west coast eastward, met in Box Elder County. The event marked the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, a major milestone in the coast-to-coast development of the U.S.
From May 10-12, tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world descended on the newly minted Golden Spike National Historical Park to celebrate the sesquicentennial. An army of local volunteers helped host the three-day party, which went off without any major issues other than the long wait to get in. Such prominent figures as Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Russell M. Nelson, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao were among those on hand.
Local schools got in on the festivities. The Bear River High band played on the main stage, and the McKinley Elementary choir delighted the crowd with selections of old railroad songs.
Organizers also used the event to give recognition to the many Chinese laborers who built the western portion of the railroad. Up until recently, the contributions of Chinese workers had been largely glossed over, as had the inhumane treatment they often endured.
• Bear River High senior Devon Roberts topped the podium at the Utah State 4A track & field championships on Saturday, May 18 in Provo. Roberts won state in the 110-meter hurdle event with a time of 15.05 seconds, and took second in the 300-meter hurdles.
• On May 24, Idaho State Police apprehended a suspect in a murder that happened on I-84 on May 22. Jonathan Llana, 45, was on the run as the suspect in a drive-by shooting that left 50-year-old Dennis Gwyther, of Salt Lake City, dead and his passenger injured. Authorities say Llana shot Gwyther with a high-powered rifle in the Rattlesnake Pass area, but said Llana did not know Gwyther and a motive for the shooting is still unclear. Llana fled to Idaho, where he was captured two days later.
Llana pleaded not guilty in June, and his case is still pending.
• The Bear River High Class of 2019 walked the stage at Utah State University, capping another successful school year and sending hundreds of Bear River Valley young adults out into the world. BRHS Valedictorian Braxton Buttars spoke to his peers about overcoming adversity and recognizing the “boulders” in our lives, relating to the story of Aron Ralston, the hiker who became famous for cutting off his own forearm to save his life while hiking in Southern Utah.
• At its campus in a remote part of Box Elder County, Northrop Grumman tested a new rocket motor designed to increase the security of astronauts in space. The Castor 600 motor, the largest motor segment ever cast at the Promontory facility, burned for more than two minutes, echoing across the valley with a tremendous roar and sending a massive plume of smoke into the blue sky.
• A Tremonton man was sentenced to spend 15 years to life in prison for the 2018 shooting death of a friend in the first murder case in the city in more than 50 years.
Brandon K. Thompson, 31, was sentenced on Thursday, June 20 in First District Court in Brigham City for theshooting death of Michael Hogenson, 33. Thompson was sentenced to spend 15 years to life in the Utah State Prison on the murder conviction and 1 to 15 years on two other felony convictions.
According to court documents, Thompson called Box Elder County Dispatch in the early morning hours of April 16, 2018, to report a shooting located at 3625 W. 1000 North in Tremonton. When officers arrived at the scene they found Hogenson, 33, deceased with gunshot wounds to the legs. Documents state that Thompson waited two hours after the shooting to call authorities.
Thompson originally pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder in May 2018 but took a plea deal for a lesser charge of murder in February 2019.
Prior to his conviction, Thompson had sought to withdraw his guilty plea, but Judge Brandon Maynard denied that motion on April 30. Shortly after his conviction, Thompson filed another appeal, which is awaiting a decision from the Utah Court of Appeals.
• The Bear River Valley was well represented at the Utah High School Finals Rodeo in Heber City. Honeyville’s Hayden Madsen led the way, placing in the top 10 in pole bending, barrel racing and goat tying. Cooper Stokes took 21st in steer wrestling, Wyatt Larsen took sixth in saddle bronc, and the tandem of Derek Huggins and McCrae Arbon finished ninth in team roping. Sydney Green took 16th in barrel racing, Caden Bowcutt placed seventh in trap shooting and 13th in rifle shooting, while Lance Kent finished 20th in trap shooting.
• On the morning of June 27, police responded to a call of a deceased male lying on the ground at Flack Park in Corinne. Marcus Elkins, 16, had been seen last at about 10 p.m. the night before with friends near the park. Investigators later determined that Elkins had collapsed after drinking alcohol with some friends.
• Garland volunteer firefighter Josh Munns was recognized as the Utah State Firefighters Association’s Fireman of the Year at the group’s annual convention on June 13. Munns was recognized for saving a young boy who was choking. After the boy became unresponsive, Munns rushed him to Bear River Valley Hospital, where emergency personnel were able to remove the obstruction get the boy breathing again.
• A wildfire sparked by lightning on the night of Sunday, July 14 consumed some 2,500 acres in the Radio Hill area northwest of Tremonton over the course of several days. Some 120 firefighters from multiple agencies responded to the blaze and were able to successfully contain and extinguish it.
Local residents saw large DC-10 tanker jets flying close overhead. The planes were dropping fire retardant to protect nearby neighborhoods, which ended up being safe from the flames, as no evacuations were needed.
To many, the fire seemed like an omen of things to come, as firefighting experts had warned of dangerous fire conditions over the summer due to a larger-than-usual supply of dry fuel following a wet winter and spring. However, the fire season was relatively mild compared with 2018, when the Goose Creek fire near the farming and ranching communities of Grouse Creek and Etna torched some 150,000 acres near the Utah-Nevada line. That fire alone burned more acreage than all Box Elder County wildfires in 2019 combined.
While fighting the fire on the ground, two local firefighters found a memorial to a couple who died in a plane crash on Radio Hill on Feb. 9, 1995, as they were attempting to land in Tremonton. Firefighters Colten Naef and Jacob Judkins removed brush and other fuels from around the memorial to ensure its preservation through the blaze.
• Tremonton’s colorful murals and the artist who created most of them were featured on a PBS television program, bringing more recognition to the public art installations found throughout the city. Artist Jason Nessen was featured in a segment on “This is Utah,” a program that tells unique stories from all over the state.
• A man died by suicide on July 25 after walking in front of a moving semi truck on I-15 through Tremonton. The incident shed new light on the growing problem of suicide in the Bear River Valley.
• The talk of the town every August is the Box Elder County Fair, and 2019 was no different.
The fair brings thousands of revelers, rodeo lovers and livestock traders to Tremonton every year. This year's junior livestock show brought in a record haul of nearly $1.3 million.
The annual Golden Spike Rodeo and fair kickoff concert provided the ideal setting for breaking in a $2 million renovation and expansion of the main fairgrounds arena, a project that more than doubled the seating capacity of the arena. The house was packed nearly every night for the PRCA rodeo, helping the fair turn an overall profit for the first time in years.
• Corinne City officials announced that their town would host one of several medical marijuana growing operations in the state, following the legalization of medical marijuana by the state legislature earlier in the year. Ohio-based Standard Wellness is running the operation, located in the agricultural and business park portion of Corinne.
• Lindsay Hales was given the title of Miss Bear River Valley 2019, joining first attendant Kalli Capener, second attendant Allison Smith, talent award winner Cambria Christensen and interview award winner Sarah Young. The Miss Bear River Valley pageant made its triumphant return after being cancelled in 2018.
• Bear River Valley Hospital celebrated its 10th anniversary, hosting a summer barbecue that brought out hundreds of local residents to celebrate the milestone for a major community asset.
• Bear River High School marked its annual homecoming week with the usual themed dress days, football game, dance and other traditions. Tucker Porter and Ashley Roberts were named homecoming kind and queen, and the football team notched a come-from-behind win over Logan.
• On the morning of Sept. 24, an earthquake centered near Howell was felt across much of Box Elder County. The 3.9 magnitude quake rattled buildings and jolted people to attention, but caused no significant injuries or property damage.
• A Utah Highway Patrol sergeant escaped with only minor injuries after his patrol car was hit with him inside while responding to a crash on Sept. 28 in rainy weather on I-15 near Portage. Sgt. Brian Nelson was making his third vehicle accident response of the day about three miles south of the Utah-Idaho border.
• Bear River High standout golfer Jarett Giles came oh-so-close to capturing the individual state 4A championship at TalonsCove in Saratoga Springs. Giles’ round of 68 on the final day of the state tournament forced a playoff with Sky View’s Ryan Seamons, who birdied the first playoff hole to capture the title. Giles will return for his senior season in 2020, with a goal of nothing short of a state championship.
• The Bear River girls cross county team captured the title at the Region 11 championship meet at Utah State University in Logan. The Bears’ Madison White took first place, providing extra icing on the cake of winning the team title.
• A Utah Honor Flight homecoming event on Saturday, Nov. 2 brought 50 veterans of the U.S. wars in Vietnam, Korea and even World War II to Tremonton for a special homecoming ceremony. The buses carrying the veterans were held up in traffic and didn’t arrive until 9:30 p.m., but that didn’t stop hundreds in attendance from waiting to give them a hero’s welcome home.
• Municipal elections changed the makeup of city councils in cities and towns throughout Box Elder County. The Tremonton council got two new members, as voters picked Connie Archibald and Rick Seamons to replace retiring councilmembers Jeff Reese and Diana Doutre. In Garland, James Munns was voted to replace Kevin Stay.
The only real election drama was in Honeyville, where a rare three-way tie eventually resulted in city officials having to draw lots for two open seats. Sharon Lorimer and Dale Millsap were the lucky winners of the drawing.
• The Golden Spike District of the Boy Scouts of America held its last gathering, bidding farewell to a century of history on Thursday, Nov. 14 as local scouting groups prepare for a major reorganization of their ranks following the decision by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to officially sever its ties with the scouting organization at the beginning of 2020. The Golden Spike district is merging into the larger Desert Shores District.
• Kirk Takeshi Fuchigami, Jr., one of two U.S. Army helicopter pilots killed in action on Nov. 20 when their Apache helicopter when down during a night raid in Afghanistan, was laid to rest in Brigham City. Fuchigami’s wife, McKenzie Norman Fuchigami is from Corinne, and members of the community put up a huge display of yellow ribbons and American flags in town to honor her husband’s service and welcome her home.