2013: A year in review

Wednesday, December 25, 2013 - 19:00
Pipers perform during the opening ceremonies of the Highland Games on Saturday, June 29.

Over the past year, Chugiak-Eagle River saw expansion, suffered tragedies, celebrated numerous awards and so much more. Here’s a look at some of the top stories of 2013:



• Eagle River Parks and Recreation voted to eliminate a skate park from conceptual plans being drawn up for a parcel of land bordering Fire House Lane. A group of residents in opposition to the skate park said it would have brought vandalism, underage drinking and other crime to the area. In March, the board voted to undo the previous action that removed the skate park from potential uses for the area. Immediately after, the board adopted a resolution that removed the park from potential uses at the site until “robust public process with any affected neighborhoods is complete.”

• Eagle River’s Velma Davidson celebrated her 100th birthday.

• Eagle River’s Bennett Hoback and Tech. Sgt. Brian Stiles marched in the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade in Washington, D.C.



• Palmer’s Kyle Hansen, 25, faces federal charges after allegedly crashing the Boniface gate of JBER in January. Hansen was charged with assault on a federal officer, destruction of government property and illegal entering a military property.

• The film “Baby Geniuses and the Mystery of the Crown Jewels” was released on DVD. Eagle River twins Asher and Brenden Farmer played the villain, Big Baby.

• Military Spouse magazine named Meghan Wieten-Scott JBER’s military spouse of the year.

• Virginia McMichael became the first female chief of the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department.

• After a decade of work, the Assembly finally approved the rewrite of the Municipal land use code, Title 21.



• Eagle Academy Charter School sixth-grader Bryce Tasso won the 2013 Alaska State Spelling Bee after correctly spelling “neuropathy.”

• The bodies of three Eagle River residents were found from the scene of a small plane crash near Rainy Pass. Killed in the accident were Ted Smith, 59, Carolyn Sorvoja, 48, and Rosemarie Sorvoja, 10.

• Dr. Jim Browder announced he will be stepping down as ASD superintendent in June. Browder said he was resigning to be closer to family members who were dealing with “illness issues.” Chief Academic Officer Ed Graff, a 22-year ASD employee, replaced Browder as the new superintendent.



• Amy Demboski defeated challengers Pete Mulcahy and Bob Lupo to become the newest Chugiak-Eagle River representative on the Assembly. She replaced three-term Assemblywoman Debbie Ossiander, who was not allowed to seek re-election due to term limits.

• A JBER military policeman, Spc. William Colton Millay, was sentenced to 16 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge after pleading guilty to attempted espionage. Millay, 24, sold secrets to an undercover FBI agent who posed as a Russian spy.

• Chugiak High won the Choral, Instrumental and Overall Sweepstakes trophies at the Heritage Music Festival in California. The competition featured 19 schools from six states.

• After 68 years, George Miller, of Peters Creek, received the Distinguished Flying Cross he earned while serving in World War II.



• Spc. Marshall Drake was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a court marshal on JBER. He was sentenced to 11 years, 9 months for killing Private 1st Class Grant Wise on Christmas Day in 2012 in Drake’s barracks room. Drake was also reduced in rank to private, ordered to forfeit all pay and allowances and will receive a dishonorable discharge.

• The Anchorage area set a new record of 232 days between the first snowfall (Sept. 29, 2012) and the last snowfall (May 18, 2013). The previous record of 230 days was set in 1981-82.



• Chugiak’s Kyle Aramburo won a northwest Emmy for directing “Ketchikan: Our Native Legacy.”



• A record crowd of about 10,000 attended the 32nd Annual Alaska Scottish Highland Games. It was the second straight year to set an attendance record.

• Maj. Gen. Michael Shields replaced Maj. Gen. Michael Garrett as commander of U.S. Army Alaska. Garrett was selected as the next chief of staff for U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

• CVFD broke ground at the site of its new fire station on the corner of West Lake Ridge Drive and the Old Glenn Highway. The 10,000-square-foot facility is slated to be finished by next summer.



• New principals Timothy Blake (Birchwood ABC Elementary), David Legg (Chugiak High) and Clare Gauster (Ravenwood Elementary) took over at area schools.



• Eagle River’s Cathy Jorgensen became the first female promoted to the rank of brigadier general in Alaska Army National Guard history.



• The U.S. Air Force canceled its plan to move a fighter jet squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to JBER. U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich made the announcement with Rep. Don Young — all of whom protested the plan since the Air Force first announced it two years ago.

• Construction on Three Bears started in Chugiak. The store is scheduled to open June 2014. Other stores that opened in town this year included Walgreens, AutoZone and GNC. Construction on Coronado Park — a townhouse and senior housing complex — continues. The roughly 200-unit project is slated to be finished by spring 2014. Construction on the Eklutna River Bridge is set to begin by spring 2015. The bridge was closed in May 2012 due to safety concerns.

• Anchorage Planning and Zoning denied a zoning request from Eklutna, Inc. PNZ wanted more information about the long-term plan for a proposed inert waste landfill in Chugiak. Eklutna asked for a delay on a conditional use permit to conduct additional water tests. Opponents of the monofill are concerned with potential water pollution, increased truck traffic, potential decreases in property value and the site’s close proximity to schools and Loretta French Park.

• The Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce won the 2013 Outstanding Chamber of Commerce award.

• Two people died in a murder-suicide in Chugiak. Michael Hagood killed his girlfriend, Nita Kilapsuk, before turning the gun on himself.

• A grand jury indicted a JBER soldier on one count of second-degree murder after she left her newborn baby in an Eagle River park. A man walking his dog found the newborn dead more than eight hours later. The mother, Spc. Ashley Ard, 24, faces up to 99 years in prison if convicted.



• Eagle River’s Kastle Sorensen won the Food Networks’ “Cupcake Wars.” Her episode was aired in November.

• Zenia Kay Stepetin-Feenstra, 49, died in a Chugiak house fire after she ran back into the burning structure on South Birchwood Loop.

• JBER paratrooper, Sgt. 1st Class John Kerns, received the Soldier’s Medal for saving a man’s life after his car veered off the road and smashed into a tree in North Carolina in 2011. Kerns pulled the incapacitated man from the burning vehicle minutes before its gas tank exploded.



• Rural Discount Center in Chugiak closed its doors after nearly 30 years. Changes in policies prevented owners Randy and Karen Lemmens from being able to purchase items from Anchorage. They would have had to ship them from the Lower 48. Stores also stopped selling torn bags of products like sugar and rice, which RDC sold by the pallet.

• Four JBER airmen earned the Bronze Star for saving a combined eight lives while deployed.

• Andrew Conn, 32, was found dead in his Eagle River home. Police are investigating the death as a homicide.

• Stephen Gingrich, 52, was found dead at his Eagle River home by a relative. Gingrich was crushed by a concrete slab while he was working to expand the crawlspace beneath his Hiland Road home. He had been reported missing nearly a month before being found.

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