By Raetta Holdman
DENVER (CBS4) – As CBS4 continues Covering Colorado First, we take a look back at the 10 biggest news stories in the state in 2018. The following 10 stories were featured prominently in CBS4 newscasts and made big headlines on CBSDenver.com this year.
Colorado Elects Jared Polis Governor As Part Of Statewide ‘Blue Wave’
Democrat Jared Polis emerged victorious in a hard-fought primary election in June and then went on to handily defeat Republican nominee Walker Stapleton in November’s midterm elections election in Colorado. CNN called Colorado’s election of the country’s first openly-gay governor one of the good things 2018 brought. Polis will replace Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is leaving the position because of term limits, in January.
The election of Polis was part of a wave of discontent voters showed statewide towards Republican candidates. Rep. Mike Coffman, who has represented Colorado’s 6th Congressional District for five terms, was voted out and will be replaced by Democrat Jason Crow. Democrats were also voted in to the attorney general and state treasurer positions, and Democrats also took over the Colorado Senate. While left-leaning candidates were widely winners on Election Day, several statewide ballot initiatives which had strong support from Democrats failed, including a new tax for education and a plan to fund transportation projects.
Proposition 112 Fails
Some of the biggest campaign spending of the election cycle in 2018 was done in the battle over Proposition 112, which would have required greater oil and gas setbacks for new drilling projects in Colorado. The measure, which ultimately failed at the polls, would have banned drilling within 2,500 feet of occupied buildings and vulnerable areas like schools and parks on non-federal land.
Opponents of 112 believed the limitations that would have come with the measure would have devastated the state’s economy. Supporters said the measure put public safety first. Among those was the group Colorado Rising, which announced in December a new effort to to possibly bring back a similar statewide measure in the 2020 election. They said they want to address the dangers of oil and gas extraction if state leaders fail to take effective action to protect homeowners from drilling. In late December, the state’s oil and gas industry agreed to distance its work from schools. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission changed what’s called the state’s school setback rules. The current setback distance of 1,000 feet was not changed, but the definition of a school was. Drilling must now take place 1,000 feet away from school property and athletic fields as opposed to just a school’s building.
Three Colorado Deputies Shot And Killed
Colorado lost three deputies in the space of five weeks beginning on New Year’s Eve morning. Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish was one of four deputies, a police officer and two civilians shot at the Copper Canyon Apartments. The officers were there on a disturbance call. That suspect died at the scene after a shootout. The 29-year-old officer had a wife and two daughters, ages 1 and 4.
Adams County Deputy Heath Gumm was killed on Jan. 24 while responding to a call of an assault in Thornton. Dreion Dearing, 22, is charged with Gumm’s murder. The 31-year old officer was married and an avid hockey player. On Feb. 5, El Paso County Deputy Micah Flick was one of several officers investigating a police car theft when the suspect opened fire. Three deputies, a police officer and a citizen were all hit, and Flick died. That suspect was killed at the scene. The 34-year-old had a wife and 11-year-old twins.
Chris Watts Murders Family
On Nov. 19, a judge in Weld County brought a murder case that devastated the community of Frederick to a close. He sentenced Christopher Watts to three consecutive life sentences without parole in the murders of his wife, Shanann and their daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3. Watts’s sentence also included penalization for the killing of his unborn son, Nico. The case started when friends of Shanann reported her missing Aug. 13. Watts told police he last saw his wife when he left for work that morning. Three days later, police found the bodies of Shanann and the girls on property that belonged to an oil and gas company where he worked. Watts told police he killed Shanann after she strangled the girls.
The autopsies revealed the girls were smothered and confirmed Shanann was strangled. Investigators say Watts had started an affair with a coworker. Shanann’s family told the judge they wanted to avoid the death penalty because they had no right to take someone’s life. The judge called the case one of the most horrifying he had ever had presided over. Christopher Watts went to jail at the age of 33.
Deadly Denver Construction Fire
Two people were killed when a five-story apartment building under construction in North Capitol Hill erupted into flames on March 7. More than three months later, the cause was ruled “undetermined” while still an “active and open” investigation continues.
More than 50 construction workers were at “Emerson Place” at 18th Avenue and Emerson Place when the smoke and flames shot into the sky; some jumped from the second and third floors to escape. Roberto Flores-Prieto and Dustin Peterson, both working at the site, were killed. Six others were injured. The radiant heat from the blaze affected seven other buildings and damaged 45 vehicles. Ash and debris was found more than a mile away. Hundreds of people living near the construction site were forced from their homes during the investigation. Two months later, two townhome buildings under construction near Broncos Stadium at Mile High were destroyed by fire.
Hail Storms Pound Colorado’s Front Range
From May through August, a number of hail storms pounded the Front Range. Among the worst was Aug. 6 storm’s which dropped baseball-sized hail on the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. The storm killed four animals, a cape vulture, a duck, a peacock and a meerkat pup. A total of 14 visitors had to be treated for injuries, and the hailstones busted out vehicle windows and badly damaged roofs at the zoo. A different storm in the spring dropped tennis ball-sized homes near the Springs. At the time, the National Weather Service said it was the strongest overnight hail storm in El Paso County in 20 years.
In May, Southwest Airlines had to cancel 60 flights in and out of Denver International Airport because hail damaged more than a dozen planes. In June, hail ranging from golf ball to softball-sized hit the northern part of the Denver metro area. The storms moved through Boulder, Adams and Weld counties. The storm damaged cars and homes, and even caused some minor street flooding. In the days following the storm, there were more than 7,000 insurance claims for cars and homes. The Rocky Mountain Insurance Institute estimated the damage from the two storms in the Colorado Springs area and the storm in the north Denver metro area at more than $618 million.
U.S. Supreme Court Rules On Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission
In 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood to make them a wedding cake. Phillips refused, saying it violated his Christian beliefs. The gay couple sued, saying Phillips discriminated against them and violated their civil rights. The case ended up before Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission, which ruled in favor of the couple.
The legal battle eventually made it to the United States Supreme Court. The justices heard arguments in December 2017. On June 3, the justices ruled in favor of Phillips. In a 7-2 decision, the ruling said the said the Commission did not maintain neutrality when it ruled against Phillips. The high court’s ruling was specific to the decision from the Civil Rights Commision. In August, the bakery became involved in a similar discrimination case stemming from a different rejection of a cake request.
Wildfires Rage Across The State
2018 was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in Colorado. While Colorado’s Front Range mostly was spared, fires in other parts of the state burned hundreds of thousands of acres. One day in July, more than 2,500 homes were under evacuation orders with crews battling half a dozen wildfires. Most of the fires were started by lightning, but about a third were human caused. Jesper Joergensen faces 141 counts of first degree arson for starting the Spring Fire on July 27. That’s one charge for every home destroyed in the area east of Fort Garland. Investigators say Joergensen was cooking food when his fire got away from him. It burned more than 108,000 acres.
Richard Miller and Allison Sarah Marcus face felony arson charges after investigators say they illegally fired tracer rounds at a shooting range near Basalt, sparking the Lake Christine Fire on July 3. It burned 12,588 acres and destroyed three homes in El Jebel. The 416 Fire burned 54,129 acres north of Durango and led to a shutdown of the San Juan National Forest. Residents and businesses there filed a lawsuit contending burning material from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad started the fire. The National Forest Service Incident website lists the cause as “unknown.”
Porter Adventist Hospital Sterilization
In April, CBS4 broke the news of a problem with sterilizing surgical instruments at Porter Adventist Hospital. As the details unfolded, it was determined as many as 5,800 patients could have been exposed to the instruments that had cleaning issues.
A state and federal investigation released in June revealed the instruments for orthopedic and spine surgery had not been properly scrubbed. In some cases the instruments had dried blood, bone and hair stuck to them. In some cases, patients reported having infections following the surgery. The problem was blamed on insufficient staffing and improve oversight. While the hospital has been cleared and surgeries resumed, state health department officials required Porter to provide additional sterilization reports for the next year.
Westminster Road Rage Fatal Shooting
A woman, two of her sons and another man were shot in a parking lot in Westminster after witnesses say the woman got into an argument with another driver.
Meghan Bigelow pulled over in the parking lot of a dentist’s office near West 80th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard on June 14. When she got out of the car, witnesses said a man fired multiple shots. Bigelow’s 13-year-old son was killed. Bigelow and her 8-year-old son were left with critical injuries. A man sitting in his truck nearby was also shot but survived. The gunman fled the scene but police arrested 23-year-old Jeremy Webster a few hours later south of Denver. Police said Webster confessed to the shooting and blamed a change in his mental health medication for his actions.