By Jesse Sarles, Brian Maass and Raetta Holdman
DENVER (CBS4) – The last year of the decade brought many news stories in Colorado that drew national attention, including a teachers strike in Denver that lasted for three days, a weather event dubbed the “bomb cyclone” and a viral video of parents brawling at a youth sports game in Lakewood. 2019 also saw Colorado’s former governor John Hickenlooper enter and then exit the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and Denver International Airport terminate its contract with the agency that was hired to renovate the Jeppesen Terminal.
Here’s a look at 20 of the biggest stories CBS4 covered in 2019, in chronological order:
1. Bull rider dies at National Western Stock Show in Denver
It was a first that the National Western Stock Show hoped to never experience — a PBR bull rider killed during a rodeo. On Jan. 15, a bull bucked off Mason Lowe and then stepped on his chest.
The 25-year-old from Missourian managed to get up and take a few steps before collapsing. Lowe was ranked No. 18 on the pro rodeo circuit at the time of his death.
2. Northern Colorado resident fights off, kills mountain lion
Three different mountain lion attacks on humans took place in Colorado in 2019, and while all were terrifying, perhaps none was more memorable than what Travis Kauffman went through in early February. The 31-year-old was trail running in Larimer County’s Horsetooth Mountain Open Space in early February when a juvenile-aged lion suddenly appeared in front of him and attacked him. During a 10 minute long struggle that ensued, Kauffman sustained numerous wounds including lacerations on his nose and cheek. But eventually he managed to kill the animal by suffocating it under his weight.
Kauffman ran for help after that and some hikers found him on a trail and took him to the hospital. He had to have about 20 stitches and spent a few weeks recovering before going public with his story. The headlines made national and international news. After all, not many people in this world can say they’ve killed a mountain lion with their bare hands.
3. Teachers strike in Denver
The new superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Susana Cordova, faced a huge challenge when the district and teachers came to an impasse on a new contract, citing differences over salaries and incentives. Teachers went on strike on Feb. 11. Classes were canceled except for pre-schoolers. That led to intense negotiations between the district and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.
After three days, the two sides finally reached an agreement in the early hours of Valentine’s Day. The deal increased base salaries between 7% and 11% and a 20-step salary schedule.
4. Colorado state trooper killed in bomb cyclone
On March 13, a winter storm of historic proportions hit Colorado. The bomb cyclone created blizzard conditions across the state and proved deadly for Colorado State Patrol Cpl. Daniel Groves. He had stopped to help a driver whose vehicle slid off Interstate 76 when another driver lost control of their Volvo and hit him. Groves died at the hospital.
In December the driver of the Volvo, John Carpenter, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 850 hours of community service. Carpenter pleaded guilty to careless driving resulting in death. The state patrol lost another officer in June. Trooper William Moden was hit while he was investigating a rollover crash on Interstate 70 near Deer Trail. No charges were filed in that wreck.
5. Sol Pais threatens Columbine, shuts down schools on Colorado’s Front Range
In April a “credible threat” against schools in Colorado prompted widespread closures on a scale not seen before in Colorado. Law enforcement said that threat stemmed from the arrival of 18-year-old Sol Pais in the state. The Florida woman was said to be infatuated with the Columbine massacre, and authorities believe she went directly from Denver International Airport to a gun shop. With law enforcement believing she was armed and dangerous, an extensive search was launched and hundreds of Front Range schools closed on April 17 out of an abundance of caution.
Her body was found that day in the Echo Lake area in Clear Creek County and schools all reconvened the following day. It was later determined that Pais shot and killed herself not long after the gun purchase.
6. Deadly, fiery crash on Interstate 70 at Colorado Mills
On April 25, four people died after a semi carrying 2×4 lumber caused a devastating crash on I-70 near Colorado Mills that involved 24 vehicles and four semis. Prosecutors charged driver Rogel Aguilera-Mederos with a total of 41 counts, including four counts of vehicular homicide. He says his brakes failed as his semi was coming down Floyd Hill.
Aguilera-Mederos’ attorney Rob Corry said part of the blame belonged to a driver who parked his truck on the shoulder of the interstate. Aguilera-Mederos is from Texas but had driven the route three times before the wreck. Corry’s attorney faced his own set of legal problems over the course of the year. Corry was arrested on domestic violence charges several times between June to October but remains the defendant’s legal representative in the ongoing case. (UPDATE: Corry is no longer Aguilera-Mederos’ lawyer.)
7. Deadly STEM School shooting
May 7 brought an all-too familiar scene to Colorado when two gunmen opened fire inside a high school. Student Kendrick Castillo died when he charged one of the gunmen in his classroom at STEM School Highlands Ranch. Castillo was the only person killed, but eight others were injured. Police arrested Devin Erickson, 18, and Alec McKinney, 16, at the scene. McKinney was charged as an adult and lost a bid to tried as a juvenile.
Castillo is remembered as a hero who loved all things science as well as his Jeep. His classmate Brendan Bialy also charged the gunman and went on to join the Marines. Joshua Jones was shot twice while he tried to disarm one of the shooters. A security guard is being investigated for firing on a deputy and accidentally shooting and injuring a student. The Colorado Sun reported the school had specifically asked for an unarmed guard prior to the tragedy.
8. Pat Bowlen dies
Beloved Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen died on June 13 at age 75 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. His death took place two months before he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
The team and the Broncos family held a public celebration of life for him at Mile High on June 18 and a private funeral was held in Denver six days later. Bowlen had stepped down from his duties as owner five years ago; since 2014 the team has been run by a group of trustees including CEO and President Joe Ellis. Those trustees bear the responsibility of determining if one of Bowlen’s children will succeed him in running the team. In late November the team announced Pat’s daughter Brittany, 29, would rejoin the team in an executive role. Ellis released a statement saying she is “working towards earning the right to succeed her father and this is the next step in that process.” Other family members have challenged the validity of the trust.
A youth league baseball game in Lakewood turned in a brawl in June when parents got angry over a call made by a 13-year-old umpire. That ump said one of the 7-year-old players batted out of order. In an attempt to identify those involved, police shared video of the parents duking it out and news outlets around the country quickly began broadcasting it to astonished viewers. The police department ended up citing 11 adults and one teenager with disorderly conduct.
The Bear Creek Junior Sports Association canceled the remaining games for the young teams. A major league umpire reached out to the young ump, Josh Cordova, inviting him to join him at Coors Field for a Colorado Rockeis game. A long-time NFL referee who also owns a sports equipment company also outfitted Cordova.
10. Highway 36 collapses after ground slides away
July proved to be a very difficult month for drivers on Highway 36 near Church Ranch Road. A sinkhole developed in the eastbound lanes on July 11 but soon it was apparent this was a much bigger problem and a huge chunk of the highway wound up simply sliding away.
The problem? The soil beneath that stretch of highway got saturated with moisture and lost stability. Crews traded out soil with Geofoam blocks to give better stability to the rebuilt highway. It took until October to get all lanes open. Work on the median and bike path continues.
11. Tatu the lion cub born at Denver Zoo
Without a doubt, it’s the cutest story of the year. Tatu the lion cub arrived on July 25. He’s not just a favorite for Denver Zoo visitors, but his lion family adores him as well.
In fact, October visitors noticed Tatu had a boo-boo on this ear. His keepers treated him with a laser, saying it’s likely his “adults” got a little carried away with cleaning the little one. Safe to say, this cub will keep everyone on their toes in the Predator Ridge exhibit as he grows.
12. Free full day kindergarten as classes start for the new school year
Gov. Jared Polis quickly made good on his campaign promise to bring free, full-day kindergarten to Colorado’s public schools. The legislature passed the bill and he signed it in May. Those full days started as students headed back to class in August.
The full-day program can save families up to $3,000 a year, and many educators say the full day in kindergarten really helps those little ones get a jump on the rest of their education.
13. DIA Great Hall Project Contract canceled
The $650 million deal to remodel Denver’s airport terminal was supposed to make life easier for passengers through streamlined security, better passenger flow and increased retail shopping. An ongoing CBS4 investigation led by Brian Maass revealed that behind the scenes, the Great Hall Project had actually turned into a debacle. CBS4 first revealed concerns about concrete strength plaguing the project, followed by intense bickering between the contractor and airport officials over a project that was supposed to take 3 1/2 years to complete. But CBS4 obtained internal documents showing the project was actually $300 million over budget and years behind schedule.
Ultimately, Denver’s mayor announced in August that he was firing the contractor mid-project. It is still projected to be completed about three to four years behind schedule.
14. Hickenlooper Drops Out of Presidential Race
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper spent five months on the presidential campaign trail, announcing his candidacy on March 4 and his departure on Aug. 15. The moderate Democrat campaigned nationally on his ability to reach the across the aisle to bring the parties together to actually make government work. When he pulled out of the presidential race he called the journey more exciting and rewarding than he ever imagined. Despite having earlier rejected calls to run for the U.S. Senate (Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is up for re-election in 2020), he announced a Senate bid within a week.
Colorado’s Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet also hit the presidential campaign trail, announcing his bid in the spring after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer. Despite poor polling, he remains in the race and is on Colorado’s ballot for Super Tuesday, which will take place on March 3, 2020.
15. Mile High gets a new name: Empower Field at Mile High
Signs for Sports Authority Field at Mile High came down in 2018, two years after the sporting goods retailer went bankrupt. At that time, the Denver Broncos announced the football stadium was going to be temporarily named Broncos Stadium at Mile High, but it wasn’t until Sept. 4, 2020, that the stadium got a new corporate name: Empower Field at Mile High.
Empower Retirement, which is based in Denver, made a 21 year deal to the naming rights. The deal is worth just $351,000 the first year, $1.25 million the second and $3 million for each of the remaining 19 years. The plan is to use some of the money to make improvements at the stadium, which is now 18 years old.
16. Mother of Make-A-Wish child Olivia Gant arrested on murder charges
6-year-old Olivia Gant won Coloradans’ hearts when she battled “villains” as “Bat Princess” in 2017. Her mother, Kelly Turner, told CBS4 Olivia was suffering from a rare disease that was attacking her organs and the girl died that same year. Now, Turner faces 13 charges including child abuse in the death of her daughter.
A grand jury believes Turner caused her daughter’s death. The investigation into how Olivia died began after doctors at Children’s Hospital Colorado became suspicious when Turner brought in her older daughter because of “bone pain.”
17. Miller Coors moving headquarters to Chicago
2019 brought changes to Colorado’s iconic beer scene. Adolph Coors and Jacob Scheuler started the Coors Brewery in Golden in 1873. In the early 2000s, acquisitions and joint ventures meant the Coors family gave up much of the leadership and the name became Molson Coors. Still, company offices remained in Denver, until October. That’s when the company announced it would eliminate its downtown Denver presence as Chicago became the North American operational headquarters.
The brewery in Golden remains in operation. In Fort Collins, New Belgium Brewing Company also made waves. An employee-owned company for 30 years, it helped launch Colorado on the craft beer scene. But in November, it announced a plan to sell to Little Lion World Beverage, a global craft beverage company based in Australia. In both cases, consolidation and shifts in beer consumption were cited.
18. FBI thwarts plot on Temple Emanuel synagogue in Pueblo
In November a Colorado man was taken into federal custody on accusations of threatening to blow up Temple Emanuel, a synagogue in Pueblo. Richard Holzer is a known white supremacist who was arrested on Nov. 1 after making contact with an undercover FBI agent on Facebook.
Unsealed federal court documents reveal Holzer allegedly shared a plans to use arsenic to poison the synagogue and use pipe bombs to “get that place off the map.” He now faces three federal charges.
19. Jury convicts Patrick Frazee in murder of Kelsey Berreth
Less than a year after she disappeared, a jury convicted Patrick Frazee of killing Kelsey Berreth. The Woodland Park woman was last seen on Thanksgiving 2018, shopping at Safeway with her young daughter. Frazee was the father of that child. Investigators traced Berreth’s phone to Idaho where they interviewed Krystal Lee, a woman who proved key in the prosecution.
She cut a deal with prosecutors, recounting how Frazee told her killed Berreth and forced her to drive to Colorado to clean up the crime scene. Frazee was sentenced to life plus 156 years. Lee will be sentenced for her role in the case in January and faces up to 3 years. A custody battle continues over the daughter between Berreth’s parents and Frazee’s.
20. RTD driver shortage
The Regional Transportation District ran into a big problem late in the year when they began having trouble finding enough professionals to drive their buses and operate their trains. The driver shortage meant some Denver metro area residents were left waiting much longer at train stations and bus stops than normal.
RTD officials said the drivers they do have are filling the gaps by working extra long hours and six-day weeks, but it’s still not enough. With no end in sight to the problem, RTD put out a survey to riders asking for input in how best to handle the disruptions. 59% of respondents said they are in favor of service cuts if that means more reliable rides. Soon afterwards, general manager and CEO Dave Genova announced his retirement. (RTD hopes to have a new interim GM in place at the end of January 2020.) And while the effort to attract new hires to the team of drivers and operators continues, RTD is now planning to temporarily take the following actions in May 2020: discontinue six routes, reduce service for 19 routes and some light rail lines, lower the frequency of the Free MallRide and suspend special bus services.
Here’s a look at some things coming up in 2020 to look forward to: