The Herald looks back to the top stories that made 2015 based on your votes starting with 11-20

Published 10:05 am Thursday, December 31, 2015


Look for stories 1-10 in Friday’s Herald. Then check Sunday’s Herald to see what stories we’re watching for in 2016.

Surveillance video shows a suspect robbing Ankeny’s Mini-Mart No. 1. Photo provided

Surveillance video shows a suspect robbing Ankeny’s Mini-Mart No. 1. Photo provided

11. Austin sees string of convenience store robberies (10 percent of the vote)

Along with many home and automobile burglaries, Austin also saw a string of armed robberies in 2015.

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A man with a gun robbed Ankeny’s No. 1 in May. Then two men — allegedly Charles Morris and Davion Smith — robbed the Freedom Valu Center in July. Smith took a plea deal in December and received 41 months in prison. Morris and alleged accomplice Mer Gach pleaded not guilty to charges.

Then a man robbed Casey’s General Store on Aug. 21 and Ankeny’s No. 1 on Aug. 24 at gunpoint. Brandon Dudley was eventually arrested and charged in September. He pleaded not guilty.

On Nov. 13, Dylan Leeper, a man previously charged in several cases, was arrested in a McDonald’s line on the same day he posted bond after he allegedly shoplifted from Walmart, robbed Hari Food Mart and Reed’s Fourth Ave with a gun, and he allegedly assaulted a gas station worker.

On Nov. 19, a man got away with an undisclosed amount of cash after he robbed Ankeny’s No. 4 with a hunting knife.

David Ansell Dorenzo and Leonard Lamar Booth were charged with one count of aggravated robbery and one count of simple robbery for allegedly taking bottles of liquor without paying and pushing a store worker at Apollo Liquor on Nov. 24.

Jeremy Peck takes a pie from the oven Wednesday night at Georges Pizzas. A 22-year employee of George’s, Peck will take over much of the day to day routine of the restaurant after it was purchased by his parents Larrry and Deborah Peck.  Herald file photo

Jeremy Peck takes a pie from the oven Wednesday night at Georges Pizzas. A 22-year employee of George’s, Peck will take over much of the day to day routine of the restaurant after it was purchased by his parents Larrry and Deborah Peck.
Herald file photo

12. Longstanding businesses change hands, while others see changes (10 percent of the vote)

Several longstanding Austin businesses changed hands in 2015, while several other businesses saw changes.

Larry and Debbie Peck bought George’s Pizza in November and plan to run it with their family. They planned to keep the pizzeria, which dates to the 1950s, running with all its classic recipes while adding a few new things like wine and a fryer for additional foods.

Jim Baldus, owner of Jim’s Marketplace and Star Liquor, took over Apollo Liquors & Superette with his son, Ryan, in February.

Craig Shaw of Dexter bought Lansing’s Chateau Raceway early in 2015, while the Watsons purchased the former Carney Auto salvage yard and opened Star City Auto.

Kenny’s Oak Grill closed briefly for renovations in October to mark 50 years in business.

Two Austin fitness centers also capped a good year.

Troy Williams moved Impact Fitness from the old Oak Park Mall to the former Cashwise building, where the fitness center’s new gym has six more spaces for the TRX workouts and 6,500 square feet that make the boot camp a much more expansive experience.

After opening in 2014, Jennifer Jenkins found success with 24-hour service and CrossFit classes at her Total Fitness Gym.

13. Couple gets prison in child porn case (10 percent of the vote)

The Austin couple convicted of producing child pornography were sentenced to serve prison time in September in federal court.

Anthony Edge, 36, was sentenced to 25 years in prison Tuesday. His wife, Deborah, was sentenced to 10 years. Both will have to register as predatory offenders and face supervised probation for life.

They faced a combined 11 federal criminal sexual conduct charges for allegedly producing several videos and images of child pornography in their Austin home.

The Edges’ sentencing brought to a close more than a year and a half’s worth of criminal proceedings.

The couple was charged in state court in April 2014 after authorities raided the Edge home in late March 2014. State and local authorities were tipped off by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about child pornography on the chat website Omegle.

Omegle tracked a Feb. 22, 2014, video chat and captured 26 images of an elementary-age girl performing sexual acts with an adult male, along with other images and videos, according to a court complaint.

Detectives say Deborah told investigators the videos and images were made so Anthony could be admitted to an illicit adult web site. Anthony later admitted Deborah made those videos and that he helped, adding the couple had discussed it previously.

Austin’s Simon Hirst heads up a hill during the freshman and sophomore races this summer at Austin’s Minnesota High School Cycling League’s race at the new course next to Todd Park. Herald file photo

Austin’s Simon Hirst heads up a hill during the freshman and sophomore races this summer at Austin’s Minnesota High School Cycling League’s race at the new course next to Todd Park. Herald file photo

14. Austin bike efforts pedal ahead (9 percent of the vote)

Austin put the pedal to the metal in 2015.

The community saw a wave of activity around cycling thanks to groups like Vision 2020’s Bike/Walk Committee, the high school cycling team, and other volunteers and officials.

Organizers worked toward kicking off Austin’s Red Bike program and have collected adult, single-speed bikes through donations to Rydjor Bike Shop. The program will allow residents to borrow a designated bike from the city free of charge any time they want. The program should debut in spring 2016.

The cycling team welcomed hundreds of racers and their families in September when it hosted its first Minnesota High School Cycling League race on a mountain biking course just west of Todd Park south of the northeast power plant.

Though the trail used for the race is currently only open to team members, Vision 2020 leaders are working toward securing the land as a public trail.

Jeff Anderson of Anderson Memorial helped Vision 2020 install a trail monument in October near 21st Street Northeast on the Shooting Star Trail as a welcome to Austin. Thus far, the memorial includes an granite stone designed by Anderson, which features art of joggers and a cyclist, and a granite bench in honor of Dr. Richard “Dick” Schindler, an Austin cycling enthusiast who passed away last year.

The year closed with Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (BikeMN) officials visiting the Austin Public Library in November to kickoff the process for community stakeholders to work toward Austin becoming a Bike Friendly City.

15. County votes down single-sort, eyes recycling fixes (9 percent of the vote)

After several months of discussion and no shortage of public opinion, the Mower County board voted in August to stick with its sorted recycling program instead of switching to a proposed single-sort model.

However, the board vowed to take action to improve its current recycling system.

The discussions featured a number of variables. While single-sort proponents argued it would be easier and lead to more people recycling, those opposed pointed out that it would raise the cost to as much as $55 a year. The switch also would have meant the loss of 14-17 Cedar Valley Services jobs for those who work with the current recycling program.

Pickup was another concern, as single-sort would have only been offered to residential properties — not businesses, churches or apartment complexes — and discussions also mulled whether residential pickup should be offered countywide or strictly in cities.

Since the vote, the board has started changing its system and voted to increase its recycling rate from about $16.10 to $25 a year to help fund improvements that will include additions to the Mower County Recycling Center and could potentially lead to accepting more types of plastics.

16. Community members pass away (8 percent of the vote)

The course of one year brings both great memories and sad ones. Many things can happen in the span of one year and lives can be drastically changed.

Many community staples passed away in 2015 — from volunteers and program organizers like Val Pitzen, who worked at the Parks and Recreation for Austin, to business owners such as Roger Bastyr who started Roger & Sons. People the community got used to seeing around town will be truly missed, such as 19-year-old Helayna Ly Nguyen who graduated from Austin High School and worked at Ankeny’s on the Eastside since 2012, and Eddie Miller, a musician in many bands over the years, including the Blue Denim Band and Twister.

Even some celebrities were brought to light who lived in Austin, such as actress Julia Roberts’ mother Betty Lou Bredemus, who graduated high school in Austin. With teachers, city workers, farmers, shoemakers, politicians, business owners and more, the year has lost many good citizens.

17. Hormel Institute projects tick ahead (8 percent of the vote)

Austin’s cancer-fighters kept ticking ahead in ’15.

The Hormel Foundation and the Hormel Institute kicked off the project to build a $6.5 million apartment complex, dubbed Science Park Housing, to house incoming researchers as the Institute’s expansion wraps up.

Science Park Housing, located at Eighth Street and 17th Avenue Northeast across the street from the Institute, will have 42 units, 30 of which will be one-bedroom apartments.

The project comes as the Institute enters the final stages of a $28.5 million, 74,000-square-foot expansion, which will add 20 labs and about 120 new employees once it’s complete at the end of 2015. The Institute is already busy recruiting researchers, according to Dong.

In November, The Institute announced the University of Minnesota has provided $1.5 million toward the establishment of its future Live Learning Center to enhance global scientific collaborations and accelerate cancer research.

Expected to be completed in early 2016, the $4.5 million center will feature state-of-the-art technology for global communications, including high-definition video conferencing, inside of a 250-seat lecture hall with theater-style seating. It will have an adjacent multipurpose room for various uses, including poster sessions by scientists during research conferences.

18. Austin sees string of burglaries (7 percent of the vote)

No matter how many times Police Chief Brian Krueger and law enforcement urged people to lock their doors over the summer, a string of home and automobile burglaries just kept ticking last year.

It’s no secret more crimes in Austin take place during the warmer months, according to Police Capt. Dave McKichan, but Austin saw a string of burglaries during the warm months of 2015.

Austinites on average report about 157 burglaries a year over the past five years. In 2014, Austin had about 159 burglaries. Yet more than 100 burglaries have been reported over a four-month period alone.

Julie Skinness caught a white burglar on surveillance casing vehicles near her home at the 1800 block of Eighth Avenue Southwest on July 1, while police arrested 23-year-old Marvin Perez on July 26 after homeowners at the 700 block of Second Avenue Northwest caught him breaking into their home.

In addition, police arrested several teens over the summer for allegedly breaking into cars.

One thing’s for sure: Burglars have become more brazen than in past years.

“We’re seeing more cases where burglars are entering homes where people are inside, asleep,” McKichan said.

Greg Siems

Greg Siems

19. Vision 2020 changes leaders (6 percent of the vote)

When former director of Vision 2020 Laura Helle left the spotlight, a new face appeared to take charge. Greg Siems took the helm of Vision 2020 and was looking to carry on the momentum that’s built since 2011. Siems started this fall as director of Vision 2020, replacing Helle after she took a job at Riverland Community College. While he was excited to bring a fresh perspective to the community betterment group, he hoped to keep the current game plan and simply reevaluate things.

In his first weeks on the job, Greg worked to begin better familiarizing himself with the progress and status of Vision 2020’s committees.

Vision 2020 is a grassroots movement that formed in Austin in 2011. It features hundreds of volunteers engaged with a variety of community organizations including government, business, nonprofit and education to improve the quality of life by 2020 and beyond.

20. Anhydrous ammonia leaks in Elkton (6 percent of the vote)

Two anhydrous ammonia leaks caused Interstate 90 to be shut down and homes to be evacuated on Nov. 2.

Two 1,000 gallon anhydrous ammonia tanks leaked from burst hoses — one while being towed by a farmer and the second about two miles away at a grain elevator on County Road 7 south of Elkton sometime before 5 p.m. By 6:25 p.m., the tanks were shut off, but an anhydrous cloud was still hovering.

A one-mile perimeter was set up around Elkton and an unspecified number of homes were evacuated near the incident. Farmers use Anhydrous ammonia for fertilizer, but it’s a toxic chemical that can burn and be harmful to eyes.

Sometime around 5 p.m., law enforcement closed Interstate 90 between the Elkton and Dexter exits. The interstate was closed until about 9:30 p.m. Though the leak started south of Elkton, the cloud had moved north to Interstate 90, and it took longer to dissipate because of the low winds. Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said she hadn’t experienced an event like this in her more than 27 years on the force.

An investigation found the tanks had not been tampered with.