The Lahontan Valley News looks back at each year’s top story from the last decade based on the impact to the community, and how the events ranged from the community’s support on a number of events and fundraisers to the deadly Amtrak crash that occurred in 2011.
Residents considered the economy as the year’s top story in the Lahontan Valley.
As the upcoming Legislature wrestles with Nevada’s budget, the final amount could fall short by as much as $1.5 billion for the next two years. Thousands of residents have felt the impact of falling real estate prices to unemployment that is hovering at 10 percent or more.
A number of closures rocked the business landscape in 2010. CMC Joist announced its closure at the end of April, affecting more than 100 workers. Another joist manufacturer, though, agreed to buy the existing plant. Blockbuster closed earlier in the year as did The Gas Store, Beach Mortgage, The Apple Tree and Stan’s Electric. Round Table Pizza, a mainstay in Fallon for 20 years, also closed near the end of November.
Taxable sales stabilized since July, showing modest gains from the same time in 2009.
Speaking of geothermal, royalties and rent money that counties receive from the federal government, were restored for fiscal year 2010 in the amount of $3 million. Without it, Churchill County was facing more cuts to an already pared down budget.
A perfect storm brewed over the unforgiving Nevada desert on the morning of June 24, 2011.
The sleek California Zephyr 5 passenger train streaked across the barren terrain heading toward its next stop in Reno, almost four hours behind schedule because of floods in the Midwest causing numerous delays. Heading north on U.S. Highway 95 at the same, 43-year-old truck driver Lawrence Valli maneuvered his ore-carrying Peterbilt toward Trinity Junction at Interstate 80.
Shortly before noon both Valli’s truck — which had two empty dump trailers —and the Amtrak train approaching the railroad crossing collided. Valli’s truck slammed into the second dorm car or fourth car back, causing one of the worst train disasters in Churchill County history. The Amtrak train consisted — in descending order — two locomotive units, a baggage car, a crew car, three coach cars, a lounge car, a dining car and three sleeper cars.
In addition to the deaths of a train conductor and four passengers, the accident killed Valli. The National Transportation Safety Board report stated the Amtrak engineer witnessed the accident and told the Nevada Department of Public Safety that the truck was approaching the crossing “at a high rate of speed, tires smoking.”
From video and reports from the Amtrak crew, the train’s horn sounded and the crossing gates were lowered to block highway traffic.
The tumultuous seven-year tenure of Dr. Carolyn Ross in the Churchill County School District ended in the summer when she turned in her letter of resignation.
During her time as superintendent, Ross and the school board were continually at odds with each other. A rift ensued when Ross wanted to dismiss the Business Services director, but the school board denied her request.
Lynn Broyles, however, gave her 30-day notice in July and left Aug. 2 for a new job in Washoe County. Broyles, who had been with the district since September 2007, was placed on administrative leave in April but later reinstated by a 4-3 vote of the school board.
While Ross gave no official reason for her own resignation, her Elko-based attorney, however, filed a lawsuit in the Tenth Judicial Court listing Ross as the plaintiff in a case against the Churchill County School District Board of Trustees. The lawsuit sought damages for alleged breach of an employment contract. Ross requested a contract extension through the 2012-13 school year, which on Oct. 6, 2011, was approved 4-3. Her contract was extended through the end of the 2012-13 school year.
Trustee Greg Koenig said the timing of the resignation would make the search for a “quality replacement” more difficult.
Ross was the first woman to hold the position of superintendent of schools for Churchill County. She had served as school superintendent since July 1, 2005, and worked for the district two years before that as director of Instructional Services. Before coming to Fallon, Ross served as superintendent for the Kerman Unified School District in Fresno County, Calif.
At the New Year’s Eve bonfire in 2013, a longtime resident mentioned the importance of community, saying it was “neat” to see so many people at the fairgrounds supporting the event.
Two weeks earlier when parents received toys from the Wishing Tree program, a young mother whose family has been struggling financially, said since the Amtrak disaster, she felt the community has become stronger when assisting their neighbors whenever the occasion arose.
That was the case in 2013 when people and organizations such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army, churches and thrift stores — to name a few — helped their neighbors with clothing and bedding, shelter, food and money. The help, for example, came after fire destroyed homes or when cancer patients needed financial assistance or when families were down on their luck. The LVN took the lead by working with the thrift stores in obtaining clothing for the families or gift cards. The community rallied around a family whose son was critically injured as a result of an explosion at the Bango Oil Refinery.
At one time, the newsroom floor was stacked high with donated clothing and household goods.
Additionally, hundreds of people — including those who never attended Churchill County High School — lined U.S. Highway 50 waving signs and anything green and white as two school buses taking the Greenwave football team headed toward Reno to play in the state football championship.
Here are a few more examples of the community’s call to action:
Two weeks before the day for toy distribution, both Toys for Tots and Wishing Tree fell short of their respective goals. When word was published that these two organizations needed help, the community responded, thus providing enough toys.
Residents and Naval Air Station Fallon sailors ensured Relay for Life met its goal of raising money to fight cancer and to assist victims.
As our residents and readers can attest, Churchill County is one heck of a community.
Fallon became the first community to establish a local commission to honor Nevada in 2014 as the Silver State began celebrating its 150th birthday with a series of events.
Because of its outreach and impact, the LVN’s No. 1 story of 2014 is Nevada’s sesquicentennial and how Fallon emerged as an active player. Nevada became the 36th state on Oct. 31, 1864, and during 2014, many events marked the state’s birthday.
A rededication of a U.S. postage stamp honoring the sesquicentennial was held in late June. Wells Fargo Bank treated visitors to rides aboard a stagecoach, and the first concert in the park attracted hundreds of music lovers. A major activity honoring “Hometown Heroes” culminated with a fun run/walk and “fun day” on June 21. Fallon’s first community-wide reunion in mid-August coincided with Nevada’s sesquicentennial and is one of the marquee events organized locally by the Mayors NV150 Commission.
The Mayor’s NV150 Commission capped a year-long celebration of various events in Fallon with the lowering of a time capsule on Oct. 31 followed by an open house at the museum for visitors to see Then and Now projects and to buy autographed books with either Churchill County or Nevada themes.
A Greenwave hat trick of state championships was the year’s top story.
Fallon came through when it needed to and clawed out a 34-27 victory over Moapa Valley at Reno High School to give the school its first state football title since 1978 and first fall sports title since 2000 when the volleyball team won back-to-back championships. The 1978 football championship was also the last time a boys’ fall team captured the crown.
A roller coaster ride was capped in May with another all-Northern showdown in the Division I-A state softball title game. Rivals Fallon and Fernley met for the third consecutive season in the final Division I-A state softball title game, but it was Fallon who overcame a 10-3 loss to open the day to slip past the Vaqueros, 7-5, to claim its fourth title in five years and second straight over Fernley.
The Fallon baseball team dropped nemesis Faith Lutheran, 11-8, in the second game to claim the program’s second Division I-A title under coach Lester de Braga and a Nevada record 10th overall championship. It was also the program’s first title since 2011.
After a 16-0 loss to the Crusaders to open the day, Fallon refocused and took the fight to Faith Lutheran, the two-time defending state champs who beat Fallon, 9-2, in last year’s final.
The LVN’s top story of 2016 remembers the passing of a generation — some representing the Greatest Generation … others who made a difference in their chosen professions.
Ed “Señor” Arciniega’s passing in April affected thousands of people, many of whom he had coached and taught during a 37-year career. A popular educator, Señor, 92, came to Fallon more than 60 years ago, and as a coach, he was a major reason for guiding two state champions in baseball and basketball in 1957 and runner-up in football.
Former LVN Editor Anne Pershing unexpectedly passed away in early May at the age of 71. She was one of the last community journalists in Nevada. She knew the community well but knew the people better. In 1987, Pershing became one of the very few female editors of a daily newspaper in Nevada and until she passed away, she continued to be a journalist, writing a senior column for the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Businessman Robert “Bob” Kent was a longtime Fallon icon who was known for having the only grocery store in town until Raley’s opened in the 1970s. Many generations remember his grocery store at the corner of Center and Maine streets and how he carried everything under the sun. The 90-year-old businessman passed away at the end of May.
Lou Buckmaster taught history and other subjects in Churchill County, and he also served as vice principal at the high school. After he retired as an educator, the popular teacher successfully ran for the school board and served multiple terms. Those who knew the 82-year-old said he had a vested interest in the school district and community and always wanted the best education system for the children.
Retired Churchill County Commissioner Gwen Washburn, 72, was a friend of agriculture and also a community leader who made our county a better place to live. Washburn, who spent her entire life here, was known as everyone’s friend and grandma. Washburn served for 16 years on the commission, ending her political career, which at the time was chairwoman, on the board in 2010 because of term limits.
Two people who defined the definition of true love passed away in 2016. Cecil Quinley and his wife, Margaret, came to Fallon in 2007, but they made a lasting impact to those they met.
Cecil passed away in March at the age of 100. Cecil was Fallon’s war hero from World War II. A co-pilot on a B-17 bomber, Quinley and his crew were shot down over Germany in 1943, and for those who survived, they spent the rest of the war in a German prisoner-of-war camp.
Margaret died in November at the age of 99. She had her own role in WWII, tirelessly working to help collect money for the war effort, as well as with the American Red Cross volunteering in Sacramento area hospitals.
Both the city of Fallon and Churchill County thanked hundreds of volunteers and agencies for their community spirit posed by a record snowfall in the Sierra and the potential for flooding in the Lahontan Valley.
The High Water 2017 Celebration recognized agencies and people who made a difference in preventing the Carson River from inundating thousands of acres and structures in Churchill County. According to information from both state and federal hydrologists as well as from the National Weather Service in January, if Churchill County and the Truckee Carson Irrigation District didn’t implement flood mitigation, up to 3 feet of water could have flooded the city.
Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford said the High Water celebration actually began Feb. 17 when the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District and volunteers recognized the county’s peril and began to take major steps to lessen the threat. For the next four months, enough precipitation from the snowfall would have filled three Lahontan Reservoirs or almost 900,000 acre-feet of water. The reservoir’s capacity is slightly under 300,000 acre-feet.
To help ease the amount of runoff in the river and V-line canal, TCID, Churchill County Road Department and an out-of-state construction firm built an emergency weir on the V-line canal east of Diversion Dam. The excess water flowed into the desert and followed a natural course to the Schurz Highway and then east.
County Commission Chairman Pete Olsen said the Nevada Department of Transportation provided a boost by installing culverts under U.S. Highways 50 and 95 at strategic points where released water could flow to Carson Lake and eventually to the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge.
One of the major accomplishments came in February when the county received permission from the state to clean out debris and vegetation from the Carson River. Olsen also commended the volunteers from the Farmers Brigade, area farmers and ranchers who donated their time on heavy equipment to dig a channel 20-feet wide and 15-feet deep from Carson Lake to the refuge.
Tragedy affected the community during the summer of 2018 after the fatal shooting of a beloved community member. A Fallon man was indicted in late July on first-degree murder and two other counts after appearing in the New River Township Justice Court.
According to a report from the Fallon Police Department, John O’Connor allegedly killed fellow church member Charles E. “Bert” Miller, 61, on July 22 after the sacrament meeting at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on West Richards Street and wounding his brother, Duane, of Spanish Forks, Utah.
The initial police report stated O’Connor shot the two men with a 9-millimeter handgun that was witnessed by approximately 50 church members. Fallon Police Chief Kevin Gehman said detectives worked with the Churchill County District Attorney’s Office to obtain the necessary search warrants and to retrieve the weapon that was used in the shooting.
Richard Davies, who has capital case experience, was appointed O’Connor’s public defender.
The strength of a community is measured in its residents, and the community held two vigils to remember Miller. A candlelight vigil at the Laura Mills Park gazebo brought people together from all faiths to show their support not only for his family but also for the firefighters who served with the Fallon native. Almost a dozen firefighters from the Federal Fire Department at Naval Air Station Fallon and several representatives from the Fallon Police Department and Churchill County Sheriff’s Office also attended the vigil.
Firefighters, who spent time talking with community members before and after the prayers and candle-lighting, thanked them for coming out to the vigil and supporting the Miller family.
Another vigil was also held at the gazebo the following day. More than a hundred people attended the interfaith vigil in near 100-degree heat.
Mayor Ken Tedford, who spoke at the first vigil, led the group in prayer and offered words of encouragement for the fire department. He asked the mourners to think of the families who are involved with the tragedy, the first responders, the ambulance crew from Banner Churchill who responded to the scene and the church community.
“We’re all hurting,” he added.
Based on community reaction, the need for traffic control at the Scheckler Cutoff and U.S. Highway 50 took center stage after a Fallon man, William A. Fausey, was killed in a three-vehicle crash in late October.
Ironically, one of the top stories of 2010 focused on the need for traffic lights at that intersection after a teenage driver from Round Mountain was killed in April of that year.
The NHP said the investigation showed a white 2007 Chrysler Pacifica minivan was making a left turn from Roberson onto U.S. Highway 50 and failed to yield to two westbound vehicles, a Freightliner truck/tanker and a white 2016 Volkswagen Jetta sedan. During the collision, DeGoey said the Freightliner and Volkswagen were redirected across the highway and into the dirt shoulder on the eastbound side. According to the report, the front of the Jetta struck a section of a fence bordering a power transfer station, and the front of the Freightliner struck a power line support pole and gas main and caught fire.
The driver of the minivan was seriously injured and flown to Renown Medical Center in Reno, and the driver of the sedan walked away. The impact of the crash downed power lines that caused U.S. Highway 50 to close in both directions until crews from NV Energy replaced the posts.
The Nevada Department of Transportation officially notified commissioners in January 2019 the intersection in Churchill County should have traffic lights installed by the summer of 2020. NDOT readdressed the traffic-light situation later in the year because of public outcry over the intersection. A number of readers also asked if temporary measures could be implemented to make the intersection safer until signal lights are installed.
“As NDOT expedites installation of a future permanent traffic signal at the intersection of the U.S. 50 and Sheckler Cutoff, we also continue evaluating whether potential interim traffic control measures such as a temporary four-way traffic stop could be effective,” said Meg Ragonese, NDOT’s public information officer.
This article on the past decade was compiled from the pages of the Lahontan Valley News.