2007: Year In Review

SPOKANE — Here’s a look back at the stories that made major headlines in the Inland Northwest over the course of 2007:

The year began with a bang as the 2007 US Figure Skating Championships brought thousands of visitors and millions of dollars into the local economy. The event was a success by any measurable standard, as Spokane broke the attendance record for the eight-day event.

But figure skating wasn’t the only sports news early in the year, as February brought a local hoops scandal to national attention.

Just before midnight on February 9th, Cheney police pulled over a car driving without its headlights on. Inside, they found psychedelic mushrooms, marijuana and Gonzaga University basketball players Josh Heytvelt and Theo Davis.

The incident took the players off the court for the remainder of the season.

March brought tragedy and triumph. First, unimaginable horror in crimes committed against a small child, Summer Phelps, the four-year-old who police say was tortured and killed by her father and stepmother.

Her tiny body was covered in bruises and burns from the abuse, and in the ongoing incident, 2008 will see John and Adriana Lytle tried separately for Summer’s murder.

On a much lighter note, March also brought basketball fever to the Inland Northwest. As Spokane hosted an opening round weekend of hoops action, Gonzaga made another run in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Still, though, the Zags were overshadowed locally by the unexpected resurgence of the Washington State Cougars. The Cougs, perennial punching bags in the PAC 10, climbed to their highest ever ranking in 2007, and made the NCAA tournament under first year coach Tony Bennett.

Their rise to national prominence was voted the top sports story of the year statewide in a recent survey of journalists.

Local news in April was overshadowed by a national tragedy. On April 16th, a Virginia Tech student walked into a classroom building and killed 32 people before killing himself. In Spokane and on campuses nationwide, university officials evaluated and changed their security measures – hoping to prevent such a massacre from happening here.

But, in May, the unthinkable did happen here. In the dark, just before midnight on May 19th, gunshots rang out in Moscow, Idaho. A gunman fired dozens of rounds at the sheriff’s dispatch center and in a nearby Presbyterian church.

By the time the shots ended, Moscow Police Officer Lee Newbill and church caretaker Paul Bauer were dead. So was gunman Jason Hamilton, who police later learned killed his wife hours before the downtown ambush.

After a couple of relatively slow news months, a couple of big local stories broke in July. On July 4th, a group of 17 protestors were arrested during an Independence Day picnic at Riverfront Park, sparking a debate over free speech and police brutality that continues as they await trial.

Also in July, one of the biggest fires in Spokane history plastered the Inland Northwest skyline with smoke.

Flames and smoke could be seen for miles around on July 23rd as fire erupted at the Whitley Fuel Depot in east Spokane. It was intentionally set and, though investigators have a prime suspect, no one has been charged.

August brought the biggest story of the year in the Inland Northwest and one of the biggest political stories nationwide.

Conservative Idaho senator Larry Craig was arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom two months before and charged with lewd conduct for a highly publicized series of toe-tapping and hand gestures. But, by the time news broke in August, the damage to his career was already done.

Craig eventually decided not to resign and will finish out his term.

The last quarter of 2007 brought even more political scandal to the Inland Northwest.

In late October, Republican State Representative Richard Curtis paid a young man for sex in Curtis’ Davenport Tower hotel room. Then, Curtis called the Washington State Patrol, saying the young man was demanding money in exchange for keeping the affair private, charges that young man – later identified as Cody Castagna – denies.

Curtis resigned within days over the incident and just a few weeks ago prosecutors charged Cody Castagna and several others with extortion.

Finally, the closing of the year brought the beginning of the end for two prolific criminal cases.

First, former fugitive Fred Russell was found guilty of vehicular homicide for the deaths of three WSU students in June of 2001. He’ll be sentenced in early January of 2008.

Then convicted killer Joseph Duncan pleaded guilty in federal court in Boise to kidnapping Shasta and Dylan Groene from their Wolf Lodge Bay home in 2005 and later killing Dylan, whose body was found in a remote area of western Montana.

Duncan faces the death penalty when he’s sentenced in 2008.

All in all, 2007 was a busy year for stories both good and bad around the Inland Northwest.