As the year comes to an end, it’s become a tradition at The Gazette to look back at the year that was and highlight the stories that shaped our community and state. These are the Top 10 stories of 2019, chosen by The Gazette newsroom:
Longtime Iowa football coach Hayden Fry dies
Legendary Iowa Hawkeyes football coach Hayden Fry, who changed the image of University of Iowa football from a perennial loser to a consistent winner, died Dec. 17. He was 90.
Fry was hired as the Hawkeyes’ head football coach in late 1978 and had the job for 20 seasons. Iowa had 17 consecutive nonwinning seasons when he arrived, a streak that grew to 19 after his first two years.
Then, to put a twist on a Fry expression, he stopped selling the sizzle and started peddling the steak. Iowa shared the Big Ten title and went to the Rose Bowl in 1981.
The Hawkeyes remained a vital program through most of his tenure. In all, Iowa shared three Big Ten titles and went to three Rose Bowls under Fry. He was the winningest coach in school history when he retired, with an overall record of 143-89-6, and a Big Ten mark of 96-61-5. Kirk Ferentz, who followed Fry at Iowa, broke the record in 2018.
Carson King’s beer money ask becomes multimillion dollar fundraiser for Children’s Hospital
On Sept. 14, hours before kickoff of the Iowa-Iowa State football game, Iowa State fan Carson King held a hand-scribbled sign asking for money to buy Busch Light. After his sign aired on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” donations began pouring into King’s Venmo account, a mobile payment system.
As donations grew, the 24-year-old from Altoona turned to social media, announcing he would donate all the money to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. News of his campaign went viral, raising more money and promises from Venmo and Busch Light to match the donations. The final amount raised: $3,004,202.14.
But King’s story wasn’t without controversy. Soon after the campaign began, King apologized for racist posts he made on Twitter when he was 16 that were pointed out to him by a reporter for the Des Moines Register and described later in an article in that newspaper. Anheuser-Busch severed ties with King but still pledged to contribute $350,000 to the hospital. Tens of thousands of people reacted on social media, many in support of King and criticizing the newspaper. Gov. Kim Reynolds declared Sept. 28 as Carson King Day.
RAGBRAI staff resigns amid Carson King fallout, and Iowa gets a second cross-state bike ride
Weeks after the controversy that flared after reports of Carson King’s tweets, marketing staff behind RAGBRAI — the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — resigned Oct. 15 and announced the group would host a competing ride, Iowa’s Ride, in 2020. The move was in protest over the staff being banned from publicly responding to the Register’s handling of its coverage of King, and it seemed to put the future of Iowa’s iconic bike ride in jeopardy.
In announcing his resignation, longtime RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz said RAGBRAI was facing “hundreds of questions” and threats of people planning to skip the ride, but he said he was told by his superiors at the Register not to comment about the paper’s coverage of King.
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Iowa’s Ride will be held July 12-18, 2020, one week before RAGBRAI, and will run east to west, starting in Dubuque and ending in Rock Rapids. RAGBRAI will be July 19-25 and run west to east. The route will be announced Jan. 25. RAGBRAI hired a new director, Dieter Drake, who has organized cycling races for more than 15 years.
Chris Bagley’s body is found and details emerge about his slaying
On March 1, 76 days after 31-year-old Chris Bagley went missing, authorities found his body buried in the frozen, snow-covered ground in a yard behind a home in southeast Cedar Rapids. The husband and father of two from Walker last was seen alive Dec. 14, 2018. In the months since his body was found, many details have emerged on what may have happened in the days and hours leading to his death.
Drew Blahnik and Drew Wagner, both 32, of Cedar Rapids, are charged with first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse and obstruction of prosecution. Their trial is set for July 6. Paul Hoff, 40, of Cedar Rapids, also is charged with abuse of a corpse and obstruction of prosecution. His trial is set Jan. 13, though it is likely to be pushed back.
Several people connected with Bagley through drug activities have been charged or convicted of drugs and firearms violations, including Hoff, who was sentenced to 14 years for firearms and drugs.
At a federal court hearing in April, authorities said Bagley was killed during a fight over the drug robberies of Andrew Shaw, 31, of Cedar Rapids, a convicted, large-scale marijuana trafficker. Bagley, Blahnik, Wagner and Hoff all sold drugs for Shaw, according to testimony.
Wagner confronted Bagley about the robberies Dec. 14, 2018, at Hoff’s mobile home, and the two started fighting, authorities said. Blahnik stabbed Bagley, federal agents testified. Wagner and Blahnik buried Bagley in the yard where Wagner was living, authorities said.
Two teens killed, two hurt in shooting outside smoke shop
Just after 1 a.m. May 18, four teenagers were shot in a car parked outside a smoke shop in southwest Cedar Rapids. The shooting took the lives of Matrell Johnson and Royal Abram, both 18, and injured two 19-year-olds. Johnson was a recent high school graduate, and Abram was set to get his diploma just days after the shooting. They had been at a party celebrating the end of the school year.
Kayla Panos-Blackcloud was shot in the face, and though she survived, she is permanently injured and had to relearn to walk, eat and dress. Booker McKinney was shot in the stomach and also survived.
Andre Richardson, 26, was arrested June 4 and charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempt to commit murder, two counts of willful injury causing serious injury and one count each of intimidation with a weapon, felon in possession of a firearm and going armed with intent. His trial is May 4. Alexandra Smith, 24, was charged as an accessory.
Traffic cameras ticketing again, but thousand of past fines will be refunded
After years of litigation, Cedar Rapids’ automated traffic camera began issuing tickets again in July to enforce speeding and red-light violations.
And while people now receiving tickets must pay the fines, a class-action settlement reached with the city in early December may erase the fines for thousands of people who had their state income tax returns withheld to settle their debts.
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The settlement, which still must be reviewed by a court, would waive or refund $17 million the city of Cedar Rapids had been trying to collect from unpaid traffic camera tickets issued between March 2010 and Aug. 31, 2018. That would amount to $2.9 million in refunds for fines and late fees paid through a December 2017 collection initiative, and waiving the remaining $14 million for 177,000 tickets that went unpaid.
Since the traffic camera program resumed in July, the city is on pace to issue 311,121 tickets this fiscal year based on the most recent monthly report, which would amount to more than $23.4 million in revenue if everyone paid — well above the city’s projection of $4.7 million.
Iowa DHS director Jerry Foxhoven ousted (and his love of rapper Tupac makes national news)
On June 17, Iowa Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven announced he was resigning at Gov. Kim Reynolds’ request.
A month later, he told reporters he was ousted after the governor’s staff asked him to do something he considered illegal. He said he objected to an agreement in which the Department of Human Services would continue paying the salary of a former department employee who was hired as a health care adviser for the governor. The governor’s office said funding that position was not illegal.
Foxhoven plans to pursue a lawsuit against the state for wrongful termination under whistleblower laws, claiming the governor and her staff have been dishonest about the circumstances of his departure.
Foxhoven held the job for two years atop the state agency that oversees the Medicaid and child welfare programs.
His resignation made national news after his appreciation of the late rapper Tupac Shakur became more publicly known. Foxhoven often used the rapper’s lyrics as inspiration to the department’s mission. According to his emails, staff reacted mostly positively to his messages. Foxhoven regularly held “Tupac Fridays,” and staff members gave the former director Tupac-themed baked goods for his birthday.
Foxhoven is one several state department directors who announced their departures in 2019. Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise announced in December he is leaving for a job at Drake University. Iowa Department of Transportation head Mark Lowe also announced his resignation in December, saying it was at the request of the governor. Revenue Department director Courtney Kay-Decker left in January.
Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady dies
Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady, who served on the state’s top court for more than a decade, died Nov. 15 of a heart attack. He was 66.
Cady was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1998 by then-Gov. Terry Branstad. Justices selected him to serve as chief justice in 2011 after voters the year before ousted three justices — including Chief Justice Marsha Ternus — after the 2009 unanimous opinion legalizing same-sex marriage in Iowa. Cady had written that opinion in Varnum v. Brien.
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His death will mark the third time Reynolds has appointed someone to the Iowa Supreme Court since she took office in 2017.
The changes the Iowa Legislature made in the judicial nominating process in 2019 give the governor more influence over the selection. Previously, the judicial nominating commission was made up of eight lawyers, eight members appointed by the governor and then the senior Supreme Court member. Lawmakers eliminated the role of the senior justice and gave the governor a ninth appointee — a majority of the seats for vetting the applicants.
The court itself will choose a chief justice to serve the remainder of Cady’s term that expires in January 2021. Under changes the Legislature made, the court now will elect a chief justice every two years rather than every eight years.
Former Wesley Center director resigns after being sanctioned for being gay
An Iowa City pastor who pushed back against the United Methodist Church’s restrictions on gay clergy and same-sex marriage — and was accused of violating church doctrine by being “a self-avowed, practicing homosexual” — began an indefinite leave of absence under a settlement announced Nov. 12 in an effort to avoid a church trial.
Under the resolution described by the Iowa Conference of the church, the Rev. Anna Blaedel will take a leave of absence until they — the pronoun Blaedel prefers — asks to come off it.
Blaedel formerly served as director of the Wesley Center in Iowa City but stepped down in May because of a complaint filed in 2018. Blaedel instead became the leader of the center’s Table Tuesday, a program for college students to discuss spirituality and social justice.
Under the settlement, Blaedel will keep working 10 to 15 hours a week as leader of the program but not otherwise be compensated. Blaedel will keep pastoral credentials.
In announcing their leave, Blaedel said in a statement: “Today, we are naming together the truth that it is not currently possible for me to continue my ministry in the context of the Iowa Annual Conference, nor the (United Methodist Church). I had hoped for a different conclusion to the story. ... I am no longer willing to subject my body and soul and life to this particular violence.”
UNITED TECHNOLOGIES-RAYTHEON MERGER
United Technologies — Collins Aerospace’s parent company — and Raytheon Co. announced June 9 that the two companies plan to form Raytheon Technologies Corp. The merger is expected to be completed by the first half of 2020, forming a $135 billion colossus second only to Boeing size-wise for a U.S. aerospace company.
Raytheon Technologies is expected to consist of about 180,000 employees worldwide, including 60,000 engineers, according to a UTC managers guide.
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Company websites say Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney, the businesses remaining with UTC through the merger, have 73,300 and 41,600 employees, respectively, while Raytheon has 67,000 employees, for a combined total of 181,900.
More than 10,000 Collins Aerospace employees work in Iowa — in Cedar Rapids, Coralville, Decorah, Bellevue and Manchester. It is the largest employer in Cedar Rapids.
With the merger, the future of Collins Aerospace’s military GPS business in Iowa is unclear. To satisfy antitrust concerns with the merger, the U.S. Department of Justice in October asked Collins Aerospace to divest its GPS business. Raytheon Co., based in Waltham, Mass., has a global positioning system and navigation systems business of its own.
The company has not determined a buyer or timing for divesting the military GPS business.
Collins Aerospace’s military GPS business employs hundreds in Cedar Rapids and Coralville.