The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 31, 2013

Top stories of 2013: Enid Renaissance headliner of the year

Staff reports
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The ongoing Enid Renaissance Project was the top story of 2013 as voted by News & Eagle staff members.

Other top stories were the failure of the city’s $50 million parks plan at the ballot box, the dedication of the Vietnam Wall Memorial at Enid Woodring Regional Airport, murders in Enid and the situation involving Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid’s future.

Here are the top five stories as judged by the News & Eagle staff:

No. 5 — Vietnam Wall Memorial dedication

Dedication on Nov. 11 of the memorial to those who lost their lives in the Vietnam War capped a 21⁄2 year effort to bring the 80 percent scale replica of the black granite memorial in Washington, D.C., to Enid.

Fundraising efforts in the community generated $250,000, which was matched by an anonymous donation of $250,000 and made up the $500,000 purchase price of the wall. The fundraising committee wound up raising more than $400,000 in all, and received approximately another $125,000 to $150,000 in assistance in donated materials and labor.

The wall here is made of anodized aluminum and contains the names of 58,286 Americans who lost their lives during the Vietnam War, including several from Enid.

No. 4 — Murders in Enid

Sadly, there were two murders apparently committed in Enid in 2013.

On Aug. 17, 33-year-old Crystal Star Johnson was found beaten to death in her home at 601 W. Maple. Jason Dwayne Lowe, 24, of Enid, has been charged with first-degree murder. He faces life in prison, life without parole or death on the charge.

Enid and Garfield County 911 Center received a call from a person at 601 W. Maple who said a woman inside was unresponsive and appeared to have blunt-force trauma to her face. The caller, Johnson’s roommate, later told police she was asked to check on Johnson by a neighbor in their duplex.

The neighbor told police he heard Lowe beating Johnson the night before, but it only lasted about 10 minutes, according to court documents. Both the roommate and the neighbor told police it was common knowledge among their social circle that Lowe “routinely” abused Johnson, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit states Lowe used Johnson’s debit card to get cash for the purchase of an 1983 Ford Fairmont and also made multiple ATM debits from the account at locations leading to Hobart, where Lowe was arrested.

On Dec. 16, David Richard Wimmer, 43, was found shot to death at 413 W. Walnut.

Michael Laurence Berdahl, 66, has been charged with first-degree murder. He faces life in prison, life without parole or death if convicted.

A second charge of felon in possession of a firearm also was filed. It is punishable by one to 10 years imprisonment.

According to an affidavit filed in the case, at 6:48 p.m. Dec. 16, a man who lives at 413 W. Walnut with Berdahl arrived home and found Wimmer shot to death.

Enid Police Department officers noted a single gunshot wound to Wimmer’s chest and an empty holster on the bed next to Wimmer, according to an affidavit prepared by EPD Detective Shawn Ramsey.

Ramsey was able to view video surveillance from a nearby building and saw Wimmer and Berdahl entering and exiting the house at 413 W. Walnut several times. At 5:53 p.m., Berdahl was seen leaving the residence in a white Buick Roadmaster and not returning.

Police in Anthony, Kan., contacted Enid police after locating the vehicle at a residence there.

According to Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office, Wimmer had two gunshot wounds: one to his chest and one to the back of his head.

Legal progress also was made in the December 2012 murder of Heath Crites.

Two men were arrested and charged in Crites’ shooting death. Ronnie Eugene Fuston was charged in March with first-degree murder. In December, Anthony Brown Jr. also was charged with first-degree murder in the case.

No. 3 — Failure of Enid Parks Plan

An ambitious and controversial $50 million plan to build new parks and upgrade all existing neighborhood parks failed at the ballot box in March.

The parks plan was split into two parts, with one to raise $20 million through a five-year, half-cent increase in city sales tax, and the other to raise $30 million over 20 years through extension of a 7 mill ad valorem tax. Both were rejected overwhelmingly by voters. The margin of defeat was 77.2 percent against and 22.8 for on both propositions.

The largest item in the failed parks plan was a new community park at 30th and Randolph, which would have included softball fields, soccer fields, football fields, outdoor basketball courts, playgrounds, a skate park, picnic shelters, restrooms and concession facilities. The cost was $13.4 million.

No. 2 — Northern Oklahoma

Resource Center of Enid

NORCE still is slated to be closed in 2015, but local lawmakers say they will continue to push in the legislative session that starts in February to change that. They face an uphill battle, though, because Gov. Mary Fallin and leaders in the House and Senate appear to favor closing NORCE and its sister facility in Pauls Valley, Southern Oklahoma Resource Center. Residents at both facilities, which care for developmentally disabled clients, will be moved to group homes in the community.

In October, Department of Human Services offered buyouts to 30 caregivers at NORCE as it continued to cut back in light of the impending closure of the facility.

In August, Oklahoma State Department of Health determined there was no truth to allegations of negligence in the death of a NORCE resident in June. OSDH made an unannounced visit to the facility on the morning of July 25 and reviewed medical records for a 57-year-old client who recently had died, plus clinical records for another two clients who died within the past seven months.

Meanwhile, the father of a NORCE client ran afoul of neighbors after he said he planned to build a home for his son and two other NORCE residents.

Paul Smith wants to build the house on land at 16th and Centennial. However, neighbors in the area have filed suit to stop the project.

No. 1 — Enid Renaissance Project

The Enid Event Center, budgeted at $18 million as the centerpiece of the controversial Enid Renaissance Project, opened in June, hosting Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce Business Expo as its first event.

Since then, it has hosted concerts, a couple of circuses, a Professional Bull Riders event and Enid High School basketball games. Many other events are scheduled at the facility.

Another Enid Renaissance Project took a step forward in November, when it was announced LodgeWell, developer of a proposed downtown hotel and parking garage, was fully financed and ready to move forward with the project.

The first part of the work involved tearing down Cherokee Strip Conference Center and the Kress Building. City officials earlier had said they wanted to incorporate the facade of the Kress Building into the new Hilton Garden Inn. However, the poor condition of the structure was determined that it would be too costly to preserve.

Instead, the conference center and Kress Building were demolished in November.