Stories that shaped 2006

There was no shortage of news that shaped and changed the world in 2006. The Iraq War and deadly attacks by insurgents resulted in more American troops dying in the war on terror than were killed in the attack that precipitated the war. The numbe...

There was no shortage of news that shaped and changed the world in 2006. The Iraq War and deadly attacks by insurgents resulted in more American troops dying in the war on terror than were killed in the attack that precipitated the war. The number of American's killed pales when compared with the number of Iraqi civilians who've died during the hostilities.

Furor over the war and the lacking strategy to restore peace and return control to the Iraqi people lead to a shift in the balance of power in Washington D.C.

Wisconsin's political environment changed this year too, with the first Democratic governor in 32 years being returned to office, and the shift that restored Democrat control of the state senate.

In Superior, too, there has been no shortage of news that is changing the landscape of life in our fair city. The nearing completion of the New York Block renovation on Tower Avenue, the re-opening of the former City/County Complex, low unemployment rates, random drug testing at the high school and a bomb threat that canceled most homecoming events at Superior High School -- at a time school violence seemed to explode across the nation -- are just a few of the issues we've touched on this year.

Based on a popular vote of the Daily Telegram staff past and present, the following are the ones that rose to the top in 2006. See if you agree.


Violent stranger

The year had barely begun when Superior Police had their first and only murder of 2006 to solve.

In a rare stranger attack, 29-year-old Leah Gustafson was killed in her home -- slain with a Samuri-style sword she had collected -- in the early morning hours of Jan. 7.

Police didn't have to go far to find the man later convicted in connection with the brutal homicide. Jason Richard Borelli, 31, was arrested shortly after police arrived on the scene. Officers followed the trail of bloody footprints back to Borelli's rented room in a house across the street from Gustafson's John Avenue apartment.

Borelli's past included a long history of violence against women.

In the weeks and months that followed, Gustafson's friends and family turned their tragedy into action to keep others from befalling a similar fate.

Gustafson's friends and family started a petition drive to encourage legislators to consider creating a registry for violent offenders similar to the state registration for sex offenders.

Their efforts have gained notice. Last summer, Reps. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, and Suzanne Jeskewitz, R-Menomonee Falls, began drafting legislation that could create a registry of habitual violent offenders.


The legislature is expected to take up the issue in the 2007 session.

Iraq war hits home

In February, the impact of the Iraq war reached Superior when the first serviceman from the area was killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, near Western Baghdad.

Lance Cpl. Adam Van Alstine was 21 when he gave his life in service of his country as a member of the U.S. Marine Corp his family said he'd always wanted to serve.

Van Alstine was the first serviceman from Superior killed during war since 19-year-old James J. Gunderson was killed on Nov. 21, 1969, in Vietnam.

But the summer wouldn't slip into fall before another Superior native lost his life in Iraq. Cpl. Kenneth Cross, also 21, was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad in August.

Like Van Alstine, Cross was eager to serve his country. He left high school and earned a GED to expedite his transition from civilian life to the U.S. Army.

Since his death, Cross' parents, Michael and Elizabeth "Betsy," who live in Parkland, have worked hard to create a scholarship fund in honor of their son's memory.


Early education

After many months of study, Superior's school board was presented with a proposal that would change the face of education in the district.

Community members and early education specialists alike drafted a plan to broaden the scope of early education for children younger than 5.

In March, the board accepted the recommendation of Early Education Matters, the task force assigned to consider how Superior schools could offer kindergarten for 4-year-old children.

But the decision didn't come easy. After all, programs such has Head Start and those offered by some child care centers were not greatly different than the proposed new programs.

Four-year-old kindergarten came with the additional bonus of being able to serve a broader range of children than were already enrolled in programs like Head Start.

And the $698,000 program gives every 4-year-old the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of early childhood education. Now in its inaugural year, nearly 300 children are enrolled in the program that gives 4-year-olds a head start on their education.

One last song


The summer was barely upon Superior when a report to police would spell the out the beginning of the end to a popular teacher's career with the school district.

The teen, seeking private voice lessons from music teacher Brian MacDonell, got more than she bargained for when MacDonell asked her to dance. She said his advances -- pulling her closer and attempting to kiss her -- made her uncomfortable.

"He then started to talk about how he always had a connection with me and that I gave him 'butterflies,' and that now that I was 18, he figured it would be OK," the woman wrote in her statement to police about the April incident.

After school officials learned of the incident, MacDonell was placed on administrative leave and was subsequently suspended for 10 days for conduct he didn't deny.

Within days of the story being released in the media, another alleged victim -- MacDonell's younger sister -- approached school district officials say she had been a victim of MacDonell's when she was just a child.

The woman's signed affidavit gave district officials the grounds for dismissal.

While the case was scheduled to be heard by an arbitrator, MacDonell canceled the hearing, which could have resulted in getting his job back.

Brave comeback


A rescuer described the victim of a June automobile accident as being "folded up under the dash like an old newspaper."

When emergency responders pulled Rita Ronchi from the wreck that had been her car, her chances of surviving the night were slim.

But the Northwestern High School senior, a three-sport athlete, proved to everyone around her that she had the will and fight to survive, in spite of that initial prognosis and an accident that cost her one leg.

And with the love and support of family and friends, she was back at the high school in time to cheer on the volleyball team with which she once played.

She cheered for the Tigers on the football field, too.

Her inspirational journey back from her injuries encouraged others, who named her Northwestern's homecoming queen for 2006.

Better schools at last

In a special June election, the residents of the Maple School District, the home of Northwestern High School, were embroiled in a heated debate.


Could the communities that support the school district afford a $32 million bill to enhance the district's facilities for learning?

By a narrow margin, those who thought the proposal was too costly won the debate -- until the following day when a sewer collapsed. Ironically, it was one of the improvement projects proposed under the bond referendum.

The school board and district officials wasted no time getting the issue back on the ballot, this time for a November vote. By then, the cost had risen to $33 million.

In November, the district's bid to enhance school facilities gained a marginal nod of approval. Voters split by a mere 107 ballots to give the district the money for improvement projects.

Historic investment

Gov. Jim Doyle came to town in August to share in the good news CLM Corp. had to share with the community.

Growing demand for lime is spurring once of the largest private investments in the city's history.

Only one other project -- the construction of Midwest Energy Terminal -- has exceeded the $36 million investment Cutler Magner of Duluth is making in its subsidiary plant in Superior.

The investment will add a fifth kiln to the operation that produces lime products used in paper production, power plant pollution control, municipal and industrial water and sewage treatment, industrial and residential water treatment, road stabilization, steel production and ore processing. Taconite companies use CLM lime to add value to pellets manufactured on the Iron Range. CLM also will modernize the facility to ensure peak performance for the operation and environment.

The project will help the company stay ahead of growing demand for its product and will create additional good paying jobs in the city.

CLM has been in Superior since 1947.

Cold cases

"Guilty your honor."

Those three words, spoken by 37-year-old Rodger Allen Gran, ended the nearly 20-year-old mystery that surrounded the death of a small grocery store clerk in 1986.

Gran, who was 17 when he murdered his mother in Les's Grocery, spared his family the horrible details about his mother's brutal slaying when he finally confessed publicly to the murder 20 years earlier.

Gran was subsequently sentenced to serve 15 years in prison in connection with the bludgeoning death.

Lynnea Miller, Gran's sister, said her brother was a victim too. Gran's attorney, J. Patrick O'Neill, said his client had been a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of his mother.

Even as one mystery was coming to an end, police were closing in on another accused in a murder long ago.

Just days after Gran was sentenced in connection with the 1986 murder of his mother, Superior police arrested Michael Mattson, who allegedly confessed Oct. 23 to the 1993 murder of Myrna Jean Clemons.

Mattson had twice been convicted of brutal assaults against Clemons -- and was out of jail on Huber release in connection with one of those assaults -- when she was found bludgeoned to death in her Allouez home.

Like Gran, Mattson was the only suspect police ever had for the murder, but the evidence to prove murder was lacking at the time.

Mattson, 55, is scheduled to be arraigned on a first-degree murder charge Jan. 8.

The final curtain

The building is gone, but the battle to save the historic Palace Theater -- now the icon of the city's lost past -- is far from over.

The battle still lingers in the courts as Friends of Superior, a grassroots group that fought to preserve the theater that first opened its doors in 1917, seeks an opinion about whether city officials violated federal law in their rush to raze the long-vacant vaudeville and movie house.

Nearly a year after the council issued an ultimatum to find a developer or tear the building down, the wrecking ball started to swing into the walls of the theater that stood vacant on the corner of North 11th Street and Tower Avenue for the better part of the last quarter century.

But the city's decision to raze the building on Nov. 1 left a bitter taste in the mouths of some. The order to start demolition came after word emerged that the Friends were seeking a federal injunction to delay demolition. The building was already rubble when the official summons was finally served Nov. 3.

Judge John C. Shabaz allowed the Friends of Superior to pursue the question of legality of the city's actions. The group hoped to delay the demolition to force the city to meet requirements for a historic review mandated when federal money is used for a project under the National Historic Preservation Act. While no federal money was used for the Palace Theater project, the National Historic Preservation Trust argued the review still was necessary because of the building's proximity to two bars for which the city was seeking federal reimbursement through it's Community Development Block Grant allocation.

The city has since withdrawn that request.

Ghosts of the past

Misdeeds of the past caught up with the Diocese of Superior this year when two new lawsuits were filed against Bishop Raphael Fliss and the Catholic diocese he's led for decades.

The first, filed by an anonymous victim, accuses Fliss and the diocese of covering up alleged sexual abuse by Fr. Edward Beutner, a defrocked priest who served the diocese as a teacher.

The complainant, known only as John Doe 113, claims he and three others were abused as teens. When they recently reunited, the men discussed their alleged experiences with Beutner and decided they should share their concerns with Fliss. The men, according to Jeff Anderson, the attorney representing claimants in both lawsuits, wanted local Catholic officials to check Beutner's past and current assignments to ensure parishioners were safe.

The dust had barely settled after the lawsuit was filed Nov. 22 when another summons was served on the diocese, this time in what may be the first wrongful death lawsuit in the nation related to sexual abuse by a priest.

The suit was filed Dec. 12 by the parents of James Ellison, who they believe was fatally shot on Feb. 5, 2002, by the Rev. Ryan Erickson at a Hudson mortuary. Carsten and Sally Ellison of Barron seek unspecified damages for the loss of their 22-year-old son, claiming church leaders knew about the priest's unusual behavior but did nothing to stop it.

The suit surmises that Ellison, an intern at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home, was shot because he "either witnessed Dan O'Connell being shot, heard the gunshots or witnessed the immediate aftermath of the shooting." It also claims that the Superior Diocese knew about an alleged sexual assault committed by Erickson and never disclosed the information.

In October 2005, St. Croix County Judge Eric Lundell ruled there was probable cause to believe Erickson killed O'Connell and Ellison, and the murders were premeditated. Erickson hanged himself outside his Hurley residence in December 2004, days after being questioned by police and FBI agents.

The Ellisons are asking for an unspecified amount of damages for medical expenses, funeral costs and loss of society and companionship. But if there's a settlement, the money won't go to the family or their lawyer, Anderson said. All of it will be given to the James Ellison Foundation for the Protection of Children, a non-profit corporation that will assist survivors of sexual abuse.

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