|Hundreds of Menifee residents gathered in tribute to Terry Smith Jr. in Wheatfield Park last July.|
As we prepare for what promises to be an exciting 2014 in Menifee, we pause to look back at 2013 and the top 20 news stories of the year, as selected by the Menifee 24/7 staff. Links to the original stories on Menifee 24/7 are included.
1. THE TERRY SMITH JR. CASE
Terry Smith Jr., who disappeared from the family's home near the Menifee Market on Scott Road on July 7. Three days later, his body was discovered in a shallow grave on the family's property.
Although the incident received national attention for reasons Menifeeans would not have preferred, the case also pointed out the tremendous community spirit shown during the search and the many memorial services afterward.
2. CITY GOVERNMENT SHAKEUP
Changes in the Menifee City Council created during the November 2012 election resulted in the dismissal or departure of several city staff members. The departures, which began in late 2012, included city manager Bill Rawlings, who was on the job for less than two years; city engineer Don Allison; city attorney Joseph Fletcher; and community development director Carmen Cave.
Rawlings received a severance package of more than $200,000. Cave filed a complaint of wrongful termination with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Rob Johnson continues in his role as interim city manager.
3. SUICIDE AT PALOMA VALLEY HIGH SCHOOL
Roggena Hunsaker, 59, a librarian at the county library branch at Paloma Valley High School, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the school parking lot on March 22. The suicide was discovered just as students were arriving for the school day.
The school was briefly put on lockdown as teachers, students and parents were informed of the situation.
4. VRBA, GRISWOLD FAMILY FIRES
Two Menifee families were displaced when fire gutted their homes in 2013.
Vrba family (right) came home from dinner on April 21 to discover that their home was engulfed in flames. No one was hurt, but the family lost everything. The official cause of the fire has never been made public. While the family was put in temporary housing, residents from throughout Menifee donated food, clothing and other items.
A similar outpouring of community support was seen when the Griswold family lost their home on Nov. 22. Jennafer Griswold was home alone when the fire broke out but escaped along with the three family dogs. Once again, the community rallied to provide essential items to the family, which is staying in a rental home across the street from their burned-out home.
5. MENIFEE BIRTHDAY BASH
Celebrating both the city's triumphs and challenges, city officials and residents gathered in the parking lot at Mt. San Jacinto College for Menifee's fifth Birthday Bash. Bands performed, local vendors displayed their wares and a kids' fun zone was set up.
A lot has happened since Menifee's incorporation in 2008, and not everyone has agreed with all the changes. Yet on a day such as this, the community once again came together to celebrate what they have in our town.
6. EX-MORMON BISHOP CONVICTED OF SEX CRIMES
Todd Edwards, 49 and a former bishop of a Mormon church ward in Menifee, was sentenced to three years in prison Dec. 11 on charges of sexual battery against two teenage girls who previously attended his ward.
The first of several planned road improvements began Aug. 1 with groundbreaking on a widening project for a stretch of Newport Road between Antelope Road and Menifee Road.
The priority of road projects in Menifee has been a subject of controversy, which continued last week when a city official announced that the project wouldn't be completed until the end of January. Many Menifee residents are waiting for the construction of a Holland Road overpass, which won't begin construction until 2016.
8. DARLENE FLYNN MEMORIAL
Family and friends gathered at the Wild West Arena and Saloon in Winchester in an impromptu memorial service for Menifee resident Darlene Flynn, who was murdered by her estranged boyfriend July 22.
Flynn, 58, was nationally known for her world record shoe collection. She was found floating in the swimming pool in her back yard. Justin Charles Smith has been charged with her murder.
The Patriots completed their fourth consecutive undefeated season in the Sunbelt League, but that was just the beginning. Coach Kraig Broach's team capped off a 13-1 season by beating Rancho Verde 34-33 on Dec. 7 for the school's first CIF championship.
10. LANDMARK ZEIDERS BARN BURNS DOWN
Many pieces of Menifee's past have been dismantled to make way for modern construction, but one remaining landmark was taken away in another way when the Zeiders barn burned down Aug. 21.
The structure, built in the 1930s by one of Menifee's pioneer families, was well known by locals who passed it on Zeiders Road south of Scott Road. Many Zeiders family descendants still live on the property. Soon after, family members gave a presentation about the family's history at a meeting of the Menifee Valley Historical Association.
11. PALOMA VALLEY HIGH SCHOOL DRUG BUST
A total of 25 students were arrested during school hours at Paloma Valley and Perris high schools on Dec. 12 for possession and sale of illegal drugs. This followed a four-month investigation in which undercover police officers posed as students.
12. FORMER SCOUT LEADER SENTENCED TO 24 YEARS
Jason Freeman, a former Boy Scout leader in Menifee, was sentenced to 24 years in prison Dec. 12 on three counts of lewd acts on a child. Freeman was arrested exactly one year earlier after he was caught in bed with the 13-year-old daughter of family friends.
City officials and developers from Brookfield Homes held a ribbon cutting Feb. 25 for the Big Sky community, part of a huge housing development on Newport Road west of Murrieta Road.
Big Sky includes 93 new one- and two-story homes ranging from 2,800 square feet to 3,800. It was the second community to open in Audie Murphy Ranch, a development that will eventually include 2,100 homes.
14. MENIFEE LOSES TOM CARPENTER, CARMELITA ROOD
Tom Carpenter, left, a prominent attorney in town and civic leader for 40 years, died Dec. 27, 2012 of prostate cancer at age 79. Carmelita Rood, right, a Menifee resident for 35 years who also was very active in the community, died Jan. 22 at age 85.
15. BOYS & GIRLS CLUB FORMED
Realizing a dream that has been in the hearts of local residents for years, a volunteer group met Nov. 23 in the vacant site of the old Menifee Elementary School to prepare for the opening of the Menifee Valley Boys & Girls Club.
A "family fun day" was held Dec. 14 to showcase the facility to the public. The club will offer before- and after-school care and tutoring as well as sports and other activities.
16. CHINA WOK EXPRESS FBI RAID
A longtime popular Chinese food restaurant was raided by FBI agents on Aug. 15 and the China Wok Express and Donuts shop closed for good about a week later. Search warrants were served at private residences and the owners soon posted a sign saying the shop was "closing forever."
Because the case was classified, no report was ever released to the public.
Runners from throughout Southern California came to Menifee on May 19 to compete in the Menifee Half Marathon, one of several local events that have begun to attract attention around the Southland.
18. MENIFEE'S GOT TALENT
Arts Council Menifee has grown into an active and diversified organization providing opportunities for local residents in the arts, theater and other pursuits. One of the highlights of its annual calendar is the "Menifee's Got Talent" show, held this year on April 6.
Singer Nicole Farrell took first place in the competition, which promises to get bigger every year.
19. ROTARY CLUB 50TH ANNIVERSARY
The Rotary Club of Menifee had two separate events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the club, which began in Sun City. City and local officials joined in the recognition in a special event in June.
One of the best examples of the "small town feel" many still experience in Menifee -- not to mention the community bonding that is present -- was the Sept. 7 Soap Box Derby, co-sponsored by Valley-wide Recreation and the City of Menifee.
Young and old took part in the event, in which drivers rolled down a hilly stretch of Menifee Road in homemade derby racers. Menifee may have its negative aspects, but you wouldn't find any of them out there on that day.
It truly was a memorable year for Menifee in 2013. And now -- Happy 2014 from Menifee 24/7!