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2006: Year in review

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Posted: Friday, December 29, 2006 10:00 pm

The top 10 local stories of 2006 as chosen by the News-Sentinel editorial staff:

1. Lodi growing past its current boundaries

In many of the major stories this year, one key element stood out: growth.

Early in the year, Lodi contested with Stockton to win the new Blue Shield of California campus. The city's success in that duel, also meant that Lodi is poised to move south past Harney Lane to accommodate the Reynolds Ranch development.

FCB Homes is also set to push the city's western boundaries further out with its Southwest Gateway and Westside projects. With new growth, also came restrictions in the form of development agreements.

The Lodi City Council earned itself the ire of area farmers with its plans to extend the city's sphere of influence south in a major first step toward a greenbelt. The public outcry put that idea on the backburner.

Growth will continue to be one of the city's main issues as Lodi prepares to update its General Plan in 2007 and Stockton steadily expands northward.

2. Small town feel suddenly tarnished by crime

Like any small city, Lodi has its share of crime. In the past year, however, it seemed as if Lodi had quickly gone from a cozy enclave of semi-rural suburbia to a crime-ridden urban wasteland.

Stabbings, shootings, homicides, car thefts, bank robberies and burglaries all seemed to be on a rise in 2006. One neighborhood, the 400 block of East Locust Street, seemed to have been especially fraught with crime.

But while citizens questioned if the Lodi Police Department could do more (and if they should even be rounding up shopping carts), officers said crime in Lodi has actually not drastically gone up and the city was still safe.

Galt also saw its share of violent crime, including the murder of 15-year-old Aaron Brooks. In November, a jury convicted Salvatore "T.C." Maggio of killing Brooks.

3. Election year surprises

November's election was perhaps one of the most significant for Lodi in decades.

Voters rejected Measure G, which would have raised the sales tax to pay for paramedics, as well as Measure H that would have decreased their water bills.

Incumbent council members, Susan Hitchcock and Larry Hansen, fought off a spirited field of challengers, but newcomer Phil Katzakian won a seat.

Minutes before Katzakian was sworn-in as a councilman, he settled with the city for $225,000. Lodi had sued Katzakian's printing company in an effort to pay for the cleanup of the city's groundwater contamination problem.

In the same election, voters agreed to pay for the cleanup through their water bills by rejecting Measure H and elected a potentially responsible party, Katzakian, who had to settle with the city.

The anti-Republican backlash also came home as voters ousted Richard Pombo and elected Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney.

4. Fatal fire kills Lodi woman

One of the year's more tragic stories was the death of Jessica Sotelo, who died in an apartment fir less than a week before Christmas.

The fire was the first fatal fire in Lodi in about a decade, and investigators are still trying to determine what caused the blaze.

Sotelo was also the daughter of Assistant Sheriff John Drummond and his wife Diane.

Adding to the tragedy was the fact that Sotelo was pregnant and the mother of twin girls. Fortunately, the girls were staying with their grandparents the night of the fire.

Investigators have said they have found nothing suspicious about the fire.

The fire at the Chateau Apartments, near the intersection of Turner Road and Church Street, began after 1:30 a.m. Firefighters had to contend with a fast-moving and extremely hot fire that erupted out of the windows and roof of the second story of Sotelo's apartment.

Several of the apartment building's residents were alerted to the blaze by two men who went door to door waking people up.

5. Valley wilts under heat wave

Everybody knows it gets hot in Lodi during the summer, but this past summer was one for the record books.

In Late July, temperatures soared past 100 degrees to record highs of up to 115 degrees.

In the stiffling heat, ten people died in San Joaquin County, three of them Lodians. Air conditioners failed and thousands of cows also died in the scorching weather.

6. One Hayat convicted, another free

Hamid Hayat was convicted of all four terrorism charges in April, but his father, Umer Hayat, is free after his case ended in a mistrial.


Umer Hayat talks about the way life used to be in the neighborhood and about life now, outside the garage of the home where he and his family live. Also pictured is his neighbor, Karina Murillo. (News-Sentinel file photo)

Following Umer Hayat's mistrial, the elder Hayat agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of not totally declaring the value of money he and his family brought with them into Pakistan. Umer Hayat was sentenced to time served and walked out of a Sacramento courthouse a free man, albeit on supervised release.

His son, meanwhile, has been left wondering if he will receive a new trial. One juror in Hamid Hayat's trial claimed she was intimidated to vote for a guilty verdict.

The FBI's investigation into Lodi's Pakistani community, and the subsequent arrest of the Hayats was the top story of 2005.

7. Michael Morales avoids the needle

In Feburary, Michale Morales sat on death row awaiting his execution by lethal injection. Morales was sentenced to die after he was convicted of killed 17-year-old Lodi resident Terri Lynn Winchell in 1981.

Morales' execution had been scheduled for one minute after midnight, but at 11:30 p.m., it was delayed. Anesthesiologists on site complained it could be an ethical breech for them to interfere with the execution if they thought Morales felt pain.

And Morales' case still stands in limbo as various courts attempt to determine if a person will feel pain with lethal injection. The issue is being debated in other courts in the nation and it will be months before a final decision is reached.

Meanwhile, Winchell's friends and family members argue Morales had no regard for Winchell's life when he killed her, so the same consideration should not be extended to him.

Also this year, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty for Fernando Belmontes who was convicted in 1981 for murdering a 19-year-old Steacy McConnell.

8. Wall Dogs paint the town

One of the year's lighter stories was the visit of the Wall Dogs, a group of artists who pick a small city every year to visit and spruce up with some public art.


John Yarnell of Boise, Idaho, uses chalk to see the outline of a design as part of the Wall Dogs event in Lodi. (News-Sentinel file photo)

Taking Lodi by storm in May, the Wall Dogs painted a series of murals that celebrated the city's rich history and agricultural heritage. Everything from watermelons, grapes and even traveling entertainment shows received a mural.

Many of Lodi's residents considered the event a smashing success and the murals are expected to be a source of pride for years to come.

And perhaps out of respect for true "wall art," it does not appear as if any of the murals have been marred by graffiti.

9. Lodi turns 100

What a century.

From a dusty railroad stop, Lodi has grown into a thriving city in the heart of a booming wine industry. Lodi's history received the spotlight as the city celebrated its official centennial.

While there was some early discussion on when the city actually was settled, eventually everyone agreed that because the city incorporated in 1906, this past year should be one to celebrate a "livable, lovable" century.

Events included historical concerts, a car show, tours of historic places and even a "Victorian high tea." Nearly every major event during the year sported a "centennial" theme and Lodi even was graced with a visit from a delegation of its sister city, Lodi, Italy.

The year culminated with a party following a council meeting Dec. 6 and one can only wonder Lodi will be like in 2106.

10. Cottage bakery cashes in

Lodi's largest employer, Cottage Bakery, announced in October that it had sold out to Ralcorp Holdings Inc. for $170 million.


Laticia Duenas, right, and Maria Belia check ciabatta bread for any defects at the Cottage Bakery bread factory in Lodi. (News-Sentinel file photo)

President Terry Knutson said the company's 690 employees were not in danger of losing their jobs after the sale and expected the deal would only enhance opportunities for Cottage Bakery to expand.

Ralcorp reportedly had $1.7 billion in sales during the previous year and its largest customer was Wal-Mart. Cottage Bakery was expected to account for 7 percent of the total assets of the corporation based in St. Louis.

First published: Saturday, December 30, 2006

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