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December 27, 1998
Year's top stories
Tragic shootout tops poll of Record-Eagle readersBy CARI NOGA
Record-Eagle staff writer
TRAVERSE CITY - Readers selected two tragedies most northern Michigan residents never imagined could happen here as the top stories of 1998.
The No. 1 story was the May standoff and shootout at John Clark's residence in Traverse City that left Traverse City police Sgt. Dennis Finch dead.
The slaying of 18-year-old Kalee Bruce, a condominium desk clerk, was a close second.
Readers selected the stories from a list of 20 posted on the Record-Eagle's Web site.
Like most people, Mary Brown-McChrystal of Traverse City picked the shooting death of Sgt. Finch as the year's most important story. Finch was killed during the May 12 standoff with John Clark at his State Street home. Clark was convicted of second-degree murder and killing a police officer on Dec. 9. Sentencing is set for Jan. 15.
Top 10 local sports stories
As voted by Record-Eagle readers1. RED WINGS IN TC: The World Champion Detroit Red Wings return to Traverse City for training camp.
2. TREE STANDS: For the first time, hunters are allowed to hunt from stands during the Michigan firearms deer season.
3. ST. FRANCIS FOOTBALL: St. Francis makes it to the Class C football finals before losing to Unionville-Sebewaing Area, 16-8.
4. CROSS COUNTRY TITLES: Three area teams - Benzie Central, East Jordan and Bear Lake - capture state cross country crowns.
5. HEART SURGERY: Colleen Haley battles back from heart surgery to compete for the TC West cross country team.
6. SOCCER CHAMPS: Elk Rapids captures its second straight Division IV soccer championship.
7. NATE ELLSWORTH: TC West senior Nate Ellsworth sees his first playing time after failing to make the team for four straight years, but staying on as manager.
8. NOT BEING AFRAID TO FAIL: Jimmy Sherriff teaches us about not being afraid to fail after getting knocked down as a high school athlete, getting through failed businesses and losing a son in an auto accident.
9. PETOSKEY BASKETBALL: Led by All-Staters Trevor Huffman and John Flynn, the Petoskey basketball team wraps up a fabulous 3-year run by advancing to the Class B semifinals for the second year in a row.
10. HARBOR SPRINGS GIRLS HOOPS: For the first time in school history, the Harbor Springs girls basketball team makes it to the Final Four.
"I believe that for those of us who intend to spend our lives in this precious community, the killing of Dennis Finch by John Clark will be blazed on our life memories," Brown-McChrystal said. "We will remember where we were and how we heard the news."
Cynthia Conlon of Traverse City agreed, saying the Finch-Clark story wasn't only the biggest story of 1998, but one of the "biggest things that's ever happened in northern Michigan."
Brown-McChrystal also went with the majority in her No. 2 pick - the slaying of Bruce, a Northwestern Michigan College student from Benzie County who was found dead Feb. 17 at The Beach condo complex where she worked. Kevin Holtzer, a resident there, is awaiting a spring trial in Newaygo County on murder charges.
Like the Finch-Clark story, Brown-McChrystal said the Bruce case reflects the changes to a community many still consider a sleepy resort town.
"Traverse City is coming of age," she said.
Sue White of Cheboygan agreed. Her children attended Benzie Central, where Bruce went to high school. Living there was a choice she and her husband made deliberately.
"I was raised in the Detroit area, and we didn't want to raise our kids there," White said.
Her illusions crumbled after the Bruce and Finch slayings.
"To me, it was really scary, and it could have been one of my kids," said White, who has a son in law enforcement in Cheboygan.
The future of Building 50, the aging historic landmark on the former state hospital grounds, was the year's No. 3 story, according to readers.
Kay Schumacher spoke for many voting readers when she said that cost should not be the determining factor in whether a "special part" of Traverse City's past remains for the future.
"How different our town would be if central neighborhood, Washington Street and others had been bulldozed and new, more efficient homes or apartments been built in their place," she said.
School issues took fourth place. Financial concerns dominated school news this year. A regional millage - only the second attempted in the state since a new school funding plan began in 1994 - failed, though it passed in Traverse City. Resulting budget constraints prompted the Traverse City school board to cancel high school busing.
Meanwhile, public school alternatives prospered. Traverse City's Catholic system opened a new middle school, as did Traverse City Christian School. A new charter school announced plans to open its doors.
A regional tradition showed up in the year's No. 5 story: The shooting of a possible world-record whitetail deer by Traverse City resident Mitch Rompola. Gary Burkholder of Big Rapids, who made it his top pick, said he chose it because of its uniqueness.
"Other stories affect more people on a daily basis, but a world record is something that makes all of us proud," Burkholder said.
Rounding out the Top 10:
- NO. 6 - BLAIR TOWNSHIP REVOLT: Furious over a $7 million water system, residents ousted their entire board in a recall election Oct. 20. They then re-elected two of the five to different positions in a special election Dec. 15.
- NO. 7 - POLITICS: The region and the state got a new team of legislators, due to term limits in the Michigan House. Like the previous batch, however, they are predominantly Republican.
On the national level, one Democrat did prevail in November - U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak of Menominee easily won over term-limited state Rep. Michelle McManus, who had been expected to give him a tough battle.
- NO. 8 - AIDS SCARE. Following the December 1997 arrest of James Wallace Jones, who tested positive for HIV, the Grand Traverse County Health Department launched an intensive search to test people who had sex with him or his partners.
No one tested positive, although about 60 people were linked to Jones through sexual activity.
- NO. 9 - BOVINE TB. The state quarantined five northeastern Michigan counties in after the disease was discovered in deer and one cow. The situation has regional farmers uneasy about their future.
- NO. 10 - BURNS & THE BLUES: The health insurance situation at Burns Clinic in Petoskey changed after votes were tabulated. In late September, the Petoskey clinic announced it would no longer accept the Blues' reimbursement structure as payment in full after Jan. 1 and that patients would be responsible for the difference.
On Dec. 22, Burns announced it would postpone its departicipation with the state's largest insurer until May 1. The extension is to give community businesses time to consider other alternatives.