Top 10 stories of 2006

This has been a memorable year, full of interesting stories about northern Dakota County.

The staff pored over editions of the Review and came up with their "top 10" list (in no particular order) of people, places and happenings that made the headlines in 2006.

Teacher sacrifices hair for $4,000

Hilltop Elementary principal Tom Barker is feeling a breeze on his scalp these days, thanks to his students.

During the month of February, the kids raised money for the Minnesota Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's "Pennies for Patients" campaign. Last year, they collected $2,300, which placed the school in the top 10 contributors for schools their size in Minnesota.

This year, Barker agreed to let his students shave his head if they surpassed that goal.

With that kind of incentive, the students raised $4,000. They gathered at an all-school assembly March 2 to present a check to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and, of course, to see Barker's haircut.

Facing the dragon: one man's battle with meth

It's a story David Parnell, 38, is lucky to be alive to tell.

The northwestern Tennessee resident, a father of seven, is a recovering meth addict who has struggled with drug and alcohol addictions since high school.

He was at Henry Sibley High School in March to speak at a three-city forum on the dangers of methamphetamine, a deadly drug whose use has skyrocketed in recent years.

Parnell's long road to recovery began just a few years ago after he shot himself in the face during a meth-induced rage. Fifteen surgeries later, he still has difficulty speaking, as the gun blast destroyed the roof of his mouth, broke every bone in his face and ripped his tongue in two.

His tragic story, partnered with a gruesome slide show on the effects of meth use, left a lasting impression on the young audience.

Explorer Bancroft visits Salem Hills

Being stalked by hungry polar bears and followed by more than a dozen friendly penguins?

It's all in a day's work for explorer Ann Bancroft, who spoke to the student body at Salem Hills Elementary April 11.

Bancroft, who was born in Mendota Heights and graduated from Henry Sibley High School, joined Norwegian Liv Arnesen in November 2000 to travel 1,700 miles across the land mass of Antarctica.

The former schoolteachers and world-renowned polar explorers made the trip with 250-pound sleds harnessed to their waists. Web-site transmissions and satellite phone calls allowed people in more than 150 countries, including more than three million schoolchildren, to follow the trek.

MH 'Golden Residents' share their stories

Mendota Heights celebrated its 50th anniversary June 3 with much fanfare, including carnival games, live music and an impressive parade capped off with fireworks.

Among the parade participants were 85 "golden residents" - people who have lived in Mendota Heights since its incorporation as a city 50 years ago.

Sam and Thelma Hunter, who live on Orchard Place, just off Lexington Avenue, were surprised when the city contacted them to take part in the parade.

The couple, in their early 80s, have lived in Mendota Heights since 1951. The major change they have noticed over the years is the housing boom.

"When we first came here, the boys could ride horses right down the street from where we live," said Sam. "It was just scrubby woods and, gradually, streets went up."

WSP citizens gather to discuss light-rail transit

Thompson Park Lodge in West St. Paul was packed June 6 with residents eager to learn about the possibility of a light-rail transitway being built along the Robert Street/Highway 52 corridor.

The state bonding bill recently passed by the state Legislature includes $500,000 for a feasibility study for such a project.

Kathleen Gaylord, a Dakota County commissioner and former South St. Paul mayor, said that traffic congestion is a major problem in Dakota County that will only get worse over time if steps aren't taken now to address the situation.

Arsons at Skyline Village investigated

The 300-plus residents of Skyline Village Mobile Home Park, 7500 Concord Blvd., Inver Grove Heights, have had enough.

Eight fires in seven months, including one in September that totally destroyed a mobile home, killed three cats and sent their owner to the hospital, caused some homeowners - 15 to be exact - to put up "For Sale" signs in their yards.

The first fire, which occurred on Good Friday this year, caused $50,000 in damage. In the days following, the park's office was set on fire twice, leaving $73,000 in damage. This summer, three homes on Bryan Avenue were set on fire as well as a home and a yard on Denton Way.

The association held a rally Sept. 30 to bring the community together and to kick off a neighborhood watch program.

Fire destroys SSP epoxy plant

A large explosion at Epoxical, 275 Bridge Point Drive, in the South St. Paul Business Park, emptied businesses and snarled traffic for several hours Oct. 11.

Fire departments from across the east metro responded to the fire, which reportedly started after a vat exploded at the small company, where about 23 workers manufacture epoxy resins.

There were no injuries, although schools as far away as Cottage Grove didn't allow students to go home for several hours due to fears that the thick smoke drifting eastward might be toxic.

South St. Paul Police Chief Mike Messerich said the fire happened just before 2 p.m. Wednesday. Police officers evacuated the entire business park as a precautionary measure.

Car crash claims life of IGH girl, 16

A 16-year-old Inver Grove Heights girl was killed in a three-vehicle crash on Wakota Bridge the morning of Oct. 29.

Deanna Marie Casey, 16, a junior at Simley High School, was traveling home from her night shift at McDonald's in Cottage Grove when she struck a concrete median that had been pushed into her lane by another driver.

Anthony Joseph Klecker, 28, of Shoreview, has been charged with four counts of criminal vehicular homicide (all felonies) and one count of collision with an unattended vehicle (a misdemeanor) in connection with the crash.

Burgeoning jail population leads to upgrade

Half of Dakota County's $10 million jail expansion is now complete, and jail staff and inmates are starting to settle into the new digs.

The long-awaited and badly needed upgrade was required for the jail to deal with its rising inmate population.

"We are overpopulated," said Lt. Lawrence Hart, during a tour of the facility in Hastings Nov. 21. "We spend about $1 million a year to board inmates out to other counties, including Scott, Goodhue, Washington, Carver and Meeker. People say, 'Why not [just] build new beds?' Our (small) intake area wouldn't support that."

On occasion, he said, new inmates have had to wait as long as seven to 10 hours for a bed. Hart hopes the jail's new 24,800 square-foot intake area - on the western side of the building, where a parking lot used to be located - will help improve that situation.

Thanksgiving cards offer cheer for U.S. troops

This Thanksgiving, 5,000 Minnesota soldiers felt a little bit closer to home. Soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan received handmade Thanksgiving cards, thanks to the efforts of local mom Connie Reedy.

The project began when Reedy wanted to send a care package to her son, who is in Iraq. She wanted to send enough goodies so that her son could share with the people around him. Her son, however, noted that there were 300 soldiers in his unit. Could she find something for all of them?

"Yeah, I can do that," Connie agreed.

Together with her daughter-in-law Renee and friend Karen Francis, whose husband is also in Iraq, Connie began recruiting schools, churches, and youth groups all over the state for her Thanksgiving card project.

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