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Landfill incident tops DeKalb County stories of the year

An odor that drifted from Waste Management’s DeKalb County landfill apparently lingered – figuratively speaking, of course – in the newsroom.

At least that’s how the votes for the Top 10 stories of the year shook out when the ballots from Daily Chronicle staff members were tabulated. The incident at the landfill in January that sent about 60 students and staff from Cortland Elementary School to Kishwaukee Hospital claimed the spot as the biggest story of 2014.

Other stories left impressions on the newsroom: Patricia Schmidt being found not guilty in connection with the crash that killed Tim Getzelman and Alexis Weber in 2011 and “the polar vortex,” one of the coldest, snowiest winters that plagued northern Illinois. Without further ado, here’s a look at the stories that made a lasting impression on 2014:

1) Landfill odor leads to evacuation at Cortland Elementary School

Just before 10 a.m. Jan. 14, school officials reported a foul odor at Cortland Elementary School. By that evening, about 60 students and staff had been treated at Kishwaukee Hospital for showing signs of low-level carbon monoxide exposure.

Waste Management agreed to pay more than $70,000 in medical bills and recently settled a lawsuit with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office stemming from the incident. School district officials have been more closely monitoring for potentially harmful gases that could leak from the landfill, although some residents have complained to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that Cortland seems to smell worse since Waste Management began taking in more trash Aug 1.

2) Patricia Schmidt acquitted

Schmidt was found not guilty April 3 of reckless homicide and aggravated reckless driving in connection with the 2011 crash that killed Tim Getzelman, 21, a Sycamore High School graduate, and his girlfriend, Alexis Weber, 21, a Kaneland High School graduate.

Authorities said Schmidt, 50, was driving more than 70 mph on Feb. 21, 2011, when she ran a red light at the intersection of Route 23 and Peace Road in Sycamore. Trial testimony revealed Schmidt likely had a seizure just before the crash. Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert found Schmidt not guilty on all counts because she had been cleared by her neurologist to drive.

Schmidt apologized to Getzelman’s and Weber’s families in a letter to the Daily Chronicle, but the families said the apology rang hollow.

3) The 'polar vortex' strikes
Something from the North Pole descended on DeKalb County and much of the Midwest last winter - and it wasn't Santa Claus. Cold air from the North Pole brought sub-zero temperatures and snow, along with dangerous roads, high propane costs and homemade videos of residents tossing boiling water into the frigid air to watch it evaporate immediately.

4) Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park demolition starts

On the day before a county-set deadline, Evergreen Village Mobile Home Park owner Frank Santoro agreed on April 15 to sell the park to the county for $1.47 million, setting in motion a plan years-in-the-making to return the flood-prone land to open space. County officials offered residents relocation plans and tested each trailer for asbestos before it was removed. Under the federal grant program, the project must be completed by June 30.

5) Police fatally shot a Malta man who was attacking his parents

Local police arrived at a DeKalb home as Cameron Lupton, 28, of Malta was attacking his father, Carl Lupton, and stepmother, Charlotte Lupton, with a knife in late January. Cameron Lupton, an Army veteran who had served in Afghanistan, did not respond to a Taser or verbal commands to stop, so an officer shot him once in the neck.

Both of his parents survived the attack, and two DeKalb police officers involved were screened and found mentally fit to return to duty three weeks later, after an independent Illinois State Police investigation. Police Chief Gene Lowery said Cameron Lupton suffered from significant psychological issues, some of which manifested during and after his military service.

It was among two incidents in 2014 in which police shot suspects. In May, a DeKalb County Sheriff’s officer shot Hassan R. Coleman, then 23, of DeKalb in the shoulder after police said he pointed a gun at police at a Suburban Estates apartment building in DeKalb.

6) Amtrak station no longer planned for Genoa

In April, Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $233 million state capital investment that will restart Amtrak service between Rockford and Chicago as early as 2015. The state’s original plan included stops in Genoa and Freeport, but in the new agreement, stops will be located in Elgin, Huntley and Belvidere. The Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce had urged members to reach out to Quinn in support of the city stop before the announcement, which Genoa Mayor Mark Vicary decried as a disgrace.

7) NIU football wins Mid-American Conference football title

The Northern Illinois University Huskies football team captured its third MAC championship title in four seasons, topping Bowling Green, 51-17, at Ford Field in Detroit. It was the first career postseason win for NIU head coach Rod Carey, who attributed the success to the team’s hard work.

8) Regional spelling bee becomes a marathon

The DeKalb County Spelling Bee ended without a winner in February after 31/2 hours of competition that included 74 rounds, two breaks and two appeals, so a spell-off had to be arranged between Sycamore Middle School student Matthew Rogers and Keith Mokry, a student at Somonauk Middle School, a couple weeks later. Mokry ultimately won and received a warm send-off to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C., where he missed the semifinals cutoff by two points.

9) First same-sex marriage license issued after lawsuit

Darla Cook and Jaelyn Paulsen were the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license in DeKalb County in March after filing legal action against County Clerk and Recorder Doug Johnson. Johnson had said he would wait until a law legalizing same-sex marriage went into effect in June unless a court ordered otherwise, but he did not contest the couple’s lawsuit. The couple had a low-key ceremony at Mayfield Congregational Church UCC in Sycamore on St. Patrick’s Day.

10) Wally “Mr. Pumpkin” Thurow statue dedicated

Thanks to local fundraising efforts, a life-size bronze statue of Sycamore Pumpkin Festival founder Wally Thurow was dedicated in October at the southwest corner of Somonauk and Elm streets in Sycamore. Thurow died in 2012, but a committee raised more than $65,000 for the statue and a memorial scholarship.

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