While the nation was focused on the likes of impeachment, trade issues, low unemployment and a rollercoaster stock market, here are some of the top local stories of 2019:
1. No override
Voters narrowly rejected an override request by the Peoria Unified School District, which has several high schools and elementary schools in Glendale.
It will be back to the chalkboard for PUSD after voters rejected a bond override request by 133 votes, a margin of just .29%.
The district, which has 42 schools in Peoria and Glendale, asked voters for a $33.7 million budget override.
PUSD will have one more chance to put a budget increase to voters. If it fails, the district says it will have to make significant cuts.
A 14-year-old Peoria High School freshman died after he was hit by a car Nov. 15.
The boy was crossing the street on his way to school.
According to Peoria Police, the driver of a minivan was traveling northbound on 83rd Avenue and failed to yield to the pedestrian in the crosswalk. Charges were not immediately filed as an investigation was pending.
Austin Rawlings, 5, died Nov. 29 when the vehicle she and other family members were in was submerged in water at Tonto Creek.
She was a student at Peoria’s West Wing School.
“There are no words that can adequately express the sorrow that accompanies the death of Austin. Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to her family and friends,” West Wing Principal Dr. Linda Price-Barry said, in a letter to the community.
Elementary school teacher Ricky Ordway was arrested and faces trial as an alleged serial child molester.
Ordway, 43, is a former Sun Valley Elementary School teacher arrested on May 14.
After Peoria Police arrested Ordway at the school, he was charged with five counts of child molestation and one count of sexual abuse of minors.
Ordway is scheduled to go to trial April 16. He faces 24 charges against a dozen alleged child victims. His offenses allegedly took place over a decade.
Four firefighters from the Peoria Fire-Medical Department were injured at an APS substation explosion in April.
Moments after the Peoria firefighters responded to a smoke call and entered the facility, they were rocked by an explosion that hospitalized them.
Capt. Hunter Clare, Engineer Justin Lopez and firefighters Matt Cottini and Jake Ciulla were injured. Lopez sustained nose, skull, rib, right-leg tibia and fibula fractures as well as a collapsed lung. Clare suffered bilateral ankle and thoracic fractures, a possible wrist fracture, multiple burns and lacerations, and a scapula injury.
The explosion at a Surprise substation injured four other firefighters from Surprise.
APS has not released a final report on the cause of the explosion.
Michael Paul Adams allegedly stabbed to death Elijah Al-Amin in July at a Peoria Circle K because the 17-year-old was listening to rap music.
Adams was released from prison two days before Al-Amin was killed.
Lesko goes big
Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko, D-Ariz., returned to her Peoria home this week after a few days that catapulted her into a national figure.
She said, “Democrats are tearing this country apart” speech during the impeachment proceedings made her a hero to some, villain to others.
How she played at home will be seen in 2020, as Lesko is up for re-election.
A WalletHub survey said Peoria was the 15th “safest city in America.”
Perhaps even more impressive than the national ranking is how Peoria rates locally. Analyzing FBI statistics show Peoria among the safest of Valley cities, with a violent crime rate far lower than the likes of Glendale and Tempe.
Denette Dunn won a special election to Peoria City Council in August.
Dunn assumed the seat temporarily when late Councilman Carlo Leone resigned due to health reasons this spring.
Dunn’s opponent, Randal “RJ” Rains, dropped out of the race. Dunn won in a landslide over write-in candidate Cordero Delgadillo, who later unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit, saying the city treated him unfairly.
Michael Parks of the Peoria Fire Department rushed into a burning home on Aug. 25.
Through thick smoke, he found an unconscious, elderly woman gasping for breath. Parks carried her out of the home and helped get her to a hospital.
For his life-saving effort, the Peoria Fire Department named Parks Firefighter of the Year.
The Peoria Film Fest not only returned for a second year, it went big, expanding its schedule by a good deal over its 2018 debut.
“There is absolutely a potential for an economic impact, but for Peoria, it’s beyond ticket sales and restaurant sales,” Peoria Mayor Cathy Carlat said.
The festival wisely partnered with Huntington University, which launches young directors and producers with its film program.
Dr. Jason Reynolds was selected in December to become Peoria Unified School District’s next superintendent.
Reynolds is the current PUSD deputy superintendent. He will replace Linda Palles Thompson, who four months ago announced she will retire at the end of this school year.
Mountain Ridge High School coach Vincent Ciliberti was arrested Feb. 1 on charges of attempting to have sex with a 14-year-old.
Ciliberti faces charges of luring a minor for sexual exploitation with a trial scheduled Feb. 10, 2020 at Maricopa County Superior Court.
Proposed Deer Valley Unified School District boundary changes may impact Peoria families.
Some elementary school students may go to Boulder Creek High School in Anthem, rather than Sandra Day O’Connor, if the changes are finalized.
A few parents at meetings said this could lead to transportation nightmares, with siblings going to different high schools.
DVUSD is expected to announce final decisions in mid-January.
On Veterans Day, the city of Peoria unveiled an expanded Senator John McCain Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza. A ceremony took place at the Peoria Veterans Memorial in Rio Vista Community Park.
The memorial includes a 1967 Bell UH-1H Huey helicopter flown in Vietnam.
Grand Canyon death
Peoria resident Cynthia Ackley, 69, died after a fall at the Grand Canyon National Park.
Two others died at the park from falls this year.
Like much of the rest of the West Valley, Peoria continued to experience strong growth, which new housing developments popping up around the city.
The city is boosting growth, with a request for proposals for a mixed residential-business development, to be located at P83.
To try to stay ahead of business growth, the city of Peoria launched a Business Concierge program, “to strengthen the city’s business partnership.” It helps businesses navigate planning and city codes.
WESTMARC gave the Peoria Business Concierge program a Best of the West award for Excellence in Innovation.
Amaury Fernandez, a former Peoria Police officer, was charged with improperly accessing a database.
He is accused of looking up information on a woman his friend wanted to date. Fernandez resigned from the police department while the investigation was ongoing.