No trouble finding top stories for 2018
As I compiled the year-in-review items for this week’s edition, I also handled the important task of picking the top 10 news stories for 2018.
It proved to be a great time for me to reflect on the past year of happenings throughout the greater community of Steele County.
While some years it’s hard to pick the top news stories of the year, this year was a tad bit different. Sadly, there was an abundant amount of news and right away a couple stories shot to the top of the news-o-meter as the biggest stories.
Without a doubt, the alleged killing spree of Lois Riess that originated outside of Blooming Prairie in March is the number one news story of the year. Riess is suspected of killing her husband, David, before traveling to Florida where she befriended a look-alike woman and allegedly killed her. Riess was finally captured about a month after being on the run in Texas.
The Lois Riess story captivated the nation and put people on edge for several weeks. The manhunt for Riess was carried on news programs across the country and newspapers everywhere. Journalists from Florida traveled to Steele County to learn more about what possessed a grandma to go on an alleged killing spree. The traffic on our Facebook and website showed that people had a profound interest in Riess and were hungry for information about her. We’ve never had a story generate as much interest as the Lois Riess story did.
Riess’ pending court trial in Florida and anticipated charges in Minnesota will likely make her a major story throughout 2019 as well. We will continue to follow the story very closely just as we have since the day it unfolded.
Another big story in 2018 that will have a profound impact on the lives of people all across southern Minnesota is the long awaited approval of funding to widen U.S. Highway 14 to four lanes from Dodge Center to Owatonna. Countless people have lost their lives or been seriously injured on Highway 14 for several decades.
State lawmakers have been haggling over funding for Highway 14 for more than 25 years. Finally this past spring lawmakers came to agreement and found $160 million to get the job done. The project will begin in spring.
For years I have covered the efforts of Beth Hodgman of West Concord and others in trying to get Highway 14 expanded. At times it seemed hopeless, but Hodgman, who lost her husband on Highway 14 in 2012, hung in there and fought it to the end. I applaud Hodgman for not giving up.
The other top story rounding out the top three is ironically a crash on Highway 14 that killed a mother and her daughter. Rachel and Emerson Harberts died from injuries sustained when a vehicle rearended their vehicle on the edge of Claremont.
While the details of the crash itself are horrifying enough and the fact that it happened on the most dangerous roadway in southern Minnesota to warrant it being the top story, it’s the response from the community that really makes this a gripping story. The crash devastated the community of Blooming Prairie, who lost a beloved school teacher and an elementary student.
There have been so many heartwarming stories that have come out of the Harberts tragedy since early September. Classmates have rallied together to put on fundraisers to help Jaxon, the seventh grader critically injured in the crash, and his father, Brandon. Just before Christmas, the Best Ever Christmas came to town to throw a huge holiday celebration for Jaxon and Brandon.
As Amy Simon, who nominated the Harberts for the Best Ever Christmas, stated in her nomination, there is no way to fix broken hearts, but small gestures is a step in the right direction. Her efforts have gone a long way in providing hope to the remaining members of the Harberts family. Please take some time to read Simon’s nomination on page 3A.
It was not an easy year covering the news of Steele County as evidenced by our top 10 stories for 2018. But if there is any silver lining to it all, people know how to offer support and provide hope in bleak times.
Let’s hope the news of 2019 will prove to be a bit more positive as we head into the new year. But no matter what, be assured that we will be in hot pursuit of bringing our readers the best possible coverage of whatever happens in 2019.