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Hatfield's passing, Wu's fall among top stories

PORTLAND — Oregonians mourned the death of Mark Hatfield in 2011. They watched another public servant, David Wu, resign in disgrace. People on the coast fretted about a tsunami. Residents of Portland watched Occupy Portland's tent city go up, and be torn down by police five weeks later.

And all around the state, people worried about a slow recovery from the Great Recession.

These were among the themes chosen in the top stories of the year by editors from around the state.

Also on the list of top stories for 2011 were various killings, including a spree by two white supremacists that left four people dead in three states.

Hatfield's death in August was an occasion for rumination in Oregon about the changes in the state's political landscape, where once it wasn't considered unusual for a Republican also to be a moderate, or even a liberal.

During his 46-year career Hatfield was the youngest Oregonian to win the governor's office and the longest-serving in a U.S. Senate seat. Hatfield, most notably a critic of the Vietnam War, called himself in a book title a "Rebel Republican."

Another departure was the fall of David Wu, the Democratic U.S. representative from northwest Oregon. A photo of him in a tiger suit came to be a symbol of bizarre behavior that drove staff members out of his employ and left constituents wondering about his mental state. His downfall came quickly, though, after his political support evaporated as The Oregonian newspaper reported on allegations of an aggressive sexual encounter with the daughter of a friend.

His resignation in August left a vacancy to be filled in a January special election that has attracted national attention.

Some editors also mentioned the impending departure of Attorney General John Kroger, an ambitious Democrat widely seen as a potential candidate for even higher office. He announced in October he had an unspecified health condition that, while not life-threatening, precluded a re-election campaign in 2012.

In the carnage of the year, most editors considered a few stories most significant.

  • The slaying in January of 55-year-old Ralph Painter, police chief of Rainier in Columbia County. The suspect, Daniel Butts, remains in custody with a judgment about his mental competence to stand trial yet to be delivered.
  • The shooting, also in January, of Lincoln City officer Steven Dodds. The officer has gone through a tough recovery. The suspect, 43-year-old David Anthony Durham of Portland, fled into the woods along the coast at Waldport, not to be seen again.
  • The killings in July of five family members in Medford. The suspect, Jordan Adam Criado, remains in jail, accused of aggravated murder in the deaths of his wife and four children and arson for setting their house afire.
  • The killings in September and October of four people in Washington state, Oregon and California. In Oregon, 19-year-old Cody Myers died on a trip to a Newport jazz festival. The suspects are two white supremacists, David "Joey" Pedersen and Holly Grigsby, who are jailed in Washington state and charged in deaths of Pedersen's father and stepmother.
  • The slashing in November of 23-year-old David Grubbs along an Ashland bike path, rousing fear in a town accustomed to violence reserved for the Shakespeare festival stages. Grubbs was nearly decapitated. The police say there is no suspect.

The economy fed a number of developments, as Oregon and the nation grew too slowly after the Great Recession to create large numbers of new jobs. Oregon's unemployment rate at year's end was about 9 percent, down more than a percentage point from a year earlier — but in part because so many people gave up looking for work.

While it also approved long-range rearrangements of the state's education and health systems, the Legislature tightened the purse strings, leading to numerous stories around the state about school boards closing and consolidating schools, trimming course offerings, increasing class sizes and finding other unhappy ways to conserve cash. Late in the year, state revenue projections fell short yet again, yet another indication of a faltering recovery.

University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere was fired for what Gov. John Kitzhaber and the Board of Higher Education saw as flouting their instructions in dealing with straitened budgets. Lariviere's supporters protested against what they saw as thwarting the university's aspirations.

The Occupy Wall Street movement spread to Oregon, most notably to Portland and Eugene, although many towns had versions of the protest.

Police disbanded Portland's downtown encampment after five weeks, and Eugene's evaporated near year's end after it turned into a homeless refuge, the City Council ordered it to be shut down, and one person died in fighting.

At year's end, counties in Southern Oregon's timber country contemplated what government bankruptcy might be like. Although residents have long enjoyed low property tax rates, cutbacks in federal timber payments and the end of a stopgap subsidy program left the counties struggling to pay for basic services such as sheriff's offices and jails.

In one of those counties, Curry, the tsunami touched off by the Japanese earthquake in March caused an estimated $7 million in damage, much of it in the Brookings harbor critical for fishing and recreational boating in the local economy.

The Oregon sporting news of 2011 wasn't as grand as that of the year before.

The University of Oregon Ducks lost in the national championship game in January, and their 2011 season wasn't quite the success of the year before. Even so, the Ducks beat the Beavers in the Civil War game to clinch a Rose Bowl berth in January 2012.

The retirement of Brandon Roy made the lists of many editors, bringing an end to the hopes that the Roy-Oden-Aldridge threesome would lead the Portland Trail Blazers to an NBA championship.

As the abbreviated 2011-12 season began in December, Greg Oden was still hobbled, LaMarcus Aldridge had just gotten back on the court after a timeout for examination of a recurring heart problem, and the Trail Blazers were pinning hopes on a new mixture of veterans and young players.

Oregon's newest professional team, the Portland Timbers, were not so successful in their first MLS season on the field as they were in the stands, where the fans of the Timbers Army helped bring Euro-style soccer enthusiasm to the Pacific Northwest.

Finally, the animals made some news in 2011.

For a few terrifying seconds in October, surfer Doug Niblack found himself standing not on his board but rather on the back of a great white shark. Niblack was paddling to catch a wave, the swell dropped, and the board hit something hard that wasn't seafloor. Looking down, Niblack saw the dorsal fin at his feet. The shark quickly left, and Niblack paddled to shore, "praying the whole time. Like, 'Don't let it be following me.' "

Wolves made news through the year as their numbers grew. A young male named OR-7 made headlines internationally for his northeast-to-southwest trek across Oregon.

Biologists said OR-7 was out to establish new territory. Their best guess is that he traveled alone and found no mate in southwestern Oregon, where the last wolves were killed decades ago. At year's end, wildlife officials said the tracking signals from his collar showed he had crossed the border into northern California.