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Top stories of 2012: our picks and yours

The year 2012 was a time of change and conflict in the Rogue Valley, from Medford's cityscape expanding with the completion of a four-story, glass and concrete headquarters for Lithia Motors to several officer-involved deaths and disputes over leadership of local institutions.

Here are the Mail Tribune's picks for the Top 12 stories for 2012:

1. Downtown Medford sprouts several multimillion dollar projects, including the opening of Lithia's headquarters, the anchor of The Commons revitalization project at Bartlett and Sixth streets; a $9 million, four-story office building proposed for the Evergreen parking garage at West Main and South Fir streets; the relocation of the post office to Riverside Avenue and 10th Street; and plans to build a $28.5 million county health services complex in the former federal building at Eighth and Holly streets. Also still in the works are plans to remodel and reopen the Holly Theatre at Sixth and Ivy streets to provide a second major live performance stage in the city.

2. William Simmons, 32, is found guilty in February of first-degree manslaughter in the 1996 death of 15-year-old Kaelin Glazier of Ruch after two weeks of testimony and 10 hours of jury deliberation. He is sentenced to a decade in prison for the Measure 11 crime, plus a $2,765 fine and three years' post-prison supervision.

3. Police shoot and kill two young men — 20-year-old James "Jimmy" Georgeson and 18-year-old Elias Angel Ruiz — in separate incidents in January. In both cases, the first involving U.S. marshals, the second involving Medford police, a grand jury finds the officers were justified in using deadly force.

4. A dispute between Jefferson Public Radio and Southern Oregon University in Ashland in June ousts Ron Kramer, the head of the stations and the separate foundation, redivides assets and forms a new entity — Jefferson Live! — to take on additional projects. The JPR Foundation vows to continue restoration work on the Holly Theatre in Medford but has put Jefferson Square, a new headquarters proposed for an old warehouse on 10th Street, on hold for now.

5. Three men die in police custody after officers try to stop them with stun guns in separate incidents: veteran Scott Chappell, 44, in Eagle Point in June; Joseph Matthew Vavrosky, 42, in Medford in August; and Christopher Ladue, 23, in Talent in September. Drugs are suspected to have played a role in the deaths.

6. Rogue Valley Manor and Pacific Retirement Services clash over fees and the direction of the parent company, but reach an 11th-hour tentative agreement on Dec. 21 to avert a $30 million lawsuit.

7. Ashland Community Hospital's board of directors selects Dignity Health of San Francisco to take over operations of the hospital, but Dignity withdraws in late October amid community criticism over its policies on abortion and physician-assisted suicide. The ACH board then chooses Medford-based Asante Health System on Nov. 15 as its new operating partner.

8. Medical marijuana growers in Southern Oregon find themselves at odds with both local and federal police agencies as some growers are accused of illegally selling excess marijuana, sometimes shipping it across the country. Federal agencies have raided large grow sites in Jackson and Josephine counties and also have launched forfeiture cases against growers and others accused of involvement in illegal operations. A Central Point man, Brian Wayne Simmons, 38, was convicted Nov. 14 of manufacture, distribution and possession of marijuana after a federal raid turned up 2,000 pounds of partially dried marijuana.

9. Fourteen months of negotiations between the Eagle Point School District and its teachers union culminates in an eight-day strike of more than 250 classified and licensed employees in May. In the end, on the major sticking points, employees don't get full say in how teacher prep time is scheduled, part-time employees are given pro-rated insurance, and the district is allowed to renegotiate subcontracting transportation before the contract period is up.

10. After years of wooing by Medford developers and residents who even created their own Facebook fan page, Trader Joe's opens Oct. 19 in the trendy Northgate Marketplace. Also in the complex are REI, Ulta, Chipotle Mexican Grill and other shops.

11. The Coquille Indian Tribe announces in September that it has purchased Roxy Ann Lanes and the former Kim's Restaurant on South Pacific Highway with the hopes of opening a casino in Medford. Other tribes have vowed legal challenges if the U.S. Interior Department agrees to place the purchased land in federal trust.

12. Homeowner Norm Thomas shoots and kills Mark Corsbie, 49, who was banging on doors and trying to force his way into a White City home on Aug. 20. A grand jury concludes the shooting was in self-defense.

Other top stories:

  • White City resident John Wyllie wins the Publisher's Clearing House $5,000 A Week "Forever" prize on Aug. 31. A month later, not much has changed for Wyllie and his dad, Vernon, but the two are still looking to move from their trailer park into a new home.
  • A homeless, mentally ill man sets a fire that damages several businesses on Ashland's Plaza in March, resulting in $250,000 in damages. Raymond Lee Wilson, 37, is found guilty except for insanity Dec. 19 and is sentenced to up to 20 years in the state mental hospital.
  • Pete Seda began serving a 33-month sentence in a Colorado prison on Feb. 29 for money-laundering and tax-fraud convictions. He was convicted in 2010 of helping to smuggle $150,000 to Saudi Arabia in 2000 through his Ashland-based Al-Haramain Islamic charity, then lying on the charity's tax returns to cover up the scheme. Prosecutors tried to link the funds to Chechen-based terrorists, but a federal judge said they did not prove their case on that count.
  • Local voters picked Jackson County's first female district attorney when Chief Deputy D.A. Beth Heckert swept to an easy victory in May. On the Nov. 6 vote, Medford residents rejected a pool bond, White City residents rejected incorporation, and Shady Cove voters rejected a municipal water system. Winning candidates in the more hotly contested races included Doug Breidenthal for county commissioner, Ben Bloom for circuit court judge, and John Stromberg for Ashland mayor.
  • A Talent cab driver, William Roy Huson, 58, is robbed and shot to death on Oct. 22 after picking up a fare in downtown Medford. His body is found by police the next day on a little-traveled road north of Medford. The case remains unsolved, with police having only a vague description of a possible suspect — a white male between 25 and 35 years old with pockmarks and acne on his face, who was seen wearing a black baseball cap, black jacket and jeans.
  • The Food Project continues to raise the bar with food donations, as seven communities in Jackson County rallied to collect more than 300,000 pounds — 150 tons — of food donations during the year. The Food Project, which started in 2009 in Ashland, uses neighborhood coordinators to collect food at people's doors every other month. The idea has gained traction across the country, with communities ranging from Berkeley, Calif., to Auburn, Ala., and West Palm Beach, Fla., starting their own versions of the project.
  • Harry & David returns to full-year profitability during fiscal year 2012, which ended July 31, with earnings of $23.2 million. It is the Medford-based gourmet food and gift company's best performance since 2008 and came on the heels of the company losing $14.1 million in fiscal year 2011, when it went in and out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
  • A flurry of winter storms hits Southern Oregon in the weeks leading up to Christmas, delighting skiers, but making holiday travel more than a bit dicey. Interstate 5 heading into California closes several times during the two-week siege and also closes once for northbound traffic after a blizzard buries the Sexton Summit area and leads to numerous crashes. Highway 230 between Highway 62 and Diamond Lake closes for three days after more than two dozen trees topple onto the roadway by the storms. As of week's end, Mount Ashland has a snow depth of nearly 10 feet.

Top stories of 2012: our picks and yours