An accidental police shooting that left a 5-year-old Noble boy dead and a community in mourning topped area news stories in 2007. Austin Haley was struck by a bullet Aug. 3 while fishing with his grandfather near his home. Noble police officers had responded to a call about a snake in a birdhouse in the neighborhood and tried to kill it by shooting at it. Local and state investigations into the shooting were launched. Felony second-degree murder charges were filed Sept. 7 against officer Paul Bradley Rogers, 34, and Sgt. Robert Shawn Richardson, 29. Both are scheduled to appear in court March 10 for preliminary hearing. Austin's family is working on a private memorial at the pond where he was shot, and the city is building a public memorial at a children's water park. The park is scheduled to open in the spring. Other top stories of the year included a mass firing in the Noble Police Department in October after city investigations into the shooting and a drunken driving incident involving another officer were completed, a funeral home drug bust that ended in the director facing drug and embezzlement charges, and heavy summer rains. Here's a recap of the area's top stories:
Noble officers firedThe Noble Police Department took a number of hits in 2007. Under scrutiny after the shooting, Police Chief Ben Daves was fired by City Manager Bob Wade. The three officers involved in the shooting — Rogers, Richardson and Michelle Key — also were fired in October. A fourth officer, Bobby Brent Sirpless, was fired later that month after he was charged with driving under the influence. Deputies with the Cleveland County Sheriff's Department have helped cover shifts while Noble city officials search for candidates to fill the vacant positions. An interim police chief has been appointed, and a permanent replacement is expected to be named shortly after the first of the year, Wade said.
Funeral home drug bustA drug raid at a Purcell funeral home on Feb. 13 led to the arrest of six people on drug-related charges, including the home's owner, Charles "Mike” Damet. Methamphetamine, bags of marijuana and prescription drugs were found during the early morning raid of the Yoakum-Damet Funeral Home. Police said the funeral home was being used as a front for Damet's drug business. As the investigation into Damet's business continued, the Oklahoma Funeral Board revoked his operating licenses, and investigators with the state Insurance Department discovered he had embezzled money from his customers. The people had purchased prepaid funeral packages from Damet, but the money wasn't set aside in a trust fund as required by law. More than $57,000 was found to be missing from 10 trust funds. Damet is serving a five-year prison sentence after rea-ching a plea agreement in August with prosecutors on the embezzlement and drug charges. Prosecutors have seized the funeral home and want to auction it to pay back the money Damet owes, but the property has been caught up in litigation.
Mother Nature's furyHeavy rains in June, July and August led to flooding problems in several area communities as Oklahoma recorded one of the wettest summers in the state's history. Roads washed away, water lines burst and dams broke under the torrential rainfall. Among the communities affected were Minco, Newcastle, Blanchard and Purcell. Blanchard and portions of Minco lost their water supply after lines in the communities were washed out during the summer flooding. Many of the city's roads were left impassable in Newcastle, leading the mayor to declare a state of emergency. The waters of Walnut Creek overflowed the river's banks in Purcell, flooding businesses and forcing evacuations on the south side of town.
School boomDespite a slowdown in residential homebuilding in 2007, student enrollment at area schools continued to climb. Numerous building projects to accommodate the students were completed or started during the year. The Newcastle School District opened a new middle school in August. The 82,000-square-foot building houses sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. Voters also approved a bond issue for an addition to the district's high school this year. Construction will begin in 2008. Tuttle's school district completed additions at the elementary and high schools in time for the new school year. Construction continued on new high schools in Lexington and Purcell, and the Dibble School District broke ground for a new middle school. A bond issue to build a new high school in Bridge Creek failed. School officials said the district's overcrowding problems aren't going away, and a solution has to be found. Blanchard officials sought community input this fall on the district's greatest needs. A bond issue election is expected this year.
Body found, man arrestedThe search for a missing Oklahoma City man ended in a field near Goldsby Nov. 4 when a hunter stumbled upon the body of 62-year-old Steven Domer. The man's burned car was found nearby. The state medical examiner's office ruled the death a homicide. Domer died of asphyxiation, according to the autopsy report. Darrell Madden has been charged in Domer's death. Madden, 37, of Washington, is a self-proclaimed leader of a white supremacist gang. Authorities say Domer was targeted because of his sexual orientation.
Remembering those who servedThe Dibble community gathered July 2 for the funeral of a 21-year-old soldier killed in Iraq. Jeremiah Veitch, a 2004 graduate of Dibble High School, was remembered as a jokester and "someone you can always count on” by his friends and family. He was killed June 21 in Baghdad. In Blanchard, a memorial to a hometown hero killed in the Korean War was erected. The Tony K. Burris Memorial was dedicated Sept. 15 in a ceremony that included a speech by retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks. Burris' nine brothers and sisters attended. The statue of Burris sits at the corner of Main Street and U.S. 62 in downtown Blanchard. Burris was killed in action at Heartbreak Ridge on Oct. 9, 1951. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in battle. Purcell and Minco also remembered those who served by dedicating veterans memorials this year.
Centennial activitiesMany surrounding cities dedicated projects and hosted celebrations for the Oklahoma Centennial. Blanchard and Washington celebrated their 100th birthdays, along with the state. Blanchard threw a bash Nov. 10, and Washington celebrated on Dec. 15. The railroad's extension through Indian Territory led to the development of both communities that were incorporated in 1907.
Modern land run developsThere was a modern-day land run in McClain County as Goldsby and Purcell annexed the same piece of property in June, each claiming the land as its own. The communities are feuding over a 1.5-square-mile tract of land near the Johnson Road exit off of Interstate 35. Goldsby filed a lawsuit seeking to have Purcell's annexation declared invalid and giving it sole ownership of the property. In the meantime, Purcell leaders have claimed the land as theirs and have extended city services to the area. Goldsby town attorney Bob Dill said the case is still working its way through the court system. Both communities want the land because of its potential for commercial development and sales tax revenue.
Blanchard city leadership turmoilThree people have served as Blanchard's city manager in 2007. The council fired Bill Edwards in July after seven years leading the city. Denise Peach served as interim city manager until Nov. 27 when she was hired for the permanent post, but she resigned two weeks later, citing disagreements over contract negotiations. Police Chief Hank Weber was appointed Dec. 20 to fill in as interim city manager until a permanent selection is made.
Austin Haley, 5, of Noble was shot and killed by a bullet fired by a police officer who was trying to kill a snake. PHOTO Provided