FARGO — With 2019 in the rear-view mirror, it's time to reflect on the top news stories of the past year in the Fargo-Moorhead area as voted on by The Forum newsroom staff.
From bad weather to court stories, it's a list heavy on heartbreak. But depending on your perspective, the year was not without its bright spots.
Here are the top ten stories of 2019:
10. Jury clears school in Kvalvog suit
In July, a Clay County District Court jury ruled that Park Christian School and a former basketball coach were not to blame for a 2015 crash that killed brothers Zach Kvalvog, 18, and Connor Kvalvog, 14.
The boys' family sued the school and the coach for $82.9 million, a number the boys' father said reflected the average speed (82.9 mph) of the caravan his sons were traveling in when the pickup Zach Kvalvog was driving crashed while on the way to a basketball tournament.
The jury found that an unknown semi driver was responsible for the accident, not Zach Kvalvog, the school or the school's basketball coach at the time of the crash.
The boys' parents were entitled to $2.5 million in damages for the death of each son, jurors found, though it is unclear if they will ever see the money.
9. Remains of Brenda Kartes found
One mystery was solved, but questions lingered after the remains of a missing Fargo woman, Brenda Kartes, were found in south Fargo near the Red River.
Fargo Deputy Police Chief Joe Anderson said evidence found where the remains were discovered prompted police to treat Kartes' death as suspicious, though a medical examiner was not able to determine a manner or cause of death.
"We have persons of interest. However, we can't say anything further," Anderson said in August after the remains were found.
Kartes was last seen alive leaving Centre Inc., a Fargo drug treatment center, the afternoon of July 12, 2018. Investigators determined there was no activity on Kartes’ financial or social media accounts after that day.
8. William Hoehn resentenced
At a hearing in October, a Fargo judge handed down a new sentence to William Hoehn for his part in the kidnapping of the baby of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was killed and had her baby cut from her womb in 2017.
Hoehn was originally sentenced to life in prison with the chance of parole after pleading guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, but that sentence was overturned on appeal.
He was resentenced to 20 years in prison.
Hoehn’s former girlfriend, Brooke Crews, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit kidnapping stemming from LaFontaine-Greywind’s death and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
LaFontaine-Greywind's daughter, Haisley Jo, survived the ordeal and now lives with her family.
7. Landon's cancer struggle ends
Nearly 1,000 people gathered at Scheels Arena in Fargo in September to celebrate and mourn the life of Landon Solberg, 12, of West Fargo, who died after a long battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer.
The arena was decked out in gray, green and gold, the colors of Landon's favorite football teams: the North Dakota State University Bison and the Philadelphia Eagles, along with their quarterback, Carson Wentz, who took a personal interest in Landon's life journey.
6. Fargo food truck owner murdered
The Fargo-Moorhead area was rocked by the June shooting death of 38-year-old Jason “Jay” Allen Halvorson, who was killed outside the food truck he operated near downtown Fargo.
Prosecutors say Halvorson was killed by Kareem Lee Byrd and Charles Edward Harris, both of whom pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Byrd and Harris were arrested shortly after the shooting that happened early on June 7 in the parking lot of the former Sahr’s Sudden Service Station at 601 4th St. N.
Byrd told investigators that he and Harris had a verbal confrontation with Halvorson and later shot him using a 9 mm semiautomatic and a .22 caliber revolver.
5. Moorhead school referendum passes
Residents of Moorhead Area Public Schools in a landslide vote in November approved a $110 million school bond issue that will pay for a new high school as well as a career academy that aims to serve students looking for something other than a four-year college degree following high school.
"Yes" votes constituted 76% of election returns, giving school officials a clear mandate on the question of whether the district should replace its current high school, which was built in the 1960s.
All of the planned work, including the demolition of the current high school, is expected to be completed by the 2024-2025 school year.
The career academy will be set up in what used to be the Sam's Club in Moorhead.
4. Vettel departs top park district job
Joel Vettel's sudden departure as executive director of the Fargo Park District in early July came as a surprise to many, but information soon emerged that provided some context.
The history of Vettel's annual performance reviews showed his highly successful inaugural year in 2017 was followed by a far less glowing review in 2018, including disciplinary action for approving "an excessive amount of vacation leave" for employees.
The review gave Vettel an overall score of 1.65 out of 3 and he was rated as "needing development" in a number of areas, particularly when it came to working with staff.
Vettel remained relatively mum regarding his reasons for leaving, stating several times that he had done the job to the best of his ability but felt he could "no longer continue in the role as executive director."
3. WE Fest sold, to take breather in 2020
The announcement this past fall that the popular WE Fest music celebration had been sold raised concerns the new owners might move the festival from the Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, where it has been held since the early 1980s.
However, the new owners said that after taking the summer of 2020 off to "regroup," the festival plans to resume in its traditional locale in 2021.
"All of the rumors that are flying around that we're going to move the festival and all that kind of stuff are not true," said Brian O'Connell, president of country touring for Live Nation and creator of its Country National Festivals.
"We want to take the time to get to know the 37-year tradition of WE Fest and talk to as many people as we can who have been involved with it. ... There is a lot of history that we need to be respectful of, and a lot of people who are very invested in this festival," O'Connell added.
2. A year of weather woes
The weather played a major role in area news stories in 2019. It started early, with a city emergency declared in Fargo from Jan. 29-30, as dangerously low temperatures and heavy snow were heading for the metro area.
In April, Fargo and West Fargo declared a state of emergency when a blizzard blanketed the region with white-out conditions.
In March, heavy snow caused damage to roofs across the metro area, including St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Moorhead and Trail King Industries in West Fargo, which both saw their roofs collapse under the weight of deep snow.
Strong winds were the problem in June, when a severe thunderstorm pummeled the Fargo-Moorhead area, battering the north and south ends of the metro and leaving flooded roads, downed power lines, fallen trees and other wind damage in its wake.
Then, as a parting shot at 2019, a storm arrived in the metro area Saturday night, Dec. 28, bringing snow and wind that kept many roads impassable until late Monday, Dec. 30.
“This is a once-in-a-10-year thing,” Ben Dow, Fargo city operations director, said of the December snow-clearing efforts.
1. Harvest a muddy nightmare for farmers
Gov. Doug Burgum signed an executive order in October declaring a statewide flood emergency in North Dakota as he and other officials held meetings around the state in communities affected by high water.
Burgum said North Dakota was experiencing conditions it hadn't seen before and that perhaps $2 billion worth of soybeans had water standing on them in North Dakota and western Minnesota.
Recognizing the toll the situation was taking on growers, churches and others launched support groups to coordinate assistance for farmers, ranchers and rural communities besieged by low crop prices, trade wars and wet weather hampering the harvest.
Bishop Terry Brandt of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Eastern North Dakota Synod convened a meeting in October to discuss ways Lutheran churches and others could help those caught in the farm crisis.
“I cannot imagine the emotional strain and anxiety being (borne) by our farmers/ranchers and their families,” Brandt wrote in a recent letter announcing the coalition.