Wednesday, January 5, 2011

M-I readers pick bank's 500-job expansion as top story

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Saturday, January 1, 2011 12:12 AM CST

There was plenty of bad news in 2010, as there is every year.

A 13-year-old girl was killed in a hit-and-run accident, four members of one family died in a fire, the region baked in a drought and heat wave, eight violent deaths were reported in a region that is usually known for its lack of violent crime and "homelessness" became a household word.

But readers of the Messenger-Inquirer chose good news -- U.S. Bank Home Mortgage's announcement that it would add more than 500 jobs here in 2011 -- as the top story of 2010.

Other good news in the top 10 includes Owensboro Medical Health System's starting construction on a $385 million hospital, downtown development and 3G phone service coming to town.

Here's the list.

1. U.S. Bank Home Mortgage adds 500 jobs

In July, U.S. Bank Home Mortgage, already Owensboro's largest private employer with more than 1,000 workers, announced it would add more than 500 jobs here.

They will work in a new 81,000-square-foot, $5.4 million building that is being erected by the city at the entrance to MidAmerica Airpark.

The city will lease the building to the company.

2. Hit-and-run death

Thirteen-year-old Madalynn Matlock was struck by a vehicle March 6 while walking on Old Kentucky 54 in Philpot.

She died four days later.

More than two weeks later, an investigation led to the arrest of Jeffrey John Kotarek, 46, who is charged with murder and leaving the scene of an accident.

3. West Parrish Avenue fire

An early morning fire in August at a house on West Parrish Avenue took the lives of Wendy Devine, 35; her two children, Ryan Devine, 2, and Jerry Devine, 3; and her father, Jerry Marsh.

Investigators believe the fire was accidental and originated in a chair in a living room near the back of the house. But the cause could not be determined.

4. Drought

Despite thunderstorms that dropped 3.97 inches of rain in May and 3.66 inches in July, western Kentucky saw little rain from August through October.

By early December, the region was 15 inches below the normal rainfall.

Daviess County had moved into the "extreme" drought category -- the second worst of five levels -- in early November.

Seventy-eight days last summer saw the mercury climb above 90 degrees. Eight of those days were between 100 and 103 degrees.

Millions of dollars' worth of crops burned up in the field.

The state declared the drought over in early December, not because rainfall had caught up. Nothing grows during the winter anyway, state officials said.

5. OMHS breaks ground

In early June, 1,500 people attended Owensboro Medical Health System's official groundbreaking for its new hospital between Daniels Lane and Pleasant Valley Road.

The 150-acre plot will eventually be home to a nine-story, 447-bed facility, costing $385 million.

Construction will create 1,000 to 1,500 jobs over the next three years. And 800 hospital jobs are expected to be added over the next five to 10 years.

6. String of violent deaths

Once an area known for its lack of violent crime, the Owensboro region saw a string of killings in 2010.

In February, five men were charged in the shooting death of Joshua E. Newcomb, 23, who died at his home in Maceo.

Darrell S. Simmons, 59, was charged with murder in an August altercation that led to the death of Richard H. Melton, 48.

Paul Wayne Miller, 45, was indicted on a murder charge in the death of Richard Scott Embry, who was found dead in his home Nov. 12.

Donna Marie Gaines, 49, of Cromwell was charged with murder in November in the death of Gregory Keith Sigler, 52.

Police believe Carl W. Ward, 66, of Hartford killed himself after he shot and killed his estranged wife, Barbara Ward, 66, in October.

Timothy R. Cheatham, 51, of Central City was charged with murder, driving under the influence and driving on a DUI-suspended license in the September death of Cathy Ward, 41, also of Central City.

Michael A. Johnson, 36, was charged with murder July 13 for allegedly shooting Charlotte Brown in the back with a 12-gauge shotgun.

And Michael W. Callahan, 27, was charged with one count of murder-domestic violence in the death of his 5-month-old daughter in August.

7. Downtown development moves forward

City and county officials began making progress in 2010 in their $120 million downtown redevelopment project.

In January, the Malcolm Bryant Corp. was selected to build the signature hotel -- a $20 million, 150-room Hampton Inn & Suites.

That same month, a steering committee was created to oversee the planning, development and construction of a downtown convention center.

By the end of the year, the committee had selected an architect and recommended hiring a private management firm to operate the facility.

And work on the new river wall along the downtown riverfront was nearing completion.

Sites for the hotel and convention center were selected in 2010.

The hotel is scheduled to be built where the old jail was once located on St. Elizabeth Street, and the convention center will be where the main tower of the Executive Inn Rivermont once stood.

8. 3G comes to Owensboro

After years of waiting and frustration, the Owensboro region finally received AT&T's 3G broadband network in December.

The service was praised by economic development officials as a key to regional job growth in an information-dependent economy.

But local customers complained that AT&T offered the service in more than 370 metropolitan areas before it reached Owensboro.

9. Homelessness

In March, local homeless shelters reported they were having to turn away more than 100 people each month.

There was simply no more room, they said.

Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire and Owensboro Mayor Ron Payne appointed a task force in May to study the issue.

Homeless people set up a tent city they called The Last Resort in a backyard on Walnut Street in June.

St. Benedict Joseph Homeless Shelter, which had only been open during the winter months, decided to open year-round.

But shelters are still overflowing this winter.

10. Election 2010

The November election not only shook up the federal government, it also brought significant change locally.

Both the Owensboro City Commission and Daviess Fiscal Court will have three new members this year.

For the first time, all four members of Fiscal Court live in the city. And for the first time, there's a Republican majority on the court.

And state Sen. David Boswell, who had served in various offices in state government for more than 30 years, was defeated by Republican challenger Joe Bowen for the 8th Senate District seat.

Honorable mention

The region's unemployment rate missed the top 10 by one vote. The closing of the General Electric Motors and HON plants, both of which had been strong employers for decades, missed by six votes.