In looking back over the stories published by The Advocate-Messenger in 2012, it was apparent the year started out slowly in terms of big news. But the headlines got bigger as May rolled around and stayed that way throughout the rest of the year. As with any year, there were stories to celebrate and stories that caused despair in 2012. Danville hired its first black police chief, who was quickly besieged by an uptick in violent crime, including three murders. Candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan and the world came to town and liked what they saw. A year of acrimonious politics at Danville city hall ended with voters choosing new faces in November. Boyle schools distinguished themselves, while Danville High said goodbye to its legendary football coach. The following 10 stories resonated the loudest in 2012.
Hail to the chief
It wasn’t long after Tony Gray was made police chief that it seemed all hell started breaking loose in Danville.
“I was sworn in on May 14 and on May 21 we had that double homicide, triple shooting,” Gray recalled last week. “I hadn’t even been on the job a full week and we had a crime of that magnitude, which doesn’t happen around here very often.
“And then we had several armed robberies not long after that, so it really was kind of a baptism by fire. But we’ve been fortunate enough to make arrests in most of those cases, so that’s the up side.”
Gray, 46, grew up in Danville and spent 17 years with the local police department before finally earning the top job, becoming the city’s first black police chief. A longtime assistant chief, Gray was passed over for the chief’s job in 2006 but won the job this year with widespread support from across the community.
Gray’s tenure literally started out with a bang, several of them in fact, with the drug-related shootings on High Street that left two dead and a third injured. That hectic pace has continued through most of Gray’s seven months as chief, with a string of at least six armed robberies occurring over the summer and then another murder in October, on the eve of the vice-presidential debate.
“That was a long 48 hours,” Gray said of the stretch between when Mellisa Luna-White was gunned down on the front porch of her Longview Drive apartment and the point where everyone involved in debate security could exhale after its successful conclusion. “Again, we made an arrest in that case fairly quickly, and the debate came off without a catch.”
“Even though we’ve had our ups and downs as far a violent crimes, it’s really been an enjoyable ride so far,” Gray continued. “You guys in the media, the community, the citizens and most importantly the employees that I lead have been great to work with and that’s made the job easier. Hopefully, 2013 will be a better year for us.”
The Great Debate
In October, lightning struck the exact same spot in Danville where a bolt was delivered 12 years earlier — the stage at Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts.
No offense to the first vice-presidential debate Centre hosted in 2000, but the 2012 showdown between Vice President Joe Biden and VP hopeful Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin seemed to carry more voltage and deliver more electricity to the college and community. The stakes seemed higher this time around and the degree of difficulty more daunting, yet the whole event went down without a hiccup.
“They aced it in 2000, and this year was even better,” said Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates.
For their part, the stars of the show, Biden and Ryan, delivered fine performances. Biden’s toothy smile and hearty laughter camouflaged some stinging remarks and helped re-energize Democrats after President Barack Obama’s sleepwalk through his first debate, while the comparatively inexperienced Ryan held his own by staying close to his talking points and making no big mistakes. Moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News was widely praised for her handling of the feisty candidates, who many thought battled to a draw.
There were 3,200 media credentials issued, including 600 to foreign journalists and other news personnel from 48 different networks hailing from 40 countries. Chris Matthews of MSNBC hosted his “Hardball” on campus, and several of Fox News’ biggest personalities such as Bret Baier and Juan Williams hobnobbed with the crowd.
About 7,500 people attended the Debate Festival, which included a performance by the Marshall Tucker Band. Two anti-abortion protestors were arrested after they climbed trees and shouted out their messages, creating the little bit of trouble that transpired during the event.
Hager the horrible?
When it comes down to it, Thomas Hager Jr. will have a tough choice to make between a likely plea offer of life in prison without parole or a possible death sentence if he is convicted at trial.
Though Hager has pleaded not guilty, police have said he already has confessed to shooting Ted Sparks and Mark Snyder to death and wounding Phillip White on May 21 inside Sparks’ home on High Street.
Police have said the shootings were drug-related but provided few other details of the crime. Sparks, 54, and Snyder, 21, of Waynesburg, already had been killed when White, 37, of Lancaster arrived at the house. Hager allegedly shot White as he tried to flee. He was critically wounded but survived.
After Hager was charged in the murders, Patricia Devine reported to police that her son, Clint Diskin, was missing. Diskin had lived briefly with Hager in Hustonville and was last seen with him prior to the Danville murders. Diskin’s decomposed body was found a few days later in a barn near the Hustonville trailer he shared with Hager and his death was ruled a homicide.
Hager has not been charged in Diskin’s death but is considered the prime suspect.
Prosecutors and police in Lincoln County are waiting to see how the murder case against Hager plays out in Boyle Circuit Court before moving forward on the Diskin case.
The next hearing for Hager is scheduled for Jan. 8.
Making the grade
In athletic endeavors, achieving a Top 10 ranking in sports has always been the goal, something to brag about. In recent years, educators have openly sought that status for their school’s academic efforts as well, and this year Boyle County schools finally broke into that elite group for the first time.
Boyle County became a “District of Distinction” in November based on the new K-Prep assessment tests that replaced the old CATS model that had been used for more than 20 years. Overall scores from all five Boyle schools placed the district in the 95 percentile of all school districts in the state.
Test results showed Boyle schools to be solid across the board. The high school, middle school and Woodlawn and Junction City elementaries all earned a “proficient” designation. The district’s crown jewel of academic achievement, Perryville Elementary, was awarded the “distinguished” label for its performance on the tests.
For their efforts, the district’s school and staff were rewarded with a visit from Gov. Steve Beshear on Dec. 20.