Year In Review: 2013’s top stories

By Nick Kovatch on January 1 at 9:16pm

2013 kept us busy in the WLDS-WEAI News Department with stories that will forever stick with us. We take a look back at the most impactful stories of the year.

West Central Illinois’ ever-changing weather patterns always keep things interesting and 2013 was no different. A late-season March snowstorm set the scene for record flooding along the Illinois River in April. Area counties were declared state disaster areas. It even prompted Governor Pat Quinn to make a visit to Meredosia. Several low-lying roads were flooded, but volunteer sandbaggers and emergency management officials worked to keep damage to a minimum.

2013 was a year of change in local government. Marcy Patterson, Adonnis Shaw, Steve Warmowski, and Mike Wankel were elected to Jacksonville City Council for the first time. The most notable action by aldermen last year was to build a new $30 million water plant at the corner of Hardin and Superior. The new water plant means water rates will increase.

Also in 2013, Chris Reif moved from the Morgan County state’s attorney’s office to the judge’s chair. As a result, Robert Bonjean, former assistant state’s attorney, was named head prosecutor.

District 117 saw a new superintendent sworn in. Steve Ptacek took the reins in April. Financially this year, the school district slashed $1.5 million from its budget and subsequently announced it’s in the black with a $1.5 million surplus.

On July 27th, Jacksonville residents were shocked to hear popular real-estate agent Robert Heitbrink was arrested for murder. Prosecutors say he allegedly killed his step father-in-law. A motive has not been released and the case is still making its way through the court system.

If it seems like this has been an especially tragic year on local roads you’re right. Data from IDOT’s Traffic Safety Division indicates 2013 was the deadliest in more than a decade on Morgan County roads. Automobile accidents contributed to 11 fatalities. Six of those involved motorcycles and another involved a pedestrian. Four of the people killed in auto accidents in Morgan County this year were under the age of 20.

Two of those kids were Zoe and Peyton O’Neill. The siblings were about to start sophomore and senior years, respectively, at Triopia High School.

Another accident in July claimed the lives of 19-year-old Leo Alfano and 17-year-old Morgan McKinnon. The couple was on a motorcycle when it was struck by an SUV in South Jacksonville. Both later died at the hospital. A sign now dedicates the stretch of road where the teens were killed.

It was a surreal scene on April 25th. Every news media outlet from Chicago to St. Louis was in the Scott County village of Manchester covering the murder of six people, including an unborn child and two children. Authorities say Rick O’Dell Smith shot three adults and three kids at close range. A 6-year-old girl survived. Smith later died after a short car chase and shootout with police. State police say Smith was involved in a custody dispute with a member of the family he killed.

It was tough to narrow down the top stories of 2013. Tell us what you think by commenting on this story on our Facebook page.