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12 months that were anything but dull

The year 2006 was a time of comings and goings for the Inland Northwest, in academia, sports, law enforcement and politics.

Coming were Eastern Washington University’s new president Rodolfo Arevalo at the start of the year and Washington State University’s new president Elson Floyd at its end.

Anne Kirkpatrick came from Federal Way to become Spokane’s police chief in July. Ozzie Knezovich came from relative anonymity to become the county’s sheriff.

Vice President Dick Cheney came to Spokane in April and to Coeur d’Alene in November, trying to help Republican candidates. Northwest Republicans managed to buck the national trend and hold onto their congressional seats, but Democrats won key races in Spokane and even picked up legislative seats in Republican-red Idaho.

Adam Morrison said goodbye to Spokane, Gonzaga University and his senior year, and hello to the NBA and the Charlotte Bobcats.

Spokane said a hearty hello to the Shock, and the new team’s amazing season ended with an arenafootball2 championship.

The hello was less hearty to high gas prices, the highest in the continental U.S. in October.

The Spokane Health District Board said goodbye to its longtime director, firing Dr. Kim Thorburn over what board members described as “problems with communication.” Although the public protested, the board held firm.

Football coach Dennis Erickson said hello again to his old job as University of Idaho football coach in February, and goodbye again in December, leaving it for greener pastures – or at least warmer climes – at Arizona State.

Whether it was global warming or El Niño or just bad luck, 2006 had some weird weather: Heat waves in May and June, flooding in Western Washington in November, and a regional windstorm that knocked down trees and knocked out power in December.

There was much talk of new developments. Spokane city officials tried to put the massive Kendall Yards redevelopment northwest of downtown on a fast track. Cabela’s outdoor megastore announced plans to anchor a major new shopping mall in Post Falls. The new Spokane Convention Center opened.

Not everything could be saved, however: A wrecking ball brought down the Mohawk and Rookery buildings.

Also in downtown Spokane, questions were raised about the safety of the River Park Square garage after a Pullman woman’s car crashed through a wall and slammed onto the ramp five floors below. The fatal accident generated conflicting opinions on the garage’s condition. The mall owner, a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review, eventually reinforced the barriers.

There was good business news: Kaiser emerged from bankruptcy and announced plans to expand its Trentwood rolling mill. And bad news: Legal fights over Metropolitan Mortgage continued, and investors began receiving a payout of about 6 cents on the dollar.

Spokane’s Catholic Diocese remained locked in its bankruptcy struggle brought on by claims of sexual abuse by some of its clergy. Settlements were floated and sunk, the diocese sold its headquarters building and, as the year drew to a close, acknowledged the case will continue into 2007.

Beyond new leadership, 2006 was not a banner year for law enforcement. A firefighter invited a 16-year-old girl he met on the Internet to a Spokane firehouse, where he had sex with her and took sexually explicit pictures. Daniel Ross eventually resigned but wasn’t charged because two detectives told him to delete the photos.

Otto Zehm, a mentally impaired janitor, died after struggling with police at a Spokane Zip Trip. Officers received information, which later turned out to be false, that Zehm had stolen money from an ATM. Initial police descriptions of the struggle didn’t match the store’s videotape, and a decision on charges awaits an FBI review.

News doesn’t always fit neatly into a single calendar year, so 2006 saw the continuation of several Inland Northwest story lines.

Former Mayor Jim West, forced from office by voters last December, was cleared of federal public corruption charges by the FBI in February, but investigators added that they weren’t making any judgment on state laws or city policies. West died of cancer in July.

Fred Russell fled the country in 2001 a few days before his trial was to begin on charges that he killed three Washington State University students while driving drunk in Whitman County. Russell settled in Dublin, Ireland, under an assumed name, where he was caught in 2005. He was finally extradited in 2006 to face trial in Colfax, now scheduled for October.

Joseph Duncan appeared in court in Coeur d’Alene for 2005’s grisly triple murder of Brenda and Slade Groene, and Mark McKenzie. He eventually pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and three counts of kidnapping and could still face the death penalty in an upcoming federal case. Spared the ordeal of testimony was 9-year-old Shasta Groene, the sole survivor of Duncan’s attack, now living with her father, Steve.

Kevin Coe, convicted of a 1981 rape and accused of being the South Hill rapist, finished his prison sentence but was back in court in Spokane to determine whether he is a sexual predator and stay in custody the rest of his life. That will be up to a jury, said Spokane County Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor. In 2007.