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2015 Review Of Top News Stories

When reviewing the top most viewed news stories of 2015 it is plain to see it was not only devastating for Calaveras County, but also a challenging year, at times, for Tuolumne County. That said, there were also many positive stories. The 2014 year in review is here, and this is an overview of what the Mother Lode endured in 2015.

Eight of the top 10 most viewed news stories this year are Butte Fire related news stories. (an overview of them is here.) The most viewed Butte Fire news story was our Saturday coverage on the 4th day of the blaze, September 12. Continuing coverage of the recovery is ongoing with Calaveras County recognizing its first “Unsung Hero” Jeannie Hayward, Director of the The Resource Connection by saying; “Butte Fire Recovery would not be possible without the devoted and dedicated service of Jeannie and her hard working staff.”

Another major fire that was successfully contained, the 7th most read news story

Butte Fire
Photo by: Ranay Judd

in 2015, was the Oak Fire. Firefighters and Columbia aircraft responded to a pair of vegetation fires in Tuolumne County, their cause has yet to be determined. The fires were in the vicinity of Old Oak Ranch Road near Big Hill Road and the Sierra Outdoor School and Old Oak Youth Ranch. Praise for how well the situation was handled and the details are here.

Another top news story (#8 most read) was the Big Creek Fire which started on July 29th, burning 204 acres. Homes were under evacuation, and 43-year-old Lisa Ann Vilmur, of Groveland, was arrested in connection with starting the fire. Cal Fire spokesperson Nancy Longmore said, “The cause was determined to be an escaped debris fire.”

There were also three bank robberies this year in Tuolumne County. The most viewed in 2015 was the Twain Harte Bank Robbery in which two suspects were later taken into custody. A 16-year-old, wanted in connection with the robbery turned himself into authorities after the other suspect, 18-year-old Daevon Marquell Harris, was arrested while appearing in court for an unrelated charge in Solano County.

Another bank robbery happened on February 5th at Umpqua Bank in Columbia State Historic Park. At noon a suspect described as a while male with a handgun demanded cash from a bank teller and ran away on foot. The students and staff of nearby Columbia Elementary School were on lockdown for just over one hour.

The third bank robbery was at the Wells Fargo Bank in Sonora on November 16th. Police described the suspect as a white female in her mid to late 30’s, with long blonde hair. She gave a note to a bank teller. The bank’s security footage was released here.

Photo by Tori James

Another top news story was the sad news of Calaveras Sheriff Gary Kuntz’s sudden passing. Video coverage of his funeral was posted here.

Another tragic top most viewed news story was related to a thankfully minor three acre vegetation fire near Longeway Road on September 22nd. The smoke was seen in East Sonora area and photographed by many. The fire was started by a vehicle that, for unknown reasons, rolled backwards down a steep driveway killing a 71-year-old man. The news story is here.

A larger, 110 acre fire, started on August 15th on Highway 108 by a vehicle accident that killed three including a young girl. The details of the accident were posted here and the followup news related to the fire is here. Both stories about the incident were in the top 20 most viewed news stories. But the most deadly crash in 2015 was on HWY 120 on October 24th involving seven people. Five of them were killed in the incident and two were taken to hospitals with major injuries.

The murder of three men while allegedly trying to steal marijuana from 38-year-old Leon Michael Grammer was also a top news story. Grammer’s brother, 30-year-old Jeremiah Lee Barrett is in jail awaiting trial for shooting the men. The victims are 44-year-old Terry Glen Looney Jr. of Waterford, 46-year-old Wes David Smith of Snelling and 60-year-old Robert Daniel Haney of Modesto.

The Mother Lode, and many who visited the area, rejoiced at some good news, sharing and

Traffic Delays In Downtown Sonora
Photo by: Larry England

reading our November 23rd winter storm watch, making it a top news story of 2015. Snow was predicted as low as 1500 feet, but that notoriously hard to predict snow level ended up higher bringing only rain for the Sonora area. It did snow enough to allow all the local ski resorts to be open for Thanksgiving weekend with a second news story “Are You Dreaming of a White Christmas” also making the top 25 most viewed news stories. Last week’s update on the drought situation is here, as suddenly too much rain is cause flooding and more problems. Still, for some trees it was too late, the newest information about bark beetles and dead trees is here.

MyMotherLode continues to provide updates about new and proposed local businesses. The top business news story was about Bertelli’s Pharmacy closing. An overview of new Sonora businesses is here. Another hot button issue was the Tuolumne County Planning Commission choosing to deny plans for a Columbia Dollar General Store with the developer appealing to the Tuolumne Board of Supervisors (details here.)

In good news for traffic the Mono Way Widening Project was 99% completed in February (landscaping was put on hold due to the drought) but one month later it was hit by a car, and fortunately there was only minor damage. The old Andy’s building came down to make way for the new Sonora Regional Cancer Center and work will begin on the Greenley Mono Way intersection in 2016.

Recognizing people who made news in 2015 in positive ways:

Levi Lowe In Washington, DC
Photo courtesy of National Endowment for the Arts

Sonora High School Sophomore Levi Lowe won the state competition and represented the state of California at the National Poetry Out Loud Competition placing with the top nine finalists at the nationals.

Jennifer Rapoza, a graduate of Sonora High School, entered her photography of local students in “Beauty Revived.” Gabriella Timmins was selected from Rapoza’s entries to be featured in the “Most Beautiful H.S. Seniors” publication making her eligible for a $3,500.00 scholarship.

Back in May Sonora High School Senior Sean Brennan accepted a $250,000 scholarship to the United States Military Academy at West Point. This year’s overview about all the scholarships is here.

Modesto Anthropology Professor, Dr. Debra Bolter, of Sonora contributed to research documenting a new species of a human relative. The species, which has been named naledi, has been classified in the grouping, or genus, Homo, the same as modern humans. The findings were presented by National Geographic in print and a cable tv shows.

Two women braved four cold nights and walked 12 hours a day for five days to survive being lost in the Emigrant Wilderness in Tuolumne County. Denise Diaz, 56, of Berkeley, who with her friend Laura Sherman, 57, of Oakland shared their cautionary tale this year here.

Strawberry Music Fest Stage
Photo by MaryAnn Curmi

Lastly, there are many wonderful events we cover in the Mother Lode but thanks to the cooperation of many the Strawberry Music Festival returned to Tuolumne. It was the event that drew the most clicks on


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