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Cochise County 2010-2019: Biggest stories of the decade

Larry Dever

REGION— On the final day of the decade, the Herald/Review is looking back at some of the most memorable and impactful stories of the last 10 years.

From a high-profile murder along the border to an important water rights trial, the 2010’s were full of big moments that continue to affect Southern Cochise County to this day.

While the stories selected herein may not have had the most page views on the Herald/Review website (those are usually crime or accident stories), they have been selected for their overall influence to the region. We also have highlighted the 2011 Monument Fire as our “Story of the Decade” for its immense scope and reach, the effects of which are still being realized.

2010: The murder of prominent rancher Robert Krentz on March 27, 2010, shocked the community.

The 58-year-old, whose family had been involved in ranching for more than a century, was found riddled with bullet wounds on his property near Douglas just before midnight. His faithful dog Blue was critically injured, but refused to leave Krentz’s side.

The killing has never been solved, but it’s widely believed that the suspect or suspects were undocumented immigrants who encountered Krentz as he checked on water tanks on his 35,000-acre spread.

Krentz’s last words to his brother Phil Krentz between 10 and 10:30 a.m. that day, were made over a hand-held radio the two were using to communicate with each other. The only words Phil Krentz could understand were, “illegal alien” and “hurt.”

Just before 7 p.m., the family reported Robert Krentz missing. They had tried to reach him several times throughout that day. His body was found inside his truck just before midnight by an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter. Blue was trying to keep people at bay in an effort to protect Robert Krentz. The canine was later put down because of his injuries.

Then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in a news release, decried the killing of the Cochise County cattle rancher, calling it a “horrible tragedy that deserves a swift and strong response.”

The case helped propel the issue of border security into the national spotlight.

2011: The Monument Fire is the story of the decade; the destruction and devastation left in its wake — both physical an emotional — is still talked about today, and will likely never be forgotten in Cochise County.

Origins of the blaze, which erupted on June 12, 2011, have never been clear. It’s believed that it was started by someone on the Mexican border. Glenn Spencer, president of American Border Patrol, a nongovernmental border watch group based in Hereford, told the Herald/Review in late June 2011 that the Monument Fire started in Mexico and crossed the U.S.-Mexico border at Wash 62.

Dale Thompson, a public information officer for the Coronado National Forest at that time, said there were indications a small portion of the burn area was in Mexico by 200 to 300 yards.

Regardless, the devastation left an indelible mark on the community. It raged on for two weeks, burning just over 30,500 acres. It destroyed or damaged nearly 70 structures and forced the evacuation of nearly 12,000 people.

Personnel from at least 11 fire departments and four state and federal agencies — roughly 250 people — fought the flames for the 14 days as they destroyed everything in their path. One of the tragedies included the death of a horse named Charlie, described as one of the “faces of the Monument Fire.”

People across the state were introduced to Charlie after the inferno burned through a 380-acre pasture where he was grazing with members of his herd on June 12. He was burned over 75 percent of his body. As one of 36 horses belonging to a rescue organization Horse’n Around, Charlie’s story was picked up by media all over the state and followed by animal lovers from Cochise to Coconino County.

“He was a real fighter, but all at once his body started shutting down,” said Steve Boice, who had been medicating Charlie and treating his burn injuries after the fire. “...we had to do what was best for Charlie.”

Other tragedies followed. An historic property off Ramsey Road went down, as did parts of the Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine. Businesses burned down, as did countless residential properties.

Five years later in 2016, a handful of first responders recalled exploding transformers and power poles, entire canyons reduced to ash, and a wall of flames racing over a five-lane highway.

At the time the Monument Fire sparked at the Coronado National Memorial, there were three other blazes burning in Arizona — the Horseshoe 2 Fire, the Wallow Fire and the Murphy Complex Fire.

2012: News of the crash that killed longtime lawman and Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever affected leaders across the state.

Dever died on in a single-vehicle rollover accident on Forest Service Road 109, about two miles north of White Horse Lake. The latter is about 20 miles southwest of Flagstaff.

The motorist who was behind the sheriff’s 2008 Chevrolet pickup, reported that the person in front of him — Dever — headed south on a dirt road leading to White Horse Lake. The caller lost sight of the truck for a brief time, then reported seeing a cloud of dust, and as the vehicle came into view, the motorist said it was clear it had rolled over and had landed upright.

People from all levels of government were upset by Dever’s passing, from Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller, to the late Sen. John McCain.

Dever took the lead on the national issue of illegal immigration and its impacts not only on Cochise County, but the state of Arizona and nation. He testified before Congress on several occasions regarding these issues.

The father of six boys, Dever served in law enforcement in Cochise County for 34 years.

2013: This is the year that parts of Cochise County turned green with the introduction of medical marijuana in Bisbee and Sierra Vista.

Dispensaries were opened in both cities — Bisbee’s in March and Sierra Vista’s in May — becoming the county’s second and third such businesses, respectively. The first dispensary, Cathy’s Compassion Center, opened in December 2012 in the rural community of Cochise.

2014: In March of this year, the powers that be at Fort Huachuca began talking about the possibility of paring down the installation by 2700 positions — both military and civilian — over the next five years.

The reason behind the planned scaledown was the 2013 federal budget sequestration, which saw a 10 percent cut to military spending.

The end goal, said Maj. Gen. Robert P. Ashley — commander of the Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca at the time — was a proposed end-strength of 420,000 soldiers. The breakdown called for 1,700 military and 1,000 civil service positions. Ashley said that was “installation-wide,” meaning they include all the military organizations on the post.

But Ashley said before the Army made any decisions impacting the Fort, there would be a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA). That would allow area local leaders and the public to comment on any environmental or socio-economic impacts such a reduction would have.

2015: Canyon Vista Medical Center opened its doors in Sierra Vista in April of this year. The new partnership bumped the hospital’s staff up to 675 employees.

Ron Wagner, the chairman of the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona, congratulated the board of trustees and RegionalCare Health Partners (RCHP) on the new name during the groundbreaking ceremony. RCHP entered into an agreement with the former not-for-profit hospital board in early 2013 to design, build and operate the new facility.

Since the establishment of a hospital in Sierra Vista the health facility has had five names, as follows:

• 1963: Western Baptist Osteopathic Hospital

• 1964: Cochise General Osteopathic Hospital

• 1966: Sierra Vista Community Hospital

• 1966: Sierra Vista Regional Health Center

And, as of April 2015: Canyon Vista Medical Center

2016: A unanimous vote by the Benson City Council to accept the master plan for a 28,000-home community, is seen as historic by city officials.

The new community, Villages of Vigneto, was slated to cover 12,500 acres. When the Community Master Plan was adopted by the city council in a 7-0 vote in July 2016, Benson Mayor Toney King hailed it as “one of the most pivotal points in Benson’s history.”

The project had supporters and detractors. Developers supported the master plan and the economic benefits the subdivision will bring to Benson and its environs. Conservation groups meanwhile, expressed concerns about how the development will affect the San Pedro River, Kartchner Caverns and wildlife.

The project remains in litigation as claimants are waiting for a ruling from Arizona District Court Judge Raner Collins which could prevent construction of Villages at Vigneto from moving forward. That ruling is expected in early 2020.

2017: Bisbee’s historic City Hall in the Warren district went up in flames in the wee hours of Oct. 11.

While the building’s interior was largely ravaged, the exterior walls remained standing, fire officials said. Firefighters rescued most of the city’s records, staging an operation to recover computer servers that were located on the first floor of the building. Interim Fire Chief George Castillo reported that after about an hour on the scene, he assembled a team of four firefighters to enter the burning building and bring out the computer equipment.

Firefighters from Naco, San Jose, Fry, Whetstone, Douglas, Sierra Vista and Palominas joined the City of Bisbee in helping knock down the fire. Douglas’s ladder truck was especially crucial for the firefighting effort, Castillo said.

When firefighters got to the building’s second floor, they were met with intense flames that “blew out the roof,” Castillo said.

Documents lost in the fire included maps and financial reports prepared in anticipation of an audit that was coming up.

Mayor Pro Tem Doug Dunn had said that the building was constructed in 1909 as the headquarters of the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company. It was a significant player in the city’s effort to earn recognition on the National Historical Register, he said.

“I believe it was the first poured concrete building in the state,” Dunn said.

On Oct. 19, eight days after the blaze, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office said arson was not the cause of the inferno. It likely erupted on the second floor where construction had been taking place.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carol Capas wrote in a press release: “The building — built in 1909 — had several alterations made to it over the last century and evidence of past electrical wiring was observed by investigators. These older wiring systems could not be ruled out as a cause for the fire due to the internal collapse of the structure.”

The investigation team included structural and electrical engineers, and an accelerant sniffing dog brought from the Gilbert Police Department, along with representatives of the Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

2018: The suicide of a 14-year-old boy inside his elementary school saddened the community and united it.

Gunfire was reported at Coronado Elementary School the morning of Jan. 9, 2018. The school was placed on lockdown as Sheriffs deputies flooded the campus. The boy had shot himself in one of the school’s bathrooms.

The weapon the eighth-grader used was recovered. It belonged to one of his family members, the Sheriff’s Office later said.

Funeral organizers said they were most impressed by how the youngster’s death brought everyone together — friends, family, even two separate churches.

Pastor Gary Brown, with Immanuel Lutheran, said there were at least 260 people at the funeral, more than he had ever seen at the church before. He said he was struck by the number of children who attended the service.

Jacqui Clay, superintendent of Cochise County Schools, also said she was impressed with the unity that resulted after Fuller’s death.

“This county came together as a family during this time of need,” she said. “I’m speechless. Prayers go out to the family and we as a community will do everything we can to start the healing process. We received many calls from the county and around the state showing support for Cochise County and for that we are grateful.”

2019: For 28 days from January to April, Special Master Judge Mark Brain heard testimony from numerous expert and non-expert witnesses so he could determine how much water was necessary for the preservation of the San Pedro River flows and to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area’s unique habitat and the species, some threatened and endangered.

The U.S Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sought water rights claims, represented by the U.S. Department of Justice, to maintain and sustain the river flows in various reaches throughout the 40-mile long protected area, which includes the subflow zone beneath the river and the underground aquifer which gives it life.

However, attorneys for Freeport McMoRan, Inc., Sierra Vista, Cochise County, Pueblo Del Sol Water Company and Liberty Utilities, who all agreed protecting the river was essential, sought to show the amount of water BLM wanted was more than needed and offered a reduced amount as a compromise.

Brain will review all the material presented in the trial and the library of studies and reports from both sides to determine the outcome. His ruling is expected sometime this year.

Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services FILE  

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley