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2013 brings changes to city, along with tragedy

It has been a year of ups and downs, shocking news, some tragedy and big changes to the city and some businesses. We don’t know what’s in store for 2014, but here’ a look at the top 10 stories from 2013.

Bennett sexual assault case

The most shocking story of the year is the allegations against 57-year-old rodeo enthusiast Peter Bennett, who was arrested on sexual assault-related charges involving five females.

Bennett was arrested Aug. 29 on six counts of open and gross lewdness involving a minor. Additional charges, including attempted sexual assault, were filed after his arrest, when a second accuser came forward.

Bennett posted bail, but was arrested a second time while attending a pretrial hearing Sept. 24 at Boulder City Municipal Court, and charged with sexual assault and kidnapping, among other charges. Police said the arrest was because a third person came forward.

Bennett was indicted Oct. 30 by a grand jury on 24 felony charges and 10 misdemeanor charges. All five females testified at the indictment hearing about incidents that mostly occurred at the Boulder City Horseman’s Association.

The alleged incidents date to 2009 and include inappropriate touching, rape and Bennett forcing one woman to perform oral sex on him while holding a gun to her head.

Bennett remains at Clark County Detention Center awaiting a March 24 District Court trial.

Dotty’s purchase of Hacienda

The acquisition of the Hacienda by tavern operator Dotty’s, first reported in August, means big changes for all involved.

The sale was finalized Monday. The casino closed Tuesday to begin a series of renovations and install equipment to tie gaming machines into Dotty’s reward system. It is set to reopen Sunday under the new ownership.

Interior/exterior renovations will adhere to a lodge theme, including the addition of a fireplace. Once renovations are complete at an undetermined date, the property will be renamed Hoover Dam Lodge.

Dotty’s also plans to change the gaming environment by removing table games and creating what Dotty’s Chief Financial Officer/Chief Operating Officer Mike Eide called a “boutique mall for gaming,” with a central corridor and partitioned gaming areas, or individual casinos.

One or more of the gaming areas will be a 50-machine Dotty’s tavern, which, characterized by a distinct interior with plants and porcelain figurines, is “designed to remind you of your grandmother’s kitchen,” Eide said.

The acquisition shook things up for Hacienda employees, who were told they would have to reapply to work at the Dotty’s-owned property. More than 150 of the Hacienda’s 200-plus employees were extended job offers at a Dec. 2 job fair, according to a company spokesman.

Hoover Dam Lodge will be the first hotel-casino property owned by Dotty’s, a rapidly growing company with more than 80 taverns in Southern Nevada.

Finn firing

A dramatic chain of events and allegations involving former Police Chief Thomas Finn, city officials and the Mongols Motorcycle Club began in 2012, but continued into 2013.

The saga climaxed in April, when Finn was fired for reasons the city did not disclose. However, it’s thought the firing had something to do with Finn’s allegations against a few city officials and Mongols attorney Stephen Stubbs.

Finn sued the group in District Court, alleging a conspiracy to have him fired. Finn also claimed he filed complaints with the Clark County district attorney and Nevada Ethics Commission, alleging illegal activity by city officials, including City Manager David Fraser, Finn’s supervisor.

Finn, a Roman Catholic, also claimed he filed a complaint with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, alleging Boulder City violated his constitutional rights by firing him because of his age and religion.

However, the district attorney said recently there is no record of a complaint by Finn.

The ethics and equal rights commissions say they could not verify whether complaints had been filed, but said recently no hearing had been held on the matter.

Finn also launched a media campaign against city officials, telling KLAS-TV Channel 8 news that the predominantly Mormon Boulder City power structure wanted him gone because he is not Mormon.

Finn was not only fired, but his lawsuit was dismissed by a District Court judge. The Nevada Supreme Court dismissed an appeal Oct. 4, stating Finn abandoned the case.

The good news for Finn was the district attorney in April decided that he did not commit a crime when he ordered officers to delete department emails related to a June 2012 Mongols gathering.

Stubbs’ allegations that multiple felonies had been committed by Finn and a push for an investigation is what prompted Finn’s lawsuit.

A federal civil rights lawsuit Mongols members filed against Finn and other Boulder City and Las Vegas officers last year is ongoing.

Missing rifle

The police department lost track of a semi-automatic rifle. The Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle was found to be missing during a December 2012 audit, but the story wasn’t reported by the Boulder City Review until January.

The rifle, which had been assigned to officer Robert Woolsey, was misplaced when Woolsey left the department in October 2011.

“My gut feeling honestly is that it was poor oversight. Policies weren’t in place, procedures weren’t in place. Too many hands were on it,” Woolsey said in October.

The city began an internal investigation into the rifle’s whereabouts in January, but it was not found, leading the department to call for an independent investigation by Henderson Police Department. However, after a three-month investigation, the case was closed in October. The rifle was not found.

The investigation, however, revealed that policies and procedures were not adequate for the record-keeping and security of department-issued firearms, according to Boulder City Police.

Walters family murder-suicide

Another news story in 2013 was the Walters family murder-suicide.

Early Jan. 21, Hans Walters, an off-duty Metropolitan Police Department lieutenant, shot and killed his wife, Kathryn Michelle Walters, and 5-year-old son, Maximilian Walters. After calling 911, Hans Walters set the family’s home at 1313 Esther Drive on fire and took his life with a gunshot to the head.

The news stunned neighbors and acquaintances of the Walters family, a seemingly nonviolent family. The story also made national headlines.

It wasn’t until Boulder City Police released a recording of the 911 call that Hans Walters’ motive was revealed.

Talking in a calm, monotone voice, he told a dispatcher he had shot and killed his son and wife “because she’s in such chronic pain from her neck and back, and on more medicine that she’s not going to survive.

“I feel terrible for doing it,” he said before pausing. The dispatcher tried to ask a question but Walters said, “Please don’t, please don’t interrupt me, please.”

At the end of the 1-minute, 43-second call he states, “Forgive me for my sins.”

The investigation, which was led by Henderson police, painted Kathryn Walters as a woman in increasing pain from a back injury probably suffered because of her passion for running. It also revealed that Hans Walters was under increasing financial and emotional stress.

The case was closed in May, but the charred, collapsing residence remains a nuisance. Neighbors and property owners recently signed a petition urging the city to demolish the home.

For a year the city has been unable to condemn the property because its ownership is being contested by family members in Probate Court, according to Brok Armantrout, community development director.

However, the city was recently contacted by a contractor who may be moving forward with orders to demolish the house, Armantrout said. The City Council may discuss the issue in February, he said.

Gene Segerblom death

Gene Segerblom, one of Nevada’s most prominent personalities, died Jan. 4 at Boulder City Hospital, at age 94.

During more than 60 years in Boulder City, Segerblom had been an influential mother, teacher, writer, city councilwoman, state legislator and friend.

She was “a force of nature,” friend Linda Faiss said.

Segerblom moved to Boulder City in 1940 after securing a teaching position. She quit teaching after marrying the following year, and moved to Panama. After she returned, she taught government at Boulder City High School for many years.

Segerblom had a lasting influence on many students, including author Sally Denton and Nevada State Museum Director Dennis McBride.

McBride, the leading authority on Boulder City history, credits Segerblom for sparking his love of history. But more important, he said his former teacher gave him the emotional support he needed as a young gay man.

“She helped me understand that the value of my life and range of opportunities (were) unlimited,” McBride said. “If it were not for Gene’s advice and encouragement at that critical time, it’s likely I wouldn’t be alive today.”

In 1979, the then 61-year-old Segerblom was elected to the Boulder City Council, where she served one term and advocated for the arts and the city’s controlled growth ordinance.

The daughter and granddaughter of two Nevada legislators, Segerblom ran for state Assembly in 1992 at age 74, defeating the Republican incumbent. She served until 2000.

Segerblom’s son, Richard “Tick” Segerblom, is carrying on the family tradition as a state senator.

On March 11, 2010, four days before her 92nd birthday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., honored Segerblom on the floor of the U.S. Senate for “a lifetime of service to her family, community and the entire state of Nevada.”

Naturally occurring asbestos

The top science story of the year, published in the Boulder City Review Nov. 21, was the discovery of naturally occurring asbestos in the city.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas researchers published a study in October that naturally occurring asbestos was found in rock, soil and dust samples from the dry lake bed, King Elementary School, a residential backyard and other areas.

Several fibrous minerals found as a natural component of rocks and soils are classified as asbestos. Asbestos has never been found in Clark County.

It can be toxic when dust containing the fibers is inhaled, even if the microscopic fibers are not one of the six asbestos minerals that are federally regulated and often used for industrial purposes. But the majority of the minerals found around Boulder City were classified as the regulated mineral actinolite, and “that’s not a good thing,” UNLV researcher Barbara Buck said.

The study estimates 53,000 acres in and around the city may contain the fibrous particles.

To further examine the potential health risk in Southern Nevada, UNLV has partnered with the University of Hawaii and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hawaii researchers will be conducting an epidemiologic study using Nevada cancer data collected by the CDC and laboratory experiments to determine the toxicity of the minerals found in Boulder City.

Central market closing

Central Market, Boulder City’s oldest downtown market, closed in January after operating for more than half a century.

The closure was because the market’s most recent owners, Kathy and David Walker, who purchased the business in April 2012, were faced with unexpected equipment costs and less-than-anticipated traffic.

“It wasn’t busy at all like we expected it to be,” Kathy Walker said in January. “I guess Boulder City wasn’t ready for what we had to offer.”

Central Market began as a fruit stand in 1931, and has been at 1101 Arizona St. since 1948.

Wayne Goble, who sold and bought back the market four times since purchasing the business and the building in 1982, opted not to run the market again.

Goble instead leased the building to Boulder City Antique Market, which opened in May and features dozens of vendors.

Gregory Hover/Richard Freeman sentencings

Gregory Hover, 41, and Richard Freeman, 22, were sentenced this year for their involvement in a January 2010 crime spree that left two people dead, including a young Las Vegas mother whose body was found within Boulder City limits.

Hover was convicted of 31 counts in the case, including two counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death in June by a District Court jury.

Freeman, believed to be a co-conspirator, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in April. He was sentenced in September to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

“(Freeman) was as guilty (as Hover), but there was no evidence to suggest he actually took their lives,” Deputy District Attorney Dave Stanton said. “And there’s a distinction.”

On Jan. 14, 2010, Boulder City police found 21-year-old Prisma Contreras’ body inside of her burned vehicle on State Route 165, the road to Nelson. After being kidnapped from the Las Vegas parking lot of Hooters Casino, where she worked, Contreras was raped, strangled and stabbed to death. Her body and vehicle were set on fire.

Ten days after Contreras’ body was found, Hover, a process server, visited the Las Vegas home of Julio and Roberta Romero, where he attempted to serve legal papers to a friend they hadn’t seen in years. Hover and Freeman then returned to rob the elderly couple in the early hours of Jan. 25. Hover shot 64-year-old Julio Romero in the head, killing him, and then shot Roberta Romero in the face.

Interstate 11 funding

The long-talked about Interstate 11 bypass construction was set into motion in September when the Clark County Commission passed a fuel tax increase.

The increase is expected to provide $230 million for the construction of the 12-mile loop around Boulder City, according to the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, which plans to fund the project through bond sales.

The Transportation Commission expects to award a design-build contract in the fall, with as many as three years required for construction.

The loop, which would alleviate traffic congestion in Boulder City, is part of a larger project in the early stages that would connect Phoenix and Las Vegas via a federal interstate, I-11.

The tax increase goes into effect Wednesday and runs until Dec. 31, 2016. It will raise the price of vehicle fuel by 3 cents a gallon for each of the three years.

In all, 182 road projects will be funded from the tax increase that is expected to provide $700 million.

With the funding announcement, Boulder City officials and business owners ramped up discussions about how the town would attract tourism dollars once interstate traffic is routed around it.

Fraser, the city manager, said the town needs to be “active and creative in promoting what we have here.”

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