2016 in review

A year of change, tragedy and triumph

A look at the stories that helped shape 2016 in the south metro Denver area

Posted 12/30/16

The detective was hidden by thousands of pounds of steel, but he wasn't exactly going undercover.

Dan Brite, who was shot and almost killed by a Parker man nearly four months earlier, was on his way home. Three days before Christmas, a Douglas …

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2016 in review

A year of change, tragedy and triumph

A look at the stories that helped shape 2016 in the south metro Denver area

Posted

The detective was hidden by thousands of pounds of steel, but he wasn't exactly going undercover.

Dan Brite, who was shot and almost killed by a Parker man nearly four months earlier, was on his way home. Three days before Christmas, a Douglas County Sheriff's Office armored vehicle took him there - but not before rolling down Highlands Ranch Parkway so his co-workers at the sheriff's substation could cheer his release from Craig Hospital in Englewood.

On Sept. 2, Brite was shot in the chest by a suspect described by authorities as being suicidal. The suspect, Randall Rodick, was killed by a police officer moments later.

Community support poured in throughout Brite's recovery.

On Sept. 11, more than a thousand people gathered outside Parker Adventist Hospital, where Brite remained in critical condition, to pray and offer words of encouragement for the Douglas County resident and his family.

"You have no idea the power of that," Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said of the support for his officer.

By Oct. 6, Brite had recovered enough to be transferred from Parker Adventist to Craig for continued rehabilitation. He is still without the use of his legs, and he received extensive care at Craig, including instruction on using hand controls to drive.

As the year came to a close, Brite's ride home offered a reminder of how a triumph can emerge from tragic circumstances.

The following is a look at some of the other stories that helped shape 2016 in the south metro Denver area, as chosen by editor Chris Rotar, with input from community reporters.

April 4: A popular doctor, Kenneth Atkinson, 65, was shot to death in his Centennial neighborhood. The suspect, Kevin Lyons, 46, is also accused of shooting and wounding two women. Lyons - who faces numerous charges, including first-degree murder - is expected to enter a plea early this month.

April 6: A fire at a Littleton apartment building for seniors forced the evacuation of all 130 units. The fire was ruled accidental and no serious injuries were reported. But two weeks later, the residents of Southview Place Towers learned they would not be permitted to return because the damage to the building was too extensive. They were forced to find new homes. "These folks have just experienced a traumatic loss," said Kathryn Roy, executive director of Littleton nonprofit group Love INC, who helped gather volunteers to assist seniors with the move. "They're grieving - they're grieving the loss of a community." The building's owners expect to begin renting again in July, and those forced out by the fire will be given priority, a Southview spokesman said in December.

May 24: Douglas County School District's superintendent announced she was leaving to take the same position at a district in Texas. Elizabeth Fagen's six years at the helm of DCSD were marked by controversy over a number of reforms she helped implement. Erin Kane, executive director of a local charter school, was named interim superintendent and is expected to lead the district through the completion of the 2016-17 school year.

June 14: Littleton City Council fired the city manager, a rare move in the south metro area. Some councilmembers cited a lack of competency on Michael Penny's part when it came to matters related to development and urban renewal. But one councilmember who supported Penny called the move part of "a multi-pronged approach to dismantle this city." In December, the city council announced there are six finalists to replace Penny, with interviews scheduled for February.

June 28: Lora Thomas, the former Douglas County coroner, won the Republican primary for county commissioner, District 3. Her opponent, Monica Wasden, was the choice of the area's GOP leadership, and she received the endorsements of many local leaders. Thomas went on to win the seat in the November general election and starts her new job as Douglas County commissioner this month.

July 26: A months-long effort came to an end when Castle Rock Mayor Paul Donahue kept his District 1 council seat in a recall election. Frustrated by what they felt was out-of-control growth in the town, a group of residents mounted recall efforts against Donahue and two other councilmembers, Renee Valentine and Mark Heath. The efforts against Valentine and Heath were withdrawn before they could be put to a vote of residents.

Oct. 1: Nicholas Lewis, a chef at a Denver restaurant, was fatally shot in Englewood. The suspects in the 33-year-old Englewood resident's death are both 16-year-olds who are being charged as adults with first-degree murder: Raheem Vaughn Benson, of Littleton, and Louis Fernando Lara-Macias, of Englewood.

Nov. 8: On Election Day, Englewood voters said yes to opening their wallets by approving several ballot measures. The city's five elementary schools will be replaced with a $97.5 million bond measure, and schools will also get $1.5 million more per year in operating funds. A new police station got a $27 million go-ahead. Recreational marijuana sales also got the OK, with nearly two-thirds of voters backing such sales.

Nov. 8: U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, kept his seat in the 6th Congressional District, which includes Aurora, Centennial, Littleton and Highlands Ranch. The race drew national attention and was projected to be extremely close, but the congressman won by a large margin over Aurora Democrat Morgan Carroll, 51 percent to 43 percent.

Nov. 25: Colorado State Patrol Trooper Cody Donahue, 34, was killed by a passing vehicle while working a separate crash on I-25 south of Castle Rock. Hundreds of law enforcement officers attended Donahue's memorial service Dec. 2. "Cody, we love you, we're going to miss you," state patrol Capt. Jeff Goodwin said during the service. The suspect, Noe Gamez-Ruiz, 41, was arrested and faces charges of careless driving resulting in death, a misdemeanor, and failure to yield the right of way to an emergency vehicle, a traffic infraction. The Denver man's next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 31.

Nov. 30: A Highlands Ranch mother and her two young children were found dead in a van in the parking lot of a vacant Lone Tree store. Jennifer Laber, 38, shot her two sons, Adam, 3, and Ethan, 5, before turning the gun on herself, according to authorities. Laber's husband, Ryan, said she had long been battling depression.

Dec. 3: Valor Christian High School won its seventh state football championship in the past eight seasons, cementing its status as a dynasty. The private Highlands Ranch school defeated Pomona 30-14 for the Class 5A crown after starting the season 1-3.

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