Weber County Commissioner Gibson targeted in Ogden police probe

Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018

Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson, right, at a Feb. 20, 2018, meeting. He’s the focus of a police probe but he and his backers say he’s done nothing wrong. Commissioners Jim Harvey and James Ebert are also pictured. By Tim Vandenack

OGDEN — Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson is the target of an Ogden Police Department investigation of some sort.

Public information is hard to come by, but it’s been a surprise, the fact of an elected leader here, seemingly out of the blue, falling onto the radar screen of law enforcement. Gibson has rebuffed any notion of wrongdoing and any hint of what may be behind this has actually come from him and his supporters. They suspect a multi-million dollar flood-prevention project in western Weber County may be at the root of things, but they say nothing untoward happened as the project, overseen by the county and completed in 2015, unfolded.

The apparent sticking point is that Gibson, through his family dairy operation, owns land in the area where the project occurred, abutting the Weber River, in fact.

Here are a few of the stories I’ve done thus far:

Most of anything that’s come out has been sided in favor of Gibson. Police are saying little as things proceed.


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Weber County growth causes jitters, scrutiny among some

Monday Jan. 22, 2018

Taylor residents, left to right, Eric Page, Greg Bell, Michelle Peasley and Shae Bitton, worry about runaway growth in the zone west of Ogden. They’ve been pushing for more controlled growth. By Tim Vandenack

TAYLOR — Growth is the mantra along the Wasatch Front in Utah.

Though viewed as a good thing by many — an indicator of the strong economy and popularity of the area — expected population increases and expansion don’t have everyone clicking their heels. In the rural Taylor area in western Weber County, west of Ogden, some are leery of growth, worry it will happen too quickly and there will be too much. It may be inevitable, but residents in the area want more control over how growth evolves and they’ve been clamoring to be heard.

Here are a pair of stories:

The Taylor people aren’t the only ones worried. It’s been an issue in North Ogden (among other places), near the site of a planned large-scale, high-density development of apartments and townhomes. Here are a pair of articles from last year:


Laura Rentmeister, left, and sister Kathy Rollman hold a photo of their mother Verna Marriott. By Tim Vandenack

In a different vein, I recently wrote the sad, tragic story of a woman suffering dementia who inexplicably left her home early one morning, got lost and ended up dead in the yard of a home a half-mile away. Sounds like she lived a full life, had many who loved here. Sad, nonetheless:

Ogden woman’s family finds solace after her death in cold, but questions linger, Dec. 28, 2017

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Ogden area Latinos flex entrepreneurial muscle, move into business

Wednesday Dec. 27, 2017

A few of the Latino entrepreneurs in Ogden (clockwise from top left): Javier Chavez, Ana Maria Medina, Gustavo Ortega and Miguel Hernandez. By Tim Vandenack

OGDEN — Ana Maria Medina, who came to the United States from Mexico as a teen, brought by her mom, used to work the fields of California, picking strawberries.

It’s tough, hard work and she eventually moved on to cosmetology, working many years in the salons of others and now, finally, operating her own beauty shop in Ogden.

“She was already running the place where she was. Might as well run her own business,” said her daughter, Gabriela Valencia, who prodded her mom to take the leap. “She went from working in the fields with the strawberries to cleaning homes to being owner of a salon.”

Many in the sizable Latino population here may stick with service-sector and lower-paying jobs, but more and more are flexing their entrepreneurial muscles, launching their own businesses. U.S. Census Bureau numbers show an uptick and it’s the focus of a recent deep dive I did for the Standard-Examiner looking at local Hispanic business operators.

Those I spoke to came from humble backgrounds in Mexico, never saw business as an alternative when they were growing up. Here in the United States, though, they see the opportunity and have seized it:

The online version contains video of those I interviewed and colleague Sheila Wang gathered up some of the data (look here) that offers a glimpse into the Latino community here.

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Ogden $106.5 mln school bond issue generates furor, remains point of debate

Sunday Nov. 26, 2017

The Ogden School District $106.5 million bond proposal generated sharp debate and still does, even after its defeat at the polls on Nov. 7, 2017. Some of the signs, pro and con, in front of Polk Elementary in Ogden on the eve of the vote. By Tim Vandenack

OGDEN — A proposed $106.5 million school bond in Ogden sparked sharp debate, failed at the polling place but remains a point of contention.

Ogden School District officials proposed the bond as part of continuing efforts to modernize schools, make facilities safer and, by offering sparkly new buildings, prevent parents from transferring their kids to schools outside the system. Foes worried plans to enlarge three schools, particularly Polk Elementary, would turn them into large student repositories and charged the proposal wasn’t well thought out.

It kept me busy on the eve of Nov. 7 elections after I unexpectedly inherited the education beat, at least temporarily, and now, after its narrow defeat at the polls, it remains a live issue. The needs at Ogden schools remain, so the question becomes — what now? Do school officials come up with a new bond proposal, do something else?

Here’s some of my coverage:

I’ve done only some school reporting, but it’s important stuff, I’ve enjoyed digging into the issue.

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Trump move to end DACA sparks concern from Ogden immigrants

Sunday Oct. 8, 2017

Clarissa was born in Mexico, brought to Ogden as a young girl, but says the United States is home. She’s one of many left wondering what comes next after President Trump’s decision to eliminate DACA. By Tim Vandenack

OGDEN — They’re here lawfully, for now anyway.

But some of the formerly undocumented immigrants who have secured permission to remain in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, approved under President Barack Obama, are still uncomfortable getting too much publicity. I spoke to two young Ogden women with DACA status in the wake of President Trump’s decision to halt the program, Gisela and Clarissa, but they only wanted their first names used, worried about backlash, chiefly to their undocumented parents.

That shows how touchy the immigration issue is. More significantly, though, their comments shed light on the people most impacted by Trump’s decision, young people who regard the United States as home but, because they were brought here illegally by their parents, live in a sort of limbo.

Here’s the story: Ogden immigrants worry after Trump axes DACA, say U.S., not Mexico, is home.

It’s a big topic in Ogden, as in many places, because of the heavy Latino and immigrant population here. Some are directly impacted, like Gisela and Clarissa. Others are impacted because it affects their immigrant friends and relatives.

Here’s another related story, written in the wake of Trump’s DACA decision: Ogden advocates fear DACA decision will push immigrants back into the shadows.

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Salvadorans, Guatemalans seek new lives in the Ogden area (or, not all Latinos are rooted in Mexico)

Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017

Rufino Bocel, who now lives in Centerville, came to the U.S. from Guatemala in 1991, in part to get away from the violence of the Guatemalan Civil War, then still simmering. He’s one of many I spoke to for a package of articles on Central Americans in Utah. By Tim Vandenack

OGDEN — Most of the Latinos in Utah (like the United States as a whole) have roots in Mexico.

But not all of them.

A subset in the Ogden area and Utah as a whole come from Central America, most notably El Salvador and Guatemala. I’ve long wanted to zero in on non-Mexican Latinos and finally put together a package for the Standard-Examiner.

It took several months, gathering information here and there, searching out contacts, visiting people. I attended services at three evangelical churches, which draw a fair number of Central Americans. I also ate at a Salvadoran restaurant here in Ogden, broke bread with a group at a Pentecostal church and dug into U.S. Census Bureau numbers and other data on killings (violence pushes many out of the region).

I knew that gang activity and the civil wars of the 1980s and 1990s have pushed many from Central America, but it was eye-opening hearing the stories over and over of violence. It’s a far cry from the sorts of stories I’ve heard from immigrants from Mexico, pushed largely by economic concerns (though that country has its fair share of violence, too).

Here’s what I pulled together:
SALVADORANS, CENTRAL AMERICANS COME TO UTAH FLEEING GANGS, VIOLENCE: The main story, offering the accounts of the violence many have faced before coming here to the United States, whether legally or illegally. “If I hadn’t come, they would’ve killed me,” Rafael Moreira told me, alluding to the gang threats he faced in El Salvador.

CENTRAL AMERICANS ON FOOD, GANGS AND BEING MISTAKENLY IDENTIFIED AS MEXICAN: This is a series of photos and quick observations from several of the people I interviewed. “Sometimes the customers ask, ‘Can’t you make tacos, burritos?’ We say, ‘No, sorry,’” said Luis Pineda, operator of an Ogden Salvadoran restaurant, La Cabañita Salvadoreña. “They ask us if we’re Mexican. We say, ‘No, we’re Salvadoran. We’re from El Salvador.’”

SALVADORAN WOMAN SEEKING ASYLUM SAYS UTAH OFFERS PROTECTION, PEACE OF MIND: This tells the story of Araceli, who faced extortion from Salvadoran gangs as the operator of a small clothes stand in a market and paid twice before closing her shop and coming to Utah with her family. “If you don’t give it to us, we know where you live,” one of gang members had threatened back in El Salvador.

Some of the people I met, things I saw in reporting a package of stories on Central Americans in the Ogden area and northern Utah for the Standard-Examiner. See the stories at, Clockwise from upper right: A woman during a service at Shalom Christian Church in Ogden, home to a large Salvadoran contingent; Ana Canenguez, left, and other women making pupusas, a Salvadoran food, in a south Ogden neighborhood; Rufino Bocel, originally from Guatemala, at the Light and Truth Pentecostal Christian Church in Ogden; Iris Mencia, originally from Honduras, now living in Riverdale, photographed in Ogden; and Marcos Candray, originally from El Salvador, at Shalom Christian Church, where he serves as pastor. #elsalvador #guatemala #honduras #utah #ogden #immigration

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Ogden Latinos, immigrants brace themselves under Trump

Sunday Feb. 26, 2017

Employees from Beto's Mexican Food in Ogden pose outside the restaurant on Feb. 16, 2017, Day Without Immigrants. By Tim Vandenack

Employees from Beto’s Mexican Food in Ogden pose outside the restaurant on Feb. 16, 2017, Day Without Immigrants. By Tim Vandenack

I’m now reporting from Ogden, Utah, for the Standard-Examiner, the local paper here. A big change from The Elkhart Truth in Indiana, but it’s exciting to be here and there’s plenty to write about.

I’m writing about the sizable Latino population and immigration — a particularly hot topic with President Trump‘s focus on the issue.

Here’s what I’ve written on the matter:

Another unfolding story, in a decidedly different vein, has been the case of an expensive house built atop a rise in south Ogden that is gradually disintegrating, putting the home at risk.

Here’s what I’ve written:

Just last Friday, I visited a small community north of Ogden, Garland, to see how people there are coping with flooding, brought on by a particularly heavy accumulation of snow and quick melt-off last week when temperatures rose:

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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Cooper ‘wanted to live the American Dream;’ Gary was fleeing gunfire; Hixson recalled after death

Sunday Dec. 18, 2016

Keith Cooper, pictured in Chicago outside his lawyer's office, seeks exoneration in a violent 1996 Elkhart robbery. By Tim Vandenack

Keith Cooper, pictured in Chicago outside his lawyer’s office, seeks exoneration in a violent 1996 Elkhart robbery. By Tim Vandenack

In recent weeks, I’ve covered the death of a woman killed by a stray bullet shot into her home, an officer-involved shooting and a former Elkhart man’s push for exoneration in a violent robbery. Pretty grim stuff.

I traveled to Chicago last month to meet with Keith Cooper, the former Elkhart man who says he was wrongly convicted in a 1996 robbery, which left another man with a gunshot wound.

I’d written about his case. Though now free, he’s seeking a new trial in Elkhart Circuit Court, hoping for exoneration. He’s also sought a pardon from Gov. Mike Pence, so far unsuccessfully.

But I hadn’t met him, so took the opportunity, when I happened to be going to Chicago anyway, to hear from him directly, about how the case has impacted him and what exoneration would mean. There’s some pretty compelling evidence pointing to his innocence.

“I want the world to know that I’m Keith Cooper. Not Keith Cooper the criminal. I’m not a felon. I’m a decent human being who just wanted to live the American Dream,” Cooper, now living outside Chicago in Country Club Hills, told me at his lawyer’s office. “They ripped it from me.”

Here’s the story and a sidebar citing evidence Cooper uses to make his case:

Program from Norman Gary's Dec. 16, 2016, funeral. By Tim Vandenack

Program from Norman Gary’s Dec. 16, 2016, funeral. By Tim Vandenack

An Elkhart man, Norman Gary, died in an officer-involved shooting on Dec. 4. It remains under investigation by Indiana State Police, and the source of the bullet that killed Gary remains unclear. A shoot-out of some sort was taking place when police happened upon the scene in south Elkhart. Officers fired during the melee as well.

Gary’s legal guardian, Margaret Johnson, who considers the man her son, and Sandy Holt, Johnson’s daughter, say Gary wasn’t threatening anybody when the gunfire took place, that he didn’t have a gun and that he was trying to drive away from the chaotic scene to safety. A very confusing situation. I spoke with Johnson and Holt, who grew up with Gary and considers him her brother, last Friday, after Gary’s funeral:

Teketa Hixson, killed after a teen allegedly fired a gun intoher home, in a photo held by her sister, Latoya White. By Tim Vandenack

Teketa Hixson, in a photo held by her sister, Latoya White. By Tim Vandenack

Teketa Hixson died after a 14-year-old fired a gun into her south-central Elkhart home. It’s not clear why the teen, who faces a charge of felony reckless homicide,  did what he did. He was acquainted with Hixson’s family and had spent time at their home.

Whatever the spur, it’s a sad situation. She leaves behind four kids and a fifth she had been caring for. I spoke to Hixson’s mom and sister to learn more about the woman:

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Elkhart Latinos respond to Trump and other post-election coverage

Monday Dec. 4, 2016

Participants in the Elkhart County Republican Party caucus on Friday Dec. 2, 2016, in Goshen. GOP committeemen picked a replacement to fill out Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill's term when he takes over in January as Indiana attorney general. By Tim Vandenack

Participants in the Elkhart County Republican Party caucus on Friday Dec. 2, 2016, in Goshen. GOP committeemen picked a replacement to fill out Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill’s term when he takes over in January as Indiana attorney general. By Tim Vandenack

Election coverage didn’t end with the counting of votes the night of Nov. 8.

I kept busy in the days afterward as well, analyzing and understanding the results and what they meant.

In Elkhart County, the election of Donald Trump as president alarmed some Latinos and immigrant advocates, and they gathered to mull the implications of his selection:

The election of Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill as Indiana attorney general was noteworthy in the context of racial politics. He’s the first African-American GOPer, near as I can tell, and one of only a handful of African-Americans ever elected to statewide office in Indiana, but race seems to have factored little in his contest.

“I’d like to believe that we’re at a point in 2016 where there are just people. There are Hoosiers. There are Americans,” Hill said in an interview with me.

Here’s the story:

U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski resoundingly won a third term and the GOPer was pretty ecstatic about the prospects, in combination with Trump’s victory.

“Now I see a path forward,” she said, alluding to hope for repeal of Obamacare, more aggressive action against ISIS extremists in Syria and an end to what she sees as stifling federal overregulation.

Here’s the story:

Me, Tim Vandenack, on far right, at taping of WNIT's Politically Speaking, aired Nov. 13, 2016. We discussed Nov. 8 elections. Screen grab from program.

Me, Tim Vandenack, on far right, at taping of WNIT’s Politically Speaking, aired Nov. 13, 2016. We discussed Nov. 8 elections. Screen grab from program.

Just last Friday, I covered the caucus of Elkhart County Republican Party committeemen to pick someone to fill the unfinished term of Hill, who’s term as prosecutor still has two years. They tabbed Chief Deputy Prosecutor Vicki Becker and also picked replacements for two other officials elected to higher office last November. The story was pretty straightforward (look here), but it offered the chance to flex some tweeting muscles and I reeled off 17 of them, reporting all the action — and Becker’s naming — in real time.

As in other cycles, I appeared on “Politically Speaking,” the political show on local public station WNIT, as a wonk, discussing and analyzing the election results:

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Walorski, Coleman battling it out for U.S. House seat

Monday Oct. 31, 2016

Democratic challenger Lynn Coleman, left, seeks to unseat U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, right, the GOPer seeking her third term. By Tim Vandenack

Democratic challenger Lynn Coleman, left, seeks to unseat U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, right, the GOPer seeking her third term. By Tim Vandenack

Locally, one of the big races has been the race for the 2nd District U.S. House seat.

Rep. Jackie Walorski, a GOPer, is going after her third term, challenged by Democrat Lynn Coleman and Libertarian Ron Cenkush. Among the points of contention have been Walorski’s unwillingness to debate, outside a radio debate in a more rural part of the district, and the incumbent’s thoughts on Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

Me, Tim Vandenack, on WNIT's Politically Speaking, discussing the U.S. House race between Rep. Jackie Walorski, Lynn Coleman and Ron Cenkush.

Me, Tim Vandenack, on WNIT’s Politically Speaking, discussing the U.S. House race between Rep. Jackie Walorski, Lynn Coleman and Ron Cenkush.

I helped analyze the race for WNIT, the South Bend-based public television station, in a program aired Oct. 23 that featured the three candidates (look here).

There’s a debate between Coleman and Walorski next Tuesday and more’s bound to occur ahead of Election Day, Nov. 8. But here’s some of what I’ve written of late:

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