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Herald editors select biggest local stories of past year

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Posted: Monday, December 31, 2012 4:30 am | Updated: 2:13 pm, Thu Jan 23, 2014.

The past year has been an eventful one in Central Texas, with the opening of a new hospital, the election of a new Killeen City Council six months after a recall vote and the opening of a new Killeen campus for Texas A&M University-Central Texas.

The year was also marked by legal proceedings — from the continued delay in the court-martial of the accused shooter in the 2009 Fort Hood massacre to the conviction of a thwarted terrorist who planned to blow up soldiers at a local restaurant.

Here are the Top 10 stories of 2012, as chosen by the Herald’s senior editors:

1. Hasan trial delayed

Accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan’s decision to defy military regulations by growing a beard marred his trial in 2012, leading to a lengthy appeals process and a new judge.

Continual delays and appeals meant the third anniversary of the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting on post that left 13 dead passed without Hasan having his day in court.

Hasan’s capital murder court-martial was days from beginning in August when an appeals court ordered the case halted in order to examine the judge’s order to have the 42-year-old U.S. Army psychiatrist shaved by force. That order ultimately led to the ouster of military judge Col. Gregory Gross in December.

Only recently have hearings resumed for Hasan. The new judge, Col. Tara Osborn, said during her first pretrial hearing that she would allow Hasan to keep his beard.

Litigation over pretrial motions will resume in January.

2. Abdo sentenced

The trial for thwarted terrorist Naser Jason Abdo resulted in swift punishment and a sentence that all but guarantees the Fort Campbell, Ky., private will spend the rest of his life in prison.

A jury convicted Abdo of federal weapons charges in May after a weeklong trial.

Killeen police arrested Abdo, 22, on July 27, 2011, after a tip from a Guns Galore clerk led them to believe he might be planning an attack. Abdo confessed to a plot to kill Fort Hood soldiers by detonating homemade bombs at a restaurant and shooting any survivors.

The 22-year-old Muslim soldier cited Hasan as an inspiration. He represented himself at sentencing, asking the court for no mercy. Judge Walter Smith sentenced him to back-to-back life sentences plus 60 years Aug. 10.

3. Killeen voters elect new council

After a historic recall vote in November 2011 removed five council members, voters filled the vacant seats in May.

As a result, the newly elected council members inherited a backlog of city business, including the appointment of a city manager.

Voters chose Elizabeth Blackstone, Jared Foster and recall organizer Jonathan Okray to fill three at-large seats. Wayne Gilmore was elected District 1 representative and Jose Segarra was elected District 2 representative.

Voters also chose former Councilman Dan Corbin to fill the mayor’s seat. Mike Lower and Terry Clark round out the council.

4. New hospital opens

With the opening of the $110 million Seton Medical Center Harker Heights in mid-June, the Killeen area welcomed its first new hospital in more than 30 years.

Since opening June 18, the full-service acute-care hospital has recorded more than 25,000 visits and has delivered about 60 babies each month.

The 192,400-square-foot facility employs more than 400 people and has brought 30 new physicians into the community.

5. Education changes

It was a big year for education as students at local colleges and school districts saw new buildings, new programs and changes in leadership.

Texas A&M University-Central Texas opened the first building on its new campus. The $40 million Founder’s Hall opened in May, and construction of a second building is under way.

Central Texas College welcomed Thomas Klincar as its new chancellor after James Anderson retired in late January.

It also marked the first year of classes at the Killeen Independent School District’s Career Center, which offers high school students the chance to get professional training in a number of career areas.

6. Fort Hood changes

For the first time in a decade, Fort Hood in 2012 no longer had troops in Iraq.

With that change, focus began to turn toward Afghanistan. The 1st Cavalry Division’s Headquarters and 1st Air Cavalry Brigade returned from a yearlong deployment to the country over the summer and the division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team is there now as one of the Army’s first active-duty security force assistance brigades. Several other Fort Hood units also are serving in Afghanistan.

The year ended with Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr. bidding the post farewell as he headed off to command Seventh Army and U.S. Army Europe in Germany.

Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley stepped up to lead III Corps and the Great Place into 2013. Milley will take the Phantom Corps to Afghanistan in the spring.

7. Nolanville mayor arrested, jailed

Nolanville mayor Charlie L. Stewart was arrested July 20 and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child, nine months after Councilman Miguel A. Aviles was arrested on similar charges.

Stewart was working as the campus technologist at Manor Middle School at the time, but resigned from the position after his arrest.

In September, Stewart forfeited the mayor’s office after missing three consecutive council meetings while sitting in Bell County Jail.

No trial date for Stewart has been scheduled.

Nolanville residents elected Christina Rosenthal mayor in November.

8. Copperas Cove builds for future

A number of development projects continued and others broke ground throughout Copperas Cove during 2012, setting the stage for significant commercial and residential growth.

Land owned by the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation was sold to Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate early this year for the Five Hills shopping center. An H-E-B Plus will anchor the large commercial development. Whataburger, Chili’s, Panda Express and Chick-fil-A restaurants also are planned for Five Hills.

Planning stages were completed for two other large commercial properties — The Narrows Business and Technology Park and the Professional and Business Park.

The Texas Department of Transportation continued construction on two highway projects around the city — the U.S. Highway 190 bypass and State Highway 9. Both projects are expected to be completed in a year.

A third TxDOT project broke ground — the widening of Farm-to-Market 2657.

9. Three killed in apartment fire

In the early morning hours of Sept. 14, an apartment fire claimed the lives of three Killeen residents and left at least 36 homeless.

The early-morning blaze destroyed the entire apartment complex on North Gray Street in downtown Killeen.

Two of the victims were Fort Hood soldiers originally from Ohio, ages 19 and 21. The third victim was a 33-year-old woman.

More than 50 firefighters, 12 police officers and six fire engines responded to the blaze, which spread rapidly through a shared, open attic space.

Fire marshals pinpointed the fire’s origin as the kitchen area of the downstairs apartment where the bodies were found.

Killeen Fire Chief J.D. Gardner called the disaster the biggest fire in recent history.

10. CCISD bomb threats

Classes at schools in the Copperas Cove Independent School District came to a screeching halt after a series of bomb threats between Dec. 4 and 21 forced the district to cancel school for three days.

Eleven bomb threats at its high school and two junior high schools caused multiple evacuations, disrupting the school day, and costing CCISD about $22,000 for each incident.

After being out of school from Dec. 12-16, students retuned to increased security. Whether students will make up those days is unknown.

Nine juveniles have been detained by police, and the incidents are under investigation.

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