Year in Review: Rogue cows and cops among the highlights of 2010 in AF - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Year in Review: Rogue cows and cops among the highlights of 2010 in AF

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Posted: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:23 pm, Thu Dec 13, 2012.

In the summer of 2010, Ahwatukee Foothills residents were abuzz over the story of a cow that had gone rogue and eluded capture for more than a month by hiding out on South Mountain.

The black female bovine was reported missing from a small farm on the north side of the mountain near 29th Avenue and Dobbins Road on June 29. She had been sighted several times grazing and watering herself in various Ahwatukee neighborhoods.

It took more than a month for wranglers to catch up with her. Two freelance cowboys from Buckeye, hired by the cow's owner, Marufjon Ahmedov, finally apprehended her in August on Warpaint Drive, north of Knox Road in central Ahwatukee Foothills.

In truth, many local residents, at the time, professed they were rooting for the cow.

Here's a recap of the other big stories of the year:

Gila River tribe agrees to discuss Loop 202 options

In February, the Gila River Indian Community, whose land sits immediately south of Pecos Road, adjacent to Ahwatukee Foothills, appeared to soften its opposition to any suggestion that the route of the planned Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway extension be moved onto reservation land.

The planned 22-mile freeway extension has been in the works since the mid-1980s. Currently, the proposal calls for extending the freeway west from Interstate 10, on Ahwatukee's eastern border, along Pecos Road, which divides Ahwatukee Foothills from the Indian reservation. The route would involve cutting through three ridges on the west side of South Mountain, and then shooting north to reconnect with I-10 near 59th Avenue on the west side of town. It also would entail the demolition of more than 100 homes and other area buildings, including Mountain Park Community Church.

One of the possible alternatives involves rerouting the freeway's proposed route around the west side of South Mountain onto the tribe's land to eliminate the need to blast through three ridges, while retaining the Pecos Road alignment, Phoenix officials have said. The second option calls for constructing a completely new roadway south of Pecos Road on Indian reservation land, also skirting around the west side of South Mountain.

The talks remain ongoing.

South Mountain police precinct faces internal investigations

Several Phoenix police officers stationed at the South Mountain precinct, which serves Ahwatukee Foothills, have come under scrutiny for alleged off-duty fraud.

This month, lieutenants Lee Brent Shaw and Mark Tallman agreed to pay civil penalties of up to $458,000 to settle a civil lawsuit brought by the Arizona Attorney General's Office in connection with their real estate business, Better Choice Investments. Officials have alleged that the business targeted vulnerable, low-income homeowners facing imminent foreclosure. The pair also was put on paid administrative leave from the police department pending an internal investigation.

The Attorney General's complaint alleged that Shaw and Tallman took titles to homes after paying the homeowners' arrears on the mortgages, and allowed the homeowners to stay in the homes as tenants in a transaction known as a "sale leaseback." Almost all of the owners-turned-renters proved unable to repurchase their properties, at which time the officers sold or refinanced the homes at full market value, earning profits in the tens of thousands of dollars, according to the complaint.

Neither defendant admitted any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay restitution to the homeowners, civil penalties, and attorney's fees and court costs. Both lieutenants recently were transferred out of the South Mountain precinct in an unrelated Phoenix Police Department reorganization.

In a separate investigation, three active and one former Phoenix police officers from the South Mountain Precinct were indicted this fall on felony charges for allegedly billing businesses for off-duty security work they did not perform.

Former officer George Emil Contreras, 45, was indicted on four felony counts, including fraud, illegal control of an enterprise, and theft for actions he took during his employment with the department performing off-duty security services for multiple clients. Contreras was a Phoenix police officer for 18 years before he resigned in 2008.

Phoenix Police Sgt. Benjamin Hugh Sywarungsymun, 35, Officer Steven Paul Peck, 40, and Officer Aaron J. Lentz, 30, also were indicted on theft charges related to off-duty work.

The indictments allege that from December 2005 through 2007, Contreras committed fraud and theft against the Cotton Center Townhomes at 48th Street and Broadway, Laron Incorporated, Arizona Materials, and Eisenberg Properties by submitting false invoices and billing them for more off-duty hours doing security work than he actually performed. Sywarungsymun, Peck and Lentz also are alleged to have committed theft by accepting pay for hours they did not work.

Total losses alleged in the indictment are in excess of $16,000. The investigation had been ongoing since 2007.

Residents organize for the November election

A charged up electorate swept several local incumbents out of office this fall in a Republican surge.

Local incumbent Democrats like U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) and state Rep. Rae Waters (D-Ahwatukee Foothills) lost their seats. The only local Democrat left standing was Elizabeth Rogers, who defeated Republican Don Calender to be re-elected as Kyrene Justice of the Peace.

Residents on both sides of the political aisle joined up with local political organization to get out the vote. Last May, Ahwatukee Foothills residents formed a local Tea Party, which attracted more than 100 people to its monthly meetings, espousing values like limited government, a free market economy and fiscal responsibility.

Others joined Organizing for America, the organization that spun off from President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, formerly called Obama for America.

Pecos Road drunk driver found guilty of murder

On Christmas Eve in 2007, Christopher Smith was drunk, driving the wrong way down Pecos Road at night when he ploughed into a van carrying an Ahwatukee Foothills family.

In February, a jury convicted Smith of the second-degree murder of Trang Vo, 34, and three counts of aggravated assault for injuring Nuong Chung, 49, and his wife Tuyet Nguyen, 51, and Chung's sister, 36-year-old Kiem Chung. The four were coming home after a special Vietnamese concert on Christmas Eve when Smith's Buick Regal ran head-on into their Dodge Caravan.

Smith's blood alcohol concentration was 0.20 percent, more than twice the legal limit, more than an hour after the crash, according to testimony. He had been at a party at his parents' house. He was sentenced to 23.5 years in prison.

Budget cuts take toll on bus, ambulance services

The prolonged economic recession continued to take its toll on the city budget in 2010, leaving some Ahwatukee Foothills facilities and services facing the axe.

Phoenix was anticipating a $245 million budget shortfall early in the year. Officials were considering such things as whether to eliminate the senior program at Pecos Park Community Center, cut back on ALEX neighborhood circulator bus service, reduce the hours of operation at Pecos Park Community Center and lay off 144 firefighters and 286 police officers.

Ultimately, the cuts were scaled down to $64 million, while taxes and fees were implemented elsewhere, such as the imposition of a 2 percent tax on food, saving police and firefighters and programs at the community center, at Pecos Road and 48th Street.

The Phoenix Fire Department, however, was forced to eliminate one of its two ambulances in Ahwatukee. The ambulance had been assigned to Station 38 at Warner Road near 50th Street. Its elimination left the centrally-located Rescue 43, at Chandler Boulevard near 40th Street, as the only ambulance serving the 80,000 people spread out over 35 square miles in Ahwatukee Foothills.

ALEX - the Ahwatukee Local Explorer - had its budget cut by 50 percent and its routes trimmed. The program started in 2001 as a free, demonstration project to show how public transit could be provided in hard-to-reach residential areas like Ahwatukee Foothills. Its budget had been cut by 25 percent in 2009.

City officials float parking fees for South Mountain

Phoenix faced something of a backlash from Ahwatukee residents this summer over plans to begin charging for parking at South Mountain Park's Pima Canyon Trailhead.

In July, the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board voted to impose a $2-a-day fee for parking at the Pima Canyon lot, 9904 S. 48th St., near the eastern tip of South Mountain, as well as for several other parks around Phoenix. The fees are meant to ease Phoenix's budget woes and prevent service cuts, officials have said.

City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, whose district includes Ahwatukee Foothills, spearheaded the opposition, saying the city should deal with its labor costs before it imposes additional taxes on residents.

The City Council put off a decision until next spring on giving park rangers the authority to issue $50 citations to park users who fail to pay the parking fee. Until then, the fee remains voluntary.

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