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YEAR IN REVIEW: Lamar Odom’s brothel incident leads list of area’s top stories in 2015

A former NBA star’s weekend romp at a nearby brothel that led to him being found unconscious, drawing tons of attention on town were among the top stories in Pahrump last year.

The continued budget issues for the county and animal shelter, flooding, a near radioactive disaster and a fight over the groundwater management plan also led a year filled with big news stories.

Here’s a list of the major stories that affected the area in 2015.

Odom brothel incident shined international media spotlight on Pahrump

One of the biggest stories, not just in Pahrump, but across the globe, was the Lamar Odom brothel incident that happened in October.

Odom was at the tail end of a three-day stay at the Love Ranch South in Crystal when he apparently overdosed on a mixture of drugs, alcohol and an herbal sexual enhancer and was found unconscious by brothel staff on Oct. 13. The former NBA star and estranged husband of reality star Khloe Kardashian was transported to Desert View Hospital and was then transferred by ambulance to Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, as he would not fit in the Mercy Air helicopter due to his 6-foot, 10-inch frame.

Brothel owner Dennis Hof broke down Odom’s stay and revealed he spent a small fortune in the three days he was there.

“Yes, he did spend $75,000. That was for the length of his stay, which was a minimum of four days, maximum of five days,” he said. “That was something he wanted. He said he wanted undivided attention from two girls, Ryder Cherry and Monica Monroe for four or five days.”

The pair of hookers were at Odom’s beck and call 24 hours a day while he was there.

The story directed a ton of media attention on the valley, made evident by the throngs of national and local media that attended a press conference held by the Nye County Sheriff’s

Office at the county commission chambers on Oct. 14.

The sheriff’s office handed their findings in the investigation over the to the Nye County District Attorney’s office in mid-November, which reportedly contained a positive blood test for cocaine, but Sheriff Sharon Wehrly would not confirm those reports.

District Attorney Angela Bello has yet to make a decision to advance on charging Odom in the case.

Odom was transferred to Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles where he still remains while he recovers from complications brought on by his apparent overdose.

Search engine Google said Odom was the top search in the world in 2015. -Mick Akers

Presidential candidates visit Pahrump

Several presidential candidates paid visits to Pahrump throughout the year amid a heated race that took center stage in many places across the country.

The wife of Republican nominee Ted Cruz and prominent advocate for his campaign, Heidi Cruz, made her first presidential campaign visit to Pahrump in September.

Cruz arrived at Nye County Republican Headquarters where she was greeted by a crowd of residents and a score of local officials and gave a 40-minute speech in support her husband’s presidential run.

Cruz blasted some of Obama’s policies and urged members of the audience to join a grassroots movement that Cruz’s campaign was building up from coast to coast while she continued to travel around the country to support her husband’s presidential campaign.

“We have a president who is an apologist for freedom, (who) is an apologist for our leadership, and who wants to make everything fair,” she said. “And as Ted often reminds people on the campaign trail, we don’t want it to be fair, we want to win. And we must protect that.”

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul stopped in Pahrump in late October after opening a campaign office in Las Vegas. Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, was the first GOP presidential candidate in the 2016 campaign to visit Pahrump.

During his appearance at the Bob Ruud Community Center, Paul positioned himself as less hawkish than the rest of the Republican pack, criticizing excessive military spending and proclaiming himself as the “only fiscal conservative” among other Republican candidates.

Paul, who has been struggling to gain traction in the presidential run, enjoyed support during his stop in Pahrump, a town with many Republican-leaning voters.

One-time GOP frontrunner Ben Carson also paid a visit to the most populous town in Nye County amid his efforts to ramp up his presidential campaign in Nevada. Carson’s visit drew hundreds of attendees as densely-packed space at the Pahrump Nugget wasn’t able to accommodate all of the people who wanted to get a glimpse of Carson and listen to his speech.

As part of the Nevada campaign, Hillary Clinton, a leading Democratic nominee, opened her office in Pahrump in early December.

Clinton wasn’t present at the event, but several dozen supporters and campaign staffers who attended the opening exchanged their views on national politics and talked about why they supported the Clinton campaign. -Daria Sokolova

Financial woes continued for county

The Nye County financial situation has continued a downward spiral throughout the year as officials continued slashing jobs across the board and scrapping services in many parts of the county.

The financial straits sent ripples across many organizations throughout the county as recent projections showed financial downfall in the coming year as well.

Funding to the animal shelter and senior nutrition program were cut as well as funding of emergency services and the police. The cut to the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension prompted a visit from the university’s dean, Mark Walker, who addressed the need for county money in front of commissioners.

Amid the budget crisis, officials were also considering eliminating and capturing existing funding to the Pahrump Valley Museum and Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah to help alleviate some of the county’s financial issues.

Nye County commissioners prompted groans from many residents when they approved a 5-cent motor fuel tax hike. The rate went into effect on Oct. 26 to support the increased cost of road maintenance.

Meanwhile, Nye County received over $3 million in disbursements of Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT funding, from the United States Department of Interior in October as compensation for federal lands that don’t deliver tax revenue.

PILT payments are made annually to local governments that have nontaxable federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and for federal water projects and some military installations.

County officials said both payments will become part of the annual revenue that is budgeted into the county’s general fund.

Additionally, Nye County commissioners approved rescission of the ordinance that was enacted in 2000 by the previous board of commissioners for operation of five special revenue funds that included special project, education, PILT, emergency and capital improvement endowments.

The total of the funds was approximately $19.5 million, while the revenue earned by the county was near $160,000, according to the fiscal year 2015 audit.

Amid dire financial projections for the next year, county officials pinned some hope on new medical marijuana growhouses and one dispensary that are expected to bring additional tax revenue. -Daria Sokolova

Animal Shelter closes to public

It was touch and go regarding operations at the Nye County Animal Shelter in 2015, after the facility closed for business to the public in July.

This month county commissioners unanimously approved giving the shelter $7,660 out of contingency money to keep the facility operating for the next three months.

In September, commissioners approved continuing to fund the shelter that had been closed to the public but is still receiving animals that animal control officers are bringing in.

The amount will be split unevenly between the temporary kennel assistant and the cost of food and supplies, $5,360 and $2,300 respectively.

Back in March, Tails End Animal Shelter Director Susan Cronin said she was blindsided after learning Nye County commissioners would not renew the shelter’s $225,000 annual contract due to budget cuts.

The county’s decision came roughly a year after agreeing to an initial contract when Cronin first assumed the duties of the animal shelter.

Cronin said though she was aware of the county’s bleak financial situation, she did not know just how dire it actually was.

“I guess that means they are not renewing our contract,” she said at the time.

Earlier this year, county commissioners approved the series of service cuts, including the animal shelter subsidy, totaling approximately $2.3 million.

The county was facing a $2.5 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year ending June 30, and as much as $3.2 million for the next budget cycle. During that time, Nye County Emergency Management Director Vance Payne said the action of shutting down the county animal shelter showed just how grim the situation was.

“Clearly, there’s going to be a big challenge involved if there is no animal shelter in Pahrump,” he said. “I’m just trying to think outside the box, but we do have 20-plus animal rescues here in town. I don’t know if they would take the animals in, because they don’t adopt animals from us now.”

On Jan. 19, 2016, commissioners will have a public hearing on a Nye County bill that proposes to amend Title 6 of Nye County Code by removing several chapters such as multi-pet permits, commercial kennel permits, animals running at large, release of impounded animals, impoundment of animals for protective custody, cruelty to animals, requirements for possession of a dangerous dog and registration of a dangerous dog. -Selwyn Harris

County sees new faces in key positions

The year 2015 saw the swearing in of several new faces in county government while retaining a few familiar ones.

Sheriff’s candidate Sharon Wehrly breezed to an easy win over Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall, while Las Vegas attorney Angela Bello scored an upset over first term incumbent District Attorney Brian Kunzi in the general election.

Wehrly, who polled at 68 percent of the vote to Marshall’s 30 percent, promised transparency after her victory.

“The first thing I will do is to make sure that my second in command knows that we are a team and we are going ahead and then the planning will start,” she said at the time. “The first 30 days, the public will have an update and then it will be 60 and 100 days. We will continue to let people know what is going on and so we will have an absolutely transparent office,” Wehrly said.

Bello defeated Kunzi 61 percent to 38 percent as she became the new Nye County District Attorney. At the time, Kunzi made an issue out of Bello’s residency, having recently moved to Pahrump. Bello also pledged more openness in the DA’s office.

Fifth District Judge Robert Lane, who was first elected in 2000, won an easy victory over attorney Lillian Donohue with 68 percent of the vote, compared to Donohue’s captured 31 percent.

County Clerk Sam Merlino, a Republican, the longest serving elected county official, first appointed in 1999, easily won another term over former Chief Deputy Clerk Sheila Winn with 72 percent of the total vote compared to Winn’s 27 percent.

County Commission District 5 candidate Dan Schinhofen, a Republican, tallied 58 percent of the total votes, to win a second term. District 4 Commissioner Butch Borasky also retained his seat.

Deputy Public Administrator Robin Dorand Rudolf defeated Bob Pilkington, owner of My Paralegal, by a margin of 53 percent to 46 percent.

The school district bond issue failed, by a vote of 6,739 votes to 5,229 votes.

Former Nye County District Attorney Brian Kunzi landed a position with the State Bar of Nevada in Jan. 2015.

Kunzi, who had lost his re-election bid on Nov. 4, was hired as deputy bar counsel, a newly-created position.

“Basically, it’s prosecuting the attorneys for misconduct and the whole process that they go through. I’ll be supervising attorneys that handle those cases. It’s a great newly- created position that I’m looking forward to.” -Selwyn Harris

Yucca Mountain debate raged on

Cresent Hardy, a Republican and the newest member of Nevada’s delegation to Congress, called for an “honest discussion” at the beginning of the year with the federal government over burying nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain to determine what benefits the state might obtain for hosting it and if residents actually support it.

But by the end of 2015, the proposed nuclear waste repository saw no new funding, much to the disappointment of Nye County officials who are hoping for a financial boost from a project restart.

In April a congressional delegation to Yucca Mountain was organized by the Department of Energy at the request of Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce environment and economy subcommittee. The group of 35 officials, consisting of Congress members, their staffers, representatives from the DOE and a small group of journalists, toured nearly 1,600 feet into the south end of the tunnel guided by William Boyle, DOE director of the office of used fuel disposition, research and development, who explained the history and science of the exploratory tunnel.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a study released in 2015 that a proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain would yield “only a negligible increase” in health risks from radioactive particles that might leak into groundwater. The report was praised by Nye County officials who said that it was consistent with previous studies by the Department of Energy, the National Labs and Nye County.

The study concluded the maximum dose of potential contamination in Amargosa Valley would be 1.3 millirems, which it said was “a small fraction” of normal background radiation of 300 millirems a year, and “much less” than NRC standards.

The results of the study were presented in September in Las Vegas and Amargosa Valley and drew mixed reviews on possible safety and environmental impacts of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository from officials and residents along the Nevada California border.

In response to the study, the State of Nevada in November submitted written comments addressing the NRC’s evaluation of groundwater, health impacts, and computer models. According to its findings, the NRC’s analysis includes procedural violations and deficiencies, scoping deficiencies, deficiencies in technical evaluation of groundwater impacts and deficiencies in evaluation of social, economic and cultural impacts.

While the state of Nevada and the NRC agreed that the proposed repository is going to release radioactive contaminants into the groundwater, they presented different opinions on how much contaminants will be released into the groundwater and how fast they will travel. The NRC study stated the maximum dose, or an annual dose to the reasonably maximally-exposed individual of potential contamination in Amargosa Valley would be maximum 1.3 millirems of normal background radiation of 300 millirems a year for up to one million years, but the analysis concluded by the state of Nevada show that radionuclides could exceed 15 millirems per year in less than 1,000 years.

Additionally, state officials said the report failed to address the impacts on the Timbisha-Shoshone Tribe, whose water could be affected by potential contamination.

In the meantime, the Amargosa Conservancy, a nonprofit organization based in Shoshone, California, argues that the NRC study failed to address the potential impact on the livelihood of Shoshone and Tecopa. The two towns depend heavily on ecotourism and according to independent studies funded by the Amargosa Conservancy, impacts to the Amargosa River and springs would not only have serious environmental consequences, but could also threaten the economy of the area.

On Dec.16, Congress unveiled a $1.15 trillion fiscal spending bill for 2016 that continues to make previously appropriated funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository available, however federal officials noted that those funds wouldn’t suffice to move forward the project without additional appropriations.

State of Nevada officials called the absence of new funding for Yucca Mountain licensing in the next fiscal year’s budget deal a significant win for Nevada.

The DOE previously estimated that they needed $1.66 billion to complete licensing and associated activities, but NRC commissioners told Congress that they needed $330 million for the legally-mandated licensing proceeding of the proposed repository. -Daria Sokolova

Groundwater management plan stirred up concerns in Pahrump

A plan to cap new domestic wells and water usage in Pahrump has generated a fair amount of controversy throughout last year, landing in limbo after officials postponed a vote on the sixth draft of the document.

Nye County commissioners recently tabled the plan until Jan. 19 after it became the grounds for numerous debates among Pahrump officials and residents who vented frustrations over the government’s interference with domestic well owners.

Although the proposed plan didn’t include existing domestic well owners, many residents decried it as an attempt to cap wells across the valley.

One of the residents, Tina Trenner, said she had moved to Pahrump from Las Vegas after she was led by the promises of a real estate agent who had told her about a water supply in the aquifer underneath the valley.

“To come out here and have that kind of false representation and then now, all of a sudden find out that they are thinking about cutting water down to a half an acre foot from two acre feet, that’s a lot of water they want to take away,” Trenner said about the plan.

The issue stands acutely in the valley that already has over 60,000 acre feet of permitted water rights and an additional 11,000 existing wells.

Meanwhile, some of the members of the Nye County Water District Governing Board said that Pahrump has been lacking “proper” water management.

“The reason we are in here is because we didn’t have proper management and for you people to diminish the importance of management, it’s not good, it’s not good,” said Greg Dann, board chair. “We need proper management. It starts at the local level, the public, that’s what I’m talking about. The public. We need proper management and we haven’t had it for 50 years. There’s been a lot of negligence on the part of the town, there’s been negligence on the part of the county, there’s been negligence on the part of the state.”

The most recent, sixth draft of the plan presented in October included recommendations for water education and importation, limit on new domestic well usage to 0.5 an acre foot, construction of rapid infiltration basins and a water conservation plan that included restraints on water uses for agriculture, utility customers, government and school facilities.

The plan has been in the works for the past 21 months. -Daria Sokolova

Storm floods and fire at a radioactive waste site closes U.S. 95

The past year saw two events that coincided with each other in October which wreaked havoc across the area and also created fears of a possible radioactive event.

A blast that resulted in a fire in an area adjacent to US Ecology Nevada’s Treatment Storage and Disposal facility near Beatty caused area residents and officials to prepare for the worst- case scenario.

The fire caused a portion of U.S. Highway 95 between Highway 160 and Tonopah to be shut down for nearly 24 hours, stranding motorists and delaying shipments being hauled by semi truck drivers, as officials investigated the fire site.

After the investigation it was deemed that there were no health issues from the blast and U.S. 95 opened, much to the delight of some of the people who were stuck there for the better part of a day.

Multiple agencies worked together during the investigation of the fire, including Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office, the Department of Public Safety, including the Nevada Highway Patrol, state Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Divisions, Department of Health and Human Services, the Nevada National Guard, including Civil Support Team, the Nevada Department of Transportation, and Division of Environment Protection.

Investigators don’t anticipate any long-term issues arising from the fire, which brought a happy ending to an otherwise scary situation.

During the time of the fire and the weeks following, a series of storms caused flooding issues from which problems are lingering into the new year.

Rains caused light damage and flooded roads, causing travel delays for those who were caught off guard during the weather event.

Valley Electric Association was busy Oct. 4 and Oct. 5 as 2,805 members were without power at various times due to weather-related issues. The largest population of those affected were in the south end of Pahrump. During that time over 1,000 lightning strikes occurred.

Nye County Public Works started repairs almost immediately as the rains fell, working around the clock for the first few days of cleanup on the flooded roads.

Nye County Road Superintendent Tim Carlo said, “Damage ranges from extensive, like Gamebird to the south, all the way to Crystal and Amargosa Valley that were all washed out.”

Cleanup efforts in Pahrump, Amargosa Valley, Beatty, Tonopah and Round Mountain are still ongoing and should be complete by February.

With the increased workload the rain damaged roads resulted in, other planned road work projects are put on the back burner.

“It slows them down as always,” Carlo said. “We’ve got to take off for the emergencies and then get back to the regular road projects when we can.”

A series of heavy rain events flooded parts of Nye County and the popular tourist destination of Death Valley National Park. Death Valley saw the most costly storm damage in the park’s history, with damage estimates in the tens of millions of dollars, when the storms culminated in a washout Oct. 18, where areas of the park saw up to 3.5 inches of rain.

The Scotty’s Castle area was the hardest hit area damage-wise, as 2.7 inches of rain filled the visitors’ center with mud and debris.

In all it is estimated that crews have to remove an estimated 400,000 tons of debris from park roads, the equivalent of the weight of five Washington Monuments. The majority of the roads that were closed have been reopened, but some areas continue to be addressed, as cleanup efforts are expected to last well into 2016. Funding for the repair work has been secured via the Federal Highways Administration to repair park maintained roads. -Mick Akers

Town said goodbye to several longtime residents

Three longtime matriarchs of modern Pahrump Valley died in 2015.

Family members said Beatrice Floyd passed away peacefully on Jan. 22, just two weeks shy of her 98th birthday.

Beatrice Floyd and her late husband, Carl Floyd, were active in the Lions Club, VFW, and the Senior Center for many years.

Granddaughter Shelly Floyd said “Grandma Bea,” as she was affectionately known by nearly everyone, had been a Pahrump resident for 47 years.

“She was friendly and outgoing, she always had a smile, she was always willing to help anyone that needed it. She had some quirky little sayings and she was just a neat lady,” Floyd said.

Beatrice Floyd, the sixth of nine children, was born Feb. 6, 1917 in Quinton, Oklahoma, to Gracie Lee and Ike Anderson. She married Carl Floyd on July 31, 1934, and had four sons, Ron, John, Wayne and David. After World War II, the family moved to Chowchilla, California, where they lived for many years, then followed son Ronny to Pahrump in 1967.

Also passing was 89-year-old Florence Eva Provenza.

Family members of Florence Provenza remembered their matriarch as a woman who was heavily involved in activities furthering education and arts for others.

Provenza and her husband of 72 years, Peter, moved to Pahrump in 1978 after nearly two decades in Las Vegas. The couple moved to Las Vegas in 1959, where she raised seven children while working as a switchboard operator.

The couple also had 15 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and three great- great-grandchildren.

Provenza started the original Provenza Realty in Las Vegas and eventually opened another office in downtown Pahrump. She was instrumental in the creation of the Las Vegas Board of Realtors.

According to family members, the Pahrump Visual and Performing Arts Council is still in existence today due to her involvement in its creation and she was an accomplished artist herself with many oil paintings, pastels, tole paintings, woodworks and handmade dolls as well as custom-made quilts.

Family members said she died as she lived, surrounded by her family and friends too numerous to mention.

Jacque Louise (Woner) Ruud, a member of one of the most prominent families in the settlement of the Pahrump Valley passed away in July at the age of 85.

The Ruud name, a fixture in the community for decades, is the namesake for the Bob Ruud Community Center where her late husband Bob Ruud served as a Nye County commissioner.

The Ruuds were known as pioneers in the community for their efforts to help establish farming and agricultural industries.

Both Bob and Jacque came from farming families.

Ruud’s younger sister, Charlotte Floyd, said they moved to the area back in 1958, where Mrs. Ruud would begin a career performing accounting work at a cotton gin, while her husband began farming the land they purchased.

The couple moved to Pahrump before electrical service arrived.

“You could come and lay claim to tracts of land, do the improvements and then you could buy it and that’s why they came over here,” she said.

“Jacque worked at a cotton gin until they shut it down,” Floyd said.

Though Ruud was savvy and compassionate while serving the town and county, Floyd said her sister also displayed somewhat of a demure personality.

“She was a very gentle and shy person actually,” she said. “She didn’t participate in a lot of women’s groups because she was very much attached to her land and helping with the ranch.”

In another passing, Andre “Butch” Harper, Pahrump’s official goodwill ambassador, died Feb. 21, at age 73.

Harper is credited with starting the local Act of Kindness Award several years ago, where he would personally present an inscribed plaque to local individuals who worked to make Pahrump a nicer community.

A memorial service for Harper was held at the Pahrump Nugget.

During an interview with the Pahrump Valley Times last year, Harper said he’d been in the news more often and in more cities across the country than even he could count.

He began his goodwill expedition as a way to make amends for the years he spent as a debt collector for a loan shark. -Selwyn Harris

Newspaper moves through a year full of changes

It would be safe to say that the Pahrump Valley Times has not seen a year of more upheaval and changes in its 48-year history than it did in 2015.

But as the newspaper enters 2016, its footing may have never been so strong.

Let’s start with the big picture of the newspaper being sold twice as part of transactions involving the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

GateHouse Media, a subsidiary of New York-based New Media Investment Group, bought the Pahrump Valley Times’ parent company, Stephens Media, in March for $102.5 million. The deal included the Review-Journal, plus seven other daily newspapers and 65 weekly publications in seven states.

Then on Dec. 7, the Review-Journal and its sister Nevada newspapers, including the Times and Tonopah Times-Bonanza & Goldfield News, and The Mirror, were flipped by GateHouse to the family of multibillionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson. The family, which created News + Media Capital Group LLC for the purchase, spent $140 million on the transaction.They didn’t disclose their purchase for nearly a week, causing a national media firestorm over transparency.

In July, the newspaper itself received a makeover by GateHouse, the design readers see today: a slightly bigger word size, a different design and a crisper look.

The most noticeable changes involve the size of the type and spacing between lines of type. Both increased slightly, hopefully making it easier for readers.

There were also some changes in the newsroom with two new reporters joining the staff. Daria Sokolova joined the staff in July from Illinois, replacing longtime reporter Mark Waite, who retired. Sokolova, who focuses on Nye County government, has a journalism degree from Roosevelt University in Chicago, where she earned numerous journalism awards.

She joined reporter Mick Akers, who joined the Times newsroom in February following the unfortunate passing of reporter and community editor Charlene Dean. Akers is finishing his journalism degree at UNLV, and has written for numerous news outlets before joining this newspaper.

Dean, 58, passed away in January after a battle with cancer. Mostly a self-taught journalist, she spent seven years at the Pahrump Valley Times, becoming its community editor in 2012. Another death impacted the larger newspaper family when Tonopah Times-Bonanza & Goldfield News reporter and columnist Bill Roberts passed in November. His byline often appeared in these pages.

The Times saw a change at the top with the departure of longtime publisher Marie Wujek, who oversaw the business side of the newspaper for more than a decade. She followed her retired husband to Arizona.

In October, newspaper business veteran Noah Cusick was hired as the new publisher. Cusick had 11 years of industry experience in Tennessee and Mississippi before making the journey to Pahrump. -Arnold M. Knightly

 

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