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Dave Olson, Published December 29 2012

The Forum's top stories of 2012: A year that delivered moments of triumph, loss

FARGO – An end of the world that wasn’t.

A presidential election.

Both were big stories on the national and world stages in 2012.

But what about closer to home?

What were the major stories that made headlines locally this past year?

A poll of Forum staffers yielded the following top 10 list.

Contests – both sporting and political – were big, as were stories about pain and loss.

While not definitive, the rankings reflect the type of stories that, for better or for worse, touched many lives in the Red River Valley and beyond.

1. Heitkamp beats Berg

In a rivalry that captured widespread attention leading up to the big day in November, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp defeated Republican Rick Berg for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

It was a triumphant comeback for Heitkamp, who had held elected posts as North Dakota’s tax commissioner and attorney general before making a failed bid for governor in 2000, losing to Republican John Hoeven.

As recently as 2010, Heitkamp indicated she had no interest in another statewide contest.

But the retirement of Sen. Kent Conrad, a fellow Democrat, prompted Heitkamp to challenge Berg, a congressman, for Conrad’s seat in November.

Heitkamp won with 50 percent of the vote to Berg’s 49 percent, with Cass County returns cementing the victory.

Heitkamp says she is ready to work with Hoeven, who is now her colleague in the Senate.

2. Drunken driver kills WF family of three

In July, Aaron and Allison Deutscher and their 18-month-old daughter, Brielle, were traveling on Interstate 94 near Jamestown when their vehicle was struck by a pickup driven by Wyatt Klein.

All were killed, including Klein, who was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.25 percent, three times the legal limit for driving.

The crash prompted calls for tougher DUI penalties, and lawmakers say a proposal dubbed “Brielle’s law” will be introduced in the next legislative session.

3. Oil boom brings wealth, growth to ND

The year 2012 was awash in stories about North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

The boom brought prosperity, challenges and national attention to communities affected by a population explosion.

According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau update, North Dakota leads the nation in population growth, and the number of residents in the state is at an all-time high.

The growth has meant jobs and healthy tax revenues, but it has also created difficulties for local governments trying to meet the demand for roads and other infrastructure.

4. (tie) Petition fraud scandal; 4. (tie) NDSU football championship

North Dakota State University’s Bison football players got all kinds of attention in 2012.

Some of it good, some of it not so good.

First the bad:

In September, state officials announced the discovery of forged signatures on petitions for two initiated measures that were ultimately pulled from the ballot prior to November’s election.

Ten NDSU football players who worked as signature collectors admitted in Cass County District Court to violating North Dakota election law.

The judge hit them with community service. Team officials slapped one player with a suspension.

Now for the good:

In January, NDSU won its first Division I football title. The Bison defeated Sam Houston State in a game played at Frisco, Texas.

6. Norberg acquitted of drug, assault charges

In November, a Cass County jury found Fargo surgeon Jon Norberg not guilty of charges that he drugged and sexually assaulted his wife, Alonna.

During the trial, Alonna Norberg claimed she was given a powerful sedative without her consent and that her husband had sex with her while she was unaware.

Jon Norberg’s defense maintained that Alonna Norberg agreed to use the drug to relieve her chronic pain and to help her sleep and that the sex was consensual.

Following the trial, Alonna Norberg filed a civil suit against her husband claiming malpractice.

7. Four NDSU students killed in snowy crash

In February, four NDSU students died when the vehicle they were riding in on Interstate 94 crossed the median and collided with an SUV near Alexandria, Minn.

The young women killed – Jordan Playle, 19, and Lauren Peterson, Danielle Renninger, and Megan Sample, all 18 – were returning to Fargo from the Minneapolis area.

The Minnesota State Patrol said it was snowing at the time of the crash, visibility was reduced and the interstate was slippery.

8. American Crystal lockout continues

In August 2011, American Crystal Sugar locked out 1,300 union workers from its factories up and down the Red River Valley after 96 percent of union workers voting said “no” to a proposed contract.

Three months later, 90 percent of union members voting rejected the offer again.

In June, when 82 percent of workers voted on the offer, 63 percent were still opposed to it.

In the latest vote, taken Dec. 1, 55 percent of union workers voting once again rejected the company’s offer.

The union maintains the offer would dismantle workers’ health coverage and compromise safety.

The company has said the offer would raise pay by 17 percent over five years.

9. Three WF students die in span of a few days

The first week of December was a dark one for the community of West Fargo.

High school officials asked surrounding schools for counseling assistance after learning that Tessa Miller, 16, had died on Wednesday, Dec. 5.

The cause of her death was not made public.

Two days later, on Friday, Dec. 7, Levi Schulz, 18, was walking to his car, which had a flat tire, when he was struck by a vehicle and killed.

That same morning, Ian Alves, 16, died after a battle with two aggressive forms of cancer.

10. The Forum changes policy to allow same-sex wedding notices

The Forum announced in July that it would accept for publication the announcements of gay marriages, engagements and anniversaries if the marriage takes place in a state or country where it’s legally recognized.

Before that, The Forum would not publish same-sex marriage announcements, using as a guidepost the marriage laws of Minnesota and North Dakota, neither of which recognizes gay marriages.

The policy change came in the wake of an uproar caused when The Forum initially rejected a marriage announcement submitted by a same-sex couple planning to legally marry.

It was the first time the paper had received such a request, and the announcement was ultimately published.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

The Top 10 most viewed stories on Inforum.com in 2012

1. ‘It doesn’t get much worse than this’: NDSU campus mourns deaths of four students in Monday crash. 122,060 views

2. West Fargo family of three, other driver killed in crash near Jamestown. 70,902 views

3. ‘Unbelievable grief’: 42-year-old Fargo lawyer found dead at rest stop had baby on the way. 42,912 views

4. Famed North Dakota pilot Bob Odegaard killed during practice for Valley City air show. 42,455 views

5. Investigators trying to figure out why Fairmount freshman shot himself; student expected to recover. 41,130 views

6. Coordinated effort clears NDSU after bomb threat; evacuation ultimately president’s call. 40,814 views

7. Fargo homicide suspect Henry Deniger arrested in St. Cloud. 40,715 views

8. Charges against 8 Bison football players expected in voter fraud case that kills two ballot measures. 40,063 views

9. Woman who died in fall from interstate overpass in south Moorhead identified. 39,501 views

10. Three days, three student deaths in West Fargo. 39,099 views