Metro-East News

What were the most important metro-east stories of 2016?

Artist’s conceptualization of the NGA West headquarters at a site in St. Louis, where federal officials opted to build the future agency headquarters.
Artist’s conceptualization of the NGA West headquarters at a site in St. Louis, where federal officials opted to build the future agency headquarters.

In 2016, the metro-east saw joy, disappointment and tragedy. Some of the major stories of this year involved large economic impacts, people who lost their jobs, some people who got new jobs, and local high school teams achieving redemption.

Here is a look at the 10 most consequential stories of 2016 in the metro-east:

NGA going to North St. Louis

For years community leaders on both sides of the Mississippi River worked to land the new headquarters of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, a federal mapping agency with more than 3,000 jobs.

St. Clair County offered 382 acres free land, which has never been developed, adjacent to MidAmerica Airport and Scott Air Force Base. County officials touted the security of being next to the air force base to try to attract the economic driver.

However, the NGA announced in March it decided locate its future $1.75 billion headquarters in north St. Louis.

Oliver Hamilton and his spending

A BND investigation found East St. Louis Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton had used a township issued credit card for more than $230,000 in personal purchases in a four-year period.

Hamilton eventually pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges, and had to resign from the St. Clair County Board, as well as his township supervisor position.

Additionally, eight other public officials, and one private citizen were recently arrested on corruption charges.

Kurt Prenzler unseats Alan Dunstan

Madison County elected a new county board chairman in November.

Republican Kurt Prenzler, who had been county treasurer for six years, defeated Democrat Alan Dunstan who had been chairman since 2002.

After taking office, Prenzler worked towards replacing seven county department heads. The balance of power on the Madison County Board also changed. It went from an 18-10 Democratic majority, to a 15-13 Republican majority.

Granite City Steel stays idle

Granite City Works was idled by U.S. Steel during the 2015-2016 winter, putting 2,000 people out of work.

U.S. Steel idled the plant in response to challenging global market conditions. As the steelworkers remained idled, state legislators, including State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, and State Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, worked to extend their unemployment benefits to 52 weeks from 26 weeks. Governor Bruce Rauner recently signed the legislation.

There was some hope recently announced by U.S. Steel. The corporation is bringing back more than 200 jobs in February 2017, as other plants undergo renovations and upgrades.

St. Clair County judges run for election, not retention

Democratic St. Clair County Judges John Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien’s terms were coming to an end, and all three decided to run for election, rather than retention. If they ran for retention, they would have needed 60 percent of voters to support their retention. Running for election meant they only needed to gather the most votes in the election.

Dallas Cook, the Belleville city clerk, and member of the St. Clair County Freedom Coalition, challenged whether Baricevic, Haida and LeChien could legally run for election rather than retention. Cook even asked the Illinois Supreme Court to weigh in. However, the three judges stayed on the ballot.

Ultimately, Haida, who ran unopposed, and LeChien, who ran against Laninya Cason, won re-election. Baricevic lost to Republican Ron Deubbert.

State championships

The metro-east saw three teams win state championships in 2016.

The Althoff Catholic High School boys basketball team won the class 3A championship, just one year after losing in the finals.

The East St. Louis Flyers football team won the class 7A state championship in November. In 2015, the team had missed the playoffs after it had to forfeit several games because of a teachers strike in District 189 that lasted more than 20 days.

The Cahokia High School track and field team continued its dominance, as it won its sixth consecutive Class 2A state championship.

Police officer deaths touch the metro-east

Police officers dying in the line of duty affected the metro-east.

Blake Snyder, a St. Louis County Police Officer, who grew up in Godfrey and graduated from Alton High School, was shot and killed in a shootout while responding to a call in October. He left behind a wife and 2-year-old son. Trenton Forster, 18, was charged with Snyder’s murder.

Later in October, Chester Police Officer James Irwin Brockmeyer was killed when his squad car crashed while in pursuit of a suspect. Brockmeyer also was a volunteer firefighter.

Collinsville High School freshmen dies after stairwell accident

Tray Turner, a Collinsville High School freshmen, died in September after he was severely injured in a stairwell accident while at school.

The school and community provided the family lots of support and honored Turner at football games following his death.

Christopher Derleth manhunt

In September, police in Illinois and in West Virginia searched for Christopher Derleth, 39, after police say he kidnapped his 13-year-old stepdaughter, Katherine, and her newborn child, Christopher Ray, from their rural Madison County foster home.

The story received national attention as emergency responders searched for them. Eventually Derleth was apprehended, and his stepdaughter and her child were brought back to Illinois.

Derleth was extradited back to Illinois and is charged with aggravated kidnapping and child abduction.

Maryville gas line exploding

One person died as the result of a gas line explosion in April in Maryville.

Construction worker John Doug Behme, 44, of Worden, was part of a crew excavating at the site of the future Villas at Nottingham on April 6 when workers hit a 10-inch gas line operated by Ameren Illinois and triggered a massive explosion.

Behme, who was rescued from the fire by Maryville police officers, was initially taken to Anderson Hospital, then flown to Mercy Hospital in St. Louis with third-degree burns. He died about three weeks later.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter