We review the events of 2020, part 1: Great start to a challenging year

We’ve said it before, but we’ll repeat for emphasis: What a year.

Our annual Review of the Year always summarizes the highlights – and low points – of the previous year.

This year, though, well, what didn’t happen? There were certainly good times, especially in the first few months, but there were also a lot of tough ones, including many annual events that didn’t happen or were vastly different than what we are all used to.

Here’s our summary of what happened in the first half of 2020. We’ll cover the second half in next week’s edition.


– A survey conducted by the Sweet Home School District revealed that local residents broadly supported using Student Success Act funding to restore arts in the elementary schools, along with more support for students with behavioral and mental health issues.

– Counterfeit money continued to surface in Sweet Home after arrests at the end of 2019 stemming from cases investigated during the fall.

– New School Board member Joe Kennedy told The New Era that he wanted to focus on establishing a strong presence of trades and vocational training at the high school.

– Community Services Officer Gina Riley retired after nearly 11 years with the Sweet Home Police Department.

– The City of Sweet Home requested a zoning change in the area east of 18th Avenue and north of Tamarack Street from residential-industrial to medium-density residential in a move to make it easier to develop properties in that neighborhood.

– Sweet Home High School’s Drama Club staged the play “Miss Holmes.”

– Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District posted its third-busiest year in 2019, with 2,704 medical and fire calls.

– Robert Eugene Mayfield, driver of a heavy equipment repair truck that collided four years earlier with a log truck driven by Neil Nightingale, resulting in Nightingale’s death, was sentenced to 13 months in prison after pleading guilty a month before to various charges.

– The City Council took steps to ban sleeping in bus stops.

– The City Council decided to end Sweet Home’s relationship with Jacobs Engineering, which had operated the municipal water and sewer plants since 2006.

– Sweet Home’s wrestlers finished second at the Oregon Classic, one of the state’s top tournaments.

– SHOCASE held a gala concert that drew a crowd of some 200 to hear “Broadway Baritone” Douglas Webster and a lineup of local talent in a fundraiser for the organization, which seeks to promote local arts and culture.

– Sweet Home High School’s graduation rate increased by 13.5% over the previous year, according to Oregon Department of Education data.

– School Board members gave Supt. Tom Yahraes a positive evaluation, pointing to the graduation rates and numbers of freshmen on track to graduate.


– Sweet Home Police Department announced it was switching the handguns carried by its officers, from .40 caliber to 9 mm, sticking with Glock as the manufacturer.

– A 15-year-old boy was arrested for taking a gun to school.

– The city announced that its maintenance staff had fixed around 150 water pipe leaks since mid-2018 in an effort to reduce water loss – nearly half of what the city had produced two years earlier.

– Samaritan Health announced it was providing a new mobile medical clinic service in Sweet Home.

– Sweet Home’s girls basketball team won its first league game in 10 years, a 57-39 road win over Sisters.

– Casey Tow signed to compete in track and field, specializing in the decathlon, at the U.S. Naval Academy.

– School Board members got a guided tour of the nearly completed Sweet Home Junior High remodel, and construction projects at Holley and Foster elementary schools.

– Sweet Home Junior High students won the district’s monthly attendance challenge.

– A ruling by state schools officials that girls and boys had to compete on equal terms in forestry competitions caught school officials and students in Sweet Home by surprise, and created significant consternation. Sweet Home High School responded by lodging a formal complaint, challenging the decision by arguing that it was an “over-application” of Title IX. The state’s ruling prompted Sweet Home girls to leave the team over the following month.

– Sweet Home’s girls won their seventh straight district swimming title.

– Astronaut Jim Wetherbee made an appearance at Sweet Home Charter School to speak to students.

– The Oregon Jamboree announced Dustin Lynch as its final headliner for 2020.

– Four Sweet Home girls – Megan Hager, Malia Hewitt, Jamie Seward and Chloe Tyler – set two state records and six school records at the state swimming championships, where they placed second in the team standings. Hager and Tyler won individual titles.

– Sweet Home’s wrestlers won their sixth-straight regional title and qualified a record 23 boys for the state tournament.


– Sweet Home’s wrestlers finished a close second in the state championships as two wrestlers, Jackson Royer and Travis Thorpe, won individual state titles.

– Phoenix ended Sweet Home’s boys’ basketball season with a 64-51 win in the Main Gym in a state tournament play-in game. The Huskies finished 14-9.

– SHHS alum Ally Tow, who went on to star for Linn-Benton Community College, signed to play volleyball for Corban.

– Josh Cuevas, who was born Feb. 29, 2004, celebrated his 16th birthday, but on his actual date of birth for only the fourth time in his life as a Leap Year baby.

– Gerrit Southard of the Police Department and Josh Bondeson of Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District were named Sweet Home’s top public safety honorees.

– Executive action by Gov. Kate Brown shut down schools and various government agencies to the public following the arrival of the coronavirus in Oregon, including 14 positive tests at the Oregon Veterans Home in Lebanon – 13 residents and one staff member. Nine eventually died. All school sports were put on hold through the end of the month, just as spring sports teams were about to kick off their seasons.

– The legal face-off between residents of Country Lane and Albany and Eastern Railroad, over residents’ use of a railroad crossing west of Sweet Home, got its final hearing – in front of the Oregon Supreme Court.

– The Sweet Home School District filed a discrimination complaint against the state on behalf of female members of the Sweet Home High School forestry.

– The Oregon School Activities Association announced that all high school sports and practices would be banned through April 28.

– American Legion Commander Dale Jenkins was one of the first locals to be quarantined after getting exposed to the coronavirus during a visit to the Oregon Veterans Home just as COVID-19 hit Linn County.

– City Council members declared a COVID-19 state of emergency as Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order requiring Oregonians to stay home, closing businesses and requiring social distancing measures.


– Sweet Home Emergency Ministries completed a thorough remodel of its facility, which continued to operate despite COVID restrictions.

– Sweet Home police stopped handling dog calls and enacted other restrictions as the COVID numbers rose in the state. In Lebanon, a second veteran died at the OVH.

– Local doctors Tim and May Hindmarsh started a podcast to deal with what they described as medical misinformation about the coronavirus, which was showing up on the Internet.

– School restarted after an approximately two-week break, with Sweet Home students picking up books and packets at local schools to begin distance learning.

– A check on local building permits and projects revealed that Sweet Home had some eight developments in the works, totaling approximately 250 new housing units.

– Sheriff’s investigators combed an area off Gordon Road, east of Sweet Home, after human remains, later determined those of a woman, were discovered.

– Local churches got creative as they dealt with prohibitions on inside services, opting for video streaming and drive-in parking lot services.

– An explosion and fire destroyed a 5th Avenue residential shop next door to Oak Heights Ele-mentary School.

– Less than a week after finding human remains east of Sweet Home, a separate set of remains was discovered in the Chandler Mountain area off Upper Calapooia Drive, near where the vehicle of a Sweet Home man who disappeared in 2011 was found at that time.

– The first case of COVID in Sweet Home was reported as the total number of positive coronavirus tests statewide increased to 1,584 as of April 13.

– School District officials began brainstorming on ways to honor the 2020 graduating class after it became questionable whether a normal graduation ceremony would be possible.

– City workers struck a “mother lode” in their efforts to detect and fix leaks in Sweet Home’s water system: a 350,000-gallon-per-day leak into a nearby stream that accounted for approximately a third of the city’s water production.

– The City Council approved an across-the-board water rate increase to help fund the installation of new pumps needed for its water distribution.

– A Salem resident was killed after driving into Sweet Home at a high rate of speed and colliding with two other vehicles.

– As April wound to a close, the coronavirus death toll statewide, as reported by the Oregon Health Authority, reached 92, up from 75 a week earlier. The total number of positive tests increased to 2,354, up from 1,956.

– An old ambulance that had been used as a police crime investigation unit and incident command vehicle was donated to the Linn County Street Outreach Team, which provides help to the homeless.


– A mobilehome fire on Tamarack Street on April 28 turned into a homicide investigation after firefighters and police discovered four people dead inside. It was later determined that John Shobert had killed his wife Tiffany and two children, Charlotte and Johnathon, then set the house ablaze before committing suicide.

– Sweet Home Library started offering curbside book pickups after closing its doors to the public in mid-March.

– Sweet Home’s city budget for 2020-21 was proposed at $34.7 million as Budget Committee began its deliberations to make a recommendation to the City Council.

– Travis Thorpe signed a letter of intent to wrestle for Southern Oregon University.

– Sheriff’s investigators released an artist’s composite sketch of what they believed the woman whose remains were found near Gordon Road in early April had looked like, as well as providing details of clothing found with the remains.

– Oregon Jamboree planners announced that the festival would not be held the first weekend of August, based on a statement by Gov. Kate Brown on May 7. A week later, Jamboree Festival Director Robert Shamek announced that the Jamboree would be cancelled.

– Diana Kelly took over as office manager at the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce.

– School Board members decided to have district staff take four furlough days during the year to save money for the next school year.

– Linn County was among 31 counties that entered Phase 1 of the governor’s plan to reopen Oregon on May 15, allowing restaurants and bars, personal service providers and gyms to reopen. Locally, the city partially opened its parks, though playgrounds continued to be closed.

– The City Council gave City Manager Ray Towry high marks across the board in his annual evaluation.

– Two Sweet Home teens were killed and their younger sister was severely injured in an early-morning two-vehicle collision on Highway 228. Caleb Simonis, 19, and Shelby Simonis, 16, were killed when their vehicle was struck by a pickup driven by Austyn Hillsman, 21, of Junction City. Hillsman remains in Linn County Jail on two counts of first degree manslaughter, driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving, and second degree assault.

– Sherrie Sprenger won the Republican primary for Linn County Commission Seat 3 and Jamie Cate defeated five other contenders in the Republican primary for the state House District 17 seat Sprenger was vacating.

– The Sweet Home Budget Committee approved a $29.4 million budget, which it recommended for passage to the City Hall.

– Sweet Home High School announced six valedictorians: Megan Hager, Torree Hawken, Nich James, Pippi Somatis, Casey Tow and Brook Womack, and salutatorian Tristan Saultz to lead the 2020 graduation. School officials announced that the 2020 graduation would be held over two days, June 4-5, in small groups of seven students and guests, followed by a vehicle procession through town.

– In response to an appeal by neighbors, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals reversed a decision by the Linn County Board of Commissioners to allow the rezoning of 108 acres off Crawfordsville Drive to allow the construction of 10 to 17 homes in the area.

– Longtime Reporter Sean C. Morgan announced his resignation from The New Era, after 25 years with the newspaper, to become community services officer for the Sweet Home Police Department.


– A new Dodge Durango gave Sweet Home Police Department’s fleet a new look with its arrival in town.

– Travis Thorpe and Jackson Royer were named Most Valuable Wrestlers for the boys and Jessy Hart was named the girls Outstanding Wrestler in a ceremony held nearly three months after it was originally scheduled.

– Sweet Home entered Phase 2 of the post-COVID recovery during the first week of June.

– Graduation at Sweet Home High School took place in 23 separate ceremonies conducted by school officials, with students’ family members present. Nearly all the graduates participated in the graduation procession on Friday evening, June 5, which drew crowds along the route.

– A toddler was killed in a “tragic” accident after she fell from a jogging stroller being pushed along a sidewalk by her mother and was struck by a pickup truck.

– Les and Delores Coady celebrated their 70th anniversary.

– Allison Miner and Zach Luttmer were named Athletes of the Year in a virtual ceremony conducted by the Booster Club.

– The City Council agreed to contract with Enterprise to manage its vehicle fleet.

– The City Council moved forward with plans to allow Midway residents the chance to use their own wells for drinking water.

– COVID numbers flattened in Linn County following the implementation of Phase 2 of the recovery process.

– Sweet Home High School announced that its Freshmen of the Year honors went to Brooklynn Burke and Christian Dominy.

– Gov. Kate Brown announced that Oregonians statewide would be required to wear masks in indoor public places.–