In a year of sensational crimes, big changes in communities, political drama and uncommon triumph, no local story could top the explosions that devastated some Marengo homes and damaged scores of others. The destruction was unleashed suddenly on a Sunday morning, leaving people in shock at first.
But as the reality of the situation became clear, people in and around Marengo rallied to help those affected by a disaster that, remarkably, resulted in no loss of life. Here are the Top 10 Locals Stories of 2017 as selected by Northwest Herald editors:
1. Marengo home explosion
A Marengo neighborhood was rocked when a home exploded, devastating two neighboring homes and damaging dozens of others in the area. The city rallied together in the following weeks and held a "Marengo Strong" event in support of those affect by the blast. Many families were displaced and some still are in the process of rebuilding their homes and lives in the aftermath. During the chaos immediately after the incident, a Marengo couple robbed a Marengo pharmacy at gunpoint, spurring a three-hour manhunt.
2. Algonquin Township drama
Infighting at Algonquin Township spurred lawsuits, mounting legal bills, and political chaos this year. It started in March when Andrew Gasser defeated longtime Algonquin Township road boss Robert Miller. When Gasser took over as highway commissioner, he immediately fired three employees, including two of Miller's sons-in-law of and a former county board member. This sparked a legal battle with International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and the Illinois Labor Relations Board. Infighting among elected township officials led to more legal claims. The legal issues have yet to be fully resolved.
3. Fox River flooding
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner declared a state of emergency after extreme flooding of the Fox River in July. The flooding affected McHenry, Lake and Cook counties. Heavy rains led to record flooding that displaced residents, damaged property and drew in aid agencies from around the area. McHenry County governments spent $3.6 million on cleanup as the waters receded. Federal Emergency Management Agency denied a request from the state for cleanup assistance, but some families are in the process of securing financing from the U.S Small Business Association for recovery efforts.
4. Bull Valley drug bust
A Bull Valley couple is facing drug trafficking charges after authorities raided their million-dollar mansion and found 350 pounds of marijuana and several weapons including a .50-caliber machine gun, a Cobray M11 machine pistol with a suppressor and a shotgun. Prosecutors are working to seize the mansion, cash, 18 TVs and numerous vehicles including a fire truck and a trailer with a hidden compartment. David Soskin and Jamie Lee could face six to 30 years in prison if convicted. Soskin will next appear in court Jan 5. and Lee will next appear in court Jan 10.
5. Centegra to close Woodstock hospital
Woodstock officials and residents protested after Centegra Health System announced plans to discontinue some services at its Woodstock Hospital in June. The health system – which is facing mounting debt and steep financial losses – downgraded the Woodstock Emergency Room to basic, shut down intensive care and medical-surgical operations and transferred its behavioral health program to the building. Many in the community are upset about the loss of services, and some Woodstock officials say they want to work with another health care provider to return “comprehensive services” to Woodstock.
6. Prairie Ridge wins state again
The Prairie Ridge Wolves football team followed their perfect 14-0 campaign of 2016 with another undefeated state title run in 2017, capped off by a 28-21 win over Nazareth in the IHSA Class 6A state championship game. Quarterback Samson Evans, who plans to play at Iowa next year, the Wolves pulled out a couple of nail-bitingly close wins against rival Cary-Grove on their way to a second title. Prairie Ridge now has won three state titles in seven seasons and are the first team in the area to repeat as football state champs in Marian Central won Class 2A titles in 1986 and '87.
7. State approves Mercy CL hospital
Mercyhealth won approval to build a small hospital in Crystal Lake after 14 years of attempting to convince the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board of the need. Mercyhealth plans to build the $79.5 million, 13-bed small hospital and $18.8 million medical office building at the corner of Three Oaks Road and Route 31. The 111,346-square-foot hospital building would include 11 medical-surgical beds and two intensive care beds, along with a comprehensive emergency room, two operating rooms, full-service radiology imaging, a laboratory and a pharmacy. Mercyhealth officials say they hope to have the hospital open by 2020.
8. County sues as opioid toll mounts
The ongoing, nationwide opioid epidemic in December spurred McHenry County officials to sue the biggest pharmaceutical manufacturers. McHenry County joined DuPage, Kane, Will and Lake counties in similar suits, which seek to recoup costs of fighting the epidemic of opioid addiction. County officials say that drug makers used deceptive marketing about the addictive nature of their products, much like tobacco companies, and should be held liable for the considerable societal costs of addiction. McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally says if there is a settlement, he would seek to establish a detox center in McHenry County, which currently lacks one.
9. Last store closes at Huntley Outlet Center
The last store in the Huntley Outlet Center closed for good in April, about a year after the mall changed hands. When Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group sold the mall in 2016 to Huntley Investment Partners LLC, the mall was less than half full. The center at Route 47 and Interstate 90 was part of a grand plan for commercial development in Huntley when it opened in 1994 with 40 retailers. Huntley officials are working on a redevelopment agreement for the property with the owners; neighboring business General RV Center plans to expand onto part of the space.
10. Facebook Live beating of CL teen
Four suspects — three of them teenagers — were charged with hate crimes, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon after a Jan 3. incident where the four allegedly taunted and tortured a Crystal Lake man while streaming a video of the attack live on Facebook. One of the accused, Brittany Covington, 19, of Chicago,o pleaded guilty to a hate crime, aggravated battery and intimidation as part of a plea deal in December and was sentenced to probation. Charges still are pending against three other people.