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The Top 10 news stories of 2012

A look at the Top 10 news stories of 2012 in The Record area:

#1 – Vi Ripken Kidnapped

The July kidnapping of Aberdeen's most well-known resident, remains the most bizarre and perhaps most unsettling story of 2012.

Vi Ripken, mother of Major Leaguers Cal Ripken Jr. and Billy Ripken, as well as Elly and Fred Ripken, was taken from her Aberdeen home at gunpoint by a white man in his late 30s or early 40s early on the morning of July 24 and driven around central Maryland in her car. She was then left, with her hands bound, inside the car, which was found parked near her home early in the morning of July 25.

Vi Ripken was unhurt and has been seen in public on several occasions since; however, she and the other members of the Ripken family have increased their personal security, and Cal Ripken Jr. has said publicly that the family remains concerned for its collective safety.

Police agencies investigating the case, including the FBI, have yet to make an arrest.

Sketches of the kidnapper have been circulated and there are images of him from a surveillance video taken at a Walmart during the night he held Vi Ripken hostage.

But nearly five months later, there still has been no break in the case.

#2 – New Havre de Grace Hospital gains momentum

Someday, motorists who exit I-95 at Route 155 toward Havre de Grace are expected to be greeted by a sprawling office and retail complex on their immediate right, with a seven-story hospital as its centerpiece.

The proposal for a new Havre de Grace hospital, replacing the aging Harford Memorial complex downtown, took a major step forward in September when, after several months of review and public meetings, the city's planning commission approved the concept plan for a mixed-use development on 96 acres that Upper Chesapeake Health owns next to the I-95/155 interchange.

The plan, which is being refined and remains under review by city planners, calls for up to 20 buildings to be constructed between 2016 and 2025, starting with the 250,000 square foot hospital and followed by several professional office buildings, retail shops and, eventually, a 110-room hotel.

As the city's approval process moves forward, what will happen to the existing Harford Memorial property remains a matter of speculation. Upper Chesapeake officials must also obtain state regulatory approval for the new hospital, a process that could take years, if there is significant public opposition, something the company learned a painful lesson about when it considered closing Harford Memorial in the 1990s.

#3New Havre de Grace High plan backed

A proud 1967 graduate of Havre de Grace High School and a member of the first class inducted into the school's hall of fame, Harford County Executive David Craig pulled out all stops in 2012 to leave his alma mater a lasting gift – a new HHS building.

Craig first began talking seriously about replacing the existing two-building complex on Congress Avenue in 2011, but this past year he did more than talk.

Craig sent a budget to the Harford County Council in the spring calling for a new school to be built on the athletic fields between Juniata Street and the middle school. When the council balked, Craig replied that its members had better play ball or no projects, school or otherwise, would be built for the remainder of his term. The council blinked.

Next came the marshaling of residents and other public officials from the Havre Grace, who attended county council and school board meetings, wearing buttons and T-shirts proclaiming, "It's Our Turn." This fall, the school board advanced the HHS project to top priority in its capital program, in turn bumping down several other school replacement projects.

It remains to be seen how fast the new HHS project will move forward, as the school board says it won't even seek state funding for a new HHS until at least a year from now. Meanwhile, 23 months are left in Craig's tenure as county executive…and counting.

#4BRAC hype begins to cool

BRAC has been a top news story in The Record area for several years.

It was no different in 2012, though the story had a different twist. For the first time, news about the continuing saga of the Base Closure and Realignment process and its effects on Aberdeen Proving Ground and its surrounding Harford environs was not all upbeat.

The first building of the new Aberdeen Corporate Park, office space aimed at BRAC-related organizations, sits vacant next to Target without prospects for tenants. Aberdeen officials are also worried about the North Gate Business Park at APG's Route 22 gate and Fieldside Village next to Ripken Stadium.

"We are very concerned about all three," Aberdeen City Manager Doug Miller said, "and the lack of BRAC-related commercial development in the city."

All is not lost, however, as plans moved forward in 2012 for several other projects, not the least of which is ongoing work at Routes 40 and 715 and a widening of Route 22 that will involve the state taking several houses at its Paradise Road intersection.

#5Bye-bye Hatem AVI decals

Sept. 30, 2012 was the end of the line for the AVI decals (called "bridge stickers" by many locals) used to pay the toll for crossing the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge, which carries Route 40 over the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville.

In a process that was a long time coming and survived several contentious public meetings on both sides of the river that turned into loud complaint sessions against the change, the tolls have been collected since Oct. 1 via E-ZPass. E-ZPass transponders replaced the long-used bridge stickers, which at their introduction supplanted the bridge ticket books.

The state took advantage of the implementation of the mandatory E-ZPass usage to raise tolls in numerous locations around the state. Under the commuter rate plan, according to the MdTA Toll Facilities web site, the toll to cross the Hatem Bridge doesn't change until July 1, 2013, when the Hatem Bridge-only plan goes from a $10 charge to a $20 charge. AVI Decals used to cost $10 per year and covered an unlimited number of trips.

#6 – Mayhem on the highways

It's been a dangerous year on the roads in The Record area.

There were three tanker truck crashes, including two in as many weeks in downtown Port Deposit, and a spate of fatal accidents in southeastern Harford County.

Eight people died in eight separate crashes, with all but two of them clustered in Aberdeen. The other two were on Route 40 at Robin Hood Road and in the 200 block of Pulaski Highway near the Bulle Rock entrance in Havre de Grace.

A propane tanker coming into town on Route 276 crashed into the Tome's Landing condos Aug. 14. That crash forced the evacuation of part of downtown. Ten days later, a tanker truck carrying gasoline crashed on Main Street as it came into town down the hill on Route 222, caught fire, exploded and killed the driver.

A third tanker crash, on the Harford County side of the Susquehanna River on northbound I-95, shut down the interstate in both directions for about an hour Oct. 9. The northbound lanes were shut down for about 10 hours, while the wreckage was removed. The driver escaped serious injury.

# 7 – Joe Smith makes his mark

In the insular world of Havre de Grace politics, that Joe Smith won election to the City Council in May was remarkable.

Smith, 48, moved to the city from Michigan in 2006, settling in the relatively new Bulle Rock community. He had never run for public office, but he won a council seat, knocking off an incumbent in the process.

What made Smith's victory even more astounding was he never hid the fact he is gay and is living with another man, which appears to make him the first openly gay elected official in Harford County history.

After a new law permitting civil marriages for same sex couples passed in the Maryland General Assembly last winter, but was later petitioned to referendum, Smith came out forcefully in support of the Civil Marriage Act, urging his fellow residents to vote for it in the November general election.

Though ballot Question 6 lost badly in conservative Harford County, it passed by a comfortable margin statewide. Smith and his partner have already applied for a marriage license and are planning to wed on New Year's Day.

#8Aberdeen's queens of the court

The Aberdeen High girls basketball team was big news in 2011 and again in 2012 and will certainly be again when this high school season ends in 2013.

The Eagles beat River Hill, 62-48, at UMBC last March to win the Class 3A state championship. That victory came almost a year to the day after Aberdeen lost to Frederick, 76-71, in the state championship game in March 2011.

Aberdeen, unbeaten at 5-0 as the 2012 Christmas break began, was ranked Number One in the Baltimore Metro Area by The Baltimore Sun. Brionna Jones, Aberdeen's 6'3" senior center, who is headed to the University of Maryland to play for the nationally-ranked Terps, has been the difference maker for the Eagles. As a sophomore, she led Aberdeen oh-so-close to a state championship. As a junior, she was the most dominant public school player in the state on the school's first state championship team..

With a strong supporting cast for Jones, including her sister, Stephanie Jones, a freshman, Aberdeen is on course for another deep run in the state playoffs.

That could make Eagles girls basketball a Top Ten story again in 2013.

# 9 – A champion, an anniversary, a farewell

The Sport of Kings is never too far removed from the history of Havre de Grace.

In February, a mare named Havre de Grace received American thoroughbred racing's most coveted Eclipse Award, being named Horse of the Year for 2011, as well as the sport's top older filly or mare.

Havre de Grace was named for the city by her owner, Rick Porter, a Delaware resident who says he often saw the exit signs driving back and forth on I-95 and remembered the city once had a top tier race track. After winning her initial start of 2012 in New Orleans, Havre de Grace was retired to breeding because of a leg injury.

Aug. 24 marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Havre de Grace Race Track in 1912, where the ghosts of four-legged stars like Man 'O War, Seabiscuit and Citation, long ago hallowed the ground off Old Bay Lane where remnants of the track remain.

On a sad note, on Sept. 18, 1983 Preakness winner Deputed Testamony, the only winner of a Triple Crown race born in Harford County, died at age 32 at the Boniface family's Bonita Farm in Darlington. "DT's" Preakness win and subsequent stud career at Bonita helped Harford become an East Coast breeding center

#10Fiocchi's fence fiasco

In one of the more inexplicable stories of 2012, readers of The Record were treated to the saga of the Fiocchi Fence in Havre de Grace.

In an issue that was nearly as insignificant as any to grace this newspaper's pages in recent years, except for its illustrative power to show a small town government in action; 24 feet of wooden fence installed without permission in a city right of way was ordered removed. Then, after the fence was taken down, the Havre de Grace City Council not only reversed its action, but also approved more than twice as much fence to be erected in the city right-of-way at the same location than it had previously ordered removed.

The Fiocchi Fence was a story that had all the intrigue of any neighborhood dispute, but it was more significant than most because of the Havre de Grace politics involved and the presence of some of the city's most visible officials, including Mayor Wayne Dougherty and City Council President Bill Martin who were not publicly active in the dispute between neighbors, one of whom was Martin's sister.

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