The biggest stories of 2017 from The Record

Here’s a look at some of the top stories of 2017 from The Record and www.theaegis.com.

1 — Opioid abuse epidemic

The opioid abuse epidemic continued unabated on both sides of the Susquehanna River and beyond.

Overdoses reported by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office stood at more than 430, 80 fatal, with more than a week to go until the end of the year. The first was recorded just 45 minutes into 2017, and the year’s fatalities were nearly 50 percent more than those of 2016.

On the brighter side, community and government response to fight back ramped up throughout 2017, including a variety of public awareness and education activities and more funding for treatment.

“The tragic rise in the number of our friends and family members experiencing an overdose is proof that we must keep up the pressure,” Kyle Andersen, a spokesperson for the Harford Sheriff’s Office, said. “The fight against opioid addiction is truly a team effort and we must all prepare for a long and hard fight.”

The Face of Addiction display that was started by Harford Technical High School's Students Against Destructive Decisions organization last year traveled to nearly every public high school in Harford County this year, as the school system continued to expand its Heroin Grassroots Initiative with the support of the Harford County Government's Office of Drug Control Policy.

The display included The Conversation Tree; a Chain of Hope; and a Project Healthy Delivery collection (at Harford Technical High), or a collection for another organization of the host school's choosing.

Harford young people also joined the fight, creating videos warning their peers of the dangers of drug addiction that were shown in local movie theaters. The first set was released in June followed by another round in September.

Supplies of naloxone, a drug that counteracts effects from opioid overdoses, began to be kept at public libraries and schools and were routinely carried police officers and emergency medical personnel. Health departments offered instruction on the use of naloxone for the general public in hopes of saving lives.

Nobody was immune and everybody should join the effort to fight back, government, public safety and community leaders said.

2 — A century of innovation

The most important birthday in Harford County during 2017 was celebrated by Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The world renowned testing, research and development installation that was involved in the development of everything from tanks, to gas masks to computers, turned 100 in 2017.

The milestone was observed several times during the year, including with a public live fire ordnance demonstration in May and a gala dance in the fall. While some of the missions at the sprawling Army post on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay have changed over those 10 decades, APG remains the region’s single largest workplace and continues to be a center of innovation.

When he became APG’s senior commander in April, Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor put the installation’s mission, past and present, in perspective, telling the Army’s website: "We are unique here at APG; no one else does what this team does to enable our Army's readiness to fight and win our nation's wars."

Happy 100th, APG, and many, many more.

3 – Moving forward

Though time seemed to be flying by since their early 2016 announcement of major changes in store for its Havre de Grace operations, University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health officials say they remained on track to fulfill the basics of their Vision 2020 plan by the end of that year.

Vision 2020 includes building a new emergency medical and outpatient facility on the organization’s planned Bulle Rock campus, along with a 40-bed psychiatric hospital, followed by the closing of Harford Memorial Hospital in the city’s downtown area, and the eventual redevelopment of that site. The $160 million project will also add additional beds at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air to replace some of the medical/surgical beds at Harford Memorial.

Applications were filed during 2017 with the Maryland Health Commission, which must approve construction of the new facilities. Barring a hold-up in the regulatory process – or financing issues – Upper Chesapeake officials said they are on track to open the planned new Havre de Grace facilities by late 2020 or very early 2021.

“Our timeline remains unchanged at this point in time,” Robin Luxon, a senior vice president with the health care company, said in mid-December.

4 – The Stadium follies

Aberdeen city officials spent much of their time in 2017 trying to decide the future of one of the city’s most important assets, Ripken Stadium.

Beginning in 2016, Mayor Patrick McGrady and several of the City Council members said they wanted to lessen the financial burden the stadium’s debt service and upkeep places on the city’s budget and, by extension, Aberdeen taxpayers. How they would do that consumed many hours of discussion, but little resolution, in 2017.

McGrady, with council agreement, began shopping the stadium for sale. City officials rejected one offer from Tufton Baseball, parent of the IronBirds minor league team that plays in the stadium, to continue managing the stadium’s non-baseball events. Tufton, principally owned by Cal and Bill Ripken, rejected an offer from the city that it buy the stadium for a dollar.

The mayor, meanwhile, started the city talking with another group anxious to take over management of the stadium and possibly developing some nearby land for more youth sports activities, similar to what Tufton/Ripken currently does with its youth baseball programs held next door to the stadium.

The whole situation caused ill will with the Ripkens, the brothers admitted over the summer, saying they felt like the people at City Hall no longer wanted them in their hometown. That in turn raised considerable angst among leaders of Aberdeen’s business community and county elected officials. The mayor, however, insisted as recently as Wednesday that the city might still make a deal with Tufton to keep running the stadium.

The saga has dragged on, and on and on – into 2018, no doubt.

5 – A center of culture

Two years after work began, the Havre de Grace Opera House reopened its doors in early August for a week of concerts and other events to showcase the $4 million worth of improvements and renovations.

It was certainly a milestone for the city and the building, originally constructed in 1871, that had served as an opera house, its original purpose, a schoolhouse and, for almost a century until 1993, city hall.

Now called The Cultural Center at the Opera House, the renovated building is hosting a variety of events, including theater, dance, music, film and artwork. Tidewater Players has resumed using the building as its home base.

"One of the fewest things that we'll have here is true opera," said Bill Price, a leader of the Havre de Grace Arts Collective and one of the people most responsible for getting the whole project accomplished.

Can we say, “Bravo!”

6 – Queen of the Court

She grew up in Havre de Grace and graduated in 2014 from the prestigious Mathematics and Science Academy at Aberdeen High School, where, by the way, she played basketball, helping to lead the Eagles to two state championships and setting Harford County records for scoring and rebounding.

But that was just the beginning for Brionna Jones, who took her studies and game to the University of Maryland College Park.

At the end of her senior season with the Lady Terps in March, Jones capped her stellar four-year career by being named first team All-American. She finished sixth all time in scoring and third all time in rebounding for Maryland, which also made two NCAA Women’s Final Four appearances during Jones’ time at College Park.

Jones was drafted eighth overall by the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun and finished her initial professional season in September.

She wasn’t the only Havre de Grace basketballer to make some big news in 2017, as Emmanuel Quickly, a standout player for the John Carroll School in Bel Air, announced in September he will play for the University of Kentucky after he graduates from high school in 2018.

7 – Warrior Pride

The year 2017 turned out to be another important one for Havre de Grace High School.

In early December, the Harford County Board of Education approved three contracts, totaling more than $81 million, for the final design and construction of a new combined high school and middle school on the grounds of the current middle school of Lewis Lane. A week later, the county government put in motion a bond sale for January 2018 that will raise some of the money to build the new school.

City officials, school boosters, students and their families whooped it up, as the school’s board’s action assured the much anticipated new school can proceed to construction in the spring of 2018 with estimated completion in 2020.

In October, the Warrior Pride Band made another appearance at New York City’s Veterans Day Parade and at the school’s annual Winter Concert earlier this month, band and music director Rick Hauf was honored by current students and alumni for his 25 years at HHS.

On the football field this fall, coach Brian Eberhardt’s Warriors posted a 9-1 record en route to their third straight regional title before falling in the state 1A semis to eventual champion Dunbar.

8 – Fourth without a carnival

Some said it couldn’t be done, but Havre de Grace’s Independence Day celebration took on a new look this year and the new commission Mayor William T. Martin appointed to run the show pulled it off with few hitches.

While the traditional parade down Union Avenue remained, the focal point of everything else was shifted from Tydings Park to Hutchins Park, where there was a block party and a free concert following the parade and leading up to the fireworks. The launching site for the fireworks was different, too, instead of the island by the yacht basin, the fireworks were shot off from a barge anchored near Concord Point, as spectators hunkered down in the new park by the lighthouse and other downtown locations.

And, most radical of all, there was no carnival in the days leading to the parade and fireworks, as had been the case for decades past. That was an accident, the commission’s members said. The carnival operator they had lined up retired because of health issues and it was too late to get a replacement. What had been a source of ongoing friction between some city officials and many of the former Fourth of July Committee members did not cloud the 2017 celebration. Was the carnival missed, perhaps not.

"I would definitely come back next year," Stephanie Merson, of Port Deposit, said as she held her 4-year-old son, Hunter, during the post-parade festivities.

And, a carnival did return, only in October, and to Tydings Park where prior carnivals had been held. The four-day carnival raised approximately $8,000 to support the July 4 commission’s expenses.

So, was it all a big success? Martin and city council members lauded everyone on the commission, which the mayor reappointed for 2018, but how self-sustaining future celebrations will be remains to be seen. The city provided $32,000 to help the commission get started, and there was $63,000 left over from the prior committee; other revenue, including from the carnival, brought total income to $127,000. The commission said the cost of the 2017 celebration was $86,000. The city financial aid was critical, and it’s likely to be needed in 2018.

9 – Violent times

In recent years, Havre de Grace had seemed immune to much of the violence that disturbed neighboring areas, particularly Aberdeen – where three people were murdered in 2016, but that was not the case in 2017, as police investigated two homicides within the Havre de Grace city limits.

In July, Havre de Grace Police officers found Andrew Pizanis, 20, dead in his residence in the 800 block of Lafayette Street. He had been stabbed.

The victim’s girlfriend, Aubri Grace Pluhar, 23, of the 800 block of Lancaster Drive in Bel Air, turned herself in Aug. 23, and was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of Pizanis, which police said resulted from a domestic incident.

In August, Maleigha Catherine Solonka, 15, of Edgewood, was found dead by asphyxiation in the 400 block of Webb Lane in Havre de Grace. The high school student had gone missing from her home earlier. Her death remains under investigation by Havre de Grace Police. No arrests have been made.

On the morning of Oct. 18, a gunman opened fire at Advanced Granite Solutions in an Edgewood industrial park, killing three people and wounding two others. Among the dead was Jose Hidalgo Romero, 34, of Aberdeen.

The alleged shooter, whom police identified as Radee L. Prince, 37, a former employee of the company, fled, touching off a manhunt along the Interstate 95 corridor until Prince, who had addresses in Cecil County and Delaware, was arrested later the same day in Delaware, after allegedly shooting a man in Wilmington. Prince remains in custody in Delaware.

10 – The tradition lives on

Havre de Grace lost a community icon on Feb. 28, when Rich Holly died at age 70.

He had been a much beloved 40-year teacher and coach at Havre de Grace High School and was one of the leaders of the Community Projects of Havre de Grace, the organization instrumental in getting James R. Harris Stadium built and which puts on the annual community Thanksgiving dinner in the city.

As organizer, Holly had worked with donors to ensure food and supplies were available for an event through which hundreds of people in Havre de Grace and the surrounding areas receive a free meal on Thanksgiving Day.

While some folks fretted that the void left by Mr. Holly’s death could not be filled, especially as the annual dinner approached this November, Fred Wills and Lou Ann Swam didn’t shrink from the challenge. They had worked closely with Mr. Holly in prior years, and they stepped forward to take over the planning and organization for the 2017 dinner.

“I wanted to see the effort continue, for sure,” said Willis, who said he had “great respect” for what Mr. Holly had done.

Once again, more than 1,000 dinners were served at the Havre de Grace Community Center or delivered to shut-ins by dozens of volunteers, some who showed up to help for the first time. Mr. Holly and Don Osman, the dinner’s founder when he led the service club at Havre de Grace High, were both honored for their contributions by the volunteers.

Volunteer Cindy Dressler, of Havre de Grace, and her 21-year-old daughter, Katie, gazed at the photo, which shows Mr. Holly smiling broadly over a plate of onion rings. They could also see a plaque from the City of Havre de Grace honoring Mr. Holly and Don Osman, the Thanksgiving dinner coordinator.

“I think it's awesome,” Dressler, who had Osman and Mr. Holly as teachers when she attended Havre de Grace High, said. “I think they both deserve it.”

Record staff members David Anderson, Erika Butler and Matt Button contributed to this report.

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