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Top region stories of 2014

A building collapsed at the former Bethlehem Steel Plant in Sparrows Point in May.
A building collapsed at the former Bethlehem Steel Plant in Sparrows Point in May.(Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun)

Anne Arundel

Schuh and Neuman primary battle was bitter, expensive

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In a political year that had its share of statewide surprises, the county executive race between appointed incumbent Laura Neuman and state Del. Steve Schuh dominated headlines, airwaves, social media and mailboxes for the first half of the year in Anne Arundel. The Republican primary between the two was often bitter — Neuman blasted Schuh for talking to her mother in an attempt to dig up dirt, while Schuh questioned Neuman about tapping a developer lobbyist as her chief campaign fundraiser. State GOP officials said the in-party fight made Arundel "one of our bloodiest counties," and the race was costly as well; the two spent a combined $2 million. Schuh scored the win en route to a general election victory over Democrat George Johnson. But Neuman, who had come from nowhere in 2013 to be appointed county executive after John Leopold's resignation, finished 2014 with accolades from her party — and the potential for a future in public service.

Murder trial in road rage case splits law enforcement community

The fatal shooting of a man along a busy highway by an off-duty New Jersey detective drew national attention to Anne Arundel during a 2014 trial. Joseph Walker faced charges of first- and second-degree murder and other charges in the death in 2013 of Joseph Dale Harvey Jr. after a road rage incident along Route 3. Walker said he and his family were threatened when Harvey approached him during a roadside confrontation, and he fired his gun in defense. The case prompted a wave of support for Walker from law enforcement and police union officials in New Jersey, who criticized the Maryland State Police and the county's state's attorney's office for pressing charges. The National Police Defense Foundation alleged that Walker's prosecution would have a "chilling effect" on officers defending themselves while off-duty. In the end, it took a jury less than six hours to find Walker not guilty.

Baltimore County

Multi-state manhunt for 11-year-old girl

The killing of 36-year-old Dundalk resident Bobbie Jo Cortez and disappearance of her 11-year-old daughter triggered a manhunt in March for Timothy Virts, the girl's father and suspect in Cortez's death. A two-day, multi-state search ended 400 miles away in a motel room in Florence, S.C., when a motel employee notified authorities upon seeing an Amber Alert on Facebook regarding the missing girl. Police rescued the girl without incident, and Virts will start the new year awaiting trial. He was indicted on charges including murder and kidnapping.

New birth seen for Sparrows Point after sale, cleanup agreement

Two years after it closed for good as a steel mill, the Sparrows Point plant in Dundalk was still making news in 2014 — some good, some bad. In May, nine demolition workers were injured, some seriously, after the roof gave way on a building at the former steel mill, which was being cleared of asbestos. Then in September, state and county officials heralded the sale of the 3,100-acre property to Sparrows Point Terminal, an offshoot of the Hanover-based Redwood Capital Investments. The deal included an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment to clean up the site, with the new owners committing $48 million toward those efforts and $3 million to investigate potential water issues. The site, which once employed thousands under Bethlehem Steel, is slated for redevelopment as an industrial campus for manufacturing and port operations. The iconic blast furnace at the plant is expected to be imploded in January, and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said he believes The Point will again emerge as an economic engine. FedEx is considering becoming a tenant.

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Carroll County

Boy's death at Christian camp shocks community

The death in July of a 12-year-old boy at River Valley Ranch, a Christian summer camp in the Millers area of Carroll County, shocked the community and drew state attention to the way such camps protect children during storms. Justin Nicholas Diggs, a Pikesville Middle School honor student, died after a tree struck him when it fell during a sudden violent thunderstorm at the camp on July 8. About 100 campers were caught outside as they participated in a Bible study session when the storm approached, and other children were struck by tree branches and limbs as they ran to shelter. State regulatory officials later said River Valley staff followed the camp's procedures in monitoring the weather and taking shelter when the storm struck.

Making a federal case of commissioners' prayer

Carroll's Board of County Commissioners made national headlines in March when then-Commissioner Robin Frazier said she was "willing to go to jail" over the board's practice of opening meetings with a Christian prayer. After a pair of county residents and the American Humanist Association filed a case against the practice, a federal judge barred the commissioners from invoking Jesus Christ in pre-meeting prayers. The injunction stood for several weeks but was later lifted based on a Supreme Court ruling in another, somewhat similar case that approved such prayers. The issue isn't yet fully resolved — the humanist association and plaintiffs in the case say Carroll's practices have been different because they focus solely on one faith, and both sides are awaiting a federal court review.

Harford County

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Advocates use Richardson case to focus on child abuse

A manslaughter case in Harford County involving a teen who admitted shooting and killing his father came to a conclusion early in January 2014 when Robert C. Richardson III pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The case dominated headlines and triggered courthouse rallies in support of Richardson, who claimed he killed his father after years of abuse and being treated like a "slave." Supporters had wanted Richardson III, who was 16 at the time of the killing, tried as a juvenile, and child advocates said the case demonstrated how communities must act when they suspect a child is being mistreated. Prosecutors had said Richardson's father had threatened to kill him, and terrorized him with firearms. Some family members denied that Richardson's father had abused the boy, but prosecutors said people in the community had suspected mistreatment. Richardson told police he decided to kill his father because he "had enough."

Howard County

Symphony Woods advances, but not in full harmony

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The 50th anniversary of Jim Rouse's proposal for the planned community of Columbia was in 2014, and it was marked with a debate over a new feature in that community — the Symphony Woods on 16 acres near Merriweather Post. The proposal for an outdoor amphitheater, elevated boardwalk over a stream bed, a glass guest building called the Butterfly and an 800-foot connecting tube called the Caterpillar was hailed as visionary by some, and rejected by others — one critic called the plan "an amusement park with endless distracting cacophony." The proposal from the Inner Arbor Trust gained support of the Columbia Association, and in November also won the blessing of county planners. The project, expected to cost about $30 million, could begin its first phase early in the new year.

Bulmer gets 30 years; Arnold loses bid for juvenile trial Lane's murder

The two people implicated in the 2013 stabbing death of Howard County activist and blogger Dennis Lane — his daughter, Morgan Lane Arnold, and her then-boyfriend, Jason Bulmer — both had days in court in 2014, though proceedings will certainly spill into the new year. Bulmer, 20, pleaded guilty in the killing. Prosecutors said he entered Lane's Ellicott City home in the early morning through a door Arnold left unlocked and fatally stabbed the man. Both prosecutors and defense lawyers said the killing was the result of a teen relationship steeped in a dark and violent fantasy world. Bulmer received a 30-year sentence, but the fate of Arnold, 16, remains in question. In a hearing, her attorney, Joseph Murtha, failed to convince a judge that her case should be moved to juvenile court. The girl appeared at the proceedings with stuffed animals and anime books, and Murtha described her as "a child who has profound mental health problems." Her trial is scheduled for February.

—Compiled by Jim Joyner from Baltimore Sun Media Group reports

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