Fayette County

A recap of 2013's biggest stories in Lexington and rest of Kentucky

Media swarmed former agriculture commissioner Richie Farmer.
Media swarmed former agriculture commissioner Richie Farmer. Herald-Leader

In 2013, the big stories in Lexington centered around the absence of things: construction on the CentrePointe complex downtown, Sears' future in Fayette Mall, a UK men's basketball team in the Big Dance, a new HealthFirst clinic on Southland Drive, Centre College's $250 million donation that crumbled like a stale cookie.

But then there were the things that popped up that were amazingly popular: Coba Cocina restaurant with its jellyfish, discount retailer Costco, Kentucky's strong showing on signing up the uninsured under the Affordable Care Act, Kentuckians such as Louisville's Jennifer Lawrence winning Oscars and Loretta Lynn receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Lexingtonians got themselves tattooed as part of a community art project; a hemp bill passed the legislature; and bourbon, once consumed with a splash of branch water by the weary J.R. Ewings of the world, became hip again.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association set off a controversy with an edict about opponents shaking hands after a game — the premise being that a peaceful show of good sportsmanship might be too much for high-stakes teens to provide — that was later walked back.

In no particular order, we present 2013's big stories:

The Bluegrass Pipeline: Heavily resisted

The Sisters of Loretto gained an unlikely international following when they refused to let surveyors on their land on behalf of the Bluegrass Pipeline and emerged among the leaders of the cadre of Kentuckians opposing the natural gas liquids pipeline that would run through Kentucky.

"This is a gift here entrusted to us to care for," said Sister Eva Marie, standing on the farm on which her order has lived for 200 years. "Those people are in a business to make quarterly profits. That's not my obligation."

In November, citizens presented a petition to Gov. Steve Beshear's secretary asking the governor to oppose the use of eminent domain to secure easements for the proposed pipeline.

Sister Claire McGowan of the Dominican Sisters of Peace and executive director of New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future in Springfield, said the petition held 36,250 signatures.

"This petition represents the deep conviction of people of faith that it is our sacred duty to protect the land and the water and all the communities here in the commonwealth," McGowan said in presenting the petition.

The proposed pipeline would be part of a system that would transport natural gas liquids from shale-producing areas in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio to the petrochemical market in the northeast United States, as well as the petrochemical and export complex on the Gulf Coast. Natural gas liquids can include a variety of hydrocarbons, such as ethane, propane, butane, isobutane and pentanes.

Gay rights: Vicco — yes, Vicco — leads the way

In January, Vicco in Perry County, population 334, became the smallest city in the nation with a local anti-discrimination ordinance. Vicco and its gay mayor, Johnny Cummings, were featured in a "People Who Are Destroying America" segment of the satirical Colbert Report on Comedy Central.

In December, Morehead became the sixth city in the state to adopt a fairness law. The Morehead City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Morehead joined Lexington, Louisville, Covington, Frankfort and Vicco as Kentucky cities with laws granting civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Meanwhile, Lexington's Urban County Council unanimously voted to provide domestic partner benefits for city employees.

Richie Farmer: Fall of a Kentucky hero

Richie Farmer once had it all: A beloved mountain boy who became a University of Kentucky men's basketball star on a team dubbed "The Unforgettables" and then went into politics and became state agriculture commissioner.

How far the mighty can fall.

In September, Farmer pleaded guilty in a government corruption case that could send him to prison for two years.

Under a plea agreement, he agreed to plead guilty to two counts of misappropriating government resources while overseeing the state Department of Agriculture.

Farmer had been scheduled to stand trial in October on a five-count federal indictment. The plea deal brokered by Farmer's attorney, Guthrie True of Frankfort, also resolved administrative charges pending before the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and one count of violating state campaign-finance laws brought by the state attorney general.

Under the agreement, Farmer would face a sentence of up to two years and three months in prison, and pay restitution of $120,500 to the state.

Prosecutors had alleged that Farmer used government employees to work on his Frankfort home, even to build a basketball court in his backyard, and that he hired friends, including his girlfriend, as special assistants who did little or no work for the agriculture department. U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey accused Farmer of directing agency employees to drive him on personal errands, baby-sit his children, mow his lawn and transport his dog.

Kentucky drink: Bourbon boom and boutique brews

Herald-Leader reporter Janet Patton and photographer Charles Bertram produced a yearlong series on bourbon, the fastest-growing sales category for American spirits.

Although tequila, rum, cognac, scotch, gin and vodka are ceding no ground, bourbon sales surged 11.9 percent in 2012, the second year in a row of double-digit gains.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the alcohol industry trade group, said the 3.6 percent growth in 2012 sales of U.S. whiskey was the biggest increase in 30 years. Revenues are climbing even faster — up 6.7 percent in 2012 to $6.4 billion — thanks to the strong sales of high-end and super-premium products, which now account for 80 percent of the gain.

Much of that momentum came from bourbon, which surged 11.9 percent last year, the second year in a row for double-digit gains.

Premium bourbon also yielded one of the year's premier mysteries: Sixty-five cases of 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle, perhaps the most unobtainable and expensive bourbon in the world, were stolen. The theft at Buffalo Trace was announced in October; by Dec. 2, a reward was being offered for information about the culprits.

Kentucky also saw an uptick in beer production, and some controversy.

In June, Lexington's West Sixth Brewing Co. and brewer Magic Hat settled a federal lawsuit that Magic Hat filed against West Sixth, claiming trademark infringement. Magic Hat, based in Burlington, Vt., filed the suit May 16 in U.S. District Court in Lexington, saying West Sixth sold beer using color, trademarks and designs "that closely resemble and are confusingly similar to" the designs used by Magic Hat for several years.

West Sixth ultimately posted a new logo on its website and Facebook page. The new logo does not have the "dingbat" star that was one point of contention in Magic Hat's lawsuit. The word company also was removed from the outside of the logo, which says "West Sixth Brewing" and "Lexington, Kentucky."

Post-game handshakes: High five still alive

Because of some fights during post-game handshake ceremonies between teams, Kentucky High School Athletics Association Commissioner Julian Tackett issued a directive — later clarified as a recommendation — that teams simply retreat after their games ended. But sportsmen around the state fumed, and handshakes are still allowed, if not officially encouraged, between high school competitors.

The coal economy: '50 Years of Night'

Coal production fell 27.6 percent throughout Eastern Kentucky in 2012 to the lowest level since 1965. In Knott County the slide was worse: 45 percent.

The downturn erased more than 4,000 mining jobs in Eastern Kentucky; employment at coal mines in the state's eastern coalfields dropped nearly 30 percent, from 13,608 in 2011 to 9,540 in 2012.

In Knott County, where coal had been the backbone of the local economy for decades, 63 percent of coal jobs disappeared in 2012.

The decline was an echo of the early 1960s, when Harry Caudill, a lawyer from Letcher County, wrote his landmark book, Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area.

Coal production in the region was at the lowest point in decades at the time, and Caudill predicted that trend would not change. Within a few years, "tireless nuclear reactors" would replace much of coal's share of electricity production, and coal "is unlikely ever again to be a prime industry," he wrote.

Some of Caudill's predictions were wrong — nuclear power didn't become predominant, and coal had more than one comeback during that 50 years — but his ultimate diagnosis of decay for Eastern Kentucky's omnipotent industry now looks more likely than ever.

"I think we're going to stop mining in Eastern Kentucky with coal still in the ground," said Len Peters, secretary of the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.

A bipartisan Shaping Our Appalachian Region conference in Pike ville on Dec. 9 drew 1,700 people, who looked at Minnesota's effort to rebuild its northeastern region after the bottom dropped out of its iron ore industry 30 years ago. It used existing infrastructure, short-term investment and better coordination among education and job-training providers.

Crime: The year of living dangerously

Marty Roe was convicted of the 2011 shooting of Lexington dermatologist Martha Post and sentenced to life in prison. Roe, termed "this yo-yo" by Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson, had been a handyman for Post and her physician husband.

A Pulaski County minister was arrested and charged in the shooting deaths of three people at a Danville pawn shop. Kenneth Allen Keith, 48, entered a not-guilty plea Oct. 16 during a video arraignment in Boyle Circuit Court. Keith is charged with murder in the deaths of ABC Gold, Games and More owner Mike Hockensmith; his wife; Angela Hockensmith; and customer Daniel Smith, who were shot and killed Sept. 20 at the Danville store.

Bardstown police officer Jason Ellis, 33, died after being shot multiple times with a shotgun after he got out of his cruiser to pick up debris on the Blue Grass Parkway in Nelson County. The case remains unsolved. A photo of a police dog named Figo placing a paw by the casket of Ellis went viral.

Divas' Gentleman's Club on Russell Cave Road was the site of two fatal shootings months apart: Curtis Simmons, 33, was shot in November. Johntel Crocker, 22, was shot and killed at Divas in September.

Heroin has rapidly replaced prescription pain pills as the drug of choice in much of Northern Kentucky and Louisville, according to an article reported by Herald-Leader writer Beth Musgrave in January. Police in Louisville and the Northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati said they began seeing more heroin as early as four years ago, but it was during the previous 12 months that heroin passed pain pills as the preferred drug of addicts.

At the time, the drug was still rare in Lexington, and Eastern and Western Kentucky, although drug treatment counselors and police said they were beginning to see heroin abuse. Driving the resurgence of heroin was the reformulation of two widely abused prescription pain drugs — OxyContin and Opana — that made it more difficult to crush and snort them.

By July, the heroin problem, which had reached Central Kentucky counties, was beginning to crop up in southern and Eastern Kentucky.

An example of the activity came July 9, when an anti-drug operation arrested a Cincinnati man as he allegedly attempted to bring a large quantity of heroin into Beattyville.

Basketball: Madison Central's thrilling Sweet 16 run

Madison Central High School's boys' basketball team rallied from four points down in the last 20 seconds to beat Louisville Ballard 65-64 in the title game of the state tournament in Lexington.

Most Valuable Player Dominique Hawkins summed up the spirit of one of Kentucky's most beloved traditions with this observation: "I believe in my coach (Allen Feldhaus Jr.), I love my coach and I'd do anything for my coach. He teaches us to be tough and never give up. That's what got us this biggest win in school history."

Hawkins now plays for the UK Wildcats.

The arts:

■ Nikky Finney, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for poetry and one of Lexington's most beloved literary figures, announced she was leaving UK to return home to South Carolina.

■ Former Louisville resident Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar for best actress in February for Silver Linings Playbook. Actor and Kentucky native George Clooney also won an Oscar as a producer of Argo, winner for best picture.

■ Actress Ashley Judd decided in March not to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Mitch McConnell.

■ Butcher Holler native Loretta Lynn, the country singer best known as the Coal Miner's Daughter, received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in November.

■ As part of the Lexington Tattoo Project, more than 200 Lexington-area residents got tattoos which, when put together in November, revealed a design with a circle and a number 4, drawing inspirations from one of Lexington's most-traveled roads, New Circle Road, aka Ky. 4.

From its inception, there was a mystery embedded in the Lexington Tattoo Project. What image would be formed when all the dots and circles in the tattoos were put together?

"While sorting through different options for the background image, we tried to avoid the predictable (horses, basketball, and bourbon) and to find something still recognizable to everyone who calls Lexington home," project creators and organizers Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova wrote in a statement.

Hemp making a comeback?

In nearly the last minute of the 2013 legislative session, the General Assembly passed a bill to let Kentucky farmers grow hemp for the first time in decades — if the federal government allows it. But hold your seeds: The Department of Justice has informed Colorado and Washington that they may grow and sell marijuana but hasn't told Kentucky explicitly that hemp will be OK.

And even if it does, without a change in the federal law the crop could be in limbo.

Education: Departures and arrivals

■ Centre College officials said in September that the Eugene Brockman Trust was unable to make a planned $250 million all-stock donation, crushing what Centre had described as the largest gift ever given to a private liberal arts college in the United States.

■ Eastern Kentucky University got a new president, Michael T. Benson, and gave him a starting salary of $400,000 plus $120,000 in possible bonuses. Benson replaced Doug Whitlock, who retired.

Benson's hiring was attributed in part to his fundraising profile at Southern Utah University, where he helped raise $90 million in private support over six years.

■ Transylvania University President R. Owen Williams announced in June that he would step down at the end of the 2013-14 academic year. The announcement came after the school's faculty took a 68-7 vote of no confidence in Williams and less than two weeks after faculty leaders called for his resignation in a 35-page document given to Transylvania's two governing boards.

■ A building boom continues on the campus of the University of Kentucky, with much more to come. UK opened new, modern dorms, with more under construction. And a $256 million bond issue approved in December will fund three major building projects: an expansion of the Gatton College of Business and Economics, a new science building and a renovation of Commonwealth Stadium.

Business and development: The Main Street pasture

■ Work on CentrePointe, the downtown development first announced in 2008, slowly started to grind ahead as the year came to a close, with construction fences and heavy equipment popping up on the block. The Urban County Council unanimously approved an agreement Dec. 10 that would require CentrePointe developers to set aside $4.4 million in case parts of the project were not completed and the site in downtown Lexington had to be restored.

The planned project — which includes an office building, hotel, an apartment building and an underground parking garage — had been stalled since 2008. The office building will be completed first, and its first tenant will be Stantec, an engineering firm that will occupy 21/2 floors.

■ Southland Christian Church opened its branch on Richmond Road, built on the site of the old Lexington Mall. The church accommodates up to 2,800 worshippers.

■ Sears decided to end its 80-year history in Lexington by announcing it would close the Fayette Mall store where it once reigned supreme among retailers. The end will come by mid-January. The space is expected to be taken over by other retailers and restaurants.

■ Costco opened in October, opening to overwhelming crowds at its Hamburg location. From shrimp salad to down comforters to recliners on which to rest while shopping, Costco arrived to challenge longtime champ Sam's Club on New Circle Road in the membership warehouse market.

■ Lexmark International went on a buying spree of software companies, positioning itself to be less of a printer company and more of an information management company — able to manipulate information into any form in which a company needs it, be it printouts or digital.

■ The proposed HealthFirst clinic on Southland Drive — intended to provide care for thousands of patients who might have difficulty obtaining it elsewhere — languished for much of the year as the boards of HealthFirst and Lexington-Fayette County Health Department battled. The health department eventually succeeded in reconfiguring the HealthFirst board and terminating its director, but at year's end the outlook for the new clinic remained unclear.

■ A brighter spot for Kentucky was its documented success with health care sign-ups under the federal Affordable Care Act. While the national site floundered embarrassingly, Kentucky's site was considered a model for efficient, easy health insurance purchases.

Notes on people, gadgets and nuisances

January: The Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame inducted its first six members — Harriette Arnow, William Wells Brown, Harry Caudill, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, James Still and Robert Penn Warren.

April: Breathitt County's Martin Douthitt gave up his effort to climb Mount Everest, Earth's highest mountain.

April 11: Roku, maker of the device that allows streaming-from-Internet TV, said Lexington is the top television streaming city in the country.

July 21: Asian mosquitoes moved into Kentucky to make outdoor activities particularly uncomfortable. Other mosquitoes might be a nuisance, but these fellers just love to bite, according to insect experts.

July 5: Centre College student Danielle Wahl completed a swim across the English Channel. Wahl, from Colorado Springs, Colo., finished the swim in 9 hours and 49 minutes. She began at Dover, England, and finished south of the city of Wissant in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.

Aug. 22: R.J. "Rick" Corman, the Jessamine County entrepreneur who built a backhoe business into a multimillion-dollar railroad and construction company, died. Corman had been diagnosed in 2001 with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that attacks plasma cells in bone marrow and destroys bones.

September: Bobby Russell got HIV treatments for almost eight years. But in a lawsuit, he claims he had been misdiagnosed and never actually had the virus that causes AIDS. The 43-year-old Lexington man sued doctors and others at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center, the UK-affiliated Bluegrass Care Clinic and the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department for medical malpractice. UK medical officials dispute his claims of misdiagnosis, saying that he received proper treatment for HIV and that's the reason tests show the virus is suppressed.

Oct. 3: Bucky the Bugler, aka George "Bucky" Sallee of Georgetown, retired after more than 50 years at Keeneland. The only day he missed during his tenure was when his first wife died.

October: The mystery of what happened to a Floyd County lawyer who disappeared in June was solved. Clyde Johnson, 47, had been a fixture in Floyd County, representing more than 100 clients, serving as president of the county bar association had helping coach high school football. In June, he paid $8,000 for a camper, took his dog, his Xbox and Nissan SUV, and disappeared. He resurfaced in Port O'Connor, Texas, when a utility bill from the campground where he was staying made its way to Prestonsburg.

Oct. 26: Lexington's annual re-creation of Michael Jackson's zombie dance classic Thriller drew more than 1,500 participants, including Zombie Elvis and Zombie Spock.

Cheryl Truman

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