Editors' Choice: Top 10 Joliet Stories of 2012
From trials to murders to new businesses, this past year offered a little bit of everything when it came to news.
The Joliet Patch online news Web site went live on May 31, meaning we celebrate our seven-month anniversary today.
It seems fitting, then, that we should look back at the news we've covered since that fortuitous day and offer our opinion on what we think were the most important stories of the half year.
If you disagree or think we should add something, feel free to add it to the comment box below.
And without further ado...
1. Peterson/Vaughn trials. Murder trials that draw national attention are rare, and to have one held at the Will County Courthouse in Joliet is unusual. But to have two? Well, that's unprecedented. But this summer, in side-by-side courtrooms, the trials of Drew Peterson and Christopher Vaughn were held. Both men were ultimately convicted -- Peterson of killing his third wife and Vaughn of slaughtering his wife and three children.
2. Downtown transportation hub. Watching the construction of the new parking lot across from the Will County Adult Detention Center on Chicago Street, it's hard to fathom that it is the first step in what will be a huge transformation of Joliet's downtown district. When completed, the $53 million transportation hub -- featuring new train and bus stations, multi-level parking deck, and train platforms, and retail shops -- will dramatically alter the look of downtown.
3. New stores/restaurants. Yes, the economy's been slow to return, but there are signs that things are turning around in that vacant stores and buildings are getting new life. Among the new businesses coming to town: Smoky's BBQ House in the former Hot Skillet restaurant, Kirkland's in what had been Factory Card and Party Outlet store, BC Osaka Hibachi Grill & Sushi in the former Old Country Buffet, Tony's Finer Foods in the shuttered Strack & Van Til, and Five Guys taking over the old KFC spot near the mall.
4. High-profile murders. There were a lot of murders in Joliet this year, and several still remain etched in our memory. They include Timothy Egner, shot while waiting to pick up an employee at Wendy's; Kyle Watt, a recent college graduate killed in a drive-by shooting; Darel Agerton, who beat and strangled his 90-year-old grandmother; and Sean McGinn, allegedly killed by Jermain Bennett, his business partner in Team Joliet KO Zone, in what was said to be a staged drug deal gone wrong.
5. Taste of Joliet storm. What started out as a beautiful night turned ugly when a scary storm with hurricane-strength wind moved through Joliet, forcing an early end to the first day of Taste of Joliet this June. Mainstage act REO Speedwagon was forced to take shelter, attendees headed for the gates and climbed fences to make a run for their cars, and electricity went out all over town. The good news is REO is making a return stop at the 2013 Taste.
6. Joliet Slammers sold. When the owner of the Joliet Slammers put his team on the market this year, there was no guarantee they'd be sold and an even bigger fear that there might not be baseball in Joliet in 2013. Enter Joliet Community Baseball and Entertainment LLC, a consortium of investors who put together a purchase plan and won Joliet City Council approval of new Silver Cross Field stadium lease in just a matter of weeks. One of the owners' first decisions was to hire Joliet native Chris Franklin to be the team's general manager.
7. Caterpillar strike. When contract negotiations stalled and Cat made a take-it-or-leave-it offer to its 780 Joliet employees in the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, the workers left it and went on strike May 1. The walkout lasted until mid-August, when employees ratified a six-year contract that wasn't that far off from the deal they'd been offered in April.
8. IYC closing. When Gov. Pat Quinn announced this spring that he planned to shut the Illinois Youth Center in Joliet and several other prison facilities in a cost-saving measure, AFSCME and the General Assembly did everything in their power to stop it. The legislature overrode the veto and found money to keep the facilites open; the employees union filed several lawsuits. In the end, an Illinois Supreme Court ruling ended the fight and the process of closing the prisons is under way.
9. Joliet Diocese moving to Crest Hill. Despite vocal and repeated opposition from both the city of Joliet and the village of Crest Hill, the Diocese of Joliet refused to back down from its decision to move its administrative offices to strip mall in Crest Hill. City officials were upset because the diocese that bears the city's name would no longer call Joliet home, while Crest Hill officials bemoaned the fact that the diocese -- which pays no property or sale tax -- was taking over a huge chunk of a retail strip mall they were hoping would be developed.
10. Missing mom turns up in Georgia. The strange case of missing mother Linda Fellenbaum began in mid-October when the woman's boyfriend filed a theft charge against her and told police that she had fled the home they shared without her shoes, cell phone or car and never returned. The first twist came when a Chicago man came forward to say he met Fellenbaum in Naperville for a "sex date," but that Fellenbaum ultimately backed out. Almost a month later, the woman's family announced that Fellenbaum's 2-year-old son was also missing. Eventually, the woman was arrested for theft in Georgia and police learned her son was alive and apparently legally adopted by another family.
Runners up: Man drowns in lake fleeing Joliet police, nephew who gouged out his uncle's eyes in fight sent to prison, man who saw vampires and shot his son in the head heading to prison, Ruby Street bridge closed in June and reopening postponed three times.