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Tragedy, debt and Mary Brown’s snowbirding to Florida — 2017 had it all in N.L.

Cortney Lake’s mother, Lisa Lake, makes a statement to the media in November about her daughter’s homicide.
Cortney Lake’s mother, Lisa Lake, makes a statement to the media in November about her daughter’s homicide. - Joe Gibbons

The most read Telegram online story of the year was related to the Cortney Lake homicide and begins our list of the most popular stories of 2017.


1. Neighbours suggest police search of St. John’s home linked to Cortney Lake’s disappearance (June 28)

Top of story as originally published:

Police executed a warrant Wednesday to search a home on Alice Drive, but will not disclose why.

A neighbour told The Telegram Wednesday afternoon that police had been canvassing local residents asking if any of them had information about Cortney Lake. The 24-year-old has been missing since June 7.


2. Accused murderer Trent Butt stabbed at HMP (Sept. 30)

Top of story as originally published:

Suspected murderer Trent Butt was the target of a stabbing by another inmate at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP), The Telegram has learned.

The incident was said to have happened Thursday in the prison’s outdoor recreation area. A shank is believed to have been used.

Butt made headlines last year when he allegedly killed his young daughter.

(Butt is charged with first-degree murder and arson in relation to the death of Quinn, his five-year-old daughter. Butt and Quinn were found inside his burning home on Hayden Heights in Carbonear on April 24, 2016. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial begins in March.)


3. RCMP warns about use of aftermarket LED lights (Jan. 28)

Top of story as originally published:

Ever been blinded by oncoming LED headlights? You are not alone. The RCMP is warning that use of the aftermarket lights that are not DOT approved is illegal.

This includes LED light bars and ultra-bright replacement headlights.

Staff Sgt. Boyd Merrill, detachment commander in Holyrood, said there have been many complaints from motorists and the lights have been mentioned at crash scenes.

(This story lit up social media and was shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook.)


4. Newfoundlanders open Mary Brown’s Diner franchise in western Florida (Sept. 30)

Top of story as originally published:

Snowbirds in Florida no longer have to wait until they get back to Canada to feed their craving for a Big Mary and taters.

The town of Englewood, about halfway between St. Petersburg and Fort Myers on the Gulf of Mexico side of the sunshine state, is now home to the first Mary Brown’s location in the United States.

Four weeks in, business is booming.
“The first 10 days were crazy. We couldn’t handle it,” says Paul Shelley, the former Conservative MHA from Baie Verte who co-owns the Mary Brown’s Diner with his partner, Kathy Goudie, a former MHA from Deer Lake.


5. Grants and loans available for N.L. homeowners planning upgrades (April 10)

Top of story as originally published:

Some homes in the province could be a little warmer in future winters thanks to the Home Energy Savings Programs.

The two programs — one for grants and one for low-interest loans — will cost the provincial government $9 million over three years. That sum was announced last week when the 2017 budget was revealed.


6. UPDATE: Three dead in highway accident on Veterans Memorial Highway (Sept. 11)

Top of story as originally published:

ROACHES LINE, N.L. — The Compass has confirmed three people were killed in a two-vehicle collision Monday on Veterans Memorial Highway.

The accident occurred early this afternoon between exits for Makinsons and Roaches Line. One female has been transported to hospital.


7. Trust me, this is one gamble you shouldn’t take (March 3)

Telegram sports editor Robin Short wrote a column about his near miss when he took a puck to the eye, and how the incident should convince all hockey players to wear face masks.


8. Memo to MUN students: Please stop having sex at the business school (April 25)

Top of story as originally published:

Earlier this month the associate dean of the Memorial University faculty of business administration drafted a businesslike email to all the business students politely asking them to keep their sexual business out of the business building.

The exact particulars of the incident that precipitated this email aren’t totally clear.

Larry Bauer’s email to students only obliquely referenced the coitus in question.

“We have recently learned of students consuming alcohol in the building outside of officially sanctioned functions, and have also learned of students participating in activities of a very personal nature in certain study rooms,” he wrote.

“These activities contravene the student code of conduct, and may also contravene the Criminal Code.”

He assured students that campus enforcement will be watching like hawks.


9. Robin Short: Newfoundlanders perpetuate their own stereotypes (Nov. 22)

This column — about a viral video concerning an impromptu kitchen party at Toronto’s Pearson Airport while Newfoundland and Labrador passengers awaited a delayed flight to St. John’s — met with backlash from many readers.


10. MUN mourns student’s sudden death (March 10)

Top of story as originally published:

Memorial University is mourning one of its own following the sudden death of a student this week.

The student — who lived in Cluett Hall at Macpherson College — was found dead on Thursday.

It prompted MUN president Dr. Gary Kachanoski to write a letter of condolence, which appeared on the university’s Gazette newspaper website Friday.


Newsworthy events

However, as “most read” stories don’t always reflect the biggest news in our year in review, we also offer some of the most important and newsworthy events of 2017:


Muskrat Falls boondoggle blunders on

In the wake of 2016 arrests of protesters over Muskrat Falls and ongoing controversy over its ballooning costs, the province announced in 2017 an inquiry into the $12.7-billion hydroelectric project.

As of the inquiry being called in November, the project on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador was about two years behind schedule and had far surpassed its once suggested cost of $6.2 billion.

The project is projected to double — and eventually triple — residential electric bills, and in July the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said a new report on the cost of electricity related to the completion of Muskrat Falls could cost small- and medium-sized businesses in the province $179 million more per year.


Violence against women

This horrific topic made many headlines through the year — most significant among the cases were three women who were killed: Cortney Lake, whose body has still not been found (as of Dec. 29) despite mass efforts from her family and other searchers; Victoria Head, whose body was discovered on a cold November morning near O’Brien’s Farm on Mount Scio; and 18-year-old Ryanna Grywacheski, who was found dead in a basement apartment in Marystown in September, the victim of a murder-suicide.

Lake, 24, disappeared June 7.

She was last seen around 7:30 p.m. that evening getting into a black pickup truck driven by her ex-boyfriend, Philip Smith, on Michener Avenue in Mount Pearl.

Smith’s body was found early on Nov. 1 in a wooded area behind his father’s cabin at Bellevue Beach.

The 25-year-old, who was the only and primary suspect in the disappearance and murder of Lake, committed suicide.

Just days before Christmas, police arrested Head’s alleged killer, 35-year-old Steve Bragg of Mount Pearl. He is awaiting his next court appearance on Jan. 11 on charges of second-degree murder.

Grywacheski, who was originally from Saskatchewan, was murdered by Jeff Kilfoy, 37, of Marystown, with whom she was in a relationship.

In November, serial rapist Sofyan Boalag was deemed a dangerous offender by the court, and will serve an indeterminate sentence.

Boalag had previously been convicted of sexually assaulting three women and choking one of them, as well as robbery, weapons charges and resisting arrest. Boalag had attacked each of the three women as they were walking home in downtown St. John’s in 2012.


Indebted we remain

It came as little surprise that the provincial government’s finances are in rough shape.

But in auditor general Terry Paddon’s final annual report released in October, he declared the net debt of the province will climb to $14.6 billion by the end of the fiscal year, the highest it has been in the history of the province.


Maniacal March winds

In March, everyone in metro was talking about the wild windstorm that saw gusts of more than 150 km/h crack trees, snap power poles like twigs, throw loose, heavy objects around like weightless lint and cause extensive damage to buildings. Commercial trucks overturned on their sides and pedestrians were warned to stay inside after some had near misses from being blown into traffic.

On Shea’s Lane in Torbay, the wind tore the roof off a two-storey house, leaving furniture and belongings exposed to the elements. Much of the roof landed nearby at the Torbay War Memorial across from the Canada Post office, with insulation blowing over the road along the coastline.

Weather experts suggested it had been four decades since such record winds were recorded.


Brier bonanza

In March, Brad Gushue won the Brier title on home ice, a last-shot, 7-6 decision over Kevin Koe’s reigning champions from Alberta.

A crowd of 6,471 jammed Mile One for the final and it was yet another sellout for the 10-day Canadian men’s curling championship.

The St. John’s Brier had a total attendance of 122,592, outdrawing the 2015 Ottawa Brier by 7,545.

In October, an economic impact study undertaken by the Canadian Sport Tourism Association on behalf of the Brier host committee and Curling Canada indicated the Brier was worth an estimated $10.1 million in economic activity to the province, with $9.1 million of that benefiting the city of St. John’s.


Dunphy inquiry report

In June, the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Death of Donald Dunphy released its report.

On Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015, Dunphy was shot and killed in his Mitchell’s Brook home by RNC officer Joe Smyth.

Inquiry commissioner Justice Leo Barry found that, although Smyth made certain errors of judgment and did not always comply with aspects of his training, he responded with appropriate force when Dunphy threatened him with a rifle.

Barry also concluded that although there were some deficiencies in the RCMP investigation, the RCMP made the correct decision in not charging Smyth with an offence.

Smyth, who at the time of the shooting was a member of the protective services unit for the premier’s office, had visited the home of the 58-year-old disgruntled injured worker about certain comments Dunphy had posted to Twitter.

The inquiry hearings from January to March contained more than 100,000 pages of submitted documents and heard evidence from 56 witnesses.


Goulds gold rush

The fever pitch for Chase the Ace soared week after week this past summer in the Goulds — a neighbourhood of St. John’s — as the jackpot built up to $2-million plus. Special traffic measures had to be deployed, as well as satellite sites added to handle the influx of people from far and wide to St. Kevin’s Roman Catholic parish as the grand prize grew bigger.

There was a problem when it was discovered duplicate tickets had been issued for one of the draws, but that was resolved in consultation with Service NL.

Thousands of ticket buyers lined up on Aug. 30 before the winning ace of spades was finally drawn for $2.6 million.

Don and Marg Gorman of Conception Bay South drew the ace of spades, and the Catholic parish raised more than $6 million for its coffers.


Broadway smash

“Come From Away’ was a smash hit on Broadway this year and so wildly successful it shattered box office records and recouped its $12-million capitalization costs in eight months.

The musical — created by Irene Sankoff and David Hein — is based on the 7,000 or so airline passengers who were stranded in Gander during the events of 9-11 and the local residents who took them in.

There have been a number of accolades, and plans for productions in other cities, but perhaps its biggest prize of the year was at the Tony Awards, where “Come From Away” earned director Christopher Ashley a Tony for best direction.

Also in 2017, the Mark Gordon Company — producers of films such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Patriot” — announced it has acquired the rights to make a film based on the musical.


St. John’s election upheaval

Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital city was among the towns and cities that went to the polls in September 2017 and experienced a sweeping change over the previous election when citizens had voted for an all-male council.

Although Sheilagh O’Leary had already been returned to council in a February byelection, the major upheaval of fall 2017 saw Jonathan Galgay defeated in Ward 2 by newcomer Hope Jamieson.

Other newcomers to council included Maggie Burton, Jamie Korab, Deanne Stapleton and Ian Froude, while Debbie Hanlon returned to city hall, having served as a councillor in the past.

Meanwhile, Danny Breen became the new mayor following Dennis O’Keefe’s retirement and former mayor Andy Wells’ failed attempt at a comeback. Renee Sharpe ran for mayor as well.


Death toll on highways

Highway safety — or the lack thereof — was a major topic of 2017 as tragic death after tragic death was recorded.

During one deadly 2 1/2-week period, beginning Aug. 27, 12 people were killed in vehicle collisions on the province’s roads.

Attention was particularly focused on Veterans Memorial Highway on the Avalon Peninsula.

Safety on Route 75 is such a concern that in October, Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker was a special guest at the Conception Bay North Joint Council meeting, along with the department’s deputy minister.

Discussing the stretch of highway near Jamie’s Way turnoff to Harbour Grace, Crocker floated the possibility that the government is willing to reduce the speed limit there from 100 km/h to 70 km/h.

From 2012-16, 17 accidents were recorded near the Jamie’s Way turnoff, and 208 in total on Veterans Memorial Highway.

During 2017, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary counted just three traffic-related deaths on roads within its jurisdictions.


Dramatic December

The year came to a dramatic close as Premier Dwight Ball’s connections to a murder trial were revealed.

Ball had won a temporary injunction barring media from publishing details of those connections.
But in court documents released Dec. 19 after Telegram and CBC lawyers attended a hearing, it was revealed that less than two months before the 2015 election that would make him premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Ball tipped police that the prime suspect wanted for murder in a botched robbery could be his daughter’s then-boyfriend, Brandon Phillips.

Ball told investigators that Phillips could be the masked man shown in the news in security footage during a week-long manhunt. A jarring detail had caught his eye: the suspect at the Captain’s Quarters hotel bar in St. John’s was wearing a black windbreaker matching one stolen from Ball.

Ball told police on Oct. 8, 2015 — five days after the killing — that his tires had recently been slashed and his credit cards fraudulently charged for tens of thousands of dollars.

He went to police three days after his daughter, Jade, had reported she was being harassed by a drug dealer for about $40,000 allegedly owed by Phillips.

Phillips lived close to the crime scene where former firefighter Larry Wellman, 63, was killed Oct. 3, 2015, as he tried to stop the robbery. Wellman died of massive blood loss from a single gunshot to the groin.

On Dec. 8, a jury found Phillips, 29, guilty of second-degree murder, and he will be sentenced in February.


With files from all staff

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