Sections

Weather Forecast

Close

Stories of 2018 include triumph, tragedy

Astra Volk and her children were found dead in a Grand Forks home Thursday, May 3, 2018.1 / 2
Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux wave to fans after the first period of last season's NCHC playoff game against Omaha at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

The biggest news of the year for the Grand Forks area included stories of triumph and success, as well as tragedy and loss. From North Dakota's twin-sister hockey stars winning the gold to a woman who took the lives of her children, the Herald looks back, in no particular order, at the biggest stories of 2018.

Astra Volk kills children, then herself

The death of three children at the hands of their mother shocked Grand Forks more than any other story in 2018.

The bodies of Astra Volk and her children were found at their home in Grand Forks with gunshot wounds. As the investigation progressed, officers determined Volk shot her children before turning a gun on herself. She purchased the gun legally the day before the bodies were found, and text messages she sent just hours before the killings indicated she planned to murder her children before killing herself.

The shootings made residents question how the community should address mental health, as Volk's family and friends said she struggled with depression and other mental illnesses. The exact reason behind the tragedy may never be known, but it left the community mourning.

Lamoureux sisters take gold

Twin sisters from Grand Forks were all it took to end a 20-year drought for the U.S. women's hockey team at the Winter Olympics.

Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson helped bring home the gold from South Korea with a 3-2 win over Canada. With the clock ticking down in the third period and the Canadians up by one, Lamoureux-Morando snapped the puck in to tie the game. It all ended with a sudden-death shootout, and Lamoureux-Davidson faked out Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados to score.

The win made the Lamoureux sisters the first born-and-raised North Dakotans to win gold medals in any Olympic sport. Gigi Marvin of Warroad, Minn., who opened the shootout with a goal, also brought home the gold.

Kennedy vs. Engelstad family

A partnership that built UND's hockey arena seemed to be put to the test when Ralph Engelstad's daughter questioned her relationship with the university's president.

Kris Engelstad McGarry, whose father donated millions of dollars to build the Ralph Engelstad Arena, told the Herald in May her dealings with President Mark Kennedy had deteriorated over the last two years. She said the relationship became hostile at times and that the university even made "veiled threats" of litigation.

At the center of the feud was the sharing of ticket revenue in the contract between UND and RE Arena Inc., the entity that owns and manages the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Emails also showed the fight revolved around the logo at the center of a basketball court at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, with UND wanting to put Fighting Hawks art there. The Engelstads wanted "North Dakota" at the center. McGarry said Kennedy has accused the family of "creating brand confusion" for the school.

Kennedy denied many of McGarry's claims, stating the conversations between the two "have been in good faith and in a cordial manner." But in a Herald interview in November, McGarry said, "We don't have a relationship with UND as long as (Kennedy) is sitting there."

Opioids in the region

Opioids have been a problem for several years in the Red River Valley, but 2018 turned up more developments for the issue.

Then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Fargo to unseal charges against Jian Zhang and four Chinese nationals allegedly involved in shipping fentanyl to the United States. Prosecutors claim he was part of an international drug ring that was discovered during an investigation into the 2015 death of a Grand Forks teenager.

Zhang, the first alleged fentanyl dealer to be designated a significant narcotics trafficker under the U.S. Kingpin Act, was linked in court documents to Daniel Vivas Ceron, a Colombia national awaiting trial on federal charges claiming he led fentanyl drug operations from a Canadian prison. The Herald also broke news he was connected to Steven Barros Pinto, a Rhode Island man who allegedly spearheaded the manufacturing of tens of thousands of fentanyl pills, according to a federal criminal complaint.

North Dakota and local officials began to link crime rate increases to the rise in opioid use, particularly burglary and robbery cases because stolen items could be sold to purchase drugs. Local cases continued to be reported for fentanyl-related overdoses across the region, including several deaths that resulted in local and federal charges.

Also this year, the Spirit Lake Nation and city of Grand Forks joined a slew of cities, counties and tribal governments in seeking litigation against pharmaceutical companies that distribute opioids.

North Dakota's U.S. Senate race

A U.S. Senate race that pitted Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp against Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer was deemed by some national media outlets as one of the most important races in the 2018 midterm election.

Cramer, who closely aligned himself with President Donald Trump, took the North Dakota race and unseated Heitkamp, who billed herself as a moderate. The campaign was slated to become the most expensive Senate race for North Dakota, with Heitkamp spending almost $24.9 million and Cramer reporting $6.1 million in disbursements. Cramer's win gave his party full control over the state's congressional seats for the first time in decades.

Devils Lake shooting

Not much information was released regarding the death of Daniel Aaron Fuller, who was shot in July by a Devils Lake Police officer during a foot chase.

But his family called for criminal charges against Detective Brandon Potts, who used his Glock handgun to hit the 24-year-old several times before the firearm went off, killing Fuller at the scene.

Fuller's family claimed he was not resisting arrest, while Potts' attorney alleged Fuller jumped at the detective. Ultimately, the Ramsey County State's Attorney's Office declined to press charges against Potts, saying he was justified in his use of force.

The FBI has decided to look into Fuller's case, but it's unclear if anything will come out of that investigation. Fuller's family has threatened the city with litigation, while Potts remains on administrative leave.

Nybladh and Grand Forks Schools

As the retirement of Grand Forks Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nybladh approached this summer, he reportedly yelled at a staff member early in the year, prompting board member Amber Flynn and then-board member Meggen Sande to seek legal advice on how to handle the matter in March.

Nybladh, Sande, Flynn and then-board President Doug Carpenter eventually came up with a verbal agreement that said the superintendent would attend certain events but would not be allowed into the district's main office, according to Sande.

But Nybladh and Carpenter thought the superintendent would be allowed to come into the office to work some days, including preparing for teacher negotiations. When asked about the confrontation by the Herald, Nybladh said, "As far as the rumor you're hearing that I am taking PTO the rest of year, that is not true."

Carpenter said any vacation time Nybladh took was because he wanted to, not because he was being forced.

Sande claimed Nybladh and Carpenter misled the Herald, an allegation the two denied.

Nybladh later said in mid-April he intended to spend the rest of the year on paid time off. His last School Board meeting was April 9.

Other board members questioned why they were not informed of the decision, and the incident led to the board looking into revising its policies on reporting incidents related to the superintendent's conduct.

Ag trade disruptions

Talks of a trade war with China started to pick up pace in early 2018, and as the year progressed, President Donald Trump announced plans to implement a list of tariffs on products from China. In retaliation, China came out with its own list.

The largest worry for North Dakota was in the soybean industry. The state isn't a top producer of soybeans, but the crop's production has grown in recent years, and a majority of the soybeans are shipped to Asia, particularly China.

At one point, the country canceled soybean orders.

Some, including Trump, shrugged off the tariffs, while others were concerned it could cripple or end struggling farms. It also became a main talking point for the 2018 election.

The Trump administration authorized up to $12 billion in assistance for farmers affected by the trade war. Sign-up started in September and checks started to go out that month, but it's unclear how much the funds would help farmers.

Altru plans for new hospital emerge

Altru Health System may have announced its "bold new era in care" in 2017, but plans for the new hospital didn't start to take shape until this year.

The health care system announced in November 2017 its plans to replace its Columbia Road hospital with a facility expected to cost more than $250 million. Few details were released at that time about the size of the hospital, what would go into it and where it would be located, but those details started to emerge this year.

Altru said in February it would build the complex on its current campus. It also released in 2018 renderings of what the hospital would look like. The hospital hosted several forums with employees, residents and other stakeholders to gauge what they wanted to see in the facility.

Groundbreaking is set for next year and a completion date is slated for 2022.

Universities see funding

While the North Dakota University System could see a bump in funding next biennium, Gov. Doug Burgum's proposal still comes at a cost, system officials warned.

Earlier this year, Burgum suggested the system prepare for a potential 13 percent cut, but the governor has instead proposed a budget that would give the system a bump.

Burgum's proposal called for an additional $90 million investment in higher education, but the proposal comes with a catch: a 5 percent cut to the system's baseline budget.

The governor's proposal for additional funding includes money for the Higher Education Challenge Fund and support for increased staff compensation.

NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott said the state still needs to "re-invest more in higher ed," noting the system needs "adequate" and "stable" funding after years of cuts and uncertainty.

In a rare collaborative effort, presidents from UND and North Dakota State University traveled across the state in an effort to convince legislators to invest $100 million in research at the two institutions. Burgum did not allocate any funds toward that specific initiative, but legislators could still approve it.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

(701) 780-1248
randomness