In case you've missed any of the New Times cover stories this year, we've got 10 that you definitely should read.
Sorry to the munchies and music departments, but this is the news blog, so our picks are news-related, naturally.
(Also, to my New Times colleagues: These are in no particular order, so please don't stab me in the parking lot.)
By Ray Stern:
A couple of large mason jars full of green buds sit on the coffee table inside Tad Zaccard's west Mesa mobile home as he talks about his marijuana-DUI ticket.
"I'm a grower," admits Zaccard, a 46-year-old nutrition adviser who works for a local hospital.
As one of the state's 38,000 qualified patients, he's growing cannabis legally under Arizona's 2010 medical-marijuana law. He gets high on his own supply.
But Zaccard insists that he wasn't impaired by pot in any way when he was pulled over on the night of December 29 by a Gilbert cop working a DUI task-force patrol. Continue reading.
By Monica Alonzo:
Guadalupe Davila Jr. isn't standing at the pulpit of his small church in El Mirage preaching to the congregation about living a godly life. He isn't inside the baptismal font, waist-deep in water and immersing new members and cleansing them of their sins. And he's not at the church's learning center giving children a lesson about the evils of lying.
Instead, on this warm day in May, the 47-year-old is sitting in a crowded El Mirage courthouse waiting for his turn to stand before a city judge. He fidgets, crossing and uncrossing his arms and legs. He places his left ankle on his right knee and anxiously shakes his foot.
The pastor with graying hair swept up into a faux-hawk is here to answer allegations that he repeatedly harassed an ex-girlfriend.
The young woman had been his secret lover for about two years, but she ended the relationship after realizing she wasn't the only church member with whom he was sexually involved. She obtained an order of protection last November. Continue reading.
By Michael Lacey:
Athletic fields throughout the Valley are reconfigured as soccer pitches on Saturday mornings in September. It may be fall in New England, but in Phoenix, when kids begin to play soccer, it is still 100 degrees every day. Parents shelter under makeshift tents, but children kick balls beneath an unforgiving sun.
The youngest, the 5-year-olds, haven't a clue. All the players on both teams move as one, like schools of fish with baby fat, arrayed in neon uniforms that would look at home on a coral reef.
In the fall, soccer games are the village commons. Collapsible chairs are autumn's furniture, and even Kate Spade couldn't accessorize your canvas seat into a corporate suite.
Parents socialize as equals.
And if none of the parents know yet what offsides is, everyone knows that a goal, like a loose tooth, is money. A score electrifies every parent every bit as much as the kindergartner in shin guards. Yet all that competitive static fizzles at the end of the game when the shorties from both teams whoop their way through the mom/dad tunnel.
Children play as equals.
Everyone is living the American dream.
And yet . . .Continue reading.
By Amy Silverman:
The other day, I spoke on the phone with a woman named Taz Loomans. She stepped out of a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon, into lightly falling rain to take my call, which sounded pretty romantic considering that I was hunched in my car in the parking lot at Scottsdale Fashion Square at the time, air-conditioning blasting against the early November heat.
Loomans, 37, moved to Phoenix with her family from Mozambique when she was 14. She earned degrees at Arizona State University, becoming a licensed architect and then a disillusioned licensed architect, quitting a corporate gig in 2009 to buy and rehab a couple of foreclosed duplexes in Central Phoenix. She started her own firm called Blooming Rock and became a one-woman cheering squad -- on her blog and in several other online forums --for historic preservation, adaptive reuse, and other buzzwords for making Phoenix a better city.
Then she left. A few months ago, as she tells it, Loomans was going through a divorce when she took a four-day vacation to Portland. On the third day, she decided to move there. Her decision was big news in certain circles: New Times wrote about it, and KJZZ, the local NPR affiliate, did a series of essays based on it. Social media buzzed for weeks. Continue reading.
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons:
Richard McAnally was annoyed. His face, framed by a shock of gray hair and a pair of dark-rimmed glasses, puckered with disdain.
Florence had hired McAnally, paying him more than $7,000, to preside as a hearing officer in cases involving two detectives -- Jarris Varnrobinson and Walt Hunter -- appealing the town's December 14, 2012 decision to fire them.
McAnally, an 80-year-old attorney and judge pro tem, was supposed to act as an impartial finder of fact.
But the derision he directed toward Varnrobinson during this September 24 hearing in Florence's all-but-empty town council chambers illustrated his bias. Continue reading.
By Stephen Lemons:
Luz Edith Ruiz Rascon is weary of her life in Maricopa County's Estrella Jail, where detention officers bark at her, the food is inedible, and every day is a day away from her two children, a 9-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son who is battling leukemia.
"It's taking so long," Rascon laments during a jailhouse interview. "Every day, there are so many indignities; they pile up against you."
Rascon's family needs her, she explains in Spanish. Her daughter cries when she visits or speaks over the phone to Rascon.
Her son is studying computer programming at Gateway Community College. He suffers nausea and vomiting from radiation treatments for his disease.
Her husband, Juan, who works in construction, has had to be the household's sole breadwinner, as well as both father and mother to the children. This, while Rascon has spent six months and counting in Estrella, where she is held "non-bondable," like a murderer, a child molester, or a serial rapist.
Rascon's crime? She made up a Social Security number 11 years ago to get a job packing vitamins at a GNC warehouse in Phoenix. Continue reading.
By Stephen Lemons:
If you enjoy nausea, the effusive praise for departing U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano should be just your cup of castor oil.
After four-plus years as DHS chief, in charge of a sprawling government agency with 240,000 employees and 22 government agencies, Napolitano announced her resignation last week, giving up on President Barack Obama's ever kicking her up the food chain to become U.S. Attorney General, her dream job.
Now she's off to run the University of California system, with its 10 campuses, more than 230,000 students and nearly 19,000 faculty, at an annual salary of about three times her current $200,000 with the feds. Continue reading.
By Ray Stern:
Prosecutor Juan Martinez rapid-fires questions to murder defendant Jodi Arias, bouncing through timelines, appearing to want to confuse and scold as much as to elicit useful information.
Arias sometimes gets confused and upset. She admits she can't keep her stories straight. She intermittently breaks down sobbing, especially when forced to view the bloody crime-scene photos of her handiwork. But is she acting?
Her biggest breakdown comes on Thursday, February 28, when Martinez leads her through the horrifying minutes of the June 4, 2008, murder of her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. Continue reading.
By Ray Stern:
Uncle Herb's medical-marijuana dispensary, tucked away near pine trees in an industrial area of south Payson, has the homey feel of a country store. Red brick and wood trim accent the interior. T-shirts and other products hang in a gift area near the two bars displaying pale green cannabis buds in glass cake stands. The small commercial kitchen, visible from the bud-tending area through a large window, is modern. So is the kitchen's special helper -- a six-foot-tall collection of stainless-steel canisters, flexible hoses, and gauges that the staff calls "Wall-E."
Roughly similar to models advertised for $25,000 or more on websites, Wall-E's a botanical extraction machine that can pump out hash oil all day long, converting pounds of cannabis flowers (a.k.a. buds) into ounces of dark goo loaded with THC, marijuana's main active ingredient. The super-potent paste gets added to Uncle Herb's growing takeout menu of medicinal food and drink products sold to qualified patients: ice cream push-ups, brownies, cookies, jars of honey, and other "medibles," all infused with a precisely measured amount of the concentrate.
"Once made, the edibles have a little of an earthy taste, almost like a yerba mate tea," says Kaylynn Arnold, one of the dispensary's employees. "Some people really like it."
The level of herbal taste depends on several things, including the particular strain of weed that made the paste. A popular indica variety called "cheese," for instance, "is really fruity," she says.
The extraction process is way advanced from the millennia-old traditions of hashish-making. A food-grade solvent -- likely butane or carbon dioxide (staff members don't want to say) -- releases resin suspended in the plant. Another cycle boils off and flushes out the solvent. As unappetizing as it sounds, the extraction method has the blessing of state inspectors in Colorado, where adults 21 and over will be able to buy marijuana, hashish, and marijuana-infused products in retails stores after January 1.
In Arizona, patients and caregivers have been legally experimenting with their own recipes since the passage of 2010's Medical Marijuana Act. Continue reading.
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By John Dougherty:
Former Yarnell Fire Chief Peter Andersen sat under a tree in his front yard having his morning coffee on Sunday, June 30, when the Granite Mountain Hotshots drove past his Glen Ilah home.
"At 8:03, [their] two buggies went by," Andersen says. "Right after they went by, the leaves started to blow. I shook my head. [The state] didn't listen to me."
Andersen, who resigned as Yarnell chief in 2011 after 12 years of service, was aggravated because he had warned an Arizona Forestry Division fire manager the night before that it was crucial to attack the steadily expanding fire in the hills above Yarnell at dawn, before prevailing southwesterly winds picked up about 8 in the morning.
"I said, this being summertime, it will give you three hours . . . without wind at your backs to be able to get this thing under control," Andersen says he told a fire manager. Seeing the hotshots roll past so late on Sunday morning was yet another signal to Andersen that the Forestry Division was failing to aggressively attack a wildfire that started two days earlier. Continue reading.