NWA’s Biggest Stories of the Year


As we close out 2012, we highlight the biggest stories of the year in Northwest Arkansas.

January started us thinking ahead to concert season as it was announced the Arkansas Music Pavilion – the AMP- would be moving to the Washington County Fairgrounds this year.

Also this month, cyber bullying became a major focus at schools. A Twitter account, Burnbook10 lead to the arrest of three Bentonville teenage girls on charges of sending harassing communications. The same would later happen this year to a Siloam Springs High girl, arrested for a threatening tweet to the school.

In February a teen led a Lincoln police officer on a high speed chase, then after the chase ended, pulled a knife on the officer. The officer shot the teen in the leg, but no charges were filed against the officer.

Later the same month, the assistant principal of Ramay Junior High in Fayetteville was arrested on eight counts of indecent exposure, and placed on administrative leave.

In March, demolition of the Fayetteville High School gym began. A new gym was built, one of many improvements at the school during the year – with more to come.

March marked the hiring of the first female captain in the history of the Fayetteville Fire Department when Amy “Bailey” Kelly when brought on board.

Also this month, after much debate the small community of Hiwassee was annexed into Gravette instead of another town which wanted it, Bella Vista.

April was the month Hog fans will never forget-as Razorback faithful learned that head football coach Bobby Petrino had been in a motorcycle accident. It was later revealed he wasn’t alone during that ride-but was with his mistress, Jessica Dorrell, whom he had hired to work on the football staff. Later this month Athletic Director Jeff Long would fire Petrino and hire interim coach John L. Smith.

May brought tragedy with the death of Lowell Police Chief Joe Landers. He had been vacationing in Florida and was riding his motorcycle when he was hit by an accused drunken driver. The chief later died from those injuries. Randy Harvey would be named police chief.

Also in May, Benton County voters decided on a new sheriff, electing Kelly Cradduck. Long-time sheriff Keith Ferguson ended his career with retirement.

June put an end to a six-year cold case. Police arrested Rico Cohn in connection with the death of Nina Ingram. Ingram was a student at the UofA when she was found slain in her apartment. A tip lead to Cohn’s arrest. He would plead not guilty, and is awaiting trial, scheduled for January in Washington County Circuit Court.

June temporarily halted a plan to build a second high school for the Bentonville School District when a proposed 6.7 mil increase failed at the ballot. The district plans to continue pushing for a second high school.

Celebrations leading to the Fourth of July were cancelled throughout much of Northwest Arkansas because of burn bans. Many city mayors also banned the use of personal fireworks.

Also in July a big movement for Keep Dollars in Benton County as they gathered enough signatures to get on the November ballot—it would later go on to pass.

The principal of Farmington High was arrested in July. Christopher Webb was found nude, covered in blood, and choking a woman, with a dead dog in the bathtub. He would later plead not guilty and resign as principal. His trial is scheduled for next year in Circuit Court.

August started with the federal government declaring Washington and Benton Counties natural disaster areas because of the summer drought.

Also this month, a 2 year old was found dead in a hot car after his great-grandparents allegedly left him in the car while they shopped at a Springdale Walmart. The couple would later be found guilty, and appeal the conviction. The appeal awaits.

This month Fayetteville took the national spotlight when an episode of the Great Food Truck Race aired. The show was filmed at locations like Dickson Street, at Sam’s Club, and the Farmer’s Market.

Kids went back to school around this time of the year, but in early September Gravette students were evacuated after a gas leak.

A case of white powder envelopes being sent around Siloam Springs came to an end this month when Phillip Hanson was convicted of 56 felony counts of sending threatening letters. Locations included a bank and school.

In October, two students were hit in Bentonville while leaving school in separate accidents, one by a school bus, one by an SUV. Both are still recovering.

Severe weather hit in October, with the National Weather Service confirming a tornado touching down in Rogers. Two people were sent to the hospital with minor injuries.

November was election time. Voters in Benton County approved a measure allowing retail alcohol sales, and in Tontitown and Springdale, ballot items passed allowing alcohol sales on Sunday. A new drug court judge was elected for Washington and Madison counties-and in Fayetteville, Lionel Jordan won re-election.

A community in shock, a grizzly scene for police as a 6-year girl was found dead and, according to authorities, sexually assaulted. The body of Jersey Bridgeman was found in an abandoned home two doors down from her own. Her neighbor and babysitter would soon be arrested and charged with capital murder.

November also included the firing of John L. Smith, interim head coach at the U of A. During the season, his record was 4 and 8, including home losses to SEC West rivals Alabama and LSU.

The year ended big for Hog fans with the hiring of new head football coach Bret Bielema, signed to a 5 year contract for $3.2 million a year.

Click here for the River Valley’s biggest stories of 2012.