You are the owner of this page.
A001 A001
Taylor Mahoney Arizona Daily Sun 

Coaches watch as the Coconino High School baseball team practices plays Tuesday afternoon.

top story
Snow Day! Winter finally arrives in Flagstaff, to students' delight

Flagstaff's first official Snow Day for schoolchildren this winter unleashed an avalanche of snowplay across the region Wednesday.

But it's not likely to last. By late afternoon, the sun had melted most snow from streets, and some sledding hills and skiing tracks in town were showing bare earth. And today will be even warmer, while the high on Friday will reach 48 degrees in Flagstaff.

The official snowfall measurement at Flagstaff Pulliam Airport shows Tuesday night's storm brought a total of 8.5 inches, exceeding forecasts by several inches.

In addition to the school closures throughout the region, the storm prompted Coconino County and the city of Flagstaff to delay the opening of offices by two hours.

The latest storm put Flagstaff above normal for February snowfall. The area has seen nearly 23 inches of snow this month, while the average is 20.9 inches. The area is still at less than half of normal in terms of snowfall to date though.

The Arizona Nordic Village will be open for skiing and snowshoeing on Thursday, the first day of March. Flagstaff Snow Park will not be able to reopen due to a tree hazard near one of the tubing runs.

Arizona Snowbowl reported receiving more than a foot of new snow, with most of its runs now open for skiing and snowboarding.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Ben Milios, 7, catches some serious air after hitting a jump while sledding at the end of Lone tree Road Wednesday morning. A winter storm dropped more than six inches of snow on Flagstaff leading to the first Snow Day of the winter for area schools.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Mikaela Germie, 4, gives a hug to the “little brother” snowman she built Wednesday morning. “His name is Lotta and he’s 3,” Mikaela said.

top story
Gun-wielding driver leads three Flagstaff law enforcement agencies on snowy car chase

A late night/early morning snowy pursuit spanning hundreds of miles that included gunfire at other motorists ended in arrest for one California man after three local law enforcement agencies teamed up.

According to a joint press release, Arizona DPS troopers received a call around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday of two cars, a black or dark grey Audi and a blue Ford Mustang, racing at or over 100 mph on Interstate 40 near Sanders just west of the New Mexico state line. Troopers were able to stop the driver of the blue Ford Mustang without incident. That driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs.

At 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, troopers received a report from a truck driver traveling on I-40 that a dark-colored vehicle was swerving in the lanes of traffic near Winslow. The truck driver also reported that someone in the vehicle had fired shots with a handgun at him.

A few hours later at 3:40 a.m., Flagstaff Police received a call from a motorist who was driving on Leupp Road that he and his family had been shot at by a man in black car. The motorist said he was driving into town with his family when a black car in front of them started driving erratically. The driver of the car was applying his brakes for no reason several times and then sped out of sight.

As the family came over a rise in the road, they found the black car stopped in the middle of the road with someone standing outside the car. The person standing outside the car then started shooting at the family’s vehicle.

Coconino County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the location on Leupp Road and located a black Audi traveling south towards Flagstaff. Deputies tried to stop the car, but the driver fled, reaching speeds of up to 35 mph on snowy, ice packed roads in whiteout conditions.

DPS troopers set up a roadblock with spikes at Townsend-Winona Road and I-40. Flagstaff Police officers set up a second set of spikes at Townsend-Winona Road and Cosnino Road. The suspect ran over the spikes set up by Flagstaff PD after turning west onto Townsend-Winona Road. The spikes flattened three of the car’s tires but the driver continued west on Townsend-Winona until he got to the Mountain View Ranchos subdivision. There the driver jumped out of the vehicle and fled into the woods.

Deputies, troopers and police officers tracked the suspect’s footprints in the snow to several cars parked in the driveways of several nearby homes. The suspect was able to find and drive off in a Jeep Wrangler that was parked in one driveway.

Neighbors reported seeing the Jeep driving a few streets away. Officers pursued the Jeep through several residential yards and east onto Townsend-Winona Road. The Jeep eventually became stuck on a pile of rocks after the suspect drove off the road and through a fence. The suspect then surrendered without further incident.

Brian H. Hawes, 33, with addresses out of Los Molinos, Calif., and Geneva, Ohio, was arrested on suspicion of flight from pursuing law enforcement, suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs, theft of a motor vehicle and an outstanding warrant for drugs and weapons charges from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Ohio.

top story
Astronomers glimpse cosmic dawn, when the stars switched on

WASHINGTON — After the Big Bang, it was dark and cold. And then there was light. Now, for the first time, astronomers have glimpsed that dawn of the universe 13.6 billion years ago when the earliest stars were turning on the light in the cosmic darkness.

And if that's not enough, they may have detected mysterious dark matter at work, too.

The glimpse consisted of a faint radio signal from deep space, picked up by an antenna that is slightly bigger than a refrigerator and costs less than $5 million but in certain ways can go back much farther in time and distance than the celebrated, multibillion-dollar Hubble Space Telescope.

Judd Bowman of Arizona State University, lead author of a study in Wednesday's journal Nature, said the signal came from the very first objects in the universe as it was emerging out of darkness 180 million years after the Big Bang.

Seeing the universe just lighting up, even though it was only a faint signal, is even more important than the Big Bang because "we are made of star stuff and so we are glimpsing at our origin," said astronomer Richard Ellis, who was not involved in the project.

The signal showed unexpectedly cold temperatures and an unusually pronounced wave. When astronomers tried to figure out why, the best explanation was that elusive dark matter may have been at work.

If verified, that would be the first confirmation of its kind of dark matter, which is a substantial part of the universe that scientists have been searching for over decades.

"If confirmed, this discovery deserves two Nobel Prizes" for both capturing the signal of the first stars and potential dark matter confirmation, said Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, who wasn't part of the research team. Cautioning that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," he said independent tests are needed to verify the findings.

Bowman agreed independent tests are needed even though his team spent two years double- and triple-checking their work.

"It's a time of the universe we really don't know anything about," Bowman said. He said the discovery is "like the first sentence" in an early chapter of the history of the cosmos.

This is nothing that astronomers could actually see. In fact, it's all indirect, based on changes in the wavelengths produced by radio signals.

The early universe was black and cold, filled with just hydrogen and helium. Once stars formed, they emitted ultraviolet light into the dark areas between them. That ultraviolet light changes the energy signature of hydrogen atoms, Bowman said.

Astronomers looked at a specific wavelength. If there were stars and ultraviolet light, they would see one signature. If there were no stars, they would see another. They saw a clear but faint signal showing there were stars, probably many of them, Bowman said.

Finding that trace signal wasn't easy because the Milky Way galaxy alone booms with radio wave noise 10,000 times louder, said Peter Kurczynski, advanced program technology director for the National Science Foundation, which helped fund the research.

"Finding the impact of the first stars in that cacophony would be like trying to hear the flap of a hummingbird's wing from inside a hurricane," Kurczynski said in an NSF video.

Because the high end of the frequency they were looking in is the same as FM radio, the astronomers had to go to the Australian desert to escape interference. That was where they installed their antennas.

They then labored to confirm what they found, in part by testing it against dummy signals in the lab, and it all showed that what they spotted was the existence of the first stars, Bowman said.

So far, the scientists know little about these early stars. They were probably hotter and simpler than modern stars, Ellis and Bowman said. But now that astronomers know where and how to look, others will confirm this and learn more, Bowman said.

The research does not establish exactly when these stars turned on, except that at 180 million years after the Big Bang, they were on. Scientists had come up with many different time periods for when the first stars switched on, and 180 million years fits with current theory, said Ellis, a professor at University College London.

When this signal was found and examined, it showed that the hydrogen between stars was "even colder than the coldest we thought possible," said Rennan Barkana, a Tel Aviv University astrophysicist who wrote a companion study on the dark matter implications of the discovery. The researchers expected temperatures to be 10 degrees above absolute zero, but they were 5 degrees above absolute zero (minus 451 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 268 degrees Celsius).

"The only thing we know from this signal is that something very weird is going on," Barkana said.

What seems likely is dark matter — which scientists have never seen interacting with anything — may be cooling that hydrogen, he said. Dark matter makes up about 27 percent of the universe, but scientists little about it except that it's not made of normal matter particles called baryons.

Scientists have known dark matter exists, indirectly, through measurements based on gravity. If this interpretation of the data is correct, it would be the first confirmation of dark matter outside of gravity calculations, Barkana said.

It also potentially reveals something new about the nature of dark matter.

"If the result is correct it constitutes an indirect detection of dark matter and, moreover suggests something of fundamental importance (its interaction with baryons)," Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Marc Kamionkowski, who wasn't part of the study, said in an email. "This therefore is about as important as you can get in cosmology."

Ralph Freso 

Republican candidate and former Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko celebrates with her husband, Joe, after voting results show her victory in a special primary election for the Congressional District 8 seat during a campaign party at Lesko's home, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. A special primary election was being held to replace Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks who resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct. 

top story
Some supervisors frustrated with county manager severance package

Newly released documents related to the departure of Coconino County Manager Cynthia Seelhammer last month show at least two county supervisors were frustrated with or now regret voting for a severance package that included nearly $99,000 in additional compensation for the departing employee not required in her contract.

In an email that was provided in response to a public records request from the Daily Sun, Supervisor Art Babbott called Seelhammer’s involvement in negotiating her severance payments “manipulative.”

The documents also show that the county wasn’t obligated to provide Seelhammer any severance pay because, according to Supervisor Matt Ryan, chair of the board, she resigned voluntarily, without any request from county supervisors.

But Seelhammer has a different take on her resignation letter. Before she left, Seelhammer wrote an email that she asked be sent out to employees. The email states: “The Board of Supervisors and I mutually agreed that it is time for me to end my employment with Coconino County and step down as County Manager. As all professional government managers know, this is part of the profession. The Board is elected to their office specifically to choose the Manager and set the direction for the County.”

Seelhammer officially resigned Jan. 9, but she and county officials discussed and negotiated her severance agreement before that.

Seelhammer’s employment contract stated she would receive a severance payment equal to four months of her annual salary, only if she resigned following a request, either formal or informal, from a majority of the board to do so. In the event of a voluntary resignation, the employment contract didn’t require severance pay.

After negotiations, though, Seelhammer ended up with six months’ pay —$88,600 — as well as a $10,000 contribution by the county to her deferred compensation plan.

“It comes back to that Cynthia did a really good job,” Ryan said in explaining the board’s decision to provide a compensation package. In an interview on the day of the resignation, Ryan also said Seelhammer needed the severance payments to have enough time to look for another job or professional opportunity.

Then news came out that Seelhammer had been applying for at least one other job as early as November. On Jan. 15, less than a week after Seelhammer had resigned, boardmembers found out via email that she had been named as a finalist for city administrator in Breezy Point, Minnesota, though she didn't end up getting the job. 

In an email to fellow boardmember Liz Archuleta, Babbott wrote: “This would have been great info to have prior to the severance agreement discussion. Shows how manipulative that process was on her part as she was actively looking back in November. Voting for the severance agreement will definitely go into my ‘votes i would do over’ had i know (sic) this.”

A day later, Archuleta responded, writing “my thoughts exactly. That’s why she wanted to tie down the contract on Jan 3rd... to do that before word got out she had already applied for jobs. She knew Breezy Point was going to announce finalists on Jan 4th and that word would have gotten out by the 9th.”

In a subsequent interview with the Daily Sun, Archuleta said her email expressed some frustration and was “unfiltered and honest.”

She said she felt she made the best decision she could with the information she had at the time, and said she didn’t know how she would have voted differently with more details about Seelhammer’s previous job search.

Babbott said his email speaks for itself.

“Had I known that the hardworking county manager had been actively looking for other employment well in advance of her evaluation, I would not have supported the severance package,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “The reality is in order for us to make good decisions on behalf of taxpayers we need to have complete information in order to make the best decisions.”

Ryan said he still feels comfortable with the board’s vote on Seelhammer’s severance package.

The board had begun a yearlong evaluation of Seelhammer’s performance last year that was slated to be completed by February, so it wasn't finished before she left, county spokesman Matt Rudig said.

Previous versions of the severance agreement that were drafted in early January show the county would originally have paid out seven months’ pay or about $103,000 plus nearly $17,000 in contributions to Seelhammer’s deferred compensation plan. Those drafts also included almost $36,000 in payments for accrued vacation time while the final severance package had much less — $8,700 — in accrued vacation payouts.

Seelhammer declined a request to comment further this week. 

"I am honoring the requirements of the severance agreement and will not be speaking about this matter," she wrote in an email. "I loved my time at the County and I miss the talented staff every day. It’s an extraordinary community of extraordinary people."

Other emails that were included in the county's response to a Daily Sun public records request show at least three residents reached out to the supervisors to question or express disapproval with their approval of severance compensation for Seelhammer.

“I would like you to know that I am extremely disappointed in the county board of supervisors approval of a severance package for an employee who quit her job,” Jim Madden wrote. “The $90,000.00 you just gave away belongs to us, not you.”

Taylor Mahoney, Arizona Daily Sun 

Cynthia Seelhammer

Retailers Dick's and Walmart take harder line against guns

NEW YORK — Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart took steps Wednesday to restrict gun sales, adding two retail heavyweights to the growing rift between corporate America and the gun lobby.

Dick's said it will immediately stop selling assault-style rifles and ban the sale of all guns to anyone under 21. Its CEO took on the National Rifle Association by demanding tougher gun laws after the massacre in Florida.

Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, followed late Wednesday saying it will no longer sell firearms and ammunition to people younger than 21. It had stopped selling AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons in 2015, citing weak sales.

The announcements from the major national retailers came as students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, returned to class for the first time since a teenager killed 17 students and educators with an AR-15 rifle two weeks ago.

"When we saw what the kids were going through and the grief of the parents and the kids who were killed in Parkland, we felt we needed to do something," Dick's Chairman and CEO Ed Stack said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Several major corporations, including MetLife, Hertz and Delta Air Lines, have cut ties with the NRA since the Florida tragedy. None of them were retailers who sold guns.

Sporting goods chain Bass Pro Shops, which owns Cabela's, didn't respond to requests for comment. Nor did the Outdoor Retail Association or Gander Outdoors.

The announcements from Dick's and Walmart drew hundreds of thousands of responses for and against the moves on the companies' social media accounts.

Dick Sporting Goods had cut off sales of assault-style weapons after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But sales had resumed at its smaller chain of Field & Stream stores, which consisted of 35 outlets in 16 states as of October.

On Wednesday, Stack said that would end, and he called on lawmakers to act now.

He urged them to ban assault-style firearms, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines and raise the minimum age to buy firearms to 21. He said universal background checks should be required, and there should be a complete database of those banned from buying firearms. He also called for the closing of the private sale and gun show loophole that enables purchasers to escape background checks.

"We support and respect the Second Amendment, and we recognize and appreciate that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are responsible, law-abiding citizens," Stack said in a letter. "But we have to help solve the problem that's in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic that's taking the lives of too many people, including the brightest hope for the future of America — our kids."

Walmart said it was also removing items from its website that resemble assault-style rifles, including airsoft guns and toys. "Our heritage as a company has always been in serving sportsmen and hunters, and we will continue to do so in a responsible way," Walmart said.

One industry analyst said that other retailers that devote a small percentage of their business to hunting will probably follow suit. While guns can be bought from sporting goods stores or department stores, they can also be purchased online, at gun shows and from small local gun stores.

The NRA has pushed back aggressively against calls for raising age limits for guns or restricting the sale of assault-style weapons. Calls to the NRA were not immediately returned.

Stack also revealed that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old arrested in the Florida attack, had bought a shotgun at a Dick's store within the past four months.

"It was not the gun, nor type of gun, he used in the shooting," the CEO wrote. "But it could have been. Clearly this indicates on so many levels that the systems in place are not effective to protect our kids and our citizens."

The vast majority of Dick's business is selling sporting goods like basketballs and sneakers. Joseph Feldman, a senior managing director at the Telsey Advisory Group, estimated that guns and ammunition account for 8 percent of the company's sales.

Dick's, which had net sales of $7.92 billion in the fiscal year that ended in January 2017, has a much bigger stake in youth sports.

"The longer-term positive perception that they create a more welcoming environment will offset any lost sales in the year," Feldman said.

Dick's is based just outside of Pittsburgh in a state where the first day of deer hunting season is an unofficial holiday for many families. Stack said Dick's is prepared for any backlash but will never allow the sale of such guns in its stores again.

"This is the moment when business leaders across the country get to decide if they want to stand on the right side of history," said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Acton for Gun Sense in America. "Mothers make the majority of spending decisions for their families, and we want to shop with businesses that care about the safety of our families — making this a smart business move, too."