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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Flagstaff's Troy Yazzie (10) leaps in front of a Lee Williams defender before shooting the ball Wednesday evening at Flagstaff High School.

Rodeo Queen grabs life by the horns

Most little girls go through a phase of wanting a pony. Morgan Riggs’ phase lasted a decade.

The 2017-2018 Flagstaff Pro Rodeo Queen and 2019 Miss Rodeo USA first runner-up didn’t grow up around horses, but fell in love with them at a young age.

When Riggs was 10 years old, she attended a California summer camp to learn how to ride, and spent seven summers there – four as a camper, and then three as a camp wrangler.

At 15, Riggs’ parents finally "caved" and got her Hottie, a paint horse that Riggs said taught her everything. Now 19, Riggs rides her horses Diesel and George and mini pony Nellie around the land in front of her family’s Doney Park home.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Morgan Riggs, 19, and her horse Diesel have had a busy year after Riggs was named the 2017-18 Flagstaff Pro Rodeo Queen.

"Diesel is my go-to horse. I use him for almost anything," Riggs said. "I take him to rodeos, barrel races, ropings, gymkhanas, mounted shooting events and even trail rides."

In 2015, Riggs joined the Flagstaff Pro Rodeo Committee, which has put on the Flagstaff Rodeo at Fort Tuthill for the last five summers, taking over from the Flagstaff Pine Country Rodeo, which had hosted the local event for over 30 years before it lost its Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association title.

Events like bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, team roping, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding draw in a crowd of 9,000 to the Flagstaff Pro Rodeo with over 300 contestants and 50 vendors.

Kristen Daulton, president of Flagstaff Pro Rodeo, recalled how Riggs was by far the youngest member that had ever been on the committee.

"She was a really driven 14-year-old," Daulton said of Riggs. "She called me and asked if she could volunteer because she had to get her parents’ permission to sign the liability waiver."

After two years, Daulton encouraged Riggs to apply for rodeo queen. "She knew all the inside information about our rodeo, so I knew she would be a great walking billboard for us," said Daulton, adding that Riggs was very positive and out in the public.

"Many people told me I should try out for it," Riggs said of the 2017 event. "I was absolutely terrified to compete, because I was a very shy girl."

Riggs said she was able to face her fear and put everything she had into competing, asking her teachers at Northland Prep if they could give her five minutes of class time to practice presenting her speeches in front of her peers.

"This was such a great technique and really helped me flourish," Riggs said.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Morgan Riggs, 17, the 2017 Flagstaff Pro Rodeo Queen, rides the flag around the arena during the national anthem June 2017 before the start of the rodeo.

Besides being rated on horsemanship, rodeo queens are judged on public speaking skills, knowledge of the rodeo, appearance and personality.

Since the Flagstaff Pro Rodeo Queen is, according to the Pro Rodeo website, a "representative, spokeswoman and an ambassador" that educates the public about the rodeo world, public speaking is a big part.

"Throughout my year as queen, I learned so much about rodeo and how important rodeo queens are in keeping the western heritage alive," Riggs said. "I attended 15 rodeos in Arizona, and at these rodeos I participated in flag presentations, hot laps, and pushing cows into their pens after their event."

Riggs said her favorite part about being a rodeo queen is being out in the crowd, getting people involved and signing autographs. In fact, Riggs said that many people in Flagstaff have recognized her when she is not in "rodeo queen mode" and wanted pictures or autographs, so she has started carrying autograph cards with her.

"I have gotten to put countless smiles on children’s faces," Riggs added. "Outside of rodeos, I have participated in sponsor visits, school visits and parades."

The Flagstaff Rodeo Queen also works as a role model for young children, "demonstrating good character and integrity," according to the official website.

Riggs cited her strong desire to reach out to young girls and boys and help them achieve their dreams as her driving force for competing at the national level.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Matilda Vance, 1, was pretty excited to meet the 2017 Flagstaff Pro Rodeo Queen, Morgan Riggs, 17, before the start of the rodeo.

For the 2019 Miss Rodeo USA pageant, which took place in Oklahoma City Jan. 15-19, Riggs moved on from practicing her speeches in front of her peers to practicing for live video interviews and an audience of thousands.

"The Flagstaff Fire Department was so generous and went through mock interviews with me and listened to my speeches countless times until I got them right," Riggs said, adding that she is extremely grateful for the Flagstaff community’s support.

"I developed the platform of 'take life by the horns,'" Riggs said. "What this means is to not be afraid to fail, because we develop our successes from our failures, and if we embrace our confidence, we have the ability to live life to the fullest."

The judges were impressed by Riggs’ confidence, and after countless interviews, photoshoots, events, meals, speeches, performances and an exam, Riggs was announced Horsemanship winner and first runner-up at the Miss Rodeo USA coronation.

"The week of competition for Miss Rodeo USA was the best and hardest week I have ever experienced," Riggs said. "The most challenging part of the week was getting up at 5 a.m. to have everything ready for 8 a.m. interviews. I am not a morning person and we had many late nights, so getting up was a challenge, but worth it to not be late and unprepared."

Riggs added that she also became close with the other seven girls in the competition, including winner Heather Morrison from Iowa.

"Heather and I really connected during the week and I am so excited to watch her in her journey for this year," Riggs said.

Although Daulton and the Flagstaff Pro Rodeo Committee were hoping Riggs would take the crown, she said that they are all extremely proud.

"We watched all the live feed and everybody on our committee cheered her on," said Daulton. "She did an excellent job representing Flagstaff."

And Riggs plans to represent Flagstaff again in the 2020 Miss Rodeo USA pageant, although she may spend more time next year out of state.

Currently, Riggs studies biology at Coconino Community College and works at Continental Animal Wellness Center as a veterinary assistant. Riggs will transfer to Oklahoma State University to study animal science and plans to go to veterinary school there.

"I chose OSU because I fell in love with their community and it reminded me so much of how loving it is here in Flagstaff," Riggs said, adding that Oklahoma is known for its large equine industry.

"Even though life took me to Oklahoma, I will always be an Arizona girl," Riggs said.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Morgan Riggs, 17, the 2017 Flagstaff Pro Rodeo Queen, rides the flag around the arena during the national anthem June 2017 before the start of the rodeo.

Forest Lakes death results in manslaughter plea agreement

Wrapping up a case the Coconino County Attorney's Office called “horrific” during one of the motions months ago, Marie Rudd, 70, was sentenced to 13 ½ years in prison for her role in the May 2018 death of her 94-year-old husband William Rudd.

Marie Rudd’s sentence, agreed upon by Nicholas Buzan, deputy attorney with the Coconino County Attorney’s Office, and public defender Staci Foulks as part of a Jan. 16 plea agreement, ended up surpassing the presumptive 10 ½-year sentence for felony manslaughter – domestic violence.

During Tuesday afternoon’s sentencing, Buzan read off a list of aggravating circumstances qualifying the plea agreement’s stipulated sentence to surpass the presumptive punishment, including Rudd leaving the scene of vehicular incident that resulted in a death, the victim’s age surpassing 65 years old and the victim’s family suffering emotional and financial harm.

Coconino County Superior Court Judge Dan Slayton agreed with the parties’ stipulated sentence, with Rudd required to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence while being given credit for 242 days served since her June 1 arrest.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Marie Carmen Rudd, 70, arrives in Coconino County Superior Court before a sentencing hearing following a plea agreement.

Foulks read the defense’s own list of mitigating circumstances that provided insight into the May 20 homicide on the side of Forest Service Road 512, near State Route 60 and Forest Lakes, where William Rudd was found having been run over by a car.

Explaining that her client was sorry and “took the wrong way out” of what had become a tumultuous relationship, Foulks said Marie Rudd understood what she did was wrong and apologized for the pain she had caused. Citing her client’s clean criminal history prior to the incident, Foulks said Marie and William Rudd’s marriage had began to suffer as the latter began to lose his mental faculties as a result of dementia.

With Marie Rudd the sole caretaker of her husband, Foulks cited how William Rudd had become verbally abusive and refused to be placed in a care facility. A letter of support from Marie Rudd’s daughter also cited the defendant’s struggles with the victim. The financial stress, coupled with her husband’s anger while refusing any treatment, led Rudd to succumb to the “stress of the moment.”

While Rudd’s age and sentence will result in her spending the majority of the rest of her life in the Arizona Department of Corrections, Coconino County Attorney Bill Ring said that had little to do with the resulting plea agreement.

“Marie Rudd murdered her husband,” Ring said in an email Tuesday. “He was a vulnerable adult and the manner of death was disgusting. Her age was little consideration except for this: She was old enough to know better.”


Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Marie Carmen Rudd, 70, arrives in Coconino County Superior Court before a sentencing hearing following a plea agreement for manslaughter-- domestic violence. Marie Rudd admitted to detectives that she ran her 94-year-old husband, William Rudd, over with her Mercedes on Forest Service Road 512 in Forest Lakes on May 20, 2018.

The plea and sentencing came more than eight months after the homicide of William Rudd 20 yards off the side of Service Road 512, also known as Young Road, in a dirt pull-out area. After receiving a report of a deceased man, the Coconino County Sheriff's Office responded and found a body with no identification.

Authorities did not know who the man was until his autopsy, two days after the body was found. According to court documents, Coconino Sheriff’s Officers were led to their Scottsdale residence, and Marie Rudd, after matching the serial number of William Rudd’s pacemaker to his name and address.

Marie Rudd’s explanation of her husband’s whereabouts changed as law enforcement questioned her, with her first saying he had taken his Ford Expedition to visit family and then reportedly saying her husband was moving to Australia to live with his son.

A warrant led to the discovery of blood and white hair under her Mercedes, which Rudd said came as a result of hitting a rabbit. Rudd then called the Coconino County Sheriff's Office on June 1 and met with a detective, asking for her Mercedes to be returned. While her request was denied, she explained the last time she saw her husband was May 19 when she left for work. She added he likely left the house and just wandered off, possibly to get his Ford Expedition he had given away.

The defendant eventually admitted to the detective that her husband fell near Payson during an argument about a piece of property the couple once owned. Rudd said she thought he was dead before she ran him over with her car, but did not confirm the death. Then during a June 13 phone call, Rudd admitted to her daughter that she had run over William Rudd, but that it was after she touched his chest and knew he was dead.

Initially charged with second-degree murder and held on a $500,000 bond in June, the plea agreement on manslaughter – domestic violence was reached Jan. 16. A Dec. 17 case management conference revealed a counter-offer of a plea agreement had been made, leading to the case’s resolution a month later

Early on in the court proceedings, Rudd filed a motion to modify her release conditions, which the Coconino County Attorney’s Office adamantly opposed. In the July 11 response to the motion, Buzan wrote his office “moves this honorable court to deny defendant’s motion to modify conditions of release because defendant’s criminal acts in this case were horrific and her behavior denotes that she is a flight risk and a public safety risk.”

Buzan’s filling also added the state’s belief that Marie Rudd “intentionally murdered her husband with her vehicle and left him to die on a forest road... It appears she cared for the victim for some time before plotting his murder.”

Meg Potter, Cronkite News  

“I use to cut my own hair, I have clippers and everything,” said Brendan Thibodeau. “It means a lot to me that these guys take time out of their day for us vets.” 

Council weighs in on Lone Tree student development
Site plan for Lone Tree JW Powell development

Flagstaff City Council may find itself once again struggling to negotiate with a student housing developer who, by right, can essentially already build what they want.

This time, the center of attention is a development on a 15.14-acre piece of land owned by Pine Canyon at the northeast corner of the intersection of J.W. Powell Boulevard and Lone Tree Road.

The project, proposed by the Austin, Texas based developer Campus Advantage, would consist of a 196-unit development totaling 702 beds, according to documents provided by the city.

The land, designated tract 22, is zoned for high density residential, meaning the land already supports the multi-family buildings that are planned. As such, the development would normally not appear before the city council.

But that is not the case this time.

This is because of an issue with a 19-year-old development agreement between the city and Pine Canyon that means Council may have some influence on the development, a subject discussed at their meeting on Jan. 29.

The situation could allow the council to make amendments to the development agreement that, if Pine Canyon agrees to them, have the possibility of substantially changing Campus Advantage’s project, according to city staff.

The issue appears to be ambiguity in whether the agreement, signed by the city and Pine Canyon in 2000, describes the development as condominiums or not, city planning development manager Alaxandra Pucciarelli told the council.

For example, in one section of the development agreement, when speaking about the multi-family units within Pine Canyon’s land, the agreement refers to the multi-family buildings as condominiums.

In another section, however, which describes how the development "shall" be built, the section is only described as “210 multi-family units.”

“Because that section says you ‘shall’ develop in this way, it could be seen as telling that in that section, it does not reference condominiums and could imply that condominiums were just what was planned by the developer at that time,” Pucciarelli said.

But even that section only refers to how the multi-family housing shall be built, not directly to tract 22. This connection, however, is assumed because tract 22 is the only section that is zoned for multi-family purposes, Pucciarelli said.

“There is this sort of jumping from stone to stone making these logical connections that that’s where it was intended to be located,” Pucciarelli said.

Using that logic, Mayor Coral Evans pointed out that one could make a similar logical connection between the section describing how the parcel will be built and the section describing the multi-family units as condominiums.

But Councilmember Jim McCarthy suggested that despite the ambiguous language, when it comes to what is built and even how the development may be operated, it could be a moot point.

“If the city decided that these needed to be condominiums, the developer could build them as condominiums, which would give him the authority to sell individual units; on the other hand, he could keep all of those units under one company or one person and he could rent them out because condominiums can be rented out,” McCarthy said. “Even though they were condominiums, there would be no legal reason to prevent him from operating them as apartments.”

Councilmember Charlie Odegaard seemed to agree, and said from his perspective, the development agreement stated they were supposed to be condos and Council should reject the proposed amendment.

But Evans said she was not sure the council should be so quick to dismiss the issue as it could present an opportunity for the council to negotiate with the developer in order to improve the development and lessen its impact on the residents of Pinnacle Pines.

The Pinnacle Pines neighborhood directly borders the land and the proposed development has been controversial with residents, many of whom told Council they hoped there was some way to halt the development.

Mary Norton was one such resident and told the council that the development was not appropriate to the area.

“You have the power to say not this time, not this location and not at the expense of the homeowners,” Norton said.  

But with the rights the developer already has, Council is unable to prevent construction, said Councilmember Jamie Whelan. What they may be able to do is use the ambiguous language regarding condominiums as an entry point into negotiating changes to the development agreement, thus making the project more appealing for residents of Pinnacle Pines, Whelan said.

At the top of the list of residents' concerns is parking, Norton said. Although having 702 beds planned, Campus Advantage has only proposed 541 parking spots.

“These 702 students are each going to need a car to get to their classes, to the grocery store, to entertainment, to recreation,” Norton said. “It will be extremely short of parking for 702 students. There is no parking allowed on Lone Tree, J.W. Powell or Zuni, so this leaves our small community as the only overflow, putting a huge burden on Pinnacle Pines' private streets.”

Vice-Mayor Adam Shimoni also said he would ask for the inclusion of affordable housing and the introduction of as many one- and two-bedroom apartments as possible, as opposed to apartments with four to six bedrooms. This could allow the development to be better suited to families if the number of students in need of housing diminished in the future.

Council plans to discuss the topic again on Feb. 5.

Polar blast grips Midwest, strains aging infrastructure

CHICAGO — A blast of polar air enveloped much of the Midwest on Wednesday, cracking train rails, breaking water pipes and straining electrical systems with some of the lowest temperatures in a generation.

The deep freeze closed schools and businesses and canceled flights in the nation's third-largest city, which was as cold as the Arctic. Heavily dressed repair crews hustled to keep utilities from failing.

Chicago dropped to a low of around minus 23, slightly above the city's lowest-ever reading of minus 27 from January 1985. Milwaukee had similar conditions. Minneapolis recorded minus 27. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, saw minus 25.

Wind chills reportedly made it feel like minus 50 or worse. Downtown Chicago streets were largely deserted after most offices told employees to stay home. Trains and buses operated with few passengers. The hardiest commuters ventured out only after covering nearly every square inch of flesh against the extreme chill, which froze ice crystals on eyelashes and eyebrows in minutes.

The Postal Service took the rare step of suspending mail delivery in many places, and in southeastern Minnesota, even the snowplows were idled by the weather.

The bitter cold was the result of a split in the polar vortex, a mass of cold air that normally stays bottled up in the Arctic. The split allowed the air to spill much farther south than usual. In fact, Chicago was colder than the Canadian village of Alert, one of the world's most northerly inhabited places. Alert, which is 500 miles from the North Pole, reported a temperature that was a couple of degrees higher.

Officials in dozens of cities focused on protecting vulnerable people such as the homeless, seniors and those living in substandard housing.

At least eight deaths were linked to the system, including an elderly Illinois man who was found several hours after he fell trying to get into his home and a University of Iowa student found behind an academic hall several hours before dawn. Elsewhere, a man was struck by a snowplow in the Chicago area, a young couple's SUV struck another on a snowy road in northern Indiana and a Milwaukee man froze to death in a garage, authorities said.

Temperatures in Chicago were expected to tumble again into the minus 20s early today. Some isolated areas could see as low as minus 40, according to the National Weather Service. Daytime highs could climb into the single digits before warming up to the comparatively balmy 20s by Friday.

The system's icy grip also took a heavy toll on infrastructure, halting transportation, knocking out electricity and interrupting water service.

At least 2,700 flights were canceled nationwide, more than half of them at Chicago's two main airports. Another 1,800 flights scheduled for Thursday were also called off. Fuel lines at O'Hare Airport froze, forcing some planes to refuel elsewhere before continuing to their destination, an airport spokeswoman said.

Amtrak canceled scores of trains to and from Chicago, one of the nation's busiest rail hubs.

Chicago commuter trains that rely on electricity were also shut down after the metal wires that provide their power contracted, throwing off connections.

Ten diesel-train lines in the Metra network kept running, but crews had to heat vital switches with gas flames and watched for rails that were cracked or broken. When steel rails break or even crack, trains are automatically halted until they are diverted or the section of rail is repaired, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis explained.

A track in the Minneapolis light-rail system also cracked, forcing trains to share the remaining track for a few hours.

In Detroit, more than two dozen water mains froze. Customers were connected to other mains to keep water service from being interrupted, Detroit Water and Sewerage spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh said.

Thousands of utility customers were without electricity after high winds also caused trees and branches to fall into power lines, especially in the south Chicago suburbs. The ComEd utility in northern Illinois said crews restored power to more than 42,000 customers and were working to restore another 9,400.

About 5,000 Duke Energy customers in central Indiana lost power due to high heating demand that tripped circuits. Another outage affecting 1,000 customers was reported near Kokomo, Indiana, about 40 miles north of Indianapolis.