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Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Continental’s Cody Borden (27) connects with the ball during Tuesday night's game against Blue Ridge at Dawson Field.

Building activity speeds up in county, following recession slowdown

Freshly constructed roads, foundations and home structures cut through scrub brush that covers a corner of land at the edge of Doney Park.

The new rural subdivision, called The Hills at Slayton Ranch, is one of several projects that have been working their way through the pipeline at Coconino County's community development department in recent years as the region's economy has rebounded from the Great Recession.

Together, the housing projects have claimed some of the last large, developable and “subdividable” county land around Flagstaff, said Jay Christelman, director of the community development department.

“We’re running out,” Christelman said. That’s especially true when it comes to land adjacent to infrastructure that could be extended to newly built homes, he said.

Building activity in general has ticked upward as well, with permit activity in 2018 already on track to be 30 percent higher than last year, Christelman said. As for the subdivision projects that are in progress, most are ones that have been revived after coming to a standstill during the recession.

With a variety of lot sizes and housing types, the subdivisions in progress or in the planning stages should offer a range of house prices, he said. That includes high-end homes on 10-acre lots near Forest Highlands, smaller lots and likely more affordable homes planned for Kachina Village and manufactured home spaces planned for Bellemont.

Here is a roundup of projects that have recently received county construction approval or are in the planning stages.

Slayton Ranch

Located in the northeastern part of Doney Park, construction in the 126-lot Slayton Ranch subdivision began in 2004. The first and second phases of the project were completed by 2006, but progress stalled during the Great Recession and the housing market bust, said Tim Shinkle, a realtor who is the local marketing representative for the subdivision and is developing some homes there.

Roads and utilities infrastructure for the final two units, which encompass 42 parcels, was completed last year. Shinkle said he plans to start selling the final 18 parcels next week.

Most buyers of the 2.5-acre lots are custom building their homes, Shinkle said. He is building two spec homes in the subdivision that he said will sell for between $600,000 and $620,000 for about 2,500 square feet.

Johnson Ranch

The 61-lot subdivision is being built on one of the last large undeveloped tracts of land in Doney Park. Construction on the first 20-home phase of the project finished more than a year ago and 80 percent of those homes have been sold, said Chris Garrison, developer at Johnson Ranch.

The second, 41-home phase of the project should be completed in September, Garrison said. The homes are starting in the high $300,000 range, she said.

When Johnson Ranch went before county supervisors in 2015, it was the first new subdivision to be proposed in Coconino County in at least seven years, according to the county's community development department.

Because county supervisors gave approval for the developers to change the property’s zoning to a planned residential development, the lots are as small as one acre and are built in a clustered design, which differs from most of Doney Park.

Kachina Village North

The 40-acre development, which will occupy the last large undeveloped parcel in Kachina Village, has had a bumpy history.

The developers have sought and received county building approvals at least four times over more than a decade, Christelman said. Three of those times, the Scottsdale-based developer let its approvals lapse, which meant starting the process over each time.

In May, county supervisors again gave initial approval to the Kachina Village North construction plan, which calls for 130 lots on the northeast end of Kachina Village.

Pine Valley

Pine Valley’s Chandler-based developers want to build a 10-acre RV park and a 20-acre manufactured home park on land located to the northwest of the Bellemont interchange.

The project needs to renew its conditional use permit for the RV park, which would include 146 vehicle spaces and amenities such as a clubhouse, Christelman said. The remaining 20 acres would have 140 spaces for manufactured homes.

Flagstaff Meadows

The final phase of construction is underway at Flagstaff Meadows in Bellemont. This last stage of the project calls for a total of 243 lots.

The homes are advertised as energy efficient and several models will begin below $300,000, according to Flagstaff-based developer Capstone Homes.

This is another development that was put on hold during the Great Recession, with work just restarting in 2017, Christelman said.

Harkey Ranch

Design plans haven’t yet been submitted for a 106-acre development off Harkey Ranch Road, north of the Coca Cola bottling facility on west Route 66. The owners of the property are members of the Harkey Family, which has a long history in Flagstaff, Christelman said. Those family members are still meeting with surrounding property owners to determine the appropriate size and number of lots.

The Estates

A Scottsdale-based developer has proposed 16 lots of 10 acres each in an area southwest of the Forest Highlands subdivision. The access is through Forest Highlands, Christelman said.

County supervisors approved preliminary construction plans for that subdivision last month.

Family sees justice in teen's death more a decade later

PHOENIX — Every March 21, Roberta Tortice says "Happy Birthday" to her youngest child — the same words she spoke when she first held the girl, her face flawless and beautiful.

But for more than a decade, she has seen Katherine "Kat" Tortice only in pictures. She's wearing a light-colored dress at her eighth-grade graduation, sitting in a hallway outside her bedroom after claiming she cleaned it, getting ready to play basketball and in a red shirt while away at boarding school in Oregon.

"You see she's always happy," the proud mother says.

Those are ways she remembers the 16-year-old who was killed and buried in a shallow grave on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in eastern Arizona in November 2006.

Roberta Tortice had suspected Kat's then-boyfriend Andre Hinton was responsible but it wasn't until a decade later that a federal grand jury indicted Hinton on a second-degree murder charge. Federal authorities have jurisdiction over major crimes on the reservation.

The 36-year-old Hinton pleaded guilty earlier this year to a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced Tuesday to eight years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Prosecutors said presenting such an old case to a jury would have been risky as witnesses' memories fade and documents are lost. They had no direct evidence against Hinton and worried a jury might not view the teenage who admitted to helping bury Kat's body as credible, given his criminal history.

"I don't think there's any dispute this is a circumstantial case," prosecutor Dimitra Sampson told The Associated Press. "It's putting all the puzzle pieces together. No one was there except the two of them."

Roberta Tortice and her family wanted Hinton locked away for life and for him to show remorse.

He said nothing about her or the crime at his sentencing.

"He killed my daughter, buried her and he's getting (involuntary) manslaughter?" Tortice told The Associated Press. "That's the part I don't understand. But he's going to face the true judge one day."

Savannah Abraham, Hinton's sister and one of Kat's best friends, was torn yet made no excuses for him.

"I just hope he comes out better than when he went in," she said.

In court documents, Hinton acknowledged striking Kat in the head. She lost consciousness but he didn't seek medical attention. He and Charles Jones later buried her body, burned their clothing and ditched the digging tools in a pond near the highway.

Prosecutors said Hinton abused several women over the years, using his hands, a stove pipe, a stick and possibly an electrical cord as weapons. Court documents detail the women's bruises, bleeding, swelling, scrapes and scars. Some were knocked unconscious.

The judge Tuesday took that history into account in sentencing Hinton.

His attorney, Mark Paige, argued in court that the death was an accident. He said Hinton was scared and wanted to call police but Jones dissuaded him.

It wasn't uncommon for Kat to disappear with Hinton and return home with injuries, court documents state. Kat's sister, Daisy, and her mother both told authorities Kat would cringe in pain when they hugged or touched her because of injuries that Hinton inflicted.

In late October 2006, they said they filed a missing persons report with tribal police. It would be weeks before her body was found.

Roberta Tortice said she drove back and forth on a local highway for work not knowing her daughter was buried nearby. She and her late husband searched the woods in McNary and begged police to help, she said.

"They say time will heal, but you never heal from losing a child, especially when your child was brutally murdered," Tortice wrote in a letter read Tuesday.

Authorities said Jones, the teenager who helped Hinton bury Kat's body, led them to her grave after getting into a fight with Kat's brother. White Mountain Apache police responded and looped in federal authorities.

But authorities didn't have enough to charge Hinton and the case sat for years, although it was reviewed at times.

FBI special agent Scott Flake took it over in 2015. He re-interviewed Jones and heard details no one else would have known: the burial site pinpointed on a map, a half-eaten burrito in Kat's pocket and the location of the digging tools.

An FBI dive team searched the pond in 2016 and found a rounded wooden handle where Jones said it would be. "A lot of things came together with a sustained push to see what was going on," Flake said.

Medical investigators determined Kat died of bleeding in the brain caused by the hit to her head. Hinton's explanations for her death didn't match the evidence, they said.

After Kat's body was exhumed from the frozen ground in December 2006, her family had a closed-casket funeral service. Hinton didn't attend.


James Jayne

Trial begins for woman accused of killing 6-year-old nephew

The jury selection process began Monday for a grand jury trial of an Ash Fork woman accused of killing her 6-year-old nephew in 2015.

Lillian Hester was indicted in May 2016 on one count of first-degree murder and one count of child abuse in the death of her nephew, Jason Hester.

The trial is slated to last for five weeks and will begin as soon as the jury of 12 plus two alternates are chosen.

According to the 2015 report from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, Lillian, 37, called 911 at 12:50 p.m. on June 22, 2015, to report that her nephew had stopped breathing at her Ash Fork home.

When sheriff’s deputies and Kaibab Estates West fire personnel arrived, they found Lillian and her mother, Lenda Hester, 64, performing CPR on Jason.

Jason was pronounced dead about three hours later at Flagstaff Medical Center. The Coconino County Medical Examiner’s Office was unable to determine an official cause of death through an autopsy.

Lillian was the child’s primary caregiver, and he lived in her home with his sister and Lillian’s four children for his entire life. Lillian’s boyfriend, Jason Conlee, 36, had also been living with them for nine months. Because of reported behavioral problems, at one point Jason was living with Lenda and her common-law husband, Kimmy Wilson, 61, for several months.

A week before Jason died, Lillian’s 12-year-old nephew came to stay with her temporarily, after getting in trouble for stealing his father’s car. The 12-year-old shared a room with Jason, and Lillian said the two did not get along, adding that Jason’s behavior started to change.

At the time of his death, Jason was 41 inches tall and weighed 29 pounds.

One of the responding deputies noted how small Jason was for a 6-year-old boy and said there were scratches on his face. Another deputy described the child as abnormally thin.

Coconino County medical examiners found no significant internal injuries that could have contributed to Jason’s death, but they did find numerous scrapes, cuts and bruises on the boy’s face, scalp and body. An X-ray revealed a fractured arm that had never healed properly. The boy was seriously underweight and showed signs of dehydration. The autopsy report listed the above findings as “suspicious of child neglect.”

Lillian and Lenda explained Jason’s injuries as self-inflicted and his thinness as the result of rapid weight loss from refusing to eat for a week. They described Jason as a troubled and sometimes violent child, saying he was prone to self-harm and that they took measures to prevent him from hurting himself or putting himself in danger.

Right after his death, Lillian told detectives she should have taken him to a doctor but she had no insurance. Jason’s last doctor appointment was in 2013, but Lillian had taken her own child to the hospital for abdominal pain two months before Jason's death.

According to the sheriff’s report, the father of Lillian’s children told detectives he believed Lillian did not like Jason. He said his daughters had told him in 2012 or 2013 that Lillian was keeping Jason locked up in his bedroom. The girls also told their father Lillian would use a rope to lock Jason in a high chair and that she was not giving Jason any water.

Also accused in Jason’s death were Lenda, Wilson and Conlee, who were each indicted on one charge of negligent homicide and one count of child abuse. There was no information available on potential trial dates for them at press time.

Courtesy of Coconino County Sheriff's Office 

Lillian Hester

Ex-professor accused of stalking fire crews takes plea deal

A former Northern Arizona University professor could serve no more than 13 months in custody for allegedly stalking members of hotshot fire crews.

Melissa Ann Santana faces 10 felony charges of stalking and making false statements against at least 11 people, including members of the Flagstaff and Globe hotshot crews, according to court records.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have agreed to a deal in which Santana would plead guilty to one count of false statements and two counts of stalking. Seven other felony counts of similar charges would be dismissed, The Arizona Republic reported.

If a federal judge accepts the plea agreement in September, Santana, who has been in custody since Oct. 30, would be sentenced to time served, up to $150,000 restitution to the victims and as much as eight years of probation.

Santana, a former associate professor of interior design at NAU, allegedly sent threatening messages to three hotshot crew members, a student and others, according to a federal complaint.

The victims reported being harassed by someone using various false identities, email addresses, social media accounts and temporary phone numbers.

Federal investigators said they connected the accounts to Santana through search warrants of her phone and electronic communications.

At least one of the men told federal investigators he had a relationship with her that ended; others met her online.

The 36-year-old Santana was a Flagstaff resident and married when the alleged incidents took place from Feb. 1, 2015, to Sept. 22, 2017, according to the complaint.

One victim told investigators he had a sexual relationship with Santana. After ending the relationship, he said his car was vandalized, and he received several derogatory texts from unknown numbers.

One text message read, "Why not be like the granite mountain hotshots and go die in the fire."

The statement was a reference to the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who were killed in a 2013 wildfire.

Santana's attorney, Stephen Wallin, declined comment on the allegations and the plea agreement.

Santana was employed at NAU for five years, but her employment ended Nov. 1, 2017, shortly after she was arrested on Oct. 30 on stalking charges.


Information from: The Arizona Republic,