1. Manhunt, murder investigation in Pendleton

Karen Lange set out for a walk one August evening along the Umatilla River in Pendleton not realizing how much would change by the time she got back home.

Her life would be turned upside-down by a vicious beating, her community would rally around the tragedy to address public safety in Pendleton, a murder case gone cold would get a fresh lead and a nation-wide manhunt would end with a surprisingly local arrest.

During her walk on Friday, Aug. 9, Lange, 53, was attacked, hit with a metal pipe on the back of the head and left for dead in the brush near the river. She wasn't found until the next morning, and was quickly flown to Oregon Health and Science University in Portland where her husband was told to brace for the worst.

Meanwhile, a city-wide search began for a man spotted on security cameras near the river around the time of the attack a transient known to Pendleton police as Danny Wu.

After several days of searching, false alarms and safety concerns from the community, Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts called a town hall meeting at the convention center to calm people's fears and let them know what he could about the investigation.

One piece of information he revealed that night shocked the 250 people in attendance; DNA found at the Lange crime scene matched DNA found a year earlier at a Pendleton hotel where a 19-year-old Amyjane Brandhagen was murdered.

With that news, the photo of Wu went national. But it also became clear that Wu wasn't his real name, and the trail seemed to grow colder as the hunt wore on.

Meanwhile, good news started coming from OHSU. The swelling on Lange's brain went down. She began showing signs of recovery from her hospital bed. Two weeks after the attack, a neurologist told her family that Karen should make a full recovery with a lot of re-learning and the possibility of severe memory loss.

The following week, the search in Pendleton would also catch a break.

Two caterers working at the convention center the night of Wednesday, Aug. 28, stumbled upon a man matching the description of the attacker sitting in a side room drinking a soda. He rushed out of the room, but police surrounded the building and soon found the man, now known to be Lukah Chang, hiding in the ceiling panels.

Chang, a Marine deserter and son of Christian missionaries from Southern California, was arrested and charged with Lange's assault and Brandhagen's murder. In December, his lawyer entered a plea deal that will be taken up with a judge for sentencing on Friday.

Lange has since made a recovery that many have called miraculous, not only regaining much of her memory but also returning to live and work in Pendleton.

2. Passengers, families pick up pieces after bus crash

The year 2012 ended with Pendleton in a panic, after a bus crashed through the guardrail and down a hillside near Deadman Pass, killing nine South Korean tourists and injuring 38 others.

Every emergency responder within radio distance pitched in to help. Some responded to the icy interstate where they rappelled down the embankment to reach the survivors trapped in the bus. Others helped at St. Anthony Hospital where the injured came in waves as ambulances worked their way down a snowy Cabbage Hill.

And as the calendar turned to 2013, the cleanup began.

Conditions cleared enough early in the week for crews to retrieve the personal belongings from the wreckage, and soon the bus itself was pulled to the top of the hill and taken away. Those injured were released from the hospital and reunited with their families.

Soon after, the Vancouver, B.C.-based tour bus company was shut down for not complying with federal regulations. Last week, a $700 million lawsuit was brought against the company on behalf of the families of the victims and many of the survivors.

3. Five die in Pendleton house fire

A September house fire in Pendleton claimed the lives of five people including three children.

The residence at 1220 S.E. Court Place, where seven people were sleeping that September night, caught fire in the wee hours of the morning. In the ensuing chaos and destruction, two adults were able to escape from the blaze but five others did not. Killed in the fire were three children younger than age six.

Arson was ruled out by fire investigators, but while the cause of the fire may never be known the effect will never be lessened. The five that died were Kristopher Morton, Treasa Philpott, Evan Williams, Rowan Harvey and the youngest victim, 5-month-old Annabelle Harvey.

4. Genetically modified wheat stirs up international scare

Perhaps no mystery in 2013 was more complex than the whodunit of the genetically modified wheat found growing in an Eastern Oregon field.

Federal researchers still haven't figured out how the unapproved wheat — created by Monsanto Co. to resist the herbicide glyphosate apparently rose from the dead. The wildest theories ranged from pooping geese to eco-sabotage.

The story went international: a still unidentified farmer first blew the whistle in March when he noticed some leftover wheat plants in his fallow field refused to die, even after spraying them with Roundup the brand name for glyphosate.

Scientists at Oregon State University tested samples of the plants, finding markers for the Roundup Ready gene. The samples were then sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection service, which confirmed the presence of GMO traits.

Why the big fuss? No genetically engineered wheat has ever been approved for sale in the United States, though Monsanto did field trials of a variety from 1998-2005 in 16 states. Trials in Oregon ended 12 years ago.

The Frankenwheat was somehow alive. Major importers including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan suspended new orders over preferential concern of GMO crops. Local farmers feared their harvest might not sell on the market.

Cooler heads ultimately prevailed. Trade groups like the Oregon Wheat Growers League and U.S. Wheat Associates dove into damage control, reassuring their longtime overseas customers. Prices remained stable. The last of the holdouts, Japan, returned to the trade table in late July.

APHIS, which at one time had 18 investigators knocking on farmers doors, has been tight-lipped. A spokesman recently said the investigation is ongoing, but did not discuss other details.

Conclusions are speculative Monsanto suggested sabotage, and some farmers have sued the agribusiness giant. Meanwhile, the industry awaits information that can help safeguard against incidents in the future.

5. Drones test their wings in Eastern Oregon

Drones, UAVs, UASs, RC airplanes whatever you call them, those flying devices made their first big appearance in Eastern Oregon this year.

The Army National Guard launched its first drone from the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton. Oregon State University began flying drones over crops to test their potential for gathering precise irrigation data. Conferences were hosted in both Pendleton and Hermiston to talk about the future of the industry.

And possibly the biggest news of all came this week, as the Federal Aviation Administration approved Pendleton as a test site for commercial development of drones.

The city of Pendleton sees this as a big opportunity to attract high-paying jobs in a highly technical field to town. But some are concerned that the aggressive development of the machines originally developed to spy will lead to privacy concerns for all U.S. citizens.

6. Megaload passage brings climate change debate to Eastern Oregon

At times delayed by protests and treacherous winter weather, a controversial and massive shipment of oil refinery equipment trudged its way across Eastern Oregon en route to the tar sands region of Alberta, Canada.

The behemoths, known as megaloads, are up to 23 feet wide, 380 feet long and weigh 450 tons. But that hasn't stopped climate activists and some tribal members from attempting to block their path.

Industrial hauler Omega Morgan, based in Hillsboro, loaded the first of its massive cargo in November at the Port of Umatilla. The loads had to be specially permitted to travel on state highways because they take up two lanes, and for the most part are only allowed to travel at night. The route runs through Eastern Oregon, Idaho and Montana before crossing into Alberta, Canada.

Numerous protesters were recently arrested after attaching themselves to the giant rig or other disabled vehicles in the road. They argue the megaloads are part of an environmentally destructive process extracting oil from the tar sands.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, meanwhile, opposes permitting the project without proper consultation with the Oregon Department of Transportation. The route runs entirely on land ceded in the Treaty of 1855, members said.

As if that wasn't enough, Mother Nature halted the convoy for days at a time with snow and ice on the roads. The load is not permitted to move in poor driving conditions.

7. Round-Up questions tax burden, begins search for general manager

The city of Pendleton and the iconic Round-Up have gone hand-in-hand for more than a century, but this year a property tax-driven dispute led to the two having a new conversation about their relationship.

The Round-Up's board of volunteer directors requested in May the city help find a way to soften its property tax burden by reinvesting in mutually beneficial projects. The city declined, but offered to form a committee with members from both groups to help guide the relationship and find ways to grow both the city and rodeo's brand.

The rodeo and companion Happy Canyon also made history in November by announcing a search for a full-time general manager, the first paid position in the rodeo's history.

8. Fire destroys four homes in Umatilla

Firefighters from every corner of Umatilla and Morrow counties responded to a subdivision off Powerline Road in Umatilla on June 11 as a neighborhood went up in flames.

The fire, whipped up by 30 mile per hour winds and spread through overgrown brush, destroyed four houses and damaged a fifth.

All told, 13 agencies responded to the fire and neighbors pitched in to shovel dirt onto the spreading flames.

9. Immigration marches set tone for reform

The Hispanic voice in Hermiston was heard loud and clear in 2013, as two immigration reform marches and a block-rocking Cinco De Mayo festival on Main Street put the growing population and its plight in the spotlight.

The marches, one in March and the other in October, were meant to put pressure on state and federal government to change the way it treats undocumented citizens, and to create a better path to citizenship.

The Cinco De Mayo party, which had no political motivation, was the first of its kind in Hermiston, which is 35 percent Hispanic according to the 2010 census. Hundreds showed up downtown for music, food and games.

10. St. Anthony opens new hospital

After years of planning and construction, and then a couple weeks of waiting, St. Anthony opened a brand new hospital in south Pendleton.

The original grand opening was delayed from late November because of red tape from the state's health authority, but the hospital eventually got the OK and moved from its old building in east Pendleton on Dec. 20.

The new building cost $70 million.

           

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