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The Gazette's top-read stories of 2017

Here's a look at The Gazette's top-read stories of 2017 from around Colorado Springs, the Pikes Peak region and Colorado.

For more Gazette lists, check out our lists page

Hurricane-force winds down trees, topple trucks and prompt outages around Colorado Springs

By Jakob Rodgers

Near-hurricane force winds continued to pound the Pikes Peak region Monday afternoon, uprooting trees into houses, ripping roofs from buildings, overturning nearly two-dozen semis and leaving thousands of children without after-school bus rides home.

The winds – which gusted to 101 mph at one point – wreaked havoc across Colorado Springs while turning the Pikes Peak region into a dart board for dislodged tree limbs and other detritus from wind-ravaged buildings.

Read more here.

Mark Reis, The Gazette

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Special Report: In booming, free market-oriented Colorado Springs, southeast continues to languish 

Colorado Springs is a city rising, its economy jet-fueled by one of the hottest housing markets and lowest unemployment rates in the country. Downtown is on the cusp of a residential and commercial renaissance. Cranes dot the skyline, new hotels are going up and ground has broken on the new U.S. Olympic Museum. To the north and east, new houses are sprouting in the expansive Banning Lewis Ranch.

But not all of Colorado Springs is sharing in these good fortunes. There is a corner of the Springs whose prospects have dimmed as the rest of city’s brightens, where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is stretching.

The southeast.

Read more here.

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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Mel Berstein, AKA Dragon Man, poses with a modern machine gun among machine guns from World War I and newer Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at Dragon Land east of Colorado Springs.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Dragon Man's fire: After stunning tragedy, tough guy over Colorado gun empire has gotten tougher

By Seth Boster

Before he became Dragon Man, Mel Bernstein was a boy, skinny and bespectacled, the easy target of bullies on the mean streets of Brooklyn.

Here he is as a toddler in the Jewish neighborhood where he grew up, sitting in his pedal car and beaming at his adoring mother for the photo. Here he is in another grainy frame, now 15 at the start of the 1960s, wearing those dark-rimmed glasses and a white T tucked into high slacks. He's straddling a bicycle with flame decals, the bicycle he'd ride to escape the toughs or else pay a quarter to avoid a beating.

Read more here.

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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Toilet paper giant Charmin offers 'Mad Pooper' reward

By Tom Roeder

Toilet paper giant Charmin is offering a reward to wipe up the Colorado Springs Mad Pooper caper.

The Pikes Peak region gained unwanted fame after news reports revealed that a female jogger was leaving steaming deposits in a neighborhood on the north side of Colorado Springs.

Read more here.

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AFGA MEMORIAL

Air Force Academy cadet had more than 500 jumps before fatal skydiving accident east of Colorado Springs

By Tom Roeder

An Air Force Academy senior has been identified as the victim of a fatal parachuting accident near Calhan on Sunday.

Cadet Kaleb Estes, who was set to earn an English degree from the school on May 24, was a veteran skydiver who had made more than 500 jumps before the Sunday incident.

Read more here.

Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette

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19-year-old arrested in killing of Colorado Springs woman, adult son who took him into their home

By Rachel Riley

A 19-year-old man was arrested Saturday hours after he allegedly shot and killed a woman and her adult son who had given him a place to stay and helped him find a job, friends of the victims said.

Police did not release the names of the victims, but a longtime friend identified them as Christopher Pepper, 20, and his mother, Barbara Pepper.

Read more here.

Rachel Riley, The Gazette

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AFA BARBER

Air Force Academy cadet, father die in New Year's Eve midair plane collision

An Air Force Academy cadet and his father, a retired Air Force pilot, died Saturday in a midair plane collision just outside McKinney, Texas, the CBS affiliate in Dallas reported.

According to the station, two victims were identified as Tim Barber, who was on Christmas break from the military academy in Colorado Springs, and his father, Greg Barber.

Read more here.

Stacie Scott, The Gazette

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Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro listens to cadet instructor Jordan Wesemann while taking the jumping course Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, at the parachute training center on Air Force Academy. Del Toro was severely burned in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan in December 2005. He reenlisted in 2010 after being 100 percent medically discharged and Saturday he jump for the first time since his injury.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

The comeback: Scarred by war, Air Force sergeant returns to the skies

By Tom Roeder

A dozen years after he was nearly killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro was on the verge Saturday of completing a final, unbelievable stage of his comeback.

After miraculously surviving third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body, Del Toro has returned to his feet, his family and his job in uniform. Now, the first airman to return to duty after being deemed 100 percent disabled was looking to return to Earth - by parachute.

Read more here.

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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POT BORDER

Residents moving out of Colorado in record numbers

By Jessica Machetta, ColoradoPolitics.com

A record number of people are moving out of Colorado, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. About 193,000 Colorado residents moved to other states last year, 10,000 more than in 2015. Where are they moving to? According to the data, the biggest percentage of them headed for Washington state, with other destinations being Florida and Texas.

Housing costs and traffic are the top reasons cited by those seeking what might be a more comfortable life in other areas. Home prices have risen by 57 percent over the past eight years, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller, while wages have simply not kept pace.

Read more here.

Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

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New technology, $10,000 reward aimed at finding Fort Carson soldier's killer from 1987

By Tom Roeder

Detectives are hoping a $10,000 reward and a computer-generated picture of a possible suspect based on DNA could crack open the 30-year-old cold-case murder of a Fort Carson soldier.

The reward comes from Army Criminal Investigation Command in a bid to find the killer of Fort Carson Spc. Darlene Krashoc. 

Read more here.

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FT CARSON CONVOY

Fort Carson prepares for biggest convoy operation since World War II

By Tom Roeder

More than 1,200 vehicles will roll south from Fort Carson this week in what's again the biggest convoy operation since World War II.

It's a bigger version of the convoys sent to the Piñon Canyon training area in 2015 and part of a massive 5,000-soldier 1st Brigade Combat Team training exercise that's designed to get the unit ready to fight a mock war in the California desert.

Read more here.

MARK REIS

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Popular Southside Johnny's closing, but owner has other big plans in Colorado Springs

By Rich Laden

Southside Johnny's, a popular bar, eatery and nightspot that helped lead a revitalization of downtown Colorado Springs' south side, will close March 26 after nearly 15 years.

Owner Johnny Nolan says he can't absorb a rent hike of about 30 percent from a prospective new owner of the building he occupies at 528 S. Tejon St.

Read more here.

Jeff Kearney

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(The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Slain Coronado High School students were devoted to each other, seeking to change their lives, friends say

By Kaitlin Durbin

Friends of two Coronado High School students whose bodies were found dumped on a remote county road Sunday morning want Derek Greer and Natalie Partida remembered for who they were, not how they died.

They were "trying to figure things out just like everybody else," said Aily Wright, 15, who, along with the two teenagers, called themselves "the three musketeers."

Read more here.

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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021917 BLAME DAY 3 01

BLAME: Accident or Murder? Questions abound in Colorado cold-case death

By Kevin Vaughan - 9NEWS/Special to The Gazette

After the gunshot that killed her sister, after the cursory police investigation that was wrapped up in just a couple of hours, after the first pangs of doubt and suspicion took hold, the dreams came.

The first one appeared just weeks after the shooting.

Read more here.

Mark Reis, The Gazette

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AFA MORGAN STATE

Air Force drops serious wrong on football star Jalen Robinette

By David Ramsey

The timing is bizarre, cruel, inexplicable and inexcusable. Other than those faults, the Air Force ruling that ruined Jalen Robinette’s chances in the 2017 draft is absolutely wonderful.

Robinette spent his senior year at the Air Force Academy preparing to play in the NFL. This ambition made sense. The Department of Defense had delivered, in May 2016, a fresh chance for service-academy athletes to waive their active duty status and immediately play professional sports.

Read more here.

Mark Reis, The Gazette

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gooch

Billy Gooch, Colorado Springs' most famous St. Nick, dies at 80

By Hugh Johnson

Christmas this year will be a little less merry without Naturally Santa's Billy Gooch.

Gooch, who was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized about a week ago, died Monday at age 80.

Gooch was born in Oklahoma in 1936, moving with his wife, Alma, to Colorado Springs in 1971 to work for the Colorado Springs Sun newspaper. It wasn't his day job that Gooch was best known for, though.

Read more here.

Jerilee Bennett

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<p>'Did I just get fired on... Pictures

'Did I just get fired on Twitter?' Fort Carson's first transgender soldier reacts to Trump's ban announcement 

By Tom Roeder

Fort Carson's first openly transgender soldier said she was shocked by a Wednesday presidential tweet that called for a sweeping ban on transgender service.

"Did I just get fired on Twitter?" Staff Sgt. Patricia King asked.

Read more here.

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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colorado sky sox albuquerque isotopes

Triple-A baseball leaving Colorado Springs; Sky Sox will join a new league

By Brent Briggeman

The 30-year run of Triple-A baseball in Colorado Springs will end in 15 months.

The Elmore Sports Group announced Wednesday it is responding to “pressure from within Major League Baseball” and moving the Triple-A Sky Sox to San Antonio for the 2019 season and replacing it in Colorado Springs with the short-season Rookie-level team currently in Helena, Mont.

Read more here.

David Bitton

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Massive ViewHouse restaurant and sports bar moves ahead with Colorado Springs plans

By Rich Laden

Denver-based ViewHouse, the sports bar and restaurant that mixes food and drink with music, games and other activities, is moving ahead with plans for a sprawling, two-story venue on Colorado Springs' north side.

ViewHouse aims to start construction in the fall on a nearly 15,000-square-foot building east of Interstate 25 and Woodmen Road, with an opening targeted for summer 2018, president and founder Francois Safieddine said via email.

Read more here.

Photo via Facebook

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AFA FOOTBALL PRACTICE

The Troy Calhoun Decade has seen the fall and dramatic rebirth of Air Force football — yet serious challenges remain

By David Ramsey

Just three years ago, it didn’t look as if we would be talking about The Calhoun Decade.

As the 2014 season approached, Troy Calhoun’s football house at Air Force was crumbling. He finished 2-10 in 2013, beating only Army and Colgate. He lost four games by more than 30 points, including a 45-point season-ending loss to Colorado State. The beating could have been even more savage, but the Rams felt pity on Calhoun’s outmatched and befuddled players.

Read more here.

Mark Reis, The Gazette

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Too fat to fight: Colorado nonprofit says military threatened by childhood obesity

By Tom Roeder

Even the kids in America's fittest state are too fat to fight their nation's wars, a pro-military nonprofit argues in a new study.

The military has long bemoaned America's tubby youth, and the Council for a Strong America says Colorado is part of the problem, with more than 27 percent of the state's children categorized as overweight.

Read more here.

Mike Morones

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Carson Bird, Air Force’s 2007 All-American defensive back, kisses his wife Brittany Bird before flipping the coin toss as the Falcons honorary captain Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, before the game against Georgia State at Falcon Stadium on Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Bird has lost his left leg as he is fighting a rare form of bone cancer called Chondrosarcoma.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Carson Bird's widow tries to understand what can't be understood

By David Ramsey

Brittany Jean Pittman married Carson Bird in August on a glorious Georgia day. A rainbow emerged after their vows, and they danced and kissed while a circle of friends sang, "I'll help you carry on."

Her husband, the man she adored, died in November.

Read more here.

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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Drive Through Demise

5 likely reasons why In-N-Out chose Colorado Springs over Denver

By Rich Laden

The Denver area's economic development successes of recent years tower a mile high over Colorado Springs.

Apple is hiring software engineers in Denver; defense contractor Lockheed Martin plans a state-of-the-art factory in Jefferson County; and online giant Amazon is adding a second fulfillment center in Thornton to go with one in Aurora.

And those are just names you'd recognize. Dozens of lesser-known tech, professional service and financial companies are moving to, or expanding in, metro Denver.

Read more here.

Adam Lau/AP

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Rock formations in the Central Garden Area of Garden of the Gods Park are framed by the controversial 12-foot blue frame as a crew from the Colorado Springs Park and Recreation department tranports it through the park Monday, Dec. 18, 2017 after it was removed from the High Point Overlook. The blue frame was installed Thursday as a marketing idea by the Olympic City USA task force and the locals quickly rejected it. As of Monday morning, more than 20,000 people had signed a petition started Friday.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Blue frame at Garden of the Gods removed after heavy backlash; possible new home identified

By Seth Boster

The city of Colorado Springs removed the widely criticized 12-foot-tall blue frame Monday from Garden of the Gods, where it had been drilled into rock last week.

From the park's highest point, atop red rock overlooking Pikes Peak and the rolling foothills, Jody Benson waved as the frame was driven away by the crane that uprooted it.

"Peg brought me here to be outraged," the visiting Benson said of friend Peg Shannon.

Read more here.

Christian Murdock, The Gazette

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Hugo Benitez walks past improvements he and other workers from Timberline Landscaping have made to the upper reaches of the Incline trail on Friday, November 17, 2017. New timbers, anchor cables, new retaining walls and drains and erosion netting were added to the trail.  (The Gazette, Nadav Soroker)

Manitou Incline 4.0: A by-the-numbers look at the improved trail

By Seth Boster

Regular users of the Manitou Incline have returned to the mountainside stair stepper and found themselves in what looks like an unfamiliar place.

The highest portion of the region's most popular trail has been transformed beyond recognition.

The city of Colorado Springs' much-anticipated third and final phase of multimillion-dollar repairs is complete. And compared with the 2014 and '16 makeovers to the trail's middle and bottom, the latest is most staggering - "amazing and more than necessary," said Fred Baxter, among devout users.

Read more here.

Nadav Soroker, The Gazette

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