By Cody Lee
YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) – As the year ends, we take a look back at some of the most impactful stories that happened in Yuma County.
COVID-19 pandemic continues
Something we’ve dealt with throughout all of 2021 – the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Today we’re able to start vaccinating over 1000 people per day, seven days a week, so this is a monumental day for our organization and for our community,” said Kristina McNair, Yuma Regional Medical Center’s director of project management and continuous improvement.
That was back in March, the day the state of Arizona and YRMC partnered up to open a vaccination clinic at the Yuma Civic Center.
However, as more people became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year, Yuma County, along with the rest of the world, had to deal with new variants of the virus.
That led to a spike in COVID cases at the beginning of August lasting a few weeks before going back down.
During that time, at least three local schools experienced COVID outbreaks.
Hospital staff says the majority of COVID patients were unvaccinated, something that still rings true to this day.
“Unvaccinated we’ve had people over 30 days. We have currently some, you know, we did have that one or two deaths from the ICU from we’ve reported, and they were pretty well long stays,” explained Deb aders, YRMC’s chief nursing officer.
Border apprehensions on the rise
Over at the Southern border, an increase in the number of migrants crossing into the Yuma sector.
“For us, it kind of shows us, you know, doesn’t matter where on the border you know it’s still, there’s still places that are crossable and there’s still places that we need to administer our enforcement posture. So it kind of keeps us on our toes,” admitted Vinny dulesky, Yuma sector special operations supervisor.
Daily apprehension averages continued to climb. Up to at least 48-thousand from October 1st. That’s a climb of 8-thousand percent compared to the same window in 2020.
Border patrol in need of more agents to process everyone coming in.
The majority of migrants say they want a better life in the U.S.
International border ports reopen
In November, for the first time in over a year and a half, the United States borders fully reopened. Although, there is one major exception, only for travelers fully vaccinated.
Down at the San Luis Port of Entry, people coming from Mexico were thrilled to finally visit Yuma County again.
Claudia Díaz lives in Mexicali and enjoys eating and shopping in San Luis, Arizona, “I’m really happy because, being here after the pandemic, I’m finally going to eat hamburgers from the united states, which are the ones we want, and then let’s see what changes there are here, what’s new, but the truth is, I’m happy.”
Many politicians visit Yuma
We spent months covering not just immigration but also border security. Both led many elected officials to Yuma County in 2021.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and U.S. Senator’s Lindsey Graham and Rick Scott all coming to the Yuma sector border as we saw the influx of migrants.
“It’s not about immigration right now, immigration can be solved in congress between the house and the senate and the president. This is a border security issue, which is also a national security issue that directly affects public safety.” Arizona’s governor said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) joined other local officials at Yuma International Airport to discuss a bipartisan bill she co-authored in the U.S. Senate called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“This is I think important to the yuma community, we’re investing in faster internet so that more people in more places will get high-speed broadband, and it will also help families afford internet service if they don’t, and that’s a $65 billion investment across the nation,” Sinema explained.
It brings over 550 billion dollars in new spending, making significant improvements to the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and transit system plus many other public upgrades.
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) also visited Yuma twice to talk U.S. Port of Entry enhancements also part of Sinema’s bill.
“So getting more vehicles across the border, get them inspected when we need to inspect them and process individuals. You know, who will support the businesses, you know, not only here but even in phoenix as well that’s, that’s important for the economy,” Kelly said.
In November, the 1.2 trillion dollar bill was finally passed in the Senate and signed by the President.
Tragic double homicide in Yuma neighborhood
This year also brought devastation to our community.
It was an early morning on August 24th, when YPD responded to a suicide call only to find two bodies and their accused killer inside a yuma home.
The suspect identified as 28-year-old Trevon Wilhite, the victims, his 25-year-old girlfriend, Tamacia Wilder and her two-year-old son, Roy.
The cause of death, blunt force trauma.
Family of the victims talked to News 11 exclusively following the murders.
“My daughter was so beautiful. Oh, she was so silly,” cried Tamecia Sadler, the victim’s mother.
Wilhite’s defense has requested more time before a trial takes place.
Yuma doctor killed in San Diego plane crash
Devastation struck after a private jet went down in San Diego.
Come to find out it was a well-known Yuma cardiologist manning the plane. YRMC Dr. Sugata das died in the crash along with a California UPS driver.
“You know, he was one of the many individuals that were so active in medical staff, so active in the medical community, so active in the community outside the hospital in Yuma,” said Dr. Bharat Magu, chief medical officer for the hospital.
YRMC talks merge with major healthcare corporation
A major announcement from Yuma Regional Medical Center sparked a lot of conversation this year.
Yuma’s only hospital announced a potential merge with a nationwide medical network. The merge would have changed its status of being a not-for-profit organization to a for-profit one.
Dr. Robert Trenschel is the hospital’s president and CEO.
“We’ve committed and Lifepoint’s committed to hiring all employees that meet, you know, certain. Obviously, that depends on regulatory standards and meeting certain screening criteria that any do with any employment but all employees will be offered employment with Lifepoint Health if they so choose. We anticipate everyone will.”
But by the end of the year, it was a no-go. The unanimous decision was made by the hospital’s governing board.
YRMC says it’s still exploring the possibility of a partnership.
U.S. Marine intervenes armed robbery
Yuma made national headlines when a former Marine thwarted an armed robbery in the Foothills.
James Kilcer stops at the Chevron every morning before work, but in the viral convenience store video, it was not an ordinary morning.
Moments later, the door opens and the armed suspect along with two others enters the store.
Kilcer grabs the gun and forces it to the side of the suspect.
“The gun felt plastic like all I felt was plastic and nothing moved, the trigger didn’t go, I thought it was just a toy gun that, a toy airsoft or something didn’t have anything in it and so I threw it down next to me not thinking anything of it and so I had him down on the ground and then telling the dispatcher that it was a fake gun,” Kilcer explained.
In light of his swift actions, the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office awarded him with the department’s Citizen’s Valor Award.
Events return to Yuma County
In 2021, we also saw a much-anticipated return of local events that bring the whole community together.
From the Tacos and Tunes Festival to an in-person Brigit’s Gift benefit event.
As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of almost all events in the county.
Abraham Mosqueda is the owner of Fatboy Tacos which you can find downtown on weekends.
“I’m very excited to have events like this again you know, make money and have people be out here and have fun and try our food, we’re grown locally you know, we’re locally grown, we’re hoping to expand here in Yuma.”
New Miss Yuma County titleholders
News 11 reporter Cody Lee was asked to be a judge for the Miss Yuma County competition after covering the former Miss Yuma County titleholders at this year’s Miss Arizona competition in Phoenix.
Out of eight candidates, Lee and four other judges crowned two young women who they felt would represent Yuma County the best.
Meet your 2022 Miss Yuma County, Hailey Wright, who wants to bring awareness to childhood cancer after losing her young brother to a rare bone disease.
Harrison Dusek is your new Miss Yuma County’s Outstanding Teen. Harrison’s background in dance sets her up to expand the performing arts community in Yuma County.