Year in Review

Strange but True Stories From 2007

Life moved fast in 2007, and so did death. We said goodbye to people and institutions that Denver knew and loved. But we said hello to many more.

And anyone who stopped long enough to smell the, uh, microwave popcorn, had to cover his mouth and nose when it was reported that breathing butter-flavored fumes could cause lung disease. Wayne Watson of Centennial, who was diagnosed with the dreaded "popcorn lung," told doctors he ate two bags of the stuff a day. His is still the only diagnosed case of the rare ailment, but the popcorn companies have since removed the offending ingredient. Popcorn lung was just one of Denver's respiratory issues, however, as two people with drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis — Andrew Speaker, the globe-trotting lawyer, and Robert Daniels, a refugee from Joe Arpaio's Arizona jail — were treated at National Jewish Hospital. Then in November, the city held its collective breath while awaiting the results of a ballot initiative that would make adult marijuana offenses the lowest priority for police. The outcome? Let's just say Denver inhaled.

Coloradans are used to breathing thin air — and they were plenty short of breath as they watched the unlikely Rockies' amazing run through the playoffs. Then they were plenty short of tickets, when an online ticket-buying scandal before the World Series caused many fans to hyperventilate as they tried in vain to secure seats for the team's eventual losing effort against the Red Sox.

And the air was truly rarefied as a parade of political superstars — along with some windbags — from Howard Dean to Hillary Clinton to Dennis Kucinich's tongue-pierced wife stumped through town in advance of the Democratic National Convention, which lands in Denver next August and is sure to bring its own brand of breathlessness.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. There will be plenty of time to laugh — and cry — in 2008. For now, here's a look back at some of the wilder, crazier or just plain asphyxia-tingly stories from 2007, a year that left us gasping for air.

Government in Action

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's twenty-year effort to restore the endangered greenback cutthroat trout took a hit when a University of Colorado study reported that biologists have been stocking rivers and streams in Colorado with the wrong fish. Using new advances in genetic testing, scientists determined that many of the fish believed to be descendants of the native Colorado trout were actually the more common Colorado River cutthroat trout, which looks similar. The federal government is reviewing the study.

In August, Discovery Canyon Campus, an elementary school in Colorado Springs, banned the playground game of tag after some students complained that they were being chased against their will. Discovery Canyon assistant principal Cindy Fesgen cut to the chase when she said, "It causes a lot of conflict on the playground."

Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu, who'd failed to appear at a scheduled California court hearing to answer charges of fraud and campaign-finance violations, was arrested at a Grand Junction hospital after taking ill on a train bound for Denver. In December, a recovered Hsu was indicted in connection with a $60 million scheme and for making illegal campaign donations.

In November, presidential first daughter Jenna Bush came to the Tattered Cover to tout her book, Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope. Security was tight, and aside from the guns, knives and explosives always prohibited at book signings, the list of banned items included umbrellas, poles and sticks, containers of any type, knitting needles, noisemakers such as air horns or whistles, and unopened envelopes.

Denver election officials caught some flak when they rousted the SWAT team to count mail-in ballots for the November 6 election. Voter response to the ballot — which included many city tax and bond proposals — had overwhelmed the staff and exhausted volunteers. Police could answer the call for help because they already have background clearance. Even so, the final election results weren't posted for more than a day.

Denver Water's director of finance, David LaFrance, dressed up like a toilet during an August soccer game between the Colorado Rapids and the Los Angeles Galaxy and ran onto the field at halftime. A person dressed as a Rapids staffer finally tackled him during the staged gag. And then the JumboTron aired the words "Stop Running Toilets."

In June, dog-loving coffee-shop customers in Cherry Creek North began howling over city health inspectors who'd stepped up enforcement of an ordinance that prohibits pets at outdoor restaurant patios. After months of dogged discussions, the city finally rolled over and allowed each restaurant to decide for itself whether to allow canine customers.

In July, 25 military paratroopers armed with exercise rifles and rubber bullets accidentally landed inside the perimeter of the Fremont Correctional Institute. The paratrooper unit was escorted off the grounds by prison guards without incident.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes