The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

A look back at 2013: A year in review


Caitlin Sievers

The roof of Sidney's 9th Street Apartments was severely damaged in the September 9th storm.

City worker saves local children

By: Hannah Van Ree

Heroic action by Parks Superintendent Tom Von Seggern and four other city employees, very possibly saved the life of two brothers in January of this year.

On the afternoon of Jan. 4 the two boys fell through the ice and into the pond at Legion Park, according to information from then Police Chief Mike Brown.

Luckily the city workers were in the park area with one witnessing the accident occur, then rushing to aid in rescuing the children.

Brown was told that the brothers' dog ran out onto the ice covered pond.

One child went out to retrieve his pet and fell through the ice. His brother attempted to rescue the boy who was submerged and fell in afterward.

Von Seggern, who witnessed the accident, rushed out onto the ice and into the water to help rescue the boys.

City employee James Harmon, heard about the incident from the emergency communications scanner after eye witnesses had called in the emergency call, then also responded and also went waist deep into the water.

Everyone was able to get out of the water safely, Brown said, who visited the four in the hospital following the event.

On Jan. 30, Von Seggern was awarded a certificate from the Great Navy of Nebraska signed by Gov. Heineman for his actions.

Sidney welcomes new police chief

By: Caitlin Sievers

Byron R. "B.J." Wilkinson of Litchfield, Illinois accepted the position as Sidney's new chief of police in late June. This hire followed the city's three month search for the right person to head the department.

Sidney's former chief Mike Brown, resigned to move to Kansas to deal with illness of close family members.

Wilkinson was sworn in the morning of Aug. 5 by District Judge Derek Weimer in Cheyenne County district court.

"I feel wonderful," Wilkinson said after his swearing in. "The community is very welcoming and friendly." Safety is a number one priority for the new chief.

There are many pieces and parts that fit into that sense of safety, but a feeling of security in the community is the ultimate goal, Wilkinson said.

"When you strip everything else away, they want to feel safe," Wilkinson said. "Our job is to make people feel safe."

Since Wilkinson took office the Sidney police coordinated a safe trick or treating event at Hickory Square, which saw an excellent turnout and began a process to remove inoperable and unlicensed vehicles from local premises.

Sept. 9 storm causes flooding and city-wide damage

By: Caitlin Sievers

Heavy rains around 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 9 soon overwhelmed the city's storm drains and filled many streets with deep and fast flowing water, which made travel in parts of the city dangerous or impossible.

The underpass to the North side of town was still closed for a portion of Sept. 10. Many streets were closed the night of the storm with road blocks because of the extensive precipitation and downed power lines.

Large portions of the city remained without power into Sept. 10, while city workers did overtime to get things in working order.

In town, damage was evident everywhere. Debris from flooding and winds littered many streets. Soil washed into the road in many areas as well. Trees and tree limbs were down across the city.

Sidney received around 1.78 inches of precipitation between the hours of 6:30 and 8 p.m. the night of Sept. 9, according to Mike Weiland, a meteorologist with the national weather service out of Cheyenne, Wyo. The Sidney airport reported a wind gust of 78 miles per hours which is classified as hurricane force.

The 9th Street apartments, located on 9th and Jackson, were evacuated Sept. 10 after suffering extensive damage during the storm when a tree crashed through the structure.

The evacuation left 18 families without permanent housing.

The Red Cross arrived in Sidney Sept. 10 to aid with the displacement and other needs of those impacted by the storm.

The flooding that happened in some parts of town Sept. 9 was atypical. The city hadn't encountered high amounts of water on Illinois St. in quite a while, thanks to a new storm drain system. The two inches of water that fell in around an hour and a half on Sept. 9 overwhelmed it, however.

Slezak received 20 years for death of family

By: Caitlin Sievers

Josef Slezak was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment Oct. 16 for his role in an accident that took the lives of an entire family on Interstate 80 in 2012.

Slezak was ordered to serve 60 months in prison consecutively for each of the four counts of motor vehicle homicide for which he was convicted. He received no more than 60 months and no less than 20 months to be served concurrently for the fifth count for motor vehicule homicide of an unborn child. This means that Slezak will be eligible for parole in 10 years if he is given credit for all time served.

On Sept. 9, 2012 Slezak was driving a commercial tractor trailer on Interstate 80 in Cheyenne County. A wreck had stopped traffic on that roadway near mile marker 40.

The truck Slezak was driving smashed into the back of a Ford Mustang, propelling that vehicle into the Toyota Corolla in front of it. This in turn pushed the Corolla forward and lodged it underneath another semi. This resulted in a fire that consumed both vehicles.

The Mustang was occupied by Christopher Schmidt, 30, while in the Corolla were his wife Diana Schmidt, 28, and their two children Samuel Schmidt, 3 and Connor Schmidt, 2. Diana was approximately 30 weeks pregnant with an unborn child named Ethan.

"I am so sorry," Slezak said through an interpreter Oct. 16. "I am so sorry."

Gipfert found guilty of lesser charge in shaken baby trial

By: Caitlin Sievers

On Nov. 21, a jury of six men and six women found Nancy Gipfert guilty of negligent child abuse, a misdemeanor. This is a lesser conviction than the original charge of child abuse causing serious bodily injury, a felony.

The two-month-old victim in this case became seriously ill after his first visit to Gipfert's daycare on Sept. 13, 2011. It was later confirmed that he suffered from bleeding around his brain, brain damage and hemorrhages in his eyes.

The court heard evidence Nov. 13-Nov. 20 and was presided over by Cheyenne County District judge Derek Weimer. The courtroom was regularly filled with a large audience of spectators there to support both the prosecution and defense. On the night of Nov. 21, when the verdict was read, the courtroom was packed with friends and family of Nancy Gipfert as well as those close to the family of the victim. The jury deliberated from 12:55 p.m. until around eight that night. After the verdict was read at around 8:30, there was audible crying from both sides of the courtroom.

This trial was more than two years in the making from the day the victim became ill, on Sept. 13, 2011, to jury selection on Nov. 12, 2013.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2014.

Johnson found guilty of murder

By: Caitlin Sievers

A jury of five men and seven women found Craig Johnson, 48, guilty of first degree murder, use of a weapon to commit a felony and possession of a deadly weapon by a felon on the afternoon of Dec. 16 in Cheyenne County District Court.

Johnson was convicted for the death of April Smith, his girlfriend at the time. He could be punished with life in prison, according to Cheyenne County attorney Paul Schaub.

In this case, the prosecution contended that Johnson killed Smith in her apartment 8 miles west of Sidney because of jealousy over her continued relationship with Ed Smith her husband, from whom she was separated.

April Smith's body was found Dec. 12, 2011 in her apartment. She had been bound at the ankles and wrists, stabbed, strangled and asphyxiated.

Johnson fled in Smith's minivan and was found days later, in Michigan after a high speed chase. Clothing with Smith's blood on it was found in the vehicle.

Following closing arguments, the case was submitted to the jury just after 11 a.m. Dec. 16 and the verdict came in around 2 p.m., after three hours of deliberation.

Johnson maintains his innocence and will appeal the case, according to defense attorney Kelly Breen.

Sentencing is set for Feb. 5.

Many developments underway in Sidney

By: Caitlin Sievers

Plans for many new projects in the city of Sidney and Cheyenne County made progress in 2013.

There are some $200 million in new projects already underway or set to begin in 2014 in Cheyenne County.

Sidney is defying the myth about rural America's demise, said city manager Gary Person at an economic development meeting in November.

Projects currently in the works include the new $52 million Sidney Regional Medical Center, the $25 million Bell Pole and Lumber plant, the Adams Industries rail expansion at $15 million, the Lodgepole Creek apartments at $9 million and the Cabela's housing development that might value in the $300-$500 million range.


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