The year 2012 was one of criminal sentences for horrific crimes and tragic deaths resulting from those crimes.
It was a year of probing alleged coverups by city police as well as punishing coverups committed by a university.
And from scandal-ridden Penn State to to the financially distressed City of Altoona, it was a year that required plans for resilience.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Commissioners Diane Meling, Terry Tomassetti and Ted Beam address Judy Roberts during a meeting to discuss the possible sale of Valley View.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Terry Merrits voices his concerns during the public commentary section of the Act 47 recovery plan public hearing in the Devorris Downtown Center auditorium Nov. 28. Altoona City Council voted Dec. 19 to accept the plan created to pull the city out of its distressed municipalities program.
The following is a look at the most compelling stories of 2012, chosen by the Mirror news staff.
1. Sandusky sentenced
Once-revered Penn State University football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was sentenced on Oct. 9 to 30 to 60 years in state prison.
Sandusky, 68, has been placed at the State Correctional Institution at Greene, alone for 23 hours per day. He was tried and found guilty on June 22 in Centre County Court for sexually assaulting 10 young boys whom he met through his charity, The Second Mile, over a 15-year period.
Eight of the victims testified at his trial.
Sandusky maintains his innocence and plans to appeal his case, arguing his defense wasn't given enough time from his November 2011 arrest to his conviction.
The same month of Sandusky's sentencing, Graham Spanier, Penn State's former president, was charged with perjury, endangering the welfare of children, failure to report allegations of abuse, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
More charges were also added against Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President for Business and Finance Gary Schultz. A grand jury charged them last year with perjury and failing to report abuse.
2. Geeseytown homicides shock region
The chain of events on Dec. 21 in Geeseytown ended in a triple homicide, the likes of which haven't been seen in Blair County for seven years.
Shots were fired on Juniata Valley Road around 9 a.m. that Friday, killing three people at three separate locations. State troopers killed the gunman, Jeffrey Lee Michael, 44, after a vehicle crash and shootout.
The victims were Kimberly A. Scott, 58, of Duncansville, who was killed while putting up decorations for a children's Christmas party at Juniata Valley Gospel Church; William Rhodes Jr., 38; and his father-in-law, Kenneth Lynn, 60, both of rural Hollidaysburg. The shooting rampage over a two-mile stretch also left three three troopers injured.
Bullet fragments and glass struck a trooper's face and eyes, while another was shot in the chest and wrist. The trooper's bulletproof vest likely saved his life, a state police official said hours after the shooting. Despite their wounds, the troopers swung their cars back to face the gunman while a third cruiser crashed into Michael's truck, injuring another officer.
With both vehicles disabled, Michael left his truck and fired on the troopers. Troopers returned fire, killing him. The state troopers were later released from Altoona Regional.
For more than a decade, Michael had an unhealthy fascination with apocalyptic themes, a family friend said.
Geeseytown community members and people from surrounding areas gathered at the Geeseytown Lutheran Church on Route 22 the next day for a prayer vigil and service to remember Scott, Lynn and Rhodes.
3. Horner sentenced to life
Iraq War veteran and Johnstown native Nicholas Horner was sentenced April 23 to two consecutive life terms without parole, plus 29 to 59 years, for the April 2009 murders of Scott Garlick, 19, a high school senior, and Raymond Williams, 64, a retiree, and the wounding of Subway employee Michele Petty.
Horner committed the murders during a robbery at the 58th Street Subway and his getaway attempt.
Horner's defense argued that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from his Army service.
Attorney Thomas Dickey wanted to present an insanity defense, based on a report written by a Minnesota psychologist who concluded that Horner was suffering from drug-induced delirium, but Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva barred the insanity defense.
Dickey then asked the state Supreme Court to intervene, delaying the trial for two months. The court did not step in to overrule the judge, and the trial went forward.
Dickey began in May what is expected to be a long appeals process. He contends that Kopriva erred when she refused to permit an insanity defense and that she gave improper instructions to the jury.
The judge instructed the jury that it could presume Horner meant to kill his victims in 2009 if it found that he pointed a deadly weapon at a vital part of a victim's body.
Kopriva denied Horner's appeal, and Dickey said he would take his arguments to the state Superior Court.
4. Fire kills 3-year-old
Brandy Etchison was awakened by fire in her apartment in the early morning of Nov. 15 and jumped from a third-floor window with her 2-year-old daughter, but she was unable to get her 3-year-old, Darrel "DJ" Etchison Jr., out of the burning building.
Homicide charges were filed against Aaron Wilson Dishong, 62, of East Freedom, after DJ's death. Dishong allegedly set the blaze because he mistakenly believed that an ex-paramour was staying at 113 S. Second St., where the Etchisons lived, and he wanted her dead, Blair County Chief Deputy District Attorney Wade Kagarise said.
DJ's father, Darrel Etchison Sr., was at work when the fire broke out, Kagarise said.
District Attorney Richard Consiglio called the arson "horrific" and commended Altoona police, state police and the Altoona Fire Department for working together to quickly sort out the details of the crime, one that was initially thought to be a terrible accident.
Police listened in on phone conversations between Dishong and a witness, during which Dishong incriminated himself, Kagarise said.
That witness, according to court records, told police that Dishong admitted that he started the fire, and when he saw a news report that one person was killed, Dishong celebrated because he thought it was his ex-girlfriend, police said.
Dishong, 62, was found hanging from a vent in his suicide prevention county jail cell on Dec. 7. He reportedly used his bedding to hang himself.
5. Altoona goes Act 47
A new chapter began for the City of Altoona as council voted Dec. 19 to accept the recovery plan created to pull itself out of the state's distressed municipalities program, after a years-long battle against entering.
With an Act 47 plan adopted, Altoona City Council expects to begin 2013 with a fund balance of about $750,000 and end it with a fund balance of about $1.5 million, according to Finance Director Omar Strohm.
For years, the City of Altoona resisted the idea of seeking relief from its financial troubles in the state's distressed municipalities program. But the city would be insolvent by the end of next year without the four-year plan, officials said.
If the status quo continues, with its rising costs and flat revenues, the city will face a $10 million cumulative deficit by 2016, Altoona Act 47 financial recovery team member John Filan of DSI Civic said.
The plan includes breaking through the state's earned income and property tax barriers, freezing wages, shrinking benefits and laying out numerous strategies for saving or generating money.
Mike Haire was the only council member to vote against the four-year plan, saying he believed that the unions won't accept three years of a wage freeze, beginning in 2014.
Some unpopular strategies were scratched in December. Originally, it was suggested the fire department could take over city ambulance services, but that provoked an outcry from AMED and didn't win favor from the fire department.
Mayor Bill Schirf said he is thankful the plan doesn't call for major layoffs, but residents have expressed concern about raising taxes to generate revenue.
A total of 27 municipalities have entered the state's Act 47 distressed municipalities program; only six have escaped.
6. NCAA sanctions Penn State
In response to the child sex-abuse scandal that tarnished Penn State's reputation, the Board of Trustees hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate the university. His report released on July 23 detailed 119 recommendations including strengthening safety and security policies, identifying and reporting misconduct, and university governance.
Of Freeh's recommendations, 44 are completed, 58 are in progress and 17 are ongoing, the university's progress website states.
The report's findings condemned university leaders. Former head football coach Joe Paterno's family has firmly denied the findings, which also have been questioned by many alumni.
Freeh's 267-page report was the result of interviewing more than 430 people and examining 3.5 million documents. It outlined the failure of former Penn State President Graham Spanier and Paterno to alert authorities or stop Sandusky, who held onto keys to Penn State facilities, after child abuse allegations emerged.
The NCAA based its landmark sanctions on the report's findings, levying the school with a four-year bowl ban, significant scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine. The NCAA also stripped the football program of 14 years of victories.
Many alumni and some trustees were incensed over the unprecedented NCAA penalty - which will cost Penn State tens of millions of dollars and could cripple its football team in years to come.
7. APD beating case heads
The Altoona police beating case from Memorial Day weekend 2010 moves forward as former officer Duane Eichenlaub, 30, of Altoona will stand trial in January in Blair County Court.
After a statewide grand jury investigation, Eichenlaub and fellow former officer Eric Kriner, 32, of Brockport, were charged in 2011 with entering a restroom at Pellegrine's Lounge to beat Herman "Bo" Lardieri, 40, who allegedly inappropriately touched Eichenlaub's wife. Earl Eshelman, 60, of East Freedom, who was also in the restroom, was beaten about the face, suffering severe injuries to an eye.
What followed next was allegedly an effort by the officers to get their colleagues, called to investigate the brawl, to cover up their involvement. One patrolman who responded to the incident resigned and another was fired last year.
Kriner and Eichenlaub were charged last year with conspiracy to hinder prosecution, tampering with public records, obstruction of the administration of justice and aggravated assault.
This September, Altoona police memos were found that allegedly indicate that an alleged cover-up of the brawl might have involved more than the four officers no longer with the department.
One of those memos, according to an opinion issued by Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan, "references the withholding of information by Chief [Janice] Freehling." The memo, written by retired city detective Craig Zahradnik, does not elaborate about what may have been withheld.
The memos have been sealed until Eichenlaub's trial.
Freehling has said she and the Altoona Police Department brass never withheld any information from state police or tried to cover up the alleged incident.
Kriner pleaded guilty Dec. 20 to simple assault and conspiracy to obstruct a law enforcement investigation. He faces probation or a light jail sentence when he is sentenced in March.
8. Hospital merger talks heat up
Eight years after the creation of Altoona Regional Health System through the merger of Altoona and Bon Secours-Holy Family hospitals, Altoona Regional and Nason Hospital signed a nonbinding agreement in August to create a countywide health care system.
Altoona Regional has more than 300 physicians and 4,000 clinical and support staff; Nason has more than 50 physicians and 300 clinical and support staff.
The Nason board was unanimous in approving the memorandum of understanding to pursue the partnership, which followed nine months of discussion with Altoona Regional.
The agreement followed the consolidation of the Altoona Regional campuses. After 102 years, the Bon Secours hospital campus - first known as Mountain City, then Mercy, then Bon Secours-Holy Family Hospital and then Seventh Avenue Campus - closed forever in March.
Altoona Regional consolidated acute services at the Altoona Hospital campus on Howard Avenue.
To help Altoona Regional meet the challenges of health care reform, the hospital board is seeking affiliation with UPMC.
After almost a year of discussion with potential partners, in November it was clear that Altoona Regional decided to focus on UPMC to expand and enhance services and employment, spokesman Dave Cuzzolina said.
UPMC is a $20 billion organization with 55,000 employees, 20 hospitals, 400 doctors' offices and outpatient sites and a health insurance division, according to material provided by Altoona Regional.
At 380 beds, Altoona Regional would become the third largest UPMC affiliate in terms of bed size, after UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside, with 1,532 beds, and UPMC Mercy, with 487 beds, according to information supplied by UPMC spokesman Paul Wood.
9. McGinnis wins 79th District House race
This year, John McGinnis shocked Harrisburg when he beat incumbent Rick Geist, who served the 79th District for 34 years, in the spring primary race.
In November, McGinnis won Pennsylvania's 79th District, which includes Altoona and parts of Logan Township.
The Penn State Altoona finance professor ran on the platform of a less intrusive and more austere government. He promised to push for lower taxes, reduced spending and an end to lucrative pensions and per diems.
McGinnis won by a 955-vote margin over his opponent, Democrat Richard Flarend.
He will take a two-year leave of absence from his duties at the university, and Penn State will hold his job during that time. If he decides to continue as an elected official beyond that, the Penn State job will be "gone forever," he said.
Geist, meanwhile, is preparing for his new career as a transportation and project development consultant, an extension of his legislative career in which he chaired the House Transportation Committee and became a spokesman for highway and bridge improvements and transportation programs in general statewide.
10. Commissioners explore Valley View Home sale
As of December, Blair County commissioners were split on a proposal to sell Valley View Home, a facility that the county has operated for almost 60 years.
Blair County Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. took a stand against selling the nursing home, while fellow commissioners Diane Meling and Terry Tomassetti voted in favor of circulating a request for proposals from interested bidders.
The RFP also requires responders to submit a bid of no less than than $11.25 million.
The possibility of sale of the 240-bed nursing facility incensed employees, who say care quality would decline and they may lose their jobs in the transaction.
The possible sale also ignited protests from those involved with the American Youth Soccer Organization, which uses fields on the site for soccer.
Commissioners are asking bidders to accept the county's lease with AYSO through June 30, 2014.
How much money bidders are willing to pay for the home is a factor that will be a key component in the commissioners' decision to sell or not.
The successful bidder would be expected, through Dec. 31, 2023, to maintain a licensed skilled nursing facility on the grounds of the home. Current residents at Valley View would have the right to remain in the facility as long as they wish and as long as they are eligible to receive care at a skilled nursing facility.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.