The best of the best in 2013

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A look at the stories that got the most attention on TheWesternStar.com last year

Remember when you used to read a hard copy of your local newspaper and probably discuss it with your family at breakfast or with co-workers around the water cooler every morning? Or when you used to log onto TheWesternStar.com later on in the day to read other readers’ comments on those same stories you discussed over your morning cup of coffee?

Well, even in the past couple years, it seems almost the inverse has become the norm. Many people now fire up their computers, tablets or smartphones to catch up on the news before nearly anything else.

As a result, some of the stories in the print version of our newspaper don’t always get the same kind of attention as different ones posted on TheWesternStar.com each day. With that said, however, some articles are universal in their appeal and get just as many tongues wagging out in the real world as their cyber counterparts.

The difference with the online versions is that it’s easier to gauge the appeal of stories with exact statistics of how many of you read them — or perhaps, as was the case with many of the stories you’re about to rediscover, re-read them as we provided updates in real time.

With that, let’s take a trip down memory lane, and catch up with some of the newsmakers, with the most-read stories on TheWesternStar.com in 2013 — the best of the best of the web, if you will.

Click on the headlines to read the original stories.

1. Prisoner escapes from hospital in Corner Brook, By Chris Quigley

“He just got away from the officers and left the area.” — RNC Staff Sgt. Roy Elliott

Thankfully, stories about escaped prisoners are pretty rare around these parts. That probably explains why the saga of Robert Ross Gould was so enthralling back in May of this year.

The 31-year-old escaped from RNC custody after officers took him to Western Memorial Regional Hospital for medical treatment on Monday, May 27. After being arrested earlier in the morning on a warrant for failing to appear for a previous court date, Gould requested medical treatment before a scheduled afternoon court appearance.

While at the hospital, the man managed to give the officers the slip and make his escape through the yards of some nearby residences. The manhunt for Gould lasted throughout the remainder of the day until he was finally arrested — again — at an apartment complex on Gillams Road.

Not surprisingly, things didn’t get much better for Gould following his brief taste of freedom. In addition to the charges relating to his initial arrest and subsequent escape, the RNC later charged Gould in relation to a sexual assault case. Gould was eventually sentenced to serve 19 months in jail, although a more serious charge of aggravated sexual assault against him was dropped.

As for the RNC, the May 27 events also spawned an internal review of exactly how Gould was able to escape police custody. The results of the review have not been made public.

2. Best friend tells horror story of fatal crash, By Cory Hurley

“I think about it everyday — what I’m going to do and how I’m going to get over it.” — Steve Clarke

While no one ever wishes it has to be this way, often it takes a story of tragedy to bring about change for the better. It’s difficult to imagine much worse than a life taken too soon because of preventable circumstances, especially when we consider what the family and friends of the young person must go through.

On Nov. 22, 18-year-old Alex McCarthy died after the vehicle he was a passenger in rolled off the Trans-Canada Highway near St. Jude’s. He and another friend were not wearing seatbelts at the time.

Amidst the condolences and mourning in the community, in Alex’s school and online, one of the other passengers in the vehicle that night saw an opportunity to tell people how things could’ve been different — and in doing so, Steve Clarke implored us to change how we think about strapping on that seatbelt the next time we get into our cars.

“When you’re a teenager you don’t really think about (wearing a seatbelt),” Clarke, who was also not strapped in that evening, told The Western Star less than a week after the crash. “‘I’m too cool for that,’ or whatever, and you have a ‘who cares, nothing is going to happen’ kind of attitude. ... It changed me.”

It’s difficult to update a story like this, because we may never know how many lives Alex and Steve’s story might saved. But we can certainly hope it was a wake-up call for many.

3. Qalipu chief issues message to applicants, By Gary Kean

“I sympathize with the difficulties and frustrations that you are experiencing. This process is complicated, as legal processes tend to be.”

— Chief Brendan Sheppard

Perhaps no news story, or series of stories, has defined 2013 in western Newfoundland as much as the controversy over applications for membership into the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation. For many who believe they have a rightful claim to ancestry, the process had been frustrating, to say the least.

But when several applicants began receiving letters denying their enrolment into the band for one reason or another, things got really testy (see story No. 4 below). The situation prompted Qalipu Chief Brendan Sheppard to post a letter to applicants on the band’s website on Nov. 18, outlining various scenarios in which some may find themselves after their applications were rejected.

The online response and theories were swift, with opinions both for and against Sheppard’s ability to lead the band and the applicants through this process.

4. Corner Brook woman upset Qalipu enrolment applications deemed invalid, By Gary Kean

“We were told everything was fine ... “ — Beverly Perrett

Just over a week prior to Chief Brendan Sheppard’s message to the Qalipu band applicants, Corner Brook resident Beverly Perrett and her family had a message of their own about the whole process.

After doing her own research, Perrett said she discovered her family has one of the strongest aboriginal bloodlines in the Bay of Islands. So, she was understandably shocked when her application was denied by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada because a release form wasn’t signed.  

In the same story, Chief Brendan Sheppard was perhaps less than sympathetic to the concerns of the applicants: “You’re going to hear people saying that they signed their application too. I don’t take that for one minute,” he told The Western Star.

“Cut it any way these people want to talk about it, but it’s the responsibility of the applicant.”

By December, Sheppard seemed to soften his stance, issuing a message saying the band will search the Federation of Newfoundland Indians’ files to assist applicants in finding the information they need to prove they are members of a Mi’kmaq group.  The Mi’kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland, formerly the Qalipu Watchdogs group, has continued to grow its membership — to around 5,000 in recent weeks — while a new Port au Port band is also in the process of electing an executive with the aim of being included in the Qalipu band list review.

With both the online and offline responses to this continuing story, it’s a safe bet that this issue will remain in the news for some time yet.

5. RCMP execute major drug bust in Stephenville, By Cory Hurley and Frank Gale

“Operation Bypass is an example of the RCMP's priority in enforcement efforts in combating organized crime.” — RCMP press release

The Bay St. George RCMP brought a five-month investigation to a close in November when they arrested two Stephenville men on multiple drug-related charges. Dubbed “Operation Bypass,” police charged a 58-year-old, Larry Smith, and 19-year-old Travis Chambers with trafficking and possession after seizing quantities of several prescription pain killers, marijuana and cocaine. Both accused had court dates set for later this month.

The Mounties alluded to organized crime being a driving force behind the production of synthetic drugs, so any time the authorities can show they’re keeping watch on this type of activity can only be a good thing for this province.

See the second page for stories 6 through 10 ...

Organizations: RCMP, Western Memorial Regional Hospital, Trans-Canada Highway Federation of Newfoundland First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland Miss Canada Globe 2014 Corner Brook Rotary Club The Outlaws The Bacchus Correctional Services Canada The Star

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Western Star Gillams Road Bay of Islands Stephenville Port au Port Bacchus Lark Harbour George Trout River Canada Katie BarrowCorner Brook

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