Below is a sampling of some of the events that affected and shaped our communities in 2016.
A tragic death
Tragedy struck early in the year as 5-year-old Austin Ramos Jr. was shot and killed about 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, near the intersection of Prairie Avenue and Shopiere Road in Beloit.
Ramos was a passenger in a car driven by his father, Austin Ramos Sr., when another vehicle pulled alongside and opened fire. Ramos was shot in the abdomen and died a short time later at Beloit Memorial Hospital of "firearm-related trauma," according to the Rock County medical examiner’s office during that time.
Four suspects, Sergio Ortiz-Raygoza, 23; Eric Salazar-Mota, 21; Issac W. Torres, 24; and Hugo Martinez, 18, were charged with first-degree intentional homicide. The four suspects have since pleaded not guilty.
The shooting mobilized the community, and hundreds turned out for a candlelight vigil at the intersection where Austin was killed.
A new chief of police
After about a year of uncertainty in the Beloit Police Department, David Zibolski officially became the new chief of police. He was sworn in on April 25.
Zibolski came to Beloit in June 2015 as interim chief after then Chief Norm Jacobs and Deputy Chief Tom Dunkin were placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation into the department’s management. Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther had filed charges against Jacobs and Dunkin in October 2015 and recommended that they be terminated from their positions. Jacobs and Dunkin entered into a separation agreement with the city, which led to their retirement on Jan. 31.
The process to hire a permanent police chief was not without controversy. The Beloit Police and Fire Commission initially voted to hire then Rockford interim Police Chief Patrick Hoey. However, some city council and community members pressured the commission to reconsider their vote, which led to Zibolski being hired as the permanent police chief.
Zibolski said, at the time, that some of his goals included reducing the crime rate in Beloit and expanding the department’s community policing program.
Zibolski has worked in law enforcement for about 31 years. He worked for the Milwaukee Police Department for 27 years and retired from that department in 2011 as a captain.
After retiring from the Milwaukee Police Department, Zibolski worked for the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Law Enforcement Services. Zibolski also helped to establish a statewide training program for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
A long-awaited return
The remains of US Air Force Airman First Class George Ingram returned to Beloit in July for a proper burial at Eastlawn Cemetery.
Ingram, who was then 23, died on Nov. 22, 1952, when the C-124 Globemaster he was aboard crashed near Anchorage, Alaska. The aircraft had encountered severe weather and made a distress call that was faintly heard by a Northwest Orient Airlines commercial flight. The reception was poor, but the Northwest captain made out the sentence: "As long as we have to land, we might as well land here." The plane crashed into Mount Gannett, and the wreckage was seen several days later, but it was quickly covered with snow, sank deeper into a glacier and disappeared.
Ingram’s remains and those of his crewmates were not seen again until 2012, when they were discovered at the base of Colony Glacier. The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory worked to confirm the identities of the crew members during the past few years.
Ingram was born March 10, 1929, in Pontotoc, Mississippi. He and his family moved to Beloit when he was a teenager. Ingram enlisted in the Air Force and was assigned to the 34th Air Transport Squadron at McChord Air Base in Washington.
At the time of his death, Ingram was survived by his parents, Frank C. and Viola H. Ingram, and seven brothers: Frank, Richard, Halbert, Eleas, William, Walter and Roy. They have since passed away. Ingram is survived by family members from Beloit and Mississippi, including nieces, nephews, cousins and other relatives.
Ingram would’ve been 87.
Rail line rumbling
Residents in several area communities gathered to "rock against the rail."
Several communities in the Stateline area hosted forums and listening sessions to present information regarding a proposed rail line.
Great Lakes Basin Transportation announced plans to build a 260-mile long rail line from Indiana to Wisconsin that would run west of Beloit through the towns of Beloit, Turtle and La Prairie. The company believes the rail line would relieve freight congestion in the Chicago area.
Several Stateline communities approved resolutions in opposition of the rail line. A group, Rock Against the Rail, was formed to oppose the rail line and voice potential concerns with the project. Similar groups were formed in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
A federal agency overseeing an environmental review of the project recently announced that it would temporarily suspend the review.
The Surface Transportation Board’s Office of Environmental Assessment recently told Great Lakes Basin Transportation that it had granted the railroad’s request for suspension while planning for the project continues. The company has been asked to provide additional information on the project.
A status update is set to be presented on Feb. 28.
A town or a village?
The town of Beloit announced plans to incorporate into a village.
Ian Haas, town of Beloit administrator, said incorporating would have many benefits for the community, such as obtaining additional shared revenue from the future Alliant Plant, as well as shared revenue from the state and federal governments. The community also would be eligible to apply for more grants, according to Haas.
Haas said the community also would be able to secure its borders from the cities of Beloit and Janesville and other municipalities.
If incorporation is approved, initially the area east of Afton Road would meet all criteria for incorporation. Many residents who live on the west side of town have expressed concern that they would not have access to services.
However, town officials said the west side of the community would be incorporated in the future and it would still have access to all of the village’s services.
The process to incorporate would take some time, and the earliest a vote could take place would be in the spring