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Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
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Floods, fires, a freeway. Fleeing victims of Hurricane Katrina finding refuge in Utah.

Deciding Utah's most "memorable" or "important" news story of 2005 boils down to a variation of the adage: Where you stand is based on where you've sat.

If you've sat in rush-hour traffic on I-15 in Davis County, chances are the November agreement that makes construction of Legacy Highway a reality is your top story of the year.

Or, if you sat and watched hopelessly as the swollen waters and the crumbling banks of the Santa Clara River swallowed your home, that was the top event.

And once again, if you were a loved one of Lori Hacking and sat in the courtroom listening to her husband receive a life sentence for her murder, that overshadowed everything else.

Each year, the Deseret Morning News sponsors a Top Ten contest in which readers are asked to pick what they think are the most important stories of the year. The selections are then matched against the slate of stories Morning News' editors deemed most noteworthy. The readers whose picks most closely matched ours are awarded first-, second- and third-place prize money.

But unlike 2002 — when the Winter Olympics reigned supreme — or 2003 — when Elizabeth Smart was found — 2005 wasn't a year that shouted a dominant story from the rooftops. Instead, it was a year of events that jostled for attention. If the story stayed with you, likely it was personal in some way.

In our online-only contest that drew 144 entries, Kearns resident Neil Thomas earned top honors and $100 by having his first five rankings of stories most closely matched to editors. Thomas, a "barely 50" self-admitted news follower, dubbed the Legacy Highway settlement as the year's top story.

So did we. Sort of.

Eleven editors voted on more than 30 entries — as did readers. Each time an entry made it into the Top 10, it earned points.

On Katrina refugees coming to Utah, seven of 11 editors deemed it was an important enough story to land in the Top 10. Out of those seven, four picked it as the No. 1 story. While that would seem to make it a shoo-in for top honors, it didn't work that way.

Legacy, while it only garnered a single No. 1 vote by editors, overall earned more spots in the Top 10 than Katrina, pushing it to the head of the pack.

It is a designation that caused internal consternation around the newsroom watercoolers.

"I can't believe Legacy is our No. 1 choice," one senior editor grumbled.

Well, our winning reader — the one from Kearns who did pick Legacy — says his choices were based on stories with lasting local impact and the ones that generated a lot of chatter on the airwaves.

"I just thought the Legacy Highway was more local," said Thomas, a UTA bus driver. "From a national standpoint, Katrina was a bigger story. But from a local standpoint, I think Legacy was a bigger story."

The Utah Katrina story, of course, was his second pick.

Overall, readers chose delivery of the life sentence to convicted wife-murderer Mark Hacking as the Top Story, a redemption for victim Lori and her family for 2004, when Lori disappeared and an exhaustive search for her body ended 75 days later in a garbage dump.

For her family, and apparently for readers who remember it still, Hacking's choice of hiding his crime smacked of ultimate indifference.

South Jordan resident Wendy Heimbigner, a teacher at Salt Lake Community College, named Hacking as the No. 1 story. Her other picks moved her into second place and $50 richer.

"It happened right here," she said, reflecting on the story, which received 107 first-place votes out of 144 participating readers. "So many of us were involved in hoping and praying and following the case, the search."

For the No. 2 slot, readers and editors were in sync and picked the devastation caused by flooding in Washington and Kane counties, feeling it was of such magnitude it will resonate for some time.

That was the opinion of Jim Bergstedt, a second-year law student and law clerk for the Utah Attorney General's Office who grabbed third place and $25 with his picks.

"I felt we as readers were all impacted by what took place in southern Utah," Bergstedt said, adding that the images captured by the media stay with him still. " I think we can all relate to the tragedy to one degree or another, and we are moved by these stories."

And, that — for many — is what choices are all about — being moved.


E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com