SALT LAKE CITY — An American Fork dad spent a school year embarrassing his teenage son, standing outside his home in a different costume each weekday and waving at the school bus.

A Vernal man involved in a dispute over a $25 medical bill decided to settle the debt by unloading 2,500 pennies onto the receptionist's counter at the clinic.

And an outbreak of horse herpes forced contestants in the Davis County Sheriff's Mounted Posse Junior Queen Contest to ride around the fairgrounds arena on stick horses.

"It's kind of weird, but you can't really help that the disease is going around," said former posse queen Savanna Steed in May.

These were among the most read and talked about stories published in the Deseret News in 2011. The three stories, each lighthearted and quirky in their own way, attracted national attention and proved once again that regular people doing extraordinary or unusual things is a recipe for a special news story.

Another example of the extraordinary in action came in September, when a group of bystanders lifted a car to free a motorcyclist who had been pinned under it during an accident in Logan.

"It's not expected to risk your life for a complete stranger," Brandon Wright, the 21-year-old motorcyclist, said three days later. "That's what makes them special."

The Utah State University student was leaving campus on Sept. 12 when he swerved to avoid being hit by a vehicle that was pulling out of a parking lot. Realizing he was in trouble, Wright laid his bike down in an effort to protect himself.

The motorcycle collided with a BMW, and Wright was pinned beneath the car. The motorcycle burst into flames, causing the car to catch fire as well.

That's when a group of bystanders rushed to help. Several of them lifted the car, allowing another to pull the man to safety.

"They put their lives on the line for me," Wright said. "They stepped up and took a huge personal risk."

Risk is what organizers of the Davis County Sheriff's Mounted Posse Junior Queen Contest were trying to avoid in May, and they came up with a creative way to do so.

Earlier that month, 415 horses brought to Utah from 19 states were exposed to the equine herpes virus during a regional cutting horse competition held at the Golden Spike Arena in Ogden.

More than a dozen horses had confirmed cases of the disease, resulting in a quarantine that forced event organizers to postpone the Davis County junior queen contest.

Instead of delaying the show further, the horses were replaced with stick horses and contestants skipped around the arena instead of riding.

"Instead of using horses, we are testing the girls' knowledge and ability to adapt," posse member Kim Jensen said.

Dale Price adapted to a change in his son's school bus route — which conveniently took the bus past his home — by dressing up as a pirate, mermaid, a Jedi and 160-plus other costumes and waving at the bus each day as it passed.

"When he did it the first day, I was in shock," said Price's 16-year-old son, Rain.

It started out as a prank, a way for Price to have a little fun and playfully embarrass his son. But it turned into a yearlong event, with a new costume each day.

"He always brought smiles to kids on the bus," said Myron Carlson, the school bus driver.

In May, Jason West brought smiles to a handful of people in the waiting room of the Basin Clinic in Vernal when he paid a disputed medical bill in pennies.

West said he had already paid a $25 charge for a previous visit, and that a billing clerk at the clinic had refused to help him when he tried to have his questions resolved. So he went to the clinic May 27 with 14 pounds of pennies and asked the clerk, "Do you take cash?"

"She very haughtily said, 'Well, yes we do,'" West said. "So I said, 'Lucky for me, I happen to have it on me.'"

Police say the pennies were "strewn about the counter and the floor," and that West's actions "served no legitimate purpose."

West, 38, was charged with disorderly conduct in the incident, but he said he doesn't regret his penny protest.

"I would say that I had a legitimate purpose," he said. "It was to resolve a billing dispute and pay it, and to protest how I'd been treated."

West said he wanted to show his frustration for what he says was poor customer service, and he wanted to have fun doing it.

"I did stand-up comedy in college,” he said. “This is how I deal with stress. I make jokes."

Year in politics

Two candidates with Utah ties spent much of 2011 playing the political game at the highest level — running for president of the United States.

In April, Mitt Romney announced he was forming an exploratory committee for a 2012 presidential run. Romney, a favorite son in Utah for spearheading the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, made his second presidential run official in June.

"In the campaign to come, the American ideals of economic freedom and opportunity need a clear and unapologetic defense, and I intend to make it — because I have lived it," Romney said during his June 2 announcement in Stratham, N.H.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. officially threw his hat in the ring on June 21 at Liberty State Park, N.J., with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

"I don't think you need to run down someone's reputation to run for the office of president," Huntsman said, acknowledging his respect for the other Republicans in the race as well as the Democrat he served under as U.S. ambassador to China, President Barack Obama.

"(Obama) and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love," he said. "But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president, not who's the better American."

A third candidate with Utah ties is making a presidential run on a smaller scale. Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson last month announced the creation of a new political party, the Justice Party, and that he would be that party's presidential candidate.

"If you put passion and organization together, we can overcome any of these candidates who have all the money but really lack ideas," Anderson said.

Locally, politics started to sound like an unhealthy buffet as elected officials served up ideas such as the pizza-slice and doughnut plans for congressional redistricting.

Every 10 years, lawmakers must redraw congressional, legislative and state school board boundaries to reflect the most recent census.

This year's congressional map, which included the state's new 4th District seat, was harshly criticized by Democrats and others. The state Democratic Party has threatened to sue, saying the re-drawn districts disenfranchise Democratic voters.

As 2011 comes to a close, several high-profile Republicans and an incumbent Democrat have announced their intentions to run for the 4th District seat.

On Dec. 15, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, announced that he will jump from the 2nd District where he has served the past 10 years to the state's new district to seek re-election — a district in which he does not live.

On the Republican side, state legislators Rep. Stephen Sandstrom of Orem and Rep. Carl Wimmer of Herriman already have kicked off their campaigns, as has attorney Jay Cobb. Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love also is running but has yet to make a formal announcement.

Earlier in 2011, state lawmakers took on Utah's open-records laws, passing and then repealing sweeping changes to the Government Records Access and Management Act after the media and the public rallied against the bill, HB477.

Gov. Gary Herbert and GOP leaders agreed to appoint a working group made up of government, media and public representatives, including lawyers and technology experts, to examine the 20-year-old act.

Year in sports

For sports fans in Utah, whether they wear red or blue, 2011 was the year of The Jimmer.

Jimmer Fredette, the 6-foot-2 BYU guard who isn't afraid to hoist up shots from anywhere on the court — and makes them most of the time — achieved celebrity status in 2011, leading the Cougars to school-record 32 victories and their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1981.

Fredette led the nation in scoring during his senior season at BYU, averaging 28.9 points per game, and won just about every award given in college basketball, including national player of the year.

In June, it was announced that Jimmermania was spreading to the West Coast when Fredette was selected by the Sacramento Kings with the 10th pick of the NBA draft.

In his first three games of his rookie season, delayed and shortened by the NBA lockout, Fredette has averaged 10 points and 2.7 assists in nearly 25 minutes per game, while shooting 42.9 percent and 33.3 percent from 3-point range.

The University of Utah also had plenty to cheer about in 2011 as the Utes began their first season as members of the Pac-12 Conference.

After an 0-4 start in conference play, the Utes made a run at the South Division title by winning their next four, before falling to Colorado to close out the regular season.

Utah finished 7-5 and will face Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl on Saturday.

In February, longtime Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan called it quits after 22-plus seasons. The reason, according to the 68-year-old coach: "It just seemed it was time to do it."

Longtime and loyal assistant coach Phil Johnson also stepped down Feb. 10, saying, "I came with (Sloan), and I'll leave with him."

The decision came after a well-publicized locker room clash with star point guard Deron Williams. Days later, the Jazz shipped out Williams in a trade with the New Jersey Nets.

Year in weather

With snowpack in the mountains east of the Salt Lake Valley between 130 percent and 140 percent of average, followed by wet and cool temperatures in early spring, Salt Lake County officials were preparing for the worst.

Fortunately, the weather warmed gradually, resulting in a few waterways spilling their banks but avoiding major flooding that officials worried would rival that of 1983.

State and local officials also coordinated their flood-prevention efforts, actions that later were credited for saving several homes and businesses.

Earlier this month, hurricane-force winds wreaked havoc on northern Utah, particularly in Davis County, blowing over semitrailers, toppling trees, downing power lines and closing schools.

Following the Dec. 1 storm, Gov. Herbert deployed the Utah National Guard to help with the cleanup in anticipation of another windstorm. Herbert also sent workers from the Utah Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety to several cities — including Bountiful, Centerville, Farmington and Kaysville — in the hopes of avoiding property damage and personal injury from flying debris left from the first storm.

Several LDS Church services in Bountiful and Centerville were canceled Dec. 4 so their congregations could assist with the cleanup.

Year in crime

For Elizabeth Smart, 2011 marked "the ending of a very long chapter and the beginning of a very beautiful chapter," she said.

On May 25, Smart smiled as she talked to reporters outside the Frank E. Moss Federal Courthouse, where Brian David Mitchell, the man convicted of kidnapping her at knifepoint nearly nine years earlier, was sentenced to life in federal prison.

"I am so thrilled with the results that came out today, the life sentence. I couldn't be happier," Smart said.

Before the sentence was handed down, Smart was able to address Mitchell in the courtroom.

"I don't have very much say to you. I know exactly what you did, and I know that you know what you did was wrong, and you did it with a full knowledge of that," she said.

"I want you to know that I have a wonderful life now. No matter what you do, you will never affect me again. You took away nine months of my life that can never be returned. But I know that in this life or the next, you will be held responsible for what you have done, and I hope you're ready for that when it comes."

For family and friends of Susan Powell, 2011 brought no such closure. Dec. 6 marked the second anniversary of the West Valley City mother's disappearance.

In September, West Valley City police announced a break in the case that led them to the Topaz Mountain area near Delta. Police first said human remains had been found, though it turned out to be charred pieces of wood.

As that search came to a close, it was announced that Steven Powell, the father-in-law of the missing woman, was arrested in Washington state following the discovery of "thousands of images of females being videotaped without their knowledge" in the man's home — including some images of Susan Cox Powell.

Steven Powell also was charged with child pornography for images police say he took of young neighbor girls in the bathtub and on the toilet.

"This case has been and continues to be a top priority for the West Valley City Police Department and the team of detectives assigned to it full time," the department said in a statement released earlier this month. "The investigation continues to progress with information developed from leads and other relevant evidence."

Susan's husband, Josh Powell, has been named as a person of interest in the case. Josh Powell told police he took his two young sons on a late-night camping trip on a cold night Dec. 6, 2009, in Tooele County. When he returned the next day, his wife was gone.

Another longtime legal battle came to a close on Aug. 4, when polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs was convicted by a Texas jury of assaulting two girls he took in "spiritual marriages" when they were 12 and 14 years old.

The verdict came following a dramatic trial in which the 55-year-old leader of the Utah-based Fundamentalist LDS Church fired his attorneys and chose to represent himself.

On Aug. 9, Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison.

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