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Smart's Return Tops Busy Year of News in Utah

Smart's Return Tops Busy Year of News in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- She's alive.

And safe.

Those words, used last March to report Elizabeth Smart's remarkable return to her family after nine months, were simple yet powerful because few thought they'd ever be used to describe the girl many had long since given up for dead.

Stories about Elizabeth and her strange journey from Utah to California and back again -- allegedly at the lead of homeless couple Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee -- needed neither embellishment nor hyperbole to rivet readers across the country and the world.

Elizabeth Smart was the top story of 2003 in Utah, according to a survey of Associated Press newspaper and broadcast editors. Smart's return, a unanimous pick in Utah, was named the ninth top story of 2003 in the AP's national survey.

Nine months after she was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, 15-year-old Elizabeth was found in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy, walking with Mitchell and Barzee. The two were charged with kidnapping and sexual assault and are waiting as lawyers debate whether they are mentally fit for trial.

The year also saw Utah:

--Swear in its first female governor, Olene Walker, after then-Gov. Mike Leavitt accepted President Bush's nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. It didn't take long for the Republican Walker to cross members of her own party: She recently offered a state budget that would divert money from once-sacred road funds to pay for an increase in education money.

--Watch as the last remnants of the Olympic bribery scandal were wiped away in a judge's dramatic dismissal of charges against Salt Lake bid leaders Dave Johnson and Tom Welch, who were accused in one of the biggest scandals in Olympic history.

--Sweat through a heat wave that underscored the drought and kept thermometers in parts of the state at or above 100 for 10 days running.

Elizabeth Smart wasn't the only juvenile making news in 2003.

Parker Jensen, at age 12, became a symbol in the fight against government intervention in health care decisions after his family rejected the state's effort to force chemotherapy on him. Diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, the boy's parents resisted court-ordered chemotherapy, fearing the harsh treatments would stunt the boy's growth and leave him sterile.

Finally, state child welfare officials abandoned their fight, concluding the treatments would be ineffective if done without the support of the boy or his family. Critics of Utah's Division of Child and Family Services claimed victory, and at least one lawmaker vowed to introduce legislation to sharply curb the agency's power.

Wildfires again were a problem across the West in 2003, and Utah had its share. Tinder-dry conditions led to numerous blazes that scorched tens of thousands of acres across the state, including a controlled burn in the Uinta National Forest that jumped its boundaries and embarrassed fire officials.

Other stories that kept newsrooms busy in 2003:

--NBA basketball greats Karl Malone and John Stockton left the Utah Jazz after the 2002-03 season. Stockton retired and Malone signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Lakers -- breaking up one of the sport's legendary duos and forcing the Jazz to rebuild with younger players.

--Nuclear waste handler Envirocare decided to wait on a state review before deciding whether to accept so-called "hotter" nuclear waste, as bipartisan opposition grew against allowing such waste into Utah. The dispute peaked when Rep. Rob Bishop, a former Envirocare lobbyist, pushed a proposal to reclassify concentrated uranium tailings at an Ohio Superfund site so they could be shipped to Envirocare. The company withdrew its application following strong opposition from Walker, state regulators and residents.

--Salt Lake City and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints struck a deal to give the church full control over the Main Street plaza. But a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the deal promised to extend the debate.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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