2017 was a jam-packed year: it was heartwarming and heartbreaking; it was funny and angry; all in all, it was emotional. And we were here, covering it all.
Here are are what we thought were some of the year's top West Michigan stories of 2017:
#5 A Big visit to little Grandville: Vice President Mike Pence marched in the Grandville Fourth of July parade this year. It was a poorly kept secret that he would show up in the week leading up the event. Pence was vacationing in his home state of Indiana when West Michigan Congressman Bill Huizenga convinced his friend and mentor to make the trip up. The day was warm, and the event was energetic as Pence greeted the crowd, taking pictures and shaking hands.
#4 Problems at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans: 11 caregivers were criminally charged with falsifying records related to patient care at the facility. Most of those charges have since been dismissed because the court did not find reason for those 'criminal' charges. After a Watchdog investigation, caregiver Laurie Botbyle, was convicted for shoving an 83-year-old dementia patient in a wheelchair, injuring him in the process. After our reporting, staffing levels show improvement at the much-maligned veterans' home.
#3 A tragedy at a Lowell horse barn: 13 therapy horses are killed in an arson fire at the Barn for Equine Learning in April. Payton Mellema was suspected, and he eventually pleaded guilty. He was sentenced in December to three years in a mental health facility.
#2 Continued water worries in the Rockford area: In the 1970's, shoemaker, Wolverine Worldwide, dumped chemical waste north of Grand Rapids. At the time, this was legal. But today, many in the Plainfield Township area claim those PFAS chemicals have contaminated groundwater in their wells. Several residents have filed lawsuits, and water testing and legal battles continue.
#1: Justice for Rebekah Bletsch: Jeffrey Willis was tried and convicted in November for the killing of Rebekah Bletsch. The wife and mother was found shot to death while she was jogging along Automobile Road in Muskegon County in 2014. Willis still faces charges for the kidnapping of a teenage girl and the murder of Jessica Heeringa, a gas station clerk, whose body has never been found. The trial the Heeringa murder will start in March 2018.
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