Joseph Jakubowski mailed a rambling, angry manifesto calling for societal change to President Donald Trump on April 4.
Later that day, he burglarized a Janesville gun shop, taking 18 firearms. He burned his SUV on a rural road and then disappeared.
The story of the 33-year-old’s crime and flight captured the community’s attention. The Gazette’s news staff voted it the No. 1 story of 2017.
Local, state and federal authorities, concerned that the Janesville man might use those weapons in an act of mass violence, at first warned schools they might be a target, then said churches and government offices might be at risk.
The search went nationwide. Teams of heavily armed officers in SWAT gear were seen around the greater Janesville area, checking out every tip about where Jakubowski might be hiding.
A landowner in rural western Wisconsin found him April 13, camping on the man’s land, and called Vernon County authorities. Jakubowski was captured at the campsite the next day.
As the year came to an end, Jakubowski went to trial in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, where he admitted to the burglary, and a judge sentenced him to 14 years in prison. He still faces charges in Rock County Court.
Only six weapons were recovered, authorities say. Jakubowski has said he got rid of them during his journey but doesn’t know exactly where, according to one account, but he also has implied he knows where they are.
“I ain’t givin' 'em back,” he told a federal judge at his sentencing last week.
Jakubowski’s attorney, Michael Murphy, said Jakubowski didn’t plan to hurt anyone and only wanted to live “off the grid” somewhere out West.
Here are the rest of the top 10 local stories of the year.
The huge, empty General Motors plant has been sold to a new owner that likely will tear down the decades-old auto facility on the city’s south side—all 4 million-plus square feet of it.
The announcement that brownfield redeveloper Commercial Development Company had bought the plant came late in December, just a couple of days before Christmas. Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag called the news a “Christmas gift.”
St. Louis-based Commercial Development says it plans to spend “tens of millions” of dollars razing the plant and readying the nearly 300-acre site for future industrial development. The plant could be demolished next spring—and some sites could be positioned for development by late 2018 or early 2019, the new owner said.
General Motors closed a chapter in its history in late 2015 when it came out of union negotiations to announce that it had decided to pull the plug permanently on the assembly plant. GM had shuttered the plant in 2009 in the depths of the Great Recession, placing it on “standby” status for several years.
The plant's sale—The Gazette’s second-biggest story in 2017—alters the narrative of Janesville’s history. The focus now shifts from what the GM site once embodied to what it can become in the future.
Last year was a record-setter for heroin and opioid overdose deaths in Janesville—and then 2017 topped it.
At least 14 people have died from overdoses in Janesville this year, police say. At least 61 overdoses have been reported to police, but police have said that number is always going to be underreported.
A board listing the names of those who have died hangs in the office of the Janesville Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit. It serves as a “grim reminder” of the community's losses, police have said.
The opioid Fentanyl has caused many of Janesville’s deaths.
Community members have stepped up in the face of tragedy. One Milton mother lost her daughter to alcoholism but was inspired to teach others about addiction and to learn how to administer naloxone, which helps reverse drug overdoses.
She saved a man’s life nine days later.
Still, those who provide addiction treatment have decried the lack of affordable options, and one treatment director in Beloit called Rock County’s situation “abysmal.” Others point to the improvements that have been made in recent years, even if things are not where they could be.
The heroin and opioid crisis did not start in 2017—and it does not appear it will end in 2018.
Milton School District officials believed a less-expensive proposal to build a new high school would persuade voters to approve a new facilities referendum one year after a more expensive option failed.
They were wrong.
Despite trimming about $17 million off this year's referendum, voters rejected the $69.9 million proposal by a wider margin than they did in 2016. It left the district in a familiar position, and it appears district residents won't approve a plan for a new high school anytime soon.
School officials argued a new building was necessary to solve overcrowding. A new high school would affect all grade levels because the district would redistribute students and clear space elsewhere, they said.
But 55 percent of voters didn't see it that way, and now the district finds itself at a facilities crossroads once again.
After weeks of community discussion and a nearly five-hour meeting, the Janesville City Council voted 6-1 in March to remove the historic Monterey Dam.
The council agreed with city staff’s assertion that removal would be cheaper in the long run than continuing to repair the damaged dam. The council also agreed the affected shoreline could be properly restored and maintained.
Concerned residents packed the meeting room. More than 35 spoke, and most favored keeping the dam.
Since the council’s decision, a group of residents has formed a nonprofit group, the Monterey Dam Association, to fight to save the dam. The association has filed petitions in Rock County Court and with the state Department of Natural Resources to reverse the council's decision, and the ensuing litigation could delay the dam’s removal until 2019.
Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden inserted himself into a Janesville police investigation of an underage drinking party in August, leading to an investigation of the sheriff by the state Division of Criminal Investigation.
The state found no criminal wrongdoing, but District Attorney David O’Leary said the longtime sheriff should have known better than to interfere with an investigation.
Spoden’s son was among the 2017 Craig High School graduates at the party and was a close friend of another young man, who was critically injured, apparently when jumping into a pool, police reports indicate.
Police investigated, and that’s when Spoden contacted the investigating officer and, in strongly worded text messages, suggested police back off because no crime had been committed.
At one point, Spoden warned the officer that prominent people were involved, and that could lead to problems for the officer and his family, the officer wrote in his report.
Spoden later told The Gazette he did nothing wrong and that he was advocating for the partygoers and their parents, who were saddened by the injury of their friend.
Rock County Board member Rick Richard on Dec. 14 submitted a resolution calling for the board to censure Spoden.
The resolution was referred to the board’s public safety and justice committee, which has yet to discuss it.
The city of Janesville hadn’t seen a murder case in three years, but in 2017, police found themselves with two on their hands.
The second case was the death of Christine Scaccia-Lubeck, 43, who died after being stabbed 33 times, police said.
The body was discovered Dec. 9 at the victim’s home, 426 S. River St. on the near west side, but indications are the assault happened a day earlier.
Julian D. Collazo, 21, a gang member from Texas who apparently had been in Janesville a short time, was arrested the night of Dec. 9 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
He is expected to be extradited to face a charge of first-degree intentional homicide in Rock County.
A Rock County criminal complaint suggests Scaccia-Lubeck invited Collazo into her home, but the document also indicates Collazo stole cash and other items from the house, along with Scaccia-Lubeck’s car.
Arrested with Collazo was Nicole R. Kazar, 23, whom Collazo knew before the stabbing and who was in the driver’s seat when police found them in Missouri. Kazar has not been charged locally, but she and Collazo face the same charge in Missouri: first-degree tampering with a motor vehicle.
Janesville’s ARISE riverfront revitalization might be living proof that not all consultant studies end up collecting dust on the shelves at City Hall.
In late fall, the city capped off its first phase of the ARISE strategy by building a terraced, landscaped town square along South River Street, complete with a floating dock on the Rock River. The town square stands in an area between Milwaukee and Court streets that was once covered by a concrete parking plaza over the river. The city finished removing the parking plaza earlier this year.
The work is tangible evidence that ARISE has gotten a foothold downtown. The city’s work, plus a solid start to private investment in projects linked to ARISE, makes the revitalization effort one of 2017’s top stories.
The city plans to move forward on other stages of ARISE, continuing work to turn a section of South River Street into a “festival street” that can have traffic shut down for events.
This year, a group of private stakeholders called ARISEnow launched a fundraising campaign to push private-side projects linked to ARISE. The group announced in December that it had raised $3 million in private donations for ARISE projects, including a pedestrian bridge over the river.
ARISEnow says it hopes to raise as much as $10 million for various ARISE projects.
A Gazette investigation revealed a handful of nonprofit CEOs in Rock County earn pay that significantly exceeds the statewide going rate for similarly sized nonprofits.
Most notably, Tom Den Boer, CEO of the YMCA of Northern Rock County, was paid $270,000 in 2015—about 10 percent of the Y’s annual spending budget.
Den Boer’s pay was three times higher than the average total pay for similarly-sized nonprofits, according to a 2015 wage survey of Wisconsin nonprofits, and he earned more than twice what the similarly sized Beloit YMCA pays its CEO.
The investigation revealed a handful of local nonprofit leaders earned higher-than-average salaries—but Den Boer’s pay was by far the highest for all community-based charities in Rock County.
Some nonprofit officials defended what their leaders are paid, saying the groups' volunteer boards examine regional or national compensation surveys to determine leadership pay that’s appropriate and competitive. Other nonprofit leaders suggested The Gazette should focus more on how nonprofits respond to needs in their communities and less on what the groups’ leaders are paid.
The Gazette dug into nonprofit finances after receiving emails and letters from residents who had urged an investigation. After The Gazette’s report ran in early December, more residents contacted the newspaper to request continued scrutiny of nonprofits.
The Gazette plans to continue to track the finances of local nonprofits—including what the groups’ leaders are paid.
10. Shooting death
The first murder investigation of the year centered on a house at 116 S. Franklin St. on the near west side.
Barquis D. McKnight, 32, of 238 Beach St., Beloit, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting death Eddie L. Jones, 28, of Markham, Illinois, behind the house shortly after midnight May 28.
McKnight also was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon.
The reason for the shooting remains murky, but McKnight and Jones were among several people who had gathered at the house, and the two had argued, one witness told police.
McKnight has pleaded not guilty and said in court that he’s innocent.
McKnight’s lawyer said at a September court hearing that the evidence is more consistent with a struggle for a gun than an intentional shooting of one person by another.
McKnight has since gotten a new attorney. A three-day trial is scheduled to start Jan. 22.