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A look back at 2020's big stories

There was never much of a question about what the biggest story of 2020 would be.

COVID-19’s spread around the world caused massive problems that we are still very much dealing with. But there were other stories, as well. Here are three big stories from 2020 that weren’t COVID-19.

Oil price collapse

In March, the oil and gas industry was hit with a double-whammy: a drop in demand because of the global pandemic and a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. That caused the price of a barrel of oil to plummet from more than $50 per barrel in January to nearly nothing by early May. Prices have rebounded to between $30 and $40 per barrel.

The price drop caused massive economic problems throughout the Bakken, driving both Whiting Oil and Gas and Oasis Petroleum into bankruptcy. Layoffs followed, as well, and nearly every oil and gas company cut its capital spending for 2020 in the wake of the collapse.

School reorganization

The seeds of the reorganization vote in December were planted last fall. That was when a the boards for the districts that served Williston came to an impasse on sharing costs for an expansion to Williston High School. In the wake of that, a recall petition was filed against two board members in Williams County Public School District No. 8. The challengers — Chris Jundt and Sarah Williams — won seats in February.

After the results of a study of the districts that serve Williams County the boards of District 8 and Williston Public School District No. 1 agreed to negotiate a reorganization plan. The plan was originally approved in July, then OK’d by a Williams County committee in September and a the North Dakota Board of Public Education in October. The plan was OK’d by voters in December and Williston Basin School District No. 007 will open July 1.

Cases wrap up

Despite jury trials being shut down for weeks this spring because of COVID-19, multiple high-profile cases from 2019 came to a close this year.

Four people charged in connection with a homicide took plea deals. In May, Samuel Hamilton pleaded guilty to a class A felony count of negligent homicide and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was accused of killing a Williston High School student in an April 2019 car crash. Ian Laboyd, who was accused in November 2019 of murder and attempted murder, pleaaded guilty in October to manslaughter and aggravated assault and was also sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Also in October, Tank McMillin pleaded guilty to a class A felony count of child abuse and was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. He had been arrested in April 2019 and accused of child abuse after the death of his newborn son in a Williston hotel room.

In November, Rasul Shaw Jr. pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and was sentenced to time served. He was arrested after a fight in September 2019 and charged with murder in the death of another man.

In August, a jury convicted Justin Crites of manslaughter. He was accused of killing a man during a fight outside a Williston bar. A judge sentenced Crites to three years.

Celebrate New Year's Eve Eve at Spring Lake Park
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The Holiday Lights Drive at Spring Lake Park is about ready to wrap up, and it’s sending 2020 out with a bang!

Thursday, Dec. 31 is the last night to cruise through the park and check out all the holiday displays, but the park is throwing it’s final party of the year the night before, celebrating New Year’s Eve eve. CVB Events Coordinator Ashley Oyloe said the night is a chance for parents to take their kids out for some New Year’s celebrating, without having to keep them up until midnight.

“The whole point of this night is kind of for the kids to come out and have heir party, so even if the parents do want to go out on actual New Year’s Eve, the kids aren’t missing out on any of the fun.” Oyloe told the Williston Herald.

The party is the final “activity night” for the Lights Drive, visitors getting party hats, noise makers and other favors at the gate while supplies last. Unlike last year’s event, which featured a party in the Keelboat, this year Terry Gaudreau with TNT Fireworks will be putting on a small display at the park.

“We’re very excited and thankful to be working with Terry,” Oyloe said. “He always puts such a good show, I think be will be really happy.”

The fireworks are going to be a great show, but the night will also benefit a great cause. Throughout the month, various non-profits have been recipients of funds raised on particular nights. For New Year’s Eve Eve, Bras For a Cause will be the night’s beneficiaries. The organization holds events and fundraisers throughout the year, as well as helping at other local events, in order to raise money for those battling cancer.

“They’re such a great group of people, and they do so much for people in the area,” Oyloe said. “So we’re happy that this will help them to continue all the work they do.”

Gates open at 5:30 p.m. for the Lights Drive, with the fireworks show beginning around 8. Oyloe said people are welcome to enjoy the show from inside the park. There are multiple parking areas, but Oyloe asks that if you park to along the road to watch, please park along the right-hand side to allow other traffic to move. The park will remain open until 9:30 p.m.

Good news
Off-duty oilfield worker spots carbon monoxide leak
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SIDNEY — An off-duty oilfield worker stopping for dinner on his way home from work saved a restaurant owner a bit of a headache thanks to a bit of happy circumstance.

Technical Service Representative for ChampionX Cody Robinson had finished working for the day, and stopped by a mom and pop restaurant in Sidney to pick up some dinner on his way home one day in October. He still had on the safety gear he wears at well sites, including a gas monitor, which alerts him to noxious fumes coming out of a well.

While he was there waiting, that monitor, which he had clipped to his belt, went off. At first, Robinson thought nothing of it, and simply shut it off, thinking it had been some kind of a fluke.

But when the monitor went off a second time, he realized it was not. There was something in the restaurant causing it to go off. Robinson was able to tell with the monitor that the something was actually carbon monoxide gas.

Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It is also toxic and, depending on the degree and length of exposure, can lead to a range of symptoms starting from mild headaches on up to confusion, shortness of breath, brain damage, and, ultimately, death, if the concentrations are too great.

Cody, realizing the potential safety hazard to the business and its customers, went to talk to the restaurant owners about it. The owners seemed concerned, but there was also a language barrier, so Robinson couldn’t be sure they truly understood the situation. That’s when he decided to call in the Sidney fire Department to help him ensure the restaurant owners and its customers would be safe.

“I wanted to see this through because the owners of this restaurant are very kind people, and I did not want to see anyone get hurt,” Robinson said. “If there is something I can do or say to prevent a tragedy from happening, I will.”

The fire marshal confirmed that there was a leak in the restaurant and was able to locate the source as a cracked heat exchanger on the furnace. Fortunately, there were not many customers in the business at the time, and the problem was able to be quickly rectified.

Robinson said this type of problem is much more common than many realize, and encouraged people in general to get a carbon monoxide detector if they do not have one, and check the furnace operation prior to winter every year.

“Carbon monoxide is a silent killer, and this type of incident happens a lot more than people realize,” he said.

John Breed, manager of external communications for ChampionX, said Robinson’s behavior in the incident is what his company wants to see in its employees.

“We encourage the same behavior on personal time that we do on the job site,” he said. “So it is totally consistent with the culture we try to build, which encourages safety on and off the clock.”

Scoping it out
Time is near to put 2020 in rear view mirror
Grondahl inducted into ND Officials Hall of Fame
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Now that Christmas and all the excitement that goes with that season winds down, we can all look forward to what lies ahead.

One thing is certain, folks around the world will be happy to see 2020 wrap up.

The COVID-19 disaster is something we will all remember and the hope is for the new vaccines to be just what the doctor ordered.

An event of this magnitude will also signal a message that we must be prepared for anything in the future.

This opens the doors for young minds to step forward and our thoughts turn to those of former Williston students such as Kristi Anseth and Aaron Lynne.

These WHS alumni today work as college professors in the world of science.

They are guiding the young minds of those who will be leading us into the future.

Meanwhile, in looking back, this past year has been dominated by sad news.

Thanks to the pandemic major events, ranging from church to dining with families has been affected.

Being able to attend the funeral of a close friend makes one sad.

This scribe alone has lost four close personal friends, along with several others, to this vicious disease.

Who would have thought when this all began last March that it would end up on our doorstep.

The best thing we can all do is follow guidelines provided by knowledgeable officials and pray, that this will come to an end.


Most recently you have heard of the passing of former Williston High School administrators Del Easton and Bill Snyder.

Those who have been around a while no doubt remember these gentlemen who spent many years at WHS.

Easton worked as WHS high school principal and later served as superintendent.

However, Easton is perhaps best remembered for his work as founder of the Williston Coyote Foundation.

He not only was founder, he volunteered to guide this program along for a long stretch, providing a base for years to come.

Easton remained a resident of Williston and along with his wife were great supporters of this community.

One thing was certain, every time you would meet Easton you could be assured of a smile and a positive word.

Snyder was the long-time business manager for WHS.

We recall him working with the late Leon Olson, who was superintendent of schools when we arrived in Williston.

While Snyder worked more behind the scene, we know he, along with his wife made a difference.

Recently the Snyder family relocated to Bismarck.

We seize this opportunity to send out a Scope Salute to Easton and Snyder as they will be long remembered for being a part of WHS.


Along with friends being taken from us, how about the voice of Charlie Pride.

Country western lovers no doubt recall the voice of Kiss an Angel Good Morning.

Pride, who hails from Mississippi had ambition to become a professional baseball player.

Seeing that career come to a close, he spent time in western Montana where he sang for extra money and was discovered by the late Red Foley.

That career included a large number of No. 1 singles and his voice will live on for years to come.


Our hope is that things begin to get back to a somewhat normal, if that’s possible, as we begin 2021.

Each state has a number of restrictions and one can only hope the air is cleared for full steam ahead.

Until that time we can only do what is best for the safety of all concerned.

We know everyone wants to get out and resume a full schedule, but for now that just isn’t possible.


A Scope Salute is reserved for Williston native Larry Grondahl on his being tabbed for induction into the North Dakota High School Officials Hall of Fame.

Grondahl began officiating basketball during the 1976-77 season and continued blowing the whistle for 44 years, up to his retirement from the sport in 2020.

He worked games of all levels in North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota.

Along with his work on the court he also served as the secretary of the local association where he assigned officials for 30 years.

Grondahl becomes one of 154 officials inducted since 1965.

His plaque will hang with others at the Jamestown Civic Center.

Joining Grondahl this year is former Minot official Gary Cederstrom

Cederstrom, who recently retired from a stellar career as a major league baseball umpire, spent his off time back home in North Dakota on the hardcourt as an officials.

Over the years he also officiated many Teton games right here in Williston.


While we get close to wrapping up 2020 we must also send a Scope Salute to those involved in the Northwest North Dakota Community Foundation.

This group, headed up by former Williston Mayor Ward Koeser, has proven to be a big part of western North Dakota.

They also came up with forming the Relief Fund, giving necessary funds to groups to deal with COVID-19.

However, they couldn’t do it alone as generous folks from all levels have contributed to the funding process.

For that we send a Scope Salute to everyone who has a hand in the process.

Working to help others deserves a standing ovation.

Thomas A. Kvamme is a former resident and long time sports editor and columnist for the Herald. He can be reached at scopend@yahoo.com.

Donations sought for family displaced by fire
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A fire the day after Christmas displaced a Williston family.

The blaze gutted a residence on Energy Street in Williston and left a family homeless.

The family, a father, a mother, a 12-year-old girl, a 10-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl are safe, according to a post from the Williston Village Mobile Home and RV Park.

“They are needing things from personal essentials to bedding for the full size beds,” the post reads. “No furniture is required as we have helped them with those items.” The post also listed sizes for the family: The 12 year-old wears a m/l junior shirts, 9/10 pants and size 7.5 women’s shoe, the 10 yr old boy wears xl shirts, 12/14 pants, and size 3 boys shoes, while the 8-year-old wears an 8/10 youth shirt, size 8 jeans, and size 1.5 youth shoes.

The father wears XXL shirts, size 42 pants and size 10.5 shoes. The mother wears xxl shirts, size 18 pants and size 8 women’s shoe.

Donations are being accepted at the park’s office, 947 Energy Street in Williston.