2003: America goes to war and Auburn searches for missing girl

A look back at the aughts
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Journal Staff Writer
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The year 2003 was an eventful one as America went to war in Iraq, California Gov. Gray Davis was recalled and Folsom Dam Road was closed due to terrorist threat concerns. We also saw Auburn get a new city manager in Bob Richardson and declared our town the Endurance Capital of the World. Much more happened in 2003, so take a look and remember what a busy year ’03 was. January: Auburn agreed to hire Lemon Grove’s City manager, Bob Richardson, as its own for a starting salary of $110,496 per year on a five-year contract. The Foresthill Bridge got its Hollywood close-up one more time as the DVD release of the action spy film “XXX” hit the shelves. Budget concerns troubled the Auburn Union Elementary School District as it addressed making cuts of $1 million, which included possible layoffs. February: The country looked on in horror as seven astronauts died when the space shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas, raining debris for hundreds of miles. Placer County announced it would be the future home of a California State University, Sacramento branch campus as Eli Board, owner of the Placer Ranch Development site in south Placer donated 250 acres to the university. Some 18,000 vehicles a day had to find a new route as the government closed down Folsom Dam Road due to terrorist concerns. March: The war in Iraq got underway as the U.S. armed forces launched air strikes against Saddam Hussein and his regime. Lake of the Pines-based Forest Lake Christian won its first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section Division V varsity girls high school basketball title by upsetting heavily-favored Ripon Christian. City officials and other dignitaries got a close-up look at the new Placer County Jail expansion during a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour. April: American troops stormed into Baghdad, Iraq and liberated the Iraqi citizens from Saddam Hussein’s rule. Scott Peterson pleaded not guilty to killing his 27-year-old wife, Laci, and his unborn son Conner, in a case that grabbed headlines worldwide. Parents rejoiced as the Auburn Union Elementary School District voted unanimously to keep all district schools open for the 2003-04 school year. May: Placer edged out Riverside as the fastest-growing county in 2002. President Bush declared on an aircraft carrier the end of the war in Iraq. Placer Union gave the green light for the construction of the new Foresthill High School at a cost of $13.2 million. Classified employees at the Auburn Union Elementary School District agreed to salary reductions to save jobs, but not all made the cut. June: Scott Jurek earned his fifth consecutive Western States Endurance Run victory in a time of 16 hours and 1 minute, and Ann Trason took her 14th endurance run victory. The median home price in Placer County hit an all-time record high of $309,000 for May, according to the Placer County Association of Realtors. The median price for a home in the Auburn/Newcastle area was $328,250. Highway 65 was backed up for miles as gamblers scrambled to get into the $215 million Thunder Valley Casino on its opening day. July: A tiny post office in Old Town Auburn celebrated 150 years, complete with a horse-drawn mail wagon and a lawmaker’s pledge that the building will be preserved. The median sales price of a single-family home in Placer County continued to set records as it reached $339,000 according to the Placer County Association of Realtors. Gov. Gray Davis became the nation’s first governor in 82 years to face a recall election. August: The California Highway Patrol’s Valley Division Air Operations Unit moved from the Auburn Airport to Sacramento’s Executive Airport. The Auburn community got a chance to see Placer High School’s newest facility, the 30,000-square-foot science, social science and music building during an open house. Auburn’s get-well card for famous Iraq prisoner-of-war Jessica Lynch was delivered to her hands, even though Andy Miller of the Auburn Disabled American Veterans organization was not able to present it personally. September: The Foresthill Bridge near Auburn celebrated 30 years with its own sign. The sign reads “Foresthill Bridge California’s Highest 730 Feet American River North Fork.” Law enforcement and concerned friends stepped up the search for 17-year-old Maidu High School senior Justine Vanderschoot, who disappeared from her Witt Road home in Christian Valley. Vanderschoot’s boyfriend, Danny Bezemer, and his roommate, Brandon Fernandez, were arrested on suspicion of murder. Auburn’s Black & White Ball, put on by the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, was projected to have the biggest crowd ever. October: Hundreds packed an Auburn church for the memorial service of 17-year-old Justine Vanderschoot of Christian Valley. Her body was found Sept. 18 in Applegate. Auburn’s Black & White Ball surpassed the 6,000-attendance mark for the first time, hitting 6,339 participants. Unhappy voters approved the recall of Gov. Gray Davis, electing Arnold Schwarzenegger — 72 percent of Placer County residents voted for the recall. A 10-year-old Ophir girl named Amber Fry with her 948-pound gourd squashed the largest- pumpkin-ever-grown record in Placer County. November: A U.S. Department of Labor report ranked Placer County No. 1 in the nation for employment growth. Foresthill’s new high school introduced its first principal, Sue Lunsford. A total of 24 DeWitt Center buildings constructed in the closing days of World War II were slated to be torn down as part of upgrade plans for the sprawling Placer County-owned facility. Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California. December: Placer County transitions from rural to more suburban as it passed its first noise ordinance. Christian Valley’s Placer Nature Center earned a prestigious state award for its leadership role in children’s environmental education. The county strongly considered layoffs to stop the bleeding of red ink due to state revenue deficiencies. California Treasurer Phil Angelides put the state’s stamp of approval on a new 80-unit affordable housing development in Auburn. Andrew DiLuccia can be reached at