The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The top headlines for Cleveland County for 2013 were the May tornadoes.
On May 19, several homes were damaged on Barker Drive near 168th Avenue Northeast and East Indian Hills Road and at 164th and Franklin Road after a tornado touched down on Lake Thunderbird in Norman around 6 p.m.
The spring storm packed a single tornado carrying hail and strong winds, injuring at least six people, with three in critical condition.
Several people lost their homes on 156th Avenue Northeast and East Franklin Road.
“I saw the tail of the storm coming toward me, so I drove to the casino,” resident Kenneth Lastinger said.
The only thing left standing was his porch. As he sorted through debris in his yard, he said he was glad his dog weathered the storm.
“He made it through in the demolished, blown-away house,” he said. “Praise the Lord.”
Less than 24 hours later, another tornado ripped through the area. On May 20, one of the most powerful tornadoes to ever hit Oklahoma formed near Newcastle at approximately 2:45 p.m.
At 3:01 p.m., a tornado emergency was issued for Moore and south Oklahoma City. Within minutes, the EF-5 tornado began carving its way through Moore leaving 24 dead, including seven children, and at least $2 billion in damages.
The tornado dissipated at 3:36 p.m. over Lake Stanley Draper.
Entertainment: Shortly after the tornado, several musicians hosted benefit concerts. The first was hosted by native Oklahoman Blake Shelton, “Healing in the Heartland,” which raised more than $6 million.
The concert was in Oklahoma City, and proceeds from ticket sales went to the United Way of Central Oklahoma. Shelton headlined the televised concert, which also included performances by Miranda Lambert, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire and Rascal Flatts, along with Usher, Darius Rucker and Luke Bryan.
A second concert was hosted in Norman during the summer by Moore native Toby Keith. “Toby Keith’s Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert” on July 6 raised approximately $2 million that was donated to tornado relief through the United Way of Central Oklahoma’s May Tornadoes Relief Fund.
The star-studded lineup for the eight-hour concert that took place at the University of Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium included Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Willie Nelson, Sammy Hagar, Ronnie Dunn, Mel Tillis, John Anderson, Krystal Keith, Kellie Coffey, Wade Hayes and Carrie Underwood (via satellite from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville).
Television personality Storme Warren emceed the day. Also on hand to help introduce artists were Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, former OU and Dallas Cowboys football coach Barry Switzer, current OU football head coach Bob Stoops and OU athletic director Joe Castiglione.
The event marked the largest number of paid attendees for a concert in the stadium’s history, with approximately 60,000 in attendance.
Cleveland County: The most notable story from the courthouse was in October when attorney and former legislator Thad Balkman of Norman was named by Gov. Mary Fallin to serve as a district court judge for Cleveland County.
Balkman will serve out the term of District Judge Tom Lucas, who retired Aug. 1 at age 79, with a little more than a year left in his term.
The newly selected judge said that he intends to run for a full four-year term in the fall.
Courts: One of the most watched cases in Cleveland County in 2013 was the trial of former University of Oklahoma Professor Dwain Pellebon.
In 2011, Pellebon, 56, was charged with felony chid sexual abuse.
This November, a Cleveland County jury found Pellebon not guilty on all counts — three counts of child sex abuse and six counts of lewd or indecent proposals to children.
The eight-man, four-woman jury took four hours to deliberate and came to a final verdict after two weeks of testimony.
City of Norman: Changes to the Lindsey Street design made big headlines.
The design includes adding a continuous, raised center median with landscaping (triple canopy), mid-block pedestrian crossings, U-turns at intersections and mid-block, 5-foot sidewalks, colorized bike lanes and the addition of bike parking.
The city, responding to suggestions from the University of Oklahoma, has agreed on these common ideas for safety and aesthetic improvements for West Lindsey Street.
In dispute is whether Lindsey Street should be four lanes all the way from 24th Avenue Southwest to Berry Road or if it should transition at Wylie Road to two lanes each way with wider bike lanes and transition lanes for buses and turning off into businesses.
Most controversial was whether any of the intersections should be managed with a roundabout rather than a traditional signal light.
Early proposals from the university’s Institute for Quality Communities suggested three roundabouts along Lindsey. However, in October, Norman City Council members concluded by consensus to take roundabout considerations off the table.
University of Oklahoma: Students, parents and university officials couldn’t stop talking money when OU announced its plan to adopt a flat-rate tuition policy based on OU’s 15-credit hour rate for tuition and not increase in-state tuition beginning the fall semester 2013.
Under the new policy, students who enroll in up to 21 hours pay for only 15 hours. However, the same goes for students who enroll in only 12 hours; they, too, must pay for 15 hours.
Half of the schools in the Big 12 already had flat-rate tuition when OU implemented its new policy, including Baylor University, University of Texas and Texas A&M University. Additionally, most of the Big Ten universities have flat-rate tuition plans.
President David L. Boren said the change in OU’s tuition policy would support the university’s goal of helping students graduate sooner while getting the best value for their tuition fees and dollars.
Yet, opinions varied from little concern from freshmen who could easily adapt their schedules to the new policy to disappointment from parents whose children would not need to take 15 hours to graduate.
The flat-rate tuition policy offers exemptions to students who need fewer than 15 hours to graduate or students who study abroad and do not have access to 15-plus hours.
Additionally, in conjunction with the new tuition policy, the university developed a Work Assistance Scholarship program that provides additional scholarship funds to students who document work patterns of 25 or more hours per week.
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