- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A hard-hitting tornado in Delmont and an aborted attempt to launch a marijuana resort were big news in South Dakota in 2015, but the year’s top story may have been a tragedy in Platte.

Six members of the Westerhuis family were found dead in the ashes of the family home in September, but authorities said it was no accident. Their investigation found that Scott Westerhuis had shot his wife and four children, then set the family home ablaze before killing himself in an act that may have been motivated by financial issues.

Westerhuis, the business manager of Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, had just learned that the co-op was losing a $4.3 million federal contract for a program that seeks to improve Native Americans’ college readiness. Financial problems and accounting failures were cited as the reasons.

An investigation into the deaths continues.

Other notable stories in the state:

DELMONT TORNADO: A tornado ripped through the southeastern South Dakota town of Delmont in May, wiping out four blocks and damaging or destroying 84 structures in the area. No one was killed, but nine people suffered injuries and the tornado leveled the town’s new fire hall and a 100-year-old church. The National Weather Service rated the twister an EF-2, with a peak wind speed of 130 mph. About 200 people lived in Delmont before the tornado, and about 75 residents left the town for good after their homes were destroyed.


SCHOOL SHOOTING IN HARRISBURG: Authorities arrested a 16-year-old Harrisburg High School student in late September, saying he entered the office of Principal Kevin Lein and shot him in the right arm. Two other school officials tackled Buhl and held him down until sheriff’s deputies arrived. Lein was back on the job the next day. Buhl is awaiting trial on charges of attempted murder and the commission of a felony while armed with a firearm.


PRESIDENTIAL VISIT: President Barack Obama addressed the graduating class of Watertown’s Lake Area Technical Institute in May, completing his quest to visit all 50 states during his presidency. Obama is only the fourth president to reach every state, joining Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He told the graduates he was “saving the best for last.” He used the speech to promote his proposal for free community college.


BOSWORTH CONVICTED: A South Dakota jury convicted Annette Bosworth in May of election law violations related to her failed run for one of South Dakota’s U.S. Senate seats. Bosworth was convicted of perjury and filing false documents in connection with her petitions of candidacy, but avoided prison time when a judge handed down a suspended sentence. A state board voted in September to revoke Bosworth’s medical license, but she appealed. A Minnehaha County judge is allowing her to continue to practice medicine while the case is reviewed.


FLANDREAU MARIJUANA RESORT: The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, which earlier announced it was building the nation’s first marijuana resort, burned its crop in November after federal officials had warned of a possible raid. The tribe had said the project could generate up to $2 million a month in profit, but state officials and many residents of Flandreau opposed the project.


ROAD AND BRIDGE FUNDING: State lawmakers in March approved legislation that raised road and bridge funding through increases in fuel taxes, fees and other assessments. The law signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard is raising more than $80 million in its first year.


PINE RIDGE SUICIDES: A federal agency in November denied the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s application for a $3.6 million grant that would pay to continue the only suicide prevention outreach program on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. At least 20 people killed themselves on the reservation in 2015, yet the program is due to end in December due to lack of funding. Nearly 1,000 suicide attempts were recorded on Pine Ridge between 2004 and 2013.


HOCKEY GAME INCIDENT: A Philip man accused of using racial slurs and spilling beer on American Indian students during a January game in Rapid City was cleared in September of a disorderly conduct charge. Native American groups said the incident highlighted racial issues in the city, but a magistrate judge ruled the spill was unintentional and the city never proved Trace O’Connell said any racially charged words near the students.


ATHLETICS TRANSGENDER POLICY: South Dakota’s high school activities association in December finalized changes to its policy on transgender student participation in athletics, saying an independent hearing officer will decide on a student’s request to play on the team of their choice. Some lawmakers had expressed concern over the standards, and the policy may face another challenge in 2016 from Republican lawmakers who tried and failed to block it last session.

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