Austin Peck of the Goodyear Fire Department

Austin Peck of the Goodyear Fire Department died at 35 of a rare cancer. He spent his last year battling cancer and the insurance industry.

Those who sell ribbon and giant scissors had a big year, as 2019 was booming for new West Valley businesses and residents.

But all was not bright, as the West Valley View’s “Top 19 Stories of 2019” shows:

1) Austin Peck

The West Valley mourned the passing of Austin Peck, a Goodyear fire engineer who died from a rare form of occupational cancer. He was 35.

Peck spent his last year fighting not only cancer but also the insurance industry. He had a lengthy battle trying to get approved for worker’s compensation.

Peck’s uncle, Scottsdale Fire Chief Tom Shannon, spoke at a Goodyear City Council meeting in September, shortly after his nephew’s death.

“The fire service is a ferocious family,” Shannon said. “We come together during difficult times. He never went without a paycheck. The family was overwhelmed by the support he received from the city.”

Peck is survived by his wife, Erin, and two daughters, Marley and Harper. 

2) Geier grounded

Goodyear Police Chief Jerry Geier was fired Friday, Dec. 20. He was suspended from active duty with pay on Oct. 7. An outside agency investigated charges of “impropriety” concerning Geier, Deputy Chief Justin Hughes and two other police employees, according to city spokeswoman Tammy Vo.

Vo said she could not provide details on the termination of Geier, as he has filed an appeal.

The investigation of Hughes and two others continues.

3) Buckeye booming

In May, Buckeye was dubbed “America’s fastest-growing city.”

According to the U.S. Census, from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018, Buckeye saw an 8.5 percent increase in population.

That made Buckeye the fastest-growing city with a population of at least 50,000.

According to the Census, Buckeye’s population estimate (official numbers will be released in 2020) is 74,370. Even that might be low, as city officials estimate the current population today at about 82,600. 

And Buckeye expects to grow at an 8% rate in 2019, as well.

4) Goodyear grinding gears

A few huge employers set up shop in Goodyear - notably, Microsoft and Amazon.

On the smaller end of things, restaurants like Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen and Colados Coffee and Crepes opened.

5) Field of Dreams

Avondale spent $19 million to renovate the 30-acre Festival Fields Park, which will now have a fishing lake, splash park, skate park, pump track, play courts, multi-use fields and more.

6) Buckeye blasted:

More than a year after an anonymous letter raised multiple allegations, an independent investigator found the Buckeye Police Department under-reported crime statistics. The letter writer’s allegations of bullying were sustained, with Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall found to be in violation of city standards for appropriate conduct and conflict of interest (see story, page 12).

7) Vaping vetoed

Goodyear City Council proved to be ahead of the curve, baning teen vaping and raising the age to purchase and smoke tobacco products to 21. Goodyear’s new law came just as the Center for Disease and 

8) Checkered flag

NASCAR announced it will move its season finale race from Florida to ISM Raceway in Avondale.

NASCAR Championship Weekend roars into the West Valley Nov. 6-8, 2020.

9) No mall

Yes, Virginia, there’s no mall.

Despite recent years of population growth from Buckeye to Tolleson, a  long-awaited shopping center in the West Valley has yet to emerge.

10) Highways happening

As Interstate 10 construction in Avondale for a Fairway Drive overpass continued, the South Mountain Freeway/Loop 202 extension neared completion.

ADOT announced the Ed Pastor Freeway will be open before the end of 2019.

It will link the East and West valleys, and is expected to be a major economic boost to West Valley cities.  

11) School money

Avondale, Littleton, Buckeye, Saddle Mountain, Tolleson, Liberty and Pendergast district voters approved financing measures on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Saddle Mountain Unified School District and Liberty Elementary School District had split votes, with bonds approved but budget increases rejected.

12)  Money magazine

Goodyear landed on No. 22 on Money magazine’s “Best Places to Live” list.

“With a brand-new Microsoft campus and a Nike manufacturing facility set to bring in more than 500 full-time jobs, the city of Goodyear, located just outside of Phoenix, has ample career opportunities,” the magazine noted.

 13) Dangerous pic

A woman was attacked by a jaguar at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park near Litchfield Park.

She was not seriously injured and later apologized, admitting she climbed over a barrier to take an extremely dangerous selfie.

14) Akos in the house

Akos Medical Campus moved to Avondale, bringing another much-demanded medical facility to the West Valley.

15) DE No. 2

Desert Edge High School came oh-so-close to a state championship in football, falling in a thrilling finale and finishing second in the state.

16) The BLVD

Avondale launched a rebranded downtown area, which seems to have legs as a potential hotspot.

17) LP change

Peter Mahoney, a Litchfield Park councilman for two decades, abruptly resigned, citing “perceived conflicts of interest” (he owns three restaurants in downtown LP, where a major city project is headed).

Ron Clair was appointed to finish Mahoney’s term.

18) Avondale arrest

Sean Katz was arrested at his Avondale home.

The teacher at Heritage Academy in Laveen is accused of having sex with a 17-year-old student. His next court date is Jan. 3 at Maricopa County Superior Court.

19) Making waves

Rising star Kennedy Noble of Millennium High School qualified for the 2020 USA Swimming Olympic Team Trials.

She is just a sophomore, so expect her to be making waves for years.