2003 was an eventful year in the Hub City, with the national spotlight focused on Lubbock more than once.
On February first the Coronado high school track and field was just like any other in Lubbock, but on that morning there was, what looked like, a meteor shower in broad daylight. It was, of course, the shuttle Columbia disintegrating upon re-entry. "The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to earth," said President Bush.
Two of it's crew members were West Texas natives. Rick Husband and Willie McCool. "He was a very dynamic person. I didn't have any doubt that he would do good in the world. Whatever he set his mind to, he would do," said Tommy Barren, his former Boy Scout master. A national tragedy with local heartache. McCool's high school honored him with the small town, big-hearted gesture of renaming the track.
"And stay tuned to NewsChannel 11 for election coverage you can count on," said news anchor Abner Euresti. In the spring it was politics, politics, politics, as an open congressional seat spurred a race between 17 candidates. "We're waiting for the Lubbock numbers to finish coming in," said Rep. Carl Isett. He was the favorite to win, but Randy Neugebauer pulled it out. "Just the humbling ness of this experience, to be chosen and elected by the people of West Texas to represent them at that very important table in the US Congress," he said.
As summer turned to fall construction was wrapping up on a massive memorial. "Be an active part of it," became a phrase synonymous with the Lubbock Area Veteran's War Memorial. Two years of construction, over a million dollars raised, and feelings of gratitude, pride, and respect worth 100 times that amount. "You're just awed once you come out here and see it," said the memorial's organizer, Denver Blancett. Certainly the most lasting tribute to heroes on the south plains, but not the only one.
On September 11th, the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Lubbockites honored those lost with a field of glory. One flag for every victim. "It keeps reminding us of what happened and 9/11, and I think we should always remember that," said a man who attended the ceremony. A day of American tribute and resolve. A perpetual search for justice.
The Lubbock county courthouse and it's sister, the federal building, were the site of several notable trials in 2003, but none drew attention like that of Dr. Thomas Butler. A world-renowned Texas Tech physician. An expert in the field of plague research. But when vials of the substance went missing the FBI came calling. The trial lasted two weeks. The verdict... guilty of lying, theft, and embezzlement. "Do you expect any jail time?," a reporter asked Butler. He did not respond. The university fired him. Sentencing will be in the new year.
2003 West Texas style... Up-front, soft-spoken, and red, white, and blue.