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Sam Pimper / Sam Pimper photos, Fremont Tribune  

Members of a workout class complete sit-ups inside of The PAD. With the New Year right around the corner, many people are getting geared up to begin their fitness adventure.

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Firefighters battle 2 structure fires day after Christmas

No one was reported injured in fires that broke out at the former Uncle Larry’s building and a home in Fremont.

Fremont Rural firefighters were dispatched at about 10:50 a.m. Tuesday to the former night club at 2200 Proctor St.

The building had been used for storage of tanning beds. The fire started in the building and the cause of the blaze is undetermined at this point and is still under investigation, said Lt. Todd Coffey of the Fremont Fire Department.

Fremont Fire Department went to the scene as that area recently has been annexed and is now under the city’s jurisdiction, he said.

Firefighters from Cedar Bluffs, Waterloo and Valley also responded. Fremont and Cedar Bluffs both brought aerial ladder trucks.

Coffey said firefighters had the blaze under control in about 30 minutes. The firefighters fought the fire in bone-chilling, single digit temperatures.

Smoke rolled out of the blue building as some firefighters made their way into it, while others got onto the roof via a ladder truck. Other firefighters filled a large, yellow portable tank with water to help battle the blaze.

Capt. Tom Christensen estimated the damage at more than $200,000.

At about 11 a.m., Fremont’s fire and rescue personnel were called to a single-vehicle rollover accident on U.S. 30 near County Road 20. One person was transported to Fremont Health.

In addition to the car accident, the Fremont station received about five other rescue squad calls. Midwest Medical and Arlington were called as mutual aid to staff the town for those calls and any other fires.

Both off-duty shifts from the Fremont Fire Department were called in, Coffey said.

Off-duty crew members responded to a house fire at 2140 N. Nye Ave., at about 11:30 a.m., he said.

The fire started in the garage and extended into the house. The house had heavy smoke damage and some fire damage. The attached garage is totaled.

Neighbors gathered in the cold as firefighters sprayed water on the house and removed a garage door.

Christmas garland hung and a pair of ice skates could be seen from a porch railing of the home. A wooden Santa cutout was propped against the front of the house.

It took firefighters about 30 minutes to get the fire under control, Coffey said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Coffey estimated structural damage of about $50,000, but was unsure of an estimate for contents of the home.

Valley firefighters also responded to the scene of that fire.

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Former Fremonters involved in national news events in 2017

It was a year when former – and a few current – Fremonters would be caught up in national news.

From horrific shootings to hurricanes, some of those who’ve called this Nebraska community home found themselves in some very different circumstances in 2017. These stories, combined, would rank No. 8 on the Top 10 stories list for the Tribune.

Former Fremonter Bruce Nguyen and his girlfriend, Misty Butler, were among thousands of spectators enjoying the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, when a lone gunman fired on the crowd from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel and casino.

Nguyen and Butler were close to the stage and couldn’t get out after people started taking cover. Seeking to protect Butler, Nguyen threw her over a metal railing and jumped over it. They crawled over a dead security guard and hid with about 40 people who were either on top or under the sound stage amid the sound of ricocheting shots.

Thinking there were shooters on the ground, Nguyen and Butler ran toward some vendors while he kept an eye out for any shooters on the ground. They made their way to one hotel and then to another amid false reports of multiple shooters. Nguyen and Butler made it home safe to their daughter Michaela and Butler’s son Kyler.

Almost 60 people were killed and more than 540 were injured in the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the United States.

The gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nev., was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, from which he’d fired the shots.

Just 20 hours after the deadly shooting rampage, Nguyen recalled the horror.

“When you’re put in that position and you hear those multiple shots and you don’t know where they’re coming from – you think that any move that you make, you’re basically going to die,” Nguyen said. “There’s no right move that you can make.

“It’s just that feeling that you weren’t going to get out of there.”

On Tuesday, Nguyen shared other thoughts about how he and Butler have been doing since then.

“At first, Misty was really sensitive to everything like loud noises and sudden changes, but she has gotten a lot more comfortable with going out and being around people,” Nguyen said. “We haven’t been to any big events or anything yet, but I think she is ready.”

“A big thing that helped both of us was going back to the scene and retracing our steps,” he continued. “It really put a real deal to how lucky we were to get out. I was amazed how much detail I remembered.”

Butler had some trouble recalling what route they’d taken to escape, but “she felt better that we were together that night.”

Nguyen noted how things have changed for him.

“I felt pretty uneasy and unsafe for the first couple of weeks,” he said.

A little more normalcy has returned to his life.

“The only thing that bothers me is that we don’t have answers of what really happened out there,” he said.

Soon after hearing about the tragic shooting, Fremonters Dawn Gilfry, Brooke Johnson and Deb Heuer took one of 19 Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs to Las Vegas.

The women brought Katie the Comfort Dog to various locations including the Sunrise Hospital, where survivors were recovering.

Katie made trips to hotels, including Mandalay Bay to comfort employees and to the Clark County Coroner’s Office, which had processed all those who’d been fatally shot. Katie also visited the Metropolitan 911 call center and a preschool.

“It’s humbling to have someone you’ve never met allow you into some of their darkest moments and it’s all because of a bridge from a dog,” Johnson said.

Throughout their visit, the women often heard people say, “This is the first time I’ve smiled,” “This is the first time I’ve cried” or “This is the first time I’ve felt normal” since the shooting.

Just a little over two months later, another former Fremonter, Makenzie Rezac, would recall her own experience with a shooting – this time in a school on Dec. 7.

The 15-year-old girl was in her history class at Aztec High School in New Mexico, when a gunman – disguised as a student – went on a shooting rampage.

Makenzie, a sophomore, and other students and their teacher hid in their classroom. They heard shooting and yelling coming from the other side of a windowed catwalk.

And they heard the sound of running coming toward their room.

The gunman began jiggling door handles and knocking on doors trying to get into the locked classrooms.

“Is this it?” Makenzie wondered. “I wanted to tell her (mom) that I loved her.”

The shots ended.

“We heard the last round of gunshots and it was right next to our classroom and we all just got quiet,” Makenzie said. “We were all terrified, because we didn’t know if that was the cop shooting the shooter or if the shooter shot another student.”

The Associated Press would report that the gunman, William Atchison, 21, fatally shot two students, then walked up and down a school hallway – firing randomly – before killing himself.

Makenzie and other students were escorted by police out of the school and later were able to go home with their families.

“Once I got her, I hugged her and wouldn’t let go,” said Makenzie’s mom, Mikala Rezac.

Rezac noted something else: “It (shootings) can happen anywhere, but people shouldn’t be afraid to send their kids to school,” Mikala said, adding, “I hope every school is as prepared as well as the school here was.”

Preparation was key for former Fremonters who found themselves in the path of Hurricane Irma in September.

With boarded up windows and supplies of food and water, Judy Daughty and her family waited for the fierce storm which was a Category 3 hurricane – with winds of up to 125 mph – when it slammed into Lehigh Acres on Florida’s southwest coast.

“That was the most frightening experience in my entire life,” Daughty said. “I would rather have been in a blizzard than a hurricane. It’s so unpredictable.”

At the time of the storm, 13 people were gathered in Pat and Judy Daughty’s house, which also became a shelter to seven dogs. Four cats were in the garage and ducks and geese were in the lanai.

Judy recalled when broken tree limbs started hitting the house during the storm.

“We weren’t sure if the next one was going to come through or not,” Daughty said. “You’re in a house that’s all boarded up. You can’t look outside and see what’s happening. You never know what’s coming at you.”

Daughty and some other family members cried as they faced the fear of the unknown. The dogs barked continuously and whimpered. No one was injured.

The brunt of the storm lasted roughly 1 ½ hours.

“We lost all the trees in our yard,” she said.

The lanai blew off, but the chickens and ducks, who belonged to her nieces, were OK. The family lost power to their home.

“That made things a bit rough, because you can’t run any fans and in Florida the heat and the temperatures are so bad,” she said.

Daughty learned some things from the hurricane.

“You learn to appreciate to what you have,” she said. “I realize I’m blessed with family and friends, and how important my church and work is. The support system I had is amazing.”

Besides the Daughtys, some other former Fremonters, Pat Leupold, former principal at Trinity Lutheran School, and his wife, Leila, also found themselves in the storm’s fierce path.

The Leupolds live in Winter Springs, Florida, about 1 ½ hours from the state’s west coast.

At first, the Leupolds thought the eye of Hurricane Irma might just miss their community.

Then they heard a news update: the storm was coming straight up the peninsula — and right toward them.

While the eye of a hurricane is calm, the area directly around that is dangerous.

They waited as the storm approached.

“You’re already hunkered down,” Leila said. “You’re just really wondering, ‘When is it going to get here and how are we going to fare?’”

By the time the hurricane reached their community, it was considered a Category 2 storm, but still had wind speeds of 80 to 100 mph. The couple had some landscape damage to their home.

Looking back, did living in Nebraska prepare the Leupolds for this?

“I suppose so, because you have lots of notice before a blizzard and you do start preparing; it’s much the same,” Leila said. “But when you lose your power here, you’re at least not going to freeze to death. You’re just going to be really hot and uncomfortable and cranky.”

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Severe June storm back again in 2017

For the second year in a row, a severe thunderstorm in June caused thousands of dollars of damage to trees and property throughout Fremont.

This storm would rank as No. 7 of the Top 10 stories in the Fremont area.

The hot, humid summer months once again proved to be the peak time for severe weather events to cause havoc throughout the community as a severe storm on June 16 downed trees and left debris throughout this region.

On June 16, intense supercell thunderstorms developed during the afternoon hours throughout northeast Nebraska, creating gale-force winds with gusts that read upward of 110-mph two miles northeast of Fremont battering trees, businesses and homes.

The most intense activity from these storms resulted in hurricane-force winds, golf ball-size hail and several tornados in northeast Nebraska.

Trees littered the streets and power lines snaked areas of pavement as crews from the Fremont Department of Utilities and the Fremont Department of Roads scrambled to address the debris. It was reported at the time that dozens of residents’ trees were battered.

At the time, City Administrator Brian Newton estimated the damage that occurred inside city limits would cost more than $100,000.

Following the intense storm, city crews were busy over the course of the next weekend ensuring that storm debris was cleared from streets for the sake of driving safety. Throughout the next week large piles of debris could be seen throughout the northwestern part of Fremont.

According to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Omaha Public Power District reported that more than 60,000 people were without power around 10 p.m. the evening of the storm, and Lincoln Electric reported that approximately 1,200 Lancaster County residents were without power during the course of that Friday and that at least two semi-trucks were overturned near Lincoln Airport, where gusts of wind were measured at nearly 90 mph.

Power outages also occurred in droves throughout Dodge County in Fremont, Arlington and Nickerson, information from NEMA shows. Numerous homes, vehicles and additional property was damaged from falling branches and hail.

At the time Newton said in an interview with the Tribune that six electrical circuits were out in Fremont, resulting in more than one-third of all residents being without power.

By Sunday, June 18, nearly all residents’ power returned with the exception of around a dozen residents who were still waiting on electricians to visit their homes.

The destructive evening came almost exactly a year to the day as June 2016’s flash flood where areas of Fremont accumulated almost 7 inches of water over a two-to-four hour course. More than 1,000 Fremont homes suffered basement flooding as a result of the storm and sewers overflowed, unable to handle the thousands of gallons of water rapidly flowing into them.

Van DeWald, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Omaha, said that while the storms may feel reminiscent of each other, severe weather never has a rhyme or a reason.

“I guess every year is different, so for me, this storm happening at almost the same time as last year doesn’t really make it special at all,” DeWald said. “It is what it is. There is nothing you can really do to plan for it, sometimes it just happens.”

About two hours before the storm swept through northeast Nebraska, the National Weather Service issued a Severe Storm Watch. DeWald said the storm developed northwest of Fremont in O’Neill before making its way through the Dodge County Area.

“We saw them (storms) coming, but we didn’t expect that they would produce upward of 100-mph wind,” DeWalt said. “We were expecting 60 to 70 mph gusts, but as it approached Fremont it really started intensifying.”

The majority of the wind ripping through Fremont registered around 60 mph, and between Fremont and Hooper that rose to 70 and 80 mph. At the National Weather Service in Valley, an 88-mph gust was recorded.

Winds tearing through the Omaha Metro sat in the 60 to 80 mph range, and the largest gust was recorded two miles northeast of Fremont at 110 mph.

According to DeWald, small tornadoes touched down in multiple areas including Bellevue, Hoskins, Madison and Meadow Grove.

While the damage in Fremont have seemed severe, in the grand scheme of things it could have been far worse, he said.

“So relatively speaking the damage we have heard about happening in Fremont was pretty small compared to other nearby areas,” he said. “It might not seem like it, but Fremont was pretty lucky that day.”