A1 A1
spotlight top story
New Miss City of Maricopa wants community to be part of her journey

MARICOPA — In a field as talented as the Miss City of Maricopa competition, it takes a lot to stand out. It sure helps to bring a personal touch to everything you do.

Madilyn Hipps had plenty of that to go around. She remembers making a great connection with the judges during the interview phase of the competition, when she shared her journey since being diagnosed with lupus in January.

“I have my good days and my bad days, but overall, I’m doing good,” the 21-year-old Hipps told PinalCentral. “There are people in the world who are doing a lot worse than I am. I decided this is my struggle that God has given me to deal with.”

She talked about her ambition to spread awareness of lupus everywhere she goes, and how that would be her social impact initiative should she be named Miss City of Maricopa and compete for Miss Arizona in June.

Having gone through that, it’s no wonder a little extra challenge didn’t stop her the week of the competition. Hipps sings for her talent, yet she had no voice all week. It had gotten so bad that she didn’t even know if she could talk during the interview. But she said a little prayer and used what she admits was probably more throat medication than anyone should take to be ready for her moment.

“I’m a very determined person, so I wasn’t going to let that stop me,” she said. “I worked really hard even though I was sick and planned on singing my talent.”

In the end, the prayer and medication seemed to work, and she got up on stage and sang “She Used to be Mine,” a Sara Bareilles song from the musical “Waitress.”

Being thrilled to just have been able to perform, Hipps wasn’t thinking about winning when all the contestants lined up on stage. Yet when the winner was announced, it was her name that was called.

“I was really shocked,” she said. “They had called all the other titles and I was so happy for my sisters, and didn’t think I would get Miss City of Maricopa. When I did, my mouth just dropped to the floor.”

Hipps is currently taking classes at Scottsdale and Mesa community colleges and intends to go to Brigham Young University to complete her post-secondary education. She previously went on a church mission to Ventura, California.

She got into pageants after becoming friends with Ashlyn Thompson, who encouraged her to pursue it. The road wasn’t easy, though, as Hipps previously participated in five competitions without winning, including filling in for a spot at Miss Arizona last year.

Now she is working with the Lupus Foundation of America’s Arizona chapter to get people in every city in the state to “paint Arizona purple” on May 18 by having everyone wear purple.

Hipps wants the people of Maricopa to know that they will be seeing a lot of her over the next year, as she will be attending many events just as her predecessors have. And above all, she wants to be a role model to the young people in Maricopa.

“Something I’ve been trying to get across as I get to know girls in our community is that we have a world that’s full of what we call perfect people who try to push that across social media, but we’re not perfect people,” Hipps said. “I want them to know that they’re enough, that what they’re doing is enough.”

top story
Maricopa woman pleads guilty to 2 counts of child abuse
 bwright  / 

FLORENCE — A Maricopa mother charged with multiple counts of child abuse has accepted a plea deal and will avoid trial.

Erin Darr, 36, accused of forcing a child to eat vomit, was initially charged with 10 counts of child abuse and was arrested last December. Her trial was scheduled to begin Nov. 5.

Court records show Darr pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse Sept. 18. She was free on bond awaiting trial prior to changing her plea, but she was taken into custody at the Pinal County jail on Monday.

Darr will face supervised probation, which could last the rest of her life, for one child abuse charge, a Class 4 felony. If she rejects probation, she will serve 3.75 years in prison. For the second charge, a Class 3 felony, Darr faces between 3.5 and 7.5 years in prison, to run consecutive to the first charge.

The victim, who was 11 years old, accused Darr of repeatedly hitting and scratching her.

Darr allegedly pulled the girl by her hair, hit her over the head with a phone and forced her to eat rotten food. When the girl would regurgitate the food, she said Darr forced her to eat her own vomit. An older sibling corroborated the victim’s account to the Maricopa Police Department.

The victim’s classmates initially noticed bruises on her body in December. She was then taken to a hospital, where staff noted she was underweight, had dark circles under her eyes and scars on her scalp.

Darr will be sentenced in Pinal County Superior Court on Nov. 4.

spotlight top story
Maricopa residents get up-close look at SR 347 improvement study

MARICOPA — With frustrations continuing to swell over the traffic and safety problems that plague State Route 347, the public finally got its first look at the very early stages of plans on how to solve them.

The Maricopa Association of Governments held an open house Tuesday to reveal a scoping study that is taking place to improve SR 347. Those who attended were able to speak face to face with officials leading the study while getting a visual representation of what the group is looking to address.

“We’re hoping that they’ll be able to express the problems that the roadway causes them — the delays, the frustration — because we need to hear that,” said David Maestas, transportation policy manager for the city of Maricopa. “With that information, we can focus on how to improve it and get the most efficiency out of the money that’s spent on it.”

The study encompasses all of State Route 347 from the intersection with Interstate 10 to Peters and Nall Road south of Maricopa. It looks at three different segments of the highway — from I-10 to the Pinal-Maricopa county line, from the county line to the northern city limits, and then to Peters and Nall.

Each of the segments has its own challenges and potential solutions, Maestas said, and they are thus being studied on their own.

The ultimate goal is to find solutions that will improve travel time, mobility, safety, land compatibility and environmental outcomes while respecting stakeholder interests and maintaining current easements.

The goal by the end of November is to have formulated a list of recommendations based on public feedback and the findings of the experts involved in the project. Those will likely include broad solutions for the highway as a whole, along with “spot solutions” such as possibly putting a grade separation (such as an overpass) at the intersection of Riggs Road.

Should the Maricopa City Council approve the list of recommendations in December, the plan would also have to be approved by the Gila River Indian Community, since much of the work will be taking place on its land. Then, MAG can move forward with conducting engineering, design and environmental studies.

From there, it’s about getting funding for the project. There actually has been a significant amount of money already collected by Pinal County under the Regional Transportation Authority tax approved by voters in 2016. However, that tax revenue is currently blocked from being spent following a ruling that it is in fact illegal. Should it be cleared in court, progress on the stretch from the city limits to the county line could actually move fast, since the SR 347 project is in the first phase for the RTA.

Work on the other side of the county line to I-10 would be up to funding that is available under MAG and Maricopa County.

“We’re actually in a good place right now,” Maestas said. “There’s been a lot of frustration for a lot of different people, because we’ve been trying to launch this study, but you can imagine the difficulty in trying to improve a roadway that’s out of your jurisdiction. So I give credit to MAG for putting themselves in a leadership position and getting this moving forward.”

top story
Clint Black promises 'World Series' of concerts when he takes the stage in Maricopa
 mstaude  / 

MARICOPA -- Country music performer Clint Black says when he’s on stage, he performs like “every show is the World Series.” And his Oct. 11 show at The Events Center at Harrah’s Ak-Chin should be no exception.

“I want it to be as good as it can be and I put a lot of thought behind it for every city we play on tour,” Black told PinalCentral. “It’s still a challenge to achieve excellence, so that’s part of what drives me.”

The show is part of Black’s “Still Killin’ Time” 30th anniversary tour and features performances by special guest Ben Haggard.

A Grammy Award-winning singer, Black has been part of the country music scene for three decades. While his show will feature all the hits audiences expect to hear, Black said it will be presented in a new, exciting and personalized way.

“This show will be new to my audiences,” he said. “It will have lots of hits as usual, but we’ve brought along a video wall for which I produced all the stage video content myself, so it’s very personalized. Some of it will be relating to the lyrics and some will be historical, as with the (Merle, father of Ben) Haggard and Waylon songs where I have footage and photos of them. I also have some footage and photos from my career to complement the songs from ‘Killin’ Time’ as we celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Black’s first album, “Killin’ Time,” debuted in 1989. His first single, “A Better Man,” also debuted that year and hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Since then, he’s had more than 30 singles on the Billboard country charts, with 22 reaching No. 1.

He founded his own label, Equity Music Group, in 2003 and over the years, Black has branched out from music, performing in television and movies.

Writing his own material remains his biggest personal accomplishment, he said, as well as the biggest hurdle he’s had to overcome.

“My biggest accomplishment has created my biggest setbacks. I’ve manage to write every song I’ve recorded that wasn’t a cover or tribute song with only one exception a few years ago as an experiment, ‘The Strong One,’” he said. “That created friction with my record company, who didn’t like me writing all my own songs. In referring to the publishing companies the record company worked with, the head of the label said to me, ‘They just want a little taste.’ This became a point of contention as I didn’t think it was a good reason to fire the guy who was writing all the hits — me.”

In the early days of his career, his desire to write his own songs almost stopped his music career before it began.

“No major label wanted to sign me for that reason, as they all said, ‘If you’ll just let us find you songs and have them produced the way we like, we can do business.’ I said ‘no thanks,’” he said.

Black has been performing since he was a teenager and says he loves being on stage.

“I’ve been performing for audiences of every size since I was a teenager, so it’s what I love to do,” he said. “Connecting with the audience varies, depending on the venue size. With more intimate venues we can work in smaller brush strokes to make that connection. Doing a lot of bigger venues changes the show a bit, but for more intimate venues, I can share funny asides that go with some of the songs.”

He said he continues to grow as a musician.

“I’ve been playing a lot more electric guitar and solos, so that just makes me want to play even more,” he said. “I’m really excited for my audience to see the marriage of music and video in the show though. It has gone over very well and it’s satisfying to bring that visual element to our show.”

But after years of performing, he said, he doesn’t have a favorite song. He just enjoys seeing the audiences happy.

“If they like it, I love doing it,” he said.

Black’s newest album, “Still Killin’ Time,” includes 10 songs, including two that were originally written in 1989 but weren’t included on the “Killin’ Time” album.

“Two songs are studio recordings of songs that were in the stack of songs I had when I recorded ‘Killin’ Time’ but didn’t make it on the album — new, old songs I recorded especially for this 30th anniversary record. It’s the first live album I’ve released,” he said. “I can’t wait for fans to hear it all.”

“Still Killin’ Time” may be preordered on the ClintBlack.com website.

Black performs in The Events Center at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11. The show is for those age 18 and older. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets begin at $44.50 and are available online at Ticketmaster.com.