Matt Benz and Taylor Schmitt

Shakopee couple Matt Benz and Taylor Schmitt, who are getting married in September, lead a remarkably normal life despite the fact that four years ago, Benz was getting through his 21st — and final — relapse.

It was a strange year to be living in Shakopee (or anywhere on the planet, really), thanks to the global pandemic. 

The Shakopee Valley News has featured some of the biggest and best stories of the year which you can read here and find in our weekly print edition. You can also check out our roundup of upcoming developments to keep an eye out for in 2021 here. The list includes a new VA clinic, housing and more. 

This list represents the most-read stories on from the year 2020, based on pageviews. Our most-read story was written in March, shortly after Shakopee Public Schools announced a parent had been exposed to COVID-19. It was the first story of dozens our newspaper would write about the devastating impact the virus had on the community. 

The Valley News has also had the honor to write about the glimmers of hope that have sprouted from the wounds left in the wake of the pandemic. Most recently, a story about the vaccine rollout at local hospitals, right as 2020 comes to an end. 

There were the community's most-read stories of the year, in order: 

Shakopee Public Schools announced on a Monday afternoon in early March that a parent with students who attend Eagle Creek Elementary School has been exposed to the coronavirus, or COVID-19. It was big news at the time and was the first known case of many exposures and COVID-19 diagnoses throughout the community in the months that followed. 

The parent, whose children are also enrolled in the Early Childhood Family Education program one day per week, was in close proximity to an individual who tested positive for the coronavirus, a news release from the district said.

Under guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health, the parent voluntarily quarantined for 14 days. During the quarantine, the individual was monitored for symptoms associated with the virus.

This story, from August, profiled Shakopee resident Susan Angell whose back was so sore July 23 she could barely move. It was the day after she’d gone on a long bike ride — the first time she’d ridden a bike in a while — so she thought she’d injured herself. But two days later — on Saturday, July 25 — she began to feel so feverish that even watching television was painful and exhausting.

Susan Angell

Shakopee resident Susan Angell.

“I couldn’t do anything,” Angell, who is 36, said. “I was too weak to even drive to get tested (for COVID-19).”

A few days later, the mother of three boys and a girl tested positive for COVID-19 after her husband took off work to take her to a testing site. The nurses, seeing how weak she looked, strongly urged her to go to the emergency room.

Angell was unconscious for 12 days and on a ventilator. Her recovery was considered "a miracle" by one of her doctors. 

Students knew when eighth-grade English and Spanish teacher Mandy Marek was approaching their classroom by the click of her heels. At 5 feet, 4 inches, she wore them every day, and they gave her almost enough height to edge out her students.

Mandy Marek

Mandy Marek, an English and Spanish teacher at Shakopee West Middle School, died Aug. 9.

Not that she needed to wear heels to make an entrance. You knew when she was walking into the room, coworker and friend Mary Wilfahrt said. Often, it was with a cup of Caribou coffee and a loud and always funny story to tell, with a signature greeting that was always different for each of her friends. Other times, she’d sing her way through doorways and not in a bashful way. She was a theater buff and voice instructor, and she knew how to command an audience.

In the spring of 2019, Marek found a lump on her breast while she and Wilfahrt were in Chicago to see “Hamilton,” the popular Broadway musical. A few days later, Marek was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. She died Aug. 9 at 37 years old.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced in January it would lead an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of man found dead in the median of northbound U.S. Highway 169 at Canterbury Road in Shakopee, a news release from the BCA said.

A passerby called 911 shortly before 3 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon to report a possible male on the ground in the median, the release said.

The Shakopee Police Department responded to the scene and confirmed a deceased male was there. Minnesota State Patrol troopers arrived shortly thereafter and requested the BCA to investigate.

The day before, on Wednesday, Jan. 15 around 10:40 p.m., state patrol troopers and Shakopee police officers responded to a three-car crash near the same location, the release said. 

The owner of Vogue Asian Massage off Third Avenue in Shakopee was charged in Scott County District Court Jan. 30 for two counts of prostitution in a public place.

On Dec. 20, 2019 the Shakopee Police Department was granted a warrant to search Vogue Day Asian Massage off Third Avenue, owned by Ying Li, 62, of Shakopee, under probable cause that illegal sexual activity was occurring at the Shakopee business, according to court documents.

A search warrant application filed in Scott County District Court on Dec. 2 shows a 35-year-old man told police a massage therapist made unsolicited sexual advances after the man went to the massage business for a facial massage.

The client turned over a cellphone recording of the incident to law enforcement. The documents say the client then consented to the sexual advances.

Trevor Larson, a 36-year-old man from Elko New Market, was charged with theft and first-degree property damage for allegedly stealing a catalytic converter — an exhaust emission control device — from underneath a vehicle in Shakopee. The charges come amidst a rash of catalytic converter thefts across the Southwest Metro.

According to the charging documents, officers on Jan. 29 responded to a report from A Scape, a landscaping company in Shakopee, claiming a catalytic converter had been stolen from one of its business trucks.

Officers discovered surveillance video that showed Larson’s vehicle pulling up next to a business truck at 4:26 a.m. Larson could then be seen loading what appeared to be an exhaust pipe into his car.

Several hours later, officers determined that Larson sold a catalytic converter to Metro Metals Recycling in St. Paul. Replacing the converter would cost about $4,000.

According to the search warrant application leading up to the charges, Larson sold nine catalytic converters to Metro Metals Recycling between Jan. 11 and Jan. 29 for a total of $2,173.

Shirley Marie Dunn, a 46-year-old Shakopee woman, was charged with seven counts of felony theft by swindle July 24 in Hennepin County District Court for using a purchasing card and failing to deposit cash from York Dental, where she formerly worked, to purchase personal items totaling more than $400,000.

The dental clinic has offices in Shakopee and Edina, both of which “sustained a significant loss” from 2015 to 2018, according to charging documents. Dunn, who normally worked from home, was the clinic’s office manager and was responsible for much of the clinic’s financial reporting, according to the complaint. She was also responsible for depositing all cash received by both offices.

According to the charging documents, the dental clinic performed an audit in 2018 and learned that Dunn had been using her company-issued credit card for personal use and was terminated in October 2018.

The last time Matt Benz sat on the cold leather seat of a Shakopee cop car, in 2016, he cried for the first time in years. He wasn’t unaccustomed to the feeling of being stuck inside the back of a squad car or having his wrists restrained by metal handcuffs. But this time felt different.

Matt Benz

After he was arrested in 2016 in front of his girlfriend, who didn’t know about his meth and heroin addiction, 29-year-old Matt Benz decided that NorthStar Recovery — the 22nd treatment center he ever attended — would be his last. Benz will be sober four years this August.

This time, the woman he loved, Taylor Schmitt, was standing on the side of the road in disbelief as the blue and yellow lights reflected from her eyes.

Schmitt had been dating Benz for more than a year and was driving to visit Benz’s parents with him when an officer pulled them over. She had no idea there were empty Ziploc bags used for methamphetamine and a syringe for heroin in the trunk.

Shakopee native swindled $31,000 from his parents for heroin. Now he's four years sober and giving back.

“That was the most emotional day of my life,” Schmitt said.

While in relapse, Benz was good at making people believe he was OK, he said. Later, he’d find out he was a chronic relapser: an illness, not a personality trait.

In the back of the squad car on July 2, 2016, Benz decided he wouldn’t let this particular relapse — his 21st — catapult him into another.

“I wasn’t necessarily sad; I was so relieved,” Benz said of the last time he was arrested. “All I wanted was to be clean. But once I start using, I can’t stop myself.”

The Seagate Technology building in Shakopee will be consolidated to a Bloomington office as 500 positions from across all of the company’s global offices have been terminated. The building housed a 410,000-square-foot disc drive research facility and, at one point, nearly 1,000 jobs in Shakopee.

Lori Johnson, senior manager of communications for Seagate in Shakopee, said in June the company would not comment on how many employees at the Shakopee location have lost their jobs. Before the layoffs, Johnson said about 700 people worked at the Shakopee location.

According to the company’s SEC filing, the downsizing is not due to the recent economic conditions amid the pandemic. Seagate said it will offer employees affected by the layoffs additional financial support.

Seagate Technology laid off 155 Shakopee employees in December 2016 due to a reduced demand for the company’s hard drive productions, and in 2009 the company laid off 300 Minnesota employees.

Shakopee police were investigating a homicide following the shooting of a 65-year-old man in his home on a Monday night in June, according to the city of Shakopee.

Family members identified the victim as Timothy Guion. Guion’s nephew, Cole Guion, confirmed his uncle's death to the Star Tribune and posted on Facebook that someone had shot his uncle. 

Guion’s wife, Doris Mae Perrault-Guion, died in January and was the sister of former SMSC Chairman Charlie Vig, according to her online obituary.

At 7:22 p.m. June 8, police responded to a report of a shooting incident in the 2400 block of Paha Circle, which is on the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community reservation. Officers found the victim inside a home with gunshot wounds. He was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, according to a news release from the city of Shakopee.

Digital content coordinator

Rachel Minske is a regional editor and digital content coordinator at Southwest News Media. She's passionate about in-depth reporting and digital audiences. She's a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and enjoys exploring Minnesota.