Natural and man-made disasters marked 2018 in Florida.
Nate Chute, IndyStar
Though national and international politics dominated the news even more than usual in 2018, there were many local stories equally important to Tallahassee. And a few times, Tallahassee stories dominated the national news.
Here are our picks for the top stories of 2018.
10. Tallahassee gets its first measurable snowfall in 30 years
Ice-crusted pool decks. Three-inch snowmen wrapped in mini Florida State scarves. Snowflakes on palm trees.
It was frosty in Tallahassee on a Wednesday morning in January, when it snowed for the first time in the capital city since 1989. Tallahasseans awoke to driveways covered in frigid white blankets, slick sidewalks and frozen bird baths.
Fortunately we didn’t need snow plows, but it did give us a small taste of what our friends up north encounter all winter long.
Tallahassee under a blanket of snow
9. The Seminoles traumatize fans with a losing season
Hopes were high when FSU hired Willie Taggart to replace Jimbo Fisher as head coach of the Florida State Seminoles. But Taggart could hardly have imagined a worse introduction to Tallahassee, bringing FSU to its first losing season in more than four decades.
It started with the first game and never really got any better. The fans, who had been cheering for the national champions only five years before, weren’t at all happy.
Taggart himself summed it up after the final loss to the Florida Gators, which ended FSU’s 36-year bowl streak.
“Disappointing game,” he said. “Disappointing season.”
FSU football’s 2018 season
8. March for Our Lives: The anti-gun movement hits the Capitol
After a shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland killed 17 students and staff members and wounded 17 more, thousands of people descended on Florida’s Capitol in what became a national movement to demand gun control.
Through their grief and fury, the survivors of the Parkland shooting led one of the biggest rallies Tallahassee has seen in recent memory. Students from other high schools and colleges, parents, teachers and supporters joined them — not only to protest, but to lobby state lawmakers for change.
The Legislature passed a bill to raise the minimum age to purchase any firearm to 21, banned bump stocks and put into place several other “common-sense” gun control measures. Rick Scott signed it March 9. The NRA filed a lawsuit the same day, challenging the constitutionality of the new law.
The March for Our Lives rally:
7. Massive Eastpoint fire displaces residents, destroys homes
At about 4 p.m. on a Sunday in late June, a fire broke out in the coastal fishing village of Eastpoint, on one side of the St. George Island bridge. It was soon out of control and dangerous; officials declared a mandatory evacuation while fire departments from every neighboring county sent help.
The Lime Rock wildfire destroyed more than three dozen homes and consumed almost a thousand acres of brush and forestland before it was finally contained. About 125 people lost their homes, and many described harrowing near-escapes from the raging blaze.
The final investigation attributed the fire to a prescribed burn in a state wildlife management area.
The Lime Rock wildfire:
6. Andrew Gillum wins the Democratic gubernatorial primary
In a dramatic upset, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came from the behind to win the Democratic nomination to be Florida’s next governor.
A ninth-hour surge to victory propelled the FAMU graduate and longtime Tallahassee elected leader past former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, billionaire Jeff Greene and South Florida businessman Chris King.
What followed the historic win was a ferocious campaign between two party ideologues and their proxies — including the President of the United States — with Tallahassee firmly wedged in the middle of the national spotlight.
Moderates from both parties bemoaned the lack of a middle ground candidate, and the razor thin victory margin that elected Ron DeSantis was the perfect illustration of a divided Florida.
Andrew Gillum’s historic campaign:
5. Florida gets back in the recount business
The recount of 2000 is never far from Florida’s mind each Election Day, but it’s doubtful anyone expected one city and three statewide races to require recounts in 2018.
But it was so close that the race for Commissioner of Agriculture had to be recounted manually.
After complicated legal and political wrangling, Ron DeSantis became Florida’s next governor-to-be, Gov. Rick Scott ousted long-serving Sen. Bill Nelson, and Nikki Fried won the race for Agriculture Commissioner, making her the lone Democrat holding statewide office in Florida.
A machine recount of the City Commission, Seat 3, race left victor Jeremy Matlow unchanged.
2018 election chaos, recounts amnd more:
4. The Mike Williams murder case comes careening to an end
In 2017, the body of Mike Williams — who had vanished while duck hunting in 2000 and was presumed by some to have drowned and been eaten by alligators — was finally found.
Brian Winchester, his best friend, stunned the community by confessing to the murder. He did it, he said, so he and Mike’s wife, Denise Williams, could be together.
Winchester led law enforcement to the body as part of a plea deal that would put him to jail for 20 years for kidnapping, Denise Williams — who he had later married — but leave him unprosecuted for the murder of his friend. Winchester also pointed a finger at Denise Williams as the person who helped plan the crime.
Denise Williams was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and accessory after the fact. A jury found her guilty on all counts.
Her lawyer has filed a motion for a new trial.
The Denise Williams murder trial:
3. The FBI investigation produces its (first?) indictments
The FBI investigation that has been casting a shadow over Tallahassee for so long — and who some say cost Andrew Gillum the governorship — finally resulted in its first two indictments. Commissioner Scott Maddox and his close associate Paige Carter-Smith were arrested on 44 counts of racketeering, bribery and fraud, among other crimes.
The indictment alleges Maddox shook down city vendors for bribes, pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for official action. Soon after, Gov. Rick Scott removed Maddox removed from office in accordance with Florida law.
Convictions could result in fines as high as $1 million and sentences of 30 years in prison. Maddox and Carter-Smith have both pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Is the FBI investigation now over? No one knows for sure.
The Scott Maddox corruption charges:
2. The unthinkable happens: a mass shooting in Tallahassee
When a gunman opened fire Nov. 2 at a yoga studio, Tallahassee joined the ranks of U.S. cities that have been home to mass shooting. It’s a list no city wants to be on.
The shooter killed two people that night — Dr. Nancy Van Vessem, 61, and FSU student Maura Binkley, 21 — and injured five others before turning the gun on himself and taking his own life.
The shooting, which left the city shocked and shaken, seemed to be part of a string of violent events around the country, including a Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed 11 and a California bar shooting that left 12 dead.
Thee Hot Yoga shooting:
1. Hurricane Michael devastates the Gulf Coast
What is there to say about the massive hurricane that swept through the Florida Panhandle in October? Not much that hasn’t already been said.
In Tallahassee, there was some damage. Food spoiled due to power outages and a lot of people went through an unpleasant week or so. But our troubles pale in comparison to those of our neighbors in Mexico Beach, Port St. Joe, Marianna and the rest of the Gulf Coast.
We are grateful it wasn’t worse for us, and know the suffering caused by Hurricane Michael will persist long past the end of 2018.
Hurricane Michael’s devastation:
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