13 stories from 2013 that captured our attention

As the year comes to a close, Tampa Bay Times editors have selected 13 from '13 — a baker's dozen of the most notable local and state stories this year. It was a tough list to whittle down, but here, in no special order, are the stories that most captured our attention this year.

1. The Pier closes

The battle over St. Petersburg's landmark Pier intensified through 2013, helping to unseat the incumbent mayor and promising to dominate the new administration's agenda. The iconic inverted pyramid closed amid tears and fanfare in the spring. But opponents of its proposed replacement, the modernistic Lens, forced a referendum and persuaded voters to reject the avant-garde design. What now? Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman's transition team is recommending yet another committee on the issue, with the goal of having a new or refurbished pier by 2017.

2. Sinkhole takes a man's life

As Jeffrey Bush slept in his Seffner home on Feb. 28, a sinkhole opened beneath his bedroom floor and sucked him and his furniture into the ground. Hearing screams, his brother Jeremy rushed in to try to save him but also became trapped. A deputy responding to a 911 call was able to pull Jeremy to safety. But no one was able to rescue Jeffrey Bush. The sinkhole that took his life became his final resting place.

3. C.W. Bill Young dies

C.W. Bill Young was a pillar of Pinellas County politics — 43 years in Congress, decades of advocacy for the military and front-line soldiers, millions upon millions in federal dollars for Tampa Bay. In October, Young, 82, announced plans to retire. Less than two weeks later, he died, prompting an outpouring of community support — and politics. Three candidates are battling for the GOP nomination in a Jan. 14 primary: David Jolly, Kathleen Peters and Mark Bircher. The winner takes on Democrat Alex Sink in a race that will be decided March 11.

4. Shock jock war

A defamation trial between two radio shock jocks morphed into one of the year's strangest stories when one side tried to set up the attorney for the other side in a DUI arrest. In the end, the charges were dropped, the Tampa police officer who made the DUI stop was fired, the law firm of Adams & Diaco, which represented Bubba the Love Sponge Clem in the suit, was under investigation by the Florida Bar, and an outside panel was reviewing other arrests to make sure the DUI setup was an exception.

5. Medicaid

Although Gov. Rick Scott backed it, Republican legislators rejected a key but optional part of the Affordable Care Act: extending Medicaid eligibility to more poor adults. GOP leaders have indicated expansion is a dead issue next year, too. Scott recently refused to say whether he continues to support it. Meanwhile, the lack of action leaves about 800,000 Floridians in a coverage gap — too poor to qualify for federal subsidies to buy private insurance and unable to qualify for Medicaid.

6. Fluoride goes back into the water

For more than a year, Pinellas had the distinction of being the most populous Florida county that refused to add fluoride to its drinking water. On March 1, after a public uproar that unseated two elected officials, the County Commission voted 6-1 to add fluoride back to a system that supplies about 700,000 people. In 2011, the board narrowly voted to stop adding fluoride. Dentists rallied, the Tampa Bay Times won a Pulitzer Prize for editorials on the issue, and voters brought in two new commissioners who campaigned on pro-fluoride platforms.

7. Clearwater votes for a new aquarium

After years of failed attempts to develop Clearwater's moribund downtown, voters on Nov. 5 decisively approved plans for a new aquarium promoters hope will kick start the effort.

Fundraising is under way, and backers are thinking about something more modest than the $160 million facility promoted to voters.

8. Goodwill work facility shuttered

In September 2012, a state prison-system inmate walked away from a Goodwill-run work release center in Largo. Michael Scott Norris broke into a bungalow, killed two men inside and set the home on fire to cover his tracks. Three months later, another inmate at the same center raped and beat a 17-year-old on her way to her bus stop. A Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed poor management, lax security and frequent escapes at the Largo Residential Re-Entry Center. For years, the state had placed violent inmates, including murderers, into work release facilities. That practice was stopped in the spring. After an undercover operation by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the state shuttered the Largo center and terminated its contract with Goodwill in July.

9. Rick Kriseman elected mayor

When Rick Kriseman announced in February he would run for St. Petersburg mayor, few expected him to unseat incumbent Bill Foster. But Kriseman, a lawyer and former state legislator, defeated Foster 56 to 44 percent. When Kriseman takes office Thursday, his biggest challenges will include replacing the Pier, finding a new police chief and resolving the stadium stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays. Already, he has made news by hiring several highly paid staff members, including some newly created positions.

10. Ireland Nugent

On April 11, Jerry Nugent was backing up on a riding lawn mower in the driveway of his Palm Harbor home. He didn't see his ebullient daughter Ireland, toddling after him. He accidentally backed over the 2-year-old, severing both her legs below the knee. So began a family saga that held the public rapt for months, as the curly-haired girl received emergency surgeries, prosthetic limbs — and soon walked again. Her family weathered grief, anxiety, a dispute with their pastor and controversy around a charity that offered to provide prosthetics. Ireland persisted. She celebrated her third birthday and, like so many other little girls, took up ballet.

11. "Hoe" Brown

Tenants of prominent Republican fundraiser William "Hoe" Brown had long wondered when the public would learn about the Tampa Port Authority chairman's side job: landlord of a dilapidated motel and illegal trailer park behind his office. In 2013, they did. In response to inquiries from the Tampa Bay Times, code enforcement officials visited Brown's properties, which they declared "not fit for human habitation." Brown resigned as port chairman in July. A Times story later revealed that Hillsborough County's troubled Homeless Recovery program had paid Brown more than $600,000 in public money since 1998 to house the homeless.

12. Davion Only

Davion Only had heard that God helps those who help themselves. So on a September Sunday he rose before a St. Petersburg church congregation to ask for something he never has had in all his 15 years: a real family. "My name is Davion and I've been in foster care since I was born,'' he told the people. "I know God hasn't given up on me. So I'm not giving up either." After the Times reported his story, it caught fire online and was featured in newspapers and on TV. Thousands wanted to adopt him. He has become a voice for the 100,000 foster children awaiting forever homes. And he is getting closer to finding his own. Davion has moved out of his group home to live with a foster family, and is getting to know a prospective adoptive family.

13. Powerball winner

The odds of those six numbers hitting on one ticket were a whopping 1 in 175.2 million. But on May 18, 84-year-old Gloria C. MacKenzie, a widow who lived in a tiny duplex on the outskirts of Zephyrhills, bought a ticket that made her the largest Powerball winner in history. On June 5, she said nothing as she claimed her prize, a $370 million lump sum before taxes. Neighbors said MacKenzie never returned to her apartment. But four days later, a woman matching her description paid the checks of 200 patrons at a Plant City BuddyFreddy's restaurant.

Times staff writers Lisa Buie, Lane DeGregory, Charlie Frago, Lisa Gartner, Will Hobson, Peter Jamison, Waveney Ann Moore, Anna Phillips, Mark Puente and Kameel Stanley contributed.

13 stories from 2013 that captured our attention 12/28/13 [Last modified: Saturday, December 28, 2013 11:51pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...