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The top local and state stories of 2011

We say this every December, but this time, we mean it: What a year it was. • Around here, 2011 was a whirl of political change, tragedy and a trial that landed us in Nancy Grace's not-so-good graces.

We got a new governor who wasted no time making big decisions and big headlines — and by year's end, got a big indication of what Floridians thought about that.

But when there was talk of change for our Honeymoon Island, people rose up and said no, and wonder of wonders, it worked.

This year came the execution of a man who might rightly be called a monster, who 22 years earlier lured a mother and her two daughters out on our waters and murdered them all. Quietly, and without his brutal swagger, he was gone. But so were they, still.

This was the year we found ourselves in the national cross-hairs when some of our citizens packed their bags to do their civic duty in the Casey Anthony trial-gone-wild.

And we watched in horror as another mother was led away, wild-eyed, charged with murdering her own two teenagers.

This year, we showed an embattled school superintendent the door, swept the homeless from our streets and decided we didn't need fluoride after all. And we said an untimely goodbye to someone we called a hero — not just for the game he played, but also for the man he was.

2012?

Around here, we couldn't make up what comes next.

Sue Carlton, Times Staff Writer

The top state and local stories of 2011, as chosen by the editors of the St. Petersburg Times

It was a crime so ghastly that police were given counseling to deal with the emotional toll: A suburban mom married to an Army colonel accused of fatally shooting her two teenage children Jan. 28 because she said she was sick of them talking back to her. Julie Schenecker is awaiting trial in the double murder of Calyx, 16, and Powers, 13.

Lee Roy Selmon, the first player drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the team's only member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died Sept. 4, two days after suffering a stroke at his Tampa home. He was 56 and considered the area's greatest ambassador. His funeral drew thousands.

Downtown St. Petersburg's homeless population, a point of contention for years among residents and business owners, all but disappeared after a new, $1.8 million shelter called Safe Harbor opened in January and police begin enforcing laws against sleeping on public property. Meanwhile, 1,900 people turned out for a food giveaway at a St. Petersburg church this month.

In the first major decision of his term, Gov. Rick Scott in February rejected the federal government's offer of $2.4 billion to build a high-speed rail line from Tampa to Orlando, enraging many Democrats and Republicans while pleasing his tea party base. A flurry of attempts to circumvent the ruling followed, but they all failed. It was the first of many controversial moves for Scott, who according to polls ends the year with the lowest approval rating of any governor.

In a case that drew so much publicity in Orlando a judge used jurors from Pinellas County to hear the evidence, Casey Anthony was acquitted July 5 of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, in 2008. The verdict was so controversial a judge kept the jurors' names secret for months to protect them.

A plan to add camping and RV's to Honeymoon Island was scrapped July 8 by Gov. Rick Scott in the face of fierce public opposition. "These natural treasures belong to all the taxpaying citizens of this state and it would be unfair to proceed with a plan that so many Floridians are so adamantly opposed to," Scott said.

Two brothers and a sister from Pasco County led authorities on a cross-country manhunt in August. Authorities said Lee Grace Dougherty, Ryan Dougherty and Dylan Stanley-Dougherty shot at a Zephyrhills police officer and robbed a Valdosta, Ga., bank before their capture in a shootout with police in Colorado.

Julie Janssen's rocky three years as Pinellas school superintendent ended Aug. 23 with a unanimous vote by the School Board. The board, which chose Janssen after its first choice rejected the offer, turned to John Stewart as its third superintendent since 2004.

After three hours of polarizing debate, the Pinellas County Commission voted 4-3 Oct. 4 to stop adding fluoride on Dec. 31 to its drinking water, which goes to 700,000 residents of the county and most Pinellas cities.

Oba Chandler, arguably the most notorious criminal in Tampa Bay history, was executed Nov. 15, 22 years after he killed Joan Rogers and her daughters, Michelle and Christe. He lured the Ohio tourists onto his boat, tied them up and threw them in Tampa Bay to drown, weighed down by cinder blocks. Joan Rogers' husband, witnessed the execution. "There's never going to be justice, okay?" he said. "He'd be dead, and they'd come back. That would be justice."

More top state and local stories of 2011, 2B

More on 1A

The Times' biggest stories of the year include three police officers killed and the end of the space shuttle program. See the paper's top stories, 1A

The top local and state stories of 2011 12/22/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 24, 2011 10:41pm]
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