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2000

In a year when the biggest news stories in the country emerged from Florida, you would think that news of more local interest might look sleepy by comparison. You would be wrong. + Elian Gonzalez's stay in Miami dominated the national news early in the year, and the presidential election hinged on Florida near year's end. But the state and the Tampa Bay area didn't stand still. + In Tallahassee, there were spirited protests over Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida plan to remake affirmative action. On Florida's death row, the electric chair gave way to lethal injection. + In July, the Hillsborough state attorney committed suicide, adding to a year of scandal and investigations at the Hillsborough courthouse. + From inside courtrooms themselves came some of the biggest stories. Allen Blackthorne, the ex-husband of murder victim Sheila Bellush, and Valessa Robinson, accused of helping to kill her mother, both stood trial. Judges made key decisions in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case and the Baby Sam adoption. + And in August, a federal judge changed the face of Pinellas County schools by ending a desegregation order and paving the way for school choice. + Those are just a few events of 2000 we review here. And in this recap, there's not one hanging chad.

ONE FLORIDA: Two black state lawmakers, Miami Sen. Kendrick Meek and Jacksonville Rep. Tony Hill, staged a 25-hour sit-in in Gov. Jeb Bush's Capitol offices over his One Florida initiative, which abolished affirmative action in university admissions and public contracting. The sit-in was a catalyst for a March 7 march, which drew about 11,000 protesters to Tallahassee, and a minority voter registration effort, which helped increase black voter turnout in the Nov. 7 election by more than 50 percent over 1996.

YBOR FIRE: A forklift operator snapped a power line, and within minutes a 454-unit apartment complex under construction was on fire. The Park at Ybor City, a key element in Ybor's revitalization, was destroyed as five city blocks burned. A post office also burned, but no one was seriously hurt. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited apartment builder Camden Development, two subcontractors and the forklift operator, Jose Chirino, for safety violations. The complex is being rebuilt.

BAYFLITE CRASH: A Bayflite helicopter ambulance crashed into a transmission tower over Tampa Bay in April and plummeted to Weedon Island, killing pilot Mark Wallace, flight nurse Alicia Betita-Collins and paramedic Erik Hangartner. The chopper had just delivered a patient to Bayfront Medical Center and was returning to its home base at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

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