From crimes by elected leaders and visits by big-name politicians, to a new namesake Navy vessel and a change in the way we watch television. A lot happened in 2008 here in southeastern North Carolina. As we count down to 2009, we begin a look back at the year that was.
The New Year started off on a bright note for the Collazo family of Leland. Fransisco Collazo, new father, said, “We were going to go watch the ball drop actually.Instead we watched a baby drop.” Little Nila Maria entered the world just 40 minutes into 2008. She was the first baby of the New Year in our area.
The second day of the year, though, was a sad one in Columbus County. Wind and waves flipped a paddleboat with three 17-year-old boys in the middle of Lake Waccamaw. Scott Collins managed to swim back to shore using lessons he learned in Boy Scouts. Crews found the bodies of Glen Marvin the next day and William Mills four days later.
In January, a legislative ethics committee accused state representative Thomas Wright of eight counts of misconduct after a grand jury indicted him a month earlier on charges of illegally obtaining or misusing more than $350,000 in campaign donations, loans and charitable money. During a special legislative session in March, the Wilmington Democrat became the first member of the North Carolina legislature expelled since 1880. Less than three weeks later, a Wake County jury convicted Wright on three felony fraud counts. Wright received a six to eight year prison sentence.
Missing since before Christmas, investigators found the body of Marine Corporal Maria Lauterbach in Jacksonville January 12th. She and her unborn child were burned and buried in the backyard of fellow Marine Cesar Laurean, who fled to Mexico, where he was captured in April and still awaits extradition.
The state of New Hanover County address on January 22nd came with a big surprise. The revelation that during 2007’s tax revaluation, the county tax office forgot to exclude nearly two billion dollars in tax-exempt property. That left budgets for the county and its cities and towns about ten million dollars short, leading to extensive cuts.
Despite the budget problem, construction on Wilmington’s downtown convention center started January 24th. Construction should be done in late 2009/early 2010, with a 157-room hotel Indigo.
Hollywood East got back to work when the Writer’s Guild of America ended a 14-week strike in February that had crippled TV and movie production.
“I am profoundly sorry for the death of Peyton Strickland,” said Sid Causey.
Those words accompanied a $2.5 million settlement to the family of Peyton Strickland; shot and killed in December 2006 as the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team tried to serve a search warrant at the teen’s home. As part of the settlement, Sheriff Sid Causey also agreed to have outside consultants evaluate how his ERT works.
The Wilmington Fire Department mourned one of its own this year. Captain John Miller died when his helicopter crashed off Carolina Beach Road March 13th.
The biggest shock of the year may have come on March 27th when Brunswick County DA, Rex Gore, called an evening press conference. “Ronald E. Hewett has been suspended as sheriff of Brunswick County,” he said.
The move was based on evidence, including testimony from top aides who claimed misconduct by Hewett, including showing up drunk to crime scenes and using deputies for personal and campaign work. By early June, Hewett had resigned his position, and was indicted and pleaded guilty to federal obstruction of justice charges.
Air service to, and from, the Port City got a boost this year. Allegiant Air added service between Wilmington and Orlando in April. Flights to St. Petersburg, Florida, joined the schedule in November.
One Tree Hill’s Barbara Allyn Wood reigned as queen of the 61st Annual Azalea Festival. The garden tour again raised a record amount of money for community projects.
The hope for better roads and bridges took a hit in April when the Department of Transportation said it lacked about $100 million in funding for projects in southeastern North Carolina alone.
A murder mystery unfolded in the Port City in late April when two sets of human bones were found off Carolina Beach Road. DNA testing eventually identified the remains as Angela Rothen, who went missing in 2007, and Allison Jackson Foy, missing since July 2006. The murders remain unsolved.
Politics dominated the news in 2008, and Wilmington was in the spotlight ahead of May’s primary Republican candidates for governor attended a forum at Cape Fear Community College, while Democrats Bev Perdue and Richard Moore were no-shows.
A week-and-a-half before the election, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton drew thousands of supporters along the Wilmington Riverfront. The next day, Barack Obama filled UNCW’s Trask Coliseum. Two days after that, former President Bill Clinton made a return visit to Whiteville to stump for his wife.
As if that were not enough that week, Wilmington also hosted the commissioning of the newest USS North Carolina. The nuclear submarine, and her crew, spent the week at the state port under tight security ahead of the big festivities.
With the sub gone, it was on to Washington for city leaders as the Federal Communications Commission chose Wilmington, and its five-county area, as the first TV market to make the switch to digital television, launching a summer full of education on the DTV transition.
We’ll check out the rest of 2008 on its final day, Wednesday. In the meantime, we want to know what you thought was the biggest story of the year.