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2018 in Florida: mass shootings, hurricanes, election sagas

Florida in 2018 saw a horrific school shooting, a devastating hurricane that ravaged parts of the state's Panhandle region, and a contentious election that dragged on for weeks.

The shooting sent reverberations through the nation, in schools across the country and in the halls of power.

In February, 17 students and staff were gunned down at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The entire world watched as the students who survived organized marches, gave rousing speeches and appeared in countless media interviews, all on the topic of gun control.

"If us students have learned anything, it's that if you don't study, you will fail," said Parkland student Emma Gonzalez during a rally in Fort Lauderdale just days after the shooting. "And in this case if you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it's time to start doing something."

In November, Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave their student organization, March For Our Lives, the International Children's Peace Prize .

The shooting also changed state policy in ways that had been previously unthinkable in Florida's gun lobby-friendly Legislature. Three weeks after the attack, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that raised the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21, extended a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns and bans bump stocks, and created a so-called guardian program enabling some teachers and other school employees to carry guns.

Survivors had wanted a ban on assault-style weapons, like the ones the gunman used during the massacre. But the bill didn't go that far. Still, the National Rifle Association fought back with a lawsuit, saying the measure "punishes law-abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of a deranged individual."

The other devastating event in the state came in October, when Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle , killing at least 43 people. It all but wiped the small community of Mexico Beach off the map , and caused massive damage in Panama City and at Tyndall Air Force Base.

Michael was the strongest storm on record ever to hit the Panhandle, and it upended every aspect of life in the Panama City area, from schools to businesses to traffic and electricity. Many people still haven't recovered. Earlier this month, it was announced that one of Panama City's two hospitals would lay off 800 people because it was unable to reopen parts of the building due to storm damage, and the city's largest mall has closed, also due to damage sustained in the storm.

Another disaster also hit Florida's Gulf communities in 2018, but it was slow moving and spread up the coast over the summer. A massive, naturally occurring red tide bloom began in Naples and eventually drifted north. It killed hundreds of tons of fish, and communities along the coast scrambled to clear the normally pristine beaches from the stinking mess. The red tide also reached the state's Atlantic coast, which is unusual.

In addition to the red tide, some communities saw a spread of blue-green algae in freshwater. Heavy rains in the Spring caused Lake Okeechobee to discharge water containing the goo-like algae into rivers and canals. The bright green sludge oozed onto docks and into rivers and canals.

Both types of algae threatened to affect the state's tourism industry, which scrambled to reassure visitors that many parts of Florida were algae-free.

One of Florida's major stories centered around politics. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum became the state's first black gubernatorial nominee when he won the Democratic primary in August. He faced former Congressman Ron DeSantis, a Republican. The U.S. Senate race was a bruiser, too, with Republican Gov. Rick Scott up against sitting Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Contentious races for U.S. Senate and governor were too close to call on election night . That led to a recount, which dredged up memories of the much maligned 2000 presidential election. In the end, Scott was declared the winner in the Senate race and DeSantis the winner in the governor's race. Voters also approved two amendments of note: one allowing most felons who have served their sentences to vote (excluding sex offenders). Voters also banned greyhound racing.

Other top stories:

— In February, a Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapsed and killed six people . Two days before the collapse, an engineer with the bridge's design firm left a voicemail for state transportation officials to report cracking had been found at one end of the concrete span, but the company didn't think it was a safety issue. State officials didn't hear the voicemail until after the collapse . Federal authorities are still investigating.

— In October, prominent Democratic officials, CNN's Manhattan offices and others who have been critical of President Donald Trump were targeted with package bombs. The suspect, 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc, was from Miami-Dade County . He's in jail while awaiting trial and faces nearly 50 years in prison if convicted on five federal charges, which were filed in New York.

— In June, a popular young rapper was killed in Fort Lauderdale . Four men are accused of killing XXXTentacion (ex-ex-ex-ten-ta-see-YAWN). The 20-year-old rap star, whose real name was Jahseh Onfroy, was fatally shot multiple times as he left a motorcycle dealership.

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The Latest News Headlines

  • Months after an armed home invasion robbery in Fernandina Beach that injured two people, investigators say they've now arrested a third suspect in connection. The Fernandina Beach Police Department has announced the arrest of 24-year-old Cedrice Brown. They say he was taken into custody early Wednesday morning, not far from the University of North Carolina.  Police tell us when he was arrested he was in possession of two stolen guns and booked on various North Carolina charges. A hold has been placed on Brown to have him extradited to Florida, where he faces armed robbery and armed burglary charges.  Police say since the December 22, 2018, incident at a home on Manatee Avenue, they've determined that the robbery was pre-planned due to one of the suspects involved having knowledge of where certain items were.  At the time of the robbery, police 15 people were inside. The victims reported seeing several suspects wearing masks and carrying various weapons, rifles, handguns and knives.  Two people were injured during the robbery, after being hit in the head with guns.  WOKV told you that one suspect was arrested while attempting to flee. A second suspect was arrested at a later time.  Police say they're continuing to work on identifying the remaining suspects, who they believe are from outside the Nassau County-area.
  • Authorities arrested an 11th person Tuesday in connection with the ambush shooting last week of former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz in the Dominican Republic. >> Read more trending news  In a press briefing Wednesday evening, the Dominican Republic’s lead prosecutor said that Ortiz was not the target of a shooting.  Attorney General Jean Alain Rodríguez said the target was another man, dressed similarly to Ortiz, who was seated next to him the night of June 9. Rodríguez said the shooting was orchestrated by a member of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel, who remains on the run. He did not immediately describe a motive. An unidentified official told The Associated Press that Franklin Junior Merán was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of renting one of the cars used in the June 9 shooting in Santo Domingo. Ten other suspects have already been ordered to spend a year in preventive detention as the investigation continues, including the accused shooter. Authorities say they are looking for at least three other suspects, including the man they believe paid the hit men. Ortiz continued recovering Wednesday in the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Ortiz’s wife, Tiffany Ortiz, said doctors upgraded Ortiz’s condition to good Tuesday. “We remain grateful to everyone who has helped David through this ordeal, both in the Dominican Republic and here in Boston,” Tiffany Ortiz said in a statement released by the Red Sox. “David’s journey to good health has been bolstered by the many expressions of love that have come to us from across the globe. Your support has lifted his spirits tremendously during this challenging time.” Authorities continue to investigate. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • A man said his fiancee put eye drops into his soft drink Saturday at their Rowan County home. >> Read more trending news  The man told authorities he confronted his fiancee, Jaymee Cruz, after he said he watched her put the drops in his Coca-Cola. He then locked himself and their baby in the bathroom and called 911. Deputies said when they arrived at the scene, Cruz at first denied putting eye drops in the drink, but later said she did it to make the man sick. Cruz said she got the idea from the movie 'Wedding Crashers' and did it because she wanted to move out of the home with their daughter, authorities said. Consuming eye drops is extremely dangerous and can be deadly. The main ingredient reduces redness in the eyes, but when ingested it can rapidly reach the blood and central nervous systems. It's not the first time a person has been accused of using eye drops to poison their significant other. Last year, York County investigators charged Lana Clayton in her husband’s death after she said she put eye drops in his water, WSOC-TV reported. Stephen Clayton’s toxicology report showed he had poisonous levels of the key ingredient in eye drops.
  • Families living in south Jacksonville and in northern St. Johns County are poised to get more convenient access to specialized pediatric emergency care. That's as a new 8,100-square-foot Wolfson Children's Hospital ER will be coming to Baptist Medical Center South, with construction expected to be complete in the fall of 2019.  The ER will be its own separate facility, with its own entrance, check-in and triage area, family restrooms, parking area, and more.  'Everything about our new Wolfson Children's Emergency Center at Baptist South will be designed to provide world-class pediatric emergency care close to home,' says Michael D. Aubin, FACHE, president of Wolfson Children's Hospital.  We're told this project is the culmination of listening to parents and years of planning.  'Parents told us they wanted the specialized emergency care from Wolfson Children's to be close by. They asked for a dedicated space with its own parking, and most of all, a kid-friendly environment to take the fear out of going to the ER. We listened, and we are thrilled to bring all this and more to the Baptist South campus,' says Darin Roark, BSN, MBA, RN, FACHE, and vice president of ambulatory campuses and Baptist Health system emergency departments.  During construction, the parking lot on the south side of Baptist South will need to be closed. But, patients and visitors can continue to park in Lot A, directly in front of the ER entrance. The visitor garage will also remain open.
  • Police arrested a 33-year-old man Monday on suspicion of intentionally driving into pedestrians in Jefferson City, injuring a 61-year-old man and killing a pregnant woman and her 2-year-old son, according to investigators. >> Read more trending news  Authorities said William David Phillips, of Jefferson City, swerved to intentionally hit Tillman Gunter, 61, while driving west on East Main Street on Monday afternoon. Police said Phillips traveled less than a mile before swerving again, striking Sierra Wilson Cahoon, 30, and her 2-year-old son, Nolan Cahoon. Cahoon, Nolan and Cahoon’s unborn child were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, according to investigators. Gunter was taken to a hospital with injuries that did not appear to be life-threatening, police said. Authorities were called around 3:30 p.m. Monday after Phillips lodged the car he was driving into a building for Sustainable Aquatics, a fish hatchery, according to The Citizen Tribune and the Knoxville News Sentinel. Witness Bill Ray Jones told WBIR-TV he heard Phillips yelling that the “government told him to do it” as he tried to flee from the scene of the crash. 'He knew he had hit (Cahoon) and I'm sure he did because he was talking all crazy,' he told the news station. Sustainable Aquatics owner John Carberry told the News Sentinel he arrived at the scene of the crash within minutes Monday and found Cahoon and her son dead on the sidewalk. “There was a hole in the building and one of my employees ran out,” Carberry told the News Sentinel. “She had minor injuries. She ran up to the main building, and the perpetrator ran out of the hole and ran up and some local citizens grabbed him.” The crash ruptured several fish tanks and destroyed four fish systems, Carberry told The Citizen Tribune and the News Sentinel. He estimated about 2,000 wild-caught fish died after the crash caused more than 10,000 gallons of water to rush from the tanks. “I just want to let the police do their job and mourn the passing of this mother and child,” Carberry told The Citizen Tribune. “It’s very sad.” Phillips, of Jefferson City, was arrested on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. Authorities filed an additional murder charge against Phillips on Wednesday for the death of Cahoon's unborn child, WATE reported. In a news release, police said investigators believed 'this was an intentional act of violence toward randomly chosen pedestrians. “Investigators have determined that Phillips did not know the victims,” police said. In an arrest warrant obtained Wednesday by the News Sentinel, authorities said Phillips told investigators “a voice told him that he needed to go kill meth addicts.” After Phillips spotted Cahoon and her son, 'He said the voice told him that the baby stroller had meth in it so he intentionally drove into (the mother and child) ... killing them both,' the warrant said, according to the News Sentinel. Records from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department showed he remained jailed Wednesday. A spokesperson for Carson-Newman University, a Christian university in Jefferson City, told WBIR-TV that Cahoon and Nolan were the wife and son of Matt Cahoon, an assistant athletic trainer at the school. “Our hearts are breaking for one of our own,” Carson-Newman University interim President Paul Percy said Tuesday in a statement. “We take comfort in knowing that God also feels our pain and hears our prayers. Because of this, we ask for prayers for Matt and his family now and in the days ahead.” Officials at First Steps Preschool at the First United Methodist Church told WBIR-TV Nolan was a happy student who always gave out hugs and high-fives. 'He was a joy,' the preschool’s director, Jessica Lawson, told WBIR-TV. 'He would walk through the door smiling every morning.' Officials at Carson-Newman University started a fund to benefit the Cahoon family. Those wishing to contribute can donate online to The Randall and Kay O’Brien Benevolent Fund on the university’s website.

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