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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

  • Duval County voters have re-elected Lenny Curry as Jacksonville Mayor and Mike Williams as Jacksonville Sheriff.  Vote-by-mail numbers remain only partially reported, but with both early voting and Election Day voting numbers fully reported, Lenny Curry had 57.65% of the vote. His next closest competition, Anna Lopez Brosche snagged 24.14%  of the vote. Jimmy Hill got 7.53%, while Omega Allen picked up 10.50%.  During his victory speech, Curry addressed his accomplishments as mayor.  'Four years ago, I promised you I would focus on public safety, the pension crisis, educational opportunities for young people, invest in your neighborhoods, and create jobs. And over the last four years, I've honored those promises, and I believe that's why you've re-elected me, because I had a record to run on,' said Curry.  Looking to the future, Curry says the focus will remain on public safety, with continued investment in after-school programs and summer jobs for young people. Curry also said he will keep a focus on the health of the St. Johns River and job creation.  Curry also addressed the future of downtown Jacksonville, saying you can't be a suburb of nowhere.  'We're gonna make downtown a destination. Residential, retail, sports, art, and entertainment. You will not recognize downtown in four years,' said Curry.  While he promised big changes for downtown, he vowed it would not come at the expense of other neighborhoods. Lopez Brosche released a statement following her defeat, congratulating Curry on his win. In that statement, she says she is understandably disappointed, but has absolutely no regrets about running for mayor. FULL STATEMENT FROM LOPEZ BROSCHE POSTED BELOW: STORY: FULL DUVAL COUNTY ELECTIONS RESULTS In the race for Sheriff, Mike Williams defeated Tony Cummings, 61.60% to 38.40%, based on the fully reported early voting and Election Day voting numbers (vote-by-mail remains only partially reported). During his victory speech, Williams thanked the people of Jacksonville for their vote as he said Tuesday's elections begins the next chapter of work that needs to be done.  'Today JSO is ready to handle any challenge-- to work with our community, to protect Jacksonville. This community's strong support of JSO continues to astound me and I am forever grateful for that,' said Williams.  Williams says JSO will continue to work with the community to combat violence and gangs, as he says families in every neighborhood deserve to feel safe.  'Our core strategy going forward is a simple one. We know what works, we will do more of that. We will do it faster, and we will do it better,' said Williams.  Williams says JSO's methods will only get better, thanks to the new tools and technology, the professionals of JSO, and the community. Cummings released a statement Tuesday evening, thanking his supporters. “I thank you for believing in our vision for securing the city and bringing crime under control. We did not get the results we were looking for, but our vision, I’m sure, did not go unnoticed by the establishment,” said Cummings.
  • Some new faces are joining the Jacksonville City Council, but five races will remain undecided until May. In order to win outright tonight, a candidate had to secure 50% + 1 of the votes. If that did not happen, the top two vote-getters in the race will face off on May 14th. That will happen in five races, including two that feature incumbents.  FULL RESULTS: Jacksonville’s City Council races In District 8, Democrat Ju’Coby Pittman and Democrat Tameka Gaines Holly are the top two contenders. Pittman was appointed to the seat when the Governor suspended the prior City Councilwoman. That prior Councilwoman, Katrina Brown, did run in the race, but she did not land in the top two to make it to the runoff. In At-Large Group 3, incumbent Democrat Tommy Hazouri and Republican Greg Rachal will face off in May.  In District 10, the top two vote-getters are Democrat Brenda A. Priestly Jackson and Democrat Celestine Mills, but nobody secured the majority needed to win outright. District 14 was another open seat, and Republican Randy DeFoor and Democrat Sunny Gettinger will be on the ballot in May in that race. City Council At-Large 1 was open, and Democrat Lisa King will face Republican Terrance Freeman. Freeman is a sitting Councilman in District 10, but is running for election to At-Large 1, instead of re-election to the seat he holds, which he was appointed to by the Governor when the prior Councilman, Reggie Brown, was suspended. The remaining 14 races have been decided. Four of those seats had victors before the night even started- Republican LeAnna Cumber in District 4, Republican Rory Diamond in District 13, incumbent Republican District 3 Councilman Aaron Bowman, and incumbent Republican District 11 Councilman Danny Becton were all elected without opposition. Among the other races, in the open District 6 contest, Republican Michael Boylan secured the win. Open At-Large Group 2 saw Republican Ron Salem victorious. At-Large Group 4 was another open seat, although the person filling it is a familiar name to the Council- former Councilman Republican Matt Carlucci defeated two challengers to win the race. Aside from the two incumbents in runoffs for their seats, the others secured re-election. Democrat Joyce Morgan was re-elected in District 1, Republican Al Ferraro was re-elected to District 2, Republican Scott Wilson was re-elected to District 4, Democrat Reggie Gaffney was re-elected to District 7, Democrat Garrett Dennis was re-elected to District 9, Republican Randy White was re-elected to District 12, and Republican Samuel Newby was re-elected to At-Large Group 5.
  • The Department of Defense has compiled a list of military construction projects that could be eliminated, reduced, or otherwise altered in order to fund the border wall, under President Trump’s National Emergency declaration. The list includes two projects at Naval Station Mayport. WOKV has previously reported on a more than $82.3 million budget for a Littoral Combat Ship Support Facility that could be at risk. Naval Facility Engineering Command Southeast says this project consists of a larger administrative building and parking garage to support LCS operations on the base. Mayport is a hub for one of the LCS designs, with 16 of the ships expected to call Mayport home by 2023. The DOD list, which was released by Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) also identifies a nearly $75 million Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant on the base as something that could be affected by the need to find funding for the National Emergency declaration. NAVFAC Southeast tells WOKV this project would upgrade the existing sewage treatment plant, to treat wastewater on the base. It would “modernize and improve” the base’s ability to treat wastewater, according to NAVFAC Southeast. The project is not currently under contract, but solicitation is ongoing. There is no timeline set for possible groundbreaking or completion, because NAVFAC Southeast says that is generally determined after the contract is awarded. We asked what the impact would be if the project was eliminated, and NAVFAC Southeast said only that they continue to solicit the project. The DOD list identifies all military construction projects that could be affected, which are projects that have not yet been awarded and are not slated to be awarded before September 2019. Eligible projects also must not impact housing, barracks, and dorms. The DOD further says the list represents more funding than they expect to need as part of the $3.6 billion National Emergency declaration, so while they have highlighted all possible projects, it does not mean that all of these projects will be affected. It is not yet clear when there will be a final determination on this.
  • Newly uncovered court documents show that Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., the man accused of the notorious Golden State Killer serial murders and rapes in the 1970s and 1980s, was arrested on an unrelated charge in 1996, but was let go. DeAngelo, a U.S. Navy veteran and former police officer, faces 13 murder charges and 13 counts of kidnapping related to some of more than 50 sexual assaults the Golden State Killer, also known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker, is believed to have committed over a span stretching from 1975 to 1986. Following his arrest outside his Citrus Heights, California, home last April, authorities said the only prior arrest they knew of was a 1979 shoplifting incident that led to DeAngelo losing his job with the Auburn Police Department.  He stole a hammer and a can of dog repellent in the incident, according to reports.  The Sacramento Bee, which requested a bevy of court records following DeAngelo’s high-profile arrest last year, reported Friday that the records the newspaper received included documents from a lawsuit DeAngelo filed following a 1996 arrest in which he was accused of stealing from a gas station by leaving without paying for some gas.  >> Read more trending news DeAngelo, then 50, was arrested in an April 16, 1996, sting operation in which law enforcement officials in Placer County targeted people with outstanding warrants by notifying them that they had won free Super Bowl tickets, the Bee reported. The targets were told they could pick up the tickets at a Sacramento office.  DeAngelo was one of the people who responded to the ruse, the Bee said. He was jailed and released, and the charge against him was later dismissed, the court records showed.  Related story: Alabama man charged in 1999 double murder of teen girls Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office officials said there was no way to know in 1996 that DeAngelo was the murder suspect they and several other law enforcement agencies had sought for so long. “We had no way of knowing at the time who we actually had in our jail, because the evidence wasn’t there, the technology wasn’t there,” Sgt. Shaun Hampton told the newspaper Friday. “I don’t think there’s any way we could have known. There was no way for us to identify this person by him simply being in our jail for a few hours.” DeAngelo later sued the gas station manager for false arrest, claiming the gas pump had malfunctioned before he finished pumping the gas for which he’d already paid. The attendant, who the records alleged did not speak English well, reported him as an attempted robber after he demanded cash back for the gas it failed to pump.  “Eventually, the case was dismissed and the court entered an order finding plaintiff factually innocent and sealed the record,” the lawsuit said, according to the Bee.  The $1 million suit was eventually settled out of court, the Bee said. William Wright, who sued on DeAngelo’s behalf, told the newspaper he could not remember details of the settlement.  Wright expressed shock upon learning Friday that his client in 1996 was the Golden State Killer suspect. He said he remembered “Joe” as a nice guy who was “very upset about this gas station business.” “I’d seen the guy on TV, but I never made the connection,” Wright told the Bee. “He was very pleasant when he was talking to me.” Related story: Genealogy, DNA solve case of newborn left to freeze to death in ditch 38 years ago The newspaper reported that Sacramento County officials did not begin collecting DNA samples from suspects arrested for felonies until a few years after DeAngelo’s 1996 arrest. The process became routine statewide after the 2004 passage of Proposition 69, a law pushed by Bruce Harrington.  Harrington’s brother and sister-in-law, Keith and Patrice Harrington, were two of DeAngelo’s alleged victims in 1986, 10 years before his arrest in the gas station incident. The couple were found slain by Bruce and Keith Harrington’s father when he arrived at their home for dinner.  DeAngelo became a suspect in the Golden State Killer case after cold case investigators tried a novel approach to solving the crime -- taking DNA evidence left behind by the killer and comparing it to DNA profiles shared to public commercial databases by people hoping to find relatives they were not aware of.  Detectives were able to narrow down the DNA profiles they found on GEDmatch to close relatives of potential suspects, including DeAngelo. They confirmed they were on the right track after DNA taken from the handle of a driver’s side door on DeAngelo’s vehicle matched the evidence left at multiple Golden State Killer crime scenes.  They verified the match with a direct sample from DeAngelo following his arrest.  Since DeAngelo’s arrest, law enforcement agencies across the country have started using the same “genetic genealogy” technique to solve cold cases they have been working for decades. Buzzfeed News reported last month that Parabon Nanolabs Inc., a company that in the weeks after DeAngelo’s arrest established a commercial forensic genealogy service, has helped police identify suspects in three dozen cases since last May. Bode Technology, the largest forensic DNA testing company in the U.S., is launching its own rival service.  Alabama authorities on Monday announced that they had solved the 1999 double homicide of two 17-year-old girls who were found shot to death in a car trunk after getting lost on their way to a party for one of the girls’ birthday. Parabon Nanolabs provided the DNA analysis that led to a suspect.  Coley Lewis McCraney, of Dothan, is charged with five counts of capital murder and one count of first-degree rape in the July 31, 1999, deaths of J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett, who were each shot once in the head. McCraney, who was 25 when he allegedly raped Beasley and killed her and her friend, faces the death penalty in the slayings.  South Dakota investigators earlier this month announced the arrest of a Florida woman accused of leaving her newborn son to freeze to death in a ditch in Sioux Falls 38 years ago. Theresa Josten Bentaas, now 57, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of the infant, who the community named Andrew John Doe and buried in a local cemetery after his family could not be located.  Parabon Nanolabs provided the DNA analysis in that case, as well.  DeAngelo is awaiting trial in the Sacramento County Jail, the same facility he was booked into in 1996. 
  • A 64-year-old Tennessee man, who was also accused of posing as a psychiatrist in Ponte Vedra, Florida, has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison following a fraud scheme that cheated investors out of $3 million. According to the US Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee, George David George pleaded guilty Tuesday to seven counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, securities fraud, and money laundering. As part of his sentence, George will also be required to pay more than $2.8 million in restitution. The US Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee says the charges stemmed from a business that George founded, called WellCity, Inc. George was accused of soliciting millions of dollars from investors, by misrepresenting the company's revenues, assets, and more.  The US Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee says George also spent some time on the run, which included living under fake aliases in multiple states, including Texas, Alabama, and Florida. While in Alabama, investigators say he leased a $70,000 Mercedes using a stolen identity.  During his time in Florida, George is accused of representing himself as a Harvard-educated psychiatrist named Stephen Olivier. While posing as Dr. Olivier, he 'treated' patients in Ponte Vedra. The US Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee says George ultimately gave one of his patients, a 16-year-old, Clonazepam after getting the medication from a woman he met on Match.com. The teen's mother testified that after her son took the medication, he became suicidal and needed to be hospitalized.  George was ultimately apprehended and arrested by US Marshals while in Florida. 

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