From Donald Trump to Dalia Dippolito: Palm Beach County’s top stories

The next president of the United States has a place right here. And that’s just part of a wild news year in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Here are the area’s top 10 stories, as determined, and chronicled, by Post editors and reporters, with help from statistics on how popular news stories were with readers.

1. President Trump: It’s one of the most shocking upsets in U.S. political history. Part-time Palm Beacher, entrepreneur and reality show star Donald Trump rode a national wave of frustration by America’s middle class. Hillary Clinton took blue-leaning Palm Beach County with 56.6 percent of the total vote, but Trump won Florida by 1.2 percent. Even though he lost the nationwide popular tally by nearly 3 million votes, he took enough states to prevail in the Electoral College. Now Mar-a-Lago is the winter White House.

2. Pulse: Early on June 12, Port St. Lucie security guard Omar Mateen walked into a predominantly gay Orlando night club with an assault rifle. In the ensuing hours, he mowed down 49 people before police killed him. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

3. Matthew: It had been more than a decade since Wilma had torn through Palm Beach County, and Matthew, which already had killed hundreds in Haiti, loomed as a potential catastrophe; a 145-mph hurricane buzz-sawing the coastline from South Florida all the way up. A little jiggle kept the storm offshore, and it’s not an official strike for Palm Beach County, although hurricane-force winds were recorded in the Treasure Coast and Matthew did considerable damage as it angled in around the Space Coast and North Florida. Local emergency managers and officials said it was the best kind of dry run, but one they could have lived without.

4. Tiger keeper death: On April 15, Stacey Konwiser, lead tiger keeper at Palm Beach Zoo, died from a neck injury caused by Hati, a 300-pound, 13-year-old Malayan tiger, when she went inside a cage in the tiger night house. Everyone city police interviewed said they had no idea why she would have gone in if she knew the tiger were there. In a report, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it cannot issue any citation because no specific standards apply to the incident. OSHA did make eight recommendations, including installing video monitoring equipment to “track location and movement of tigers” as well as “electronic door position status detectors” to display when animals have access to certain areas. The zoo said it does not believe any of the “additional safety recommendations played a role in the accident.”

5. Tequesta teens’ boat found: In March, about 100 miles off Bermuda, a Norwegian ship found the capsized single-engine boat on which two Tequesta teens had gone to sea in July 2015. Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both 14, never returned. Parents faced off in Palm Beach County court over possible information in the iPhone found aboard the boat, but experts were unable to get anything. Both families also established foundations in their sons’ names to promote boating safety and environmental education. In June, when Palm Beach County sank the Ana Cecelia, seized in a Miami drug raid, it mounted plaques honoring several people lost at sea, including the two boys.

6. “The cannibal murders”: Austin Harrouff, just 19, quarrelled with his parents Aug. 15 at a Jupiter restaurant, walked a few blocks to a neighborhood just across the line in Martin County, and, apparently at random, allegedly attacked a couple sitting in their open garage. He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Michelle Mishcon, 53, and her husband, John Stevens, 59. Harrouff is also charged with attempted first-degree murder after investigators say he stabbed a neighbor, according to authorities, who also said they found Harrouff on top of Stevens, biting his face.

7. Heroin/sober homes: The year saw widespread spotlights, including separate Palm Beach Post investigations, into two epidemics. Law enforcement reported skyrocketing heroin abuse — The Post highlighted 216 people who died in Palm Beach County in 2015 alone — amid warnings about the arrival of more potent varieties. And politicians called for more oversight of sober homes, with several operators accused — and some criminally charged — of abusing their clients, allowing drug use and sales inside the homes, and even forcing some residents into prostitution.

8. Corey Jones: Former Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja was charged June 1 with manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder with a firearm in the Oct. 18, 2015, death of musician Corey Jones at the PGA Boulevard off-ramp from Interstate 95. Jones was on the phone with roadside assistance and waiting for a tow truck when Raja drove up in plainclothes. Raja was fired shortly after the encounter. Critics charged a white man waiting for a tow wouldn’t have been shot. Union leaders said the public can’t know what was in Raja’s mind and he’s entitled to a fair trial.

9. Guardianship: The savings of incapacitated seniors flow into the household of Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Martin Colin via his wife, professional guardian Elizabeth “Betsy” Savitt, The Palm Beach Post reported this year in its series Guardianship: A Broken Trust. Following the publication of the series, Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath removed Colin from the Probate & Guardianship Division. Colin abruptly announced his retirement, effective this weekend. All of Savitt’s cases also were reassigned from Colin’s colleagues in southern Palm Beach County to north county judges.

10. Zika: It’s hard to find something scarier than giving your child a horrific birth defect after the simple act of a mosquito bite. After spreading quickly in Latin America and the Caribbean, Zika arrived in Florida this year. Medical officials scurried and state officials feared summer visitors would divert elsewhere. But the outbreak did only limited damage to tourism. Palm Beach County mostly escaped the scare, with only four reported cases. In December, Gov. Rick Scott, with backing from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, declared the threat over in Florida and urged tourists to come on down. But officials warned Zika could return next summer.


11. Penny sales tax: Proponents said it was money desperately needed to fix parks, roads, bridges, schools and county-owned buildings neglected for years during the economic downtown. Critics called it a 16.7-percent tax hike disguised as a penny. On Nov. 8, Palm Beach County voters approved adding a seventh cent to every dollar of purchases. That’s expected to generate $2.7 billion over the next decade. Half of the money is to go to the School District of Palm Beach County, with the county getting 30 percent and cities getting the final 20 percent.

12. Westlake: Palm Beach County commissioners used terms like “snookered.” But they were helpless to stop the developers of what had been Minto West — 4,500 homes and 2.1 million square feet of nonresidential development — to create their own city of Westlake, population five for now. That freed them to surpass county limits and conditions.

13. Dontrell Stephens: In a stunning setback for an agency that’s has mostly avoided large judgments in shooting cases, a federal jury awarded $22.4 million to Stephens, a 23-year-old unarmed man who was paralyzed after being shot by a Palm Beach County sheriff’s sergeant.

14. Algae blooms: It stank. A giant algae bloom, blamed on flushes of fresh water from brimming Lake Okeechobee, left a fetid mess along the fragile St. Lucie Estuary, with some of it winding into Palm Beach County. The bloom hit the Treasure Coast’s charter boat, fishing and tourism industry hard and closed some beaches during the big July Fourth weekend.

15. Rubio-Murphy: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., trounced in his home state by Donald Trump, dropped out of the presidential race. Freshman U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, had announced when Rubio said he wouldn’t seek re-election to the Senate if his White House bid failed. Murphy also counted on riding a Hillary Clinton wave. The incumbent defeated Murphy by 52 percent to 43.3 percent.

16. Mast-Perkins: In an ugly, contentious and expensive fight for the nationally strategic Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18 U.S. House seat vacated by Murphy, Afghanistan War veteran Brian Mast, who lost both legs in a 2010 roadside bombing, defeated disaster-cleanup magnate Randy Perkins 54 percent to 43 percent.

17. Boca mosque voting site: Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher set up the Islamic Center of Boca Raton as a polling place, then moved the site after receiving resistance from mild complaints to promises of phoning in fake bomb threats.

18. Oxbridge: West Palm Beach’s Oxbridge Academy, opened in 2012 by billionaire Bill Koch, replaced its CEO, athletic director and football coach after Palm Beach Post reports prompted an internal investigation into allegations of a toxic work environment, sexual harassment and high turnover, as well as an overemphasis on football.

19. Eagle Arts Academy : Following a series of Post articles, the Palm Beach County School District forced Eagle Arts founder and CEO Gregory James Blount to repay more than $46,000 the 780-student Wellington charter school steered to him in 2015 in the guise of a loan and interest repayment.

20. Dalia Dippolito: The Boynton Beach woman convicted in 2011 of ordering a hit on her new husband won a retrial that ended Dec. 14 in a hung jury.

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