Top stories: A look back at 2017 in Delray Beach

DELRAY BEACH — The loss of a Delray Beach police officer shook the city. A development that has been in the works years finally broke ground. And Delray Beach grappled with the scourge of addiction, and fought back with a lawsuit against Big Pharma.

Those are just a few of Delray’s defining events in 2017.

As the new year approaches, and with it other newsworthy events, we look back at the top stories of 2017, and ahead at what’s to come:

An officer’s legacy

Christine Braswell, a Delray Beach sniper and training officer, was killed in a scooter crash while on vacation in the Florida Keys. Another Delray Beach Police officer, Bernenda Marc, was badly injured in the wreck. The car that struck Braswell and Marc was driven by a woman who was allegedly under the influence of alcohol and marijuana and later arrested on a charge of DUI manslaughter.

Braswell’s death dealt an emotional blow to a tight-knit police community, and the city at-large. Her memorial service drew hundreds to Atlantic High School.

“She most certainly never would’ve imagined so many people being affected by her life and pained by her death,” Deputy Autumn Reyka of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, a close friend of Braswell’s, said during the memorial service.

Lost at sea

Newlyweds Lewis Bennett and Isabella Hellmann’s catamaran took on water and overturned in the middle of the Atlantic in May. Bennett survived, but, despite days of Coast Guard searches, Hellmann, a suburban Delray Beach real estate broker, was never found.

Later, Bennett, for good or bad the central figure in the reported May 15 disappearance of Hellmann, told authorities he flew with the couple’s 14-month-old daughter to England. He only showed up back in Florida in September, in federal custody on a charge of transporting stolen coins.

Few details were revealed about Hellmann’s disappearance, but Bennett wrote to the U.S. Coast Guard within a day after it called off its search of the Atlantic for Hellmann and requested a “letter of presumed death,”something the Coast Guard said it was not authorized to do.

The Post’s Eliot Kleinberg has documented the eerie twists and turns of this disappearance in a series of stories that have drawn readers from across the globe this year.

Suing ‘Big Pharma’

In late December, Delray Beach became the first city in Florida to sue drug-makers and distributors for the role they played in a deadly and costly opioid epidemic. It’s no surprise that Delray Beach, widely known as the recovery capital of the country, claims the opioid crisis has costed taxpayers about $3 million last year alone. 

Drug manufacturers “engaged in a concerted, coordinated strategy” to shift the way doctors and patients think about pain management in order to maximize profits and bolster a multi-billion dollar industry, the lawsuit reads.

The pharmaceutical companies understated the addictive nature of oxycodone, the lawsuit says.  And Delray Beach has borne the brunt of the ensuing epidemic.

Suspicious mail ballots

County Commissioner Mack Bernard and state Rep. Al Jacquet, both Democrats, took advantage of gaping holes in Florida’s vote-by-mail laws to pressure and cajole voters in their living rooms in Delray and Boynton Beach, a Palm Beach Post investigation found earlier this year. One blind voter told The Post that Bernard filled out and signed his ballot.

And Palm Beach County’s elections supervisor has changed the way the office handles absentee ballot request forms after allegations of voter fraud dominated the primary election.

iPic breaks ground

At long last, after years of back-and-forth between city officials and the developers, a luxury movie theater planned in the heart of downtown Delray Beach broke ground in July. The widely debated 50,000-square-foot complex, that will include the iPic theater and office space, hinged on city approvals that for three years didn’t quite line up.

Even some city officials questioned whether the plan would ever come to fruition. 

“The issue before us is are we going to get what we actually voted for?” said Commissioner Shelly Petrolia, shortly before the project was approved.

But as the project takes shape downtown, it seems the city is getting its only movie theater. 

The complex is expected to accommodate eight screens and 528 seats total. And Boca Raton-based iPic Entertainment will relocate its corporate headquarters to the complex, which will have 42,000 square feet of office and 8,000 square feet of retail.

A look ahead

As 2018 approaches, a couple events are sure to grab headlines. Here are a few stories to look out for next year:

  • Midtown Delray - Four years. Six proposals. But still no approval for a large redevelopment pitched for a downtown Delray Beach historic district. Despite years of nays, the plan to rehabilitate and build out a historic corridor along Swinton Avenue just south of Atlantic Avenue, called Midtown Delray Beach. Despite the dismissal, inches closer to city approval after years of several revisions. The developer, Hudson Holdings, is expected to take his proposal to the city commission in early 2018.
  • A big election - Nine candidates are vying for four seats, including the mayor’s, on the city commission in March. With four of the five seats on the city’s highest board up for grabs, will this election change the voting dynamic of the board? We’ll find out.

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