Stories that captivated Palm Beach County in 2015

A sign hangs at a fundraiser for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen at the Square Grouper on July 31. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

A sign hangs at a fundraiser for Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen at the Square Grouper on July 31. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

1. Two Tequesta teens go missing at sea; massive search comes up empty

Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, a pair of 14-year-old friends from Tequesta, went fishing on a 19-foot boat July 24 from the Jupiter Inlet during a brewing thunderstorm and were never seen again. The Coast Guard’s search for the boys extended from Daytona Beach to South Carolina before it was called off July 31. The teenagers’ families called off their private search — aided by an army of volunteers that included actor John Travolta and former NFL quarterback Joe Namath — on Aug. 9.

» Photos of the Missing Teen tragedy

 

2. Corey Jones is shot, killed by Palm Beach Gardens police officer

Corey Jones

Corey Jones

The 31-year-old Boynton Beach musician joined the list of young black men killed by police under questionable circumstances when he was shot dead by Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja. Jones was returning from a gig on Oct. 18 when his vehicle broke down

on the southbound Interstate 95 off-ramp at PGA Boulevard. Waiting for a tow truck about 3:15 a.m., Jones was confronted by Raja, who was working a plainclothes detail and driving an unmarked van. Jones was armed but never fired his weapon before Raja shot him three times. Raja was fired by the police department on Nov. 12. As the year ended, investigations by the sheriff’s office, the FBI and the state attorney’s office had not been completed.

» Timeline of the Corey Jones shooting

» Photos

Nick Weaver, one of the plane crash victims, with wife Robin Gargano Weaver. Photo handout: Family

Nick Weaver, one of the plane crash victims, with wife Robin Gargano Weaver. Photo handout: Family

3. Seven from Boca real estate company die in Ohio plane crash

Seven employees of Boca Raton-based PEBB Enterprises were killed along with two pilots Nov. 10 when a chartered plane slammed into an Akron, Ohio apartment building. The plane was less than two miles from Akron Fulton International Airport when it crashed. The seven employees were on a real-estate scouting trip for PEBB, which owns, operates and develops commercial properties, including shopping centers. A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board released Nov. 18 didn’t give an indication why the jet crashed.

 

 

TRAIN_EYE LEVEL4. All Aboard Florida breaks ground on site construction

All Aboard Florida crossed some critical junctures in 2015. It’s environmental impact statement was approved, and it broke ground on construction at its stations. The rail line, which projects to start passenger in 2017, also changed its name to Brightline, and used the moment to kick-off its marketing campaign. It still has its opponents and detractors, but that won’t stop All Aboard from chugging into 2016.

 

Juri Galicia at the scene of the plane crash that killed her sister Banny Garcia in Lake Worth on Oct. 19. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Juri Galicia at the scene of the plane crash that killed her sister Banny Garcia in Lake Worth on Oct. 19. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

5. Pilot, PBSC student die when plane crashes into Lantana mobile home

A Palm Beach State College student and a well-known engineer were killed Oct. 13 when when a small plane crashed into a suburban Lake Worth mobile home park. Banny Galicia, a 21-year-old student, died while taking a nap inside the mobile home. Dan Shalloway, the plane’s 64-year-old pilot and an influential engineer who played a key role in a land deal that led to the successful corruption cases against two Palm Beach County commissioners, also was killed in the fiery crash.

 

 

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio at the groundbreaking ceremonies to kick off construction on the new spring training complex in West Palm Beach. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio at the groundbreaking ceremonies to kick off construction on the new spring training complex in West Palm Beach. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

6. Land swap paves way for baseball stadium in West Palm Beach

West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County agreed to a land swap, paving the way for a $144 million spring training baseball stadium on a former landfill south of 45th Street between Military Trail and Haverhill Road in West Palm Beach. The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros plan to begin play in 2017. The land swap happened after a developer with first dibs on the 160-acre site pulled out and the county agreed to give the city 1.8 acres downtown in exchange. The state is putting up $50 million, the county hotel tax and the teams will pay the rest.

 

 

 

 

 (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

7. School buses run late for weeks, ‘culture of distrust’ blamed

Late school buses for the first few weeks of school, blamed on a computerized route system pressed into service too soon, plagued new Superintendent Robert Avossa’s first school opening day. A consultant, paid about $50,000, blamed the problem on a “perfect storm” of institutional failures, from the “undue influence” of a school board member, to the rollout of new technology, and to a “culture of distrust” that prevented managers’ concerns from being heard.

 

8. St. Mary’s CEO resigns, closes kids’ heart surgery program

St. Mary’s Medical Center CEO Davide Carbone resigned in August after a CNN expose of the West Palm Beach hospital’s pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program raised questions. Two days earlier, the hospital closed the kids’ heart surgery program, started by surgeon Dr. Michael Black, who came under fire in the CNN report. The Tenet Healthcare hospital couldn’t sustain the program after CNN reported nine infants had died in four years, a mortality rate that experts said was partly because the program was not attracting enough patients to be proficient.

 

9. Affordable housing crunch problems return to county

If you fast-forwarded a decade to 2016, you wouldn’t know there had been a residential real estate crash. The rise in home prices — from mid-2011 to mid-2015, the median price of houses and condos in Palm Beach County soared 66 percent, according to the National Association of Home Builders — has brought back the affordable housing crunch. So, very few houses at $200,000, or less, were on the market. And those that do got snapped up fast.

 

10. First black female selected as county administrator

Palm Beach County commissioners, torn between two top aides, selected longtime deputy Verdenia Baker to be county administrator in May, replacing Bob Weisman, who retired in August after nearly 24 years. Baker is the county’s first black female administrator. She had been Weisman’s deputy for 15 years. She edged out another assistant, Shannon LaRocque, and four outside candidates.

 

11. Unemployment falls to eight-year low in county, but income can’t keep up

In a sign of economic strength, Palm Beach County’s jobless rate fell to an eight-year low — 4.6 percent. That’s not the only sign of a robust Palm Beach County economy, which has record-setting tourism, increased consumer confidence, rising sales tax revenues and a strong real estate market. In Palm Beach County, the jobless rate has remained below the state average for 25 consecutive months, and is less than half of what it was at the peak of the Great Recession in 2010, CareerSource said. The one missing piece of the puzzle? Rising income. Many county residents still aren’t making enough to advance financially.

 

 

12. Presidential front-runners’ ties to Palm Beach County

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a Pearl Harbor Day Rally at the U.S.S. Yorktown on Dec. 7 in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a Pearl Harbor Day Rally at the U.S.S. Yorktown on Dec. 7 in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

The two outsiders who took early leads in the crowded Republican field for president have ties to Palm Beach County. Donald Trump operates a private club in the historic Mar-a-Lago ocean-to-Intracoastal property on Palm Beach. The New Yorker bought the 1920s estate for $10 million in 1985 and opened the club in 1995. He leased land from Palm Beach County next to the county jail, where he built a golf course for his club members. He also has sued the county over airplanes flying over Mar-a-Lago three times, including an ongoing suit. Ben Carson, the soft-spoken neurosurgeon who emerged early as an alternative outsider to Trump, paid $775,000 in January 2013 for a home in the Ibis Golf and Country Club west of State Road 7 in West Palm Beach.

» The 5 candidates from Florida

 

13. Despite a scare from Erika, county’s hurricane drought hits 10 years

Florida made it through another hurricane season with no storms making landfall, marking an unprecedented 10 years since a hurricane has hit the state. But there were some tense moments when Tropical Storm Erika was forecast in late August to become a hurricane and make a beeline for Palm Beach County. The storm fizzled out over Cuba and never reached hurricane strength but it was a lesson in why it’s important to be prepared.

 

14. Jailhouse snitch story sparks First Amendment fight

The Palm Beach Post reprinted jailhouse phone transcripts filed in a criminal court case and a judge ruled it must unpublish them, forcing quotes in a story retracted from the newspaper’s website six weeks after initial publication. Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox’s ruling, which the paper appealed with backup from the public defender, said no one can share the documents, limiting lawyers looking to use them to defend a man against murder charges. It all started when The Post’s Jane Musgrave wrote a detailed account of prosecutors’ use of a jailhouse snitch, Frederick Cobia, and cited Cobia’s phone calls that had been introduced into a court file by public defender Elizabeth Ramsey. When Ramsey files documents mentioning the transcripts after the judge’s ruling, she is charged with contempt. An appellate court has dismissed Cox’s ruling, and transcripts are once more posted on The Post’s website.

 

15. Heroin deaths rise as sober homes proliferate

The role of Palm Beach County and particularly Delray Beach in the addiction recovery industry became more pronounced as heroin overdoses, many of them fatal, rose precipitously. The Post found huge profits in the uncontrolled industry drew the attention of an FBI task force. “Addiction Treatment: Inside the Gold Rush” described one family’s $300,000 urine drug-test bill for nine months worth of tests. One insurer decided to drop its addiction-treatment coverage, which it said had been abused by addicts.

 

16. Courts throw out state Senate, congressional maps

Years after voters changed the state Constitution to require politics be taken out of map-making for voting districts, lawsuits challenging maps drawn by Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature forced change. Leon County judges, backed by the Florida Supreme Court, rejected the maps for Florida’s congressional delegation and its state Senate. The courts backed a congressional map backed by voter-rights group and in December was considering similar action concerning Senate maps. For Palm Beach County, the new maps mean fewer representatives in Congress and the state Senate.

 

line of fire17. Sheriff skips symposium on police-involved shootings after newspaper probe

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw skipped a symposium called by County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor after The Palm Beach Post’s April Line of Fire series, with WPTV NewsChannel 5, documents all police-involved shootings dating to 2000. Bradshaw sought FBI assistance with one investigation and later invited the FBI to assist in the probe into the shooting death of Corey Jones in Palm Beach Gardens. He also called an industry think tank to review his agency’s approach to investigating its own and initiates meetings with hand-picked community members.

 

18. Harbourside Place celebrates first anniversary in Jupiter

Harbourside Place in Jupiter

Harbourside Place in Jupiter

The $150 million outdoor entertainment center on the Intracoastal Waterway continued to draw praise and criticism. Proponents call Harbourside Place an economic engine that is creating about 1,500 jobs, bringing newcomers to Jupiter and adding about $800,000 annually in property tax revenue to the town. Opponents say Harbourside Place is causing too much noise from concerts, is an architectural “monstrosity” and is bringing too much traffic. The town twice fined developer Nick Mastroianni for allowing the music to be played above town limits, for a total of about $36,000. Mastroianni says the town has designated Harbourside Place an entertainment district, and the music is needed to attract customers and tenants.

 

19. Grandmother, 53, kills daughter, two grandchildren in Greenacres

A 53-year-old grandmother killed her daughter and two grandchildren June 28 before turning the gun on herself. The victims were found by a family friend, who walked into a home. Police do not have motive for the shootings. Among the dead were a 7-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl. The deaths brought the homicide total to six in Greenacres this year, one more than the city had in the past four years combined.

 

20. United Technologies chooses Palm Beach Gardens for mega-project

Rendering shows what the Center for Intelligent Buildings on the Briger Tract in Palm Beach Gardens will look like.

Rendering shows what the Center for Intelligent Buildings on the Briger Tract in Palm Beach Gardens will look like.

Gov. Rick Scott in July announced United Technologies had selected Palm Beach Gardens for its 241,400-square-foot Center for Intelligent Buildings. The center at Donald Ross Road and I-95 on what was once known as the Briger tract will be a showcase for the Fortune 50 company’s brands. Palm Beach County commissioners voted this spring to lift restrictions that called for the land to be used for bio-science and biotechnology, despite some objections raised by The Scripps Research Institute. Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Beach County and Florida offered United Technologies millions of dollars in economic incentives to choose the location over other options in the Southeast. In exchange, United Technologies promised to create 380 jobs and retain 70.

 

21. West Palm’s bloody summer: 10 die, 28 wounded by feuding ‘cliques’

Ten people were killed and 28 wounded in shootings in a 2-square mile section between Fourth Street and 36th Street centered on Tamarind Avenue. City officials attributed the violence to feuding “cliques” of teenagers and twenty-somethings. West Palm Beach police reacted by quadrupling the number of hours police patrolled the area.

 

22. Former private school teacher given life for abusing young girls

Former Rosarian Academy teacher Stephen Budd was convicted of capital sexual battery for molesting two girls, ages 8 and 9 during the 2006-2007 school year at Rosarian. The girls testified that he gave them play money called “Budd Bucks” that they could use for candy and prizes in exchange for sexual contact. Another woman testified of Budd’s abuse when she was 7 at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Riviera Beach.

 

23. North Palm ophthalmologist in scandal with New Jersey senator

North Palm Beach ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen was jailed in April on 76 charges that he scammed Medicare out of more than $105 million. He was released after extensive negotiations. Earlier in April, he and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., were indicted in Newark, N.J., on more than a dozen charges for engaging in what prosecutors claimed was a mutually beneficial bribery scheme. The senator, a longtime friend, had traveled with Melgen to the Dominican Republic, where they were accused of engaging with underage prostitutes. Melgen argues that his Medicare charges stem from a dispute with Medicare over how much he could charge patients for a pricey eye medicine.

 

24. Palm Beach County sizzles to record high temperatures

The Sunshine State lived up to its name in 2015 as the year is expected to be the warmest on record dating back 121 years. Through November, temperatures statewide and in Palm Beach Broward and Miami-Dade counties were higher than average, including a 90-degree day Nov. 10 in West Palm Beach that broke a record of 88 degrees set in 1987.

» Interested in weather? Read Kim Miller’s WeatherPlus blog

 

 

Former Boynton Beach police officer Stephen Maiorino was acquitted of all charges on Oct. 6. (Brianna Soukup / The Palm Beach Post)

Former Boynton Beach police officer Stephen Maiorino was acquitted of all charges on Oct. 6. (Brianna Soukup / The Palm Beach Post)

25. Former Boynton Beach police officer acquitted of rape charges

A jury found former Boynton Beach police officer Stephen Maiorino not guilty of rape, kidnapping and unlawful compensation or reward. Maiorino was accused of raping a 20-year-old woman near Interstate 95 while on-duty in 2014. The woman testified that Maiorino threatened her with arrest then drove her to a field and raped her at gunpoint. Maiorino, who resigned from the police department before his trial, said the sex was consensual. Despite the acquittal, Boynton Beach city commissioners awarded the woman $850,000.

 

 

 

Hundreds gathered on Lake Worth beach for the full lunar eclipse on Sept. 27. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Hundreds gathered on Lake Worth beach for the full lunar eclipse on Sept. 27. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

26. Rare lunar eclipse creates coastal flooding, rising sea levels

A rare lunar eclipse that coincided with the moon’s perigee in September was not only a rare sight to behold, but brought attention to the problem of coastal flooding because of rising sea levels. Roads from West Palm Beach to Miami were underwater during high tide cycles. Even some homes along the Intracoastal were threatened with flooding. It was a situation that repeated itself throughout the fall when the moon was full.

» WATCH THIS: Time-lapse flooding video

 

27. Palm Beach County School Board picks new leader

Robert Avossa, the 43-year-old superintendent from Fulton County, Ga., was the unanimous pick of the Palm Beach County School Board to replace E. Wayne Gent as superintendent, the county’s third superintendent since Art Johnson’s departure in 2011. Within months, he hired a former boss for $50,000 to be the district staff’s “executive coach” and announced a $570,000 consultant to review all district operations.

 

28. School district takes on charter schools

The Palm Beach County School Board went to court over its right to reject charter schools, appealing the state school board’s ruling that it couldn’t reject schools for failing to provide “innovative” programs. The ruling by an appellate court is expected to set statewide precedent. The board also ordered an investigation of Eagle Arts Academy, a Wellington charter school, after The Palm Beach Post showed the school’s founder profited by steering school money to his own companies.

 

 

Heather Hironimus cries as she prepares to sign the consent form to allow her son be circumcised on May 22. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post

Heather Hironimus cries as she prepares to sign the consent form to allow her son be circumcised on May 22. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post

29. Circumcision fight leads to ‘cyber-terrorism’ complaint

Heather Hironimus of Boynton Beach took her 4½-year-old son on the lam rather than have him circumcised but ultimately cut a deal to escape prosecution for interfering with child custody. Backed by groups that considered circumcision to be unnecessary and deeply damaging, she took the boy despite a 2012 accord that allowed the boy’s father to have him circumcised. The father, Dennis Nebus, claimed the groups’ harassment amounted to “cyber-terrorism.” A judge ruled the circumcision could go forward but, because of a gag order, it has not been publicly acknowledged as to whether the surgical procedure was done.

 

 

 

Mark Stenner addresses seniors at their May 22 graduation ceremony.

Mark Stenner addresses seniors at their May 22 graduation ceremony.

30. Plagiarizing high school principal loses job

West Boca High Principal Mark Stenner is removed after reports surface that he plagiarized a 2015 commencement address, relying on a speech made popular on the Internet. Follow-up reports show he plagiarized a different speech in 2014. New district Superintendent Robert Avossa recommended Stenner’s transfer to a non-instructional job.

 

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