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WVXU Year In Review: 19 Stories You Cared About In 2019

2019 year in review
Clockwise from top left: The Northerner; AP; Pixabay; AP; Pixabay; AP; Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden; Kings Island; University of Cincinnati

We dove into the data for a look at the stories that resonated with you most this year – and what we found was a potpourri of reporting that covers everything from controversies and cures to gorillas and dogs (yes, really).

Ready to relive your year? 

Kings Island Gets A 'Giga'

Credit Courtesy of Kings Island
Kings Island's new "giga" coaster is expected to open in the spring of 2020.

In 2020, Kings Island will debut the world's seventh "giga" coaster, which will reach speeds of 91 mph and feature a 300-foot drop. With 5,321 feet of track, the park says it will be its tallest, fastest and longest steel coaster.

It debuts next spring, but not everyone is excited

The Reds At 150

Cincinnati's beloved baseball team may not have had the most successful year – ending the 2019 season with 75 wins and 87 losses – but in many ways it was still a stellar one. For starters, the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade was once again on Opening Day, which helped baseball's first official team kick off the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the sport. Adding even more reverence to the year was the fact that it would be the last for Reds announcer Marty Brennaman, who spent 46 years as Cincinnati's "soundtrack to summer."

"I used to wake in the middle of the night at 4 o'clock in the morning and stare off in the darkness and think, 'What the hell am I doing?' " Brennaman told Cincinnati Edition of his plans to retire. "But I'm comfortable with the decision. I think it's time."

Meanwhile, Brennaman's successor, Tommy Thrall, says "he couldn't be more excited" about his new role.

Kentucky Plays Red Light, Green Light With New Driver's Licenses

"Prepare early" was what the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet said about its new REAL ID-compliant licenses that were supposed to roll out over the summer. Many of you did, and had lots of questions in the process. But in September, the department announced it was halting the program after a series of delays implementing it due to "staffing and workload increases."

But that doesn't mean Kentuckians can forget about complying. The federal deadline for the program is October 2020, and Kentuckians will need a REAL ID license, passport or other federal ID to board planes or enter military facilities starting Oct. 1, 2020.

NKU Women's Basketball Coach Controversy  

Credit Courtesy of The Northerner
Courtesy of The Northerner
Camryn Whitaker.

Back in March, Northern Kentucky University women's basketball player Taryn Taugher wrote an op-ed accusing Coach Camryn Whitaker of turning her into an "emotional punching bag."

"These verbal attacks were mostly behind closed doors, in her office, on what she liked to call the 'crying couch' where it was your word against hers. Where she could get you alone and tear you apart," Taugher wrote. Several other players backed up her claims.

By May, NKU had cleared Whitaker of any wrongdoing. "A majority of players stated that the comments were motivational in nature and not personal," an independent review read. Whitaker remains the team's head coach.

Cincinnati Is No Joke

According to the one-time joke app, Cincinnati is the least funny city in America. Artist Sophie Lindsey set out to prove them wrong. She spent five weeks compiling jokes in a portable joke booth around the city. In all, she collected 226 jokes and "they were all quite different," she told WVXU's Tana Weingartner. The winner, by a vote? What's the difference between a petri dish and the USA? In 300 years, one of them will develop a culture. Take that

Though really, the joke's on them. It appears the app doesn't exist anymore.

Cincinnati Entrepreneur Buys Lordstown Plant

Credit Keith Srakocic / AP
The closed General Motors automobile assembly plant on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019.

GM closed its Lordstown plant in March, and by November, reports had surfaced that Cincinnati entrepreneur Steve Burns planned to buy the plant to manufacture electric trucks there. In December, Burns made it official and shared his plans with WVXU's Ann Thompson.

A Cure for HIV?

Health news of a collaboration between the University of Cincinnati, Case Western Reserve and the University of California San Francisco got you clicking this year. Scientists are trying to figure out if there's a way to eliminate or reduce the amount of HIV in a patient's body by stopping the disease from reproducing itself.

"There's cells that have on the surface of them a receptor, much like a lock on the door, and those door locks are very specific for HIV, says Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, professor in the division of infectious diseases at UC. "HIV has the key for that. What we're really trying to do is change those receptors so HIV can't get in."

Read how they're attempting that here.

Judge Tracie Hunter Sent To Jail

Judge Tracie Hunter was convicted in 2014 for allegedly mishandling confidential documents but had been free on appeals. When Judge Patrick Dinkelacker executed the sentence in July – despite pushback from Hunter's supporters and a letter from the mayor – Hunter appeared to go limp and was dragged from the courtroom. The community and local leaders were quick to react, with Ohio Senator Cecil Thomas calling for an economic slowdown in the city.

In the end, there was no obvious slowdown, and on Oct. 5, Hunter was released after serving less than two months of her six-month sentence.

Hamilton County Dog Warden Services (Still) In The Dog House

Credit Csaba Nagy / Pixabay

Critics have been arguing for years that the way Hamilton County contracts with the SPCA for dog warden services lacked transparency and results. In March, commissioners decided to do something about it and explored options for overhauling the program. But before they could come to a decision, SPCA in August told the county it would not provide services in 2020, insisting it would work with officials on a "smooth transition."

Meanwhile, county officials are still working on a plan.

New TIF Districts Create A Tizzy

In October, Cincinnati City Council proposed expanding its Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, districts by 15 neighborhoods, including Camp Washington, Columbia Tusculum and Roselawn, to name a few. Such districts use increased tax revenue from private economic development to pay for public improvements.

Not everyone was in favor – including Cincinnati Public Schools, who called it "a slap in the face" given it was currently in negotiations with the city for a bigger share of the tax abatement pie.

On Dec. 18, all but one council member voted in favor of creating the new TIF districts

Beshear Bests Bevin

In an election where the GOP won every down-ticket race, Republican Governor Matt Bevin lost the Kentucky governorship to Democrat Andy Beshear by about 5,000 votes. Citing "irregularities," it took Bevin more than a week to concede, after a recanvass failed to significantly change the final vote tallies.

Beshear was inaugurated Dec. 10 and promptly signed two executive orders – one overhauling the board of education and the other restoring voting rights to people convicted of nonviolent felonies who have completed their sentences.

Gang of Five Gets Busted

gang of five
All courtesy
Clockwise from top left: Cincinnati City Council members P.G. Sittenfeld; Greg Landsman; Chris Seelbach; Tamaya Dennard; and Wendell Young.

WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson called the text message mess of the so-called "Gang Of Five" City Hall's "most embarrassing episode ever." Five Democratic members of City Council – P.G. Sittenfeld, Greg Landsman, Tamaya Dennard, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young – were caught exchanging messages about city business, not to mention petty grievances about "Mini Trump" Mayor John Cranley. Doing so constituted a majority of the nine-member council and, under the law, were illegal, because "they were conducted in cyberspace, not council chambers," Wilkinson wrote.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman was more blistering, telling the five council members gathered in his courtroom in March that he "really believe(s) these five council members should resign and pay it (the $100,000 the city paid to settle the lawsuit) back. No voter in this city should ever vote for one of these council members again," he said.

In the end, no one resigned and at least one – Sittenfeld – has ambitions to run for mayor in 2021.

But that's the end of the story. Just this week, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the five council members for violating the Ohio Open Meetings Act. 

Cincinnati Loses Its 'Fearless Warrior'

marian spencer
Credit Courtesy of the University of Cincinnati
Marian Spencer.

Local civil rights icon Marian Spencer died July 10 at the age of 99. She was the first African American woman elected to Cincinnati City Council and the first woman to head the local chapter of the NAACP. She led the movement in the 1950s to integrate Coney Island and later, the park's swimming pool.

"She was indefatigable, an unstoppable force of nature, a human hurricane who could blow through whatever stood in her way when she believed there was wrong-doing going on in our city," her friend and colleague Howard Wilkinson wrote for WVXU.

CovCath's Trip To D.C. Makes Headlines

On Jan. 18, 2019, students of Covington Catholic High School in Northern Kentucky visited D.C. for the anti-abortion March for Life. What happened next sparked outrage, a media melee and mea culpas on all sides. The teen at the center of it all, Nick Sandmann, later sued The Washington Post and others saying it targeted and defamed him for political purposes.  

In July, a judge dismissed the suit writing, "they may have been erroneous, but they are opinion protected by the First Amendment. And The Post is not liable for publishing these opinions."

Sandmann's similar suits against NBC and CNN are still pending.

Ndume Returns

In Oct. 2018, the Cincinnati Zoo filed suit against The Gorilla Foundation in California for the return of its gorilla "Ndume," who had been loaned to the foundation as a companion to "Koko," the gorilla who purportedly could communicate in sign language. Koko died in 2018, and the zoo's suit stretched well into 2019 with the foundation claiming he was unfit to travel and the zoo claiming otherwise.

The zoo won in the end, and Ndume was returned to Cincinnati in June. At reporter Tana Weingartner's last check, Ndume still hadn't emerged to the public, with Curator of Primates Ron Evans saying they are moving at Ndume's pace.

LBYC A 'Total Loss'

Credit Michael Monks / The River City News
The River City News
The Ludlow-Bromley Yacht Club has long been a Northern Kentucky landmark.

After a barge crashed into the Ludlow-Bromley Yacht Club in October, Kenton County Office of Homeland Security Director Steve Hensley told The River City News that the local landmark's owner looked at the damage and declared it to be a total loss. No one was hurt.

Earlier this month, the Coast Guard said a crewman of the barge was asleep at the wheel when the crash occurred.

Marijuana's Many Roles

Marijuana took on many roles in Ohio and Cincinnati in 2019. After multiple delays, the area's first medical marijuana facility opened in Lebanon in May. Meanwhile, Cincinnati moved toward dismissing minor marijuana charges. But with so many different legal statuses in the Buckeye State, how do they all get enforced? Cincinnati Edition recently explored that topic to find out.

Murders Shock West Chester Community

Four people were killed inside a West Chester Township apartment in April. Eight weeks later, police arrested the husband of the of the victims, Gurpreet Singh, who first called police to report the crime.

While Singh's motive is unclear, Butler County Prosecutor Mike Smoser says he could face the death penalty for killing his wife, her aunt and his father- and mother-in-law.

Downtown Building Collapses

Credit Cincinnati Fire Department
Cincinnati Fire Department
Chief of Operations Tom LaKamp conducts a shift briefing for firefighters operating on the scene at W. 4th and Elm St.

Three days before Thanksgiving, a building under construction at Fourth and Race streets partially collapsed, leaving four people injured and one person dead. The accident happened at a Cincinnati Center City Development (3CDC) project during a concrete pour on the seventh floor, which fell into the sixth floor. It took firefighters a day to recover the body of Preston Todd Delph, 58, of Hebron, Ky. 3CDC issued a statement saying its "thoughts are with (Delph's family) as they begin to grieve this heartbreaking loss." Turner Construction, a contractor on the project, said it had made grief counseling available to its workers.

Work resumed on the project Dec. 3.

Jennifer Merritt brings 20 years of "tra-digital" journalism experience to WVXU.