RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — From deadly weather events and health scares to groundbreaking investigations and a soldier leading police on a wild chase in an armored vehicle, 2018 leaves us with much to digest.
So, before we turn the page and dive head-first into 2019, let’s take a look back at eight topics and stories that defined 2018 here in Central Virginia.
Severe weather rocks Central Virginia
Severe weather dominated the headlines in 2018 with Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael.
On September 14, Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.
The remnants of Florence hit the Commonwealth hard, causing a historic tornado outbreak. The National Weather Service confirmed ten tornadoes touched down in Virginia, nine hitting Central Virginia.
One of those tornadoes ripped through a Chesterfield County business, killing 60-year-old Ronald D. Bishop, who was an employee.
Meteorologists John Bernier and Matt DiNardo saw dramatic video from a viewer of that tornado for the first time while they were live on air. Their reactions exemplify just how significant and rare this weather occurrence was in the Richmond area.
Severe weather returned to the headlines roughly a month later with Hurricane Michael making landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in the Florida panhandle.
On the night of Oct. 11, Hanover County Fire-EMS responded to a crash on I-295 south near exit 38. A tractor-trailer rear-ended the fire engine, killing Lieutenant Brad Clark and injuring three others.
Michael’s remnants also caused half a million people to lose power, as the storm’s high winds knocked over trees and power lines, which also closed hundreds of roads.
What the Health!?
In 2018, we experienced a dangerously deadly flu season, a giant plant capable of burning people, new warnings about vaping, and more recalls than we could count. If you survived, hats off to you.
Deadly Flu Season
In January and February, flu medication ran low in the Richmond area, and VCU medical center saw record numbers of pediatric patients for the flu. Then in March, the CDC reported a second dangerous wave of the flu virus. According to the CDC, 185 children died in from the flu during the 2017-18 flu season.
Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease plagues children
The summer brought the end of flu season, but the beginning of the spread of a contagious disease among children. Childcare providers around the Commonwealth received letters warning about hand, foot and mouth disease. It led to hundreds of visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers.
In June, counties around Virginia reported sightings of the Giant Hogweed, an invasive plant that can cause third-degree burns and permanent blindness. State officials warned people to be on the lookout while hiking and clearing their yards. One Fredericksburg-area teen suffered second and third-degree burns after accidentally brushing his face and arms against the plant during a landscaping job.
All year long, 8News has been investigating the dangerous trend of teens vaping or JUULing. In February we exposed that it was already sweeping through schools in the Metro Richmond area. Then in April, the FDA cracked down on JUUL’s discreet design.
This Fall, the FDA conducted a surprise inspection of JUUL labs. Then just a few days ago, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a warning about vaping, and we learned more about how schools in our area are getting creative to handle the growing problem.
In October, dozens of cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a polio-like disease that causes paralysis, popped up across the country. There have been 165 cases confirmed across the U.S. this year, including 4 in Virginia.
In September, a five-year-old Chesterfield boy died after battling AFM. Health officials in Virginia and elsewhere struggled to figure out what was causing this serious illness, and we learned about other Virginia children affected.
All the Recalls
You probably had to check the labels on your romaine lettuce, ground beef, sausage, dog food and countless other things this year as a result of the dozens of recalls that were issued. And that’s just food. The FDA warned about teething ring safety, there were countless car recalls, and infant ibuprofen sold at several nationwide chains was pulled from shelves. For the full list, click here.
8News Takes Action, Gets Results
8News takes pride in taking action on behalf of the community we serve, and sometimes, our reports can prompt change not just in Central Virginia, but across the country.
Just recently, Kerri O’Brien was recognized for her investigation that discovered restitution payments weren’t getting delivered to crime victims. In fact, more than $1 million was sitting in court clerk offices around the state waiting to be delivered. Her investigations inspired Delegate Rob Bell and the General Assembly to pass two laws that change how Virginia handles the restitution process.
Kerri’s ongoing investigations into dogs being used for deadly research at the VA also made waves at both the local and national level. She exposed taxpayer money was being used to fund painful experiments at McGuire VA in Richmond in which dogs are surgically implanted with pacemakers and made to run on treadmills until some have a heart attack. All of the dogs are eventually euthanized.
That led to Gov. Ralph Northam signing a bill into law earlier this year that prohibits Virginia from using state money for painful medical testing on dogs and cats. Congress later voted to extend its restrictions on dog testing at the Department of Veterans Affairs through fiscal year 2019.
Other notable investigations:
A historic year for women in politics
Undoubtedly, women shifted the political landscape across the nation this year — and Virginia was a big reason why.
We covered one of them, the race for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, extensively before the midterms. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operations officer and University of Virginia graduate, won 50.1 percent of the vote to unseat Rep. Brat, the district’s representative since 2014.
Before the election, 8News’ Juan Conde spoke 1-on-1 with candidate Spanberger about her priorities for Virginia’s 7th District.
Watch the interview: 1-on-1 with Abigail Spanberger
The two spoke about several issues, including Spanberger’s concerns regarding rising healthcare costs and the impact those costs have on the economic growth of the district.
After victories in the midterms, Spanberger, Luria and Wexton will join at least 102 women — a new record — who will serve in the House of Representatives in 2019. Of the 102 women, 36 were elected to the House for the first time this year.
Altogether, Democrats gained 40 House seats during the midterms. In the Senate, Republicans added two seats and increased their majority to six.
Head to our 8News’ Local Election Headquarters for a deeper look into the 2018 Virginia midterms.
‘Is that a tank?’
It’s hard to forget the June night when a soldier stationed at Fort Pickett in Blackstone, later identified as 29-year-old Joshua Philip Yabut of Richmond, led police on a wild chase through Central Virginia in a stolen armored vehicle that began on Route 460 and continued north on Interstate 95 before coming to an end in the middle of Broad Street in downtown Richmond.
The Virginia National Guard later said Yabut’s unit was conducting routine training at Fort Pickett when he drove away in the armored vehicle, which was not equipped with any weapons. Yabut did have his personal weapon with him, though, but had no ammunition. Thankfully no one was injured during the joyride, which Yabut partially documented on his Twitter page.
He was charged with driving under the influence of drugs, one felony count of eluding police and one felony count of unauthorized use of a vehicle.
CLICK HERE for complete coverage/to watch raw video of the chase.
Get off my lawn!
Remember the shocking news some students and parents in Henrico County learned at the start of the new school year? A resident had installed an electric fence just inches away from where students stand and wait for the bus. The homeowner who installed the fence said he grew tired of students trespassing and leaving trash on his property. But outraged parents and neighbors called it ‘insane,’ saying the neighborhood intersection looked more like a crime scene than a bus stop.
After police and public works couldn’t figure out how to solve the issue, the county ruled the fence was on an easement, making it illegal. The homeowner was told to remove it, but that he could re-install the fence inside his nearby property line.
This story eventually went viral and was shared around the country.
‘Absolute revolution in cancer care’
We reported this story in December, and it still became one of our most-read of 2018: VCU’s Massey Cancer Center became the first and only center in the state to offer CAR T-Cell Immunotherapy. It was only approved by the FDA about 14 months ago.
It could be a major breakthrough in the fight against cancer and it’s happening in Richmond. CLICK HERE to read more and meet the patient at the center of the groundbreaking therapy.
‘Fired up about snow removal’
We kicked off the year with this soon-to-be viral story about an Amherst County man whose snow-removal methods can best be defined as, um, unconventional. We’ll let the photo (below) explain, but follow this link to watch him in action.
What did we miss? Do you have a favorite story or on-air moment you’d like to share with us? Let us know!
8 More Notable Headlines from 2018