One reporter's Top 10 Richmond Stories of 2009

By Andy Jenks - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - In recalling the Top Local News Stories of 2009, let me begin by telling you what they're not. They are not the Ten Most Important Stories of the Year. Nor are they necessarily the ten biggest stories. They are, however, ten of the most recognizable stories of the year. In other words, years from now, if you asked a Richmonder to remember what happened in 2009, the following might come to mind:

10. Robin Starr's Dog [see stories]

It was a stunning admission from one of the Richmond region's most devoted animal-rights advocates. Her dog, Louie, died after being accidentally left inside her vehicle on a hot August morning (the dog was placed there by Starr's husband, who forgot to tell her). In the ensuing days, harsh criticism and steadfast support poured in, and Starr vowed to remain in her position as CEO of the Richmond SPCA.

9. Col. Barfoot's Flag [see stories]

90-year-old Col. Van Barfoot, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, came under fire for the 21-foot flagpole he installed in front of his Sussex Square home. Despite the threat of legal action (Sussex Square claimed the flagpole violated neighborhood rules), Col. Barfoot refused to back down, bolstered by a tidal wave of support from veterans, neighbors, and elected officials. Eventually, the legal threats were dropped. The flagpole remains, but the issue is not entirely resolved.

8. Farmville Murders [see stories]

In September, Longwood University professor Debra Kelley (age 53), her estranged husband Mark Niederbrock (50), their daughter Emma Niederbrock (16), and friend Melanie Wells (18) were found bludgeoned to death in Kelley's Farmville home. 20-year-old horrorcore rap artist Sam McCroskey of California, Emma's boyfriend, was later taken into custody while awaiting a flight out of RIC. In November, McCroskey was indicted on six counts of capital murder.

7. Qimonda Closes

Bankrupt memory-chip maker Qimonda announced in early February that it would cease operations at its Eastern Henrico plant. Nearly 3,000 employees would almost immediately lose their jobs. Many would later discover the company did not intend to offer severance benefits. Area leaders then began searching for a new company to take over the facility, which was originally built and equipped at a cost of $3 billion.

6. December Snow

A mid-December Nor'Easter barreled up the East coast, dropping nearly a foot of snow in Richmond, and greater amounts over points West. Below-freezing temperatures contributed to a transformation from snow into ice, snarling the holiday shopping plans for many Richmonders. The wintry conditions remained a dangerous part of many neighborhood streets until melting away a week later.

5. Ukrop's Sold [see stories]

Following months of industry and media speculation, the Ukrop family announced in December that it would be leaving the retail grocery business. A division of the Dutch firm Royal Ahold purchased the chain for $140 million. Employees were expected to be hired by the new company which also intends to open on Sundays and sell alcohol. Founded in 1937, Ukrop's became part of the fabric of Richmond. A piece of the region's identity was lost.

4. Circuit City Demise

It was a "black" Friday of a different kind as the funeral for Circuit City was confirmed January 16th inside U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Company attorneys announced that despite frantic late-night negotiations, they could not secure a buyer for the nation's #2 electronics retailer. 567 stores would close. 34,000 employees would lose their jobs. The announcement would be the last in a series that foreshadowed the Richmond-based company's eventual demise.

3. Swine Flu Infections/Vaccinations [see stories]

In late April, cases of Swine Flu (a result of the H1N1 virus), began surfacing in Virginia following a much-publicized spread from Mexico into the United States. The virus later was passed among students, leading to numerous infections in schools across the country, including Richmond. An Amelia County first grader died from complications related to Swine Flu. By December, vaccinations were readily available to the general public.

2. McDonnell Elected [see stories]

Republican Bob McDonnell, the former attorney general of Virginia, cruised to an election night victory over Democrat Creigh Deeds. The win headlined a Republican sweep of the top statewide offices, and damaged the legacy of outgoing Gov. Tim Kaine, who had become DNC Chairman in January. McDonnell campaigned on a platform of job creation in Virginia, where unemployment approached 8%.

1. State Budget Cuts

The greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression hit Virginia in numerous capacities, including state government. Throughout the year, Gov. Tim Kaine made several budget announcements, each seemingly worse than the previous one. Over time, Kaine revealed a revenue shortfall that necessitated approximately $7 billion in cuts, and a proposed  1% income tax hike. The shortfall threatens to impact schools and municipal budgets in 2010 and beyond.

Stories just missing the cut: John Allen Muhammad's Execution, Flying Squirrels Arrive, State Smoking Ban, March Snowstorm, Locals Travel to President Obama's Inauguration.

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