Top Texas News Stories of 2008

A look back at the top Texas stories of 2008

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    A message to the city management is painted on the side of a trailer following Hurricane Ike September 21, 2008 in Galveston, Texas.

    State officials raided a polygamist ranch. A long-shot presidential candidate became a fundraising phenomenon. And the governor's mansion burned, a mystery that remains unsolved.

    But it was a deadly series of hurricanes, climaxing with a Texas-sized storm named Ike, that dominated state news like no other story in 2008.

    In retrospect, Dolly, Edouard and Gustav seemed like warm-up acts to Hurricane Ike. Though the storm came and went in far less than 24 hours, this was no one-day story. Ike wiped out coastal towns, damaged stadiums and skyscrapers, killed dozens of Texans, caused billions in property damage and led to thousands losing their jobs.

    But it wasn't the only story that led newscasts, made headlines or received clicks in 2008.

    The state ran out of time to execute a death row inmate, whose case is now under review. One of the reasons: a romance between his prosecutor and the presiding judge.

    Federal regulators nailed a pair of Texas-based airlines with record fines. A politician with great hair who waltzed into the job when his predecessor received a big promotion became the longest-serving governor in Texas history. And two Democratic presidential candidates waged an electrifying battle for Texas delegates.

    Some of these stories will bleed into 2009. Recovery efforts from Ike continue, appeals from the death row inmate are pending and battles over the border fence remain stuck in court.

    Those stories can wait for 2009. For now, here's a look back at the top Texas stories of 2008:

    HURRICANE IKE:
    Ike blasted ashore around Galveston just after 3 a.m. on Sept. 13 and had already moved out of Texas by day's end. But it was a costly day: 37 dead, entire communities swallowed by storm surge, at least $8.1 billion in insured damage. Ike claimed more victims in November when the UT System Board of Regents announced 3,800 layoffs at a hurricane-damaged medical facility in Galveston.

    POLYGAMIST RETREAT:
    In April, child welfare officials raided a Schleicher County ranch that is home to a breakaway Mormon group. They placed 438 children in foster care and accused the group of forcing underage girls into marriages and sex. But the state overreached, and the Texas Supreme Court ordered the children returned to their parents. Amazingly, this saga began with an abuse hotline phone call now being investigated as a hoax.

    CHARLES DEAN HOOD:
    Hood, an ex-bouncer at a topless club, was sentenced to die for killing a former dancer and her boyfriend. Numerous last-minute appeals failed, but delayed his June execution by several hours. Then the warden nixed it altogether, deciding he couldn't meet a midnight deadline. Hood received a new date, only to see his execution stayed after his lawyers successfully raised the complaint that the presiding judge and district attorney in his original trial were having an affair.

    AIRLINE WOES:
    In March, federal regulators issued a $10.2 million civil fine against Southwest Airlines for failing to inspect older planes for cracks and flying them before inspections were done. In August, the FAA announced it was seeking $7.1 million from American Airlines for flying airliners after safety problems were reported and for drug-testing violations.

    STATE SCHOOLS:
    In April, the state acknowledged firing or disciplining more than 800 state school employees since summer 2003 for mistreating mentally disabled residents. In December, the Justice Department accused the facilities of violating the civil rights of the mentally disabled and said at least 53 residents in the last year died from conditions usually considered preventable. Texas "warehouses" more mentally disabled patients in institutions than any other state.

    RICK PERRY:
    This year, Perry surpassed Bill Clements as the longest-serving governor in Texas history. Perry, a former Texas A&M yell leader, has already signaled his intention to run again in 2010. He is likely to face a primary challenge from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, herself a former Texas cheerleader, setting up perhaps the most meaningful cheerleader catfight ever.

    CHUCK ROSENTHAL:
    The ex-Harris County district attorney survived a number of missteps that could charitably be described as ill-advised: Lighting firecrackers in a government building stairwell as a prank shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing. Violating a gag order in the Andrea Yates case. Accepting a $2,500 campaign donation from the owner of a company he was prosecuting. What finally brought down the resilient prosecutor: the release of dozens of political, pornographic and racist e-mails on his government office computer, including love notes between the married prosecutor and his secretary.

    MUSLIM CHARITY TRIAL:
    The government's first attempt at prosecuting a Texas charity accused of funding terrorism in the Middle East was a high-profile failure. Given a second chance in November, the government won a sweeping victory: guilty verdicts on all 108 counts. Five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development were convicted on charges ranging from supporting a terrorist organization to money laundering and tax fraud. They plan to appeal.

    OBAMA AND CLINTON:
    In the Democratic primary, Texas was supposed to be Hillary Clinton country. It was -- sort of. Clinton narrowly won the popular vote in the state's primary. But because of the party's Byzantine process of awarding delegates, Barack Obama could later count Texas as a win. Though Clinton picked up the most delegates from the primary vote, Obama's superior field organization helped him win more delegates than Clinton through the caucus system. The final delegate count: Obama 99, Clinton 94.

    TEXAS BUS CRASH:
    They were Catholic pilgrims taking a bus from Houston to a religious festival in Missouri. But they never made it. On Aug. 8, a retreaded front tire that shouldn't have been in use blew out. The bus veered off the highway and flipped on its side. Seventeen of the 55 passengers, all of them members of Vietnamese Catholic churches in Houston, died in the crash.

    DEATH ROW CELL PHONES:
    Cell phone reception on death row is apparently pretty good. In October, a condemned inmate made threatening calls to a state senator. That led to a statewide prison lockdown that turned up 132 phones, 118 phone chargers and 183 inmate-made weapons. Officials are now tightening searches and even considering a cell phone jamming device.

    GOVERNOR'S MANSION FIRE:
    It might be the state's most notorious unsolved mystery. A suspect tossed a Molotov cocktail into the governor's mansion, which was empty while undergoing a $10 million renovation. The blaze destroyed the roof, damaged the walls and scorched the picturesque front columns of the two-story Greek Revival-style house, whose most famous residents include Sam Houston and President George W. Bush.

    RON PAUL:
    The Texas congressman, a registered Republican with Libertarian leanings, never stood a serious chance in his quixotic presidential bid. But his mantra of limited government earned him some serious campaign cash and a hard-core following. His online collection of $4.3 million was the largest Internet fundraising amount in a single day by a Republican candidate.

    DR. MICHAEL DEBAKEY:
    It's no overstatement to say DeBakey was one of the best doctors in the world. He treated kings and princes and presidents. He invented a major component of the heart-lung machine, ushering in the era of open-heart surgery; developed artificial hearts and heart pumps; and created more than 70 surgical instruments. When he died in July at age 99, he was give an honor unique in Houston: his body lay in repose at city hall. Fittingly, he was clad in surgical scrubs and a white lab coat.

    BORDER FENCE:
    The federal plan to erect a fence along the border played out in the courts in 2008. One of the snags: hundreds of property owners upset about having their land seized. So far, the feds have filed more than 300 condemnation lawsuits, leaving the courts to decide how land owners should be compensated.

    JENNA BUSH WEDDING:
    The bride wore Oscar de la Renta. The groom wore a dark-blue suit and a powder-blue tie. And the president and his daughter danced to "You Are So Beautiful." The wedding of Jenna Bush to Henry Hager, held away from public view at the Bush family ranch in Crawford, was relatively small and private -- a departure from traditionally splashy first family weddings.