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Top local stories of 2019 brought joy, heartbreak and scandal

A look at some of the most impactful stories of the year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The sale of JEA that never happened, a historically strong hurricane and a crash landing into the St. Johns River were just some of the news stories News4Jax covered on the First Coast in 2019.

Here’s a look at 13 of the most impactful, interesting and heartbreaking stories we covered this year.

JEA saga

Just as 2019 is coming to a close, the JEA Board of Directors pulled the plug on what became one of the biggest local stories of the year, ending talks of potentially selling the city-owned utility.

JEA interim CEO Melissa Dykes called the JEA saga the single most divisive issue of 2019.

The JEA board first approved exploring the potential sale of the utility in July. The months that followed were filled with scandals, resignations and public backlash, ultimately leading to the board’s Christmas Eve decision to end the process of finding potential suitors.

JEA faced ongoing turmoil since the ITN process began, particularly when a controversial bonus program came to light that could have netted top executives hundreds of millions of dollars if the city-owned utility was sold. The revelation ultimately led to the removal of CEO Aaron Zhan and the resignation of JEA’s top legal adviser.

There may be more fallout to come in 2020 as calls continue for a formal grand jury investigation into JEA and connected city officials.

Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian, which peaked as a Category 5 with sustained winds at 185 mph, never reached Jacksonville but the storm left frayed nerves up and down the East Coast, as the system sat for days around the Bahamas.

After Dorian skirted by the First Coast causing minimal damage, local relief efforts turned to the Bahamas where thousands of people were left homeless in the wake of the devastating storm.

WATCH: WJXT original documentary ’96 Hours of Anguish’ highlights destruction, dedication in Bahamas

The 2019 hurricane season had 18 named storms, matching 1969 for the fourth most-lively season in the past 150 years.

JFRD photo of Braxton and Bri'ya in rescue unit with firefighters on Sky 4 aerial of Paradise Village Mobile Home Park and nearby woods.

Two missing children found

After going missing for two days, Braxton and Bri’ya found were found in an abandoned hunting stand deep in the woods on the westside of Jacksonville in what ended up being a heartwarming rescue.

Michael Haim trial

More than 26 years after Bonnie Haim disappeared, her husband Michael Haim stood trial for her murder in a case that captured national attention.

The case got a break when Bonnie Haim's grown son found her remains buried in the yard of his boyhood home.

It took less than 90 minutes for a jury to find Michael Haim guilty of second-degree murder. He was later sentenced to life in prison.

Remains found in Alabama have been identified as those of Taylor Rose Williams (WJXT)

Taylor Rose Williams

Taylor Rose Williams was first reported missing by her mother, Navy Petty Officer Brianna Williams, in November.

Williams told officers she saw her daughter in bed around midnight in their home on Ivy Street in the Brentwood neighborhood of Jacksonville, but when she woke the next morning, Taylor was gone. But a woman who helped Brianna Williams move said she never saw Taylor and investigators said the mother had inconsistencies in her story.

A day after she was named a person of interest in connection with her daughter’s disappearance, Brianna Williams overdosed on an unknown substance before she was arrested on charges of child neglect and giving false information to investigators.

The story of the search for Taylor Rose Williams ultimately ended in heartbreak when her body was found in the woods in rural Alabama.

Golden Ray capsizes

Four crew members were trapped in September when the Golden Ray, a massive cargo ship, overturned and caught fire off the coast of Brunswick.

After following taps coming from the vessel, three of the South Korean crew members were located in the propeller shaft room near the stern of the ship and brought to safety during a dramatic rescue.

News4Jax continued to report on the aftermath of the overturned ship, which included monitoring the environmental impacts. Months after the incident, the ship still remains in St. Simons Sound.

Miami Air International Boeing 737-800 that overran the runway at NAS Jacksonville (Photo courtesy of NTSB)

Miracle on the St. Johns River

A military charter jet carrying 143 people slid off the Naval Air Station Jacksonville runway into the St. Johns River in May.

All passengers and crew aboard the Miami Air International plane were alive and accounted for. While 22 people were brought to area hospitals, none was seriously hurt.

Brian McCluney and Justin Walker disappeared during a fishing trip off Port Canaveral.

Firefighters go missing

Brian McCluney, a 37-year-old Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department paramedic and Justin Walker, a 33-year-old firefighter from Fairfax, Virginia went missing in August during a fishing trip out of Port Canaveral.

After searching more than 146,000 square miles, and finding a tackle box that briefly brought hope, the U.S. Coast Guard decided to call off the search, leaving their friends and families grief-stricken.

Clay County Sheriff scandal

In early May, Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels filed a report accusing Cierra Smith, a woman he supervised when he was chief of the jail for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, of having a gun in her car and following him.

The accusation against Smith eventually revealed that she and the married sheriff had been having an affair for years and the relationship had recently soured.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched a formal investigation into Daniels the same day an anonymous letter addressed to Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, the FDLE and the media surfaced asking that Daniels be replaced.

Daniels previously told News4Jax that he intends to run for reelection in 2020 and wants to continue his job as sheriff.

Business owner, wife, son -- all diagnosed with cancer

A Jacksonville family of three fighting three different kinds of cancer received an outpouring of support from the community after News4Jax shared their story.

The Desclefs family, which owns and operates a French-American restaurant called the Magnificat Cafe across from Hemming Plaza, was in danger of losing their restaurant until people from all over the world along with local business owners raised thousands of dollars to help them with mounting medical costs.

Jacksonville Landing demolition

The Jacksonville Landing, an orange-roofed riverfront mall that was originally built more than 30 years ago, began its slow disintegration in October.

Though it’s still unclear what the property will become next, the entire demolition project is scheduled to be done by the spring of 2020.

Viral video of girl licking tongue depressor and putting it back

It’s the stomach-churning video you wish you didn’t see.

A Jacksonville mother was arrested in July after cellphone video of her daughter licking a tongue depressor at a dentist's office and putting it back in the jar went viral.

The mother, who originally faced serious charges, avoided prolonged jail time.

Davay Kinsey is flanked by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, FSCJ President Dr. John Avendano at Monday's ceremony. (WJXT 2019)

Security guard who saved firefighters

Davay Kinsey, a UF Health Jacksonville security officer, was hailed as a hero for helping save the life of a veteran fire captain who was stabbed in October while on duty.

A few months later, the Air Force veteran was presented with the Florida State College at Jacksonville President’s Heroism Award and a scholarship to the college’s Fire Academy of the South, so she can accomplish her goal of becoming an emergency medical technician.

About the Author:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.