Hurricanes, teachers and tragedy: Top Florida stories of 2020

A sailboat is washed ashore in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Eta, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, in Madeira Beach, Fla. Eta dumped torrents of blustery rain on Florida's west coast as it slogged over the state before making landfall near Cedar Key, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Looking back at the top 2020 Florida headlines, it’s hard to find stories that weren’t at least somewhat connected to the coronavirus, the virus that dominated the headlines this year. But there were other stories that captured the interest of readers.

Some stories were tragic. Others were weird or interesting. Others directly affected the lives of Floridians.

To mark the end of a tumultuous 2020, we put together a list of some of our most-read Florida stories from the past year.

FILE - This Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, satellite image made available by NOAA shows Tropical Storm Eta at 10:40 a.m. EST in the Gulf of Mexico, Theta, right, and a tropical wave to the south that became Tropical Storm Iota. An overheating world obliterated weather records in 2020 an extreme year for hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves, floods, droughts and ice melt the United Nations weather agency reported Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. (NOAA via AP)

Hurricane Season

Some called it luck.

During the most active hurricane season on record, Florida, for the most part, dodged a bullet.

The 2020 Atlantic season put up 30 named storms -- requiring the use of the auxiliary Greek alphabet for just the second time ever. The storm season included 13 hurricanes, of which six were categorized as “major” storms, with winds over 111 mph. But most spun away from Florida.

MORE | 6 reasons the 2020 hurricane season was like no other

Florida was hit by four named storms, but what had been Hurricane Eta was the only storm to make direct landfall in the state.

The most memorable of this year’s storms for Florida was Hurricane Sally which brought massive storm surge and flooding to the western Panhandle.

Supporters of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden (obscured) wave flags and hand out information to arriving voters outside an early voting polling station in West Palm Beach, Fla., Friday, Oct. 30, 2020.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

2020 Election

During presidential election years, Florida is usually the center of attention. A critical swing state, the winner of the Sunshine State is often also named the winner of the election.

That didn’t happen this year. In what many described as a surprise, President Donald Trump won Florida by a comfortable margin but lost the election to now President-elect Joe Biden.

MORE | County-by-county: How President Trump once again won Florida

It was the first time that a presidential candidate won both Florida and Ohio and lost the election since 1960 when Republican Richard Nixon won both Florida and Ohio but lost the election to Democrat John F. Kennedy.

News4Jax covered the presidential election extensively, but there were also other key amendments that were passed, the biggest of which was the amendment that will increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.

Two brothers and young woman charged in deaths of three men on fishing trip. (Polk County Sheriff's Office)

3 friends killed on fishing trip

A 26-year-old with 230 previous felony charges was among three people arrested in July in the brutal killings of three men who went fishing at a Central Florida lake.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the three suspects drove to a McDonald’s after the brutal killings, where they ordered 10 double cheeseburgers, and two McChicken sandwiches.

A trail of evidence led to their arrests.

The state is now seeking the death penalty for one of the suspects.

Judge sides with Florida teachers union, says districts should decide if schools should reopen

Year of the Teacher

Late in 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis proclaimed that 2020 would be the “Year of the Teacher.”

He wasn’t wrong.

When DeSantis made the statement, he was talking about a historic pay raise for educators in the state, but he couldn’t have predicted what happened just a few months later.

Schools shut down due to coronavirus concerns, and when they reopened, teachers were forced to make dramatic changes to how they approached their jobs. Some fought to keep schools closed, others wrote their wills, and others walked away from jobs they loved while some made the best of a difficult situation.

Eventually, DeSantis signed a bill in June with a goal to raise the minimum teacher salary to $47,500 and provide other raises at a cost of $500 million despite state revenue plummeting because of the coronavirus.

Districts are still figuring out how to allocate those raises and getting push back from veteran teachers.

Kelvis Rodriguez-Tormes

Man kills Burger King employee

A woman who was upset that her Burger King order took too long got a man to come to the restaurant and shoot one of the employees in August, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Desmond Armond Joshua, the 22-year-old victim, had just started working at the restaurant a few days earlier.

Rebekah Jones says she was fired from the Florida Department of Health after she refused to "manipulate" COVID-19 data (Photo: Courtesy photo)

Coronavirus data scientist

The chief architect of Florida’s coronavirus website was fired in May after a dispute over what information should be made public.

The fall out after the firing of Rebekah Jones, and clashes with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, continued to make headlines this year.

Earlier this month, Jones’s home was raided by FDLE. Officials said has been under investigation since early November when someone illegally accessed the state’s emergency alert health system.

Jones has since sued FDLE.

A 9-year-old boy is accused of stabbing his sister in their Ocala home.

Florida boy charged with stabbing 5-year-old sister

A 9-year-old Ocala boy faced attempted murder charges in the stabbing of his 5-year-old sister in January.

The mother of the children told police she left the apartment to get the mail and to get some candy for her children from a neighbor. When she returned, she said she found the boy stabbing his sister with a kitchen knife in a bedroom.

The child told investigators he thought of killing his sister two days before the Jan. 28 stabbing, Ocala police said.

Florida unemployment ‘over payment’ leaves unemployed chef without benefits for 5 months

Unemployment issues

Florida’s unemployment system was overwhelmed as millions of people around the state filed for benefits amid coronavirus-related shutdowns.

As applications poured in, Florida ranked at or near the bottom of all states in its speed of processing those claims, federal data shows.

There were website issues, not enough staffing and delays in payouts.

The issues prompted an investigation into Florida’s unemployment system, which was installed during the Gov. Rick Scott era and cost the state more than $77 million.

As of Dec. 11, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity had paid out nearly $19.1 billion, mostly in federal money, to almost 2.13 million unemployment claimants since March 15.

Gov. Ron DeSantis was in South Florida to announce that $20 million will be invested in protecting Biscayne Bay, with half coming from the state and half coming from Miami-Dade County. (WPLG)

DeSantis voter registration hacked

A Florida man who changed the voter registration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and accessed those belonging to NBA icons Michael Jordan and LeBron James was arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in October.

The 20-year-old man was charged with unauthorized access of a computer and altering a voter registration without consent. He was booked into Collier County Jail on a $5,000 bail.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Julian Keen was killed while off-duty trying to stop a hit-and-run driver. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Florida wildlife officer killed

Florida Wildlife Conservation officer Julian Keen Jr. was found fatally shot in rural Hendry County in June and three suspects were later taken into custody.

Pensacola television station WEAR reported Keen, 30, was shot and killed while trying to stop a hit-and-run driver.

“FHP Command Officers are praying and remembering our fallen but NEVER forgotten brother, FWC Officer Julian Keen, who was murdered last night while following his calling to protect and serve others,” the Florida Highway Patrol Command Officers Association posted on Facebook. “He was a genuine officer who would literally give his shirt off his back to ANYONE who needed it.”

Friends flooded Facebook with memories of Keen and messages of shock over his death, WINK reported.

I-95 checkpoint shuts down at Florida-Georgia border after traffic backs up for miles

Florida-Georgia border checkpoint

Traffic along Interstate 95 was slowed for miles at the Florida-Georgia border in March after a checkpoint was put in place to screen for travelers coming from COVID-19 hot spots on the East Coast.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the purpose of the checkpoint on I-95 south was to check for people coming from the New York City area and help slow the spread of the sometimes deadly virus in Florida. DeSantis issued an executive order directing the Department of Health to require travelers from New York, Louisiana, Connecticut and New Jersey to self-isolate for 14 days after traveling to Florida. Later in the year, New York issued travel restrictions for travelers coming from Florida into the state after cases here spiked.

After the traffic issues, the checkpoint was scaled back.

As of Dec. 22, there were no statewide restrictions in Florida.