Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday January 16th 2019


15 of 2015

What’s a year without a year in review?  Here’s our top 15 of 2015 in headlines, politics and pop culture.


1. 2016 Presidential Race
More than a dozen people — and Donald Trump — have signed up to become the Republican candidate in the 2016 campaign. And Trump is the frontrunner. On the Democrat side, there are only two names most people remember; Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

2. Marriage Equality
With more than half of the 50 states legalizing same sex marriage, the Supreme Court of the United States raised a rainbow gavel and ruled 5-4 in favor of same sex marriage. “No longer may this liberty be denied,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority.

3. Black Lives Matter
The death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man, who suffered a broken neck and spinal injury in the back of a police transport van, continues to make headlines as a jury determines the officer’s guilt. In another courtroom in South Carolina, 21-year-old Dylan Roof pled not guilty over the summer after fatally shooting nine people who were conducting a Bible study inside the Emanuel AME Church.

4. Shootings
As we approach the end of 2015, here’s a scary statistic—there have been more shootings than days in the year. So far this year, there have been 355 mass shootings in the U.S.  The December massacre in San Bernardino, California is the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. since Sandy Hook three years ago.

5. Hurricane Katrina
August marked 10 years since the Category 3 Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans killing at least 1,800 people, displacing 400,000 more and causing $100 billion in damages. This summer we looked back at the slow-moving progress and what else needs to be done.

6. Planned Parenthood
From the movement to defund it to the tragic shooting at one of its facilities in Colorado, Planned Parenthood has been in the news almost daily since this summer. Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina and some videos—that may or not may exist—get most of the credit for that.

7. Mars
This year the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft had spotted hydrated salt minerals on the Red Planet. Translation: There’s water on Mars, which adds evidence to the habitability of the planet.

8. John Boehner
In September, John Boehner announced his resignation from Congress after four years with the gavel. The next month, Paul Ryan became the 54th Speaker of the House with 236 votes from Congress.

9. Jimmy Carter
The 39th president, Jimmy Carter first revealed he had cancer in August, and the prognosis was not good since the disease had spread to his brain. But the 91-year-old beat all odds and after months of treatment made another announcement that his cancer was gone. Carter is highly-regarded for his nonprofit work with the Carter Center, which works to advance human rights and alleviate human suffering.

10. U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Relations Restored
The Cuban embassy in Washington raised its flag, and the American embassy in Havana raised its flag, Friday, August 14. While Congress still controls the economic sanctions, U.S. travelers will be allowed, as of Jan. 1, 2016, to visit Cuba without first acquiring a government license.

11. BP Settlement Announced
The Justice Department and five states announced a $20.8 billion settlement on Oct. 5 in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The agreement is the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history and ends five years of legal fighting over the spill.

12. Iran Nuclear Deal
Iran signed in July the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France and China—and Germany to monitor Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. GOP leaders in Congress hoped to override the deal but failed.

13. Supreme Court Upholds Affordable Care Act Subsidies
The Affordable Care Act survived another Supreme Court test. By a 6-3 ruling, the justices stopped a challenge that would have eliminated subsidies in at least 34 states for individuals and families buying insurance through the federal government’s online marketplace, which is a core part of the plan.

14. Kim Davis
For every party, there’s a pooper. In July 2015, Kim Davis, a county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, became infamous when she was videotaped refusing marriage licenses to one gay couple. Davis, who has four marriages under her belt, was sent to jail and then became a figurehead for bigotry.

15. Shootings (Again)
Because we all need another reminder that this happening way too often.  Here’s hoping for a safer and saner 2016.



On the evening of November 13, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks took place in Paris and its northern suburb Saint-Denis.  Three suicide bombers struck near the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, followed by suicide bombings and mass shootings at cafés, restaurants and a music venue in Paris. The attackers killed 130 people, including 89 at the Bataclan theatre, where they took hostages before engaging in a stand-off with police. Seven of the attackers also died, while authorities continued to search for accomplices. The attacks were the deadliest on France since World War II and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying it was in retaliation for the French airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq.

Due to the rising number of refugees and migrants going to Europe and applying for asylum, a migrant crisis arose in 2015. Vast numbers of migrants have made their way across the Mediterranean to Europe, sparking a crisis as countries struggle to cope with the influx and creating division in the European Union over how best to deal with resettling people. More than 920,000 migrants are estimated to have arrived by sea alone so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. The conflict in Syria continues to be the biggest driver of the migration.

In August, a series of explosions killed over 100 people and injured hundreds of others at a container storage station at the Port of Tianjin in China. The cause of the explosions was not immediately known, but Chinese state media reported that at least the initial blast was from unknown hazardous materials in shipping containers. A total of 173 people were confirmed to have died from the explosions, and 797 others were injured.

In May, Ireland’s gay and lesbian community received the right to marry in a historical vote. Ireland became the first country in the world to achieve marriage equality through a popular vote. Homosexuality was decriminalized in Ireland just 22 years ago.

In September, NASA announced that potentially life-giving water flows across the surface of Mars. NASA researchers, using an imager aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, confirmed the watery flows by looking at light waves returned from seasonal dark streaks on the surface, long suspected to be associated with liquid water.

In June, Greece became the first developed country to fail to make an International Monetary Fund loan repayment. Currently, Greece’s government has debts of $414 billion. Greece received its third bailout in three years to avoid expulsion from the Eurozone.

The killing of Cecil, a 13-year-old African lion, drew extensive media attention in July after Walter Palmer, a dentist and big-game hunter from the U.S., shot the lion with a rifle in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Cecil was a major attraction in the park and was being studied and tracked by the University of Oxford. The killing drew international media attention and sparked outrage among animal conservationists, politicians and celebrities, as well as a strong negative response against Palmer. Two men in Zimbabwe are being prosecuted in relation to the hunt. Palmer had a permit and was not charged with any crime.

More than 9,000 people were killed and 23,000 people were left injured after an earthquake hit Nepal in April.  It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake. The earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing at least 19, making April 25, 2015 the deadliest day on the mountain in history. The earthquake triggered another huge avalanche in the Langtang valley, where 250 people were reported missing. A major aftershock occurred in May near the Chinese border between the capital of Kathmandu and Mt. Everest. More than 200 people were killed and more than 2,500 were injured by this aftershock.

Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, escaped from Altiplano Federal Prison through a tunnel in one of the prison’s showers. Guzman, who heads the Sinaloa Cartel, was captured in 2014 and escaped for the second time from the maximum-security prison in July 2015. A subsequent manhunt ensued after his escape, but he has yet to be found. This wasn’t his first prison break, as Guzman escaped from prison in 2001 by hiding in a laundry cart.

Hurricane Patricia, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded, formed in October and made landfall near Jalisco, Mexico this year. With maximum sustained winds of 200 mph and a minimum pressure of 879 mbar, Hurricane Patricia is the most intense tropical cyclone ever observed in the Western Hemisphere. As a tropical cyclone, Patricia’s effects in Mexico were tremendous; however, the affected areas were predominantly rural, mitigating a potential large-scale disaster. The total damage was estimated to be more than $323.3 million, with agriculture and infrastructure comprising the majority of losses.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Princess Kate, welcomed their second child, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge this year. The royal princess was born May 2, 2015 and is the fourth in line to succeed her paternal great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, after her paternal grandfather, father and elder brother, 2-year-old Prince George.

At least 17 women have been elected to public office in Saudi Arabia, according to preliminary results published in state media. The historic elections for municipal councils marked the first time women in the country were allowed to vote and to run for office. The female winners include Salma al-Oteibi in the Mecca region, Lama al-Suleiman and Rasha Hufaithi in Jeddah, Hanouf al-Hazimi in Al Jouf province, and Sanaa al-Hammam and Masoumah Abdelreda in the Ahsa region. However, female candidates are barred from speaking to male voters and required to segregate campaign offices.

The U.S. won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup title this year in Canada, beating Japan 5-2. This was the U.S. women’s soccer team’s third World Cup title since the competition started in 1991.

Acting on a tip from spelunkers, scientists in South Africa discovered thousands of bones of a previously unidentified species of human ancestors — Homo naledi. Professor Lee Berger announced in September that besides introducing a new member of the pre-human family, the discovery suggests that some early hominins intentionally deposited bodies of their dead in a remote and largely-inaccessible cave chamber, a behavior previously considered limited to modern humans.

TIME Magazine revealed in December that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been named as Person of the Year. The magazine said that the 61-year-old world leader was chosen as Person of the Year for opening her nation’s border to hundreds of thousands of refugees and managing Europe’s debt crisis. Merkel, who became Germany’s Chancellor in 2005, is the first individual woman to receive the “Person of the Year” recognition since TIME changed its title from “Man of the Year” in 1999.



Donald Hartung, Sr. was arrested in October and charged with three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of his mother, 77-year-old Voncile Smith, and his two half-brothers, John Smith, 49, and Richard Smith, 47. Months earlier, a media frenzy ensued after Sheriff David Morgan said that the murders may have been motivated by witchcraft and the appearance of a blue moon and that the murder appeared ritualistic in nature. The three victims were found dead in their home and had reportedly been beaten with hammers and had their throats slit.

Since Nov.1 2014, Escambia County Jail has had six deaths, which places the county among the highest in the nation for jail deaths. Three inmates died from suicide, while the other three died from medical complications. Escambia County Jail Director of Corrections Michael Tidwell was fired after the string of deaths and replaced by Assistant County Administrator Chip Simmons.

After three years of debate, an ordinance paving the way for food trucks in the city failed to survive the vote from city council members. The proposed food truck ordinance would have allowed the vendors to operate on city streets after purchasing a permit, except along South Palafox, from Garden to Plaza DeLuna.

Pensacola followed suit this year following the nation’s sweep to remove the Confederate flag from government property. The flags were removed from in front of City Hall, the Five Flags display at the foot of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, the post office on Palafox Street and the city-owned Osceola Golf Course per Mayor Ashton Hayward’s and Escambia County Commisioners’ requests. Some residents, however, chose to display their support for the Confederate flag by spray painting the Graffiti Bridge or flying the flag from their truck beds for several weeks in the name of “heritage.”

IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area gave away over $1 million in 2015 to 10 grant recipients including Ballet Pensacola, Pensacola Museum of Art, AMIkids Pensacola, Learn to Read of Northwest Florida, Coast Watch Alliance, Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, Children’s Home Society of Florida, Lutheran Services Florida, Bay Area Food Bank and Re-Entry Alliance Pensacola. Sunday’s Child, a nonprofit which awards grants for significant charitable and economic initiatives that promote diversity, inclusion and equality, awarded two grants totaling $33,125 to ARC Gateway and Legal Services of Northwest Florida, Inc.

Following two workshops this year on a proposed human rights ordinance that would make discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodations in the city illegal, the Pensacola City Councilmembers were in support of bringing the ordinance to a vote at an upcoming city council meeting. North Florida ACLU Director Sara Latshaw said that she and the ACLU will be working to get the ordinance back before the council at a regular meeting as soon as possible.

This summer, Quint and Rishy Studer withdrew their offer for three parcels of property at the Community Maritime Park. The $20 million development deal fell through after the Mayor’s Office said it would not accept the proposed leases. Studer had planned, in partnership with the University of West Florida, to establish the UWF Center for Entrepreneurship at the park and build a convention center. The City’s only other prospect, a Miami developer, had failed to send in a revised plan for the park.

The Wedgewood community finally got some closure after battling with Rolling Hills Construction and Demolition Landfill for years. Residents, citing ongoing health and sanitation problems from the foul odors permeating from the borrow pits, called for closure of the landfill. After failing to comply with several citations, the county ordered a stop of flow of debris in May. In October, South Palafox Properties, the bonding company for Rolling Hills Construction and Demolition, opted not to move forward with closure of the landfill in the Wedgewood community and surrendered the bond.

The groundbreaking of the new downtown YMCA at the corner of Tarragona and Intendencia Streets started in August. More than half of the donations for the new facility came from the Levin, Studer and Bear families. A few streets over, demolition began on the site of the old Pensacola News Journal building to make way for the Studer’s $50 million apartment building on the corner of Jefferson and Romana Streets. The Studers asked for feedback from the prospective tenants on the 260-unit residential structure. Both the apartment complex and YMCA are slated to be completed in late 2016.

Allegations of grade tampering at Newpoint Academy and High School prompted an Escambia County School District investigation in March. After several teachers were arrested for violating Florida’s Test Administration and Security Law, the School Board voted to terminate the charters for Newpoint High and Newpoint Academy in May.

Two Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies, Mark Smith and Walter Thomas, were arrested and charged with sexual offenses against juveniles after an investigation determined that the two deputies were associates of swingers Douglas and Leah Manning. The case dates back to 2014 when Thomas allegedly visited the couple. Leah Manning invited the victim into her bedroom to engage in sex acts with Thomas while Douglas Manning recorded the abuse. Investigators found more than 100,000 images and videos related to the case. The Mannings, who worked as paramedics with Okaloosa County, were charged with lewd and lascivious conduct involving a child and child abuse charges.

The legal troubles of Ben Galecki, Pensacon CEO, and Burton Ritchie, former owner of the Psychedelic Shack, magnified when a Las Vegas federal grand jury handed down a 35-page indictment for an array of charges, including distribution of a controlled substance, money laundering, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. The two men, who are partners in Heretic Films, were arrested earlier in October in Pensacola on charges stemming from a similar drug distribution indictment from a Virginia federal grand jury. According to the indictment, Ritchie and Galecki formed a company to manufacture spice at a warehouse in Las Vegas in 2012, producing 200 kilograms of the drug.

Responding to the prevalent deaths of black youth at the hands of police, the local movement From Pensacola with Love first organized in solidarity with the anti-police brutality demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri. From Pensacola, activists held peaceful gatherings in Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza and spread messages through social media. The movement, modeled after Black Lives Matter, was formed to raise awareness of racial profiling and to change the conversation surrounding police violence.

The nonprofit, which has been this area’s top homebuilder over the past few years, was under fire in March after placing over a dozen foreclosed houses and vacant lots up for sale at prices reported to be below market price to a for-profit real estate firm. Protesters picketed a Habitat board meeting to protest the sale of real estate without giving the public notice or the opportunity to bid.

After three decades of dormancy, the REX Theatre underwent a $2 million restoration and reopened early this year. Built in 1910, the theatre was once a popular part of the downtown Pensacola social scene. Harvest Outreach completed the two-year restoration project.



1. Taylor Swift
She’ll probably be on year-end lists forever, but this year in particular, T-Swift really outdid herself.  She added even more celebrities to her squad and brought most of them on stage during her 1989 World Tour. She also put Apple Music in its place when she chided the company for not paying artists properly and got them to pay up. And who can forget Ryan Adams and his “1989” cover album?

2. Star Wars
The much-anticipated “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has been in headlines since The Walt Disney Co. acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion. Speculations about the latest Star Wars film didn’t stop until the very second the movie premiered in December. And the merchandise was everywhere from produce to razors.

3. Caitlyn Jenner
Call Me Caitlyn was one of the biggest headlines of the year when Caitlyn Jenner came out to the world and introduced herself on the cover of Vanity Fair. She followed up her magazine interview with the reality TV show “I am Cait,” which follows her life as a transgender woman.

4. Adele
Chances are you’ve heard ‘Hello’ once or twice this year and you might have even cried a little.  Adele’s latest album, “25,” broke the internet and then broke N*Sync’s record, selling 2.433 million albums in its first week.

5. Mad Men
The story of Don Draper came to an official end in May with the show’s complicated antagonist finding inner peace…and a winning campaign for soda. The Hollywood Reporter notes it’s one of the most positively-received finales in recent years.

6. Hotline Bling
Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ might just be the biggest song ever to not reach number one on the Billboard charts. But he made up for that by becoming the first artist to have a diss track get nominated for a Grammy. Good luck topping that, Meek Mill.

7. Master of None
More proof that the best TV shows aren’t on traditional TV anymore. The Netflix original series created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang explore relationships—between friends, partners, parents—in a smart and humorous way. We’re already anticipating Season 2.

8. Bill Cosby
The sales of colorful sweaters and pudding pops plummeted after more than 40 women spoke out about allegations of sexual misconduct by the 78-year-old Bill Cosby. He recently filed a lawsuit against seven of the accusers for defamation and emotional distress, but it seems the damage has already been done for both parties.

9. Amy Schumer
Her sketch show, “Inside Amy Schumer,” took home the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Show, she turned Bill Hader into a dreamboat in “Trainwreck” and she’s apparently best friends with Jennifer Lawrence. Yeah, Amy Schumer had a good year, and we’ve enjoyed watching it.

10. New hosts, same shows
David Letterman took his Top 10 lists and retired after 33 years, making room for a new host, Stephen Colbert. Not only did this mark the end of “The Colbert Report,” but John Stewart retired from “The Daily Show” after 16 years. We are still feeling out his replacement—South African comedian Trevor Noah.

11. Go Set a Watchman
After more than half a century, Harper Lee, followed up the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” with “Go Set a Watchman,” which was essentially her first draft for the widely-acclaimed novel. Only in this version, Atticus Finch isn’t the shining beacon of hope, which caused some criticism and controversy.

12. Charlie Sheen
In November, Charlie Sheen went on “The Today Show” to say that the rumors are true. The television and movie star is HIV-positive. While he kept the status a secret for about four years, the actor told host Matt Lauer “I think I release myself from this prison today.”

13. The ‘90s live on
From the reboots (“Fuller House,” “X-Files,” “Jurassic World” to name a few) to the fashions (Doc Martens and plaid), it seems that the decade of grunge and frosted lips were making a comeback. This year also marked the 20th anniversary of the most ‘90s movie ever—“Clueless.”

14. And Coloring Books, Too
There was no escaping the adult coloring book trend this year—or coloring “therapy” if you want to take it seriously.  Two books even made their way onto Amazon’s 2015 best-sellers list—“Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Coloring Book” and “Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Pat”, in case you’re curious.

15. Straight Outta Compton
The wait and the hype turned out to be totally worth it with this N.W.A. biopic, so much so that it grossed over $200 million worldwide and is on most critics’ “Best Picture” shortlist.

Honorable mentions (and the hashtags they inspired):


Rest in Peace
Notable Deaths in 2015

Christian Audigier—Ed Hardy designer and father of the tattoo shirt
Yogi Berra—Baseball legend
Beau Biden—Former Delaware Attorney General and son of Vice President Joe Biden
Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown—Daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown
Wes Craven—Horror movie writer/director
Mario Cuomo—Former New York Governor
Frank Gifford—Football Hall of Famer
B.B. King—Blues legend
John Nash—Mathematician
Leonard Nimoy—Legendary actor
Misa Okawa—the world’s oldest woman, died in Japan in April at the age of 117
Stuart Scott—ESPN Anchor
Sam Simon—Simpsons co-creator
Fred Thompson—Actor-turned-politician
Scott Weiland—Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver Frontman