WFAE's Top Stories Of 2019
From breaking news like the shooting at UNC Charlotte and the arrival of MLS to the Queen City to issues that continue to affect the Charlotte area, such as the affordable housing crisis and tolls on Interstate 77, WFAE has brought you news about all of it in 2019.
Our staff of editors and reporters identified the biggest stories in the Charlotte region in 2019. Here's what we covered in the past year that we won't forget:
The epidemic of school shootings found its way to Charlotte in 2019. Two students — 21-year-old Riley Howell and 19-year-old Reed Parlier — were killed and four others were injured when a gunman entered a classroom at UNC Charlotte on the last day of spring semester classes in April. Howell was credited with tackling the gunman to prevent further casulaties.
"He took the fight to the assailant and he unfortunately had to give his life to do so, but he saved lives doing so," CMPD chief Kerr Putney said.
It was a little like a madcap-caper-gone-wrong saga, as Mark Harris originally won the 9th District congressional election in November 2018, but then unusual absentee ballot votes were discovered in Bladen County. It was determined to be a voter fraud scheme — with Harris' own son testifying against him to the North Carolina Board of Elections — and a new election was held in September 2019. This time, Harris didn't run against Dan McCready, the Democrat opponent who tried, again, to win the seat. In the end, Dan Bishop captured the heavily Republican district by 2 percentage points.
And guess what? Bishop will have to run for reelection again in 2020.
In 1993, Charlotte set a record for the 450,000-resident city with 129 homicides. Twenty-six years later, the population has nearly doubled to 900,000, and by Nov. 26 of this year, the city had 100 homicides -- coming far too close to eclipsing that 1993 total.
Those killed ranged from Scott Brooks, the owner of a popular NoDa restaurant, to Kendal Crank, a 27-year-old who was driving to pick up her kids when she was struck by a stray bullet on 28th Street near Tryon Street. When Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles was sworn in for her second term in early December, she said the city council would focus on how to improve, adding, “We must change the path that we have taken this year.”
With no fanfare and 16 days overdue, the final stretch of the Interstate 77 toll lanes opened Nov. 16. But even that didn’t mean that the $800 million project was finished after four years. Workers continued to pave, including eliminating uneven pavement in some spots, and add noise walls. Contractor I-77 Mobility Partners racked up fines of up to $30,000 a day for the delay in the project that was supposed to be fully completed Nov. 1. The first, northern section of the toll lanes from Huntersville to Mooresville opened June 1 – five months behind schedule.
On March 25, CMPD officers responded to 911 calls about an armed man at a Burger King on Beatties Ford Road. After arriving, officers encountered Danquirs Franklin in the parking lot. CMPD says Franklin was armed and officers told him repeatedly to drop his gun. According to CMPD, Officer Wende Kerl "perceived a lethal threat" and fired her weapon, hitting Franklin. Franklin was transported to the hospital where he later died.
On July 15, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Clayton Wilcox was suspended for undisclosed reasons. By Aug. 2, he resigned. In late October, we learned part of the reason why: At least two senior administrators accused him of making comments offensive to minority and female employees, according to the Charlotte Observer. Later, the Observer reported that Wilcox pushed CMS to buy technology from a company where he had a relationship with the founder – and later asked that company to hire him as CEO. CMS has how had six superintendents in the past 10 years
CMPD chief Kerr Putney announced Oct. 7 that he had a retirement plan: He’d retire at the end of 2019, then return in March to lead the city through the Republican national convention in August 2020 as a contractor.
Except two days later, North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell said that plan would violate state law. The state statute says that public employees can only collect a pension after "complete separation from active service with no intent or agreement, expressed or implied, to return to service."
Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis continued in 2019, and WFAE took a yearlong look at the issue in our Finding Home series. Stories included how the closing of Lake Arbor Apartments sent a flood of tenants into a tight rental market; the West Side Community Land Trust’s efforts to develop affordable single-family homes; how Section 8 voucher holders have trouble finding housing; and how young adults struggle to find housing in Charlotte. And it included a public conversation in November at the Harvey B. Gantt Center.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents resoundingly rejected a quarter-cent sales tax increase that would have funded education and the arts. The tax had been expected to raise $50 million in its first year. But with debate over how, precisely, the money would be used and whether it was the best recipient for a sales tax increase were among the reasons the tax was voted down in November.
A year after David Tepper bought the Carolina Panthers, he secured another sports franchise for the Queen City: Major League Soccer. The league announced Dec. 17 that Charlotte would be the 30th team to receive an MLS franchise, with games beginning as soon as 2021. It came with a hefty price tag: It will require $110 million in public tax money, with Tepper expected to chip in more than $300 million for the expansion fee.