Top Stories of 2013
a12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. The years seem to go by so fast and 2013 was no different. Of course, the fast-paced South Florida lifestyle does nothing to slow down the clock; it only tends to crank things up a notch. It all means that one day's big news story quickly becomes yesterday's memory. What's so important to you today, may easily be forgotten tomorrow. But don't worry, we've got you covered when it comes to remembering the highs and lows of 2013. It was a year filled with the serious and outrageous, shocks and surprises and the fun and fantastic. So without any further ado, here are the Top 10 Stories of 2013.
What started as a rowdy gathering of Miami Heat fans watching their beloved team in the NBA Finals took just seconds to turn into all-out chaos.
On June 13, the wooden deck at Shuckers Bar & Grill failed to withstand the weight of excited fans and collapsed, dumping dozens of people into the dark waters of Biscayne Bay.
Said Heat fan Selina Mills, "We heard a cheer for the Heat and the next thing I know, I was falling backwards."
A frantic search began immediately, but rescue efforts were hampered by poor lighting in the area. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue treated 24 people on-scene, with 15 taken to local hospitals.
In the days that followed it was learned that the deck at Shuckers had never been inspected by a government agency, and that in the restaurant's 40-year history only one inspection had ever been conducted. A Local 10 investigation showed that similar decks and piers in South Florida had also gone uninspected for years or not at all.
Shuckers remained closed following the accident and has yet to reopen.
There were a lot of things that Wanda McGowan probably wanted to accomplish on the morning of October 12. Getting stuck on an open drawbridge and having her picture sent around the world probably wasn't one of them.
McGowan's trip to the skies over the New River began innocently enough as a participant in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K walk in Fort Lauderdale.
But in a scene ripped directly from a Bugs Bunny or Roadrunner cartoon script, the 55-year-old took a wrong turn and found herself crossing a railroad drawbridge... and that's when it got interesting.
Almost immediately, the untendered bridge began to open, leaving McGowan with only one option; hang on for dear life. Like a pink-festooned Spider-Man, McGowan serenely clung to the bridge; never moving, never flinching a muscle.
Firefighters arrived 20 minutes later and used a ladder to bring McGowan down from her lofty perch, ending one of the craziest ordeals in breast cancer walk history.
However, McGowan's journey to infamy was just beginning as pictures of her sprawled atop the drawbridge while wearing a bra, pink tank top and a not-safe-for-work belt buckle made their way all over the globe.
Luckily for McGowan, the embarrassment was the harshest penalty she would receive as the Florida East Coast Railway, the bridge's operator, decided not to file trespassing charges against her.
A mission of mercy turned into one of despair off the coast of Fort Lauderdale on November 19.
Just minutes after dropping off a patient at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, a medical flight with two pilots, a doctor and a nurse bound for Mexico crashed into the ocean about a mile off the coast.
A search began immediately and eventually encompassed over 4,000 miles.
Two bodies were recovered within in the first hours after the crash, but the two bodies of the remaining passengers were never located.
Aboard the plane were pilots Jose Hiram Galvan de la O. and Josue Buendía Moreno and passengers Fernando Senties Nieto and Mariana Gonzalez Isunza. The group had picked up an unknown patient in Costa Rica and flew them to South Florida.
In a distress call, the pilot tells the air traffic control tower, "We have an engine failure," and he requests permission to return to the runway. "We're going to do a 180 and we're going to land," he says. A few minutes later, in response to the tower's instructions, the pilot says, "Mayday, mayday, mayday."
Within days of the crash it was revealed that the FAA had warned of potential problems in the Learjet 35 model used in the ill-fated flight.
Maybe there was something lost in the translation. Maybe Penelope Cruz was just telling a Miami-Dade Circuit Judge to have a nice day.
Or maybe not.
Back in February, Cruz kept jumping from one pool of hot water to the next during a court appearance on possession charges. After Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat dismissed her with $10,000 bond, Cruz, 18, walked away muttering "F___ you" and flipped his honor the bird.
Not surprisingly, Rodriguez-Chomat found nothing funny about the gesture or Cruz' attitude and immediately responded by holding her in contempt of court and sentenced her to 30 days in the bird cage.... AKA, jail.
From that moment on, Cruz' "bird" flew all over the Internet and airwaves, while some questioned whether the judge had gone too far in laying down the law in defense of common courtesy and decency.
However, just days later a more demure and friendly Soto, with middle finger nowhere to be seen, appeared before Rodriguez-Chomat and apologized for her actions.
Soto said she was sorry, telling the judge, "I apologize not only to you but to my family," before sniffling back a soft cry.
Accepting the semi-tearful apology, a compassionate Rodriguez-Chomat dropped the contempt charge and the jail sentence.
Soto then left the court, climbed into the back seat of a car and flew away into the halls of South Florida infamy.
While we've all grown fond, some would say dependant, of social media as a way to connect with current friends and reconnect with old ones; the world of social media took a dark and morbid turn over the summer.
In early August, Derek Medina posted a message on his Facebook account that could not have been more chilling.
"I'm going to prison or death sentence for killing my wife," Medina wrote.
Medina then added something that had never before been seen on a popular social media website: a picture of a dead woman; his own wife, Jennifer Alfonso, shot dead.
Police say Medina, 31, then drove to the South Miami Police Department and told officers what he had done, claiming he had acted in self-defense after Alfonso began punching him during an argument. Alfonso's daughter was in the home when her mother was murdered.
Facebook immediately removed the post, but by then it had already been shared by hundreds.
A picture of paranoia and violence began to arise from Medina's past as neighbors said the man kept his windows covered and had surveillance cameras pointed at his front door. Medina also wrote several e-books with long and bizarre titles that dealt with relationships and his experience with aliens.
Medina, now with full beard, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges in December. Prosecutors say Alfonso, 26, was likely cowering and on her knees when she was fatally shot and that they have evidence that Medina had told others that he would kill his wife if she ever tried to leave him.
A tentative trial date has been set for March 17, 2014.
The Miami Heat have the "Big 3," but this summer they literally needed a big three to keep their dreams alive of a second straight NBA title.
Facing elimination and the disappointing end to a season in which a championship was expected, not purely hoped for; the Heat needed a miracle and Ray Allen delivered.
Boy, did he ever deliver.
The San Antonio Spurs had given the Heat everything they could handle and more throughout the 2013 NBA Finals. And with a 3-2 series lead and a 3-point Game 6 lead, the Spurs were just 5.2 seconds away from taking the coveted Larry O'Brien trophy back to the Lone Star State.
How "over" was this series? Arena security had already put up the yellow rope to keep fans off the court for San Antonio's victory celebration. Heat fans had started leaving the American Airlines Arena... in droves.
But then it happened. Ray Allen happened.
Signed during the previous off-season to provide LeBron James and company with the deadliest sharpshooter in NBA history, Allen's South Florida achievements until that moment had been satisfying, yet a tad underwhelming.
That all changed as the Heat had one final possession to send the game into overtime.
It was a helter-skelter sequence with bodies flying and the ball in LeBron's hands. James heaved up a 3-pointer that shot off the rim. Chris Bosh grabbed the rebound and found Allen heading towards the corner.
After a quick two-step scramble to get beyond the 3-point line, Allen let the ball fly.
The rest, well, as they say, is history.
Allen's three splashed the twine and the game was sent to overtime where the Heat prevailed 103-100.
Two days later the teams squared off in a winner-take-all Game 7 which, to most, was anticlimatic compared to the game that had preceded it. The Heat were victorious and claimed the back-to-back titles that the team targeted back in training camp.
It's hard to outshine LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the basketball court; but for one night Ray Allen did just that.
All it took was a miracle.
Live car chases have always been a fun diversion to whatever else we happen to be occupying our time with. The thrill of watching the police trail a suspect at high speeds through the city streets often tops even the most exciting of action movies.
But on Sept. 18 we all received a wake up call to the somber reality that lives are at stake and there is no entertainment value in seeing a young mother lose her life on live television.
Antonio Feliu's deadly morning began when he shot two women, Viviana Gallego and Anabel Benitez, at a home in Southwest Miami-Dade. Gallego had been in an estranged relationship with Gallego.
Following the shootings, Feliu led police on a long chase that was aired live on television.
With the high speed chase continuing north on U.S. 27 in western Broward County, Feliu approached a an intersection at Griffin Road. Instead of slowing, Feliu ran through a red light and slammed into a Mercedes-Benz driven by 48-year-old Martiza Medina.
Medina was immediately ejected from the car and her lifeless body remained unattended for several minutes as police focused on Feliu. With Feliu firing shots from his damaged vehicles, a Broward Sheriff's Office sergeant and Miami-Dade officer courageously shielded Medina with their car and then to drove her to a safe area where she was pronounced dead.
After a long standoff and surrounded by four SWAT teams, Feliu took his own life, ending the terrible saga.
But for Medina's family, losing a wife and a mother is a pain that will never end.
It was a shocking scene played out live all over South Florida, offering up a sobering reminder that real lives do hang in the balance in some television dramas.
Pedro Vargas is dead.
Because of that unfortunate circumstance, we will never know the reasons behind his heinous acts of July 26.
What has been called the "Hialeah Massacre" began when Vargas, then 42, set fire to $10,000 in cash inside his apartment.
When the elderly property managers of the apartment complex, Camino and Italo Pisciotti, ran to investigate the blaze, Vargas opened fire and killed them.
Vargas then ran back into the burning apartment and began shooting from his balcony. It was from there that he killed 33-year-old Carlos Gavilanes, a man returning home with his young son.
When the fire became too big, Vargas started moving from floor to floor, eventually entering an apartment where he shot and killed a father, mother and their 17-year-old daughter.
Vargas then moved to another apartment where he held two people hostage. It was there that police began a series of negotiations with the gunman. Once those attempts failed, SWAT teams swarmed in and killed Vargas while rescuing both hostages.
The eight hour ordeal had ended with the deaths of seven: Vargas and the six he had needlessly and randomly murdered.
It wasn't long after the violent night that a portrait began to emerge of Vargas as an anti-social, lonely man with pent up anger issues. Neighbors and fellow gym members said Vargas had been frustrated over bad experiences with women and losing his hair from steroid use.
Investigators later said that just days before the shootings, Vargas had been deposed in a case where it was thought he had been sending abusive emails and text messages to several employees while working in the art department of a company called Bullet Line. Vargas initially denied sending the messages, then admitted he had "made a mistake." Hours after the deposition, Vargas sent an email to Bullet Line apologizing for the messages.
But Pedro Vargas is dead. His secrets and reasons for his murderous rampage have gone with him.
As hard as it may be to do for Dol-Fans; try and forget how the Miami Dolphins did on the field this season.
It's safe to say that if the Dolphins didn't play a single football game in 2013, it would still be a season to remember.
And that's not good. At all.
The "Team in Turmoil" era began during, of all times, the week of Halloween. As Miami was preparing to face the Bengals in primetime, reports surfaced that offensive lineman Jonathan Martin had left the team after an incident in the training facility cafeteria.
It wasn't until days later when a clearer picture began to emerge that Martin was angered over what he perceived to be targeted bullying by teammate Richie Incognito. After initially denying any harassment charges, texts and emails from Incognito to Martin that included offensive language soon began to surface.
Incognito went into silent mode even when approached by Local 10's Ross Palombo at Los Angeles International Airport, the Dolphins suspended one of their leaders and the NFL began an investigation.
All the while, the Dolphins appeared to be a team without any leadership or direction; charges leveled squarely at head coach Joe Philbin. While meeting with the media following the accusations, Philbin appeared to be as shocked as anyone about the situation and seemed to be ill-prepared on how to deal with it.
Damaging reports against Incognito and Dolphins management began to see the light of day.
It really didn't matter if any of the allegations were true... the damage to the team's reputation had been done.
After retreating to his home in California, Martin travelled to New York in the fall to meet with NFL investigator Ted Wells. Afterwards, Wells met with Dolphins players at the team's facility in Davie.
Incognito then upped the tension by filing a grievance against the Dolphins, challenging his suspension. Both sides eventually agreed to allow Incognito to be paid for the remainder of his suspension which continued through the season, effectively ending the free agent-to-be's tenure with the team.
As of today, the NFL investigation is ongoing despite repeated statements that it would be a quick process.
Throughout the ordeal, many teammates, league players and fans came to the defense of Incognito while chastising Martin for allowing a peek behind the curtain of a NFL locker room.
Is there anyone to blame? Should anyone be blamed?
Those questions may be peripherally answered by an investigator, but the true answers lie within all of us and what we deem to be acceptable behavior and what we expect from ourselves and those around us.
The trial of George Zimmerman consumed us.
It mesmerized us.
It exhausted us.
And most of all, it left us shaking our heads for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with the "not guilty" verdict.
On paper, the trial of Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin seemed simple: Man shoots teenaged boy, man gets convicted, man gets sent to jail.
But in a world where a parking ticket can be tied up by confusing legal matters, the Zimmerman case was more than what it amounted to on a piece of paper.
It became about the right to defend one's life, property and well being. And that went for both parties.
There's no need to rehash details of a trial that lasted several weeks over the summer. Those details are just courtroom proceedings that may or may not be talked about in law schools around the country for years to come.
However, some of the trial images we'll remember will include those of a mother, Sybrina Fulton, who lost her son on one fateful night and then showed poise and composure when the man who gunned him down was set free on another night.
Without Fulton's post-verdict comments of acceptance, yet determination to change Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, the prospect of violence throughout our community would have only increased. South Florida listened to Fulton and followed her example that night and the days following the trial were peaceful ones.
We'll also remember the steely persona of George Zimmerman who sat front and center at the defense table each and every day, yet refused to take the stand to defend himself.
And we'll remember the thousands who stood outside the courthouse in Samford to rally around ideas such as racial equality, freedom and the rights of citizenship.
There are plenty of reasons why the trial of George Zimmerman is our choice for #1 story of 2013, but perhaps the top reason is because it meant so many different things to many different people.
And for that, it tops our list.