The Twin City community was shocked by a string of shooting deaths that occurred over a two-month period in 2018. In all, nine people were shot to death during the year, making the wave of violence — the worst in decades —The Pantagraph's top local story of 2018.
What follows is the list of Top 10 local news stories of the year, with Nos. 2-10 listed in no particular order, based on the choices of Pantagraph editors and supported by the most-viewed stories on Pantagraph.com.
Homicides spike in 2018
Multiple homicides kept investigators busy throughout much of 2018.
There have been 11 homicide victims in the Twin Cities this year. Of that total, nine were killed by gunfire in five separate incidents. Two others were fatally stabbed. It was the deadliest year in the Twin Cities in at least three decades.
Arrests have been made in the first three gunfire incidents. But two other shootings — in which there were single gunshot victims — remain unsolved. On Oct. 30, police were called to the 1300 block of North Oak Street and found Trevonte D. Kirkwood, 27, dead of multiple gunshot wounds. On Dec. 5, police were called to 814 W. Jefferson St. where Egerton Dover was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police, who released few details about those shootings, said they are working “tirelessly” to solve the crimes.
Murder trials in 2019 could begin for Christopher Harrison, 18, accused of gunning down Joseph Gardner and Reginald Hart Jr. in Normal on April 25; for Hammet Brown, charged with the June 10 murders of Taneshiea Brown and Steven Alexander in Bloomington; and Sydney Mays Jr., who plans to serve as his own attorney in the shooting deaths of Nate Pena, Corey Jackson and Juan Carlos Perez on June 18 in Bloomington.
There were also two drug-induced homicide arrests in 2018.
Troy McBride, 24, admitted to selling James Dingman the heroin he ingested after a March 23 drug deal in Champaign. McBride was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Stephanie Mangan, 26, is accused of providing drugs to Brandyce Mrazek, 30, that allegedly caused her death. Mrazek was found unresponsive on July 2 at her residence in the 300 block of East Mulberry Street in Bloomington.
State Farm busy on several fronts
By year's end, State Farm's downtown Bloomington building — the original corporate headquarters — remained dark, a reminder of radical changes that dominated the year for the insurance giant.
State Farm underwent massive restructuring in 2018 that the company said will better serve its customers.
The year started with State Farm closing the downtown building in January. By April, the company had placed the 13-story building on the market for sale.
The building's size and layout were not conducive to a new collaborative workplace model that State Farm is using at its three regional hubs in Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix and remodeling at its corporate facilities on Bloomington's east side, State Farm officials said.
State Farm also is closing other facilities across the U.S. over several years as part of the restructuring that has included shifting employees around the country and laying off hundreds of other workers.
Also in 2018, State Farm committed to spending millions of dollars to lock in long-term naming rights for sports venues in two of its hub cities — Atlanta and Phoenix.
Despite the reorganization, the Twin Cities' largest employer has pledged Bloomington will remain the company's headquarters.
2 killed in Normal West bus crash
On Dec. 5, a semitrailer truck traveling in the wrong direction on Interstate 74 collided with a school bus carrying members of the Normal Community West High School junior varsity girls basketball team that was on its way back from a game in Champaign.
The crash, about two miles east of the Main Street/U.S. 51 exit south of Bloomington, killed Charlie Crabtree, 72, a Normal West volunteer, and the semi driver, Ryan Hute, 34, of Delmar, Iowa.
Coach Steve Price and Mark Kuhn, who drove the bus, were airlifted to a Peoria hospital. Both are recovering but remain hospitalized.
It isn’t known why Hute was traveling in the wrong direction, and Illinois State Police investigators have not yet released their findings.
Rivian comes out of the shadows
Nearly two years after the electric car startup bought the former Mitsubishi Motors North America plant in Normal, Rivian Automotive had a public unveiling of the two vehicles it will start making there soon.
Rivian's R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV made waves at the Los Angeles Auto Show in late November, showing Bloomington-Normal exactly what's in the works off Mitsubishi Motorway.
Rivian also reached benchmarks for hiring and investing at the plant, including 60 local employees, that will trigger local incentives including property tax breaks. The company could receive more than $50 million in incentives, including state income tax credits.
Mayor Chris Koos said the company's vision for electric vehicles aligns well with Normal's, and the town became one of the first customers to pre-order a Rivian vehicle.
Gettysburg fire highlights lack of affordable housing
A Feb. 10 fire destroyed an apartment building at 1101 Gettysburg Drive, Bloomington, injured a firefighter, left seven households homeless, caused $650,000 in damage and sounded an alarm on the lack of affordable housing in Bloomington-Normal.
The accidental cooking fire was in a building owned by Wayne Pelhank, who had amassed nearly 800 building code violations at six rental properties, including the Gettysburg building.
The Pantagraph responded with a series of stories that shed a light on the lack of affordable housing in Bloomington-Normal for low-income people. It showed that some poor people pay more rent than they can afford, which means they are at risk of falling behind in rent and being evicted. Sometimes, it also means putting up with apartments that aren't properly maintained.
The series also highlighted community responses, including a PATH rapid re-housing program that combines state money with support from local human services agencies, landlords willing to take a chance and tenants wanting to improve their living situations.
Meanwhile, the city of Bloomington responded in September with stiffer fines for those who violate the city's property codes and more inspections for chronic violators.
McLean County jail addition completed
The three-story addition is located just east of the existing detention center in what was once a parking lot.
The concept of adding new space to the jail grew out of discussions in 2013 on deficiencies in housing conditions for inmates who entered the jail with a mental illness.
The 80,000-square-foot addition, completed by the McLean County Public Building Commission, includes new laundry, food service and visiting facilities. Renovation of portions of the existing jail will make room for a new medical unit scheduled to open in the summer.
Custody case draws national audience
A heated legal battle in McLean County court over custody of a 4-year-old boy ignited a coast-to-coast attention of social media users. Despite multiple court orders, Michael Cadena refused to return to Bloomington with his son Mikey for hearings with the boy’s mother, Amber Buck.
Video of the child at a Massachusetts police station shortly before he was returned to his mother went viral as people following the case weighed in on which parent was better suited to care for the boy. Fundraising efforts were started to help the father cover legal expenses for his challenge to Buck's temporary custody.
A new judge named to the case in November ordered the parents to work toward setting up telephone visits between Cadena and the boy. The two have not spoken since October.
GCMS wins second straight title
Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School’s season-long mission to repeat as Class 2A state football champion was accomplished on Nov. 23 with a 35-16 victory over Maroa-Forsyth at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
The Falcons shut out Maroa-Forsyth in the second half to pull away, finishing with a 14-0 record for the second year in a row and giving the Heart of Illinois Conference its fourth straight 2A state championship. Tri-Valley won the title in 2015 and Deer Creek-Mackinaw in 2016.
The Falcons also became the first 2A repeat champion since Aledo in 2001-02.
Eastland Mall sees more store losses, gains
Following a trend at many indoor malls across the country, Eastland Mall in Bloomington saw more of its major retailers close in 2018.
Meanwhile, H&M and Planet Fitness opened in a portion of the former J.C. Penney space, and an Outback Steakhouse opened in December in the mall's parking lot outside the former Macy's.
The company will pay a third less in property taxes after public officials agreed the mall declined from a property value of $50.7 million in 2017 to $34.4 million this year.
3 die after two semis collide on I-39
A head-on collision between two semitrailer trucks on Interstate 39 near Hudson on Sept. 19 resulted in a fiery crash that claimed three lives.
Guy L. Favorite IV, 43, of St. Charles, Mo., and Mladen Petrovic, 32, and Aleksandar Sakovski, 31, both of Brookfield, were killed in the crash. Autopsies showed all three victims died of blunt force injuries, according to the McLean County coroner's office.
Illinois State Police continue to investigate the crash.
Eyewitnesses told The Pantagraph that a northbound semi appeared to cross the median and collide with a southbound semi, triggering a large explosion.