Top 2018 Mississippi stories include Senate race, road money

(L-R): Hyde-Smith, Espy

Mississippi elected a new senator while wrestling with its old ghosts, lawmakers approved a new funding stream to improve transportation after Gov. Phil Bryant was forced to close hundreds of bridges, and Mississippi saw the biggest expansion of gambling since casinos were legalized. Those were among Mississippi's top news stories in 2018

Posted: Dec 30, 2018 12:02 PM
Updated: Dec 30, 2018 12:04 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi elected a new senator while wrestling with its old ghosts, lawmakers approved a new funding stream to improve transportation after Gov. Phil Bryant was forced to close hundreds of bridges, and Mississippi saw the biggest expansion of gambling since casinos were legalized.

Those were among Mississippi's top news stories in 2018 - a year that also saw the death of two police officers and a state trooper as well as a baby who died in an oven in the Mississippi Delta.

There were new installments in long-running sagas, as well. Four hospitals declared bankruptcy, punctuating Mississippi's health care funding struggles, investigative reporters brought out new questions about a man who's been tried six times in a quadruple murder, and lawmakers again sparked litigation after they sought to restrict abortion.

A look at the top 10 stories this year in Mississippi:
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U.S. SENATE RACE
Cindy Hyde-Smith became the first woman elected to Congress from Mississippi, but only after a divisive runoff shaped by the Republican's video-recorded remark about "public hanging." Gov. Phil Bryant chose Hyde-Smith in April to fill the seat being vacated by the retiring Thad Cochran. That launched her into four-way special election, from which she and Democrat Mike Espy emerged into a late November runoff. Espy, a former U.S. agriculture secretary, was trying to become the state's first African-American senator since Reconstruction, ran as a bridge-builder, while Hyde-Smith ran as a supporter of President Donald Trump. Mississippi's history of lynchings and violent suppression of black voting rights became a theme in the runoff after the remark became public.
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ROAD AND BRIDGE MONEY
After years of fruitless discussion, Mississippi's transportation funding needs came into clearer view when federal inspectors ordered hundreds of county bridges closed, including some that were barricaded at Gov. Phil Bryant's order over local objections. Bryant called lawmakers back into session in August and they passed bills to divert some online sales tax revenue to cities and counties for local needs, as well as to finance state needs by borrowing money and creating a state lottery. One issue in the background? Disputed allegations that Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves had manipulated road funding to build an access road to his subdivision.
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MORE GAMBLING
Mississippians started placing bets on sporting events at casinos in August after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ban on sports betting most states. That month, lawmakers approved plans for a state lottery . Most of the taxes on betting — likely to be less than $5 million a year — as well as the larger proceeds from the lottery — a projected $80 million a year — will go to pay for roads and bridges. It's the largest expansion of gambling in the state since casinos opened in 1992. Bryant in October appointed a board to start setting up the lottery.
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ABORTION WRANGLES
Lawmakers moved in March to ban most abortions after 15 weeks, and the state's only abortion clinic sued within hours of Gov. Phil Bryant signing the law. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves blocked the measure the next day, and in a more extensive Nov. 20 ruling , found the law "unequivocally" violates women's constitutional rights. The state is now asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn that decision. Proponents viewed the law as a way for a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court to alter abortion law, so extensive appeals were always likely.
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POLICE SHOOTINGS AND AFTERMATH
State leaders and communities mourned after Brookhaven officer James White and Cpl. Zach Moak were fatally shot Sept. 29 while answering a call of shots fired. A day later, a state trooper was shot while off duty in still-unexplained circumstances in northern Mississippi. But it was the Brookhaven shooting that stayed in the spotlight after Jackson's Forest Hill High School performed an Oct. 5 football halftime show in Brookhaven depicting police officers held at gunpoint. The band director says he was unaware of the shooting but was fired by the Jackson school district. The band was sanctioned and the director is appealing.
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HOSPITAL BANKRUPTCIES
Four rural hospitals filed for bankruptcy, underlining the financing difficulties that rural health care providers face, in part because Mississippi has declined to expand Medicaid. Hospitals in Amory, Batesville and Clarksdale had been owned by Curae Health and all are in line for new owners or operators . A hospital in Magee is reorganizing. Curae threatened to close the Clarksdale hospital during bankruptcy, forcing Coahoma County to chip in $2.5 million to cover a month of payroll.
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PHARMACY FRAUD
Criminal proceedings in a $400 million fraud in Mississippi history netted a series of convictions in 2018, with more court action to come next year. So far nine people have pleaded guilty. Prosecutors say pharmacies figured out how to hand-make medications with a list of ingredients for which insurers would pay big money, making each prescription very profitable. At the same time, prosecutors allege the pharmacists hired marketers to seek and sometimes pay off physicians, nurse practitioners, dentists and others who could prescribe the drugs.
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MORE QUESTIONS ON CURTIS FLOWERS
Reporting by American Public Media brought a rash of new questions about a death row inmate who was tried six times in a disputed murder case. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal over whether District Attorney Doug Evans improperly struck black jurors in the last of Curtis Flowers' trials. He was convicted of killing four people at a Winona furniture store in 1996. In the meantime, a separate state appeal says Flowers deserves a new trial because of new evidence, including a star witness who recanted in a recorded phone conversation with reporters.
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BABY DIES IN OVEN
A 20-month-old girl found stabbed and burned to death inside an oven in a Mississippi Delta home in October led to a murder charge against the child's grandmother. Carolyn Jones, 48, was charged with murder after her brother found Royalty Marie Floyd in the oven in the kitchen of a Shaw home. Bolivar County Sheriff Kelvin Williams Sr. and others struggled to explain why Jones would have killed her granddaughter.
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SHERIFFS ARRESTED
Sheriffs in two rural Mississippi counties were arrested on charges that they were hiding behind their badges to facilitate crime. Federal agents arrested Tallahatchie County Sheriff William Brewer in August on charges that he had been sheltering a drug dealer for 15 years in exchange for bribes and kickbacks. Brewer pleaded guilty in federal court in November. In December, state officials arrested Webster County Sheriff Tim Mitchell on charges involving guns, drugs, sex with inmates and threatening sheriff's department employees if they told anyone about the crimes.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307332

Reported Deaths: 7095
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20757248
Hinds19869408
Harrison17475302
Rankin13307275
Jackson13095243
Madison9886210
Lee9854169
Jones8289160
Forrest7522146
Lauderdale7185237
Lowndes6261144
Lamar610284
Lafayette6026117
Washington5279132
Bolivar4769129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4440103
Pearl River4418139
Warren4277118
Marshall4267100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4056132
Union403575
Neshoba3984176
Lincoln3869107
Hancock371985
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3177104
Scott310472
Yazoo304268
Alcorn297664
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265679
Wayne261341
Leake260973
Grenada254882
Covington254380
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237647
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182354
Stone179131
Clarke176676
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163130
Yalobusha158636
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125833
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite119941
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105332
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95126
Humphreys94332
Franklin81723
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518588

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753351487
Mobile37698798
Madison33829494
Tuscaloosa25245443
Montgomery23942565
Shelby23094238
Baldwin20617300
Lee15510165
Calhoun14277311
Morgan14137268
Etowah13660345
Marshall11952219
Houston10379278
Elmore9988200
Limestone9806147
Cullman9467188
St. Clair9422234
Lauderdale9208227
DeKalb8745181
Talladega8042171
Walker7087275
Jackson6753110
Autauga6715103
Blount6480135
Colbert6200130
Coffee5397112
Dale4766110
Russell428238
Franklin419882
Chilton4080109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3892146
Escambia387574
Dallas3526149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305475
Lawrence295295
Winston272272
Bibb256258
Marengo248561
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218675
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176741
Monroe171240
Washington163838
Macon154348
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58624
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