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:
___
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.
___
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.
___
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.
___
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.
___
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.
___
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.
___
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.
___
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.
___
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.
___
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.

Confirmed Cases: 111322

Reported Deaths: 3202
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7751171
DeSoto663677
Harrison481181
Jackson431978
Rankin380886
Madison371792
Lee341379
Forrest295177
Jones283182
Washington251497
Lafayette241742
Lauderdale2344130
Lamar214938
Bolivar198075
Oktibbeha194654
Neshoba1806111
Lowndes173962
Panola165136
Leflore160086
Sunflower157449
Warren152154
Monroe144872
Pontotoc143519
Pike136455
Lincoln134854
Copiah134636
Marshall132626
Scott123229
Coahoma123136
Grenada120137
Simpson118148
Yazoo117233
Union113925
Holmes113260
Tate112739
Leake112239
Itawamba109024
Pearl River108256
Adams104342
Prentiss101619
Wayne98521
Alcorn95512
George93517
Marion93242
Covington91625
Tippah85120
Newton84227
Chickasaw82024
Tallahatchie81825
Winston81521
Tishomingo79040
Hancock76927
Attala76525
Clarke71448
Clay67221
Jasper66616
Walthall63327
Calhoun60912
Noxubee59516
Smith58116
Claiborne53216
Montgomery52723
Tunica51817
Lawrence49514
Yalobusha48414
Perry48022
Carroll46012
Greene45317
Stone45014
Amite41513
Quitman4136
Humphreys39916
Jefferson Davis39411
Webster36513
Wilkinson32920
Kemper31815
Benton3054
Sharkey27714
Jefferson26310
Franklin2303
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 153016

Reported Deaths: 2633
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22400372
Mobile14282314
Tuscaloosa9983132
Montgomery9691196
Madison899992
Shelby703560
Lee643966
Baldwin637567
Marshall426748
Calhoun410259
Etowah402049
Morgan394532
Houston363132
DeKalb316727
Elmore309552
St. Clair279742
Limestone269227
Walker268092
Talladega255034
Cullman225823
Lauderdale206340
Autauga199928
Franklin199131
Jackson199114
Colbert190627
Russell19023
Dallas185227
Blount183823
Chilton180531
Escambia170928
Covington164729
Coffee16409
Dale162551
Pike130212
Chambers127343
Tallapoosa127286
Clarke126716
Marion104229
Butler99840
Barbour9819
Marengo96721
Winston89913
Geneva8337
Pickens80317
Randolph79514
Lawrence79230
Bibb78913
Hale74529
Cherokee71514
Clay70712
Lowndes69927
Bullock63517
Henry6316
Monroe6279
Washington62112
Crenshaw59030
Perry5796
Wilcox55712
Conecuh55413
Fayette54712
Macon52919
Cleburne5247
Sumter46421
Lamar4575
Choctaw38612
Greene33316
Coosa1963
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 84°
Columbus
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 84°
Oxford
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 82°
Starkville
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 82°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather