LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Communities on the South Plains made national headlines multiple times this year, and the face of Lubbock changed forever. Here's a look at some of the big stories from 2009.
We started the year with a story that shocked a small community as well as viewers across the South Plains. Just after 11 p.m. on January 11th a fire broke out at Lockney High School. Students worked to save as many computers and books as possible, but flames destroyed the building. "We have a lot of memories in this school and now we won't get to walk the halls of our last year at Lockney anymore," said one Lockney student. Investigators later determined two female students set the arson fire. Tragedy sparked generosity as area school districts pitched in to help raise money, and the community started to rebuild.
Plainview, Texas made national headlines early in the year when the Peanut Corporation of America closed the doors of its plant there. Health officials found Salmonella at the plant and linked the company to an outbreak that killed nine and sickened hundreds nationwide.
West Texas loves football and the Red Raiders, so the captain of the ship made headlines in February when Lubbock's pirate, Coach Mike Leach, signed a contract to stay until 2013 making Red Raiders fans jump onboard. "I'm glad they came to an agreement. Everyone here loves him," said one fan.
Lubbock turned 100 in March of 2009, and the city celebrated in style with a concert full of big name performers who love their West Texas roots.
In April, local law enforcement mourned the death of one of their own when a drunk driver killed on duty officer Corporal D. Robert Harvey. More than 2,000 people, including hundreds of officers from across the state, attended the funeral which included a 21-gun salute and a reminder of how much law enforcement puts on the line every day.
A big national health story hit close to home as school districts saw nearly twice as many absences compared to past years because of children out with the Swine Flu. Lubbock saw its first recorded case of the virus in May, but certainly not the last which led parents to line up their kids to get the vaccine in the fall.
Some of the most shocking video of the year came from Lamesa. Fire crews fought a blaze caused by lightning when an oil tank battery exploded. Pieces of metal flew from the blast, but incredibly the explosion did not injure anyone.
In July, federal agents conducted a drug bust in Levelland which led to the arrest of nearly 30 people including 2 Hockley County Sheriff's Deputies. Both deputies later pleaded guilty to their involvement in the methamphetamine trafficking ring. Now the men who residents trusted to uphold the law face time for breaking it. "I'm really disappointed in the Sheriff's Department because I've always held them in real high esteem until this," said Levelland resident, Bill Barker.
In September police made an arrest in one of Lubbock's most notorious murder cases. Officers arrested Mickey Patterson in Oregon and brought him to Lubbock to stand trial for the 2006 murders of Peggy Merimon and Kay Harrelson. Merimon's body has still never been found. "That's always been our greatest hope is that he'll tell us where she's at," said Merimon's husband Geral.
And finally, we look at a story that changed the face of Lubbock. It's a debate that started long before 2009, and its effects will last long after.
"It's time to get Lubbock wet. We are the largest city in the country that is not wet, people want this they are ready for it and this is the first time we have been able to vote on this in nearly 40 years," said Melissa Pierce with Lubbock County Wins.
"It's bringing alcohol closer to our schools, it's bringing alcohol into our neighborhoods, closer to our businesses and our churches and hospitals. I do not think that is going to help us Lubbock," said Josh Allen with the group Truth About Alcohol Sales.
Whether you love it or hate it, on May 9th, 2009 Lubbock voters chose to make Lubbock wet, bringing the sale of alcohol into the city limits. Despite citizen attempts to block it through protests filed with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, in late September Lubbock stores stocked their shelves with alcohol for the first time.
Alcohol sales in Lubbock received more than 60% of the votes in our viewer poll of what you thought the biggest story of 2009 was. The other stories mentioned split the remaining ballots cast.
Everyone at NewsChannel 11 looks forward to keeping you up to date when the big stories of 2010 break.
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