A year in images
In an exceptionally bizarre and often harrowing year, Chattanooga was thrust into the national and international spotlights multiple times for a variety of stories, but the top story of the year was the crash of a school bus on Talley Road that killed six elementary students on Nov. 21.
The state and the nation watched as Chattanoogans coped with the trauma, mourning and trying to heal after yet another unexpected tragedy.
Below are some of the top area stories of 2016:
A bus carrying 37 students from Woodmore Elementary and driven by 24-year-old Johnthony Walker crashed on Talley Road in Brainerd on Nov. 21. The crash killed six children and injured many others. Preliminary investigations revealed Walker was driving at least 20 mph over the speed limit on the winding road. Walker is facing multiple charges of vehicular homicide and other counts, and families have filed lawsuits against Walker, Hamilton County Schools, and Durham School Services, the contracted bus company.
Ooltewah rape case
On Dec. 22, 2015, a freshman at Ooltewah High School was sexually assaulted by three of his basketball teammates while on a team trip to a tournament in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Two of the older players held the victim down while a third forced a pool cue into his rectum, causing severe injury that required emergency surgery. All three were charged with aggravated rape and assault, but ultimately, only one was convicted of rape and he spent less than a year in juvenile detention. The team's coach, Andre "Tank" Montgomery was charged with failure to report child sexual abuse, as were volunteer assistant coach Karl Williams and the school's former athletic director, Allard "Jesse" Nayadley. The charges against Montgomery were dropped this month, while Williams' were dropped in May. Nayadley accepted pretrial diversion.
Months of meager rainfall over the summer and fall led to an exceptional drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor's most extreme designation, which spread over much of the Southeast. A plague of wildfires followed soon after, some of them started by arsonists, and they consumed more than 80,000 acres across six states. The most damaging was a wildfire in Gatlinburg, Tenn., that killed 14 people, injured another 176 and caused an estimated $500 million in property damage.
Schools turmoil: Rick Smith fallout, low-performing schools
Critics slammed Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith over his handling of the Ooltewah rape, and he eventually stepped down from his position. News also surfaced that the five lowest-performing schools in Hamilton County have achieved little — if any — academic progress over the past three years despite $10.6 million in grants, and that Hamilton County has almost three times the number of least-effective teachers than the state average.
Following the Gatlinburg fire, at least seven people were killed in a series of storms that swept through Tennessee and Alabama overnight on Nov. 29 and spawned at least 13 twisters. A husband and wife were killed by a tornado in Polk County, Tenn., and three more people were killed in a mobile home when another touched down in Rosalie, Ala.
Goetcheus brothers case
Investigators believe they cracked a decades-old cold case in October, leading to murder charges against Christopher Jeffre Johnson in the slayings of brothers Sean and Donny Goetcheus. It is still unclear what happened that January night in 1997, but investigators believe Johnson went to the brothers' house to buy a videotape of illegal activity involving Rick Davis of Rick Davis' Gold & Diamonds and ended up shooting both brothers.
America's first new nuclear reactor of the 21st century was completed at Watts Bar in Spring City, Tenn., in October. A $4.7 billion investment, the plant is expected to help TVA meet nearly half of its electricity demand with carbon-free generation. Chattanooga developer Franklin Haney agreed to buy the unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Stevenson, Ala., from TVA for $111 million. He could become the first individual to own and operate a U.S. nuclear power plant if the venture is successful.
Pat Summitt death
Pat Summitt, the legendary former University of Tennessee women's basketball coach, died at age 64 after a five-year battle with Alzheimer's disease. Over the course of her career, she accrued 1,098 career wins, the most in NCAA basketball history. She served as head coach of the Lady Vols basketball team from 1974 to 2012 before retiring at age 59. She won eight NCAA championships and two Olympic medals: a gold as head coach of the 1984 U.S. women's basketball team and a silver as a player on the 1976 team.
Combating gang violence
Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative, a program that calls for the police, courts and social services to combine their firepower to fight gang violence, became a flashpoint as a gang war erupted in the spring and the rate of shootings and homicides in the city remained persistently high. District Attorney Neal Pinkston and Chattanooga police bickered over his office's authority and the quality of their cases, while a Chattanooga councilman with mayoral ambitions, Larry Grohn, is using the issue as a club against Mayor Andy Berke.