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Death of Sen. John McCain is top Arizona story of 2018

December 25, 2018
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FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2018, file photo, Cindy McCain, wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain, places her head on her husband's casket at a private memorial service at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. The death of McCain after a yearlong battle with brain cancer was the top story of the year in Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — The death of longtime Arizona Sen. John McCain after a yearlong battle with brain cancer topped a busy year of news in Arizona.

McCain’s death brought worldwide attention to the Vietnam war hero and 2008 Republican presidential candidate.

McCain died at 81 on Aug. 25 at his ranch near Sedona just over a year after he announced he had glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer that came with a dire diagnosis.

McCain had famously voted against a repeal of the Affordable Care Act shortly after his diagnosis and returned to Arizona in December for treatment.

People mourned at ceremonies at the Capitol and North Phoenix Baptist Church before his body was carried to Washington for services and finally to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, for burial.

McCain’s death left a void of leadership on world affairs and defense.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appointed former Sen. Jon Kyl to replace McCain, but Kyl pledged to serve only until the end of the year, forcing the governor to appoint Rep. Martha McSally, who lost a Senate bid in November. McSally will serve until 2020, when voters will elect someone to finish the final two years of McCain’s term.

McCain, the son and grandson of Navy admirals, was shot down over Vietnam and held captive for five years. After his retirement from the Navy, he moved to Arizona, ran for Congress in 1982 and later for the U.S. Senate. He was re-elected to the Senate six times, the most recent less than a year before his cancer diagnosis.

Here are the other top stories of 2018:

RED FOR ED

Tens of thousands of Arizona teachers staged a six-day walkout after years of poor school funding.

It ended when the Republican-controlled Legislature and GOP Gov. Doug Ducey signed a budget in May that gave them a 9 percent raise for the 2018-2019 school year with promises of 10 percent more in the coming two years.

The strike by red-clad educators who marched on the state Capitol closed schools for more than 1 million students.

It began as a grassroots movement by educators frustrated with promises of better funding after a decade of cuts and paltry raises that left them among the lowest-paid in the nation, with buildings in disrepair, large class sizes and schoolbooks in tatters.

They won raises but not all their demands.

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LAWMAKER EXPELLED -- #METOO

The Arizona House voted Feb. 1 to boot a Republican lawmaker over sexual harassment allegations in the first expulsion of a sitting legislator since the #MeToo movement began in 2017.

Rep. Don Shooter had been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment, and a report found he engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment that created a hostile workplace.

Shooter acknowledged engaging in boorish behavior but ignored calls to resign. When House Speaker J.D. Mesnard scheduled a censure vote, Shooter fought back, questioning the report.

That was the last straw for Mesnard, who quickly moved to expel Shooter. The 53-3 vote was punctuated by Shooter dropping his microphone after voting no.

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IMMIGRATION

The government’s separation of families at the border — a consequence of a zero-tolerance policy that President Donald Trump’s administration officially began in spring — drew worldwide outrage.

Hundreds of children were taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as the adults faced misdemeanor criminal charges. The policy ended in the summer, although some families who were eventually reunited were detained late into the year .

In Arizona, an AP story detailed the plight of 1-year-old boy who had been separated from his dad and appeared in immigration court without his parents.

The large number of mostly Central American families arriving via Arizona changed the dynamic for Border Patrol agents, particularly in the Yuma sector , which saw a 140 percent increase in the number of families arrested. Most were from Guatemala.

The National Guard was deployed to the border to assist agents. In October, Trump deployed more military troops to the border in anticipation of a migrant caravan from Central America.

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SELF-DRIVING CAR FATALITY

The first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle occurred in mid-March when an autonomous Uber SUV fatally struck a woman walking a bicycle across a darkened street in Tempe.

The death of Elaine Herzberg raised questions about the safety of computer-controlled cars and led Arizona to suspend Uber’s permit to test self-driving vehicles.

Uber pulled its self-driving cars out of the state and eliminated the jobs of about 300 backup drivers and others in Arizona. The backup driver involved in the fatality was streaming the television show “The Voice” on her phone and was looking down before the crash.

Investigators concluded the crash could have been avoided had she not been distracted. They said she spotted Herzberg before the car hit her, but the SUV’s emergency braking system had been disabled “to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.” Prosecutors are considering whether to charge the woman.

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AIR CRASHES

Five British tourists celebrating a birthday died after their sightseeing helicopter crashed in the Grand Canyon on Feb. 10, renewing a push for such aircraft to be equipped with fuel systems to prevent explosions on impact.

Papillon Airways said it would retrofit its fleet.

The family of one victim filed a wrongful death lawsuit less than a month after the crash, saying their son could have survived if not for the post-crash fire.

The crash happened on tribal land where air tours are more loosely regulated. A preliminary report said the helicopter made at least two 360-degree turns before crashing. Aviation experts said that indicates the tail rotor wasn’t operating properly.

Two months later in Scottsdale, all six people aboard a small plane died when it crashed on a golf course shortly after takeoff. The victims were all in their 20s, most of them from Las Vegas. Investigators said the plane’s wings had been rocking and became nearly vertical before the fiery crash.

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BACKPAGE ARRESTS

The founders of Backpage.com and five company employees were indicted in Arizona in March on charges that accused the classified site of running ads for sexual services and using foreign banks to hide revenues.

Authorities say the site’s operators ignored warnings to stop running advertisements promoting prostitution, sometimes involving children, because it brought in half a billion dollars.

The site’s marketing director has pleaded guilty to conspiring to facilitate prostitution and acknowledged he participated in a scheme to give free ads to prostitutes to win over their business.

Founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin and four employees have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for a January 2020 trial.

In a separate case, the company’s chief executive, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy case in Arizona and state money laundering charges in California.

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DEMOCRATS RISING

Arizona voters sent Democrat Kyrsten Sinema to the U.S. Senate to replace Republican Jeff Flake, whose criticism of President Donald Trump and his policies led him to forgo a re-election effort.

Three other Democrats won statewide office and the party picked up a U.S. House seat as ruby-red Arizona turned slightly purple.

Sinema’s defeat of GOP Rep. Martha McSally means Arizona will have its first woman senator and a Democrat in the upper chamber for the first time since Dennis DeConcini left office after the 1994 election.

Ann Kirkpatrick won McSally’s Tucson U.S. House seat, pushing the delegation to a 5-4 Democrat majority. GOP Gov. Doug Ducey easily won a second term, but Democrats won the secretary of state, schools superintendent and a corporation commission seats and took four more state House seats, narrowing the GOP advantage to 31-29.

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ARPAIO LOSES

Fresh off his pardon, an emboldened Joe Arpaio tried to mount a comeback in early 2018 by running for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Jeff Flake.

The return to the campaign trail for the former six-term sheriff of metro Phoenix didn’t go well. He entered the race late, didn’t raise as much campaign money as he had in past elections, and made an awkward appearance on comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s prank show.

His campaign was based around his unwavering support for President Donald Trump, who had pardoned Arpaio’s contempt of court conviction for his acknowledged disobedience of a judge’s order.

In the end, he finished last in the Republican primary, losing Maricopa County and his hometown of Fountain Hills.

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BORDER AGENT ACQUITTED

Six years after a Border Patrol agent fatally shot a Mexican teen across the border fence in Nogales, Arizona, he was brought to trial and acquitted twice.

Two different juries — one in April and another in November — acquitted Lonnie Swartz of charges involving his killing of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez on Oct. 10, 2012.

The first trial, on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter, ended with an acquittal of the first charge and a hung jury on the second. Federal prosecutors in Tucson decided to try Swartz again , this time on just the manslaughter charges.

Prosecutors argued Swartz was fed up with rock-throwers on the Mexico side of the border and that he snapped when he shot Rodriguez about 16 times.

His was a rare case of a Border Patrol agent prosecuted for use of force.

Swartz’s attorney, Sean Chapman, said the agent was acting in self-defense and to protect other agents and a local police officer.

Prosecutors said they will not pursue a third trial.

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OTHER NOTABLE EVENTS

— Three on-duty law enforcement officers were fatally shot in Arizona in 2018. Nogales Police Officer Jesus Cordova was gunned down April 27 after a traffic stop, state Trooper Tyler Edenhofer was killed July 25 during a struggle with a man on a Phoenix-area freeway, and deputy U.S. Marshal Chase White died Nov. 29 after being shot in Tucson while attempting to serve an arrest warrant. The suspects in all three cases await trial.

— Officials announced the indictment of a convicted sex offender in the kidnapping and murder of Isabel Celis, a 6-year-old Tucson girl whose 2012 disappearance had been a mystery for years. Police also said on Sept. 15 that 36-year-old Christopher Matthew Clements was charged with similar crimes in the 2014 disappearance of 13-year-old Maribel Gonzalez. He has pleaded not guilty.

— Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan was found in contempt of court on June 22 and the state fined $1.4 million for failing to adequately improve health care for inmates. Prison officials were accused of dragging their feet in improving inmate care that the state promised when settling a class-action lawsuit. Ryan is appealing.

— Police say a 56-year-old man who remained bitter about his 2010 divorce killed six people and then himself as police closed in. Dwight Lamon Jones killed himself June 4, days after he began a killing spree mainly targeting people who were involved in his case. Jones’ ex-wife was not hurt, and her current husband helped police identify Jones as a suspect.

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