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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 3 years ago

Digital year in review

The Observer stayed busy online in 2017, bringing you content that was only available through the web.
by: Ryan Butler News Innovation Editor

A stuck turtle. A visiting horse. A loose tiger.

Those were among the "wild" stories featured in 2017 on our website, While stories from our print edition continued to find a home on our website, some of our more unusual stories were produced exclusively online. 

It wasn't all about animals in 2017. Strange rumors, unusual arrests, ridiculous accidents and a certain "popular" MTV reality show supplemented our coverage, providing a few laughs — and lots of response through our comment section and our social media accounts. Along with our coverage of the top overall news events of 2017, here's a rundown of the past year on

Rock you like a hurricane

The largest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean not only captured the minds of locals, it dominated national and international news coverage for more than a week. Millions of people searched for updates, while thousands of residents in our coverage area need critical information to prepare themselves and their families for the storms. Whether it was which schools still had shelter space or what the latest track of the storm was, the news was continuous during the week leading up to the storm. 

Once the storm hit, residents emerged to find their homes largely unscathed. In a fortunate twist, the hurricane veered away from the coast and passed 40 miles northeast of downtown Sarasota. It passed as a Category 2 storm, with sustained winds of 100 mph near the eye. The attention quickly turned what it left behind: debris, and lots of it. It took some organizations until near the end of December to wrap up cleanup of downed trees from the storm. 

Pursuit of justice

In the early hours of Aug. 4, someone shot and killed two men working at the Zota Beach Resort on Longboat Key. Dazed hotel guests and Longboat residents were shocked by the news as police and the media swarmed the island trying to figure out why, and how, someone committed just the third homicide in more than 30 years on the Key.  Five days later, Darryl Hanna Jr. was arrested and charged for the crimes. Since then, the case has had more twists, including the suspect's not-guilty plea and the surprise discovery the suspect had fallen into a coma before arraignment.

The key to... something

Siesta Key's eponymous reality show may not have been the most important story, but it was nevertheless one of the most discussed. Beginning with the May announcement of the series, followed by an animal cruelty controversy and the first of what would be multiple seasons, "Siesta Key" sparked much in the way of conversation, and arguments, around Sarasota in 2017. Love it or hate it, online comments prove readers couldn't get enough of the discussion.

Take a seat

Lawn furniture would prove to be an on-going challenge for the area's nesting turtles.

Turtle season is always a major news event on the barrier islands, but this year’s brought a few unexpected turns. In early July, social media posts went out asking the public’s help to find a female loggerhead turtle. Further investigations revealed a missing pink beach chair. Putting two and two together, Mote Marine Laboratory began a search for both the turtle and the chair. Neither was found. Around the same time, two similar incidents of a turtle entangling itself with beach furniture provide a more positive result, with the chairs rediscovered by the shoreline and turtle tracks headed toward the gulf.

Lions and tigers and bears… oh my!

Florida is known for its diverse wildlife, featuring everything from manatees to wild panthers. Locally, Floridians can see more exotic animals like Bears at Myakka City’s Bearadise Ranch or Lions at Sarasota’s Big Cat Habitat in captivity. But earlier this year, reports went around Manatee County that people had seen tigers – not in a cage. On Nov. 9, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office responded to rumors of loose tigers near Myakka City. Though several Facebook posts reported wild cats roaming loose, authorities could not confirm any sightings. Florida Fish and Wildlife officials said they would continue to monitor the area.

City Manager or super hero?

Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin was called a hero after a trip to lunch ended with apprehending a suspect. According to witness reports, a shirtless man was walking down the streets of Sarasota on the afternoon of July 14, yelling at cars and disrupting traffic. He then headed toward St. Martha Catholic church, where security footage showed the man chasing down an elderly woman leaving a mid-afternoon service. Barwin, riding his bike back from lunch, heard the commotion and pursued the man on foot. A former law enforcement officer, the city manager and two other Good Samaritans restrained the man and held him down until police officers arrived.  "It was a bit of a frightening situation," Barwin told reporters at a press conference following the event. "There's no telling what he would do."

Horsin' Around

Our area's arts and cultural opportunities and warm weather draw some big names. Few brought as much joy as a team of Budweiser Clydesdales. On Oct. 12, the legendary horses trotted down Lakewood Ranch Main Street as hundreds lined the parade route. "This team is a United States icon," said Col. John Saputo, owner of Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, as he watched the horses parade by. "They are part of the fabric of America." 

Full throttle

Motorists are taught to stay alert out on the open road. They may want to do so inside as well. In 2017, twice posted about vehicles crashing through buildings. In January, a car slammed into the front of Harry’s Corner Store on Longboat Key. No one was hurt in the incident, which the driver said was because he accidentally stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake. Later that year, a van collided with the front of the Hob Nob restaurant in Sarasota after the driver said his brakes locked up on him. No one was hurt in either wreck.


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