It was the year that became a punchline nationwide. The year that wouldn’t stop.
The Zika virus. Syria. David Bowie. A nasty presidential election. By fall, each piece of bad news, big or small, from a celebrity death to a major catastrophe, prompted a simple reply: 2016.
The Kansas City area was no different — here 2016 meant, among other things, the shocking death of a 10-year-old on the world’s tallest water slide, a systemic failure in child-abuse investigations and the killings of two Kansas City, Kan., police detectives.
The city also said goodbye to longtime Star columnist C.W. Gusewelle and endured a relative down year for the Kansas City Royals.
Not everything was bad, of course. The Chiefs are making a Super Bowl run. The streetcar’s opening met with success, and the November elections at least pleased some.
However history judges it, 2016 won’t be forgotten any time soon. Here are 16 memorable stories from the year in the Kansas City area:
One of the area’s most tragic stories was the Aug. 7 death of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab as he rode the 17-story Verrückt water slide at Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City, Kan. The story raised questions about the safety of such rides, built with loose regulations in Kansas.
Kansas police killings
The shooting deaths of two Kansas City, Kan., police officers were among the biggest crime stories of the year, along with the Johnson County sheriff’s deputy killed in a wreck by a driver who was reportedly drunk.
Fatal echoes in firefighter deaths
An analysis by The Star showed that firefighters frequently die because of preventable mistakes that industry safety experts have warned against for years. In most cases, the firefighters died working on empty buildings.
Five slain in rampage from KCK to Missouri
The unexplained slaying of four men in a Kansas City, Kan., home one night in March, followed by the shooting death of a man in Missouri while the alleged killer fled police, left many in the community stunned. Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino, 40, is awaiting trial in the killings.
Crimes against children
Documents obtained by The Star showed that Kansas City police detectives failed to properly investigate some child abuse and rape cases, in some cases doing no work for more than a year, losing evidence and apparently trying to cover up mistakes. One police commander called it a “systemic failure.”
Many in Kansas City mourned the loss of longtime Star columnist Charles W. Gusewelle, who died in November at 83. Gusewelle had been a writer, editor and foreign correspondent for decades after joining the newspaper staff in 1955.
Missouri GOP sweep
Missouri turned even redder on the political map as the GOP all but swept major statewide offices and retained its grip on the Congressional delegation, even though Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Koster managed to pick up key Republican endorsements. Watch for a conservative agenda in Jefferson City in the new year.
Moderate Republicans in Kansas
Moderate Kansas Republicans did well in the August primary and about a dozen Democrats prevailed in November, weakening the power base of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Concern about public education made a big difference in Johnson County. But huge budget shortfalls still loom.
Jessica Runions missing
Twenty-one-year-old Jessica Runions of Raymore disappeared in September in a case with unsettling similarities to that of Kara Kopetsky, a Belton girl who was last seen in 2007 at age 17. Kylr Yust, who is charged with burning Runions’ car, has been linked to both women.
No new KCI
A lack of public support measured in a political poll caused Kansas City Mayor Sly James in May to call off plans for a public vote this year on whether to modernize Kansas City International Airport by creating a single terminal. The airlines said they would finance the $1 billion project, but many people prefer the convenience of the 44-year-old horseshoe design.
Patrol settles drowning
The Missouri Highway Patrol agreed to pay $9 million to the family of an Iowa college student who drowned in the Lake of the Ozarks. Trooper Anthony Piercy is on leave awaiting trial on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 death of Brandon Ellingson. Piercy arrested Ellingson for intoxication on the lake. The student drowned when he went into the water with his hands cuffed behind his back.
No World Series
Kansas City sports fans had a lot to cheer about, but the local teams left fans wanting. After losing to the New England Patriots in the divisional round last season, the Chiefs once again clinched a playoff spot for the third time in four seasons.
For the third straight year, Sporting Kansas City’s playoff run was halted in the knockout round. Meanwhile, the defending World Series champion Royals returned to Earth, finishing the season at 81-81 and missing postseason play. And FC Kansas City missed postseason play for the first time in the franchise’s four-year history.
Gavin Eugene Long, a 29-year-old Kansas City resident who called himself Cosmo Setepenra online, killed three police officers and injured three others in an ambush attack July 17 in Baton Rouge, La. Authorities said a heavily armed Long stalked Baton Rouge police officers and sheriff’s deputies and “intentionally targeted and assassinated” them in a “calculated act.”
After years of planning, setbacks and hard work, Kansas City celebrated the grand opening of its streetcar in May. The new $100 million, 2.2-mile streetcar starter line quickly attracted crowds, exceeding ridership projections. But the streetcar has had its bumps along the way, including its first collision with another vehicle and its first derailment.
HOAs from hell
After more than six months of examining the explosion of home owners associations and the problems it has generated, The Star found that an institution originally created to protect homeowners instead has morphed into one that sometimes torments them. Many HOAs support their residents, but others harass them with narrow and odd rules. Violating those rules can lead to liens against residents and even the loss of their homes.
Kansas family in Oregon standoff
Odalis Sharp of Auburn, Kan., took seven of her children to Oregon in January to perform gospel and patriotic music for the armed protesters who seized property at the federal Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. She appeared with the children on video. In April, several of the children bolted from the family’s home and sought help from authorities, alleging abuse by their mother. The children’s father, Tim Sharp, said in November on his GoFundMe page that he has custody of the children, who are now living with him in Colorado.