Soaring Gas Prices Voted Top Story Of 2008

Wednesday, December 31st 2008, 2:07 pm
By: News On 6

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Gas prices reaching nearly $4 a gallon were a curse for motorists, a blessing for Oklahoma's thriving energy sector and a boon for state revenue in 2008.

The historic increase in the price of gasoline was the year's top news story, according to Oklahoma editors voting in The Associated Press' annual poll.

By year's end, what went up had come down. Many service stations were selling gasoline for less than $1.50 a gallon as the price of crude oil bottomed out below $40 a barrel.

A historic shift in the political makeup of the Oklahoma Legislature, with Republicans taking control of both chambers for the first time in state history, was the No. 2 story and the sad, mysterious tale of two girls killed along a lonely country road placed third.

Last year, an ice storm that blacked out 600,000 homes and businesses, contributed to 29 deaths and did millions of dollars in damage, was voted as the top story.

Here are 2008's top 10 stories, as voted by AP members:

1. GASOLINE PRICES: AAA Oklahoma said the average price of gas Friday in Oklahoma City was $1.53 a gallon, with many locations under $1.50. That compares to an average price of $3.80 six months ago. Declining energy prices and the nation's slowing economy combined to produce a projected decline of $309 million in state revenue for next year, but Gov. Brad Henry said the state's finances are still in better shape than most other states.

2. REPUBLICAN LEGISLATURE: In the November general election, the GOP took over the Oklahoma Senate for the first time ever and increased the Republican majority in the House. The GOP kept its numbers in the congressional delegation -- six Republicans and one Democrat. Members of the new Republican majority in the Oklahoma Legislature said they would use their new power to push for changes in the civil justice system to cut down on frivolous lawsuits.

3. GIRLS KILLED: On June 8, Skyla Jade Whitaker, 11, and Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, were shot and killed while walking on a rural road near Weleetka, about 70 miles south of Tulsa. The two girls were ambushed while walking near the Placker home. They were shot a total of 13 times with two guns, leading authorities to believe two killers were involved. Despite spending nearly 15,000 man-hours investigating the case, no arrests were made and no suspect was identified.

4. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: The former Seattle SuperSonics announced on July 2 that they would be moving to Oklahoma City. The team was renamed the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder opened the season with a 3-25 record and were on pace to be the worst team in NBA history. Coach P.J. Carlesimo was fired. But through it all, the Thunder managed to remain among the NBA's top teams in attendance.

5. E. COLI OUTBREAK: One man died and more than 300 people were sickened in an E. coli outbreak tied to the Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove. The restaurant voluntarily shut down on Aug. 25, reopening Nov. 22 with some changes. Instead of customers going up to the restaurant's signature buffet line and dishing out their own food, the eatery instituted "family style" dining that included food being brought to the tables.

6. OKLAHOMA GUARD-IRAQ: The Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade returned from Iraq in October after a deployment that lasted most of the year. Every soldier came back. "When you deploy that many soldiers, the odds are kind of against that happening," said Maj. Gen. Henry M. Wyatt said. "I think that's the single most significant accomplishment that every single person came home."

7. PICHER TORNADO: On May 10, a tornado ravaged the northeastern Oklahoma town of Picher, killing six people and speeding the demise of a town that is a federal Superfund site because of its mountains of mining waste. The EF-4 tornado flatted about half the town. Nobody was allowed to rebuild. The federal government was paying for all willing residents to relocate from the polluted area.

8. JEFF MCMAHAN: A federal jury in June convicted former state Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan and his wife, Lori, each on one count of conspiracy and two counts of violating the Travel Act to commit bribery. Their convictions came as part of a three-year political corruption investigation involving more than $100,000 in estimated payments that went to McMahan on behalf of southeast Oklahoma businessman Steve Phipps between 2002 and 2005.

9. ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: In June, U.S. District Judge Robin J. Cauthron issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of some of the provisions of a state law targeting illegal immigrants. These provisions would have subjected employers to penalties for failing to comply with a federal employee verification system. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups challenged the constitutionality of the law.

10. SEMGROUP: SemGroup LP, a Tulsa-based energy company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection July 22 and estimated it had lost about $2.4 billion dollars in oil futures trading. John Catsimatidis' Red Apple Group Inc. takes over the company and tries to lead it out of bankruptcy. Tom Kivisto, who helped start the company and its subsidiaries in 2000, is officially fired in October.