Kentucky

Ice storm led Ky. news in '09

A brutal ice storm that killed 36 people and paralyzed more than half the state was named Kentucky's top story of 2009.

With 769,000 power outages reported statewide and much of the western half of the state immobilized by downed trees and utility lines, Gov. Steve Beshear became the first governor in state history to call up every Kentucky National Guardsman. The troops helped maintain order, conducted door-to-door checks, delivered food and water to housebound Kentuckians and were credited with several lifesaving rescues.

The Jan. 27 storm is now considered the worst natural disaster in recent Kentucky history, with an official estimate of at least $616 million in damage.

"I'm not sure I could come up with a scenario that would be much worse," said Brig. Gen. John Heltzel, the head of Kentucky's Division of Emergency Management, which responded by using a plan developed to handle a major earthquake.

The storm was selected the biggest story in the state this year in voting by The Associated Press staff and AP member newspapers and broadcasters.

The No. 2 story revealed the private troubles of a public figure. Former Republican state lawmaker Steven Nunn of Glasgow, heir to one of the most famous names in Kentucky politics, was arrested Sept. 11 after his former fiancée, Amanda Ross, was found shot to death outside her Lexington townhouse.

In public life, the son of the late Gov. Louie B. Nunn had been known as a compassionate politician with a warm smile and a zeal to help the disadvantaged. But after his arrest, public records came to light that show he might have been prone to domestic attacks against his ex-girlfriend and even his own elderly father, who died in 2004 at age 79.

Private troubles of another sort for Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino was voted the No. 3 story.

Three weeks after the Cardinals fell to Michigan State in the regional finals of the NCAA tournament, Pitino found himself in a race to save his career and reputation after Karen Cunagin Sypher, wife of the team's equipment coach, was charged in April with trying to extort millions from him.

The scandal played out over much of the summer, leading to Pitino's admission that he had had a sexual encounter with Sypher at a Louisville restaurant. Police declined to file charges over her claim that she was raped. But during questioning by authorities, the married coach acknowledged the two had consensual sex and that, two weeks after they met, he gave her $3,000 for health insurance, money she used for an abortion.

The No. 4 story was the acquittal of former Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park football coach David Jason Stinson on charges of reckless homicide and wanton endangerment stemming from the collapse and death of sophomore offensive lineman Max Gilpin, 15, during practice. Days later, Stinson was cleared to return to the classroom and to apply for coaching positions with the Jefferson County Public Schools.

Coming in fifth was the University of Kentucky's spring decision to hire away Memphis men's basketball coach John Calipari to restore luster to a program that hasn't reached the Final Four in more than a decade and had missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years.

"I want this brand to be back where it was," Calipari said.

State budget woes and potential ways to fix them were the sixth and seventh stories of the year.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear called legislators back to Frankfort for a special session to address a $456 million budget gap, pushing for legislation that would have allowed alternative gaming — slot machines — at horse tracks. The slots proposal was passed in the House but died in the Senate.

Lawmakers did decide to increase revenue by raising taxes on Kentucky's signature industries — tobacco and alcohol.

The decision by Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, 77, not to seek a third term, citing a lack of campaign money and interference from Senate Republicans pushing for him to exit the race, took the No. 8 spot.

In the ninth spot was the story of Eastern Kentucky census worker Bill Sparkman, whose naked body was found in September bound with duct tape and hanging from a tree with the word fed scrawled on his chest. Authorities concluded that Sparkman, 51, killed himself but staged his death to make it look like a homicide.

Rounding out the Top 10 was the fast-spreading illness that traveled the world in 2009 — swine flu. Kentucky health officials blamed at least 30 deaths on the flu.

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