Live 5's Top 10 Stories of 2009

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." – George Santayana

As we exit 2009 amid a cacophony of tsks, whimpers and more than a few moments of stunned silence, there is no better time to look back on the events that transpired than when the year draws to a close.

In many ways it seems only fitting in a year that saw the collapse of the American automotive industry, we close out our days covering an SUV that backed over a fire hydrant and uncovered a string of affairs with cocktail waitresses.

One crash heard around the world deserves another, right?

Or maybe your year felt like one big ruse, a metaphorical Mylar balloon floating across the Colorado airspace with your inner child trapped inside. You might want to check the attic to make sure the little imp's not hiding out, though.

Whether the year leaves you with a smile on your face, cowering in a corner, or just happy to be on the back side of an economically challenging year, there's a little something for everyone in this year's Top 10 Stories.

We put together a list in the newsroom and asked you to vote on the stories you thought mattered most. Here they are, in that countdown fashion that is so befitting at the advent of a new year.

10. The day I-26 was the scene of a 47-car accident

"Then out of nowhere, all I heard is a squeal and then from there, pow-pow-pow," a witness said.

People heading home during rush hour on July 6 were greeted with a three-hour wait while police and medical crews cleaned up a string of car accidents that spanned nearly a half mile, near the 199 mile marker.

Once the dust settled, police counted 11 different accidents involving 47 cars and a total of 21 minor injuries. Luckily, no one was killed in the mayhem. Officers on the scene chalked up the automotive mayhem to bad weather on the horizon and careless driving.

Follow the link to read the original report by Ian Silver and Hatzel Vela and check out the slideshow of photos from the accident.

9. F-16 fighter jet goes down off the coast

On Oct. 15, search crews launched from Charleston to Shaw AFB in search of an F-16 pilot that went down about 40 miles off the coast of Folly Beach. Capt. Nicholas Giglio was on a nighttime training exercise with Capt. Lee Bryant when the two planes collided and Giglio's plane went down.

Coast Guard crews searched some 8,000 square miles of ocean in search of the airman or his plane, but found only a few pieces of debris and an oil slick.

Investigators at Shaw AFB surmised the  bottom of Bryant's plane hit the canopy of Giglio's plane and did not give the pilot an opportunity to eject. That fact was further evidenced by the inactive beacons on the plane and the pilot that are automatically activated upon ejection.

Giglio's body and the F-16 were never located.

Follow the link to read the original report on the crash.

Debris found, search for missing pilot continues

8. Wildfires across Horry County

A week of dark smoke rising into the air during the day and a massive glowing fire highlighting danger at night.

Thousands displaced by fire and smoke.

20,000 acres on fire.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

The second most damaging wildfire in Horry County's history.

In a nutshell, that was the Horry County wildfires. Behind the bare facts though, was a story in which residents and fire officials from the county and the state sought someone to blame – and they almost did.

Once the fires were contained and then extinguished, authorities turned their attention to Marc Torchi who had just days prior to the start of the wildfires had to call in fire crews to put out a yard fire that spread out of his control.

Torchi wasn't helped by fire investigators targeting the likely starting point of the fire near Torchi's home nor the fact that some of the most intense damage immediately surrounding his home.

While investigators worked to find a cause and a culprit, Torchi was the focus of a lot of public scrutiny and many residents were outraged when the man they thought was responsible for so much destruction was only handed citations that totaled less than $1,000.

In the end, though, Torchi was ultimately not found responsible for the fires or the damage and only had to pay the fines he amassed for the yard burn that got out of control.

Six months later, though, residents in Horry County are still rebuilding and cleaning up in an attempt to move on with their lives.

Read the coverage with a lot of extra content including Google maps, photos from the fire and video by following the link. Our news affiliate in Myrtle Beach, WMBF, provided the coverage.

7. The disappearance of Kate Waring

The Kate Waring saga started in June when a 28-year-old woman simply disappeared. Shortly after she was spotted on a CVS surveillance camera and had dinner with friends, she seemingly vanished and it would take nearly five months of searches, press conferences and rewards to locate her.

An ongoing missing person investigation from June until August yielded no results and Waring's family issued a $25,000 reward to anyone that could locate their missing daughter. However, the extensive searches, the bevy of private investigators and a substantial financial reward never uncovered a trail that led them to the missing Waring.

That is, not until October. Then the story took a turn for the shocking.

Two people claiming to be friends of Kate Waring were charged with obstruction of justice and forgery. Ethan Mack and Heather Kamp claimed they had dropped Waring off at her home the night she disappeared and investigators often considered them to be the last people to see her alive.

According to warrants served, the couple tried to cash a $4,500 check from Waring. Police determined the signature on the check was forged. Days after the pair were detained, a private investigator found remains on a remote area of Wadmalaw Island. The remains were later proven to be Waring's.

Under arrest and further scrutiny, testimony from neighbors said the two suspects were a couple living together and investigators focused the search for evidence in and around the home on Riley Road.

A third person, Terry Williams, was arrested less than two weeks later after a witness told police Williams helped Kamp and Mack transport Waring's body to Wadmalaw Island. The witness further testified Williams was paid with Waring's iPod.

At the same time arrests were being made and new details were coming to light, private investigators and deputies were at odds over uncovered evidence and who would have possession of it. The matter – and the evidence – wound up in court and eventually in possession of deputies.

Follow the links to read the original coverage from Bob Behanian, Hatzel Vela and Harve Jacobs.

Mack, Kemp were a couple

Suspect had help moving body

6. Stingrays take home the Kelly Cup

Easily the feel-good sports story of the year for Charleston, the Stingrays capturing the Kelly Cup for the third time in the franchise's history had a little bit of everything avid sports fans want in a final, including a cross-country rivalry, an overtime heart-breaker, and a seven-game series that went to the wire.

In Charleston, fans flooded the North Charleston Coliseum for home games, packing the house to cheer on the Stingrays during home games and that sentiment and desire to watch the Rays didn't diminish when they were playing in Alaska.

Several bars in the Lowcountry tapped into a live webcast being offered by media outlets in Alaska and broadcast the games to packed houses in Stingrays jerseys.

Click through for the game-by-game coverage.

Governors make a wager on the finals

Rays within one win of Kelly Cup

Stingrays fall to Aces in game 6

Rays win game 7, 3rd Kelly Cup

5. South Carolina's unemployment problem and the economic downturn

The economy, no matter where you turn, is making its mark on top 10 lists across the country. South Carolina is no different. The state experienced record high unemployment numbers, an ongoing legislative battle to secure and extend unemployment benefits for the thousands of people out of work across the state and no one is sure when the economy will turn around.

In the most recent results released by the state Employment Security Commission, the sectors hardest hit remain hospitality and construction. In December, the ESC estimated the jobless rate at 12.3 percent, which puts South Carolina's unemployment figures at the third highest in the country.

In Columbia, lawmakers pushed for changes and extended benefits for the state's thousands of unemployed, succeeding several times. Most recently, benefits were extended shortly before Christmas.

Even though December ended with a record high number of unemployed, economists and lawmakers are still looking to 2010 as the time for the economy to turn around. They just may be right with the attraction of major airliner manufacturer Boeing and a huge government grant to build and test wind turbines to the state.

4. The kidnapping – and safe return – of baby Angel

When a child goes missing and police ask for the media's help in broadcasting information, there is a certain surreal quality to the events that transpire because we all know the statistics about kidnappings. When the child is only one month old, that sentiment is only exacerbated.

However, the story of baby Angel was a bit different from inside the newsroom looking out because of a set of extenuating circumstances as the baby went missing.

Here is how it played out in the newsroom:

A SLED-run email server that sends out the Amber Alert emails to media crashed before the email could be sent across the state. So, no one in the Charleston area received the notification.

The downed server – and subsequent lack of Amber Alert notifications – created a shadow of doubt about the whole story and led several reporters to ask police if the kidnapping was legitimate or if police thought something else was going to play out.

Surreal turned to bizarre as requests from upstate network affiliates poured in looking for information on the missing child and the Amber Alert. Apparently, the emails from SLED went out in the upstate before the server crashed.

As quickly as we mobilized, the story met its happy ending. Baby Angel was found safe and returned to his mother, but the bizarre twists and turns were not over.

The suspect, identified as Andrea Samone Walker, took the abducted Angel to a friend's apartment to show off her new baby. The friends looked for Amber Alerts on the internet and then called police from a nearby gas station when they found baby Angel's picture.

Walker had apparently been telling her out-of-town boyfriend and coworkers that she was pregnant and claimed to have a doctor's appointment the day of the abduction.

Angel's mother, Lidia Perez, was met with public scrutiny as people cried out for charges against her for leaving her baby in an unlocked car. No charges were filed.

Follow the links to read up on the details of this story, including a slideshow of the reunion and a sit-down interview with baby Angel's mother.

Mother won't face charges

3. The deadly string of shootings in Walterboro

The small town of Walterboro became the focus of police, state lawmakers and the media after a family was gunned down at their home. Three people – including a young child – were killed and six others were injured.

That shooting happened on a Monday and turned out to be the spark that fueled a week of violence in Walterboro that led to the governor offering to issue a state of emergency for the area and bring in even more law enforcement.

Two days after the deadly shooting, authorities responded to another shooting only a block away.

In Walterboro, residents were scared to talk to police, worried that someone would attack them for working with law enforcement. Reporters sent to Walterboro to cover the story all came back telling of residents ushering them quickly inside if they welcomed them at all.

Police have only made one arrest in the drive-by that killed three people, 19-year-old Danziel Chapman.

The violence has since died down and the town of Walterboro is slowly making its way back to normal, but lawmakers are looking at the crime problem in Walterboro to write new crime legislation. Rep. Gilliard has already offered up a bill that would see perpetrators of drive-bys sentenced to 25 years without the possibility of parole.

Follow the links to read the coverage from Nicole Johnson, Hatzel Vela, Sheldon Dutes and Bob Behanian.

Gunshots heard before funeral

2. The Sanford Scandal

Let's face it, 2009 was a bad year for governors.

Rod Blagojevich tried to sell then-Senator Obama's seat on the Capitol. Sarah Palin "went rogue" and quit before finishing her term. And then there was Mark Sanford.

For Sanford, 2009 started with such promise. He stood up against a $787 billion federal stimulus bill when no one else would and made a name for himself on the national political scene. At one point he was even considered the GOP's Golden Boy for the 2012 ticket.

Then he went "hiking on the Appalachian Trail."

After disappearing for five days and being spotted in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, Sanford held a press conference in which he stunned the entire state with one comment: "I have been unfaithful to my wife."

From there, the entire story devolved into complete mayhem.

On one end of the spectrum was Sanford bemoaning this forbidden love with an Argentine lover, someone he considered his soul mate. On the other end was an enraged horde of lawmakers making attempt after attempt to impeach the forlorn governor.

They only accomplished a censure, though.

In the middle was the spurned wife, Jenny Sanford, who bucked political tradition and left Sanford to stand alone at his tell-all press conference, then kicked him out. The more desperate he seemed, the more composed she was.

Mrs. Sanford was even heralded by Barbara Walters as one of the year's most fascinating people during a TV special. And speaking of TV, the main character in the CBS drama 'The Good Wife' is based loosely on Mrs. Sanford.

She has, of course, filed for divorce, and has a book set to be released in April.

Follow the links for coverage on the governor's very public self-destruction.

Details of other woman emerge

Sanford is censured

1. Boeing means big business in Charleston

When a major airline manufacturer like Boeing wants to put a new 787 production facility in your back yard, it's hard to say no. The business leaders in the Lowcountry and across the state couldn't say no.

Looking back at the state's problem with unemployment, the Boeing deal makes sense as the top story of the year. Job creation estimates range from 3,500 to 12,000 new jobs and lawmakers and business leaders are looking at the possible flood of ancillary industries that will come in with the opening of the new plant.

But how did Charleston land one of the biggest development deals of the decade?

It started in Everett, Washington with strikes, shipping problems, and rollout delays that amounted to Boeing being more than two years behind schedule.

Washington media were quick to blast Charleston, depicting residents as dysfunctional rednecks building planes with duct tape and an outhouse.

But the story doesn't end there. Now lawmakers are questioning what incentives were offered Boeing to secure the deal and no one has produced the full details.

Looks like there's more to look forward to that a freshly built production facility.

Click through to read the stories about the biggest story of 2009 and what will surely be one of the biggest stories of 2010.

Boeing deal a political bright spot

A look inside the Dreamliner

Boeing 787 makes firs test flight

And that's the Top 10 Stories of 2009, as voted on by viewers. Plenty of drama, a few happy endings and a lot of money changing hands, it has, to coin a phrase, definitely been one for the ages.

We'll do it again, this time in 2010!

Were your top stories on the list? What would you add or subtract? Talk about it in the comments!

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