Reflecting on the local stories of 2018

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)-- As 2018 comes to a close, NBC15 is remembering and reflecting on the local stories that had an impact on many people during the past year.

Historic Flooding

People in several counties in South Central Wisconsin are trying to find their new normal following high August rain amounts and record flooding. In Sauk County, emergency management leaders say the recovery could take up to a year and a half.

"There's still issues in our county," said Sauk County Emergency Management Director Jeff Jelinek on Dec. 14. "There is groundwater that is coming into basements. This is kind of a unique situation. We did not have this after the 2008 flood this late in the year."

Over a three week period, from Aug. 16 - Sept. 6, the National Weather Service estimates up to 10 inches of rain fell in Sauk County.

Homes were evacuated in cities, including La Valle, Reedsburg, and Rock Springs.

Dane County was also impacted by heavy rain and flash flooding. Two bridges in Black Earth were partially washed out from flash flooding on Aug. 20. The washout shut down Highway 14 from the Beltline through Black Earth. The Bridges were repaired and reopened on Nov. 16.

According to NBC15 Meteorologist Brian Doogs, areas west of Madison had reports of 11-15 inches of rainfall. The intense rainfall in August and September helped 2018 go down as the second wettest year on record in the Madison area.

During the storm on Aug. 20, Jim Sewell was swept away by flash flooding. Authorities say his vehicle became submerged on Madison's West Side, trapping him and two other people inside. Madison Alder Matt Phair and another man came upon the scene and tried to rescue all of them. Unfortunately, Sewell was carried away by floodwaters.

"I was the last person to literally touch this person's body, " said Phair the day afterwards. "The water just overwhelmed us, and we just let go."

In Downtown Madison, people prepared for a possible evacuation. Flooding forced the closure of several Madison streets. The chain of lakes in the area reached more than 100 year flood levels.

A Dane County and Madison flooding task force is looking at ways to prevent future flooding around the lakes. The task force is made up of people with engineering backgrounds, looking at what is technically possible. The task force is hoping to finalize it's report by Feb. 1.

Middleton Workplace Shooting

Just weeks after those floods, on Sept. 19, NBC15 crews were among the first on the scene of a shooting at WTS Paradigm in Middleton.

The motive for the shooting is still unknown. Authorities say Anthony Tong shot four of his coworkers. Two Middleton Police officers and two Dane County Sheriff's deputies fired at Tong, who later died from his injuries. The officers and deputies remain on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Department of Justice and the Dane County Attorney's Office.

Top local web stories of 2018

The Middleton workplace shooting was also one of the top viewed local stories on NBC15.com. Some other top viewed local stories include:


  • The highest viewed local story on NBC15.com was a maintenance shed fire at Mt. Olympus Theme Park in the Dells on Feb. 14. No one was injured and arson was ruled out.

  • On Jan. 25, a fire destoyed a dormitory under construction at the Wilderness Resort in the Dells. The people behind the arson are still wanted. There is a $20,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest.

  • The third highest clicked local story on was when snow was on the ground in all 50 states at the same time on Jan. 17. It was written by NBC15 Meteorologist Brian Doogs.

  • A Janesville marine killed at Camp Pendleton in California on Jan. 16 was among the top ten local webstories. A fellow marine is currently serving a seven year sentence after accidentally stabbing PFC. Ethan Barclay-Weberpal.

  • Our tenth highest viewed local story online is the controversial prom photo of some Baraboo High School Students giving what appears to be a Nazi salute. The photo was taken during Spring Prom, but the photo received worldwide attention after it was shared on social media Nov. 11. Since then, the community has gathered, talked, and acted to grow together with a message of tolerance and learning.

Sun Prairie Explosion

Another powerful photo that captured attention is a heartbreaking and beautiful image showing fallen Sun Prairie Fire Captain Cory Barr with his infant twin daughters.

Barr was killed while responding to a gas leak in Sun Prairie on July 10. An explosion occurred around 7:05 p.m. that night and leveled buildings. Several people were injured in the blast. 35 families were also affected by the explosion.

On Dec. 20, officials said there was not probable cause to believe a crime was committed and classified the investigation as inactive. After that information was released, Barr's wife and two injured firefighters filed lawsuits against four companies for wrongful death, injuries, and negligence.

The OSHA investigation in the explosion is expected to be completed by Jan. 10.

Beaver Dam Explosion

An explosion on March 5 at a Beaver Dam Apartment complex killed the man who caused it. Detectives found homemade bombs and white supremacist literature inside Benjamin Morrow's unit.

More than 100 people were forced from their homes. On March 15, the Village Glen Apartment building was burned to the ground to clear the chemical residue left behind.

Investigators believe Morrow acted alone and said there was no evidence linking terrorism to the case.

Regional Story Highlights
While reflecting on 2018's top local stories, we would be remiss not to mention a few stories that happened across the state and grabbed national attention.


  • A blizzard from April 14-16 dumped heavy amounts of snow in Central and Northern Wisconsin. In Shawano, the city received 33 inches of snow.

  • On Aug. 28, 19 tornadoes were confirmed in Wisconsin. Most of the damage was to trees and farm properties.

  • Jayme Closs was abducted from her home after her parents were murdered Oct. 15. No suspects have been named. There is a $50,000 reward for any information that will help find Closs.

  • Barron-native Chris Kroeze sang his way into several charts and into people's hearts during "The Voice" in Fall 2018. He made it to the finals where he was named the show's runner-up.

2018 Fall Election

Governor-elect Tony Evers won the governor's race on Nov. 7. The race was called by the Associated Press around 1:30 a.m. Governor Scott Walker's defeat prompted the Republican-controlled state legislature to take action.

Lame-Duck Legislation

The state legislature convened on Dec. 4 to debate on lame-duck bills. The measures included restricting power of the governor and attorney general. Another provision of the legislation included restricting early voting to two weeks before an election. Gov. Walker signed it into law on Dec. 14.

A lawsuit was filed to challenge the early voting provision.

House Speaker Paul Ryan not seeking reelection

After 20 years on Capitol Hill, Janesville-native House Speaker Paul Ryan is not running for reelection for Wisconsin's First District in the House of Representatives. Ryan gave his last address in the Library of Congress on Dec. 19.

"To everything there is a season. For me, this season of service is coming to a close," said Ryan. "I have had the chance to do something I love so much for so long. To do my small part to advance the American Idea. I leave as I came here: an optimist to the core. I would not have it any other way. Nothing is impossible if you are willing to go out and fight for it."

People Giving Back

Your generosity is a highlight of 2018. This year, for NBC15's Share Your Holidays, we are asking for "one more meal," one more than 2017's record 4.18 million meals. People can donate through Dec. 31 at
nbc15shareyourholidays.com or at the checkout of select local grocers.

"Bucky on Parade" raised $1 million for cancer research and other causes. NBC15 was a proud media partner of the summer long event. 85 Bucky statues were placed in areas around Dane County.

2018 Sports in Review

It was a great year in sports, and nothing was sweeter than the Milwaukee Brewers making it beyond the regular season and into October. The Brewers won their division against the Colorado Rockies on Oct. 7. The team was stopped from heading to the World Series when the Los Angeles Dodgers won the National League Championship Series. The Brewers last played in the World Series in 1982. They have never won the championship.

The Packers are looking for a new head coach after Mike McCarthy was fired following the Dec. 2 game against the Cardinals. Joe Philbin was named the interim head coach.

One of the memorable stories of 2018 had McFarland's Matt Hamilton bringing home Olympic gold. Hamilton and the rest of the USA Men's Curling Team won the United States first gold medal in curling at the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Leckrone Retirement

Every band has a leader, but there is non quite like Mike Leckrone. He's retiring in Spring 2019 after 50 years on the job. NBC15's John Stofflet spoke with Leckrone before his last time leading the band at Camp Randall on Nov. 24.