A look back on the top stories of 2012
By Meagan McGone
BREVARD -- Although 2012 is coming to an end, the events that took place and milestones reached countywide will forever be marked in our headlines.
In no particular order, here are a few of the top stories reported by Hometown News in 2012.
Brevard remembers fallen deputy
More than 3,000 people gathered at Calvary Chapel Melbourne on March 13 to honor the life of a fallen Brevard deputy who served in law enforcement for 30 years.
At a memorial service commemorating the life of Deputy Sheriff Barbara Pill, who was shot and killed on March 6, Brevard County Sheriff Jack Parker described her as honest, hard working and enthusiastic.
"Of all the wonderful characteristics Barbara possessed, her defining characteristic was how much she cared about other people," Sheriff Parker said.
Deputy Pill was a decorated officer with a 31-year history in law enforcement. She served the Miami-Dade Metro for 16 years and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office for 15 years.
Brandon Lee Bradley, 23, and Andria Kerchner, 20, were arrested on charges of murder and robbery as a result of the shooting. They are being held without bond.
With shuttle program's end, Atlantis begins a new mission
In July 2011, Space Shuttle Atlantis pulled into port at the Kennedy Space Center for the last time, signifying the end of NASA's 30-year space shuttle program. Now, Atlantis will prepare for its next mission: to preserve the history of U.S. space exploration and provide inspiration for Americans.
The shuttle will be the highlight of a $100 million exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex set to open in the summer of 2013. A groundbreaking ceremony held on Jan. 18 introduced plans for the new, 65,000-square-foot home of Atlantis to a crowd of more than 100 people.
"Where (Atlantis) once expanded man's knowledge in space, now she will expand our knowledge here on Earth," said Janet Petro, deputy director of the Kennedy Space Center, in a speech at the ceremony. "She will teach everyone who visits her about the space shuttle program and what it has meant to NASA, America and all of us here at the Kennedy Space Center."
President Obama makes several stops in Brevard
A crowd of 3,050 people sang Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" in unison Sept. 9, in anticipation of President Barack Obama's speech at Florida Tech in Melbourne.
When the president made his appearance a little before noon, the large crowd erupted with cheers and applause.
Before he began his speech, the president smiled and told the crowd to "take a seat if you have one, because I'm going to be talking for a while."
The president's speech began with some light humor, as he told the crowd that he would be finished in time for an NFL kick-off. It also featured moments of audience interaction, with one woman shouting out, "I love you, Obama," to which the president replied, "I love you, too."
However, when the president started to dive deeper into his speech, he spoke passionately of Medicare and the space program.
"We've begun an ambitious new direction for NASA by laying the groundwork for 21st Century space flight, and, just last month, witnessed an incredible achievement that speaks to our nation's sense of wonder and our can-do - the United States of America landing Curiosity on Mars," President Obama said to the cheering crowd.
This was the president's 10th time visiting Florida this year, but the first time he has visited the Space Coast in 2012, as well as his first visit to Florida Tech.
Romney keeps his feet on the ground
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney took a different stance on the Space Coast's economic situation during the Cape Canaveral rally, held on Jan. 29, saying he would take a reasoned approach to the future of space.
"(Mr. Gingrich) promised hundreds of billions of dollars," Mr. Romney said. "I know that's very attractive, very popular. I'm not going to do that. Politicians love the idea of coming in and saying what they're going to do without studying it, without getting the data."
Mr. Romney said he would protect NASA programs that are necessary for America's economic, technological and military well-being.
He said such issues as climate change must be studied in space, and medical and commercial technologies are gained through space exploration.
"All of these objectives are important," Mr. Romney said, including preparing for what he called "existential" issues, such as a catastrophic natural occurrence.
"Technology and science lead to the development of products that improve our economy," he said. "There's another area: The health and well-being of our citizens. Through space, we learn technology that can affect how long we're able to live."
Local surf legend leaves his legacy behind
World-class surfer Richard "Rich" Salick touched many lives throughout his work for the National Kidney Foundation of Florida, spreading awareness of kidney disease and inspiring others coping with it.
This was apparent by the crowd of more than 1,000 people who packed Club Zion Community Church in Cocoa Beach on July 7 for his memorial service. Mr. Salick died on July 2, following emergency surgery at Orlando Regional Medical Center. The 62-year-old battled various ailments - including kidney disease, lung cancer and heart disease - for several years.
Stephanie Hutchinson, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation of Florida, said she could recount many fond memories of Mr. Salick, who worked with the National Kidney Foundation of Florida for more than 27 years, most recently serving as the director of community relations.
"He got involved with the foundation as a way to help others deal with kidney failure and find the help they needed as they went through dialysis and transplantation," she said. "He was known for spending hours on the phone with patients, talking about their challenges. He gave hope and direction to many. There are many who credit Rich for saving their lives, when they felt all hope was gone."
Embraer to build $24 million technology center in Melbourne
Florida Gov. Rick Scott joined representatives from the Space Coast for the groundbreaking of the new, $24 million Embraer Engineering and Technology Center USA at the Melbourne International Airport on Nov. 28.
Gov. Scott was joined by representatives from the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast and Space Florida.
According to the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, the 63,500-square-foot facility will generate 200 engineering jobs by the end of 2016. The airport is also home to the company's final assembly plant and customer center.
Embraer is a Brazilian aerospace conglomerate that produces commercial, military and executive aircraft. The Embraer Engineering and Technology Center USA will financed, built, owned and operated by Space Florida for Embraer.
In a press release, Gov. Scott said the new facility continues to make the state of Florida an ideal place for businesses.
"As we continue to create a better business climate, we are also bringing more jobs to Florida," he said. "These 200 new jobs mean more families will be able to bring a new paycheck home, and, although our work isn't done, we'll continue to work to grow jobs, so every Florida family can enjoy the American dream."
Motive remains undetermined in Port St. John tragedy
On May 15, 33-year-old Tonya Thomas gunned down her four children: Pebbles Johnson, 17; Jaxs Johnson, 15; Jazzlyn Johnson, 13; and Joel Johnson, 12, before turning the gun on herself.
At about 5:05 a.m., deputies discovered an unresponsive Pebbles Johnson in front of the neighbor's residence. Pebbles never returned home after going to the neighboring house for help and was pronounced dead at the scene.
SWAT members entered the residence where the mother and three children were found dead: Joel and Jazzlyn Johnson near the entryway of the house; Jaxs Johnson on the couch, where he appeared to have been shot in his sleep; and Tonya Thomas in the garage, where she suffered a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Dispatch records from April indicate instances of violence in which Jaxs tossed his bicycle out of a window and kicked and punched his mother.
It appears that the children's father has not been active in their lives and only briefly spoke with police about the deaths, Lt. Goodyear said.
He added that as details unravel, investigators will continue to look for clues that may point to Ms. Thomas' intent.
"We don't know what the motive is, and I don't know if we ever will," said Brevard County Sheriff's Office Lt. Tod Goodyear. "I would be very surprised if we could tell anybody at the end of this why she did it."
Brevard opens beach to four-legged friends
For beachgoers at Canova Beach Park, the dog days have begun.
As of Feb. 25, dogs are permitted on a portion of the Indian Harbour Beach coastline that spans the area between Eau Gallie Boulevard and the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront. Brevard County commissioners voted 4 to 1 in favor of the canines after Sandy Paws, a group dedicated to establishing and maintaining a dog-friendly beach in Brevard, retrieved more than 4,000 signatures backing the case.
Though the beach has been implemented as a one-year pilot program, some are wary of its implications. But Brevard County Parks and Recreation director Jack Masson said efforts made by county staff, visitors of the dog park and volunteers will ensure a safe and properly maintained park.
"The critical key to the success of this venture is having a very strong volunteer base of dedicated individuals," Mr. Masson said.
In order to be permitted on the beach, dogs must remain on a leash and wear tags displaying current licenses and vaccinations. Owners must pick up after their pets, and waste bags and receptacles will be available at the park, Mr. Masson said.
Barbara Arnold, the founder of Sandy Paws Brevard, said she encourages every pet owner to clean up after his or her dogs, keep within the marked boundaries of the designated area and follow the rules the county has implemented to keep the beach successful.
"We are hopeful that the pilot program will give us an opportunity to encourage responsible dog ownership and fun," she said. "We have many volunteers who are ready to refill bag stations and participate in regular beach clean-ups, in addition to having fun at the beach."