WPDE news team, viewers look back on some of the top stories from 2011

Over the past year, WPDE NewsChannel 15 has covered thousands of stories. From the bizarre to the brave, breaking news, and beyond inspiring. As 2011 gets close to drawing to a close, we'd like to take a look back and talk about the biggest and most memorable stories to our viewers and our news team.

2011 included a viral video about cats and dogs, plane crash, wildfires, a plant explosion, and hot headlines in weather and sports.

One of the first big stories, was a plane crash in North Myrtle Beach that killed two on January 18.

North Myrtle Beach spokesman Pat Dowling at the time said the pilot was practicing "touch and go" landings at the Grand Strand Airport when the plane crashed into an RV park, killing the pilot and a woman in an RV.

In February, Agrium U.S. Fertilizer plant in Hartsville was destroyed by fire. Nearby residents were asked to voluntarily evacuate.

The February 14th fire destroyed the company's 160,000 square foot warehouse.

"We received several calls from people in Hartsville about the fire. We knew it was huge, and Tonya Brown did a fantastic job that night of relaying information from the scene and getting questions answered about the fire," NewsChannel 15's Tim McGinnis remembers about the story.

It was announced in May the plant would not rebuild, leaving 60 people without jobs.

"We are saddened to lose such a long-time community partner. Agrium has made a hard business decision in an even harder economy and we cannot fault them for that. They have done everything the right way," said Harstville Mayor Pennington at the time.

Another major fire lit up headlines throughout the month of July in 2011, the Hornet fire in Carolina Forest. More than 20 related stories were covered on the brush fire that crews were first called out to on July 4, 2011.

"I live in Carolina Forest and first noticed the smoke when I was in my backyard playing with my kids. I kept thinking about the Horry County Wildfire a few years earlier, and called the station to find out what was happening," McGinnis recalls.

In total, the South Carolina Forestry Commission says 1,374 acreage was burned.

"I live on the far end of Carolina Forest, but I can't imagine what it was like for those families we spoke with whose homes backed up to the area where the fire was burning," NewsChannel 15's Lindsey Theis recalls. "One day the fire would be contained, the next day it would have jumped lines. I would have to imagine those living near the fire being on edge all the time."

The highly anticipated Skywheel spun for first time on May 8th. It opened to the public on May 18th. The ferris wheel is the largest east of the Mississippi River.

Another high impact story chosen among the news team was the trial and Christian Helms Teen who shot at school officer sentenced to 6 years on August 10th.

Judge Thomas W. Cooper sentenced him to six years for attempted murder, followed by four years probation. If Helms violates probation, he will have to serve five years for two charges for bringing bombs to school. Helms will stay in juvenile detention until he's 17-years-old. He'll then be moved to prison. After the sentencing, NewsChannel 15's Ryan Naquin covered the release of Helms' journal and a video tape the teen made the day before the shooting.

"I remember the first time I read through Christian Helms' journal and feeling a torn sense of sadness and anger. Here's a young man that was driven to a point where he feels like he has no where to turn and needs to act in the way he did. The goodbye video showed he was a confused kid who needed help, but also just needed someone to let him know he wasn't alone," Naquin said.

As far as the weather goes, Hurricane Irene was the biggest weather story of the year when it hit the Grand Strand Coast on August 26, 2011.

NewsChannel 15's Ed Peotrowski said back at the end of hurricane season in November, that it was exceptionally active.

"2011 hurricane season produced 19 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 intense hurricanes. The 19 named storms ties 2011 with 2010,1887 and 1995 for third most named storms in a given season (reliable records go back to 1851). Only 1933 with 21 storms and 2005 with 28 named storms were busier," he said.

Newschannel 15 covered more than 20 other related Hurricane Irene stories.

"Growing up in Ohio, I would always watch National Hurricane coverage and think that must be a lot of work behind the scenes. I got my first taste of that kind of coverage during Hurricane Irene. I had no idea what I was really in for. It was such a great learning experience." recalls Cara Perry, NewsChannel 15's 7 and 11 Producer.

"We camped out in the newsroom for Irene," McGinnis remembers. "It was a near 24 hour shift. Allyson and Ed and I kept saying how fortunate we were the storm was simply giving us lots of rain and some wind. We dodged another bullet."

At one point Irene was forecasted to come straight through our area, but when all was said and done, the outer bands had swooped past the Grand Strand coast. She left flooded streets, downed trees, and a few fallen powers lines as the biggest damage we saw.

In early September, NewsChannel 15 broke the story of a bus stop that had been located behind a strip club for more than a decade. At the time the story aired, Horry County School's Transportation Director Jim Wright said the stop was where it because the district had to accommodate four blocks with one bus stop, so the central location was the intersection.

"I had to explain to my four-year-old what topless was," mother Misty Umphries said.

The day after the offbeat story aired the school district moved the bus stop the next day.

The most viewed video from WPDE this year, was actually not one that aired in a story originally. CCU football Coach David Bennett went viral September 9, 2011 after his infamous "be more like a dog" speech at a post game press conference.

"We posted the Cats and Dogs clip on a Wednesday afternoon and it didn't go viral until Friday. One random person shared it with an online columnist at Sports Illustrated and from there it went to Deadspin, ESPN and all over the world. It truly took a life of its own," Sports Director Rich Chrampanis says.

"During football season. I always looked forward to clips of what Bennett would say in interviews. When the cats and dogs press conference made ESPN it was fun for the rest of the country to finally witness Bennett. It was great television," NewsChannel 15's Lisa Edge says.

To date 1,171,428 have viewed the video on YouTube.

"There were literally dozens of funny coach Bennett clips throughout the years that were posted on our web page, but in this modern era of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, it became the perfect storm," Chrampanis adds.

On October 8, a tragic death of Edna Trinity Hunt, 3, of Bennettsville broke the hearts of viewers across the Pee Dee and Grand Strand.

The little girl was brought into Marlboro Park Hospital earlier in October, in cardiac arrest. Her mother and her mother's boyfriend in connection with her death.

"The story attracted a lot of reaction from the public. It generated a lot of talk in the community," says NewsChannel 15's Tonya Brown, who covered the story.

Two stories in early December rounded out some of the top local news event covered. One December 5th, Myrtle Beach chamber president Brad Dean donated his kidney.

"I've done a lot of things that I'm proud of. Being a father and a husband first and foremost, and a professional second, but to save a life, extend a life or impact a life, is something that we don't often get a chance to do," Dean, said at the time.

Dean had never met the woman who received his organ through the paired exchange program. It's called an altruistic donation and it plays a key role in the ability for medical centers to build donor databases, ultimately saving the lives of more patients in need of a kidney.

Finally, the dismissal of David Bennett as CCU head football coach on December 9 sent shockwaves and upset sports fans in the community.

After 11 seasons, University President David Decenzo and athletic director Hunter Yurachek said the energy and vitality were gone in the football program. They said the decision was made because of lower ticket sales and they expect to annually place in the top 20 and that hasn't happened. Decenzo said Bennett was not fired, but has been reassigned within the university. What that reassignment will be has not been determined yet. Former fortune five hundred CEO Joe Moglia was announced as the new coach on December 20th.

"I spoke with David Bennett on Friday afternoon at 3:30 pm on the day he was fired as head football coach. He was on the road recruiting and was focused entirely on Signing Day 2012. Three hours later, he was pulled off the road and dismissed. In my 12 years covering sports at WPDE, I have never been a part of a single story that has created so much opinion and emotion from our viewers. Less than two weeks later, the story didn't die down, but flared up even more as Coastal Carolina made one of the most unique hires in all of college sports when former CEO Joe Moglia was named the Chanticleers second head football coach." Chrampanis recalls.

We're all news junkies here, but what were some of 2011's local news highlights for you? You can vote for one of the top five stories from 2011 here, or leave a comment and we might share some of them in our newscast.