2008 brought many memorable stories to South Mississippi

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - 2008 was a year of tragedy and triumph and a struggling economy.

The year began on a sour note for the Harrison County sheriff.

"As sheriff of Harrison County, I did declare a state of emergency at the Harrison County jail," said Sheriff Melvin Brisolara, after a January escape at the county lock up.

A brazen escape by four inmates made headlines. Escapees used a steel door to batter a hole to freedom.

"They literally had to stop for awhile and rest 'cause they were so damn tired of smashing the wall," said Warden Don Cabana, as he showed reporters the damage done to the cell wall.

The inmates were soon captured. Supervisors agreed to spend more than $10 million to improve jail security.

"I appointed Mississippi's new United States Senator: Roger Wicker," said Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

That appointment in late 2007 was followed by a heated campaign this year between Roger Wicker and former governor Ronnie Musgrove.

The two traded verbal jabs, which ended with Senator Wicker victorious.

"He's fallen from grace," said a fellow lawyer, outside the federal courthouse where Dickie Scruggs was sentenced.

2008 saw the fall of prominent attorney Scruggs. He was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in a judicial bribery case. A federal judge told Scruggs: "The justice system made you a rich man, yet you have corrupted it."

The ailing economy was an ongoing headline in 2008. Construction on the new Margaritaville casino was effectively put "on hold." By late in the year, the casino industry was laying off hundreds of workers.

Economic woes also prompted Future Pipe Industries to announce the closing of its Gulfport factory and the loss of 150 jobs.

"We wanted to express to the governor our outrage in what he has done," said a petition organizer in Pascagoula.

Jackson County residents passed petitions to protest Governor Barbour's decision to commute the life sentence of David Michael Graham.

Graham was convicted of the shotgun slaying of his ex-wife in downtown Pascagoula in 1989. The killer had spent the last eight years as a trusty at the governor's mansion.

"It's the game of football and anything can happen," said Brett Favre.

The South Mississippi fan favorite and NFL superstar proved that to be true in '08 when the longtime Packer came out of retirement for a chance to shine in the big apple.

The MVP quarterback joined the New York Jets, leading them to more wins this year, but still failing to make the playoffs.

"A word of thanks to the people of the diocese of Biloxi," said Archbishop Thomas Rodi.

The former Biloxi bishop received a promotion in 2008. In early June, he was formally installed as the new Archbishop of Mobile.

The '08 hurricane season brought Gustav to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"The winds are very, very strong here," said reporter Jeff Lawson, struggling against the stiff winds along the shoreline.

Coast residents no doubt had flashbacks of Katrina. Thankfully the wind and water of Gustav, though damaging enough, were far less disastrous to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

August was a tragic month for coast law enforcement, which lost two brothers in blue.

Veteran police officer Fred Gaston was shot to death outside a motel in North Carolina. He was on his way to Washington D.C. to fulfill his Air Force reservist duties. Fred Gaston was 49.

Just days later, another police officer was killed. Gulfport traffic officer Rob Curry died when his motorcycle was struck by a car on Highway 49. Rob Curry was 39.

"One of the strongest economic engines over the state of Mississippi for the next 50 years."

That's how a consultant described the Port of Gulfport and its ambitious expansion plans.

The port unveiled an expansion that would make the port five times larger. The $1.6 billion project was introduced at a series of public hearings, before getting formal approval from the State Port Authority.

"We are incredibly excited about kicking off Mississippi's first interactive, state of the art science center," said a speaker at a November ground breaking.

Stennis Space Center in Hancock County hosted the long awaited ground breaking for the Infinity Science Center in November. It's a $38,000,000 space and science learning center expected to attract millions of tourists each year.

One of the leaders behind the Infinity project died just days before ground was broken. Leo Seal was not only a prominent businessman for many years at Hancock Bank, he was also a respected and generous community leader who touched countless lives.

"His passion was South Mississippi," said the president of Hancock Bank.

Leo Seal was 84-years-old.

Will the work on Highway 90 ever end? That's a question many motorists were asking in 2008. By year's end, the roadwork which began in August of '07 was about to be finished.

The D'Iberville football Warriors gave the coast plenty to cheer about. Buddy Singleton's team achieved a winning streak to be proud of and wound up with runner up honors in the Class 4A playoffs.

The City of D'Iberville also had plenty to smile about in '08. Despite national economic woes D'Iberville announced construction of the Promenade shopping center along I-10, complete with a long awaited Target store coming soon.

Finally, the arrival of Baby New Year pales in comparison to the arrivals at the Cochran household this year: All four of them.

The quadruplets born to Sandra and Matt Cochran of Hurley were among the most heart warming stories of '08. And it's the story we choose to end this wrap-up of a very eventful 2008.