2017 Recap: Top 8 stories from the Tampa Bay area

TAMPA BAY, Fla. (WFLA) — There are just a few days left of 2017! Before we head into 2018, News Channel 8 is looking back at the top stories that made headlines in the Tampa Bay area this year.

According to our analytics, these are the 8 stories that were read the most on WFLA.com during 2017:

1. Doctors and cops among 277 arrested in human trafficking, online prostitution sting in Polk County

Back in October, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced 277 arrests following a week-long undercover sting targeting human trafficking and online prostitution.

Sheriff Judd said it was the most people ever arrested at once in the history of the sheriff’s office.

Among the 277 people arrested were doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement officers. The undercover detectives even caught one of their own — Sergeant Luis Diaz resigned from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office after 17 years.

2. Hurricane Irma 

In early September, the massive and powerful Hurricane Irma brought heavy rains and strong winds to the Tampa Bay area. Irma was only the fifth storm on record to reach maximum winds of 185 mph and was the strongest storm in the Atlantic basin since Wilma in 2005.

Irma formed over the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday, Aug. 30. Most of Florida kept a close eye on the projected track of the storm in the following days as it strengthened to become a Category 5 hurricane and headed toward the Sunshine State. Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for all of Florida on Monday, Sept. 4.

The Tampa Bay area went into full preparation mode in the week leading up to the storm. Water and supplies flew off store shelves, schools and colleges closed, airports shut downsporting events were rescheduled and evacuations orders were put in place

Hurricane Irma made landfall as a Category 4 storm at Cudjoe Key in the lower Florida Keys at 9:10 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 10. At 3:55 p.m., Hurricane Irma made landfall as a Category 3 storm on Marco Island near Naples. Irma was eventually downgraded to a tropical depression.

Irma knocked out power to more than 1 million people in the Tampa Bay area and preliminarily was blamed for nearly $2 billion in insured losses throughout all of Florida.

3. Controversy over ‘leg lamp’ sculpture in Lakeland

In February, a sculpture included in the annual exhibit in Lakeland raised some eyebrows.

The sculpture of a leg lamp, called “I’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,” popped up on Lemon Avenue downtown and received mixed reviews.

Many loved the sculpture and its tribute to “A Christmas Story” but others said they didn’t want to see it in their city.

4. The Seminole Heights murders

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, a 51-day manhunt came to an end when police arrested a suspect in the string of four murders in the Seminole Heights neighborhood.

Seminole Heights victims.

Tampa police arrested 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III at the McDonald’s in Ybor City. He is charged with the murders of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton.

Donaldson was indicted earlier this month and later pleaded not guilty.

Family members of all four victims recently met with State Attorney Andrew Warren regarding the death penalty. Warren has not yet decided whether he will seek the death penalty for Donaldson.

Donaldson’s parents are expected to appear in court on Jan. 5 to explain why they should not be held in contempt of court for not answering questions from investigators.

5. Massive rattlesnake spotted in Polk County

Photo courtesy Cathy Terry.

In July, a News Channel 8 viewer reached out and sent us a photo of a huge rattlesnake she spotted just a few miles south of Bartow.

Cathy Terry told us she and her husband went out to do some bird watching when they encountered the snake. She says it slithered across the road right in front of her as she took pictures from the safety of her truck.

According to Terry, the snake was so long it took up about three-quarters of the width of the two-lane road.

6. Tampa Bay Bucs take part in national anthem protests

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Back in September, two Tampa Bay Buccaneers players took a knee before a game and joined hundreds of athletes in protest.

Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans and Bucs wide receiver DeSean Jackson were among the more than 200 NFL players who knelt or sat as the national anthem played ahead of games during Week 3.

The widespread protests came after President Donald Trump said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the anthem. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the trend last year.

7. Mysterious loud boom heard throughout Tampa Bay

On Saturday, Dec. 9, our newsroom was flooded with calls, emails and Facebook messages from people living in Tampa Bay who heard a loud boom noise.

Viewers throughout Polk County, Pasco County, Hillsborough County and even parts of Hernando County reported hearing the boom around 2 p.m. Some say it shook their homes.

On Monday, Dec. 11, NORAD finally confirmed what happened: Two F-15’s went supersonic and broke the sound barrier.

8. Sinkhole swallows two homes in Pasco County

A massive sinkhole opened up in Land O’ Lakes on Friday, July 14 and swallowed two homes.

Authorities scrambled the rest of the day to keep nearly a dozen more homes safe as the sinkhole moved toward a nearby lake. The hole measured 50-feet deep and 225-feet across.

Cleanup at the sinkhole was expected to begin a few weeks later, but officials ran into problems when a side wall collapsed.

Eight homes total near the site of the sinkhole met criteria for demolition, including the two homes that were originally swallowed and destroyed.

Last month, the county held a public meeting to discuss repair options.

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