PINE BELT (WDAM) - This past year has been an eventful one for the Pine Belt, and to recap 2016 we put together eight of our top stories.
8. One-year anniversary of officers Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate
2016 was the one-year anniversary since the deaths of Hattiesburg police officers Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate.
"I want you to see my tears and see what you have done, this is what we have to live with for the rest of our lives," said Yolander Ross, Liquori Tate's mother, to Curtis Banks.
On May 11, 2016, Deen and Tate were also named Officers of the Year. Family members accepted those awards.
"If I could trade this award for my son back, I would," Ross said.
Robin Deen, wife of officer Deen, said, "I wish he could be here. I wish he could be here to accept it, but I am so honored to accept it for him."
7. The aftermath of the Pine Belt March floods
Water flushed out a stretch of Highway 589, leaving it impassable for nine months after the March floods. Bridge and paving construction wrapped up in October of this year.
Perry county and Forrest county faced the brunt of the floods. In Perry county, more than 200 homes were damaged and in Forrest, more than 150 homes were flooded.
There were multiple swift water rescues in Jones County saving the lives of many Pine Belt citizens. WDAM was one of seven Raycom Media stations that helped aid in a flood relief effort that raised money for victims.
6. The search for a new superintendent for Hattiesburg Public Schools
After Seven On Your Side conducted an investigation into questionable spending by the district, former Hattiesburg Public School District Superintendent James Bacchus resigned. A months-long search ended with the hire of Janice Johnson.
Johnson made headlines again after resigning from her new position on her first day of work.
She planned on focusing on the school district's fiscal management and raising student achievement.
Robert Williams filled her position as the interim superintendent and was ultimately hired for the position full time.
5. Hub City pharmacy investigation
Four businesses related to pharmacies in the Pine Belt were raided by the FBI in late January of this year.
According to court documents, some of the subjects of the investigation owned and operated numerous pharmacies that created custom medications based on specific prescriptions written by doctors. This led to insurance companies being reimbursed at higher rates.
Anywhere between $11-12 million worth of property and assets were seized.
4. Forrest County settles with families of wrongfully convicted men
Forrest County settled with the families of men wrongfully convicted for the 1979 rape and murder of Eva Gail Patterson.
Philip Bivens, Bobby Ray Dixon and Larry Ruffin were exonerated in 2010 and 2011 based on new DNA evidence.
Only one of the men lived long enough to be released from jail.
Forrest County insurance covered 2/3 of the total $16.5 million dollar settlement.
3. The debate over the Religious Accommodation Act
Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill that allowed business owners to deny business to members of the LGBTQ community to protect their religious beliefs.
Many performers cancelled their appearances after the bill was passed. Among them were comedian Tracey Morgan, actress Sharon Stone and musician Bryan Adams.
The legislation was blocked the day before it was supposed to go into law. Since then Gov. Bryant has filed an appeal.
2. Homicides increase in the Hub City
Hattiesburg had eight homicides, which is up two deaths from 2015. Over half of those murders were related to domestic violence. Laurel also had one homicide, which was the shooting death of a teen.
1. Fairley and Bolton trials
Hattiesburg pastor Kenneth Fairley was sentenced to three years in federal prison and ordered to pay over $60,000 in restitution and a $30,000 fine for defrauding the federal government.
Fairley has until February to turn himself in.
The Boltons were also found guilty of nine counts collectively for evasion and tax fraud. They are awaiting their sentencing in January 2017.
We'll have that coverage for you in the new year.