WHAS11's Best Stories of 2017
Author: WHAS11 Staff
Published: 1:18 PM EST January 1, 2018
Updated: 1:19 PM EST January 1, 2018
LOCAL 31 Articles

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- In 2017, WHAS11 covered many important stories every day, but we have compiled a list of our top stories of the year. These are stories that sparked change, made us think, warmed our hearts and taught us about our community. We've truly enjoyed serving Kentuckiana this year, and we hope you enjoy our best stories of 2017.


WHAS11's Best Stories of 2017

Chapter 1

2017 in Review

Chapter 2

One-eyed horse to run in Derby

He may not have been a favorite to win Derby 143, but make no mistake, Patch was a favorite on the backside of Churchill Downs. The Derby contender with one eye.

Without a left eye, it's crazy what this three-year-old can still accomplish.

I know what you're saying, a one-eyed horse named Patch, a perfect match.

So how did this colt lose his left eye? It was during his 2-year old campaign.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 3

The history and evolution of minorities in the Kentucky Derby

Minorities play a vital role in the Kentucky Derby and its history. African Americans made up 13 of the 15 riders in the first Derby. Today, we're seeing more jockeys from Latin America competing in the run for the roses.

Oliver Lewis rode Aristides to win the first derby in 1875. He's one of 15 African American jockeys who won the Derby in its first 28 Runnings.

“That goes back to the colonial days of our country when enslaved African Americans being brought over to the United States and basically being the caretaker of the farm the caretakers of the horses,” Goodlett said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 4

World debut of 'Prayer' music video produced in Louisville

WHAS11 was proud to share the world debut of “Prayer”—a powerful music video produced here in Louisville by sonaBLAST! Records.

Jenna Dean, a talented group of local musicians, are using their artistry to promote a message of compassion and solidarity at a time when the city is on pace to match, or potentially break, a homicide record.

Click here to read more about the video and Jenna Dean

Chapter 5

First all-female flight crew to fly UPS plane at Thunder over Louisville

It's a UPS Boeing 757, just like many other aircraft flying in and out of the UPS World Port facility, but this one made history.

"I feel very proud to be a part of it, and it's groundbreaking, and it's great to be a role model and set this example," Deborah Donnelly-McLay, an airline captain, said.

It's not the aircraft itself that is so special. It's the people. From those who will be sitting in the cockpit to the mechanics working on the exterior, those who flew the plane made the first of its kind in Thunder history.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 6

St. Francis player won't let obstacles hold him back on the court

Like most children in Kentucky, TJ Richardson was born and raised with a love for basketball.

"I started playing basketball when I was, like, four,” he said casually. “My dad bought a basketball rim and put it in the back yard, and when I saw my brother out there I just went out there and tried to shoot with him. That's just how I started."

TJ's brother, Desmond, was a huge basketball influence growing up. TJ used to go to his brother's games at Central High School and was in awe.

"He loves to see him play,” said TJ's mom, Tracie. “He loved going to his games and tried to imitate him and do certain things, and yeah, he really looks up to him."

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 7

Special needs teammate 'secret weapon' for undefeated Central High

With their eye on the win, the Central High Yellow jackets pushed through their final practice before the first home game of the season.

“I'm just very excited to get it going. Come out and play hard,” said Varsity player, Trey Williams.

Central High took on Fern Creek. Both teams were undefeated and hoping to keep it that way. Central players leaned on a little help from their secret weapon.

“I want all W's, no L's,” said Jordan Tillman, known to nearly everyone as “The Terminator.”

“He goes hard every rep,” said teammate Ronnall Clark.

“I just want to be great, and when I get on there, it's over,” explained Tillman.

Tillman has been on the team for three years. Central's coach said he's a student with special needs, but on the field, it's about his special talent to inspire.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 8

Bellarmine wrestling coaches thwart would-be robber

Two Bellarmine University wrestling coaches got more than they bargained for at a conference in Florida.

The two men were leaving a wrestling conference when fate made them unlikely heroes.

“Be the best version of yourself,” said head coach Spencer Adams. “That's what we tell our guys every day.”

On a trip to the National Wrestling Coaches Association conference in Daytona, Florida, Spencer Adams and Brandon Sellers were able to practice what they preach to their team.

“We had our bags packed,” said Adams. “We were loaded down heading to the parking lot. We got about 100 yards away when we heard this lady screaming, 'He's got my wallet, he's got my wallet!'”

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 9

Honor flight gives veterans a gift decades in the making

They served our country selflessly, but many veterans never got they homecoming they deserved. The Honor Flight program is changing that one mission at a time. It sent nearly a hundred local veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials built in their honor.

The trip was made up of about half WWII veterans, half Korean War veterans, and several Vietnam War veterans. The whole day was such an incredible experience, from beginning to end.

Honor Flight is an opportunity the veterans earned decades ago with their service and sacrifice. The entire trip is paid for by generous donations from the community.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 10

Remains of sailor killed in Pearl Harbor attack come home

It was a homecoming, 76 years later, for a native son killed at the beginning of the attack that changed the world.

'December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy' were the words uttered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when thousands of Americans were killed at the Naval base in Hawaii.

Petty Officer 1st Class Samuel Crowder of Louisville was on the USS Oklahoma when a Japanese torpedo struck and caused the ship to capsize. His family was given notice by telegram that Petty Officer Crowder was missing in action.

Crowder, like others who died that day, was buried as an 'unknown' in a mass grave. In 2015, they exhumed his body. When his family sent DNA samples, they found a match to his remains and informed them he would finally be returning home to Louisville.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 11

Driver snaps photo of soldier saluting funeral procession in rain

A Vine Grove woman's social media post is reaching viewers far beyond what she'd ever expected.

Erin Hester snapped this photo on July 6, while at an intersection on the Joe Prather Highway at 144, showing a uniformed soldier standing at attention outside his Jeep in the pouring rain. She watched as he saluted an oncoming funeral procession. He didn't return to his vehicle until the last car passed.

She later posted the photo to her Instagram and Facebook pages, gaining close to 130,000 shares and 184,000 likes in the last week.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 12

Home video brings 1938 Civil War reunion to life

One hundred and fifty-six years ago, America was ripped apart by the greatest conflict it had ever seen. Two years into the Civil War there was no end in sight, and rebel forces were making headway.

The Battle of Gettysburg was the high-water mark of the Confederacy, as General Robert E. Lee marched northward through the Shenandoah Valley with designs on penetrating deep into Pennsylvania.

Over the course of three days, Union and Confederate armies suffered between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties, making Gettysburg the most costly battle in U.S. history.

The relatively new technology of still photography allowed people to witness the horrors of war on a large scale for the first time, but the ability to capture these soldiers in motion did not exist, and would not exist for another generation.

Seventy-five years after the Battle of Gettysburg, the surviving members on both sides of the Civil War gathered on the battlefield one last time.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 13

The Vault: Disappearance of Ann Gotlib

June 1, 1983 – a 12-year-old girl vanishes from Bashford Manor Mall.

The bicycle she used to get there is the only clue left behind.

Her name was Ann Gotlib and her disappearance would forever change the way crimes involving children were investigated.

Days after their daughter's disappearance, Toly, and Ludmilla Gotlib pleaded for help – standing next to then-County Judge-Executive Mitch McConnell as he announced reward posters were being distributed around the Commonwealth.

"It gives us hope. The more people that can see Ann's picture on the streets the more possibility that someone will see her somewhere and the more the possibility that she will come home, someday," he said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 14

The Vault: The day the Belle of Louisville sank

The Belle of Louisville was delivered to Louisville from Cincinnati in the late Spring of 1962. Back then, the steamboat was known as the Avalon, purchased by Jefferson County government for $34,000.

Used to haul pigs, cattle, and humans, it was in bad shape. County Judge, Marlow Cook, named it after his wife Nancy's longtime nickname, Belle.

On August 24, 1997, The Belle of Louisville was taking on a gallon of water every second. At 28,000 gallons, America's oldest operating steamboat was starting to sink.

Hundreds of gawkers lined the waterfront to catch a glimpse of the wounded lady. The sight of the Belle submerged in the Ohio, too much for her city to bear.

The coast guard later determined the vessel sank because someone left a valve open, causing the Belle's engine room to take on water.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 15

A look back at Fontaine Ferry

The Kentucky State Fair made Louisville its permanent home in 1907. Around the same time, another spot for entertainment had just opened its gates by the riverfront's west end. The spelling makes you want to call it Fontaine Ferry, but those who grew up with the park know it as Fountain Ferry.

Tom Owen, the University of Louisville Archivist for Regional History Archives and Special Collections, remembers when the west end of Market Street, led you to more than 50 rides and attractions.

“Just the classic early 20th-century amusement park with shooting galleries, with wooden slides,” Owen said.

There were wooden coasters, race cars, a pool, and themed areas like Hilarity Hall, or Gypsy Village.

“Fontaine Ferry thought of every way possible to lure you to come,” Owen said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 16

One quick snapshot causes Louisville to pause in 1975 riots

It was a full-blown riot in parts of southern and southwest Jefferson County on the first two days of court-ordered

WHAS11 News film shows school buses were attacked—rocks and bottles were thrown at them. One man tried to run a bus off the road. This all happened as black students were being bussed for the first time to all white schools and vice versa. The violence in this section of Louisville, near Valley High School, caused a state of emergency that made national news.

The Chicago Tribune blared, “10,000 rampage in Louisville bussing fight.”

Those scenes are not forgotten by Amy Stewart, Family Resource Coordinator at Greenwood Elementary.

“We accidentally drove through one of the riots one night. I remember being fearful,” Stewart said.

Future Greenwood Principal Dylan Owens also grew up nearby and remembers, “It was a very divided time then in our city.”

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 17

Impact: The 9th Street Divide

It is our responsibility to tell the whole story.

That's why WHAS11 is going a step further and a step deeper to show you all sides of West Louisville.

Renee Murphy, Jonathan Wahl, Sherlene Shanklin, CJ Daniels and EZ Bluegrass have been working on a project we are calling Impact: The 9th Street Divide.

“There is so much good that's happening and that good, that's what we want to show,” Murphy said.

West Louisville is rich in history and full of potential.

“I grew up in the West End and I have been in the media almost 30 years and it's very hard to hear some of the things that people say,” 411 reporter and assignment editor Sherlene Shanklin said.

As we spent time in the area west of 9th Street we realized the stories of many of the people were different than the stories we were sharing on the news.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 18

Christmas miracle at West Louisville Blue House

The Christmas spirit is more than a term at the Blue House on South 28th street in Louisville's Parkland neighborhood. The 119-year-old home has been saved, by volunteers, the place where music is everywhere.

Ted Champion, Ross and Shauna Johnson broke the 9th street divide. They are members of Christ Church United Methodist on Brownsboro Road in the East End. For the past year, this has been their home away from home.

Champion says, “It was a mess. It really was a shambles with plaster was coming off the walls.”

At WHAS, we've been covering The Blue House for a year. We noticed cracked walls, heavy mold, peeling plaster and chipped paint. But in this dark and cramped space, for 20 years, the music never stopped.

The Blue House is an afternoon violin program for West End kids. Parents told us it has saved lives, keeping kids off streets, all under the volunteer direction of former orchestra veteran Keith Cook who now marvels at the new hardwood flooring, everything installed free of charge.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 19

Team's strategic talent tackles stereotypes in West End with all the right moves

Obstacles are downright annoying: they get in our way, slow us down and they come in many forms, like a major obstacle west of 9th St. in Louisville.

It's called perception and it's not always positive.

"A lot of people have a negative view of Louisville being violent; " one resident said of generalized and often unfair perceptions of Louisville's West End, "It's not true for all of Louisville."

It is certainly not true for one group near 15th St. and Broadway where this is plenty of learning about obstacles and how to get around them. The building, which is operated by the Louisville Urban League, houses meetings for the West Louisville Chess Club.

The popular game is an avenue for beginners and veterans alike to learn a lot about themselves and about life.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 20

Kentucky's first blind judge retires, leaving powerful legacy in the court system

As a Jefferson County Judge wraps up his time on the bench, he leaves behind a legacy that will continue serving a community that desperately needs it.

For the man who's made a career out of standing up for others- the ritual welcoming him into his courtroom is especially fitting.

“All rise,” the bailiff said, the judge walked into his courtroom.

"Thank you very much," Jefferson County District Judge David Holton replied

Judge Holton's quirky demeanor has been creating a comfortable courtroom in Jefferson County for the better part of a decade.

"It's been my honor, my distinct honor. The honor of a lifetime to do what I've done,” Holton said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 21

ALIENS? Eclipse date also marks Kelly Incident anniversary

On August 21, 2017, the day the sky went dark during a rare total solar eclipse, brought 2 minutes 40.1 seconds of darkness to Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

People from around the world headed to Western Kentucky the take in the sights.

But on that same date 62 years ago, on the edge of Hopkinsville, there was an unexplained encounter and a shootout between a family and what they described as beings from another world.

The farmhouse no longer stands but the legend has new life thanks to the eclipse.

It was a hot Sunday night at the farmhouse in Kelly, KY. Eleven people were inside including Elmer “Lucky” Sutton, his wife and friends Billy Ray and June Taylor. The two couples worked the carnival and a stop in Evansville, Indiana left them near Lucky's hometown and a chance to visit and grab a home-cooked meal.

But what would happen on that steamy summer evening would change their lives forever and become the focus of a global debate.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 22

The one thing Mitch McConnell and John Yarmuth have in common

Does our divided country need a “Popcorn Summit”?

As we headed into Academy Awards weekend, we began wondering about the favorite political movies of your elected officials.

Here was the premise: At a time in which our nation is divided over politics, can we agree upon one thing? Can we agree upon a good movie?

Two of the most powerful lawmakers from Kentucky used to work closely together, but US Congressman John Yarmuth and US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have well-publicized differences these days.

We asked Rep. Yarmuth and Sen. McConnell the same question we asked several other Kentucky lawmakers, what is your favorite political movie and why?

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 23

A dying wish: Terminally ill man hopes to legally adopt his 44-year-old stepson

For many, it's a title given at birth and sometimes taken for granted, but for one Spencer County family, it is now a dying wish. One terminally ill father wants to legally adopt his adult son before his time is up.

Time can be a mysterious thing, sometimes appearing generous.

"We had talked about it nine years ago and it sort of died off. We didn't talk about it much and it kind of died off. After the fact it was something that was brought up and then it just never happened," Stacy Estel said.

But eventually, time takes a turn. Estel said, "There's a lot of struggles that he's faced with now that a month ago he might not have had. Its just gone really fast."

It's a harsh reminder that even for the strongest, time is limited.

"When death is standing at your door and you're starting to think about the things you maybe should have done but you didn't do, that's when you start to try to knock off everything that you can," Estel said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Related: Terminally ill man adopts his adult stepson, his dying wish granted

Chapter 24

Cardinals fan receives kidney from Wildcats fan

It is no secret where Ed Johnston's allegiance lies when it comes to college sports. He can usually be seen wearing his Cardinal red, but it's what's underneath that makes his story so special. The grandfather of three was born with only one kidney.

"I actually lived a normal life," he said. "I just couldn't play contact sports and a few of those things."

It was around four years earlier when Johnston's health started to take a turn for the worse. Doctors told him he would need to start looking for a kidney transplant or start undergoing dialysis once his kidneys started functioning at less than 20 percent. Seeking to avoid dialysis, Johnston was placed on the donor list in March.

"I had quite a few donors that stepped up--my friends, relatives, family members," he said. "And they were all declined."

Johnston said he was hoping to find a living donor, which would drastically shorten his time waiting on a kidney, but with his options dwindling, he was preparing for the long wait for a kidney from a deceased donor, which could take four years or even longer.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 25

Louisville therapist reveals the power of the beat through music

Brian Schreck is a music therapist at Norton Cancer Institute, easing the pain for so many with a life-altering diagnosis.

Schreck records the heartbeats of his patients and creates a magical rhythm, one that brings life back into the sterile and often times lonely environment for people facing the end of life.

His work has gained the attention of filmmakers from New York, Substratum Films, currently in the process of the documentary, The Beat of the Heart. It focuses on Schreck's work and the personal connections he makes with each of his patients. Angela Woodward is one of them.

"How hard it is to leave somebody, but I don't have any choice. So we're doing things that make us happy because you need to live until you die," Woodward said, in the documentary.

"I want this to feel like a piece that's as original as they are sometimes," Schreck said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 26

Students harmonize their support for grieving teacher

The story behind a group of students singing at St. Francis School in Goshen was a reminder there are plenty of reasons to smile.

A teacher suffered a personal tragedy and the students wanted to show their solidarity. The school asked WHAS11 not to identify the teacher or be specific about the tragic event, but wanted to share the student's efforts.

“Compassion is part of our mission at St. Francis,” one school official said, “The students really wanted to show their love for him and how much they're thinking about him and they wanted to share that in song and they know that 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' is the teacher and his wife's favorite song.”

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 27

Bow tie business turns teen's passion into profession

After school activities come in all shapes and sizes. For Ethan Thomas, a junior at Floyd Central High School, they happen in his bedroom turned workshop.

“I'd always grew up having that passion for fashion if you will. I had always really cared about what I looked like and liked dressing up a lot,” Ethan said.

It's a passion that a present promoted to a profession.

"When I was 14, I got my very first bow tie. I really loved the way it looked,” Ethan said. “I got into them for a more practical reason. I wore neckties a lot in middle school, and they would always get dirty because they would get into my food at lunch.”

Ever the innovator, the teenager thought why buy a bow tie when you can make one.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 28

More than 3,000 gather for Officer Nick Rodman's funeral

The community gathered at Southeast Christian Church in Eastern Jefferson County to remember a Louisville Metro Police officer who died one day after being injured in a serious crash while chasing a suspect.

Chapter 29

iTeam: Asian Carp invasion continues to grow

With the sun out and the water warming up, we are hitting the boating season.

However, that comes with the threat of getting hit in the head by very big flying fish.

The state has issued warnings to boaters, water skiers, and tubers.

Silver Carp, or Asian Carp, are flourishing in the Ohio River and other summer hot spots, including Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

A recent fish survey by state and federal fisheries biologists on Kentucky Lake found that the carp are spawning, growing, and expanding in numbers.

Asian Carp by the schools often get spooked out the water by boat engines.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 30

Bardstown wants answers in murder mysteries

The town voted most beautiful in America has been rocked by something very ugly—almost sinister.

Bardstown, Ky. is the epicenter of several unsolved cases. It began with Officer Ellis' murder. A year later, Kathy and Samantha Netherland, a mother and daughter, were murdered inside their home outside Bardstown. Crystal Rogers has been missing since July of 2015, and her father, Tommy Ballard, was shot and killed last November.

The State Police Commissioner of Kentucky, Rick Sanders, said it is unusual for this many unsolved cases in a three to four-year time frame, and so close together. His agency is in charge of all these cases except for Crystal Rogers.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Chapter 31

One year later: Sherry Ballard remembers late husband

A bittersweet day. Greetings, tears, hugs and 500 new shirts.

“I don't know if he would've worn the pink,” Sherry Ballard laughed. “He would've been very proud of the shirts.”

Sunday will mark one year since Sherry lost her husband Tommy who was shot and killed when he left to go hunting with their grandson.

“I remember I was getting ready to go back to bed because it was early and I said out loud, 'God, please watch over them out in the woods,'” Sherry said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.