2011 was filled with scandal, heartbreak, triumph – and the bizarre.
Only in South Florida could the Miami police chief be fired amid a bitter feud between him and the mayor who appointed him, or the region’s top football program get embroiled in a booster scandal involving a convicted Ponzi schemer.
And we haven’t even mentioned the vanity (stay with us for more on that).
Here is NBC Miami’s list of the top 11 local stories of 2011:
1) Kicking off our top 11 of ’11 is a New Year’s prank that had the whole nation abuzz: the grand mystery of the burned-out piano unfolded in the middle of Biscayne Bay on a sandbar.
Who put it there and why?
Locals, bloggers, and journalists set out to find the answer, only to learn that the visually arresting oddity was pulled off by a bunch of drunken teens trying to get rid of Dad’s old piano.
2) Weeks later, a shootout killed two police officers, and brought a heartbroken community together.
Thousands of people filled AmericanAirlines Arena Jan. 24 to say farewell to longtime Miami-Dade police officers Roger Castillo and Amanda Haworth, who were gunned down while serving a search warrant at the home of a murder suspect in Liberty City. The suspect, Johnny Simms, was killed by another officer.
3) Valentine’s Day exposed Florida’s most horrific case of child abuse.
The nation learned about an adopted girl who was tortured to death after falling through the cracks of the foster care system. Nubia Barahona, 10, was found in a trash bag in the back of her adoptive father’s pickup truck on I-95 after being beaten to death.
Her twin brother, Victor, was found in the front seat – barely alive with chemical burns all over his body. Their adoptive parents have been charged with first-degree murder and are awaiting trial.
4) What’s a year in South Florida without scandals and controversy in local politics?
Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito was fired in September after nearly two years of battling with Mayor Tomas Regalado, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez was recalled, and Miami-Dade Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones returned to office after corruption charges against her were dropped.
Expect a big year full of elections in 2012 – and probably a few scandals no one saw coming.
5) Police officers and their shenanigans kept the news media busy as well in 2011.
Miami Beach police officer Derick Kuilan was accused of taking a drunken ATV joyride on South Beach during the 4th of July weekend. The fired cop will go on trial next year for plowing the ATV into two vacationing bystanders and seriously injuring them.
6) In October, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper drew her gun on a Miami Police officer and arrested him for reckless driving – and it was all caught on dash-cam video.
A month later, a Miami Police officer pulled over a FHP trooper.
7) In the world of big-time college sports, the University of Miami’s football team was entangled in a booster scandal.
Convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro came forward saying he had given millions in illicit benefits to Hurricanes players, including cash and prostitutes. Eight players were suspended, and UM is cooperating with the NCAA in its investigation.
8) One of the biggest downers of the year was Miami’s superstar-laden team failing to bring the Heat in the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks in June.
Expectations were high for the Big 3, but they fell short against Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs in six games. The pressure is on LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh to bring home a title in 2012.
9) South Florida is known for its quick-changing weather, but the tornadoes in Sunrise caught all of us by surprise on an October night.
The rare twister, with 120-mph winds, damaged 50 homes, ripping roofs off and snapping trees in half. Only minor injuries were reported.
10) Here was another surprise: learning your flight attendant’s a fake!
The feds said Joseph Porter, an illegal immigrant from Guyana, posed as a Miami-based American Eagle flight attendant by using a fake name and passport to land his job. The 38-year-old began serving an eight-month sentence in September.
11) Last but not least, Miami was recently voted “the vainest city in America,” so it’s no coincidence the most talked about story of 2011 had to do with … fake butt injections.
The bizarre details included cement and Fix-a-Flat being injected into the rear ends of transgendered women in Miami by a transgendered woman with, well, a large backside.
Only in South Florida.