Top 13 stories of 2012

Peyton Manning
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WTHR is counting down the top 13 stories of 2012. We'll add a new one every day until the end of the year.

13. Right to work

On February 1st, Indiana became the 23rd "right to work" state, when lawmakers voted to allow Indiana workers to decide for themselves if they want to join a union.

Protestors filled the Statehouse and union members argued that right to work would mean lower wages for Indiana workers. The proposal won by six votes in the Indiana Senate and ten votes in the House.

Indiana became the first rust belt state to become right to work. Michigan became the second later in the year.

12. Mitch Daniels goes to Purdue

Governor Mitch Daniels was named the next president of Purdue University. He will become president when he leaves the governor's office next month. The Purdue Board of Trustees made the announcement on June 21st. Just last week, the board approved his $420,000 contract.

11. Indiana Fever win WNBA Championship

The Fever brought Indiana its first pro basketball championship since the Pacers captured the ABA title in 1973. The Fever won the WNBA Finals series 3-1 over the Minnesota Lynx.

10. Boudia gets gold

Noblesville native David Boudia brought home an Olympic gold in July. It came down to just six dives, and from the start, Boudia took the lead in a very close, intense competition. He performed a near-perfect final dive, edging out China and Great Britain in the men's ten-meter platform.

9. Indiana State Fair stage collapse - final report

The final report on the Indiana State Fair stage collapse came out in April. The report pointed out what was to blame for the tragedy that killed seven people in August 2011.

Engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti pointed to several failures. Concrete Jersey barriers -- like the ones used in construction zones -- did not meet requirements to resist high winds. There were also questions about the cables that were supposed to keep the stage in place. Investigators also mentioned the lack of horizontal bracing to stabilize the structure. Industry standards call for stages to withstand wind speeds of 68 miles an hour, but the night of the collapse, the wind speed was just 59 miles an hour.

8. Tim Durham conviction

Indianapolis businessman Tim Durham was convicted of fraud for spending more than $200 million that people invested in his business, Fair Finance. In December, he was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison. He's now appealing that sentence.

7. Drought of 2012

Indiana, along with the rest of the Midwest, experienced the worst drought in over 50 years during the summer of 2012. Local reservoirs were several feet below normal, leading to watering bans in several cities and towns including Indianapolis. Corn and soybean farmers reported very small yields and many were forced to plow up their fields long before the usual harvesting time.

By December, the National Weather Service said 17 counties in northern Indiana were still experiencing moderate drought, and it remained abnormally dry in about 30 more counties south of Indianapolis.

Associate state climatologist Ken Scheeringa says a drought like this year's only comes around three or four times every hundred years. But just in case, Citizens Energy Group official Lindsay Lindgren says the utility that supplies much of central Indiana with water is researching the possibility of tapping into other water sources like the Ohio and Wabash rivers.

6. Lugar upset

Sen. Richard Lugar's upset in the May primary helped shift the political landscape in Indiana in two ways.

Lugar was the longest-serving senator in Indiana's history, but faced a challenge from fellow Republican Richard Mourdock, who had strong Tea Party support. Lugar lost to Mourdock in the primary, but Democrats saw an opening in Indiana they wouldn't otherwise have had if Lugar had retained his position.

The national parties poured money into the Senate race in Indiana, and Democrat Joe Donnelly pulled out a win over Mourdock in the November election, 50-44 percent. Some polls pointed to a close race and Mourdock appeared to be ahead at times, but his comments in a debate about pregnancy resulting from rape being "something that God intended" generated public outcry. That may have sealed Mourdock's fate in the election, with some Republican voters switching their vote to Donnelly.

5. Peyton Manning leaves Indianapolis

After playing his entire career for the Colts, star quarterback Peyton Manning signed a five-year $96 million deal with the Denver Broncos earlier this year. Colts owner Jim Irsay cut Manning rather than pay a $28 million bonus. The Colts went 2-14 while Manning sat out the season with a neck injury last year.

Manning said he never wanted to leave Indianapolis. He also said the Broncos convinced him they were "committed to winning" and that they also have a great fan base. He said it's a "special football environment" and he was glad to be a part of it.

4. Colts' storybook season

After 2011's bleak season without Peyton Manning, no one expected much from the newly rebuilt Colts team. But rookie quarterback Andrew Luck helped lead this young team to the playoffs. At 10-5, the Colts have done better than most NFL analysts predicted.

The real story of the season came on a bye week with the staggering news that Coach Chuck Pagano was fighting leukemia. A few months later, his doctors cleared him to return after successful treatment.

Inspired, the Colts vowed a playoff run and backed it up by beating Green Bay. It was just beginning of a stunning run. After the Jets brought them back down to earth, the Colts found their stride, winning four games straight. Let's not forget Vick Ballard's amazing overtime leap over the Titans.

Emotions hit a high as Pagano witnessed his team's sprint past the Bills and delivered a stirring locker-room speech.

"When you decided consciously as a team and as a family to live in a vision, and that's when you bring things home like you brought home today. That's why you're already champions," he told the team.

3. Richmond Hill explosion

On Nov. 10th, a huge explosion rocked the Richmond Hill subdivision on the Indianapolis south side, killing Dion and Jennifer Longworth, injuring others and damaging or destroying dozens of homes. Three people have been charged with deliberately blowing up the house, and prosecutors say they attempted to do it the week before the explosion, but failed. Monserrate Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard and his brother Robert Leonard Jr. all face felony murder and arson charges. A trial is pending.

2. Henryville tornado

Storms tore through southern Indiana on March 2nd, causing an EF4 tornado that flattened the town of Henryville and caused similar devastation in nearby Marysville. Thirteen Hoosiers died, dozens more were injured and hundreds of structures were damaged or destroyed.

The twister was on the ground for more than 50 miles, destroying homes, churches, schools and farms. Henryville Elementary and the junior/senior high school were decimated in the storm. The roof came off the high school gym, leaving it exposed to the elements. A school bus was thrown into a restaurant across the street from where it was parked.

Some bus drivers became heroes, saving children from danger. Stephanie Decker threw herself over her children, saving them from harm but losing parts of her own legs in the process. She has since made an inspiring recovery that has been documented on national news.

Wayne Hunter died protecting his wife from the storm.

"We told each other that we loved each other and we were holding onto each other. Then we immediately at the same time said my ears are popping. And that was it, you know. You felt the force," said Leonora Hunter.

In the weeks that followed, churches became havens for supplies and recovery. Volunteer work crews from across the country cleared debris. Donations for the disaster poured in from generous Hoosiers, many through the WTHR Cares campaign. Months later, the school is rebuilt and back open. New homes have been built, including several just dedicated through Habitat for Humanity.

It's still a long road to recovery for the small communities that were impacted by the storm.

1. Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis

Maybe the 2012 Super Bowl is memorable as much for what didn't happen as what did occur. There was no snow or ice storm. No major traffic tie-ups. No big glitches to report as Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl for the first time in February. Tens of thousands of visitors poured into the Circle City for Super Bowl Village and dozens of related events as the city geared up for the Giants-Patriots match-up (the Giants won, to the delight of Manning family fans, 21–17).

The weather cooperated with above-freezing temps and no precipitation, creating conditions as close to perfect as you can get for winter in Indianapolis. A downtown zipline sold out every day and proved hugely popular. Fans flocked downtown at night to view the Roman numerals on Monument Circle, proving that it was no longer Naptown. The city successfully coordinated security and logistics for events like the NFL Experience and live music, attracting local residents as well as out-of-town visitors. Thousands of volunteers worked the streets and airport to greet visitors with a Hoosier welcome and helpful information.

In all, Indianapolis pulled off a gigantic group effort that has Mayor Greg Ballard talking about another Super Bowl bid in the not-too-distant future. Stay tuned, and happy new year!

See a slide show of images from the year's top stories here.