Of Course It Happened In Florida: Remembering The Zombies, Club Horses, And Rabid Otters Of 2018
Nobody does quirky news stories like Florida does. And from the Great Lake Worth Zombie Scare of 2018, to the one about the horse who walked into a bar, the past 12 months of headlines have been no exception.
As is tradition for us this time of year, we're taking a moment here in this South Florida newsroom to reflect on the year in oddball stories—the ones that tickled us, or left us shaking our heads, or made us say, "this is why we can't have nice things."
Join us for a spell as we walk down Weird Memory Lane and revisit the only-in-Florida stories that stuck with us in 2018:
Zombies Attack Lake Worth!
Christine DiMattei, morning anchor
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a total horror movie fan. I mean ever since I was a little kid, just love Stephen King, just love every sort of horror movie imaginable.
So as you can imagine, I was very interested in the news in May 2018 that about 7,000 people who live in Lake Worth received a power outage notice that also included a warning about zombies in the city and also zombies and terminus—and if you're a Walking Dead fan, you know exactly what that is.
City officials released a formal statement that there was indeed no zombie activity in Lake Worth. Which is good news because I love Lake Worth, too. I mean the LW is a totally cool place.
To the best of my knowledge, they never did find out who was responsible for that message. You know, I'm going to bet even money it was Daryl Dixon. Seems like the sort of thing he would do.
Soccer Is For The Birds
Nancy Klingener, southernmost reporter
Back in September, the Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami (or InterMiami, our new soccer team), unveiled their new crest—and it has birds on it that are standing back to back with their legs interlocked.
And these birds are great white herons, which is really cool because that's an only-in-South Florida bird. But it's also a little weird because in the bird world, it's not even considered its own species anymore.
John James Audubon, the naturalist and bird painter, first identified the great white heron in the Florida Keys in the 1930s. And in 1938, the federal government even named a national wildlife refuge Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, which still exists in the lower Keys.
But in 1973 the American Ornithologists Union decided that the great white heron was not really a separate kind of bird, it's a subspecies of the great blue heron which is really common all across the United States.
That means people who keep lists of the different kinds of birds they see—and some people do this competitively—can't list the great white heron.
The team says they picked them because they're tenacious, stoic and intelligent, and strike with fierce accuracy.
The president of the American Birding Association told me he thinks that's cool.
Mad Science Mangoes
Alejandra Martinez, associate producer for Sundial
I'm new to South Florida, and among the dozens of things that I have learned about this region, one of the most interesting I have come across—and only seen here—is that "mango expert" is a professional here.
I mean, my love for mangoes has always been serious, but never to the extent that it is here in South Florida. The delicious tropical fruit has people climbing up trees to get the best batch, and it even has a mango doctor conducting genetic research to create the perfect one: the mango of the future.
Bridget O'Brien, producer
When it comes to Miami politics, I thought I could no longer be surprised.
Enter Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera.
She was one of the many candidates running for the highly sought-after South Florida congressional seat left vacant by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. But before her bid, Rodriguez Aguilera appeared on Spanish language television to drop a bombshell revelation: she said that as a child, she was abducted by aliens. She described the extraterrestrials as tall, and full figured, and said they spoke with her telepathically.
Still the Miami Herald's editorial board endorsed Rodriguez Aguilera in the Republican primary for District 27 saying she was the most qualified candidate of the bunch.
Mangoes Are A Serious Public Health Threat
Alexander Gonzalez, producer
What I'll remember is that there's actually a dark side to mango season in the summer.
WLRN reporter Danny Rivero spoke with a doctor from Jackson Memorial Hospital, and it turns out, they get patients that have accidents related to mango picking. Most of the accidents are falls, and sometimes people get electrocuted by power lines found within mango trees.
So next time mango season rolls around, ask FPL to trim your trees or bring a friend to help.
And if all else fails, maybe wear a helmet.
Because How Could We Not Include The Recount?
Caitie Switalski, Broward County reporter
So there was a little thing that happened this year. You may have heard of it: an election recount?
Ballot counting took Broward Elections officials days after other counties had finished. A lot of the country was asking if we can count in Broward. And the recount numbers didn't even match the original count, because somewhere in the Lauderhill elections warehouse, thousands of ballots got mislabeled and misfiled.
To top it all off, the office missed a state deadline by two minutes.
Conchy The Flamingo And The Mystery Of The Pink Birds
Nancy Klingener, southernmost reporter
Conchy the Flamingo showed up at the Navy base in Key West and he wouldn't leave.
And that's a problem, because big birds like flamingos can get sucked into the engines of Navy jets, which is very bad for the Flamingo, obviously, and also could crash an $80 million Navy jet.
The folks from Zoo Miami came down and they captured Conchy. Then they wanted to release him, and the state said, "no, that's a problem because they're not native birds."
So Conchy ended up inspiring a scientific study to show that flamingos, which were definitely in Florida in the 1400s, were in fact, still in Florida. And that the ones that you see in the Everglades and the Florida Keys are not escapees from the Hialeah racetrack or elsewhere.
Conchy ended up being released into Everglades National Park. Flamingos live in south Florida.
Good News: Kendall Has An Otter. Bad News: It's Rabid.
Luis Hernandez, anchor and host
My weird news story of 2018, if you can call it that, is something that hit quite close to home for me because it's happening in Kendall, not far from where I live.
Earlier this fall, health officials found that there were raccoons that had rabies. I try to stay as far away from raccoons as possible. Then they also found an otter that had rabies.
Yes. A Florida river otter with rabies.
By the way, rabies itself is not something to laugh at—it's quite serious, and if a human being is bitten by a creature that has rabies, they better get medical treatment as soon as possible.
I walk around Kendall, I'm watching for raccoons and now I'm watching out for otters.
That Time A Tiger Went To Prom
Katie Lepri, WLRN engagement producer
The story that's stuck in my mind right now is actually about a tiger that showed up to prom at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami.
The "Welcome to the Jungle" prom wasn't exactly about Guns'N'Roses. There were some jugglers with fire, and then there was a tiger on the dance floor. And it was kind of just sitting there, in this tiny little cage.
A video of the tiger surfaced on social media.
There was lemur and a fox and parrots as well.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, got involved and the principal did end up giving an apology.
That's one you'll remember, one for the books.
A Horse Walks Into A Bar
Danny Rivero, reporter
There was a video that went viral of a horse being trotted in the middle of Club Mokai, which is a nightclub in Miami Beach, with a woman with a thong on it.
The lights and the music start going crazy and the horse starts flipping out. And he bucks himself and the woman on top falls off. Turns out, some people were injured.
A lot of people, they said that it was it was animal cruelty and the City of Miami Beach felt the same way. They temporarily shut down the club. They fined it over $12,000.
The owner of the club issued an apology actually bought the horse. Apparently now he keeps it at his own ranch.
It's just the perfect Miami/Miami Beach story about the excesses of nightlife.
I hope the horse is not forced to listen to EDM right now.
Python Hunting As A Career Choice
Chris Remington, producer of Sundial
I moved to South Florida in April. One of the first things I did was take a trip to the Everglades. And I remember somebody telling me there are these giant Burmese pythons that are eating ALL of the animals in the Everglades.
I was like, "well that's completely insane."
They're not from here. No natural predators. So to get rid of them, they are literally paying people to be python hunters. Fifty bucks for anything under four feet and then $25 per foot as it grows in size.
And I know they just captured a 17-foot one. So that guy probably did pretty well for himself.
I don't know if I could do it. A lot of the hunters, most of them actually, don't go with weapons. They just go and wrestle the snakes themselves. Because it's a challenge to do it. And I don't think I have it in me.
Let's Hope This Isn't A New Tactic For Dodging Questions
Terence Shepherd, news director
I'd like to talk about a story that happened back in August. I'll read the headline for you: "This Florida senator didn't like the Miami Herald's coverage—so she called the cops."
Here's the story: incumbent Democrat Daphne Campbell appeared at a candidates' forum in North Miami Beach. According to a police officer who arrived on the scene, Campbell called the cops because she was being threatened by a woman wearing a floral dress—Miami Herald reporter Sarah Blaskey.
So at a press conference, she called the cops on a reporter.
Police arrested no one and Campbell lost the primary election.
Is This Satire? It's Hard To Tell.
Alicia Zuckerman, editorial director
Some of the stories I've been thinking about this year come from the Plantain—that's the South Florida satirical news site. Sometimes when we're talking about the news in South Florida it can be really hard to tell what's satire and what's not.
As somebody who takes public transit here in South Florida, this story in particular caught my eye: Miami Dade County Will Run Buses On Time As Art Basel Performance Piece.
Now the irony of this story is that Art Basel makes everything a traffic nightmare, and the buses are actually a lot less likely to run on time during Art Basel.
It was a great headline.
Sammy Mack, reporter
The story I keep coming back to is one about Miami Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
Earlier this year, he gets offered a job running New York City Schools. He accepts it. But then there's this intense school board meeting as the news is breaking. All these kids come in and beg him to stay. Twitter starts calling it the #CarvalhoShow.
Then Carvalho disappears, comes back, and announces he's staying here.
So. Much. Drama.
First LeBron, but then, Carvalho? Is this how we take a job in Miami now?
Anyway, we found out later there was a dispute over the benefits package he was offered. So there's that.
Happy New Year, everyone!
Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified the South Florida satirical news site--it is the Plantain, not the Plantation.