Austin’s top stories of 2016: No. 3: Voters say no to Uber, Lyft and yes to road bonds

YEAR IN REVIEW

COUNTING DOWN AUSTIN’S 10 BIGGEST STORIES

We’re counting down Austin’s 10 biggest stories of the year as chosen by American-Statesman reporters and editors. We’ll unveil one story each day through Jan. 1. 

Today: We announce No. 3 | Previously in our countdown: No. 4

Caption for 5/14 Leader: Both Lyft and Uber stated it would continue service outside of Austin city limits following the failed Proposition 1 vote. But both ridesharing companies prohibit their drivers from dropping off anyone in Austin. A vehicle displays both Uber and Lyft on 4th Street Friday, May 6, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American Statesman)
The Uber and Lyft icons are no longer visible in Austin after the companies decided to end service here after failing to overturn a city ordinance mandating security standards for ride-hailing companies. STEPHEN SPILLMAN / FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

When ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft objected to a new Austin ordinance requiring fingerprinting of drivers, a petition drive sent the matter to voters in a May election.

uberfrontThe bitter campaign that followed was the most expensive in the city’s history — more than $10 million spent in support of the ride-hailing companies. Fifty-seven percent of voters sided with the city and its requirements for ride companies.

Two days after the vote, Uber and Lyft carried out their campaign threat by deactivating their apps in Austin. Seven months later, they haven’t come back.

Austin voters were back at the polls in November with another transportation question, and 59 percent approved borrowing $720 million for local transportation projects. The bond will provide an unprecedented amount of money for roads all over the city, as well as trail and transit improvements.

Our coverage

Feb. 17: Sparring over Uber, Lyft rules in Austin extends to ballot language

April 8: Wear: Don’t mess up your vote: Here’s what Uber, Lyft ballot question means

May 8: Prop. 1 goes down as activist proclaims: ‘Austin made Uber an example’

May 9: Uber joins Lyft in suspending Austin service

July 18: Final Prop 1 tab for Uber, Lyft tops $10 million

July 22: We tested 7 post-Uber/Lyft ride-hailing apps

Aug. 18: Divided Austin City Council puts $720 million bond on November ballot

Oct. 7: How officials, opponents came up with tax impact of Austin road bond

Nov. 20: Deja Uber: Legislators look to override local ride-hailing rules

Nov. 9: Austin transportation bond passes with 59.1 percent of the vote

Austin’s top stories of 2016: No. 4: Slaying on UT campus

YEAR IN REVIEW

COUNTING DOWN AUSTIN’S 10 BIGGEST STORIES

We’re counting down Austin’s 10 biggest stories of the year as chosen by American-Statesman reporters and editors. We’ll unveil one story each day through Jan. 1. 

Today: We announce No. 4 | Previously in our countdown: No. 5

April 07, 2016 - L B Flett, 19, a dance major, left, is hugged by John Peyton Pou, 18, center, and Jackie Roth, 20, right, following a vigil in honor of Texas student, Haruka J. Weiser, held at the University of Texas at Austin, on Thursday, April 7, 2016. Weiser, is the18-year-old dance major who was identified as the homicide victim found at Waller Creek two days ago. RODOLFO GONZALEZ /AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
University of Texas students console each other after a vigil in honor of slain student Haruka Weiser on April 7. RODOLFO GONZALEZ /AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The University of Texas was shaken in April when the body of 18-year-old freshman dance student Haruka Weiser was found in a creek that runs through campus  — slain on a Sunday night while walking back to her dorm. It was the first homicide on the UT campus since the 1966 Tower shooting.harukaweiserfront

After several nervous and emotional days on campus, police arrested an 18-year-old runaway, Meechaiel Criner, and charged him with capital murder.

The case prompted an internal review at Texas Child Protective Services, which had custody of Criner. He had been living in a therapeutic foster home in Killeen but disappeared 10 days before the UT slaying.

It also prompted a safety review by the University of Texas, which called for hiring more police and security guards, improving lighting on campus, tightening access to buildings and developing policies aimed at reducing the presence of homeless people on campus.

Our coverage

April 7: Woman found dead is UT freshman Haruka Weiser; police seek man in case

April 8: Surveillance video shows suspect following slain UT student

April 13: UT murder suspect Meechaiel Criner called chronic foster care runaway

April 21: New details emerge in 70-mile trek of 17-year-old UT murder suspect

May 19: Unsealed search warrants provide details about Haruka Weiser killing

Aug. 31: UT security review calls for more police, fewer homeless on campus

Map and timeline: Details of the UT slaying

Austin’s top stories of 2016: No. 5: Racial tensions over police

YEAR IN REVIEW

COUNTING DOWN AUSTIN’S 10 BIGGEST STORIES

We’re counting down Austin’s 10 biggest stories of the year as chosen by American-Statesman reporters and editors. We’ll unveil one story each day through Jan. 1. 

Today: We announce No. 5 | Previously in our countdown: No. 6

People listen to a speaker at a rally held outside the Travis county courthouse on Wednesday, May 18, 2016, to protest a grand jury's decision not to indict APD officer Geoffrey Freeman in the death of teenager David Joseph. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN
Protesters rally outside the Travis County Courthouse after a grand jury decided not to indict police officer Geoffrey Freeman in the death of teenager David Joseph. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN

Two years of growing headlines over police shootings and a burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement boiled over in the summer of 2016 with a spate of deaths of black men and the slaying of five Dallas police officers.

In Austin, two cases of police use of force dominated the news.davidjosephfront

First, a police officer responding to a disturbance call encountered 17-year-old David Joseph, who was naked and unarmed. Dashcam video showed Joseph ignoring officer Geoffrey Freeman’s commands and then running toward the officer. Freeman shot and killed Joseph in the middle of a street  — a shooting that led to an immediate firestorm over Freeman’s use of lethal force. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, saying the officer’s conduct was not warranted, fired Freeman, a 10-year veteran of the department. A grand jury chose not to indict the officer.

In June, an American-Statesman investigation revealed the violent arrest of teacher Breaion King by an Austin police officer. Videotape of the arrest, which went unreported when it occurred in June 2015, showed officer Bryan Richter removing King from her car and twice throwing her to the ground because she refused to close her car door. In the patrol car after her arrest, a second officer, Patrick Spradlin, told King that police are sometimes wary of blacks because of their “violent tendencies.”

Our coverage

Feb. 9: Teen killed by officer identified as David Joseph, 17

March 11: Activists, family of teen shot by officer rally outside City Hall

March 21: Austin police fire officer who fatally shot naked teen David Joseph

May 17: Jury declines to charge Austin cop who shot unarmed teen David Joseph

June 30: Police report sheds light on teen’s mental state

July 21: Violent arrest of teacher caught on video; officers face investigation

Aug. 30: Breaion King sues officer, city of Austin over violent arrest

Sept. 24: Art Acevedo defends firing of Austin officer in David Joseph shooting

Oct. 20: Forceful talk: Acevedo vents to commanders over minority policing failures

Nov. 2: Officer who shot naked, unarmed teen David Joseph: ‘I defended myself’

Austin’s top stories of 2016: No. 6: Rock throwing on I-35

YEAR IN REVIEW

COUNTING DOWN AUSTIN’S 10 BIGGEST STORIES

We’re counting down Austin’s 10 biggest stories of the year as chosen by American-Statesman reporters and editors. We’ll unveil one story each day through Jan. 1. 

Today: We announce No. 6 | Previously in our countdown: No. 7

A sign on I-35 in downtown Austin on Thursday June 9, 2016, warns drivers to stay alert for rock throwing. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
A sign on I-35 in downtown Austin on June 9 warns drivers to stay alert for rock throwing. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

rockthrowfrontFor two years, the case bedeviled Austin police. Reports of rocks being thrown through windshields on Interstate 35 would arrive sporadically. Over the years, 94 incidents were reported as the mystery of rock throwing continued.

In May 2016, the rock throwing began to spike  — nearly 30 reported incidents that month  —  and police doubled their efforts. In the end, a bit of luck resulted in the arrest of rock-throwing suspect Patrick Eugene Johnson.

The break in the case came when a University of Texas police officer driving on I-35 saw a rock being thrown and activated his patrol car’s videotape system, allowing police to identify the rock thrower’s model of car.

The 59-year-old Johnson already had lengthy criminal record and was well known to police and others for his interest in the enforcement of the towing industry; he occasionally even appeared before the Austin City Council to rail about abusive towing. He was also known for making serial reports to police, calling 911 more than 1,000 times. Johnson was also charged in an unrelated sexual assault of a child. He was later convicted and received a 99-year sentence for that crime.

In a letter to the Statesman, Johnson said he was willing to confess to throwing the rocks to avoid another trial.

Our coverage

May 31: 5 things to know about rock-throwing incidents

June 16: Rock-throwing suspect is towing activist, fixture at City Hall

June 17: How a step back and fresh eyes cracked Austin rock-throwing case

Interactive: Map of rock-throwing incidents

June 24: Rock-throwing suspect called 911 over 1,100 times

Sept. 22: I-35 rock-throwing suspect guilty in sexual assault

Oct. 5: Austin rock-throwing suspect says he wants to confess

Austin’s biggest stories of 2016: No. 9: Coaching change for the Longhorns

YEAR IN REVIEW

COUNTING DOWN AUSTIN’S 10 BIGGEST STORIES

We’re counting down Austin’s 10 biggest stories of the year as chosen by American-Statesman reporters and editors. We’ll unveil one story each day through Jan. 1. 

Today: We announce No. 9 | Previously in our countdown: No. 10

UT defensive end Breckyn Hager consoles Head Coach Charlie Strong after their loss to TCU at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Friday November 25, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
UT defensive end Breckyn Hager consoles Head Coach Charlie Strong after their loss to TCU at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Nov. 25. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Charlie Strong’s  third season as coach of the Texas Longhorns was seen as make-or-break even before it began. And it began with a thrilling Texas overtime victory over 11th-ranked Notre Dame — a season-opening bright spot that would belie what lay ahead.

tom-herman-frontWhen the Longhorns suffered an embarrassing overtime loss at Kansas, UT officials began to engineer the exit of one coach and the quick entrance of another.

Just hours after Texas lost its final game to TCU, sealing a third straight losing season under Strong, UT was offering the top job to Tom Herman, who was just wrapping up a second 10-win season at the University of Houston.

Herman, whose coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Texas under Mack Brown, agreed to a five-year contract worth more than $5 million annually that will rise to more than $6 million.

Our coverage

Nov. 20: Source: Texas officials have decided to fire Charlie Strong

Nov. 26: Three and out: Texas fires Charlie Strong

Nov. 27: Tom Herman welcomes the pressure of winning at Texas

Nov. 28: How much is it costing to get Tom Herman? About $19 million

Austin’s biggest stories of 2016: No. 10: Campus carry law

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COUNTING DOWN AUSTIN’S 10 BIGGEST STORIES

We’re counting down Austin’s 10 biggest stories of the year as chosen by American-Statesman reporters and editors. We’ll unveil one story each day through Jan. 1. 

RBB Gun Free 1

On the day that it marked the 50th anniversary of the University of Texas Tower sniper shooting, UT joined other Texas public colleges in implementing rules allowing holders of concealed handgun licenses to carry handguns in campus buildings.

The changes were mandated by the Texas Legislature in 2015 when it passed Scampuscarryfront2enate Bill 11, the so-called campus carry law.

In the year after the law passed, college presidents and boards of regents spent months drafting rules for complying with the law — a period marked by numerous demonstrations in Austin, mostly by opponents of campus carry. Some UT-Austin faculty members lobbied for a ban on handguns in classrooms, but UT President Gregory L. Fenves said that would have amounted to a general prohibition of the weapons on campus, which the law forbids. Three faculty members who want the option of barring handguns from their classrooms sued but ultimately lost.

The new rules went into effect Aug. 1 and sparked new protests once students returned to campus, including one in which UT students wielded sex toys to make a point about what was permitted and what was not at UT these days.

Our coverage

April 12: Haruka Weiser death spurs campus carry debate

May 8: UT System regents unlikely to change campus carry rules much

July 1: How the 1966 Tower sniper attack fueled debate over campus carry at UT

July 29: UT’s controversial campus carry rules go into effect

Aug. 22: Judge rules againts 3 UT professors in campus carry case

Aug. 24: UT students use sex toys to protest campus carry law