Top 10 of 2010

The year wasn't a week old when Mayor Sheila Dixon announced, on Jan. 6, that she was resigning as part of a plea deal to end a corruption investigation. Her exit a month later catapulted City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake into the hot seat as Baltimore's 49th chief executive.

The new mayor's pledge: To "build a better, safer, stronger Baltimore." But first, she had to help the city dig itself out. Back-to-back blizzards dumped several feet of snow, briefly turning Baltimore into Syracuse-on-the- Patapsco.

Later in the year, a different double-whammy -- two major fires -- struck downtown in a span of hours. Miraculously, there were few injuries and no deaths, but just a week later yet another blaze killed six members of one family.

This year also brought its share of high-profile crimes: A doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital was shot and wounded by an elderly patient's distraught son. Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia lacrosse player from Cockeysville, was killed in Charlottesville, Va. An off-duty Baltimore police officer fatally shot an unarmed ex-Marine outside a Mount Vernon nightclub.

And it was a year of political change beyond City Hall. City voters ousted State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy in September's Democratic primary, electing a new top prosecutor, Gregg Bernstein, who declared winning the easy part: "The tough part, making Baltimore safe, starts now."

Some local issues made it all the way to Congress. Questions about the necessity of heart stents implanted by a doctor at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson spurred a U.S. Senate investigation. And The Baltimore Sun revealed a Baltimore police culture of discarding rape reports -- revelations that prompted congressional hearings and sweeping reforms.

Here are the biggest stories of the past year:

Heart stents under scrutiny

Allegations that Dr. Mark G. Midei placed unnecessary stents in hundreds of patients at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson reverberated all the way up to the U.S. Senate, which launched an investigation questioning whether stent maker Abbott Laboratories "indirectly encouraged" superfluous procedures by offering perks and payments.

Midei has denied the accusations, which have yet to be ruled on in court, and an administrative law judge is expected to say by spring whether Midei should keep his medical license. But the case had wide-reaching effects after becoming public in January.

State lawmakers said they plan to pass legislation tightening hospital oversight during the General Assembly session that starts next month. Hospitals across Maryland have revamped internal supervision since Midei's firing for allegedly placing unnecessary cardiac stents, which prop open clogged arteries.

Abbott, which threw a crab feast and a pig roast at Midei's Monkton home, hired him as an overseas consultant, but the press got "too hot" to keep him on board, according to internal e-mails, one of which suggested roughing up a Baltimore Sun columnist covering the story.

Midei and St. Joseph, which sent warning letters to 585 potentially wronged patients, both face dozens of lawsuits, and Midei says no one will hire him. The doctor also sued the hospital that once employed him, claiming it fraudulently ruined his reputation and career.

—Tricia Bishop

Dixon out, Rawlings-Blake in

On a gray February morning, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon sat stiffly as a judge informed her she would be marked with a "badge of dishonor" for the rest of her life. Within hours, Dixon had given up the perks of office, though she managed to take an $83,000 annual pension with her.

City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, vowing to reform the city's ethics policies, was sworn in to succeed her.

The new mayor's signature in the city's leather-bound registry scarcely had time to dry before the first flakes began to fall in a record-breaking pair of blizzards that paralyzed the city — the first of several crises Rawlings-Blake would face as mayor. Soon she was confronted by a $121 million budget shortfall and a beleaguered public safety pension system that sparked a federal lawsuit.

Once a reticent legislator, Rawlings-Blake was thrust into the public eye, managing the city's challenges with quiet poise. She reorganized city departments, fired many Dixon stalwarts and moved swiftly to change the composition and tenure of the city's ethics board.

Dixon, out of the limelight after 23 years in elected office, has been working through 500 hours of community service mandated by her plea.

Her resignation ended a four-year corruption investigation and a protracted legal battle on charges that she stole gift cards from needy families and failed to report lavish gifts from a developer and former boyfriend on city ethics forms.

Barred from holding office for two years while on probation, the former mayor has grown outspokenly critical of the Rawlings-Blake administration as the year progressed — and hinted that she may run again.

—Julie Scharper

Back-to-back blizzards

All those unanswered snow prayers, years of them, were finally answered in 2010. In spades. Shovels. Front-end loaders.

Snow left over from a blizzard in December had not even fully melted when snow began falling Feb. 5. It, too, whipped up to blizzard dimensions. Forecasters called the storm "historic," and predicted accumulations in feet.

By the end of the next day, there were another 25 inches on the ground at BWI Marshall Airport — more in many places. And the region ground to a halt. Maryland was under a state of emergency.

People had barely begun to dig out when, three days later, it started snowing again, an unprecedented third blizzard that forced even plow crews off the roads. By Feb. 10, 19 more inches had fallen.

Runways, interstates, arterial roads and side streets — all were choked. Cars were buried. Houses leaked. Kids played, got bored, longed to go back to schools that were shuttered for a week. Everyone, it seemed, ditched their plans and shoveled.

Marylanders groused about the plows, the inconvenience, even as they marveled at the extraordinary display of raw nature. For a week, Baltimore outranked Syracuse, N.Y., as the nation's snowiest big city.

In the end, the winter ranked as Baltimore's snowiest on record (77 inches), and February finished as its snowiest month (50 inches). Grimy remnants of the storms remained in shady spots until the first week of May.

—Frank Roylance

Yeardley Love killing

The day after Yeardley Love was found dead in the bedroom of her off-campus apartment, the University of Virginia seemed eerily empty. It was early May. Final exams were about to begin, as was the NCAA lacrosse tournament for which the senior from Cockeysville and her teammates were preparing.

Love's death, allegedly at the hands of former boyfriend George Huguely V, a standout on the men's lacrosse team, plunged many in Charlottesville into shock and mourning.

At the police station and the adjacent courthouse, reporters from around the country camped out for days in search of any details about the crime. At news conferences on campus, school administrators decried the horrific act. Hundreds attended a memorial service in memory of Love, 22, a graduate of Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson.

Love's teammates spoke tearfully of her death, while Huguely's teammates distanced themselves from their former teammate, now locked in a jail cell and charged with first-degree murder. Police say Huguely banged Love's head against the wall of her room during an altercation.

Like few other crimes, the killing struck a chord nationwide, becoming the subject of newscasts and magazine covers across the country.

Months later, precisely what happened the night of Love's death remains in question. Was it, as Huguely's lawyers argue, a tragic accident, potentially caused by medication Love was taking? Was it a crime of passion, fueled by alcohol and rage? Answers may begin to emerge in 2011.

—Don Markus

Fatal shooting by off-duty officer

The fatal shooting by an off-duty Baltimore police officer of an unarmed ex-Marine outside a popular nightclub in June set off a weekend-long manhunt by police for one of their own, casting doubt on the department's ability to police itself. And it raised questions about whether officers should carry firearms while drinking alcohol.

Five years before Gahiji Tshamba emptied his service weapon into 32-year-old Tyrone Brown in Mount Vernon last June, he had been involved in another off-duty shooting sparked by an altercation while he was driving drunk. Police ruled that earlier shooting justified and suspended him for eight days, sources told The Sun.

Police called the 2010 shooting of Brown an "aberration" and an "affront" to the rest of the department, while Tshamba's attorney has maintained that his client "did what he had to do" to protect a woman who had been groped by Brown.

The shooting and the revelations about Tshamba's past came six months after police reversed course on a policy of withholding the names of officers involved in shootings. In 2009, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III had decided to stop releasing such information, citing safety of officers. But The Sun reported that police had vastly overstated threats to officers, and civil liberties groups and elected officials called for transparency. Bealefeld overturned his decision in January.

Tshamba's trial is scheduled for March.

—Justin Fenton

Police overhaul rape policy

Accounts of police refusing to take reports of crimes are nothing new. But The Sun's reporting on a systematic culture of discarding rape reports led to sweeping reforms that Mayor Rawlings-Blake said have "forever changed and improved the way sexual assault cases are investigated" in Baltimore.

For years, more than a third of the rape cases reported in the city were being deemed by detectives untrue or baseless, a percentage that led the nation. The practice was partly responsible for a decline in reported rapes of nearly 80 percent since 1995 — a drop that the executive director of a victims' advocacy group said didn't "make sense, on any planet."

Using police records and interviews with victims, The Sun uncovered examples of detectives grilling women who ultimately recanted their stories. On the street level, many reports weren't even making it from patrol cops to detectives.

Bealefeld called the situation a "crisis," and women's organizations pushed the issue under the nose of leaders of Congress, who called a hearing on Capitol Hill. Rawlings-Blake ordered a review by a task force of law enforcement officials and victim advocates. It determined that more than half the disregarded rape cases had been misclassified.

More detectives have been added to the sex offense unit, which has a new commander. Additional training, a public awareness campaign and a new city position to oversee continuing reforms are also in the works. Bealefeld calls the effort "a good start."

—Justin Fenton

Bernstein unseats Jessamy

In September, Baltimore voters crossed racial lines to narrowly unseat city State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy after 15 years in office, in a contentious Democratic Party primary election that pitted police against prosecutors.

It was a shocking upset for the 62-year-old incumbent, whose complacent campaign never saw challenger Gregg Bernstein coming — much less his army of supporters — and seemed to react too slowly, losing by fewer than 1,400 votes.

Bernstein promised to better prosecute violent repeat offenders like John Alexander Wagner, charged in the July murder of Johns Hopkins University researcher Stephen Pitcairn. That vow resonated with city leaders sick of seeing defendants evade conviction. They quickly got behind the newcomer with a message that "the status quo had to go."

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III posted a Bernstein sign in his front yard, and Deputy Mayor Christopher Thomaskutty put one in a window of his home. Defense attorneys helped run the campaign.

Perhaps the biggest surprise came from black voters, many of whom cast their ballots for Bernstein, 55, who is white, despite predictions from political analysts that the numbers would track racial lines in the majority African-American city.

Bernstein took up to one-third of the black vote in some neighborhoods, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis, helping him topple Jessamy, an African-American with a belief in prevention programs.

—Tricia Bishop

Hopkins doctor shot

Paul Warren Pardus was distraught at the thought that his 84-year-old ailing mother, Jean Davis, would have a severely reduced quality life after undergoing cancer-related surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. So, on a sunny fall day in September, Pardus ended Davis' life and his own, after shooting the Hopkins surgeon he believed had failed her.

Fear brought the sprawling East Baltimore medical campus to a standstill after gunshots echoed from the eighth floor of the hospital's Nelson building. Pardus, 50, shot Dr. David B. Cohen, the 45-year-old orthopedic and spinal surgeon who had operated on his mother, in the abdomen before retreating to his mother's hospital room.

Hopkins staff members said the shooting came minutes after Cohen updated Pardus on his mother's condition. Pardus, of Arlington, Va., reportedly blamed Cohen for her paralysis. "You ruined my mother," he yelled, according to a witness who spoke with detectives.

For three hours after the shooting, police treated the situation as a standoff. Parts of the Hopkins campus were locked down and others were evacuated. Snipers took to the rooftops; SWAT team members streamed through crowds gathered near several blocked-off streets.

In the end, investigators believe Pardus and Davis were dead the whole time. After sending in a robot with a camera, police discovered the bodies — the bedridden Davis with a gunshot wound to the back of the head, Pardus on the floor, shot through the mouth.

Cohen, who has been on the Hopkins staff at least a dozen years, returned to work on Dec.20.

Erica L. Green

Slots OK'd at Arundel Mills

The debate over whether to allow a $1 billion slots emporium at an Anne Arundel County mall captured the attention of many in Maryland throughout 2010.

After Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. got permission from the County Council to build what would be the state's most lucrative slots parlor on the grounds of Arundel Mills mall, opponents of the plan, led by the Maryland Jockey Club, vowed to fight Cordish at every turn.

The Jockey Club, hoping to steer a casino instead to Laurel Park Race Course, funded an effort to force the issue to a public referendum, then fought a Cordish lawsuit questioning the validity of the referendum. The lawsuit reached the state's highest court, which sided with the Jockey Club, setting the stage for a referendum campaign that ended up costing $12.3 million.

Both sides ran television ad blitzes: The Jockey Club said a mall casino was an inappropriate venue for children and would kill the state's beleaguered horse-racing industry. Cordish and a coalition of business leaders argued that the casino would provide jobs and county revenue. On Nov. 2, Cordish emerged the victor with an 11-point vote margin.

Cordish plans to erect a temporary casino with about 2,000 slot machines on the first floor of a planned parking garage by late 2011. A permanent casino — a live entertainment complex with 4,750 slot machines and several sit-down restaurants — is scheduled to open in late 2012.

—Nicole Fuller

Major fires hit downtown

Whirls of dark smoke rose over the blinking neon lights of Baltimore's red-light district on the afternoon of Dec. 6. Dancers flung coats over their flimsy costumes and raced into the bitter cold. Within minutes, flames shot from the roofs of century-old show bars.

As the blaze on The Block licked nearby high-rises, more than 2,000 city workers streamed into a park across from City Hall. Billows of black smoke cast a shadow over downtown, riveting office workers and snarling traffic for hours. The five-alarm fire, which investigators suspect was arson, was among the largest downtown in decades.

Less than 10 hours later, a fire that would grow to comparable magnitude broke out about a mile away, across from the elegant Mount Vernon Plaza.

Sharp winds spread flames through crawlspaces and air shafts in a renovated 19th-century mansion that housed Donna's Cafe, two other restaurants and offices. More than 150 firefighters, many of them cold and weary from the earlier fire, battled the blaze for more than half a day before it was brought under control. Fire officials think an electrical problem was the culprit.

As contractors hammered plywood over windows in Mount Vernon, investigators with the city fire marshal's office and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives picked through debris of the four buildings on The Block. After days of work, they traced the fire's origin to a video peep show booth in Gayety Show World and determined that the fire had been set.

No arrests have been made.

Julie Scharper

Other top stories of 2010

USNS Comfort: After a devastating earthquake struck Haiti Jan. 12, the Baltimore-based hospital ship motored south to the Haitian coast, where its medical staff treated more than 540 patients in 10 days and performed 843 surgeries over seven weeks.

Catholic schools: Faced with rising costs and falling enrollments, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore announced March 3 that it would close 13 of its 64 schools at the end of the academic year, including Cardinal Gibbons High School, angering and saddening scores of parents, alumni and students.

School cheating: In late May, city and state education officials revealed widespread cheating on state tests at George Washington Elementary School — once held up as an example of against-the-odds achievement. The school principal, held responsible despite her denial of any involvement, lost her professional license.

Charles Village stabbing: The July 25 stabbing death of 23-year-old Johns Hopkins University researcher Stephen Pitcairn in Charles Village — allegedly by a man and woman with long criminal histories — instantly became an issue in the campaign for city state's attorney.

O'Malley wins: On Nov. 2, Gov. Martin O'Malley easily won re-election to a second term, defeating Republican challenger Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. by 14 percentage points and upending predictions of a close rematch with the former governor.

Dog shooting: On Nov. 19, federal police officer Keith Elgin Shepherd was fined and given probation before judgment for shooting Bear-Bear, a Siberian husky he claimed attacked his pet and was threatening him and his wife at a community dog park in Severn in August.

Attempted bombing: On Dec. 8, 21-year-old Antonio Martinez of Baltimore County — a recent convert to Islam who called himself Muhammad Hussain — was arrested after authorities say he tried to blow up a Catonsville military recruiting center using an inert car bomb supplied by undercover FBI agents.