(T-G File Photo by David Melson) [Order this photo]
Between Christmas and New Year's, the Times-Gazette counted down the year's top 10 stories as chosen by a poll of T-G staff members. After the full list was announced, a poll containing the top 12 entries from the staff poll, plus a choice for "other," was posted to the t-g.com web site. A total of 141 readers participated in the poll.
The staff poll was finalized just as the school security issue was breaking, with a shooting in Connecticut and two threats locally. That issue was not included on the staff poll ballot, and therefore was not included on the reader poll either.
Readers chose the same top two stories as the T-G staff, but in reverse order, choosing the house fire that killed Mollie and Leon "Bubba" McClaran, and which may or may not have killed their grandchildren Chloe Pope, 9, and Gage Daniel, 7, as the top story, and allegations of abuse in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry as number two.
Initial reports about a September house fire were that all four of the home's occupants -- an elderly couple and their two grandchildren -- had been killed.
But when the children's bodies were not found, a state Amber Alert was issued, treating them as missing children. It's still not clear whether Chloe Pope and Gage Daniel died with their grandparents, as many still suspect, or whether they ran or were taken away and escaped the fire.
The cause of death for the McClarans remains unknown, as does the cause of the fire.
According to autopsy reports obtained by The Associated Press, the McClarans' remains were severely charred and soot was found in their airways.
Here is how participants in the web site poll voted:
House fire still unresolved: 37.6% (53 votes) -- #2 in T-G staff poll
Accusations of abuse in TWH industry: 17.0% (24 votes) -- #1 in staff poll
Presidential election: 8.5% (12 votes) -- #9 in staff poll
Ray Butrum leaves as superintendent: 7.8% (11 votes) -- #3 in staff poll
Alex stops cancer treatments: 7.1% (10 votes) -- #4 in staff poll
Skull found in river is Smelcer's: 6.4% (9 votes) -- tied for #6 in staff poll
Cascade band wins state championship: 5.0% (7 votes) -- #10 in staff poll
Jail overcrowding: 3.5% (5 votes) -- #5 in staff poll
Other: 2.8% (4 votes)
Larry Walls murder: 2.1% (3 votes) -- #12 in staff poll
Principal shuffle: 1.4% (2 votes) -- tied for #6 in staff poll
E-911 director resigns: 0.7% (1 vote) -- #11 in staff poll
Inappropriate contact: 0.0% (0 votes)-- tied for #6 in staff poll
141 votes cast
Although four participants chose "other," only two left their specific suggestions in the comment box, and one of those appeared to be tongue-in-cheek. The other participant who left a comment voted for Cascade Elementary's designation as one of only six "Blue Ribbon Schools" in Tennessee as the year's top story. (That was on the original staff ballot, in combination with Mary Pitner's teacher-of-the-year honors, and narrowly missed the top 12.)
Voluntary, self-selected web site polls are not considered scientific because there's no way to confirm that those who choose to participate represent a true cross-section of the target population.