From a historic election in Maryland to a traffic nightmare in Virginia, take a look back at the some of the local news stories that dominated the headlines in the D.C. area in 2022.
Year in Review: 2022’s most notable local news stories
History on Election Day
When Marylanders went to the polls in November, the outcome made history.
Democrat Wes Moore won by a landslide, on pace to become the state’s first Black governor — and just the third Black person elected governor in the U.S.
Moore, a bestselling author and combat veteran, has never held elected office before, but he proved a formidable candidate, beating out a crowded field of Democratic candidates in the July primary and then scoring a decisive victory over Republican Dan Cox, a Republican who embraced former President Donald Trump and his 2020 election conspiracies.
Moore offered up an optimistic, bipartisan vision in his victory speech, and his big win augurs change in Annapolis. After eight years with moderate Republican Larry Hogan at the helm, Democrats will once again have unified control of the executive and legislative branches.
History was made in other ways on Election Day: Moore’s running mate, Aruna Miller, is the first Asian American elected statewide in Maryland. Anthony Brown, a former lieutenant governor, who has served three terms in Congress, was elected the first Black attorney general in the state’s history, and Brooke Lierman will be the state’s first female comptroller.
The local races marked a turning of the tides in other ways. In Montgomery County, where two seats were added to the county council, women now make up a majority of the 11-member body in what officials say is also the most racially diverse council in the county’s history.
In neighboring Prince George’s County, the election ushered in a younger, more progressive county council, whose new members pledged a “new day” for the council that would be more transparent and receptive to residents’ concerns on issues that include sprawling development projects.
And in D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser fended off a challenge in the summer’s Democratic primary and cruised to reelection in November — becoming the first three-term D.C. mayor since “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry.
When the snow started falling Jan. 3, few predicted it would lead to the commute from hell.
Despite spring-like temperatures the day before — which may have lulled many drivers into complacency — it turned out to be the biggest snowstorm to hit Northern Virginia in more than five years. State agencies were ill-prepared, too. Then, with the snow still furiously falling and the snow plows unable to keep up, tractor-trailers started jack-knifing all across Interstate 95 in the Fredericksburg area.
Traffic came to a standstill — stranding hundreds of drivers in their cars.
As the bitterly cold hours ticked by, day turned to night, and still they were stuck. Some drivers posted desperate messages on social media — or called the WTOP newsroom to share the details of their ordeals.
“No food and no hope please help us letting the authorities know,” wrote one mother stuck in the car with her three children, including a baby.
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine had hopped in his car that Monday afternoon to head from Richmond to D.C. to attend to business on Capitol Hill, and he found himself stuck in the mess. The typical two-hour drive ended up taking more than 24 hours, and Kaine had only a Christmas orange handed out by a family from Connecticut who went door-to-door to hand them out to trapped drivers.
Virginia authorities pledged they were doing all they could to clear the highway and get drivers moving again, but state agencies posted confusing messages about avoiding I-95 and efforts to assist stranded drivers.
Outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam blamed Mother Nature — the storm started out as rain, meaning roads couldn’t be effectively pre-treated, which was followed by a super-fast fast snowfall rate. “All those together created the perfect storm for what happened on I-95,” he said.
But later reports issued by the state, including a state inspector general report, found glaring gaps in the state’s response and preparation for the storm, including the fact that state crews were primarily focused on reopening the highway — not necessarily on assisting stranded motorists.
By the time the highway was finally cleared, it was Tuesday night — more than 24 hours after the blockage began. It was nearly Memorial Day before state crews finished cleaning up downed trees and other debris along I-95 caused by the storm.
Washington Commanders: New name, old problems
2022 was the year Washington’s football team got a new name.
As with anything these days, some fans loved it; some fans hated it, and soon enough, it started to sound like something we’d said forever: the Washington Commanders.
At the time of the name change, head coach Ron Rivera told CBS the team was opening a new chapter in the team’s history.
“We’re turning a page; we’re going forward; we’re trying to step away from all the things that have happened in the past,” he said.
But some of the same old controversies dogged the team all the way through 2022 — nearly all of them tied in some way to team owner Dan Snyder, who once vowed he’d never change the team’s name.
Just a day after the new name was unveiled, a powerful House committee on Capitol Hill called on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to release an under-wraps report about the team’s workplace culture. New allegations of misconduct by team owner Snyder soon followed.
Then in the spring, lawmakers sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission alerting the agency to potential financial improprieties by the team, related to ticket revenue and refundable deposits from fans — allegations that resulted in a lawsuit in D.C. and a settlement in Maryland.
Last month, the team faced yet another legal headache — a consumer protection lawsuit filed by outgoing D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, alleging the team and the NFL had “repeatedly lied to and deceived” D.C. consumers about the investigation into sexual harassment in the team’s front office.
It’s unclear exactly what the future holds, but regarding congressional scrutiny, but the team may be breathing easier with the GOP set to take control of the House. Republicans on the Oversight Committee have pledged to end the investigation of the team.
Loudoun Co. school controversy
On Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s first day in office in January, he ordered an investigation into the Loudoun County Public School system.
Controversy over the school’s handling of two sexual assaults by the same teen student at two different schools had been swirling for months. Concerned parents packed school board meetings. There was raucous debate over the school system’s transgender policy (the student who was convicted in both attacks wore a skirt during one of the attacks).
As a candidate, Youngkin himself denounced the school system and many political analysts say it was the “education issue” that propelled Youngkin and other statewide Republicans to office in statewide elections in 2021.
Youngkin tasked Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares with leading the investigation. In April, it was revealed he had convened a “special grand jury” to probe the school system. Loudoun school officials promptly attempted to quash the investigation, calling it a “fishing expedition” and an overreach of the governor’s authority, but they were rebuffed by the courts.
This month, the report from the grand jury finally dropped. It blasted school leadership for mishandling the first assault in a high school restroom and missing multiple opportunities to prevent the second assault from happening months later at another school.
The report, which sharply criticized a lack of transparency by school officials, singled out School Superintendent Scott Ziegler, saying he falsely claimed to the school board at a June 2021 meeting that there had been no reported assaults in school bathrooms when, in fact, the first sexual assault had occurred the month before in a restroom stall.
“They failed at every juncture,” the report said of school system officials.
Then came the indictments.
Ziegler, who was fired in the wake of the report, was indicted on three misdemeanors, including one count of false publication — which appeared to relate to his statements at the June 2021 board meeting regarding bathroom assaults.
(The other two counts are not related to the assaults but to claims made by a special education teacher who alleged the school system retaliated against her after she reported that a special needs student sexually assaulted her.)
The school system spokesman was also indicted on a charge of felony perjury.
For his part, Ziegler criticized the special grand jury, saying its findings amounted to “false and irresponsible accusations” designed to advance a “certain political agenda.”
Metro finds its Silver Lining
It was an early Christmas present for Metro riders: Just a few days before Thanksgiving, the long-awaited, long-delayed second phase of the Silver Line opened, providing rail service — for the first time — to Dulles International Airport.
The airport stop was one of six stations to open on the new 11.5-mile stretch of track on Metro’s Silver Line.
The project to extend the Silver Line to Dulles, and beyond to Ashburn, was beset with delays almost from the beginning: After the first phase of the Silver Line — ending at Wiehle-Reston East — opened in 2014, the original target date for the second stretch of track was 2018. Then it was 2020. Then there were more delays. There were problems with storm water management, changes to safety designs and concrete problems.
All told, when the extension finally opened, the price tag was $3 billion — more than $250 million over budget.
Many riders greeted the grand opening with delight: Metro estimates it’ll take you about 53 minutes to get to Dulles from Metro Center in downtown D.C.
WTOP reporter Nick Iannelli took viewers on a tour of the new Metro stop, providing a glimpse of what riders will experience walking from the train to the airport.
Overall, 2022 was a mixed bag for D.C.’s subway system.
For much of the year, the transit agency hobbled along, with long wait times for riders on platforms following a derailment last year that sidelined more than 60% of Metro’s fleet — including all of its shiny 7000-Series cars.
In the spring, the Metro Board of Directors named Randy Clarke the new Metro chief. He promised to bring a new energy to the transit agency.
Under Clarke’s leadership, Metro has gotten permission from its safety regulator to gradually return some of its 7000-Series rail cars to the tracks, which has helped slowly improve service for Metro riders.
And with the Silver Line barely open, Metro is already reportedly turning its focus to a new potential project — a Blue Line Loop with new stations in Georgetown and National Harbor. Although when that big idea will ever become concrete reality is still anyone’s guess.
U.Va. shooting: ‘It feels like it’s a nightmare’
Tragedy struck the University of Virginia in November when three football players were gunned down Nov. 14.
The players were part of a class that took a field trip to see a play in D.C. returned to the Charlottesville campus. As the team’s chartered bus pulled to a stop in a parking lot on the campus in Charlottesville, police said, Christopher Darnell Jones — a former football player who was on the trip with the team — suddenly pulled out a gun and opened fire.
Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed in the hail of bullets. Two others, including another football player, were wounded.
Jones fled, according to police, triggering a manhunt and a terrifying 12-hour lockdown of the UVA campus, in which students were warned of an active shooter on campus and advised, in an emergency alert, to “RUN HIDE FIGHT.”
Jones was arrested by police the following morning in Henrico County, about 80 miles east of Charlottesville. His arrest was announced during a dramatic live news conference as campus Police Chief Timothy Longo provided an update to reporters.
“Just give me a moment to thank God, and breathe a sigh of relief,” Longo said into the row of microphones after learning of Jones’ arrest.
Jones was later charged with three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding and other gun-related charges.
The campus was thrust into shock and mourning, and the final football games of the season were canceled.
“It feels like it’s a nightmare, to be honest with you,” university head football coach Tony Elliott said. “And I’m ready for somebody to pinch me and wake me up and say that this didn’t happen.”
Weeks after the shooting, one question remained on the minds of everyone in the campus community: Why?
Despite multiple court appearances, prosecutors have still not described a motive.
Questions have been raised, however, about the university’s role in the events leading up to the shooting.
At the time of the shooting, Jones had been convicted of possessing a concealed handgun without a permit and was the subject of a review by the university’s threat-assessment team. Initially, the university said Jones’ case had been escalated before the shooting, but then later conceded that the review had not been escalated until afterward. Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares later announced his office was launching an external review of the events leading up to the shooting, including the university’s threat assessment process.
2 catastrophic blasts
Two blasts. Two massive fires. Parts of two housing complexes reduced to smoldering rubble.
It turned out to be no more than an unfortunate coincidence — but Montgomery County, Maryland, saw two different fiery apartment blasts in 2022.
And while the explosions injured several and displaced dozens, no one — miraculously — was killed in either incident.
The first happened March 3, at the Friendly Garden Apartments in Silver Spring, where the explosion and fire ripped through three buildings about 10:30 a.m. More than a dozen people were taken to the hospital and three buildings were declared uninhabitable.
The cause of the blast? A maintenance worker, trying to unclog a drain cut, mistakenly cut a gas pipe instead of a waste pipe, neither of which were marked.
Since then, county leaders have pushed utilities to label pipes in old buildings to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.
Then, the week before Thanksgiving, there was another explosion, this time at the Potomac Oaks Condominium in Gaithersburg.
“The entire building shook,” one witness described. “I’ve never experienced anything like this. It was a very terrifying experience.”
Another described “the biggest cloud of smoke” she’d ever seen outside her window.
More than a dozen people were injured, including two critically.
Crews searching the rubble in the days following discovered a body later identified as Juan Pablo Marshall Quizon, 36, who police said secretly bought a condo in the Potomac Oaks division and then took his own life, resulting in the blast.
Both blasts this year came in the wake of the devastating 2016 explosion at the Flower Branch apartments, which killed seven people, but officials were quick to note there was no connecting thread between any of the explosions — each was an ill-fated one-off.
No one but Quizon was killed in the 2022 blasts, and officials thanked quick-thinking good Samaritans for helping rescue people at both explosion sites before fire crews arrived on the scene. They also counted their blessings: Both the 2022 blasts came after most children had left the house for school and parents had left for work.
It was almost like a scene from a disaster movie: A small plane crashed into a power transmission tower in Gaithersburg, Maryland, then was left dangling 100 feet above the ground with the pilot and a passenger stranded inside.
Pilot Patrick Merkle and passenger Janet Williams, both 66, suffered serious injuries in the Nov. 27 crash — which knocked out power for tens of thousands of people across Montgomery County — and were trapped inside the plane for several hours as crews on the ground below plotted how to carry out the dramatic rescue.
Throughout the whole ordeal, a volunteer deputy fire chief stayed in “constant contact” with the pilot over the phone, reassuring him as the hours dragged by that help was on the way.
“For the first couple hours, I wasn’t sure that hanging on that tower was going to work. I was very concerned that we might be sliding off the tower and to our deaths, actually,” Merkle later told WTOP.
Eventually, shortly after midnight — nearly eight hours after the crash — crews rescued the plane’s occupants.
“We are eternally grateful for the sacrifices everybody made coming out on the last night of the holiday weekend to rescue us having their power shut down for I don’t even know how long,” Merkle told WTOP.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. A preliminary report issued this month found that the pilot was flying too low as he approached the Montgomery County Airpark and was having trouble navigating in the cloudy dark conditions.
From the files of the wild, wacky and at-times wonderful. Sure, it was no cicada invasion, but the D.C. area’s non-human denizens provided plenty of headline fodder this year
This year marked 50 years since the first pandas arrived at the National Zoo.
Little Xiao Qui Ji — a pandemic baby born in 2020, whose birth offered a rare moment of unbridled joy (They grow up so fast, don’t they?) turned two this year and had a birthday celebration completed with “fruitsicle cake.”
His mother, Mei Xiang, was one of the oldest pandas to give birth in North America when she had her little miracle baby. She celebrated her 24th birthday this year.
There were also some sad farewells: Two lions — 17-year-old Luke and his mate, Naba — both died this year after ailing for some time.
Though he was no longer a resident of the D.C. zoo, Rusty the red panda — who famously escaped his enclosure in 2013 and was later found wandering around Adams Morgan, a neighborhood known for its lively nightlife — died at a zoo in Colorado.
There was also animal news outside the zoo.
Last year, it was zebras on the loose. This year, it was foxes behaving badly.
In April, a rabid fox on Capitol Hill attacked nine people, including California congressman Ami Bera, who called the attack “the most unusual day on the Hill in 10 years.”
The following month, another fox chewed through a heavy-duty mesh enclosure at the National Zoo and killed 25 flamingoes and one Northern pintail duck. Zoo officials said it was the worst such incident in two decades.
WTOP staff and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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