"The Thanksgiving Day Massacre" Downtown Reno Nov. 27, 1980
RENO, NV - We asked our viewers to pick the Top 10 stories making news during our 60 years of broadcasting as northern Nevada's first television station.
A top 10 list of anything is going to start arguments and, perhaps contain a surprise or two.
With that in mind let's begin with those stories that didn't make our list.
Some were no surprise.
It's a given that any ranking of news stories is going to be affected by distance--in time and geography. So, no surprise, for instance, that the 1962 Golden Hotel Fire is not on our list, though it's puzzling the Mizpah Hotel Fire 24 years later is also absent.
Single events leave a bigger impression than long term evolving stories, even though the latter may have a greater impact on our lives.
That's one reason why neither the first Tahoe Summit or Nevada's emerging importance on the national political scene as a swing state with our first early presidential caucus made our top 10.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in our list however, is that not a single wildfire made our top 10. The history of our coverage is dotted with names like Cannon, Angora, Caughlin and Washoe Drive. Perhaps there were too many, too often. For whatever reason none were picked for our top 10.
With all that said out of 60 years of coverage these are the stories our viewers picked beginning with.....
Number 10. The Darrin Mack Murder and Trial.
In 2006 following a bitter divorce battle the well-known Reno businessman stabbed his wife to death and shot the judge handling their settlement. Mack was arrested in Mexico after a 10 day international manhunt. His trial ended in a life sentence.
Number 9 The Mapes Hotel Implosion.
The first high rise hotel built anywhere after World War 2, the Mapes was once the centerpiece of Reno's downtown, where top entertainers played and celebrities stayed.
By the 1980's though it was sadly out of date. A recession and the financial problems of the Mapes family forced its closure. Repeated attempts to save it failed and finally, in spite of its place on the National Register of Historic Places, the city decided to take it down. Super Bowl Sunday 2000 our viewers saw it's end through our live coverage.
Number 8 The 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.
A bit of a surprise, but perhaps reflecting lasting local pride and hope for the future.
Reno was originally proposed as a host city, but in the end served as a gateway.
Beyond the opening ceremonies organized by Walt Disney, the games were memorable for the first extensive televised coverage and an Olympic Gold Medal for the U-S hockey team, beating the Soviets. Interest in bringing the games back has continued to smolder.
A Reno Tahoe Winter Games group currently has its sights set on the 2022 games.
Number 7 The Slide Mountain Slide.
May 30, 1983, a large slab of rock and soil on Slide Mountain, loosened by the melting snow pack, gave way, falling into a lake below.
The slide sent mud, water and large boulders racing down Ophir Creek into Washoe Valley, destroying homes, covering old Highway 395 and leaving one fatality. It was, as we noted a couple of weeks ago, an early test for live television coverage.
Number 6. The Brianna Denison Murder.
January 20, 2008, the 19 year old college coed disappeared from a friend's home near the university.
Hundreds joined the search. Her body was found in south Reno three weeks later.
A Secret Witness tip led police to James Biela, whose DNA was matched to that left at the scene. Her death led to efforts to require DNA samples from all arrested for felony crimes. Brianna's Law passed the legislature this year.
Number 5 The Galaxy Airlines Crash.
January 21, 1985. A Four engine Lockheed Electra crashed along South Virginia Street shortly after takeoff from Reno Tahoe Airport.
It's crew of 6, and 64 passengers, homeward bound from a Super Bowl junket died. One survivor, a teenager, was thrown clear and found sitting in his seat in the middle of the street.
The cause was determined to be crew error caused by the distraction of a vibration from an access door which had been left open.
Number 4 The Harvey's Hotel Bombing.
August of 1980, three men, one of them a Fresno area millionaire and former high roller, planted a sophisticated bomb disguised as office equipment in the hotel in an attempt to extort millions.
When technicians attempted to disarm the bomb with a shaped charge, the thousand pounds of dynamite exploded.
Mastermind John Birges was sentenced to life and died at the Southern Nevada Correctional Center and died 16 years and a day after the explosion.
Number 3 Ironically, what became known as the Thanksgiving Day Massacre.
November 27, 1980, Priscilla Ford, a 51 year old former teacher drove her car down two blocks of downtown sidewalk, leaving scores of injured and dead pedestrians in her wake.
Those of us who covered the story searched for adequate words to describe the scene. It looked like a war zone. The eventual toll, seven dead, 23 injured. Ford received the death sentence, but died in prison 25 years later. Apparently driven by voices only she heard, her motive never fully explained or understood.
Number two The 1997 New Year's Eve Flood.
It followed the pattern of previous Truckee River floods. A series of warm storms falling on a heavy Sierra snow pack, but by 1997 there was more to damage and so it was costly, more than $600 million by estimates at the time.
As the floods of the '50's led to the construction of upstream dams on the rivers tributaries, this flood launched new flood control efforts, a "living river' approach in the lower Truckee, flood plain acquisition in the valley and the replacement of the Virginia Street bridge, now scheduled to begin next year.
And finally, receiving the most votes for the top story of our 60 year history.. The 2011 crash at the Reno Air Races.
A trim tab failure on a highly modified P-51 racer sent it in a steep climb, mostly likely leaving pilot Jimmy Leeward unconscious, then plummeting straight down before a horrified crowd crashing next to box seats.
Leeward and 10 spectators died, 69 were injured.
Like others on our list, this tragedy has had a lasting, continuing effect. There were changes to increase safety and the races have continued, but financial difficulties that followed the crash continue. Organizers announced staff cutbacks just this week and said they needed to raise a half million dollars in operating expenses by mid-December.
It's a sobering list and a reminder that the news we remember is often the unexpected and violent.
Then again, these events make news because they are the opposite of the good and benign events that fill the lives of most of us day in, day out.
On this day, we can again be thankful for all that was good and often unreported during those 60 years.