Top New York Stories of 2015

A look back at some of the most compelling news events and photos from 2015.

21 photos
CBS via Getty Images
Pope Francis, the wildly popular leader of the Roman Catholic church, took a whirlwind tour of the Northeast, including a stop in New York City. Francis spent two days in the city in late September, visiting the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum, St. Patrick's Cathedral and a Harlem school. He capped off the visit by greeting the faithful during a procession through Central Park and a mass at Madison Square Garden.
Upstate New York played scene to a real-life Shawshank Redemption in the summer of 2015. On June 6, Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York,sparking a three-week manhunt for the escaped murderers. Police spotted Matt on 26, shooting and killing the escapee; Sweat was recaptured days later. During the hunt, it was revealed that they had help from inside -- prison worker Joyce Mitchell, enamored by Matt, had helped them bust out. The escape captivated the nation through the dog days of summer.
When Cuba and the United States announced they'd be renewing diplomatic relations in March, Gov. Cuomo was one of the first politicians to take advantage of the new relationship with the Pearl of Antilles. The governor took a diplomatic trip to the Caribbean nation in April, leading one of the first trade incursions in the country since the 1950s.
A little more than a year after a gas explosion leveled an apartment building in East Harlem, killing 8, it happened again. An illegally tapped gas line behind a restaurant in the East Village exploded shortly after the lunch rush March 26, killing 2 people, injuring nearly 20 others and leveling four buildings in the popular Manhattan district. Sources have told NBC 4 New York that the likely cause of the blast was a surreptitiously tapped gas line had been unhooked for an inspection by utility officials, and that the building’s owners were trying to resume the illegal diversion when they set off the explosion.
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After 2014 ended with the deaths of two NYPD cops, two more were killed in the line of duty in 2015. On May 2, Officer Brian Moore and his partner were patrolling Jamaica, Queens, when they were fired on by a man they saw adjusting his waistband. Moore was hit fatally in the head, and his alleged shooter, Demetrius Blackwell, was arrested on murder charges. Then on Oct. 20, Officer Randolph Holder was allegedly gunned down by, Tyrone Howard, a "hardened criminal" wanted on assault charges. Howard tossed the gun in the East River after the shooting on an East Harlem block, prompting an extensive search for the weapon.
NBC 4 New York
For much of the country, 2015 will be a year remembered for its fears of terrorism at home and abroad. The attacks in Paris, the shooting at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California; the massacre at a historically black church in historic Charleston, South Carolina; and countless other mass shootings put communities across the country on edge. In New York City, authorities worked to abate fears with a show of NYPD force after each attack. Meanwhile, federal agents made a series of arrests throughout the the year for tri-state residents who allegedly plotted to aid or join ISIS.
Gwendolyn Jackson
On Feb. 3, tragedy struck the Metro-North railroad. A train on the Hudson line was traveling near a grade crossing when it slammed into a car that was stopped in between the gates. The collision sent the car careening down the tracks, and the electrified rail pushed up into one of the train’s cars like a dagger, setting off a fire. Six people, including the car’s driver, died in the crash, which was the deadliest rail incident in the nation since a 2009 collision in Washington, D.C., killed 8 people.
One of the nation’s most infamous missing persons case — that of little Etan Patz, who disappeared in 1979 after leaving his SoHo apartment for school — nearly came to a resolution in 2015. The cold case — which led to missing children’s visages being printed on milk cartons — was reopened in 2010 and in 2012 authorities charged onetime bodega clerk Pedro Hernandez with murder in the boy’s disappearance. Hernandez allegedly admitted to killing the child and threw the boy’s remains in the garbage, but Patz’s remains had never been found. nevertheless, jurors heard his case over about four months before entering a marathon deliberation session. They couldn’t come to a unanimous decision, however, and a judge ruled the case a mistrial after one juror held out from a guilty verdict.
Most years, the Yankees are the Big Apple’s best team. But in 2015, that wasn’t the case. The usually scrappy underdog Mets really took to their Amazin’ nickname, riding a fiery group of young starting pitchers and smart offensive and defensive play all the way to the World Series. The team eventually lost to the Kansas City Royals in five games, but the future is very, very bright for what has been historically regarded as New York’s other team.
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We’re used to paying a little bit more for things in the Big Apple, but $30 for a hot dog? Fuggedaboutit. That’s what NBC 4 New York’s I-Team discovered a vendor was charging tourists looking to get one of the city’s iconic street foods near the World Trade Center in May. The story became national news, the vendor lost his job and politicians pushed to have carts publish their prices on signs.
Brian Bostrom
The Tri-State really was the center of the universe in 2015 — in presidential politics, anyway. A total of five politicians hailing from New York and New Jersey — Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Govs. Chris Christe and George Pataki — announced they would seek their respective party’s nomination. And with the exception of Pataki, all of them have been major players — with Clinton and Trump leading polling for much of the year. Sanders, a longtime Vermont senator who was born and raised in Brooklyn, has been the second-place Democratic candidate for much of the year, and Christie — a onetime frontrunner — has seen growing support, especially in the important primary state of New Hampshire.
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2015 wasn't exactly a banner year in Albany. This year saw two of the state's most powerful legislators, former House Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, convicted on corruption charges amid a push by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to target the state's crooked politicians. Silver turned out to have taken large payments from a law firm without filing financial disclosures. NBC 4 New York, meanwhile, broke the news that Skelos was also a target of a federal corruption probe in January, leading the politician to say the reporting didn't "meet the standards of serious journalism." It turned out to be little more than bluster, however, as Skelos and his son were both convicted in December of extortion. 2016 could have even more revelations of corruption in New York as federal investigators continue an inquiry into Gov. Cuomo's handling of the now-disbanded Moreland corruption commission.
Rich York
Being a pilot in 2015 was a dangerous and at times frustrating job in New York City. But it wasn’t because of air traffic restrictions over Manhattan or the short runways at LaGuardia Airport. Aircraft saw themselves being targeted by pranksters on the ground with laser pointers and hobbyists flying drones too close for comfort. Even our own Chopper 4 was a victim, but our pilots weren’t about to sit idly by. During a laser-pointing incident in November, they hovered overhead and helped police catch the alleged miscreants.
NBC 4 New York
One of the most powerful lawmen on Long Island was accused of wrongdoing himself in 2015. Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke was indicted on conspiracy charges on Dec. 9. Federal authorities say that he allegedly assaulted a man who broke into his department-issued vehicle and tried to pressure fellow cops into not reporting the incident. Burke had stepped down shortly before his indictment.
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Albany wasn't the only place where politicians were accused of misdeeds in 2015. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, one of the tri-state's most prominent political figures, was indicted on federal corruption charges in April after he was accused of accepting nearly $1 million in "lavish gifts" and campaign contributions from a Florida doctor in exchange for influence in the physician's disputes over Medicare and other contracts. Menendez continues to hold his seat in Congress and has denied the charges, but the case has yet to make its way to trial.
Weather was probably as much a headlines as any news event in 2015. Though the tri-state didn’t deal with the extreme weather that impacted large swaths of the country this year, it was the site to record-breaking highs and lows. After the third-coldest February on record in New York City gave way to another month and a half of winter, things warmed up in a big way. Summer seemed to stretch into October, and even through three weeks of December, Storm Team 4 is still forecasting above-average winter. On Christmas eve, it's forecast to be in the 70s.
One of the tri-state’s iconic venues called it quits in 2015. The Nassau Coliseum, which had long played host to the New York Islanders and countless concerts and events for folks out east who didn’t want to ride into the city, shut down after the 2014-15 NHL season. The Islanders moved to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, but they did go out with a bang, making the Stanley Cup playoffs in their final year in Uniondale. And Long Island’s most famous performer -- Billy Joel -- sent the stadium off in style, with a unforgettable farewell concert on Aug. 5.
Rich York
The worst fire tragedy in the city in seven years struck in 2015. On March 21, a hot plate being used to heat food on the Jewish Shabbos sparked a blaze at home in Midwood that killed seven siblings and forced their mother and oldest daughter to jump from a second-story window. The tragedy rocked the neighborhood's enclave of Hasids and prompted fire officials to warn the city's Orthodox communities of the dangers of using electric heating devices.
Tragedy struck on Staten Island's West Shore Expressway on March 20, when a car carrying three Linden, New Jersey, police officers and a fourth person slammed head-on into a tractor-trailer. The impact killed one of the officers and the civilian, and left the other two cops in critical condition for weeks. Later, it was revealed that the cop behind the wheel, Pedro Abad, allegedly had a blood-alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit and had been involved in previous crashes where drunken driving was alleged. He was charged with multiple crimes including aggravated vehicular homicide in October. His attorney later denied the charges and said his client may have been drugged.
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