12 headlines that defined 2021 in San Antonio

Read more stories wrapping 2021 here.

This year provided no relief from the whirlwind of news that seems to be the new normal.

So many things have happened, you’ve probably forgotten some that in years past would have dominated public discourse for months (remember Proposition B?).

From mass vaccinations and the end of pandemic restrictions in Texas to a historic winter storm and the last lap for some local leaders, 2021 delivered one overcrowded news cycle after another.

January

U.S. Capitol insurrection and local attendees

The first week of the year set the stage for the deluge of news that followed.

Thousands of people swarmed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, moments after President Donald Trump held a rally nearby, telling the crowd, “fight like hell” to prevent Congress from certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s presidential victory over Trump two months earlier.

The violent attack claimed the lives of five people and left hundreds injured, including dozens of police officers. Hundreds of federal charges followed the ongoing massive FBI investigation, including dozens of Texans and at least three people from the San Antonio area.

Also among the local residents in attendance was Roxanne Mathai, 46, who at the time was a Bexar County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant. Mathai’s attendance of the insurrection first became public in report by the KSAT 12 Defenders on Jan. 7. She later claimed through an attorney she was unaware of the bloodshed at the riot. She was fired by Sheriff Javier Salazar in June.

KSAT 12 was the first outlet to report that state Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, appeared to be captured on video standing near the steps of the U.S. Capitol while rioters clashed with police. In October, Biedermann announced on his Facebook page that he will not seek reelection.

Alamodome converted into mass COVID-19 vaccination site

The City of San Antonio converted the Alamodome into a no-cost mass COVID-19 vaccine site, where Pfizer vaccines were distributed to those who were eligible starting Jan. 11. Around the same time, 31 pharmacies, clinics and hospitals in Bexar County began distributing doses of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

The Alamodome site initially served about 1,500 people per day who registered online. It would remain a mass distribution site throughout the year and registration is no longer necessary.

The city and the Metropolitan Health District would later open hundreds of pop-up sites throughout Bexar County in an effort to make the vaccine more easily accessible, especially to low-income neighborhoods. Vaccine availability would increase throughout the year, and now just about anyone can receive it.

February

Historic winter storm

What started out as an exciting snow event ended up turning into a deadly disaster.

When San Antonio woke up to a Winter Wonderland on Feb. 14th, little did residents know they would lose heat, water, and, for some, their lives. In July, the Texas Department of State Health Services released its latest data showing 210 people died in Texas between Feb. 11 and March 5. Fourteen of those deaths happened in Bexar County. The state said most of the deaths were associated with hypothermia. Some suspect the true number of deaths to be much higher.

The state’s grid proved to be no match for Old Man Winter. Widespread power outages left millions across the state without electricity for several days. For two days in February, Texas averaged 34,000 megawatts of outages, according to a recent federal report on the crisis. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the grid, took heavy criticism for what experts said was poor planning for the extreme weather.

The storm also exposed a large number of organizational issues within CPS Energy.

Energy experts said the utility’s poor risk management strategy contributed to it being forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for natural gas on the spot market, after the price per unit had skyrocketed, in order to continue heating homes and supplying power to its plants. The mismanagement and other scandals led to the resignation of President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams and other high-level officials.

There was a litany of weather records set, many of which will stand for a long time. Temperatures plunged into the single digits, wind chills went as low as minus 8 degrees in San Antonio, and it remained sub-freezing for a near-record 107.5 hours. At the onset of the winter event, we also witnessed something never seen before: every inch of Texas was under a Winter Storm Warning.

March

Gov. Greg Abbott announces reversal of statewide pandemic orders

Exactly eight months after issuing a mask mandate in most Texas counties, Gov. Greg Abbott reversed that order on March 2, along with most other statewide COVID-19 orders he signed in 2019.

“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100%,” Abbott said while speaking to the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce.

Abbott cited more Texans getting vaccinated, a better understanding of how to manage the virus and decreasing hospitalization and positivity rates as reasons for his decision. Still, many were caught off guard, including San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.

The mask mandate would lead to numerous lawsuits filed by cities, counties and school districts that are still being battled in courts. San Antonio ISD was among the school districts challenging Abbott’s mask mandate. After a series of court hearings, as of Dec. 7 the district reinstated a mask mandate for students and teachers.

April

‘Active shooter’ shot, killed at San Antonio International Airport

Chaos erupted at San Antonio International Airport on April 15 when a man was shot and killed by a park police officer at the airport.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said the man drove into an airport terminal the wrong way when the officer confronted the man, who immediately got out of his car and opened fire at the officer and the building.

The officer returned fire and incapacitated the shooter, who later died at a hospital. The man was identified as Joe Gomez, who McManus said opened fire from a flyover overpass at Highway 281 and Loop 1604 a few hours before the airport incident.

Two people were taken to the hospital for injuries not gun-related.

May

Nirenberg re-elected mayor and Prop B defeated amid record turnout

Mayor Ron Nirenberg won his second term in office in a landslide and a high-profile proposition aimed at weakening collective bargaining rights of San Antonio police narrowly failed during the City Elections on May 1.

Nirenberg cruised to victory without a runoff despite being challenged by 13 opponents, including former Councilman Greg Brockhouse, who forced Nirenberg to a runoff in 2019.

Amid heavy rains and flooding, more than 50,000 voters cast ballots on Election Day, adding to a record number of early voters to total the best turnout for a May election in San Antonio’s history with more than 17% of eligible voters casting a ballot.

Voters were driven to the polls largely by a contentious proposition related to policing and the mayor’s race.

Proposition B was the most controversial race, and the closest. The measure narrowly failed to pass with 51% voting against it. But not before a nasty fight between the San Antonio Police Union and FixSAPD, the group of reformers who campaigned for the ballot measure.

July

Otis McKane found guilty, gets death penalty for killing SAPD detective

Nearly five years after he shot San Antonio Police Department Det. Benjamin Marconi in front of police headquarters in 2016, Otis McKane finally went to trial.

The trial, which was livestreamed on KSAT.com gavel to gavel, lasted 11 days over a three-week period and ended with a jury finding McKane guilty of capital murder in just 25 minutes of deliberations.

After the verdict was read in the courtroom, McKane elbowed a bailiff in the jaw who was attempting to detain him. McKane hadn’t displayed any emotion in the trial prior to the attack other than when he cried when the video of his interrogation showed him sobbing.

Jurors, who weren’t in the room for the outburst, deliberated for about 7.5 hours before determining punishment for McKane – death by lethal injection. It is the first death penalty issued in Bexar County in 5 years.

September

Thousands of Haitian migrants seek asylum in Del Rio

An estimated 15,000 migrants crossed the Rio Grande River from Mexico into Del Rio, where they camped under the Del Rio International Bridge to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most of the migrants started their journey in Haiti years before and were seeking asylum in the U.S. The bridge served as a temporary staging site to provide a shield from the heat while the migrants waited under it to be taken into Border Patrol custody.

The port of entry was eventually closed on Sept. 17 by Customs and Border Protection and traffic was rerouted to the Eagle Pass Port of Entry due to the influx of migrants.

The surge prompted visits by local, state and federal officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott who blamed the Biden Administration for the situation.

A controversy ensued when lawmakers and immigrants rights advocates denounced the treatment of some Haitians by Border Patrol agents. Images and videos taken by journalists and widely shared on social media showed agents on horseback charging and herding migrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande, including an agent swinging his reins toward a migrant. U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas denied that agents whipped anyone but said officials would “investigate the facts.”

The feds eventually arranged flights for the refugees to be deported back to their homeland.

In all, 2021 saw the most migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border since 2000.

October

Fatal flooding in St. Hedwig

Heavy rains triggered by Pacific Hurricane Pamela on Oct. 13 quickly caused problems in the San Antonio area. Creeks began to swell during the overnight hours, resulting in many high-water rescues.

As the heavy rain spread east of San Antonio, Martinez Creek near St. Hedwig began to rise. Two cars that tried to pass through the creek were swept away, resulting in the deaths of two people, 5-year-old Alyssa Layman and 52-year-old Esther Conde.

“There’s nothing more heartbreaking than to see the body of a 5-year-old pulled out of a car,” Sheriff Javier Salazar said tearfully. “She’s dressed for what I’m told is her first day of school. She’s still wearing a backpack.”

Salazar said he did not believe road barriers were up at the time to prevent cars from passing the low-water crossing.

Several weeks after the floods, the St. Hedwig City Council approved a maintenance supervisor position and also want to hire more city employees in the near future in hopes the added manpower will help prevent similar tragedies.

After 2 decades, Nelson Wolff won’t seek another term as Bexar County Judge

During his 2021 State of the County address to the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 6, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff announced he would not seek another term in office.

Wolff said he will serve out the rest of his one year and three months left in his term so that plenty of “good candidates” can have time to make their announcement before the March Primary in 2022.

He was appointed to the position in 2001 and successfully won re-election five times. He has spent 32 years in public office, which include positions as state representative, state senator, city councilman and county judge. He unsuccessfully ran for Congress twice.

Embattled CPS Energy CEO, President announces resignation

After months of controversy following the winter storm in February, CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams informed the Board of Trustees that she would resign effective in early 2022.

“I am thankful to CPS Energy’s 3,000 exceptional energy experts who have never wavered in serving our customers and our entire Greater San Antonio community,” Gold-Williams said in a news release.

Gold-Williams, who made a base salary of roughly $486,000, struggled to lead the utility through flaws exposed by the winter storm. She faced multiple internal complaints and the utility plummeted in public opinion polls.

Her resignation comes less than a week after the resignation of Fred Bonewell, who served as Chief Operating Officer for the utility. His resignation came shortly after the KSAT 12 Defenders unearthed ethics and spending complaints against him.

December

UTSA wins first Conference USA Championship

The UTSA Roadrunners defeated Western Kentucky in dramatic fashion 49-41 on Dec. 3 to claim its first Conference USA championship.

The championship win earned the Roadrunners a trip to the Frisco Bowl against San Diego State.

Despite a fast start, UTSA fell to San Diego State 38-24.

The Roadrunners were looking for their first bowl win in program history, but instead fell to 0-3 in bowl games.

The game capped off UTSA’s best season in program history at 12-2.

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