The Top 10 Stories of 2023

The Top 10 Stories of 2023

Table of Contents

These are the top ten stories, as judged by the number of people who read them, in 2023. What did you think was the most important local story of the year? Vote now!

We made it to the end of 2023, which means a look back at the top 10 stories of the year. This year, we decided to do it by the numbers – and give you the top ten stories in Niceville, Valparaiso, Bluewater Bay, and Eglin Air Force Base by the number of readers each story had.

At the bottom of the story, you can vote for the event, news, or happening you thought was the most important news story of the year.

Let us know what you think!

#10 | Could the Mullet Festival Make a Comeback? Maybe. | October 23

a man speaks at the microphone while another man listens in.
Matt McKinnon speaks to the Niceville City Council about his proposal to revive the Mullet Festival, at a city council meeting in 2023. Mark Wagner listens on.

Matt McKinnon and Mark Wagner want to revive Niceville’s iconic Mullet Festival, which ran for over 40 years in Boggy Bayou before concluding four years ago. 

In an October presentation to the Niceville City Council, the pair sought support for the festival’s return. While over two-thirds of respondents in a Mid Bay Newsletter poll expressed interest in the revival, Councilman Sal Nodjomian raised initial concerns about the proposal’s financial details. 

Nodjomian insisted on a comprehensive financial plan, expressing the need to clarify how the festival would benefit the city and its residents. Additionally, Councilwoman Cathy Alley voiced worries that an annual festival might hinder her efforts to secure a long-term lease from the Air Force for the Mullet Festival Grounds, where she envisions building a sports complex.

A month later, at the Niceville Council’s November meeting – McKinnon and Wagner returned to ask the city for approval and support for the festival. This time, The Niceville City Council gave initial approval for the return of the Mullet Festival.

However, the approval comes with conditions, including resolving parking issues and obtaining approval from Northwest Florida State College President Dr. Devin Stephenson for event patron parking on campus. The council also seeks assurance on staffing arrangements with the city’s police, fire department, public works department, and county EMS for the proposed festival. Tentative approval has been granted for the use of the Mullet Festival brand.

Promoters Matthew McKinnon and Mark Wagner envision a large-scale festival in October 2024, with plans to sell 70,000 tickets over three days. They propose an alcohol-free Sunday, varied ticket pricing, a ‘Miss Mullet Pageant,’ a food court, a vendor village, and a concert stage. 

However, concerns raised by city officials need more specifics on required personnel and potential safety hazards associated with parking logistics and late-night activities. 

 

#9 | That Trap House on 47th and Fir Is About To Be Forclosed On | February 23

A look at the property on 47th and fir before it was razed.

A story that made our Top Stories of 2022 list continued to make headlines in 2023: The house on the corner of 47th Street and Fir in Okaloosa County (now incorporated into the city) that was known for drug activity before it was foreclosed on and razed to the ground. 

The Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners has taken steps toward addressing a long-standing issue at 919 47th Street, initiating foreclosure proceedings to take the property from its current owner. 

The property has been a source of concern for the community, with multiple calls to the Sheriff’s Office and a SWAT team raid in connection to a drug overdose death. 

The former owners, Charles and Pauline Rice, and their heirs have held the property since 1968. The house, marred by drug-related incidents, calls for service, and blight, is slated for either renewal or demolition following the foreclosure.

Community members and real estate professionals view the foreclosure as a positive step, anticipating that the property, once cleaned up, could benefit the community by providing much-needed housing. The county plans to sell the land, with potential buyers required to commit to cleaning up the property.

After the foreclosure, a developer purchased the land and annexed into the city limits. Annexation into the city means the home will have city police and fire protection as well as other local benefits, making it much more difficult for drug users to damage the property’s value in the future. 

#8 | The Beta Alia Arrives At Duke Field For Tests | October 26

Dignitaries speak in front of the Beta Alia after the electric airship finished its voyage from South Burlington, Vermont to Duke Field in Florida

Duke Field welcomed the Beta Alia, an all-electric aircraft, as part of a partnership between Beta and the U.S. Air Force to explore the potential military and civilian electric-powered flight. 

The small, quiet aircraft with a 50-foot wingspan made almost 20 stops on its 2,000-mile journey from South Burlington, Vermont, to Duke Field. 

The plane has two modes, one for vertical take-off and landing and the other, as configured for the visit, with three propellers for horizontal flight. 

The Air Force installed a particular battery terminal at Duke Field to charge the plane’s five batteries, each equivalent to a Tesla car battery.

Beta CEO Kyle Clark expressed the importance of the Air Force partnership in exposing potential issues and leveraging the military’s expertise in repair and maintenance procedures. Colonel Elliott Leigh, Chief Commercialization Officer for the Department of the Air Force, highlighted potential use cases for electric aircraft, including personnel recovery, aeromedical evacuation, and cost-effective airlifts for smaller items. 

The Beta Alia promises reduced flight costs, supporting both manned and unmanned missions, and lays the groundwork for the future of electric aviation. Clark emphasized a step-wise, pragmatic approach to development, focusing on benefits such as zero fuel consumption and quiet operation.

#7 | Tragic Accident Claims Life of 41-Year-Old Woman in Niceville Crash | December 5

A 41-year-old Crestview woman died in a single-vehicle accident at the intersection of Forest Drive and College Boulevard in Niceville around 7:50 AM on Tuesday. 

The driver, traveling northbound on Forest Road, veered left, left the roadway, and collided with a tree beyond the roadside gulley. The blue four-door Ford sedan showed signs of burn marks on the bonnet and hood. 

Witnesses reported seeing a fire crew extinguishing a fire at the scene. 

Unfortunately, the woman was pronounced dead on-site, and it was noted that she was not wearing a seatbelt. The Florida Highway Patrol has informed the driver’s next of kin. 

#6 | Suspect Apprehended After a 10-Hour Standoff on 23rd Street | May 24

Members of the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office prepare to make contact with Michael Leavins during his 10 hours as a barricaded suspect in a home on 23rd street.

Michael Steven Leavins, involved in a nearly 10-hour standoff with Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputies in Niceville, was arrested, charged, and convicted as a result. Leavins was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days in prison on November 20. 

The incident began with a domestic violence call from a female victim who lived with Leavins. According to the Sheriff’s Office, who charged Leavins – he had been drinking heavily before the standoff. 

The situation escalated, prompting the victim to call Leavins’ mother for assistance. The victim reported Leavins having weapons despite being a felon, leading to a barricaded suspect operation by the Sheriff’s Office.

A search warrant was obtained, and the Sheriff’s Office SWAT team found Leavins in the attic with three rifles, three pistols, and ammunition. An additional pistol was discovered in a vehicle. Leavins, prohibited from possessing firearms due to a felony conviction in 2012, faces charges for weapon possession, obstructing a search warrant execution, and domestic violence. With a history of convictions dating back to 2002, Leavins was arrested around 6 pm after the deployment of tear gas and extensive law enforcement efforts during the standoff.

Leavins would plead guilty to all charges. In addition to his time in detention, Leavins must attend Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings, participate in a batterers intervention program, submit to random drug and alcohol screening, and not use drugs or alcohol while he is on probation. Finally, the court ordered him to write a letter of apology to a sheriff’s deputy who was involved in the incident. 

The firearms involved in the incident were returned to Wayne Vines, their owner. 

#5 Here's What Went Down In The Destin High School Board's Emergency Meeting | May 12

Destin High School faced a tumultuous emergency meeting on May 12, where concerns about financial impropriety, a deficit, and a student-run Facebook group supporting teachers were discussed. 

Principal Christine Cruickshank acknowledged mistakes and growing pains in the school’s two-year existence. Rumblings began with a Facebook page, Destin Students United, supporting teachers who allegedly petitioned for a board member’s removal.

The school’s accreditation status was questioned, with parents expressing uncertainty about the legitimacy of their children’s diplomas. The school received their official accreditation letter in July of 2023. Principal Cruickshank imposed restrictions on discussing adult issues with students, warning of severe disciplinary action. 

The school’s financial audit revealed a $2 million deficit, but board member Heidi LoCicero clarified that no money was stolen. Despite challenges, the school graduated its first class on May 26, with plans to grow rapidly in the coming year. 

Since the story was released on May 12, the school has opened a new multi-million dollar facility on their campus that will house students moving forward. 

#4 | Former SEC Quarterback Ryan Mallett Dies in Destin | June 24

Former Michigan and Arkansas Quarterback Ryan Mallett.

Former Arkansas quarterback and head coach of the White Hall High School football team, Ryan Mallett, tragically drowned in the Gulf of Mexico near Destin, Florida, in June. 

The incident occurred when a group of people, including Mallett, encountered difficulties returning to shore near the second sandbar. 

Lifeguards retrieved an adult male, identified as Mallett, who was found unresponsive. 

Despite efforts by deputies, he was declared dead upon arrival at the Destin Emergency Room. 

Mallett, aged 35, had previously played for Michigan and Arkansas, eventually being drafted by the New England Patriots, and he retired after participating in 21 NFL games.

The White Hall School District expressed profound sadness, remembering Coach Mallett as a beloved figure in their statement, urging prayers for his family, team, students, fellow coaches, and the school district staff. 

Beach safety reports indicated that the flags were yellow, signifying a medium hazard on the day of the incident.

 

#3 | Niceville Toddler Medivaced To Pensacola After Drowning Incident | May 28

A toddler from the Niceville area was airlifted to a Pensacola hospital after a near-drowning incident at a lake in the Rocky Bayou Country Club Estates. 

The East Niceville Fire Department, supported by the North Bay Fire Department’s Advanced Life Support unit, responded to the call. Initially transported by ground to Twin Cities E.R. by East Niceville Fire and Okaloosa County EMS, the toddler was airlifted to Pensacola. 

As of the latest update, the toddler remained alive, though their current condition is unknown, as stated by Niceville Fire Chief Tommy Mayville.

The incident underscores the heightened risk of drowning during the summer season, with Memorial Day marking the beginning of increased drowning calls. Florida Department of Health Deputy Secretary Dr. Kenneth Scheppke highlighted that drowning is the leading cause of death for children aged 1-4 in Florida, emphasizing the importance of water safety during the summer months.

#2 | Members of Congress Lambase Eglin General Over UFOs | July 21

Eglin Commander Jeffrey Geraghty received incoming from Members of Congress over Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) this summer.

Members of Congress, including Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), Tim Burchett (R-TN), and Jared Moskowitz (D-FL)accused Eglin Air Force Base Commander Brigadier General Jeffrey Geraghty of hiding information related to Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) at a press conference. 

Congresspersons claimed that despite expectations of a briefing on the issue, the provided information did not address UAPs, leading to a confrontation where General Geraghty allegedly refused to provide the requested details. 

Luna reported an argument with the general over pilots approaching Rep. Matt Gaetz’s office with UAP information. Concerns were raised about potential security issues, questioning whether UAPs could be of earthly origin and criticizing the lack of transparency.

In response, the Pentagon stated that a classified briefing on intelligence collection threats was offered during a visit by Representatives Gaetz, Burchett, and Luna on February 21. 

The Congress members halted the briefing, seeking information on UAPs instead. The Pentagon explained that access restrictions prevented Burchett and Luna, who are not members of a congressional defense committee, from joining the discussion reserved for Representative Gaetz. 

 

#1 | Niceville Cardiologist Arrested For Domestic Violence | July 6

Dr. Ian Weisberg's next court appearance is January 8th, 2024.

Dr. Ian Weisberg, a 47-year-old resident of Niceville, Florida, was arrested by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office on charges of domestic violence related to aggravated battery causing bodily harm. 

The arrest took place on July 3 after a call from Weisberg’s residence on Baywind Drive. Deputies found the female victim with severe swelling, bruising on her face and head, and visible signs of blood from one eyelid. The victim reported being repeatedly pushed and thrown to the ground by her hair. 

This is not the first time Weisberg has faced allegations of violent incidents, as he was previously arrested in 2018 on charges of battery and battery by strangulation. However, the case was dropped by the prosecutor. 

Weisberg’s arrest underscores the ongoing concern about domestic violence, prompting law enforcement to take swift action in such cases. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, seek help from local support services or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Weisberg’s next appearance in front of the judge will happen on January 8, 2024. We’ll keep you updated as to what happens in the case.

Your Vote: What Was Niceville's Most Impactful Story of 2023?

Your Vote: Results For Most Impactful Story of 2023

Christopher Saul

Christopher Saul

Christopher Saul is the publisher of Mid Bay News. He graduated from Southern Methodist University's School of Journalism with a Convergance Journalism Degree and a Master's Degree in Public Administration From Florida State.

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