Penn State, historic flooding topped Pa.'s news in 2011
In this Nov. 8, 2011 file photo students greet Penn State coach Joe Paterno as he arrives at his home in State College, Pa. Paterno was fired in the aftermath of child sex-abuse charges against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who maintains his innocence. Paterno is not a target of the investigation. (By The Associated Press)
The child molestation allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky rocked Happy Valley. The fallout led to the ouster of legendary football coach Joe Paterno — who is now also battling lung cancer — and university President Graham Spanier.
Two Penn State administrators were charged with perjury in the case. Sandusky and the university officials are awaiting two separate trials; all three say they are innocent.
Before that November bombshell, it looked like Mother Nature might be the top newsmaker.
In late August, the lights went out for more than 900,000 residents when Hurricane Irene whipped through the state; some lost power for days. Philadelphia for the first time ever shut down its transit system in anticipation of the lashing winds and rain. Six deaths were reported statewide.
Less than two weeks later, the region already saturated by Irene was pounded by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. Officials ordered a mandatory evacuation of about 100,000 people in the Wilkes-Barre area as the raging Susquehanna River threatened to top the levees.
The historic flooding that followed killed 12 people and damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes and businesses, from Tunkhannock to Bloomsburg to Harrisburg. But Wilkes-Barre was largely spared even as the river crested at nearly 42.7 feet, higher than the record set during catastrophic Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
To date, Pennsylvanians have received about $420 million in federal disaster aid as a result of both storms. That number promises to climb.
Penn State wasn't the only institution rocked by child sex-abuse allegations. In February, the Philadelphia district attorney charged a former high-ranking Roman Catholic priest with endangering children by transferring pedophile priests among parishes.
Monsignor William Lynn, once the secretary for clergy, became the first Catholic church official in the United States to face criminal charges. Defense lawyers said Lynn was following orders from his then-boss, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who was not charged and is now ill with dementia and cancer.
Prosecutors also charged two priests, a former priest and a Catholic school teacher with raping boys in the 1990s. The archdiocese later suspended 21 priests named as child molestation suspects in the grand jury report.
The developments eventually led to the September departure of Cardinal Justin Rigali, who was replaced by new Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput.
One of the biggest court scandals in U.S. history ended with lengthy prison terms for two former Luzerne County judges who, prosecutors said, essentially jailed kids for cash.
Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella were charged with taking $2.8 million in payoffs to place juvenile offenders in privately owned lockups. Many teens got only cursory trials, authorities said.
Ciavarella was convicted and sentenced to 28 years in prison; Conahan pleaded guilty and will serve more than 17 years. The developer who offered money to the judges, Robert Mericle, is paying nearly $18 million to settle a lawsuit filed by juveniles detained in his facilities.
A stomach-churning grand jury report issued in Philadelphia in January made horrific allegations against a local doctor. Authorities said late-term abortions were routinely performed by unlicensed and untrained staff, and viable newborns were killed by having their spinal cords cut with scissors.
Kermit Gosnell, 70, was charged with murder in the deaths of seven babies and one patient, but he has denied the allegations. His wife and six clinic employees have pleaded guilty to lesser roles in the clinic enterprise, which authorities called a "house of horrors."
In October, a Philadelphia landlord made a stunning discovery in his basement: four mentally disabled adults, living in squalid conditions. One was chained to the boiler.
Authorities now say the four were victims of 51-year-old Linda Weston, a paroled killer charged with kidnapping and abusing them to get their government benefit checks. Weston's daughter, boyfriend and friend also have been charged in the case.