- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A search for the biggest headlines in Pennsylvania this year yields … a very big search.

The $11.4 million police manhunt for Eric Frein in the woods of the Pocono Mountains topped headlines for weeks in 2014. U.S. Marshals found the self-taught survivalist outside an abandoned airplane hangar 48 days after he allegedly shot two state troopers, killing one. Frein, who is awaiting trial, has not yet entered a plea.

A much shorter search capped a tragic story in the Philadelphia suburbs. Authorities looked for ex-Marine Brad Stone for more than a day after he allegedly killed his ex-wife and five of her relatives. Stone was also found in the woods; he had committed suicide near his Pennsburg home.

Another big story: Entertainer Bill Cosby resigned as a longtime trustee of Temple University after sexual assault allegations resurfaced. The Philadelphia native has never been charged and denies wrongdoing. But accusations by multiple women received renewed attention after comedian Hannibal Buress called Cosby a “rapist” in October.

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It was a year of change for state government. In May, Pennsylvania became the 19th state to allow gay marriage after a federal judge struck down its ban on recognizing same-sex unions.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett suffered a historic election loss to Democratic businessman Tom Wolf in November. It was the first time a governor had ever been denied a second term.

But perhaps the most sensational story out of Harrisburg involved an email porn scandal that played a big role in the resignation of state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery.

An investigation by the state attorney general’s office resulted in discipline for dozens of employees who exchanged emails with explicit content or pornographic images. McCaffery abruptly retired after revelations he sent or received such email; a fellow justice had also accused him of coercion.

The email probe was one of three that put Attorney General Kathleen Kane on the hot seat. She also took heat for quashing a sting that allegedly found four Philadelphia lawmakers taking gifts from an informant. Kane said the case was flawed, but District Attorney Seth Williams revived it.

And now Kane herself is being investigated. A grand jury is looking into whether her office violated secrecy laws by disclosing information about a former local NAACP official to the Philadelphia Daily News.

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Penn State continues remaking itself following the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal. New president Eric Barron began his tenure in the spring after leaving Florida State. And new football coach James Franklin led the Nittany Lions to a 6-6 record and a scheduled appearance in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College on Dec. 27.

The postseason game carries particular significance because Penn State was banned from bowls for four years starting in 2012 due to the scandal involving the former assistant coach. The NCAA lifted the sanction in September, citing reforms in the university’s athletic program.

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Blood and screams filled the halls of a suburban Pittsburgh school in April after a 16-year-old student went on a stabbing rampage. Alex Hribal faces counts including attempted homicide for allegedly stabbing 20 students and a security guard at Franklin Regional High School. All survived.

A surveillance camera in Philadelphia captured horrifying footage last month: a woman fighting for her life as man grabs and drags her down a sidewalk. Three days later, police found Carlesha Freeland-Gaither alive in Maryland with the help of a GPS device on the car of her alleged abductor.

An Ohio middle school teacher continues to recover after her skull was crushed by a rock dropped onto her vehicle from an overpass in central Pennsylvania. Sharon Budd has undergone six surgeries and faces more. Four young men have been charged in the Union County case.

In July, a judge ruled a Nazi war crimes suspect who had lived in Philadelphia for decades should be extradited to Germany to face charges of aiding and abetting the murder of 216,000 Jews at Auschwitz. But the ailing Johann Breyer, 89, died the day before the decision became public.

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Philadelphia businessman Lewis Katz and six others died in May when his private plane crashed during takeoff near Boston. The accident came just days after Katz, 72, and philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest paid $88 million to become co-owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com. Katz’s son later sold his father’s stake, leaving Lenfest as sole proprietor.

In July, 82-year-old billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife died of cancer. The heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune, who also published the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, had funded conservative and libertarian causes.

And Pittsburgh Steelers fans mourned the loss of Chuck Noll. The coach, who spent 23 seasons with the team, turned the sorry franchise into a powerhouse by winning four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s. No one else in the NFL has ever matched that feat.

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There was big football news out of Philadelphia this year, too. The NFL urged a federal judge to settle thousands of concussion lawsuits with a fund for retirees that could reach $1 billion over 65 years. The league disclosed in September that it expects nearly three in 10 retired players, or about 6,000 men, to develop moderate dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

And in baseball, Williamsport-based Little League celebrated its 75th anniversary. Its annual World Series tourney got lots of attention in August as Philadelphia phenom Mo’ne Davis became the first female pitcher to win a game there.

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Follow Kathy Matheson at www.twitter.com/kmatheson


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