A CLOSER LOOK: Arkansas 2020 year in review

A Closer Look

Media and technology and symbol 2020. Getty Images.

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — In 2020, Arkansas started the year with stormy weather and ended the year with snowy weather. The rest of the months were stories from court to COVID to diamonds to deaths.

Here are a few headlines


Jan. 7: The World Health Organization’s Chinese branch was notified about the novel coronavirus — 2019-nCoV. However, cases were reported as early as November 2019 in China. The virus is believed to have started at a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan in the Hubei province. On December 31, Wuhan told health authorities about a “mysterious pneumonia” connected to more than 24 patients whose commonality was that of a wet market that sold seafood, meat, and wildlife — Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. Arkansas Department of Health monitored the outbreak.

Jan. 10 & 11: In severe winter weather conditions, an unprecedented eights tornadoes hit. Logan County was hardest hit with two EF2 tornadoes that destroyed structures and homes. No injuries or deaths were reported.

Jan. 17: Arkansans who have a prescription for medical marijuana have spent about $33 million. By the end of the year, sales surpassed $200 million — that’s nearly 31,000 pounds of the green stuff. Arkansas voted to legalize the product in 2016 and the first dispensary opened in May 2019.

Jan. 31: About 44 miles of The Delta Heritage Trail State Park, a biking/pedestrian trail in eastern Arkansas, are complete. The Walton Family Foundation put in a $20 million matching grant which will complete the 84.5-mile biking and pedestrian trail from Lexa to Arkansas City.


Feb. 17: True Grit author Charles Portis died in Little Rock, he was 86. The Arkansas native’s True Grit novel was made into a movie twice. He was born in El Dorado and studied journalism at the University of Arkansas.

Feb. 19: The Arkansas Department of Health reported 56 flu deaths since late September 2019. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 14,000 flu deaths nationally — 92 were children. By March 20, the numbers in Arkansas increased to 96 influenza-related deaths this season, 10 were in one week and of those, three were children.


March 4 & 5: Bella Vista resident Mauricio Torres, 50, went from guilty of capital murder to a mistrial within 24 hours. A Benton County judge declared a mistrial after jurors saw Torres’ stepson bolt out of the witness box while testifying on the first day of the sentencing hearing. Torres was previously convicted and sentenced to death in 2016 for killing his young son, but it was overturned by the state’s high court. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments by Zoom on January 28, 2021.

March 11: The first presumptive positive COVID-19 case was reported in Arkansas. The person was from Pine Bluff. A public health emergency was issued by Governor Asa Hutchinson.

March 15 & 16: Public schools switch to online instruction due to the pandemic.

March 24: First COVID-19 deaths happen on the same day, Brian Dill, 59, and Bill Barton, 90, from Pulaski and Cleburne Counties, respectively.

March 30: First COVID-19 death in a long-term care setting. Alice Jett, 83, was from Pulaski County.


April 3: Walmart’s 50th shareholder’s meeting was held virtually, CEO Doug McMillon announced. The reason? COVID-19. The meeting was held on June 3.

April 5: Oldest Arkansan to die from COVID-19, Mary Blount, was 107. She was from Pulaski County.

April 9: The 100th day of the year for those counting!


May 1-3: Five Cummins Unit inmates died from COVID-19-related illnesses. These are the first inmate deaths from the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

May 6: Murphy Oil Corporation announced it would move its corporate headquarters from El Dorado to Houston. About 80 jobs were eliminated.

May 25: George Floyd died while in police custody in Minnesota. The incident sparked protests, marches, and rallies nationally, including the Bentonville Square. On June 9, in Fayetteville, people lined the streets of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. peacefully protesting Floyd’s death. A mural was created in Fayetteville to remember him.

May 26: Dr. Nate Smith will head to Atlanta and take a top position with the CDC. Dr. José Romero will serve as Arkansas’ Interim Health Secretary. On Aug. 5, Dr. Romero was appointed as the permanent health secretary by Governor Asa Hutchinson.


June 2: Nexstar, the company that owns this station and WGN America, announced the launch of a three-hour national newscast titled, “News Nation.” Former KNWA/FOX24, and current Little Rock news anchor, Aaron Nolan will be a News Nation anchor. The premiere date is scheduled for September 1.

June 24: Former Maricopa County Assessor and adoption attorney, Paul Petersen pleads guilty in all three states (AR, AZ, UT) for human trafficking. On Dec. 1, via a Zoom federal court hearing in Fayetteville, he was sentenced to more than six years in prison. He’ll serve time in Arizona.


July 4: Celebrating Independence Day was different due to COVID-19. Many cities placed restrictions, and required people to “mask up” and “social distance.”

July 29: The Department of Justice announced that a University of Arkansas professor was indicted by a federal grand jury of wire fraud and two counts of passport fraud. Simon Saw-Teong Ang, 63, of Fayetteville, was arrested in May, suspended from UARK without pay, and later terminated. He was accused of failing to disclose ties with the Chinese government/companies. Ang pleaded not guilty. It’s unclear if a case is pending in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville.


Aug. 3: The Sturgeon Full Moon. The nickname comes from the giant Sturgeon fish in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, which are typically caught this time of the summer.

Aug. 15: Two people were extricated from a car after hitting a power pole, gas meter, multiple parked vehicles, and a workshop in Lowell.

Aug. 20: Recruitment flyers of the “KKK” kind were found in and around Baxter County.

Aug. 25: Bentonville students, and all across Arkansas, were welcomed back to school — some online, some in-person. The pandemic forced schools to close in all 50 states at some point during the 2019-2020 academic year.


Sept. 1: Our neighbor to the west, LeFlore County, Oklahoma, dealt with flooding, washed-out roads, and water rescues, due to severe weather.

Sept. 2: The Confederate Monument located on Bentonville Square will be relocated to James H. Berry Park in Bentonville. The statue of the Confederate soldier has been at the square since 1908.

Sept. 23: The second-largest diamond was found at Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park. Kevin Kinard, 33, from Maumelle made the big find of 9.07 carats.


The weather started out dry in October, but toward the end of the month, there was a lot of rainfall! Right before Halloween, Oct. 26-27, in NWA and Fayetteville nearly 3 inches of rain fell. In the River Valley, nearly 7 inches of rain came down in Fort Smith. Firefighters in Siloam Springs rescued a dog impacted by the flooding.


Nov. 3: A 4.49-carat diamond was found at Crater of Diamonds State Park. Steven McCool, 34, from Fayetteville, made the find.

Nov. 9: An arrest was made in the 2004 murder of Fayetteville college student Rebekah Gould. William Alma Miller, 44, is jailed in Oregon after returning from a long-term visit to the Philippines.

Nov. 19: Tyson Foods suspended plant managers in Iowa for making bets on how many employees would get COVID-19. The seven managers were fired in mid-December for their actions.


Sunrise in Prairie Creek overlooking Beaver Lake. 12/11/2020. Photo courtesy of Tom Dougherty

Dec. 13 & 14: The first snow fell on Sunday, December 13, and on Monday, December 14. The storm system brought in accumulating snowfall to parts of NWA and the River Valley.

Dec. 14: The state received its first shipment of Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine. Healthcare workers were first in the state to get vaccinated. As of mid-December, the state had more than 3,000 COVID-19-related deaths. Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. José Romero reminded people even with a vaccine, “this pandemic is not under control.” Here are some vaccine facts.

Dec. 14: The Electoral College voted 302-232 declaring Joe Biden the next president and Sen. Kamala Harris vice president.

Dec. 15: The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it won’t rehear its August decision vacating the 2017 preliminary injunction issued against abortion restrictions.

Dec. 16: A national anti-abortion advocacy group, named Arkansas the “most pro-life state in America.”

Dec. 21: The man accused of killing a Fayetteville college student, Rebekah Gould, was extradited to Arkansas from Oregon. William Alma Miller, 44, entered a not-guilty plea on Dec. 23. His next court date is in August 2021. He’s being held in Izard County jail on no bond.

Dec. 25: Merry Christmas!

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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