WTNH celebrates 70 years: A look back at the 2000s

70th Anniversary

As the new millennium began, there were concerns about the Y2K bug. 

“Everybody was worried about things going haywire, so that was a big night,” remembers anchor Keith Kountz.

Planes were grounded, banks were concerned, and everyone spent a fortune upgrading their computer systems. It turns out, there were no problems, so the state got ready for what would become a tradition: The UConn women won their second national championship in 2000.

2000 also meant OpSail in July, which News Channel 8 brought to you from the beach, the water, and the air.

It was impressive, but the biggest show of the year started in August. At a rally in Nashville, Vice President Al Gore announced Senator Joe Lieberman would be his running mate. 

“He had appeal to both parties. He was the first Jew ever nominated by a major political party,” said Chief Capitol Correspondent Mark Davis.

Newschannel 8 sent crews all over the country with Lieberman.

“To me, it was exciting,” said photographer George DeYounge. “So you actually had to separate the excitement from we have to do a job, we have to do work, we still have deadlines.”

“And we went, I think it was 96 hours non-stop without sleep,” remembered Davis. “I hadn’t done that since college. It was unbelievable. We did 12 cities, just zipping across the country.”

On election night, with crews at both campaign headquarters, a sudden change from the network: Florida was back in play. Davis was there as the Florida recount went on for weeks, until the U.S. Supreme Court stopped it, making George W. Bush president.

Back in Connecticut, May of 2001 saw the Latex Foam fire in Ansonia.

“At the time, we had the only helicopter in Connecticut, and that day it was such a powerful tool,” recalled anchor Darren Kramer, who was on the desk that day. Ansonia lost its biggest employer. It seemed like the story of the year. Until September. 

The News Director told Darren Kramer something was going on in New York.

“And we both looked at the TV monitor that was on my desk and we watched the second plane live hit the building together,” Kramer remembers. “Unreal.”

161 people from Connecticut died that day. Many more had close calls.

“And so many Connecticut families, Connecticut workers affected by that tragedy,” Kountz recalled. “That was a very emotional, tough story to cover.”

Another tough story was the 2001 arrest of Waterbury Mayor Phil Giordano. Erin Cox was the Waterbury Bureau reporter.

“The FBI had wiretaps on Mr. Giordano because it was believed there may have been some quid pro quo and maybe he was taking bribes,” said Cox.

What they heard on the wiretaps was much worse. Giordano arranging to have a prostitute bring him two young girls to molest. A jury found him guilty on 17 counts.

While that was making its way through the courts, the UConn women won their third championship on the basketball court.

Back in the court of law, 2002 saw Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel on trial for the murder of neighbor Martha Moxley from 1975. A jury found him guilty. People are still debating whether attorney Mickey Sherman provided an adequate defense, or was playing to the cameras.

“He provided comment and summary to that large media gathering, every day,” said Cox, who covered much of the trial. “So some people question whether his focus was in the right place.”

In 2003, the Mayor of Bridgeport went on trial. Joe Ganim was accused of getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts in exchange for steering city contracts to certain companies. Ganim would sit at the defense table in the morning, then go back and run the city every afternoon, until a jury convicted him on 16 counts, sending him to prison for 7 years.

In the middle of that trial came one of the biggest storms of the decade. Gil Simmons had just joined News Channel 8, and he warned everyone that the coming storm was going to be worse than first thought. 

“And the co-workers that initially liked me, didn’t even want to talk to me after that,” Simmons said.

All that snow was forgotten in April when the Uconn women won their fourth national championship.

“Geno Auriemma is one of the greatest coaches ever – men’s women’s, no matter what,” said Sports Director John Pierson. “What they’ve done up there is probably never going to be duplicated.”

Geno Auriemma made women’s basketball so popular in Connecticut, the Mohegan tribe brought a WNBA team to Mohegan Sun in 2003. 

The very next year, the men won their second national title. The very next night, the women won their third straight title, giving UConn the men’s and women’s championship in the same year. 

While the UConn victory parade was going around the capitol in Hartford, lawmakers inside were working on the impeachment of Governor John Rowland. Then in June of 2004, Rowland resigned. Six months later, he pled guilty to not paying taxes on gifts from state contractors and was sentenced to a year in prison.

By 2005, serial killer Michael Ross had already been in prison for 30 years for killing 8 women. He gave up on up his appeals and on May 13, as anti-death penalty protestors gathered outside the prison, he became the only person executed in Connecticut in the past 60 years.

Later that year, Hurricane Katrina battered the gulf coast. Newschannel 8 was there to tell the stories of loss, and of the folks from Connecticut there to help.

“It really made you think,” recalled Chief Photographer Keith Porter, who went on the grueling trip. “We had our own ways of getting through the days, but it was tough.”

In January, 2007, some intentional destruction in New Haven. The Elm City imploded the Coliseum. 35 years of concerts and sports, blown up to make way for a parking lot.

In July of 2007, a home invasion robbery in Cheshire turned into a gruesome murder. Erin Cox remembers her first live report on the scene.

“The neighbors were gathered behind the camera and they were hearing me say that there were 3 fatalities and 1 survivor and I could hear the gasps,” Cox remembered.

“I actually live not very far away from that scene and I remember coming in that morning and us being on the air, pretty much all day,” said Kountz.

It was robbery, rape, arson and murder, all in an upscale suburb.

“I think that made some people think about getting protection for themselves and their house who didn’t have those worries before,” Kramer said. 

The trial of the two parolees caught at the scene would shape the state’s death penalty debate in the coming decade.

In 2009, a pet chimpanzee named Travis mauled a friend of his owner and was shot dead by police.

Then, a string of tragedies involving young people: 

A Wesleyan University student, shot and killed by a stalker in May.

In June, a speeding Milford police cruiser killed two teenagers. The officer later sent to prison.

The body of Yale grad student Annie Le was found stuffed in the wall of a research building on what was supposed to be her wedding day in September. A co-worker confessed to her murder.

And standout UConn Cornerback Jasper Howard was stabbed to death outside a postgame party. His killer pled no contest to manslaughter in court.

But let’s end the decade with the other court, because in 2009, The UConn women won their sixth national title, with many more to come in the next decade.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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