BOSTON (AP) — A fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 39 people and sickened at least 620 in 19 states dominated Massachusetts headlines in 2012 after investigations revealed that a Framingham pharmacy produced tainted steroid shots that triggered the crisis.
Other top stories of the year included a scandal centered on the state's own drug lab that led to the release of hundreds of prisoners, the defeat of former governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the election of Democrat Elizabeth Warren to the Senate and a return trip to the Super Bowl for the Patriots.
In the meningitis case, a preliminary probe found shoddy sterilization practices and unclean condition at the New England Compounding Center, but none was enough to definitively determine what caused the contamination.
NECC effectively went out of business after suspending its operation. Gov. Deval Patrick said the company may have misled regulators and done work beyond the scope of its state license. Victims have filed at least 50 federal lawsuits seeking millions of dollars and alleging that the firm negligently produced a defective and dangerous product.
The state's own drug lab was at the center of another top story. A Massachusetts chemist was accused of deliberately faking drug test results in criminal cases, a scandal that led to the closure of the lab and the release of at least 200 prisoners whose cases are now on hold. Thousands of cases are under review. At least five senior state officials have resigned or been fired.
The chemist, 35-year-old Annie Dookhan, pleaded not guilty to several criminal charges. Officials have yet to explain why supervisors allowed her to continue working for years after colleagues raised concern about her work habits. The only motive authorities have described is that Dookhan wanted to be seen as a good worker.
In politics in 2012, Democrat Elizabeth Warren became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts. She unseated Republican Sen. Scott Brown in one of the most closely watched races of the election. Warren is taking over a seat held for 47 years by the late Ted Kennedy.
The election also ensured that there will be a Kennedy in Congress again. Democrat Joseph Kennedy III, the 32-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and son of Joseph P. Kennedy II, defeated Republican businessman Sean Bielat in the race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Barney Frank.
Republican Mitt Romney became the latest Massachusetts politician to lose the presidential race when Democratic President Barack Obama was re-elected for his second and final term. Defeat was particularly difficult for Romney, whose aides said hours before polls closed that he had only prepared one speech — to celebrate his victory. In the end, the former Massachusetts governor lost to Obama in his home state, his home county and his hometown of Belmont.
Two key ballot questions got mixed results. Massachusetts voters approved a measure to allow marijuana use for medical reasons, joining 17 other states. But a question legalizing physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill was defeated. Massachusetts would have become the third state to allow it.
Massachusetts also took key steps to implement its new gambling law that calls for three resort-style casinos and one slots parlor in the state. A five-person commission charged with launching and overseeing an entirely new industry began accepting initial applications from casino developers. They include three in western Massachusetts, at least one in Boston and one in southeastern Massachusetts, where the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is guaranteed the right to take a first shot at developing a casino. The community, however, suffered a major setback after the federal government rejected a compact the tribe negotiated with the state. The tribe is gearing to renegotiate.
In western Massachusetts in November, a utility worker looking for a leak accidentally breached a gas line in Springfield, leading to a massive explosion that destroyed a strip club and about 40 other buildings. The sound and smell immediately alerted the worker that he'd breached the line, and he called rescue workers and instructed nearby residents to evacuate in a move that potentially saved lives. More than 20 peoples were injured.
It was a frustrating year for Massachusetts sports fans. The Red Sox fired manager Bobby Valentine less than one year after he was hired to bring order to the clubhouse that disintegrated during the 2011 pennant race. Instead, he clashed with players, coaches and the media, and the team finished last and with its worst record in almost 50 years.
The New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants 21-17 in the Super Bowl, leaving quarterback Tom Brady still one short of the record four Super Bowl victories by Terry Bradshaw for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Montana for the San Francisco 49ers.
Aerosmith returned to Boston to perform a rare free concert in front of a building in which the band got its start in the 1970s. Thousands of fans crowded fire escapes, stood on roofs and hung out windows to see the performance intended to encourage voting and promote the band's new album.
Catherine Greig, the longtime girlfriend of former Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, was sentenced to eight years in prison for helping one of the FBI's most-wanted men evade capture during 16 years on the run. Greig is serving her sentence at a low-security federal prison in Minnesota. Greig, who is in her 60s, wants a judge to reduce her sentence.
Transgender inmate Michelle Kosilek won a long-awaited ruling when a federal judge ordered a taxpayer-funded sex-change surgery for her, saying the state Department of Corrections had shown "deliberate indifference" to her "serious medical need." The judge later put that ruling on hold while the DOC appeals. Kosilek, convicted in the 1990 murder of wife Cheryl Kosilek, was born male but has received hormone treatments and now lives as a woman in an all-male prison.
There were two separate major terrorist convictions in Massachusetts this year. Tarek Mehana of Sudbury was sentenced to 17½ years in prison for traveling to Yemen to seek training in a terrorist camp with the intention of going on to Iraq to fight U.S. soldiers there. When that plan failed, prosecutors said, he returned to the United States and began translating and disseminating materials online promoting violent jihad. In a second case, Rezwan Ferdaus was sentenced to 17 years in prison in a plot to fly remote-controlled model planes packed with explosives into the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol. He pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to terrorists and attempting to damage and destroy federal buildings with an explosive.