Cpl. Eugene Cole (from left), Susan Collins, Bruce Poliquin and Stormy Daniels were major players in the most-read stories in Maine in 2018. Credit: Composite image

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, controversial immigration policies, the rise of the alt-right movement and Stormy Daniels were some of the biggest stories of 2018 throughout the nation — and each one played a role in shaping Maine throughout the past year, too.

But 2018 was also a year of tragedy. A sheriff’s deputy was killed in the line of duty. A Bar Harbor teen was killed and a UMaine football player collapsed and died in the middle of practice.

Thankfully, there were some moments to celebrate, too. Remember the Mainer who fought off a black bear to save his puppy? And while Stephen King may be a horror writer by trade, his passion for Maine is anything but scary.

Here’s a look back at the most-read BDN stories of 2018.

1. Susan Collins votes yes on Kavanaugh confirmation

Credit: Alex Brandon | AP

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court was one of the top political stories of 2018 nationwide — and Maine’s own Republican Sen. Susan Collins played a key role in making it happen.

In the days following Kavanaugh’s September testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Collins’ phone lines were flooded with calls from constituents hoping to influence her decision. Her website crashed and 200 protesters gathered outside the senator’s Portland office. Some of the calls were threatening in nature, which Collins called a “new low.”

Ultimately, Collins cast a key vote to confirm Kavanaugh, 51-49. The next week, a letter that claimed to be contaminated with poison was sent to Collins’ Bangor home, prompting an adjacent road to be shut down as a Hazmat team investigated the residence.

Collins’ approval rating among Democrats has suffered since the vote and speculation about who will run against her in 2020. House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Susan Rice, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, are among the well-known Democrats publicly considering runs so far, and a fundraising account for Collins’ eventual opponent has so far raised $3.7 million.

2. Border patrol agents question drivers on I-95 in Maine

A random checkpoint stopped traffic in the southbound lanes of Interstate 95 between the Penobscot County towns of Howland and Lincoln in late June, and led to the arrest of a fugitive Haitian immigrant who previously was ordered to be deported.

The routine checkpoints have been going on for years, but the practice became a national story in the context of President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on immigration.

Border Patrol agents also boarded a bus in Bangor in January, and a Concord Coach Lines employee in May told a bus passenger at the Bangor Transportation Center that only U.S. citizens were allowed to ride the bus.

3. Cpl. Eugene Cole is killed in Norridgewock, kicking off a four-day manhunt

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Somerset County sheriff’s Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole, 61, was found shot dead in Norridgewock on April 25. He was the first law enforcement officer shot and killed in the line of duty since 1989, and the whole state followed as the town of Norridgewock turned into the site of a four-day manhunt that ended when authorities found John D. Williams outside a camp near Lost Brook.

After his arrest, Williams told police he “eliminated” Cole because he was mad at the deputy for arresting his fiancee a few days earlier, according to an affidavit filed by state prosecutors.

In June, Williams, 29, pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder. In August, Williams’ lawyer requested that his client’s confession not be allowed as evidence in his murder trial due to claims that Williams was beaten by police and that he was suffering from opioid withdrawal.

Williams’ trial is scheduled for May 2019 in Portland.

4. Local teen Mikaela Conley is killed in Bar Harbor

Credit: Bill Trotter

The body of 19-year-old Mikaela Conley was found in June behind an elementary school, shocking Bar Harbor residents. Conley’s former classmate, Jalique Keene, was arrested two days later and charged with her murder.

A security camera recorded Keene dragging Conley’s lifeless body across a school playground toward a wooded area where the body was later found, according to a police affidavit. Conley died of blunt force trauma to her head and by strangulation.

In September, Keene pleaded not guilty. His trial will likely take place in May 2019.

5. Stephen King reveals why he chose to live in Bangor

Credit: Carroll Hall

It was a good year for Stephen King. He published two books, one of which has already been picked up by HBO as a TV series; “Castle Rock” debuted on Hulu; and a King-themed haunted house in Prospect held up traffic on Route 1 for hours.

But the most popular King article of the year came from his own hand: a resurfaced essay titled “A Novelist’s Perspective on Bangor” that he wrote for a 1983 Bangor Historical Society event. Finally, some insight into why Bangor’s most famous resident picked the Queen City.

6. Ranked-choice voting sends Maine’s 2nd District into mayhem

The nation’s eyes were on Maine on Election Day, as the races for Senate and House were the first in the country to use ranked-choice voting in a federal race.

In the first round of voting, with 96.3 percent of districts reporting, Rep. Bruce Poliquin edged out Jared Golden with 46.3 percent of the votes, compared with Golden’s 45.6 percent. With no candidate winning a majority of the votes, the count went to ranked-choice voting, and Golden was ultimately declared the victor.

In the weeks that followed, Poliquin sued Maine’s secretary of state to stop the ranked-choice ballot count and declare him the winner, claiming that the state’s ranked-choice voting system — enshrined by voters in 2016 — violates the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He also called for a recount, demanded a new election entirely, and argued in a brief that the voting process creates a “faux majority.”

By Dec. 28, Poliquin had withdrawn his final lawsuit and Gov. Paul LePage begrudgingly certified the results of the 2nd Congressional District race. Golden will be sworn in with the new Congress Jan. 3.

7. UMaine freshman Darius Minor dies during a preseason football workout

Credit: Courtesy of Brandon Martin

Defensive back Darius Minor from Locust Grove, Virginia, collapsed and died during a preseason workout in July on the Orono campus. An autopsy the following month determined that Minor died of a heart condition. It is believed to be the first time a UMaine football player has died during workouts since the program began in 1896.

Following Minor’s death, the UMaine football team dedicated the season to his memory and brought his No. 39 jersey with them on road games. The team turned tragedy into triumph, posting a 10-4 record and advancing to the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals for the first time in school history.

8. Maine man says he fought off a black bear that attacked his puppy

Credit: Courtesy Dustin Gray

Finally, a story with a happy ending. In February, Dustin Gray, 29, of Orrington told the BDN that he fought off a black bear that attacked his puppy off Route 1A in Dedham.

Gray had pulled to the side of the road and wandered about 50 feet into the woods to let Clover, his 11-month-old lab mix, pee, when he said the black bear attacked the puppy. Gray said he punched and kicked the bear until it stopped biting her, which prompted the animal to knock him over as it ran off. “I stuck my finger right in its eye,” he said.

9. Maine town manager promotes racial segregation

Credit: Jake Bleiberg

Back in January, the town manager of Jackman was revealed as the founder of a group that calls Islam “the scourge of Western civilization” and that suggests that the United States would be better off if people of different races “voluntarily separate” on its website.

Tom Kawczynski’s outing came at a time when the alt-right was gaining more visibility in the U.S., bolstered by a white nationalist movement that arose in the wake of the election of President Donald Trump.

Kawczynski told the BDN that he wanted to preserve the region’s white majority and keep out Muslims, but rejected the idea that his views are racist.

He was fired days later by the Jackman Select Board.

10. Stormy Daniels storms into Portland

Daniels, the adult film actress who claimed to have a one-night affair with Trump and who was paid by the president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to remain silent about it ahead of the election, came to Maine in September to perform a two-night show at a Portland strip club.

She took the stage to The Guess Who’s “American Woman” flanked by bodyguards. They escorted her back off 22 minutes later to Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” Afterward, Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — spent an hour signing autographs and taking photos for $20 a pop.

PT’s Showclub estimated having between 150 and 300 customers during Daniels’ first night, and Mainers from both sides of the political aisle flocked to Portland to catch the show.

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Lindsay Putnam

Lindsay Putnam is a senior editor for sports and features at the Bangor Daily News. Lindsay previously worked as an editor and reporter at the New York Post. She's a York Beach native and Colby College...