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In the Keys in 2015, a deadly fire, 'Real Wives' star arrested, shootouts, prison for high-profile figures, a shark attacks and a gator gets eye surgery

Flaco the alligator gets prepped for surgery.
Flaco the alligator gets prepped for surgery.

The Keys in 2015 saw tragedy but also the flip side. We look back at the past 12 months as 2016 looms.

As the year wound down, there were 18 traffic fatalities throughout Monroe County, which is a lot but fewer than in years past. One of those crashes killed three people near Shark Key and the driver faces multiple felonies. There were also 14 dive or snorkel deaths -- three in one day in March -- mostly out-of-towners from places as diverse as Canada, Texas and Illinois.

But the biggest tragedy of the year happened in June, when a house fire on Ramrod Key killed a mother and her two young children. As of this writing, fire officials had not released a cause of the blaze. But this much is known: There were no working smoke alarms in the house.

Killed were Robin Ferrer and her kids Roman, 7, and Hazel, 5. Another son was severely burned when he tried to rescue the others, and spent time recovering at a Miami trauma center.

The year also saw police shootouts in the Upper and Lower Keys.

On Jan. 21, Key Largo resident Robert Schminky, police say, beat his wife, then took police on a chase on State Road 905 after they arrived at his house. When all was said and done, he was charged with attempted murder of a police officer, among other things, for firing upon Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputies and Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Christine Gracey. For her role in apprehending Schminky and tending to a wounded deputy, she was named the FHP's trooper of the year for Monroe and Miami-Dade counties.

On Stock Island on Oct. 24, Deputy Josh Gordon's life was saved by a bullet-proof vest -- he had been shot in the chest by robbery suspect Timothy Thomas, 25, when Gordon tried to arrest him. Thomas got away but was caught a day later in a Key West house when surrounded by police. Like Schminky, he faces a laundry list of charges stemming from the shootout -- which was caught on deputies' dashboard cameras.

In better news, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary marked 25 years of preserving more than 2,900 square miles of Keys waters. When created a quarter century ago, sanctuary opponents feared the commercial fishing industry would be wrecked. It wasn't.

A federal judge ruled in March that Boardwalk Jersey Pizza in Tavernier didn't infringe on a trademark from another company, basically saying the lawsuit filed against it was half-baked.

On the flip side, Islamorada businesses continued their fight against the Florida Department of Transportation, which has been aggressive in taking rights of way, resulting in fewer parking spots.

Former Islamorada Mayor Michael Reckwerdt pleaded guilty to tax fraud and is serving a year in federal prison. Former Cay Clubs Resorts and Marinas chief executive Dave Clark was convicted of multiple federal fraud counts but is appealing. He remains behind bars.

On the entertainment front, Netflix's "Bloodline" series, made in Islamorada and Homestead, got rave reviews. The show about a family with dark secrets is now filming its second season.

In March, former "Real Wives of Miami" star Ana Quincoces was briefly jailed for driving with a suspended license in Key Largo. Her excuse: She had to get out of the house where she was staying because, she said, it was infested with cockroaches.

The next month, Big Pine Key resident Mark Rackley was bitten by shark while diving and received 58 stitches in his arm and shoulder. He didn't blame the shark: "They are beautiful animals that are supposed to be there in the ocean."

In August, a Broward County alligator had successful eye surgery at the Marathon Veterinary Hospital. He had lost the eye in a fight with another gator, so it was sewn shut by Dr. Doug Mader. Flaco is now back at home at Everglades Holiday Park, living the good life.

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