Racism at Cal Poly, rockets and an octopus named Fred: Our most-read stories of 2018

It was a busy year for The Tribune.

In 2018, you all read stories on our website more than 23 million times — but of course some stories had a few more clicks than others.

As we reflect on the year past, let’s also take a look at the stories that captivated your attention most throughout 2018, from Cal Poly controversies to The Tribune’s award-winning investigation into deaths at the San Luis Obispo County Jail (with a few pit stops at a cute octopus, a fickle rocket launch and a weird lunar event on the way).

Note: The articles are in ascending order by page views, adding up to our top highest-read story of the year. In some cases, we’ve combined stories on the same topic that cracked the top 10 into one entry — more on that later.

10. Star wrestler caught yelling anti-gay slur on video. Cal Poly is taking his scholarship away

Page views: 36,679

The story: In July, Cal Poly revoked the wrestling scholarship of Bronson Harmon, a recent Modesto-area high school graduate, after video surfaced of him yelling a homophobic slur and making an obscene gesture during a counter-protest of the Families Belong Together March in Modesto on June 30.

Harmon was also allegedly involved in an incident after the slur was captured on video that led to a formal complaint being filed with the Modesto Police Department.

9. A pink moon will rise Sunday night — why is it called that? And where can you see it?

April’s full moon, called the pink moon, will rise on Sunday, April 29, 2018. This photo of the moon was taken in October. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Page views: 36,844

The story: In April, thousands of you turned to us to answer the question: Why is April’s full moon called the pink moon if — spoiler alert — it isn’t actually pink?

Turns out, it’s named after the ground phlox, a pink flower that blooms in the spring. That moon is also called the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon and the Fish Moon — names given to the moon by early Colonial Americans who learned those names from local Native American tribes, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

8. Morro Bay hikers find woman who survived 7 days after driving off Big Sur cliff

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Chelsea Moore took this selfie of her and husband Chad Moore after they found the wreckage of Angela Hernandez’s Jeep and just before they found Hernandez. Chad is carrying a poster they found in the vehicle. Courtesy of Chelsea Moore

Page views: 40,838

The story: A pair of San Luis Obispo County residents who were camping in Big Sur became unlikely heroes in July when they located an Oregon woman who had been missing for seven days after driving her car over a cliff.

Chelsea and Chad Moore — Morro Bay residents who both work in San Luis Obispo — spotted a Jeep belonging to 23-year-old Angela Hernandez, at the bottom of an oceanside cliff while hiking along the beach. Hernandez was driving along Highway 1 when she swerved to avoid hitting an animal and plunged 200 feet off a cliff.

The couple later were awarded the California Emergency Medical Services Award, that recognizes “exceptional acts and service by individuals working or volunteering in California’s emergency medical system.”

7. Pilot spots 13 sharks, prompting warning at Pismo State Beach

One of at least 13 large sharks spotted by a pilot swimming in the waters between Oceano and the Pismo Beach Pier on Tuesday. Courtesy J. Hevle

Page views: 41,042

The story: A pilot flying out of Oceano County Airport in May reportedly saw at least 13 large sharks swimming along the three-mile stretch of ocean between Pier Avenue in Oceano and the Pismo Beach Pier.

The pilot took a few photos and reported what he saw to California State Parks rangers, who then posted warnings along Pismo State Beach.

6. ‘This stops now’: Cal Poly suspends frats and sororities after new racial incident

Page views: 50,390

The story: Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong placed all Interfraternity Council fraternities and Panhellenic sororities on suspension in April, following outrage and protests over photos from a Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity party showing a student in blackface and others dressed up as gang members, as well as reports of other racially charged incidents at the university’s Greek institutions.

“This suspension is not intended to punish those individuals, or even any particular organizations, but rather to say: ‘Greek culture as a whole is broken,’” Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said at the time of the suspension. “’Too many people have been hurt by the actions and by the failures to act of Greek organizations at Cal Poly. This stops now.’”

The suspension was lifted ahead of the new school year in September.

5. Highway 101 in Santa Barbara County to remain closed indefinitely

Page views: 63,876

The story: Following the destructive mudslides in Montecito that shut down Highway 101 in January, Caltrans officials were unsure when the major highway would reopen.

Huge amounts of mud, water, boulders and debris filled the freeway lanes below Montecito due to the flash flooding that occurred after heavy rains fell over the Thomas Fire burn area.

The closure put up a physical roadblock to San Luis Obispo County residents heading south until it reopened about a week later.

4. 10,000 4.0 students didn’t get into Cal Poly. Here’s what it took to make the cut this year

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Cal Poly enrollment is down this fall after an abnormal increase last year. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Additional top 10 headline: Want to go to Cal Poly? Here are the GPA and SAT scores to shoot for

Combined page views: 111,336

The story: Cal Poly turned away more than 10,000 first-time freshman applicants who had high school grade-point averages of 4.0 or higher as the university sifted through a record number of applicants for the 2018-19 school year.

Overall, less than a third of high school applicants were accepted for fall 2018 admission.

“It was the highest quality pool ever,” said Jim Maraviglia, Cal Poly’s associate vice provost for marketing and enrollment development. “The most difficult thing about it is having to turn away so many outstanding students.”

In March, the university said the average high school GPA for a first-time freshman was an all-time high at 3.95, while the average SAT score was a record 1293.

3. The owner of a SLO County fish market bought a 70-pound octopus — but not to sell it

Fred the Octopus
Fred the 70-pound octopus was caught by a Morro Bay fisherman but released back into the ocean by Giovanni DeGarimore. Giovanni's Fish Market Facebook page

Page views: 112,662

The story: It’s a good thing octopuses have so many tentacles — Fred needed them to count his blessings. That’s the name given to the lucky 70-pound cephalopod who was spared a fate on the chopping block by Morro Bay’s Giovanni DeGarimore, owner of Giovanni’s Fish Market in May.

When his dock manager called him to say a local crab fisherman was selling a 70-pound octopus caught in a crab trap, DeGarimore paid the fisherman a couple hundred dollars, and “Fred” temporarily took up residence at Giovanni’s Fish Market.

“Fred” was then released back into the wild — much to the approval of the public who lauded DeGarimore’s heartwarming decision.

2. Vandenberg rocket launch delayed again — this time for hydrogen leak

Additional top 10 headline: Here’s how to watch tonight’s Vandenberg rocket launch

Combined page views: 137,858

The story: On Dec. 19, the planned Delta IV Heavy rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base got down to the last 10 minutes before a hydrogen leak on one of the engine sections forced officials to scrub the mission.

Even more weird though was a light streaking through the sky that many saw at about the same time the rocket was expected to go into orbit. Though it confused Californians for several hours, NASA later confirmed it was a just meteor.

Since then, the launch — which was expected to carry a top-secret payload into orbit — has been on standby. The latest reports from ULA say it will likely happen sometime on or after Jan. 6.

1. SLO County Jail inmate died naked on the floor as deputies watched, chilling video shows

Additional top 10 headline: Jail video captures mentally ill man’s treatment and death

Combined page views: 234,518

The story: After releasing an inmate who’d been bound naked in a restraint chair for 46 hours, sheriff’s deputies at the San Luis Obispo County Jail watched as the man writhed on the floor, lost consciousness and later died, video published by The Tribune in March showed.

The footage contradicts county officials’ version of events leading to the death of inmate Andrew Holland in January 2017.

The video had a massive impact on the county after its release, prompting protests and calls for Sheriff Ian Parkinson to resign or drop out of his re-election bid in June.

Reporter Matt Fountain ultimately won McClatchy Co.’s top journalism award for his coverage of Holland’s death at the jail.


For more year-in-review stories, check out our list of the most important SLO County stories of 2018, or for a more visual feast, check out our top 10 videos of the year.


Tribune reporters Lucas Clark, Gabby Ferreira, Matt Fountain, Travis Gibson, Monica Vaughan and Nick Wilson contributed to this report. Mcclatchy writer Andrew Sheeler and Noozhawk.com editor Tom Bolton also contributed.

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.