What a year: These news events dominated Pennsylvania headlines in 2023

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

By Ashley Adams

December 19, 2023

From a fiery 50-car train derailment to Taylor Swift being named TIME Magazine’s person of the year, a look back at the headlines that shaped 2023.

As 2023 winds down and Pennsylvanians prepare to ring in a new year, we’re taking a look back at some of the top stories that dominated the headlines this year.

From a train derailment and a fatal chocolate factory explosion, to a two-week manhunt for an escaped murderer and air quality issues stemming from wildfires thousands of miles away, here are some of the stories that stand out in 2023:

Norfolk Southern Train Derailment

On Feb. 3, a fiery 50-car train derailment occurred in East Palestine, Ohio, just over the Pa. state line. The surrounding area was evacuated, including Beaver County, due to fears of a potential explosion from the hazardous chemicals on board the train.

Gov. Josh Shapiro vowed to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for the incident, accusing the railway company of mismanaging the disaster from the outset. He subsequently filed a criminal referral against Norfolk over two weeks after the derailment.

In March, Norfolk agreed to pay Pennsylvania $7 million to cover the cost of the response and recovery for state agencies, fire departments, and businesses and residents in Beaver and Lawrence counties.

What a year: These news events dominated Pennsylvania headlines in 2023

Democratic Rep. Joanna McClinton (Philadelphia) is sworn in as Pennsylvania’s first female speaker of the House.

State House of Representatives speaker drama and Democratic majority

A contentious battle over power in the state House kicked off the year after Democrats won the majority in the November 2022 election. Things were complicated, though, by the death of Rep. Tony DeLuca (D-Allegheny), who passed away before the election but was still reelected, and the resignation of Democratic Reps. Summer Lee and Austin Davis (Lee was elected to Congress and Davis was elected lieutenant governor). Special elections were held that saw the Democrats maintain their majority.

Rep. Mark Rozzi was elected Speaker in January, but stepped down only two months later. Rep. Joanna McClinton was then voted in to replace Rozzi, becoming the first Black woman to win the post.

Reading chocolate factory explosion

Seven people died in an explosion at the R.M. Palmer Company chocolate factory in West Reading on March 24. The explosion was caused by a natural gas leak. The company was fined by OSHA for failing to evacuate workers after some employees reported smelling gas before the explosion.

What a year: These news events dominated Pennsylvania headlines in 2023

FILE – Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., leaves an intelligence briefing on the unknown aerial objects the U.S. military shot down this weekend at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 14, 2023. Fetterman checked himself in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to seek treatment for clinical depression. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Sen. John Fetterman treated for depression

In February, John Fetterman was barely a month into his first term as US Senator and still recovering from the aftereffects of a May 2022 stroke when he began receiving inpatient treatment for clinical depression. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle commended him for his openness about his struggles. He returned to the Senate full time on April 17.

I-95 collapse and rebuild

An elevated section of Interstate 95 collapsed June 11 in Philadelphia after a tanker truck carrying flammable cargo caught fire, killing the driver. The state originally anticipated a traffic nightmare on the heavily traveled highway, as repairs were expected to take months. But only days after the incident, Shapiro pledged to have it reopened in just two weeks, using federal funds and local products and crews to ensure a quick fix and reopening.

Union crews worked 24/7 to repair the collapsed span, with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation even setting up a live stream for Pennsylvanians to watch the work. The repaired span reopened June 23.

What a year: These news events dominated Pennsylvania headlines in 2023

Haze from Canadian wildfires blankets the downtown Pittsburgh skyline as seen from West End Overlook in Elliott, Pa., Wednesday, June 28, 2023. (Benjamin B. Braun/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Smoke from Canadian wildfires

Drifting smoke from intense Canadian wildfires caused serious air quality issues throughout Pennsylvania in mid-June, leaving a blanket of haze and the smell of campfires throughout the state. Poor air quality conditions continued to persist through the end of the month, reminding those in the western part of the state of the Donora Smog event in October 1948, considered by many as ‘one of the worst air pollution disasters in the nation’s history.’

What a year: These news events dominated Pennsylvania headlines in 2023

This photo provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections on Sept. 13, 2023, shows Danilo Cavalcante. (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections via AP)

Danelo Cavalcante escape and manhunt

Convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante escaped from Chester County Prison on Aug. 31 by scaling a wall. A massive manhunt took place for the escapee after he was spotted on a trail camera in Longwood Gardens. Schools were closed and area residents were advised to keep their cars and homes locked.

He eluded authorities for two weeks before he was recaptured about 20 miles away in Montgomery County. A prison guard who was on duty when Cavalcante escaped was fired for the incident.

What a year: These news events dominated Pennsylvania headlines in 2023

Judge Carolyn Carluccio, Republican candidate for Pennsylvania Supreme Court, campaigns, Oct. 6, 2023, in Connellsville, Pa. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger, File)

Daniel McCaffery defeats Carolyn Carluccio for PA Supreme Court

In the biggest race in the 2023 election, Democratic candidate Daniel McCaffery defeated Republican Carolyn Carluccio for a spot on the state’s highest court. Reproductive rights was the focal point of the race after Carluccio was caught removing anti-abortion language from her website. McCaffery’s win helped Democrats secure a majority on the state Supreme Court going into the 2030s.

What a year: These news events dominated Pennsylvania headlines in 2023

FILE – Taylor Swift performs at the Monumental stadium during her Eras Tour concert in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

Taylor Swift

The Berks County native made headlines throughout 2023. Her “Eras” tour was one of the highest-grossing concert tours ever, powering local economies and even causing ticket-selling giants such as Ticketmaster to agree to be more transparent with hidden fees after Swift fans were forced to pay exorbitant back-end fees.

She was the most-streamed Spotify artist globally and was also named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year. She was even recognized with a resolution by the Pa. House.


  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.


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