The year that was 2011 featured political intrigue and high-profile court cases.
Columbia County residents experienced high points such as hometown heroes Lady Antebellum performing a concert to dedicate a new Evans pavilion, and low points such as a former county commissioner convicted of child molestation.
Among the numerous deaths during the year were those of a popular judge and a former Fort Gordon commander. The year started with the murder of a girl from Harlem.
The county also notched continued population and business growth.
The following are stories that most affected Columbia County in 2011.
• Harlem Middle School eighth-grader Alana Calahan was fatally shot at her home by 14-year-old friend and neighbor Lacy Aaron Schmidt, who awaits trial after his indictment for murder in March.
• Brandon Len Wise, 27, pled guilty to reduced charges for the July 2008 death of Christian Giles, 24, who was struck by Wise’s SUV as she walked on Mullikin Road.
• The Family Y inked a deal with county officials to lease space in a multi-purpose facility planned for the Gateway Center in Grovetown. The lease was renegotiated in December.
• District 2 Columbia County school board member Kristi Baker was sworn in to serve her first term, succeeding retiring trustee Mickie Blackburn.
• Former Mayor Dennis Trudeau and Jennifer McCullough were appointed to replace resigned councilmen Barry Davis and Robert Newman on Grovetown City Council. McCullough later was re-elected to a full term.
• County Commissioner Scott Dean was indicted on charges that he molested his adopted daughter. He resigned his office on the day of the indictment. In December, Dean was convicted on those charges.
• Lakeside Middle School sixth-grader Rachael Cundey won the Columbia County Spelling Bee for the third consecutive year. She later won the regional bee, also for a third year, and competed in the National Spelling Bee.
• Evans High School’s Brooke Moye, 17, died in a wreck on Jimmie Dyess Parkway.
• The Columbia County Chamber of Commerce posthumously honored area builder Jake Ivey with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
• Rebecca Gilmore was hired to replace Jack Hall as the head of schools for Augusta Preparatory Day School.
• Augusta Prep senior Hutton Brandon was named STAR Student for Columbia County. He picked Tim Shafer as STAR Teacher.
• Bill Morris and Vernon Thomas Sr. were the top two vote-getters in a special election to replace resigned commissioner Scott Dean. Morris won a runoff election in April.
• Figures from the 2010 U.S. Census are released, showing Columbia County’s population grew to 124,053 from 89,288 the previous decade.
• Greenbrier High School senior Joe Womack Jr., 17, died after a single-car wreck on Hardy McManus Road.
• Franklin Conner, 4, drowned in a swimming pool at his Grovetown home.
• Johndrick Lors Levert Barnes, 20, of Augusta, was charged with murder in the March 19 shooting death of James Sterling Gillette Jr., a Belair Conference Center employee, during a party at the facility. Three others were accused of lying to police in connection with the shooting, and all pled not guilty in court appearances. A 16-year-old also was charged as a juvenile in the case.
• John Wayne Siple, 44, of Evans, was charged after investigators found 86 marijuana plants and 10 ounces of marijuana in Siple’s basement. Siple later died in the Columbia County Detention Center of what was determined to be a heart condition.
• Thomas Eugene Bradford, 42, of Hephzibah, was arrested and charged with murder after Raymond V. Lee, 38, of Grovetown, was fatally shot while working at the Reed Creek Water Pollution Control Plant in Martinez. Bradford’s trial tentatively has been set for February.
• Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue sent emergency assistance to Ringgold, Ga., and Rabun County after tornados ravaged areas of north Georgia.
• Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Bill Probus resigned after discovering he inadvertently deleted a voice message requesting a deputy at a Belair Conference Center party where James Sterling Gillette was fatally shot.
• The school board voted to eliminate 10 of 20 pre-kindergarten classes at some of the school system’s elementary schools.
• John Deere celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Grovetown facility.
• More than 1,600 high school seniors graduated from Columbia County schools.
• Developer Arthur Grimaud, 70, of White Oak Road, died in a construction accident on his property.
• Martinez resident Robert Lee Ostrander, 40, pled not guilty to two counts of aggravated child molestation and one count of child molestation for the rape of a 14-year-old in November 2010. His wife, Jennylea Ostrander, 36, also pled not guilty to a count of aggravated child molestation.
• The Columbia County School Board approved a $178.8 million budget for the next school year that included a half-mill increase on property taxes. The county commission later approved a quarter-mill cut.
• Taylor Hammond Gazaway, 17, of Evans, was killed in a single-vehicle wreck on Old Belair Lane. The driver, Amber Rose Lever, 16, of Grovetown, was convicted for her part in the crash and sentenced to a year in juvenile detention, with the sentence later reduced to time served.
• The school board bought 15 acres at 618 Gibbs Road for the future home of Evans Elementary School.
• Toy Town in Martinez abruptly closed after just a month of being open. Several toy manufacturers claimed they were scammed by owner Pat Shimley.
• The Columbia County Health Department’s Evans and Appling clinics closed as staffers prepared to move into the new location on William Few Parkway, which opened in July.
• Morgan Renew, 18, of Barnwell, S.C., was killed June 17 in an Appling crash in which 10 others were injured. The driver of the car in which Renew was riding, Kristine Marie Heath, 35, of Augusta, was charged with driving under the influence, first-degree vehicular homicide and several other charges after she was released from the hospital in July.
• Columbia County commissioners approved a revision to an anti-smoking ordinance that banned smoking, even outdoors, on most county-owned property.
• The school board, in accordance with a new state law, approved a nepotism policy that might prevent school trustee Wayne Bridge from seeking re-election in 2012.
• Lawanda Concettes Tripp, 40, of Martinez, pled not guilty to a charge of murder in the Nov. 15, 2009, death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall, of Fort Gordon. Tripp had been babysitting the child.
• Summer school classes ended with the graduation of 35 Columbia County high school seniors.
• Knology began operating the cable television system in Harlem and Grovetown.
• Columbia County lost one of its longest serving public officials July 15 when Probate Judge Pat Hardaway died after a prolonged illness.
• Columbia County’s Animal Services moved to a new facility on William Few Parkway.
• Registration started for Augusta Technical College, which opened its new Grovetown campus.
• Riverside Dog Park, the county’s first, held its grand opening.
• Robert Douglas Sudduth, 24, of Washington, Ga., used a bed sheet to hang himself in his cell in the Columbia County Detention Center. Sudduth was being held on a theft charge.
•Columbia County schools started the new year with about 24,000 pupils and the opening of Baker Place Elementary School.
• Desmond Hughes, 19, of Martinez, a 2010 Evans High School graduate, was killed in a crash on I-20.
• Christopher Wellington Saunders, 28, of Crawford Court, was charged in the Aug. 9 attack and robbery of an armored-truck driver.
• Grovetown High School teacher and former Augusta State University basketball player Etsho Ilunga, 28, of Augusta, was charged with computer theft and fraud, including stealing nearly $18,000 from Grovetown High.
• Clayton Edward Blanton, 22, was sentenced to 23 months in jail after pleading guilty to videotaping the sexual assault of a teen in 2010. Three others – Jason Scott Turner, 22, of Evans; Robert Lincoln Levy, 20, of Augusta; and Tyler William Davitte, 23, of Martinez – later pled guilty to reduced charges.
• Travis Young was named Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue 2011 Firefighter of the Year.
• The school board approved the purchase of 25 acres on William Few Parkway for a new Columbia Middle School.
• Lou Reda retired as director of the Columbia County Cares food pantry. David Iverson was selected as his replacement.
• James Richard Gates III, of Grovetown, was charged with first-degree vehicular homicide and driving under the influence after his 3-year-old son, Devin, died from injuries he received in a July crash.
• Steve Abbott retired Aug. 31 as chief ranger senior for the Georgia Forestry Commission’s local region.
• Columbia County’s legislative seats and congressional representation were significantly redrawn during the special reapportionment session in the Georgia Legislature.
• Deborah Y. Hill, 48, and her daughter, Brittany Michelle Hurst, 18, both of Martinez, were charged with murder in connection with the death of 85-year-old Blanche Aline Carpenter, who died while in the women’s care.
• Retired Georgia State Patrol officer Benjie Cowart was named interim director of the Harlem Department of Public Safety following the resignation of Jesse Bowman.
• More than 60 vehicles were involved in about 30 wrecks on Interstate 20 between the Belair Road and Grovetown exits on a single afternoon in the midst of heavy rainfall.
• Retiring after 21 years, Steve Szablewski’s final day as Columbia County administrator was Sept. 1.
• The Columbia County Chamber of Commerce held its inaugural State of the Community Address dinner.
• Eight candidates qualified for five city seats up for election on Nov. 8 ballots in Harlem and Grovetown.
• Columbia County’s Evans tag office moved from Building B in the Evans Government Center to the newly constructed Building C.
• The Georgia Department of Labor had an overwhelming response when it held its first Columbia County job fair.
• Grovetown Elementary School teacher Kenric Johnson, 27, resigned after he was accused of abusing a pupil.
• Riverside Middle School teacher Christy Van Meter was named Columbia County’s 2011-12 Teacher of the year. Euchee Creek Elementary School’s Trina Galvin was named the school system’s Media Specialist of the Year.
• Brian Fleeman, 33, of Martinez, died in a hit-and-run wreck in Augusta.
• The body of Victor Wayne Palacios, 56, of Harlem, was found in Stevens Creek in Edgefield County.
• Michael Claude Maxwell, of Appling, pled not guilty to kidnapping and aggravated assault in attacks on three women in three counties in July.
• Evans Towne Center Park opened with a sold-out Lady Antebellum concert.
• Landon “Dock” Norman, of Grovetown, was charged with child molestation, accused of inappropriately touching a 14-year-old girl at Riverside Park in June. In November he was charged with rape, aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery involving a 16-year-old girl in April, and charged with trying to influence a witness in December.
• There were no injuries when a fire broke out in a kiln at Pollard Lumber Co. in Appling, damaging a building and destroying stacks of lumber.
• Janice Davis Trum, 55, of Martinez died in a wreck on Columbia Road. Her 14-year-old son, Jonathan, was injured.
• Nicholas Dwight Blodgett, 17, of Grovetown; Mario Lavache Jones Jr., 17, Jermaine Marcell Jones Jr., 14, Antonio Marquette Davis, 15, and Zion Howard, 11, all of Augusta, were charged with burglary, attempted armed robbery, kidnapping and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime after a home invasion on Lake Royal Drive.
• Two Greenbrier High School students were charged with conspiracy in what police said was a plot to kidnap and kill another student.
•Jayden Alyssa Kerns, 4, drowned in the pool at her family’s Evans home.
• Hugo Diaz and his wife, Blanca Miranda Diaz, were arrested, along with several of their employees, after raids on their Evans home by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, FBI, IRS and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Diaz, the owner of De Le Fuente Construction, and his wife were accused of harboring immigrants for commercial advantage and personal financial gain and also were charged with multiple counts of money-laundering.
• Jesse James Cosby, 40, an employee of O’Brien’s Glass, died from injuries he received in an explosion at the Martinez business in October.
• Grovetown voters approved a referendum to allow the sale of packaged alcohol on Sundays. Sales started Dec. 18.
• A former journalism intern with The Columbia County News-Times, Matt Miklas, 23, died from a pulmonary embolism.
• Russell Casey Boyles, 24, of Martinez died in a motorcycle wreck in Augusta.
• About 70 staffers, mostly teens, of Terror Town claim they weren’t paid for working at the Martinez haunted house and filed a lawsuit in December.
• Retired Gen. Robert E. Gray, a former Fort Gordon commander and chairman of the Columbia County Democratic Party, died Nov. 24 in a car crash outside Millen, Ga.
• Two Evans teens – Finas Aaron Goodwin III, and Scott LaMont Farley Jr. – were charged with armed robbery after authorities said they forced themselves into a Westwood Club apartment.
• Brandon Wilde resident retired Air Force Col. Bob Long died. Long worked to get Brandon Wilde certified as a national wildlife habitat.
• Realtor Otis Crowell, 76, died.
•Stevens Creek Elementary School was named a Georgia School of Excellence.
• Arlie Joseph Allen, 20, of Grovetown, died Dec. 14 in a single-car crash on Hereford Farm Road.