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Change is a constant fact of life

Posted: December 30, 2012 - 1:04am  |  Updated: December 30, 2012 - 2:49am
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Though 2012 was marked by controversial construction projects, scattered big-box closures and a spate of traffic fatalities, Columbia County also celebrated a year of positive changes.

They included establishment of a business opportunity zone, a new library district with Columbia County at the core and the rise of Evans Towne Center Park.

Here are a few events in Columbia County in 2012.

January

• Homes for Our Troops began building a home in Appling for injured Army veteran Sean Gittens and his family. The home was initially to be constructed in 2010 in the Knob Hill subdivision, but the project was halted by the property owners association. Gittens moved into the home in August.

• David Sward was named director of the Harlem Department of Public Safety. Sward replaced Jesse Bowman, who resigned in September 2011.

• The county commission recognized Water Utility worker Donna Clay as the county’s employee of the year.

• County officials were told they had no legal right to stop Magnolia Trace, an affordable-housing development on Old Ferry Road unpopular with residents. Later in the month, county attorney Doug Batchelor denied a conflict of interest when it was discovered that he acted as closing attorney on the Martinez land deal.

• Food Lion officials announced that three of their stores would be closing in Columbia County.

• David Austin Balfour, 32, of Grovetown, died after flipping his Ford Explorer on Interstate 20 in McDuffie County.

• Former Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean was convicted of child molestation and sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by 20 years probation. A judge later rejected an appeal of his sentence.

• Former Fort Gordon garrison commander Glenn Kennedy was named the county’s deputy administrator.

• Augusta Christian Schools’ cheerleading squad won titles in the Open Division and Dance at the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders National Championship in Orlando, Fla.

 

February

• Lakeside Middle School seventh-grader Rachael Cundey won her fourth consecutive Columbia County Spelling Bee. In March, Rachael also won the local qualifying sfor the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee for the fourth time.

• Lacy Aaron Schmidt, 15, was found guilty of murdering his 14-year-old Harlem neighbor, Alana Calahan. In March, Schmidt was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus five years.

• Columbia County officials approved a nearly $200,000 bid to renovate the former Evans Health Department building off Ronald Reagan Drive. The facility reopened later in the year as offices for the county’s Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau and Development Authority.

• Georgia schools Super-intendent John Barge recognized Stevens Creek Elementary School as a state School of Excellence.

• Gary Blanchard, 80, of Appling, died. He helped establish a history room for the former Leah High School.

• Lakeside High School seniors Katie Bollag and Mihir Patel were named Columbia County’s STAR Students after scoring 2350 on the SAT. In March, they were named the Region 7 Star Students.

• Yvette Taylor, 46, was arrested on suspicion of murder after her roommate, Theodore Crew, 63, was found dead at their Martinez apartment on Applecross Drive.

• Hugo Diaz pled guilty to one count of harboring an illegal immigrant after federal investigators arrested several people at his $1.7 million Evans home. His wife, Blanca Diaz, was sentenced to three months in jail, which she had already served, and deported to Mexico.

• School board members accepted a $13.4 million bid to build Evans Elementary School on Gibbs Road.

• Abilene Baptist Church Pastor Bill Harrell announced his retirement during a Sunday service. Harrell had been preaching at the Martinez church for more than 30 years.

• County commissioners agreed to pay al most $7 million for a 800 megahertz radio system from Motorola for the sheriff’s office.

• Patrick Smith, 33, died Feb. 25 after being shot at a home on Blanchard Road. Philip Marshall, 44, also was shot but survived. The shooting was later ruled a justifiable homicide.

• A group of Lakeside Middle School pupils calling themselves the “Charlie Rape Gang” were suspended for a week for sneaking up on students and “dry humping” them. Two of the teens were later expelled from school.

• Thomas Eugene Bradford, 43, was found guilty of fatally shooting Raymond Lee, of Grovetown, at the Reed Creek Water Pollution Control Plant in April 2011. He was sentenced to life in prison plus five years and will be eligible for parole after 30 years.

• Justin Anthony Stephens, 19, of Grovetown, was killed Feb. 29 after breaking into a Martinez apartment at Petersburg Square. He was shot by the renter’s son with a .22-caliber rifle. The 15-year-old boy was not charged as his actions were considered justifiable homicide. Authorities later arrested three men they said were Stephens’ accomplices.

• University Hospital bought six acres for $250,000 at the Gateway shopping center near Grovetown to build a medical facility.

 

March

• Tracy-Luckey plant manager Homer Gay was killed after an air compressor explosion at the Harlem pecan plant.

• The family of John Wayne Siple, who died in April 2011 while jailed at the Columbia County Detention Center, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Sheriff Clay Whittle and his medical staff.

• Gregory Boyd Earle, 49, of Evans, was killed when his motorcycle went off the road near his home on Anderson Circle.

• Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue firefighters Robbie Stevens, Gary Thigpen Jr. and James Frazier were awarded the Police and Firemen’s Insurance Association Hero Hall of Fame awards for rescuing a Martinez woman from a fire. Battalion Chief James Burnett and firefighters Steve Culpepper, James Champion, Mike Cummings and Trey Lord were given the PFIA’s Meritorious Services Award.

• School Safety Director Robert “Buddy” Hendry, 68, died of lung cancer.

• Dianne Reid, of Evans, won $7.5 million playing the Georgia Lottery.

• The school board voted to cut more than 40 educator and nearly 70 teacher aide positions for the 2012-2013 school year, saving the school system about $4.5 million in personnel costs.

• Harlem High School senior JROTC instructor Mitchell Sivas, 57, resigned while under investigation for a reported sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student.

• Columbia County sports trainer and former Greenbrier High School football star Ryan Bowers was selected as a contestant on ABC’s The Bachelorette.

• Heidi Benstead Hernandez, 28, of Evans, died in a car crash on Campground Road near Wrens. She was a Spanish teacher at Jefferson County High School.

• Grovetown officials hired a private investigator to look into allegations of misconduct by former Grovetown Department of Public Safety Director Al Robinson.

• Former Columbia County District 2 Commissioner Tommy Mercer, 71, died.

• Eleanor Grace “Ellé” Kelly, 13, of Harlem, died after being accidentally shot in the face by Zachary Provance, 14, with his father’s pistol inside their Keener Street home in Harlem on March 29. His father, Richard Wayne Provance, 54, was charged with drug possession and manufacture of drugs and possession of a gun during commission of a crime after police found marijuana plants, growing paraphernalia and another pistol.

• Strictly Country owner Rachel Robertson closed the store at the corner of Washington and North Belair roads after 25 years.

April

• Lady Antebellum, featuring Columbia County natives Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, was named Vocal Group of the Year for the third consecutive year at the Academy of Country Music Awards.

• Uriel Diaz, 15, of North Augusta, drowned while at West Dam Recreation Area with his cousin and a friend from Grovetown.

• A federal judge sentenced Regina Beard, of Harlem, to 46 years in prison and $52,969 in restitution for bank fraud. She was accused of using a waitresses’ identity to apply for student loans for her son.

• Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 1167, which allows voters to decide if they want to limit how long Columbia County commissioners can stay in office. Voters approved the measure in November.

• The Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau board of directors agreed to downsize from 12 to seven board members. Bylaw changes also included allowing Columbia County commissioners to appoint board members.

• Grovetown Department of Public Safety Director Al Robinson resigned amid an investigation into allegations of misconduct. No criminal charges were filed. Capt. Gary Owens later was promoted to director.

• Harlem High School drama director Roy Lewis announced his plan to retire in May after more than 30 years at the school.

• The Columbia County school board approved a $15.2 million bid to build a new Columbia Middle School on William Few Parkway

 

May

• Nearly 300 boaters participated in the first Binderdinker festival at Riverside Park.

• Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law a bill sponsored by state Rep. Ben Harbin of Evans that removes the statute of limitations on crimes committed by sexual predators of children.

• Harlem High senior Jonathan Hartman, 18, of Appling, died after his Toyota 4Runner hit a tree on Scott’s Ferry Road.

• On May 11, Rebecca Bowers Sears, 44, and her son, Christopher Sean Bowers, 23, were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after they pled guilty to murder in the March 25, 2009 death of Laverne “Kay” Parsons, who was found in her garage beaten to death with a bat and a claw hammer.

• The new Harlem Department of Public Safety building opened for public tours after nearly a year of construction. The $3 million facility consolidates police and fire operations.

• Columbia County commissioners approved a nearly $7.3 million bid to build a new exhibition hall in the Gateway shopping center near Grovetown. The exhibition hall will house the Family Y facility and is expected to be complete in early 2013.

• Four Greenbrier High School girls were arrested and banned from graduation ceremonies after authorities said they squirted super glue into 43 door locks as a senior prank. Their cases are still pending in Columbia County Superior Court. A 15-year-old male student also was charged.

• Daniel Edwin Morales, 41, of Evans was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide, serious injury by vehicle, driving under the influence and other charges in connection with the Nov. 20, 2010, wreck that killed Phyllis Autry, 54, and injured her husband, Paul. Morales was driving the wrong way on Washington Road and hit the Autrys’ car head-on.

• Hubert Duffie, 85, died May 24. Duffie was a Columbia County builder and owner of H.W. Duffie Construction. He lobbied for the first county library and donated land for construction of the Warren C. Gibbs Memorial Library.

 

June

• Pop artist Rick Spring-field performed at the Lady Antebellum Pavilion at Evans Towne Center Park.

• Former Columbia County sheriff’s Deputy Gregory Smith was terminated after he was arrested for driving under the influence in Richmond County.

• Columbia County commissioners approved additional funding, for a total of $80,000, to construct a playground for children with disabilities. The groundbreaking was held in early December.

• Blake Davis Weems, 17, of Evans, was arrested for raping and molesting a 13-year-old girl. His case is still pending in Columbia County Superior Court.

• Claude Lamar Harris Jr., of Martinez, and Angela Prater Veale, of Augusta, were charged with public indecency on June 14 after they were caught having sex in an Evans movie theater.

• The Columbia County School Board approved the $584,000 purchase of 26 acres on William Few Parkway for the new North Columbia Elementary School.

• Robert Donnell Hobbs, 20, of Martinez, was arrested for following an Evans man home from a basketball game after an argument and shooting him. Hobbs was sentenced to 12 years in prison in November. Authorities are still looking for Joquel Tre’Shon Downs, of Augusta, who also was indicted in connection with the incident.

• Cory Allan Morin, 17, of Grovetown, died one day after being hit by a vehicle as he walked on Hereford Farm Road. The driver wasn’t charged. Morin’s father later petitioned for and succeeded in getting the speed limit lowered on Hereford Farm Road.

• Columbia County commissioners approved a month-long moratorium on nonresidential rezonings while officials cleaned up language in ordinances regarding uses allowed in some zoning districts.

• Atul Patel, owner of the Lewiston Express convenience store, and his son, Kinjalkumar Patel, were arrested for selling synthetic marijuana, also called Spice, from the store near Grovetown.

• Former Lakeside High and University of Georgia standout Reese Hoffa won the men’s shot put at the U.S. track trials with a mark of 72 feet, 2¼ inches to earn a spot on the Olympic team. He would earn a bronze medal in London.

• Grovetown City Councilman Sonny McDowell was indicted on federal bribery charges in Alabama. He’s accused of offering a kickback in 2007 to a former Alabama Department of Public Safety employee to buy a fingerprint machine. The case is still awaiting trial.

• Columbia County elections director Deborah Marshall was released from the hospital where she had been treated for a brain tumor since April 6. She continues to convalesce at home.

• Marcus Hyder, 27, of Evans, and Kyle Davis, 26, of Martinez, died after they were hit by a motorist while adjusting furniture in the back of their truck on the side of Bobby Jones Expressway.

 

July

• Jeffrey Baine Yates, 19, of Grovetown, died in a single-vehicle wreck July 1 on Bobby Jones Expressway in Augusta.

• Kmart officials announced the store in Martinez would close, along with seven other Kmart stores around the country.

• The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office investigated a Martinez woman’s claim that county Code Enforcement Officer Jimmy Vowell entered her home without permission. Vowell later was fired, and the woman has filed a lawsuit against him and Columbia County.

• Columbia County officials announced that about 350 disabled veterans were due property tax refunds because of $400,000 in overcharges. Checks to most of the veterans went out in early December.

• Javantroi Perez Walden, 33, of Martinez was arrested in July and again in September on charges he groped women in stores. He was jailed again in December after punching a Columbia County sheriff’s deputy and ramming another deputy’s car.

• George Scott Dillard, 45, of Sugar Creek Drive, was arrested after beating his ex-girlfriend unconscious.

• A teen called deputies after a man sucked her toe at the Grovetown Walmart and told her it was for a TV show. He was not charged.

• New Life Christian Center, The Vine Church and Quest United Methodist Church announced plans for new sanctuaries in Columbia County.

• Taylor Durrence, 19, of Grovetown, was killed when his Nissan Frontier pickup crossed the center media of Bobby Jones Expressway at Deans Bridge Road and struck a tractor-trailer head-on.

• Steven Cotton, 42, of Grovetown, was killed when a dead limb fell from a tree in his backyard and struck him in the head.

• Columbia County officials unveiled a portrait of Probate Judge Pat Hardaway that will hang at the Columbia County Justice Center in Evans and at the Probate Office in Appling. Hardaway passed away one year earlier.

• Discount grocer ALDI announced plans to build a store in Martinez on the site of the former Golden Corral restaurant on Bobby Jones Expressway.

• The daughter of imprisoned former Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean, Marlin Azucena Dean, 19, of Augusta, was arrested July 21 in Harlem and accused of stealing about $25,000 worth of jewelry from her mother, Renee Meyer Dean, and selling it in pawn shops.

Marlin Dean later pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to time served in jail, probation and restitution.

• Evans High School graduate Kathryn McCormick starred in the movie Step Up Revolution.

• Columbia County School Superintendent Charles Nagle announced his intention to retire at the end of the school year after 37 years in education and five years as the county’s superintendent. Deputy Superintendent Sandra Carraway later was named as his successor.

• John Paul Heilig, 52, of Jasper, Ga., was killed when his motorcycle collided with an SUV on Columbia Road.

• Columbia County voters re-elected incumbent commissioners Charles Allen and Trey Allen and school trustee Roxanne Whitaker, elected Jason Troiano as chief magistrate and Barry Fleming to the state House, approved Sunday package alcohol sales and sent David Dekle into a runoff in the District 1 school board race with Carolyn Chase, along with congressional candidates Lee Anderson and Rick Allen. Dekle and Anderson won the runoffs in August, but Anderson then lost the general election in November to John Barrow.

• Columbia County voters also rejected the T-SPLOST sales tax, but it passed in the district when voters in other counties approved.

August

• Columbia County sheriff’s deputies directed traffic around the Chick-fil-A in Evans as crowds flocked to the restaurants nationwide in support of the company’s stance on gay marriage.

• Columbia County schools reopen Aug. 8 for the 2012-13 school year with more than 600 students enrolled than had been projected.

• The trial of Lawanda Concettes Tripp, 41, of Martinez, ended in a mistrial on charges that she murdered 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall, who was in Tripp’s care when she died on Nov. 15, 2009, from head injuries. Tripp was convicted in September of involuntary manslaughter during a retrial and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

• Chip, a dachshund owned by the Mims family, survived a fire in the family’s Martinez home – and the next day survived being struck by a car.

• Shem Rider, 22, of Grovetown, died after the vehicle in which he was a passenger turned into the path of a Jeep on Gordon Highway.

• Columbia County resident Heather Fearneyhough appeared in an August issue of People magazine after losing 134 pounds.

• Columbia County officials had to make unexpected budget cuts in August to cover the loss of revenue from an enormously erroneous tax bill. Harry and Annette Humbert’s Grovetown home mistakenly had been assessed at more than $23 million, leading to a tax bill that was more than $200,000 too high.

• Keith Eric Lyons, 43, of Harlem, was shot in the head with his own shotgun in what appeared to be a booby trap set at the back door of his home. Lyons recovered, but the case still has not been resolved.

• Raydin Hollbrooks, age 3, died after wandering away from her Grovetown home and drowning in a neighbor’s swimming pool. Her aunt, who was caring for the toddler, later was charged with contributing to the delinquency and deprivation of a minor.

• Betty Lanier, of Evans, won $500,000 from the Georgia Lottery in a scratch-off game.

• The Rev. Robert Ramsey celebrated 30 years as pastor of Gospel Water Branch Baptist Church in Evans.

• The Columbia County Justice Center marked its 10-year anniversary.

• A proposal to approve a new public library region, with Columbia, Lincoln and Warren counties, received approval.

 

September

• Sunday package alcohol sales started after voter approval.

• Tripp Williams started as Columbia County’s new extension agent, replacing the retired Charles Phillips.

• Worley Pierson, 59, of Martinez, drowned Sept. 4 at a Tybee Island, Ga., beach.

• Wayne Hartley, of Grovetown, won $688,187 in the Georgia Lottery’s Sept. 4 Fantasy 5 drawing.

• Alejandro Reyes-Romero, 35, of Evans, was killed in a crash on Columbia Road when he was thrown from a vehicle that overturned. The driver, Alfonzo Nelle-Lopez, 28, of Evans, was charged with first degree vehicular homicide.

• Jordan Elizabeth White, 19, of Martinez, was killed when her car was struck by a pickup driven by Lucky Wade Jackson Jr., 43, of Evans, on Washington Road at Ronald Reagan Drive. Jackson awaits trial on charges that include first-degree vehicular homicide. White is the daughter of Joe White, publisher of The Metro Spirit.

• The Augusta Chapter of the Alzheimers Association moved its offices from Augusta to Evans.

• MaKenna Arildsen, 12, of Evans, died Sept. 14 after stepping into the path of a vehicle on Washington Road.

• The Millshaven Property Owners Association filed a lawsuit against Becky Rogers-Peck for painting a playhouse in her backyard pink in what they said was in violation of the neighborhood’s covenants. The association later dropped the suit.

• The Steak ’n Shake on Jimmie Dyess Parkway at Interstate 20 opened to huge crowds and long lines.

 

October

• The Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau named Randy DuTeau the organization’s new executive director.

• Columbia County businessman and noted political donor George Snelling was arrested on three counts of drug fraud. Snelling, a licensed dentist, was accused of writing prescriptions for Valium and Tramadol and having one of his employees pick them up.

• Rock acts Eddie Money and Starship performed at the Lady Antebellum Pavilion. She N She, the winner of the inaugural Columbia County Amateur Series contest, opened.

• The Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue board announced its intent to turn operations over to the Columbia County government. The transition was motivated by a $600,000 increase in workers compensation insurance.

• Columbia County School Superintendent Charles Nagle was awarded the Bill Barr Leadership Award by the Georgia School Superintendents Association.

• Jessica Giddens was named the Lakeside High School Homecoming Queen. Jessica, a budding playwright and actress, has Down Syndrome. Her story was later televised on the Steve Harvey Show.

 

November

• Agatha Murphy, 79, died after being pulled from her burning home on Sir Galahad Drive. Columbia County deputy coroner Harriett Garrison cited complications from smoke inhalation as the cause of death.

• The school board approved rezonings for Evans, Grovetown and Columbia middle schools in preparation for the latter school’s opening in fall 2013.

• A 14-year-old boy was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the accidental shooting death of Kristen Burnette, 13, a fellow Grovetown Middle School student. Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins said that Burnette died from wounds sustained when the boy accidently discharged a 12-gauge shotgun in her home.

• The Augusta Christian Lions football team wrapped up a perfect 13-0 season with a victory over Hammond in the South Carolina Independent School Class AAA state championship.

• David Timothy Dutton, a Richmond County Sheriff’s Office investigator, was arrested by Columbia County authorities and charged with rape, aggravated sexual battery, unlawful eavesdropping or surveillance and making false statements after a 27-year-old woman reported that Dutton, a Martinez resident, recorded a sexual encounter with her on his phone. She said she had taken prescription medication and hadn’t been aware that she had sex or had been filmed.

• Columbia County School Superintendent Charles Nagle asked the school board to consider moving the county’s alternative school from Grovetown to the Evans Elementary campus in 2013, citing better resources and a plan to demolish the current location.

• The 2012 NCAA Division II Soccer Championships took place at Blanchard Woods park. The tournament attracted teams from across the United States and Canada.

 

December

• Columbia County commissioners began discussions regarding a tax on the sale, use, storage and consumption of energy by industries. The tax would help offset the income lost to Georgia’s exemption to the manufacturing sales tax.

• Local promoter Joe Mullins brought snow to Columbia County, transforming Evans Towne Center Park into a winter wonderland with tons on man-made snow. Mullins said he would like to make the icy event an annual occurrence.

• The Amateur Athletic Union selected Blanchard Woods Park as the site for the 2013 AAU National Cross Country Championships, scheduled for Dec. 7, 2013.

• University Health Care opened the University Medical Group Grovetown office.

• Grovetown Senior Citizens Center Director Betty Laverty retired after more than 11 years on the job.

• Columbia County paid tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting by hanging angels with names of each victim on the Columbia County Christmas tree. Letitia Clark, the mother of Virginia Tech shooting victim Ryan Clark, addressed the crowd.

• Columbia County Probate Judge Alice Padgett was sworn into office by Augusta Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Judge Carlisle Overstreet. Padgett ran unopposed for the post and had served as interim Probate Judge following the death of Pat Hardaway in 2011.

• The president of the Stratford Homeowners Association reported that more than $192,000 was missing from the association’s accounts.

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