This year was one of big changes for Columbia County.
Though much of 2010 was marked by tragic deaths, controversial resignations of high-profile officials and a continuingly sluggish economy, there also was much to celebrate.
Some of the main stories of 2010 were Rachael Cundey again winning Columbia County and regional spelling bees; major expansions of The Family Y; the resignations of Mickie Blackburn, Lawrence Hammond and Jim Tingen; the deaths of two Lakeside High pupils; the protest of a methadone clinic in Evans; the purchase of a Harlem pecan factory; and, a multimillion dollar federal grant that will make Internet access available to all county residents.
An election year brought some new faces to the ranks of public officials, and one county commissioner endured numerous embarrassments.
Some students earned lofty academic and athletic rewards. Construction brought improved county services and new dining and shopping opportunities.
Here is a look at some of the events, people and politics that shaped Columbia County this year.
- Tracy-Luckey Co., a family-owned business in Harlem for more than 70 years, was sold to San Saba Pecan LP, a Texas-based pecan orchard and processing operation.
- Family Y executives announced plans to open a 19,000-square-foot facility in the Evans Town Center on North Belair Road. The new facility opened in July.
- School board officials announced a plan to close Belair Elementary School, sell the site and build larger buildings for Evans and Martinez Elementary, Columbia Middle and the alternative school as part of a 1 percent sales tax package approved by voters in July.
- Grovetown was designated a Tier 1 community by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The city was previously a Tier 4, like the rest of Columbia County. The Tier 1 status includes job credit tax incentives and other programs and assistance to encourage development.
- Officials at Evans Christian Academy announced their purchase of Berea Baptist Church in Grovetown and plans to move classes there from the school's current location at Crossbridge Baptist Church in Augusta. The school opened in the South Old Belair Road location in August.
- Chin Su Pak, of Evans, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to aggravated child molestation and four counts of child molestation. He was accused of molesting an 11-year-old girl.
- Steven Gonzales, 45, of Augusta, died after being hit by two vehicles while crossing Belair Road at Cox Road.
- Blair LeBlanc, 74, of Evans, died after his truck swerved into a utility pole in front of Evans High School. Officials believed LeBlanc experienced a medical emergency.
- Alice W. Padgett was sworn in as Columbia County's first associate Probate Court judge.
- Grovetown City Council incumbent Bruce Stoddard and newcomer Sonny McDowell were sworn in.
- Longtime Columbia County school board member Mickie Blackburn announced that she was retiring after her third term.
- Former state Sen. G.B. "Jake" Pollard was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.
- Rachael Cundey, a fifth-grader at South Columbia Elementary School, won the Columbia County Spelling Bee for the second consecutive year. She went on to win the regional competition and traveled to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington for the second time.
- Lakeside High School's Andrew Byrd was named Columbia County STAR student. He named physics teacher John Cato as his STAR teacher.
- The county got more than 6 inches of snow, the most since 1974.
- Brandon Christopher Newman, of Harlem, was sentenced to 22 years in prison on charges stemming from a May 2007 wreck on Harlem-Grovetown Road that killed his brother, Cameron Newman, 23, and Mallory Jason, 19.
- Reamer Allmond, 65, of Evans, was killed when he walked into the street in front of a vehicle on Belair Road near Cox Road.
- Shepeard Community Blood Center consolidated two Columbia County locations into a new 6,000-square-foot facility at 4329 Washington Road in Evans.
- A 20,000-square-foot addition to The Sanctuary Church in Evans was dedicated.
- Columbia County was awarded a $13.5 million Broadband Technology Opportunity Program grant to increase broadband and wireless access throughout the county. Installation work started in December.
- Lawrence Hammond resigned as leader of the Columbia County Republican Party, three months after a party faction removed him. He was reinstated in February by the 10th District Republican Committee but opted to step down. Hammond was replaced by Pat Goodwin.
- Jim Tingen, president of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, resigned abruptly. He later was replaced by Tammy Shepherd.
- Harlem Assistant City Manager Jason Rizner started work. He replaced Jean Dove as city manager after her retirement in July.
- Cole Wooten, then a fifth-grader at Stevens Creek Elementary, undergoes surgery that allows him to walk on prosthetic feet.
- For the first time, the Columbia County school board held drawings for lottery-funded pre-kindergarten slots at the central office rather than in individual schools.
- A Superior Court judge refused to reduce the 20-year prison sentence for Jerry Jackson Lee II, who was convicted in 2007 of aggravated sexual battery against a 9-year-old girl.
- Roy Joseph Kerlegan III, a 2007 Greenbrier High School graduate, died in a motorcycle wreck in Stockbridge, Ga.
- Columbia County was awarded nearly $225,000 in federal stimulus funds from the Georgia Department of Transportation to upgrade the rural transit system.
- Members of the Harlem Woman's Club named Carrie Kimel as its 2009 Citizen of the Year.
- Mark Moseley, a popular Greenbrier High School assistant softball coach and community volunteer, died after a three-year bout with cancer.
- Columbia County commissioners approved renaming a portion of Chamblin Road and International Parkway to William Few Parkway.
- A county study showed that motorists on portions of Washington Road in Evans were spending less time waiting on red lights since the January installation of a new traffic-signal system.
- Katy Yeargin was hired to replace retiring Euchee Creek Elementary School Principal Wanda Golosky. Steven Cummings was hired to replace Donna Anderson, retiring Columbia County Middle School principal.
- Eric Franklin Dunn, of Grovetown, died in a single-vehicle wreck in Appling.
- Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet denied Marshall Square developers' motion for partial summary judgment against Columbia County officials. The two parties were engaged in a multimillion dollar lawsuit in which developers were fighting the county's 2009 decision to restrict the number of apartment units planned on the 57-acre development.
- Officials of the Georgia Department of Transportation decided to move forward with plans for a traffic circle in Pumpkin Center at Appling-Harlem and Wrightsboro roads despite protests by area residents.
- Columbia County school officials announced plans to eliminate 25 teaching positions and add five furlough days to the next year's school calendar because of a $6 million state funding cut.
- Columbia County sheriff's Deputy Gregory Key Kernaghan, 40, was fired after being charged with stalking, harassing phone calls and terroristic threats. Kernaghan, who became a deputy in 2006, was arrested again in June after attempting to contact his estranged wife.
- Willie Rane Elam, 53, of the 6300 block of Cobbham Road in Appling, died when his Dodge Durango hit two trees off Ray Owens Road. A medical emergency was believed to be the cause.
- Rebecca Doughty, 53, of Augusta, and Antoinette Williams, 44, of Lincolnton, Ga., were killed in a wreck on Washington Road near the Keg Creek bridge. Doughty was driving erratically before her car crossed the center line and struck Williams' vehicle. Deputies believe the collision was caused by a dog that was riding in Doughty's lap. The dog also died.
- Columbia County Associate Superintendent Lauren Williams retired after 33 years as a teacher and administrator.
- The Columbia County school board hired Steve Rhodes to replace Jeff Carney as Lakeside High School's principal.
- The Columbia County School Board awarded an $8.5 million bid to McDonald Construction Co. to build the county's next elementary school on Baker Place Road.
- Brookwood Elementary School music teacher Johnny Carr retired after 31 years full-time and three years part-time. Blue Ridge Elementary music teacher Margaret Wiggins retired after nearly 30 years as an educator.
- The firing of Margaret Mudrak, a Lakeside High School teacher, was upheld after a termination hearing that lasted nearly 12 hours. Mudrak was accused of helping special needs students cheat on a test.
- Columbia County authorities launched an investigation to learn the identity of whoever created a fake Facebook profile of a student witness in Mudrak's termination hearing. The Facebook profile purported to show a 16-year-old Lakeside High School student lying about his testimony. Roger Corey Bonsant, a Lakeside High School student, was arrested in August and charged with creating the fake page.
- Tracy-Luckey Co. founder and former Harlem mayor Francis Williams Tracy died at age 94. Tracy started the company in 1937. which was incorporated and named Tracy-Luckey Co. Inc. in 1950.
- Paul Grzybowski, a 2007 graduate of Greenbrier High School, suffered severe burns after a chemical explosion while creating a combustible compound behind an Atlanta fraternity house.
- Three teens were arrested for vandalizing computers, classrooms and the teacher's lounge at Augusta Preparatory Day School in Martinez.
- Harlem City Manager Jean Dove retired after serving the city for 33 years. She started in 1977 as a water clerk.
- A fire started by an electrical fan destroyed two cabins at the Girl Scouts' Camp Tanglewood. No one was injured.
- Michael P. Cunningham, 47, of the 2300 block of Morris-Callaway Road in Appling, was killed in a single-vehicle crash when he tried to avoid hitting a tree lying in White Oak Road.
- Columbia County commissioners adopted a $54.1 million general fund budget, about $2.3 million less than the previous year.
- The Columbia County Planning Commission denied a request to table or rezone property on Washington Road planned for the second phase of Mullins Crossing. Property owners sought a single-family-residential zoning.
- Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean refused to provide public access to text messages from his taxpayer-funded personal phone after he was accused of exchanging inappropriate messages with a county employee.
- Columbia County officials settled the $57.5 million lawsuit filed by Marshall Square developers by purchasing 26 acres of the 57-acre site for $6.25 million.
- Two Augusta 17-year-olds, Matthew Cornelison and Stuart Sims, set off a homemade bomb in McCormick County and tried to wash off the chemicals in the restroom at Wife Saver Restaurant on North Belair Road. Both teens, who were given decontamination baths at the scene, were hospitalized for treatment of chemical burns.
- Jesus Ramirez Gonzalez, 31, of the 300 block of Michelle Way in Augusta, drowned at Clarks Hills Lake.
- William Bret Ward, 45, of Hoschton, Ga., was electrocuted by a live wire while working on a ground transformer at a residence on Braddock Street in Martinez.
- In the July Republican primary election, Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross defeated Brett McGuire, and District 4 Commissioner Scott Dean defeated David Payne.
- The Columbia County Commission approved revisions to a sign ordinance that allowed new businesses to put out temporary signs for a week during grand openings and other special events.
- Columbia County officials approved adding almost a mile of new sidewalks and multiuse trails on North Belair Road, between Washington and Evans to Locks roads, as part of a road-widening project.
- Grovetown officials gave their support to a potential low-income apartment complex on the former site of the city's original schoolhouse on Robinson Avenue.
- The former Columbia County landfill on Baker Place Road was rezoned for passive recreational use by planning commissioners.
- Michael Todd Williams, 40, of the 200 block of Matson Court in Martinez, was charged with murder in the fatal stabbing of his Grovetown girlfriend. Misty Weegar, 41, was found dead in her home at the 300 block of High Meadows Place.
- Riverside Elementary School first-grader Sydney Stanley, 6, was found dead inside her parents' 2009 Buick Enclave. Authorities believe Sydney was playing in the vehicle and couldn't get out. The child was apparently overcome by heat inside the car.
- Nick Hartfield, 16, of Martinez, drowned after falling into the Savannah River while playing with friends at Savannah Rapids Pavilion.
- Authorities charged Michael James O'Grady Jr., 43, of the 3500 block of West Lake Drive, with rape. A teen claimed that in 2008 he assaulted her at the West Lake subdivision golf course. When the alleged rape was reported to police, she and her family decided not to prosecute. Two years later, as an adult, she decided to press charges against O'Grady. He was granted a $76,100 bond.
- A Grovetown Middle School pupil was arrested after he threatened school officials with a kitchen knife.
- Gerson Ayala Romero, 26, of Tennessee, was sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by 60 years on probation after he pleaded guilty to 28 charges in connection with a September 2009 armed robbery of a Martinez jewelry store.
- The former Dino's Chicago Express in Martinez reopened as Papa-N-Son's, the first franchise of a new brand.
- Grovetown officials approved an ordinance that requires any mobile home brought into or moved within the city to be inspected by a city-approved home inspector based on the city's habitability standards.
- Berea Baptist Church moved to a new location, next to Omni Fitness Center in Evans.
- Mike Lindsey, director of middle school and gifted learning, resigned from his position to become superintendent of the Boaz City School System in Alabama.
- Longtime educator Mary Sanders died on Sept. 6 at age 97. Sanders was a elementary school principal who helped steer the Columbia County school system through desegregation. She worked as an educator from 1932 to 1988. She then served a term on the county school board during the 1990s, becoming the first elected black official in the county since Reconstruction..
- The results of an audit released in September showed numerous examples of "sloppy paperwork" by the county Code Enforcement division for those seeking alcohol licenses. Commissioners recommended new procedures and ordered a new audit six months later.
-Police charged five men with underage drinking, drug activity and sex crimes at a Martinez home. One also was accused of recording sex activities with his phone. Two women, including the victim, were charged with underage drinking.
- Biology students at Augusta State University started a study of the high level of waste indicators in the lake of the Woodbridge neighborhood. A study conducted in August indicated that the lake might contain dangerously high levels of possibly harmful bacteria.
- Tax Commissioner Kay Allen received permission from commissioners to reject computer upgrades for the Munis software. Officials had complained about problems with the software. Commissioners later agreed to a $180,000 contract with the Munis software provider for licensing and technical support.
- Columbia County officials asked the state Department of Transportation to allow motorists to turn right onto Washington Road from Evans Town Center Boulevard. A response from DOT has yet to be discussed openly by officials.
- A group of Columbia County arts enthusiasts started a campaign to raise $100,000 by the end of October for a cultural arts center. The group failed to meet the October deadline but is still trying to raise funds.
- Honey Shore, the longtime public information officer for Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue, retired and moved to Little River, S.C.
- SAT scores were released in September, and all but one Columbia County high school showed improvement. Greenbrier High's score fell eight points.
- Greenbrier Middle School Principal Sharon Carson was promoted to director of middle school learning.
- Lakeside High basketball star Vergil King died while playing basketball at The Family Y on Wheeler Road. He was 17.
- The state Division of Family and Children Services removed four adopted children from county Commissioner Scott Dean's home. The children later were returned, but Dean had to leave the Harlem house. Dean's 17-year-old daughter, Marlin, had left the home for Mexico.
- Columbia County school board members revoked a resolution setting the location of bus stops, four years after passing the resolution to test a state law cracking down on sex offenders.
- A groundbreaking ceremony was held at Evans Town Center Park. When finished, the $3.2 million park will include restrooms, a concession stand, a zero-depth water fountain, a playground, an amphitheater, a dog park and outdoor seating.
- Grovetown High School math teacher Vicki Tarleton was chosen Teacher of the Year. Grovetown High's Angela Dalis was selected as Media Specialist of the Year.
- Euchee Creek Library Supervisor John Welch was transferred to the Columbia County Library in Evans against his wishes. Though Welch had community support, county officials said he resisted change and slept on the job. Welch said that he had only slept during his lunch hour and that he had discontinued the practice.
- A stone monument honoring Harry B. Hennis was erected at the Columbia County Memorial Garden near Hennis' creations -- the stone arch and pillars that belonged to the initial Evans Consolidated School. The artifacts are all that remain of the original schoolhouse, which burned on Oct. 11, 1955.
- Brandon Wilde resident Stella Grandin donated $1 million to the retirement community to build a care center for seniors with dementia-related illnesses.
- The Columbia County Chamber of Commerce absorbed and then dissolved the Grovetown Merchants Association.
- Business owners operating shops in Evans' Park Place shopping center vowed to fight the introduction of a methadone clinic to the area.
- Kristi Baker won a landslide election against Carl Schluter to replace the retiring Mickie Blackburn on the Columbia County Board of Education.
- Harlem Councilmen John Thigpen and Rudolph Dixon defeated a challenge from Melonie Dappie to retain their seats in the at-large election.
- Michael Todd Williams, 40, pleaded not guilty to stabbing and beating to death 41-year-old Misty Weegar at her Grovetown home in August.
- Thomas Gilbert Beasley, 33, of Evans, was convicted of five counts of first-degree cruelty to children and a count of second-degree cruelty to children. The charges stem from multiple beatings of his young sons, including one so bad that the eldest son incurred brain damage.
- County commissioners designated $6.7 million in 1 percent sales tax dollars for numerous building projects, including a large exhibition hall in the Gateway area of Grovetown to be shared with The Family Y.
- Sheriff's Deputy Derek Wayne McClure, 39, was fired and arrested after an investigation into a claim that he sexually assaulted a woman in custody.
- Commission Chairman Ron Cross announced that the amphitheater at Evans Town Center Park will be named for country music act Lady Antebellum, which includes Lakeside graduates Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood.
- Naomi James, 80-year-old mother of Grovetown Mayor George James III, died in a car wreck.
- Jack Hall, head of schools at Augusta Preparatory Day School, announced his intention to resign at the end of the school year to take a job as headmaster for a private school in Marietta, Ga.
- Evans High School senior Andrea Ziemba was selected to be a member of the color guard at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
- County Commissioners approved the rezoning from commercial to residential of 22 acres on Washington Road meant to be a second phase for Mullins Crossing. The property will be taxed at about $35,000 less for 2011 than the years it was a commercial property.
- A difference in opinion concerning trial strategy prompted Augusta attorney Victor Hawk to step down as counsel for accused murderer Rebecca Sears, 42, of Grovetown. He was replaced with lawyers from the Georgia Capital Defender's Office.
- Grovetown Councilmen Barry Davis and Robert Newman submitted formal letters announcing their resignations. Both men have moved out of the city limits, Davis because of marriage and Newman because of divorce.
- County commissioners approved a 10-year lease with The Family Y for operation of a facility the county will build in the Gateway area.
- Harlem City Council agreed to a $36,000 purchase option for land owned by Harlem Mayor Bobby Culpepper for use as a new public safety building.
- Thomas Nolan Kaszas II, 34, of Evans, was sentenced to federal prison for a scheme to defraud a government contractor of thousands of dollars intended as bonuses to Georgia Army National Guard members who referred others to enlist.
- Leo's Produce owner Leo Charette Jr., 45, of Evans, was charged with four counts of theft by receiving stolen property. Richmond County police found numerous items believed to have been stolen in a warehouse owned by Charette at 1551 Fifth St. in Augusta.
- An audit of the Columbia County Water Utility department uncovered about $600,000 in improperly recorded transactions. Water Utility Director Billy Clayton said that computer problems that caused the errors had been corrected and that no funds were missing.
- The Columbia County school board approved a zone for a new elementary school on Baker Place Road. The rezoning mostly affects pupils living in the current zones for Euchee Creek, Cedar Ridge and Lewiston elementary schools.
- Longtime school board member Mickie Blackburn served at her last meeting in an official capacity. To recognize the occasion, the board approved a resolution making Dec. 14 Mildred Blackburn Day.
- Columbia County authorities completed their investigation of Scott Dean and forwarded their findings to the district attorney's office.
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