2012: A look back
As 2013 begins, The Gazette takes a look back at some of the top news stories of the past 12 months.
• The Goose Creek community was outraged and shocked in January when an armed gunman threatened and held up a church choir.
On Jan. 18 just after 8 p.m. nine choir members at St. James United Methodist Church were robbed at gunpoint while rehearsing at the church on St. James Avenue. The suspect had a shotgun or rifle and told choir members to get down on the floor. He took wallets containing cash, various cards, checkbooks and cell phones before fleeing.
• Brickhope Plantation residents made their unease about heavy traffic known at a January Goose Creek City Council meeting. Residents said they don’t want heavy truck traffic on Montague Plantation Road – which slices through the neighborhood – when the road is expanded into three lanes.
The road will connect to Henry Brown Boulevard, which connects to North Rhett Avenue. The expansion is set to being in 2013 at the earliest. Goose Creek Mayor Michael Heitzler said that the State Department of Transportation owns the road.
• With a gaggle of Republican candidates descending on the Palmetto State for the Jan. 24 GOP primary, the eyes of the nation were trained on South Carolina as voters went to the polls to select a Republican candidate for president.
The South Carolina Republican Presidential primary was the first of the southern primaries, with the Florida primary following on Jan. 31.
The winner of the South Carolina primary had gone on to win the GOP nomination in every election cycle since 1980, when Ronald Reagan captured victory, but that string was broken in 2012 when Newt Gingrich outdistanced eventual nominee Mitt Romney in both the county and state vote.
• The Berkeley County School District approved a school board referendum for almost $200 million to fund the district’s capital construction program over the next decade.
The funds would go toward the construction of five new county schools and a proposed series of renovations and expansions to the county’s existing schools to manage growth and other funding options over the next 10 years.
The Berkeley County School Board voted 6-3 Tuesday to begin making plans for the referendum, which was put to the voters 11 months later.
• Local law enforcement were led on a six-week wild goose chase as they searched for a Berkeley County prisoner who escaped from the Hill-Finklea Detention Center.
James Sanders, who walked out of the county jail and avoided a massive search by hitching a ride into Charleston and living on the lam for more than a month, was eventually arrested in Myrtle Beach.
“We have been following up on leads all weekend long,” BCSO spokesperson Dan Moon said. “Nothing has panned out. He could be anywhere.”
Sanders escaped after he was incorrectly placed in a holding area for prisoners preparing to be released. The temporary confusion stemmed from a sentence handed down to Sanders, and gave him just enough time to leave the prison.
The escape resulted in the firing of a Hill-Finklea employee, the demotion of a second employee and the suspension of two others.
• At least 1,500 people flocked to Immaculate Conception Catholic Church the night of Tuesday, Feb. 28 to attend a Healing Mass conducted by nationally known Father Fernando Suarez. Hours after the event began, there were still lines of people outside the door waiting to get in to the unique healing ceremony.
• A Berkeley County woman pled guilty to two charges related to the 2010 death of 2-year-old Rodricus Fred Williams. In July 2010 the boy was found dead in a concrete-filled trashcan in Orangeburg County near Bowman.
Grace Trotman pled guilty On Feb. 16 to one count of homicide by child abuse and one count of desecration of human remains. She pled guilty in Charleston before Judge R. Markley Dennis.
Trotman was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison.
• After evading the law for more than a month, escaped Berkeley County prisoner James Sanders was finally tracked down and returned to custody.
Sanders – the Ridgeville man who led law enforcement on a wild goose chase across the state – was arrested on March 1in Myrtle Beach for allegedly stealing a woman’s wallet.
Magistrate Court Judge James A. Polk set bail at $800,000 for a man he said was both a flight risk and a threat to the community.
Sanders, clad in a light blue prison jumpsuit and shackles, did not speak during the hearing, staring at the floor as the charges against him were read. A woman who told the court she was the victim in the case said she was fearful of Sanders being released on any kind of bail.
“He is a flight risk and he wants me murdered,” she said. “He’s done this several times before.”
• The owner of four malnourished horses, one of which was burned chemically and needed immediate medical attention, received seven citations for violating Berkeley County Animal Control Ordinances in March.
The owner of the horses, Dwight N. Benjamin McCloud, faced charges that included failure to provide care or treatment for a diseased or injured animal; three counts of failure to provide humane treatment to animals; and one count of failure to provide adequate food and water.
The case of the horses sparked outrage in Goose Creek and across Berkeley County in 2012.
• Cane Bay High School’s Michael Petry was named the 2012 Berkeley County School District Teacher of the Year at the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce’s 35th Annual Teacher of the Year Awards.
The event was held April 5 at Trident Technical College’s North Charleston campus.
Petry is an English teacher at CBHS. Before presenting the top honor, Berkeley County School Superintendent Rodney Thompson praised all of the educators selected as their school’s Teacher of the Year in 2012.
“When talent and compassion meet, miracles happen for our children,” Thompson said.
• First time candidate Ken Gunn announced his intent to challenge incumbent Bob Call for his District 3 seat on county council in April. Gunn’s announcement set in a motion one of the more interesting political races of the year.
“Throughout my life I have had the privilege of wearing many titles,” Gunn said. “They include Vietnam veteran, volunteer firefighter, husband, father and grandfather.”
Gunn said that the councilman he was challenging, Bob Call, “has not been representing the conservative values of his constituents.”
Gunn would go on to defeat Call in the June 12 primary and stands to be sworn in on Jan. 8, 2013 despite a lawsuit and two election protests since his primary win.
• A special runoff election for one Goose Creek City Council seat was won by Franklin Moore in April. Moore defeated incumbent Sal Gandolfo, who had been on City Council for 16 years and served on the Zoning Board of Appeals for 14 years before that.
• Tragedy struck at the end of May when three people were killed – including a child – in a massive fire that destroyed 16 apartment units off Harbour Lake Drive in Berkeley County near Goose Creek. The fire began sometime around 12 p.m. Thursday, May 31.
The search for bodies in the destroyed Building B of Pine Harbour Apartments continued through the weekend. Officials confirmed the discovery of a meth lab in one of the burned apartment units.
“It made a big boom,” said witness Candace Singleton, who like others heard an explosion.
• Members of non-profits, small businesses, and the education communities from around the state attended the inaugural Googlefest on June 21. Held at Trident Technical College on Rivers Avenue in North Charleston, the event helped around 350 attendees learn how to use Google’s products to enhance their services.
Eric Wages, Site Operator for Google’s Berkeley County Data Center, said that the purpose of the event was not only to show the attendees how to use Google’s tools, but also to facilitate a larger community dialogue. “People often try to solve their problems in a silo,” he said. “What we want to do is to get people talking more.”
• Santee Cooper and Alcoa’s Mt. Holly Plant signed an agreement that extended a looming June 2012 deadline to June 30, 2013.
Before, Alcoa officials said the plant would close if a new energy rate was not reached by this month. Alcoa officials have not changed that position: if the company’s energy rates are not lowered it will leave Berkeley County. Its current contract with Santee Cooper expires on Dec. 31, 2015.
The deadline extension avoids Alcoa “giving termination notice this month, so that is good news,” Alcoa Mt. Holly Plant Manager Mike Rousseau said. “It gives us some time to continue working with Santee Cooper to find a solution to a long term, competitive power rate.”
• A Goose Creek City Council debate continued in July regarding the best way to protect the land on which the city-owned Crowfield Golf Course sits.
A deed restriction protecting the land expired a few years ago. A deed restriction guarantees that the land cannot be subdivided or sold, and possibly turned into apartments or other housing units, which would likely devalue current homes near the land.
The issue was raised again at council’s July 10 meeting, by Hamlets resident Reggie Ryan.
• Cane Bay’s newest school opened in August, and became the a crowning achievement for the Berkeley County School District.
Students filed into the 116,000 square foot Cane Bay Middle School for the first time on Aug. 20. It is the third of three public schools at Cane Bay Plantation, following Cane Bay High School (opened 2008) and Cane Bay Elementary (opened 2009).
The $20 million middle school was completed a year behind its original ambitious schedule.
• Berkeley County Councilman Bob Call filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn his June 12 GOP primary defeat. The lawsuit challenged Call’s opponent Ken Gunn’s candidacy, claiming Gunn’s paperwork was not filed in accordance with South Carolina Republican Party regulations. Call lost to Gunn – a political newcomer – by 371 to 265 votes in the GOP primary.
Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson ruled in favor of a motion filed by the South Carolina Election Commission seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, which would have reversed Call’s primary loss.
Nicholson dismissed the suit in Charleston, on the grounds that Call waited more than three months after the May 2 state Supreme Court ruling requiring non-exempt candidates for election to file their statement of economic interests online to file his suit.
Nicholson questioned the reasoning and motive behind the three-month delay and accepted the S.C. Election Commission’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Since there is no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6, election, Gunn will assume Call’s District 3 council seat in January 2013. “The judge’s ruling today validates the public’s wishes,” Gunn said after the lawsuit’s dismissal.
• The year 2012 marked the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
More than 100 veterans, boy scouts and citizens gathered at the American Legion Post 166 in Goose Creek last Tuesday for the Post’s annual memorial to the tragic event. Past Post Commander Rick Bernard started the memorial program at Post 166 in 2002, the first year after the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Bernard has led the memorial each year since.
“As we gather here tonight let us take a moment to remember those whose lives were lost by one of the most terrible acts of all mankind,” said Bernard, who then rang a bell twice.
“This act of terror not only united our great nation, but it also united the world. For it has now been shown that no country is safe from these people that are bound and determined to terrorize those who do not conform to their ideas.
“But they will be stopped by courageous men and women who are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us can live in peace. Where do such men and women come from? They come from the land of the free, the home of the brave. Let us pause for a moment to remember these historic men and women.”
• The unthinkable unfolded over the first week in September with the horrific double murder of 18-year-old Dana Woods and 22-year-old June Guerry in upper Berkeley County.
What began as a missing persons case on the weekend of Aug. 25 turned into a case of double murder as August passed into September, as the bodies of Woods and Guerry were discovered one day and about 10 miles. Woods was laid to rest on Sept. 1, while Guerry’s funeral was Sept. 2.
The women disappeared on Sunday, Aug. 29. The collective shock, grief and anger of the community turned to relief as two suspects were taken into custody for the killing.
Shortly after Woods’ funeral, family members of the two victims were brought into the BCSO headquarters and given the news that a pair of arrests had been made in their daughters’ murders.
Arrested and charged with two counts of murder were Caleb Brad Matlock, 23, of Summerville, and Arthur Ray Chavis, 23, of Cordesville.
• A South Carolina Law Administrative Law Court ruled that Berkeley County can support two hospitals on Oct. 3.
The ruling was a victory for Roper St. Francis Healthcare, which wants to build a hospital near Goose Creek, and a setback for Trident Health, which has planned to build a 50-bed facility in Moncks Corner, and has maintained that Berkeley County could not support two such facilities.
The two hospitals have been battling in the press and courts for more than three years. The ruling favors Roper St. Francis, which plans to move forward with construction on its long-awaited hospital in the Carnes Crossroads community in Goose Creek.
In the order provided by Judge John D. McLeod, the judge agreed with the DHEC decision.
“I find that Berkeley’s population size is well able to support two 50-bed hospitals,” McLeod said. “Trident’s position that both hospitals will financially fail if both are approved is inconsistent with Trident’s financials and its application.
“I find the overwhelming evidence admitted at trial proved that both hospitals are needed and both hospitals in Berkeley County will be financially successful.”
In a statement released after the ruling, Roper St. Francis reiterated its position about the Berkeley County market being able to support two hospitals.
“Roper St. Francis is very pleased that the court has upheld DHEC’s 2009 decision to allow both hospitals, but it is the residents of Berkeley County who have won,” said David Dunlap, president and CEO of Roper St. Francis Healthcare. “Roper St. Francis has fought hard for Berkeley County for more than three years on this issue. We have not wavered in the position that both hospitals, proposed for two different areas, are needed and would be supported.”
Trident expressed its disappointment in the ruling.
• In November, the national and local elections dominated the news as President Barack Obama was reelected to a second presidential term.
Berkeley County voters turned out steadily throughout election day on Nov. 6. The official voter turnout was more than 67 percent close to 70,000 voters went to the polls. More than 68 percent of voters turned out statewide.
President Obama won the national election and in Berkeley County received 41 percent of the vote while Republican challenger Mitt Romney received 56 percent of the county’s vote. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson received just over one percent.
The $198 million school bond referendum passed with more than 59 percent of the vote as 40,092 residents voted in its favor.
Other local contested races were for State House Dist. 100, in which Republican Edward Southard won with 65 percent of the vote over Democratic and Working Families candidate Tonia Aiken-Taylor.
In State House Dist. 102 Democratic incumbent Joe Jefferson won with 66 percent of the vote as Republican challenger Allan Weiss received just over 33 percent of the vote.
In the Berkeley County School Board District 7 race incumbent Wilhelmina Moore received more than 60 percent of the vote to defeat challenger Marty Housand.
In School Board District 1 incumbent Kent Murray won with 55 percent of the vote as nearly 45 percent went to challenger Kevin Cox.
Republican incumbent Tim Scott won the U.S. House of Representatives District 1 race with 65 percent of the vote. Bobbie Rose ran against Scott as a member of the Democratic and Working Families parties. She received more than 32 percent of the county’s votes.
In U.S. House District 6 Democratic incumbent Jim Clyburn received 93 percent of the county and state vote.
In Berkeley County 58 percent of voters marked “yes” to the constitutional amendment that will make the South Carolina governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket in 2016. More than 55 percent of the state voted in favor of the amendment.
• Road construction projects made their presence felt in December with the US 17A widening project kicking into high gear and the repaving of Hwy. 6 nearing completion. Traffic was often slowed while construction crews and heavy equipment worked to improve local driving conditions for area motorists.
In 2008, the voters of Berkeley County passed a one percent sales and use tax for “financing the costs of highways, roads, bridges, and other transportation-related project facilities, and drainage facilities related thereto,” according to the Berkeley County website.
• The news year ended with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley tabbing First District Congressman Tim Scott to fill Jim DeMint’s U.S. Senate seat.
“I think this is a new day in South Carolina,” Haley said. “The process was pretty simple. Tim understands the focus we need in our business community as we fight for new jobs. Tim knows the value of a dollar.
“This man loves South Carolina. He knows that every vote affects South Carolina and affects our country. Congressman Scott earned this seat through the person he is and the results he has shown.”
Scott’s appointment makes him the first African American since Reconstruction to represent South Carolina in the U.S. Senate.
“Our nation finds itself where we need some backbone,” Scott said. “We need to make some difficult decisions. When you have a problem with spending it means you don’t have enough revenue to cover it, and we have a spending problem not a revenue problem.”
DeMint is resigning in January to become president of the Heritage Foundation. His senate replacement will serve until a special election is held in 2014.
State Sen. Larry Grooms is among the candidates who are running for Scott’s Congressional seat.