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Chester County 2013 Year in Review, Part 1

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By Travis Jenkins

January

The year began with sad news as Ed Melton passed away. Melton was known as "The Apple Man" or "The Peddler" as he spent the better part of 30 years selling produce off his truck around town and entertaining folks with his stories and one-liners.

Alex "Big A" Underwood was sworn in as the new sheriff of Chester County. Underwood took an unconventional path to the sheriff's office, having to collect signatures and get on the ballot as a petition candidate after being one of several hundred challengers statewide thrown off the ballot because of an obscure state law. He would be in for a busy first year as sheriff.

A fire badly damaged Cox Auction House in downtown Chester. Luckily, everyone inside was able to get out unharmed, but the blaze drew worried business owners to the backlot who hoped the fire would not spread to their adjoining buildings and forced several people out of their nearby apartments. The fire was contained, but the auction house eventually moved to a new location because of the damage.

A Chester man hit a $2 million Powerball Lottery jackpot with a ticket purchased at the Pantry Express. The winner withheld his name and changed his phone number after collecting his money.

Mrs. Jennie Dodds passed away the day a story about her life ran in the News & Reporter. The "spicy centenarian" was 103.

The Chester County School District unveiled its "Mentor Me" program, which is aimed at providing a role model to students in need of one. The project was created by Superintendent Dr. Agnes Slayman.

Chester City Council finally passed an updated nuisance abatement ordinance, which had been discussed for several years and officially debated for 10 months was finally passed. The ordinance was designed to "put some teeth" in nuisance abatement issues. Among other things, the ordinance ended the practice of sending multiple letters to offenders, with only one being sent, to be followed by a court summons if issues are not dealt with quickly.

All seventh grade students in Chester County School were required to receive a TDAP vaccine shot before entering school. The district created the policy to battle rising whooping cough rates.

A reward was offered after someone reportedly poisoned Sheriff Alex Underwood's dog. The German Shepherd, A.J., was poisoned while Underwood and his family attended the annual MLK Jr. Parade in Chester. A.J. had become a popular figure, attending many events with Underwood at local schools.

The so-called "Walmart Road" was brought into the county system. The road runs between the old mall location that Walmart moved to in 2012 and the former location of Hardee's. Essentially it is only used to ship goods in-and-out of Walmart. The road actually belonged to the L&C Railroad, but the company agreed to relinquish rights on it to the City of Chester. The county agreed to take it in after being assured it would not require work or repaving for several years.

Historian, journalist and longtime community icon Anne Pickens Collins passed away a week after celebrating her 103rd birthday. Pickens was a former Clemson "Mother of the Year," wrote multiple books and penned columns for several newspapers through the years.

February

J. Nolan Etters, who entertained and informed News & Reporter readers for years with his column and stories of irascible Uncle Enos passed away. Sadly, his wife Betty would die weeks later.

The Chester County Sheriff's Department moved quickly to make arrests in the murder of Jimmie Ray Paul, 59, who was found shot to death in her home. Clayton Eli Watts, 17, the grandson of Paul and her husband Mack (the county zoning and planning director) was charged with murder, along with Marquaes Issale Buchanan, 18. A third suspect, 19-year-old Shaiderius Demark Cohen, was taken into custody a short time later. The Sheriff's Department deemed the murder "an orchestrated attack" and "murder for hire." According to officials, Watts' plot was to not only kill his grandmother but his grandfather, who was outside in the back of the home at the time of the shooting. Watts, who lived with the Pauls, allegedly promised to pay $5,000 to Buchanan for the killings, however, no money ever exchanged hands. According to officials, Watts wanted to kill his grandparents for being too strict on him.

Longtime Great Falls basketball coach John Smith reached another milestone in his career full of milestones, notching his 900th career victory. The win came, fittingly enough, against rival Lewisville on a last-second buzzer-beating three-pointer.

An unknown man who was believed to be responsible for a series of armed robberies in two other states and a couple of other counties in South Carolina robbed World Finance on the J.A. Cochran Bypass at knifepoint. No one was hurt, but the man did escape with approximately $2,600 in cash. The same individual is believed to have subsequently struck cash advance locations in North Carolina.

Mary Pace approached Chester City Council about locating a homeless shelter for female veterans, which would be the first of its kind in the country. By late in the year, Pace said she had secured a building to help make her dream a reality.

Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood addressed the Richburg Town Council and reported that the communication system his department has to work with "is just bad." He said officers often have to use their own cell phones to call the department.

Jaye Williams, chairman of the board of directors of the Lewis Fire Department, requested that Chester County Council give the department the authority to issue bills for responding to wreck calls. The bills would be sent to the insurance companies of the people involved. The money would go to cover "day-to-day" expenses, Williams said. The request was approved.

Fort Lawn Town Council voted to approve paying former town employee Pat Roddey $1,860 to settle a breach of contract suit Roddey filed after being terminated in 2009. Roddey was a sewer and annexation consultant for the town.

State officials said that because of continued decreases in federal funding, the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce would regionalize some of its in-person unemployment services effective Feb. 19. Chester was one of the counties affected, but the cutbacks were eventually restored.

IBHS near Richburg staged a first-of-its-kind indoor hail experiment. A house, car, bike, tent and picnic table were pelted with approximately 9,000 pieces of hail. The house was the real focus of the test, though, with the aim being ways to help cut down on the $1 billion of damage hail does to homes each year in the United States. The event drew the TV cameras of the major networks, The Weather Channel and even PBS's "This Old House."

Chester native Len Anderson, who was injured in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2012, toured national media outlets sharing the story of survival for him and his military dog, a Belgian Malinois, named Azza. The duo were on "Late Night with David Letterman," several network morning shows and Animal Planet's “Glory Hounds.”

Crystal Smith of Lancaster was selected as the new finance director for the City of Chester. She worked as an adjunct assistant professor at Webster University prior to her hiring and was a former financial consultant for Lancaster County. The position had been vacant for more than a year.

March

No challengers stepped forward to take on any of the four incumbents whose terms were up on Chester City Council. Council members Susan Kovas, George Caldwell, Linda Tinker and Odell Williams were ultimately sworn back in with no election being held at all.

In what would become an unfortunate trend during the year, several Chester County residents reported being the targets of phone scams. In March, Lib Cook said a man speaking broken English called her home telling her she was  being issued a new Medicare card. He asked for personal information, including which bank she does business with. Thankfully, she hung up on the man.

More than 300 residents of the tri-county region and beyond met at the Richburg Fire Department for a public hearing held by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to speak for and against the re-issuance of a land application permit for sludge, a solid by-product of wastewater treatment plants. Sludge is used as free fertilizer by farmers, but opponents argue it has dangerous side-effects for the soil and people. Much of the discussion at the meeting was whether the Charlotte, N.C. operation of Synagro, should continue to spread sludge, treated human sewage, on South Carolina farmland. Later in the year, DHEC imposed some minor restrictions on sludge application, but allowed the practice to continue.

The Lewisville basketball team claimed its first title in 37 years with a 64-54 win over Whale Branch in the Class A title game at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia. Fans aren't allowed to rush the floor there, so the players rushed into the stands to celebrate.

A man was arrested for assault at the Front Porch Restaurant in Richburg. Dan McMullen of Great Falls allegedly assaulted the restaurant owners after the establishment closed for the night, but was detained by other employees until law enforcement officials arrived.

Following the lead of other departments in the county, the Fort Lawn Fire Department asked for, and received, permission to begin charging for responding to wrecks from Chester County Council.

The Chester County School District announced it was making a change where graduation is concerned, moving commencement for Chester, Lewisville and Great Falls High Schools to Saturday starting with the class of 2014.

A high speed chase that began in Chester County, spilled over into York, then came back across the county line led to a pair of arrests. Michael Ray Martin was arrested after chasing another man and ramming into his car. He was eventually caught after trying to flee on foot and a woman that began to hinder officers in their pursuit was arrested as well.

Chester County had its first big industrial announcement of the year when Outokumpu Stainless Bar, a metal fabrication company, announced that it would expand its operations in Chester County with the construction of a new plant. The $18 million investment is expected to eventually generate 20 new jobs.

Banks McFadden was inducted into the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame. The Great Falls product who was an All-American in both football and basketball at Clemson (and a track and field standout), was the first man recognized at halftime of the first South Carolina College All Star Bowl. McFadden played one season in the NFL before returning to Clemson to coach several sports over the next few decades.

All three of the Lewisville schools earned recognition by the S.C. Department of Education for general performance in 2012. Both Lewisville High School and Lewisville Middle School received the Palmetto Gold award for General Performance and Lewisville Elementary School earned a Palmetto Silver award for General Performance. Palmetto Gold and Palmetto Silver awards for general performance are given to schools with high levels of academic achievement. General performance recognition is based upon overall performance on both the absolute and growth ratings and the growth index found on the state school report cards.

Sheriff Alex Underwood announced the launching of S.T.O.R.M., an acronym for “Showing Teens Our Real Mission.” This overnight program is targeted for at-risk males and females, promotes personal and social responsibility among teens and discourages them from getting involved in illegal drugs, firearms and gangs, the sheriff said. S.T.O.R.M. also encourages participation in community service activities. The "scared straight" style program will be featured in the near future on the A&E Network.

April

Fort Lawn officials announced that sewer rates would be increased by about 15 percent. The increase was necessary, according to Mayor John Rumford, because of budget shortfalls.

A pair of Canada geese chose the Carlisle Roddey Government Center as the nesting ground for their coming offspring. The female laid her eggs in a nest next to the building. They did eventually hatch.

Newly-minted U.S. Senator Tim Scott paid his first visit to Chester County since being appointed to the office in December. Scott talk to students at Lewisville High School about the importance of hard work, getting an education, of having a "Plan B" and took questions form the audience.

It was announced that Tractor Supply Company was coming to Chester. Rumors had been swirling for some time, but county officials confirmed in April that the store would be locating in the former Walmart location on the J.A. Cochran Bypass.

Gertrude “Miss Sugar” Wylie celebrated her 105th birthday. Wylie joked before her birthday party that she enjoyed eating sweets and and had five boyfriends.

Larry Davis, who guided the Lewisville basketball team to its first state title since the 1970s, announced he was stepping down to accept the head job at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill. Davis said the decision was a tough one, but said his goal was to coach a AAAA high school and eventually move to the college ranks. He won a national title at North Carolina before transferring to South Carolina and helping the Gamecocks to an SEC title.

The long search for a new Chester city administrator stalled when city council members failed to turn in score sheets on potential candidates, then turned in sheets that did not adhere to the 1-10 scoring system that was supposed to be used.

May

The City of Chester voted to help sponsor a USDA summer feeding program. The program, which serves young people when school is out, was in danger of going away when York County became non-committal about whether they would continue to sponsor the program. The city's only real expense would be the cost of mailing some checks and purchasing trash bags.

Three men were killed in a car crash near Richburg. A 1999 Volkswagen was traveling westbound on Old Richburg Road near the intersection of Lizzie Melton Road. The car went off the side of the roadway and collided with multiple trees. Dead as a result of the accident were the driver, Gregory Bernard McCrorey, 43, of Clara Court in Chester, front-seat passenger James Suber, 53, of Center Street in Great Falls and James Robert Crane, 56, of Hill Street in Great Falls, who was riding in the back seat of the car.

“It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of the passing of Col. Blair Turner, our associate superintendent of operations. Col. Turner was instrumental in making our district run smoothly, as he managed our transportation, food services, attendance, information technology and maintenance departments. Our entire community has lost a strong and capable leader today.” That e-mail came from Chester County School Superintendent Agnes Slayman

"Project: SPE" which had been discussed by Chester County Council for more than a month, was finally unveiled. The project will feature a five megawatt solar array at the site of the county landfill. There aren't any long-term jobs associated with the project, per se, but there will be short-term construction work available, the solar project will bring value to a piece of property that has no commercial prospects and provide Chester with a revenue stream through the lease agreement.

The annual "Hog on the Hill" barbecue festival brought dozens of competition teams, lots of hungry pork enthusiasts and even Miss South Carolina to Chester's backlot.

Billy Feaster, the former Chester County Library's local historian, died in an accident. Feaster reportedly drowned during a canoe ride on the Tyger River. Feaster was known not only for his work with the library, but for being the father of former WNBA star Allison Feaster and Sandi Worthy, who would be named Chester City Administrator later in the year.

The City of Chester announced a plan to rid itself of buzzards that had begun congregating on a water tower and making nuisance of themselves. The South Carolina DNR-approved plan involved shooting several of the birds and stringing them upside down on the water tower.

Sam Hicklin retired after more than four decades in emergency medical services. He was given a retirement party at the Chester County War Memorial to celebrate his 41 years of professional service.

Chester County Council voted to condemn a piece of property adjacent the R. Carlisle Roddey Government Complex, the first step in taking the property under eminent domain laws. County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey said the county had been rebuffed in previous efforts to buy the property. Roddey said he'd seen someone "boring on the property" and said he'd heard that the property could be sold to a commercial interest (later revealed to be Taco Bell). He said the land represented the only spot capable of accommodating an expansion of the county government complex. The building can't be expanded on the opposite side because there almost no space between the building and the strip mall located next door. Growth can't be achieved in the back, since that's where the parking lot is and growth forward can't take place because of the bypass. Roddey said if the county experiences growth in the future, the government complex, likewise, will have to grow to keep pace.

A long legal battle over the Eureka Mill property was sent to arbitration. The main bone of contention was whether or not clean-up of the property was taking place as laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the mill owners (Larry Ramsey and James Womack) and the county. Ramsey wanted a $50,000 bond he'd posted to do the work returned, but the county would not do so.

The Chester County School Board passed first reading of a measure to test the district's athletes for drugs, with suspensions from athletic competition and counseling set up for those testing positive.

More than 1,000 people turned out for an SC Works job fair at the Gateway Conference Center near Richburg. Forty businesses, organizations and industries were on hand trying to fill almost 600 available jobs in Chester, Lancaster and York.

The fee structure for renting the Gateway Conference Center was set. The cost to rent the full ballroom is $1,600, though it can be divided into sections and rented for less. Any of the sections are nearly as big as, or larger than, the rentable space at the War Memorial Building. The "salon" can be rented for $800, or divided into "A" and "B" section which can be had for $400 or $500 respectively. The meeting rooms can be rented in a block for $900, but can also be divided into "A," "B," and "C" section for $450, $350 and $300.

The Microsoft Corporation announced a three-year alliance with the Chester County School District and to advance technology in the local schools. “The Chester County School District is the first school district in the southeast, the only one in South Carolina and only one of 12 in the nation chosen to enter into an education alliance with Microsoft Corporation,” a company spokesman said.

Chester County formally began the condemnation process on a piece of land adjacent the Carlisle Roddey Government Complex owned by OMNOVA. The legal portion of the process began in earnest with a court filing. The papers indicated that the action was being taken by the condemnor, "Chester County, South Carolina, a political subdivision of the State of South Carolina" against "OMNOVA Solution, Inc.," the landowner. The property listed as being condemned is "Whatever interest you might claim in the portion of 1476 J.A. Cochran Bypass, Chester, South Carolina 29706 as shown on Exhibit A.

Many years in the making and building, the Chester Farmer's Market finally opened in the former McKeown Building adjacent to Chester City Hall.

A large rock was moved to the lawn of Chester High School and painted by students. Not long after, the  CHS Rock began communicating via Twitter.

June

Chester County's new budget came in at just over $16.2 million, a 4.64 percent increase over the current year. A millage increase would eventually take effect to cover that cost.

The Chester Development Foundation officially began accepting fees for naming rights at The Gateway after a vote of Chester County Council. Several businesses have since lent their names to different parts of the building, including Chester County Natural Gas and Founders.

Joseph Kovas, a member of Boy Scouts of America Troop 66 of Chester, was named S.C. Scout of the Year.

Kendric Wherry graduated from Lewisville High School with a 4.202 grade point average, ranking ninth out of 92 seniors. That's even more impressive when you consider he battled kidney cancer since his sophomore year.

Chester City Council approved a new budget that grew from $5.15 million the previous fiscal year to $5.4 million.

Lewisville High School introduced George Wilmore as its new basketball coach.

A partnership between the Chester County Sheriff's Office and the York County Council on Aging Meals on Wheels program was announced. The Chester County Sheriff’s Office was the only local agency participating in the program at the time of its introduction with Lt. Dwayne Robinson Sr. serving as program coordinator. Deputies began delivering home-cooked meals on Mondays and Thursdays to county-wide senior residents.

After being without an administrator since the previous November, three finalists were named for the position. Phillip A. Thompson-King and Sandi G. Feaster were two local candidates, while Stevie Lee Cox, of Chadbourn, N.C. Was the third.

The Salkehatchie Summer Service Project made its annual visit to Chester, with teens from across the state coming in for a week of worship and hard work on the homes of folks unable to afford needed repairs.

A huge crowd showed up in Great Falls as "Uncle" Si Robertson of the hit show "Duck Dynasty" made a visit to raise money for the Great Falls Rescue Squad.

Plans for a commercial kitchen that was supposed to locate in Chester's new farmer's and artisan's market and serve as the centerpiece of an economic incubator in downtown were scrapped. Part of the problem was that city officials balked at the price for a kitchen manager, saying the requested salary for the position was more than other city employees make. There was talk of the kitchen going to Lancaster, but that did not work out and the status of the kitchen (and the $99,500 grant that would pay for it) remains up in the air with city officials still hoping to land it.

Sean Michael, 7, Edwin, 10 and Herman Gore III, 12, comprise the "The Gore Boys" or TGB for short, who had a good year in 2013. The three brothers live in Gastonia, North Carolina now, but have strong ties to Chester County. TGB served as the opening act for American Idol season three winner Fantasia and R&B star Eric Benet. The trio doesn't just sing, all three play instruments and dance onstage and they had a big talent showcase in Charlotte in May.

Chester City Council voted unanimously to offer the vacant city administrator position to Phillip Thompson-King. Thompson-King is the assistant director of the Chester Sewer District, a position he has held since June 2000. That vote would not bring the issue to a close.

One man was killed and another was left in critical condition following a shooting at a large party on Old York Road. As night became early morning, a fight of some kind broke out and gunshots were ultimately fired, with two men being shot. Kendall Culp, 18, was one of the wounded. According to the incident report, two deputies performed CPR on Culp until EMS arrived. He was transported by ambulance to Chester Regional Medical Center, where he died of his wounds. A second man was taken to Chester Regional, then to CMC where he was listed as being in critical condition. His name was initially not released by the Sheriff's Department, but the incident report lists a 24-year-old Chester resident, as "victim # 002." Later, 20-year-old Dasean Ratez Moses of Freedom Drive in Chester was charged with attempted murder. Quintin McClinton, 24, was eventually arrested and charged with murder in the shooting death of Culp.

Tawana Howze Davis retired after spending 33 years at the Chester County Library.

Chester County Council began the process of implementing business license fee in the unincorporated areas of the county. The measure was supposed to, in part, be a way for county officials to know what businesses were operating in the county. It passed its first two readings but would soon face opposition.

A proposal was floated to move Chester's annual HILLarity festival to the backlot and away from the Hill. Chester City Council members expressed doubt about the plan pitched by the CDDA.