There were a lot of changes throughout Barnwell County in 2013; many tragic, many sad, but there were highlights as well.
• Family, friends and neighbors all packed the Veterans Memorial Park in Barnwell for the annual Relay for Life celebration and fundraising event. More than $56,000 was collected in donations this year, toppling their $30,000 goal.
• Worshipers ‘beared the cross' through town in the annual Stations of the Cross. More than 40 residents journeyed to eight stations. The event was sponsored by the Barnwell County Ministerial Association.
• Fun times also returned for young people hoping to drown a few worms. The annual Fishing Rodeo returned to Barnwell County in 2013. More than 200 children converged on the Barnwell Fish Hatchery, managed by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, for a day of fishing fun.
• Another old-time summer activity returned to Barnwell County as the Barnwell County State Park reopened the swimming area in the park's large pond.
Lots of news on the county front
• Barnwell County sold its ailing hospital to Resurgence Management Company June 12. The private company did not offer all former Barnwell County Hospital employees a job. Although no one would confirm how many lost their jobs, unconfirmed reports indicated at least 30 employees were laid off or not offered employment with the new private company.
• Barnwell County contracts with Williston Rescue Squad to provide emergency medical transportation services to the county residents. However, WRS was ordered to pay back $800,000 to the federal government this year. The payment was to resolve allegations WRS and its employees violated the False Claims Act by making false claims to Medicare for transports. The top three management people were replaced at WRS after the allegations came to light a couple of years ago.
• Four WRS employees agreed to a settlement after being investigated for Medicare fraud at WRS. For their part in the fraud case, Tina Rigdon, paramedic, was ordered to pay $5,000. Emergency Medical Technicians Theresa Rhinehart, Joseph Griffin and Merisa Zorn were ordered to pay $2,000, $3,000 and $4,000 respectively.
• An arbitration agreement with Barnwell and Bamberg counties along with Regional Health Systems, the original company interested in purchasing the Barnwell County Hospital, led to the hospital owing RHS $625,000. The payment was part of the original asset purchase agreement Barnwell County signed with RHS, which covered the company's "administrative claims" if the sale was not finalized by June 30, 2012.
• The S.C. Supreme Court ruled Barnwell County Council did in fact violate the state's dual office holding law. The high court overturned a lower court's ruling saying council members were guilty of holding two offices after they ousted Barnwell County Hospital Board members and replaced them with themselves. During oral arguments, attorneys suggested that a new county council election may have to be ordered and past hospital board decisions might be thrown out. All that would end up in the hands of a local judge. The case is still pending even though the sale of the hospital has been completed.
Several arrested on major charges;
some convicted during year
• Terrance Lamar Wiggins, 33, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole May 9 in Federal court. Wiggins was found guilty of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and firearms charges in December 2012. Evidence presented at the trial indicated Wiggins purchased and distributed as many as 10 kilograms of cocaine from 2005 until his arrest in 2012 around Barnwell. Wiggins' home was raided by local, state and federal authorities in March where they found Wiggins, 5 kilograms of cocaine, hundreds of thousands in cash as well as multiple guns. Part of the cash recovered came back to the Barnwell County Sheriff's office after Wiggins was convicted enabling them to purchase new equipment.
• Tyson Maurice Milhouse, 37, a local probation agent was arrested after he allegedly provided a cell phone to a local inmate. He was also charged with misconduct in office. Milhouse was suspended then terminated from his position with the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon.
• Briana Marie Johnson, 29 was arrested Aug. 29 by the Barnwell County Sheriff's Office on charges of embezzlement. Johnson was the Barnwell Primary School's PTO treasurer. The arrest came after a routine check and balance on the PTO's checkbook at the start of school, officials said.
• Shannon Keller Doak, 38, who worked at the Ashleigh Place Group Girl's Home in Blackville, was arrested and charged with embezzlement of public funds. Arrest warrants indicate Doak allegedly stole $18,500 from the home. She had administrative duties at the state funded home.
Barnwell sees Governor Haley several times
• Gov. Nikki Haley made a record number of stops in the county in 2013. First she came to town to set up talks for a Barnwell County Day, which was sponsored by her foundation, The Original Six. She came back to town for the day of celebration. She also came to town to announce a new partnership with Savannah River Remediation and the schools as well as a final time to announce new jobs coming to Williston.
Tragic endings for several lives
• Spencer Strong's body was found in the pond at the Williston Town Park 11 days after he was reported missing. Strong disappeared March 6. Strong was the second young man found dead after being reported missing for 11 days in Williston. Just over a year before Strong, Daris Brown was also missing for 11 days before his body was found in the pond at the Williston water treatment plant. Williston Investigator Rodney Pruitt said it was "freaky" but did not think there was any connection to the two cases.
• 2013 turned out to be a particularly dangerous year for pedestrians in Barnwell County. A pedestrian hit at Walmart just before Christmas 2012 died from his injuries. Kenneth Sandifer of Bamberg was struck in the crosswalk Dec. 22 and was transported to an Augusta, Ga., hospital. Sandifer died Dec. 28. Over the year, several other pedestrians were hit in the big box store's parking lot but with less severe injuries. Several other pedestrians were hit around Barnwell County; thankfully there were no other fatalities.
• An August jury cleared Tracy Davis of the 2012 murder of Leon Brown. Davis' freedom was short-lived as he himself was killed Sept. 27. No arrests have been made in the murder.
• A Sunday evening motorcycle ride ended in tragedy as David and Carolyn Honor Lee of Barnwell were both killed after their motorcycle collided with a deer Sept. 15.
• Donna Dempsey, 56, of Berry Street died of smoke inhalation in a fire that damaged her home Nov. 1. After the initial autopsy revealed Dempsey died of smoke inhalation, it was further determined that she had a blunt force injury to her head. Two men, Michael Paul Buckmon, 36, and Matthew Bolen, 23, were arrested and charged with her murder. Buckmon had a long criminal history. Buckmon was found guilty by a jury Jan. 14, 1999 of murdering Minh Chapman at the China Express restaurant in Barnwell during an attempted robbery. The decision was later reversed by the S.C. Supreme Court.
• Dr. Charles Mann, a surgeon in Barnwell was lured to Augusta, Ga. and was murdered. Charged in his murder is Glenn Vincent Riggs II, after Dr. Mann's body was discovered in Spirit Creek at Willis Foreman Road. Dr. Mann disappeared Nov. 21.
• A Barnwell inmate found unresponsive in his cell Dec. 5, died at Southern Palmetto Hospital a short time after being transported. There were no signs of trauma to Anthony Boatwright's body but an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death was performed. Boatwright's brother, Elliott Williams said his brother had high blood pressure and frequently complained of headaches and chest pains. Williams said Boatwright enjoyed singing, rapping and writing poetry. The family is still waiting on answers.
And the rains came, temporarily
disabling emergency communications
• In April, strong spring storms knocked out 9-1-1 phone lines in Barnwell County. Lightning knocked out their main and their backup phone systems. Social media and a CodeRED message were utilized to update residents during the outage. The outage lasted for more than five hours and 9-1-1 calls were rerouted to Bamberg County during the outage.
• Water water water. More than 22 inches of rain, as of July 11, had fallen on Barnwell County, twice the historical average. The abundance of water didn't help local farmers, particularly those growing watermelons. Dr. Gilbert Miller, a horticulturalist at Clemson University Edisto Research Center, said the intense rainfall led to plenty of disease in this year's watermelon crop. He said some crop yields were cut in half.
Rain continued to fall across the county, sometimes in very heavy doses. Local flooding took place as the rains came down. Between 4 and 6 inches of rain fell Aug. 19, causing major flooding in local streets, many of which had to be closed overnight.
Fire destroyed a landmark grocery store
• Williston lost more than just a grocery store when the Price Wise store burned to the ground April 27. A passing Williston police officer spotted the blaze and five departments fought the fire through the night. The fire was believed to have been started by an electrical issue. The store was described by then Mayor Tommy Rivers as a "hub" of the town for many years. The store was originally opened by brothers Eugene, Myron and Kenneth Bolen in 1958.
A troubling year
• SRS layoffs hit 465 workers across. In September, nearly 500 workers found out they will no longer have jobs at SRS because of financial challenges. The planned reduction in force was publicly discussed since May, according to company officials.
• NK Newlook closes their doors, taking with it the promise of 212 jobs. The company said they lost a major client contract, causing them to have to lay off all workers and close their doors. The building and land reverted, at the time, back to the Barnwell Economic Development Corporation.
• Reid's was sold and is to be rebranded in 2014 as BI-LO. The local store, which has a large fresh meat department, floral department as well as a bakery/deli, will undergo a transformation after the New Year. To date, there is no final word on what changes the store and its employees will face as the changes take place.
• A quorum of county council members held two illegal meetings late in the year. Two different meetings were initiated by a member of county council; one with SouthernCarolina Alliance CEO Danny Black and one with Barnwell County Economic Development Commission and neither time was the public alerted. This is in direct violation of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act law. Barnwell County Council Chairman Freddie Houston addressed the issue in open session at the Dec. 10 county council meeting. He said the meetings were not intentionally set to be meetings with a quorum of members present but ended up with a quorum present.
The EDC, fearing what would happen with the economic development land they control if Barnwell County Council removed it from their control, made a preemptive strike, donating the land to the municipalities where the land sits.
In response to the donations, Barnwell County Council met in a special-called meeting and recalled each of the Barnwell County Economic Development board members, saying they had overstepped their bounds.
And probably the most unusual story of 2013
‘Even deer need help'
Around 8 a.m., Nov. 14, employees at Axis 1 reported seeing three deer run from the CVS parking lot across the street. One crashed through the front window of the substance abuse treatment and prevention services center, but made it out after making a mess of the office, said Ferlecia Cuthbertson. Cuthertson, who is typically sitting at her desk beside the window, was relieved she was not at her desk.
"It was completely divine intervention," she said of her being out of the office at that time.
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