Year in rewind: Lancaster’s top stories

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Recapping 2012

Fifteen deaths tied to violence in 2012
1 There were many violent crimes in the county this year, including several murders, a self-defense shooting and the discovery of the body of a man missing from Pennsylvania. Here is a list of those who died as a result of violent crimes this year:
• Jenika Jones, 23, shot and killed in her home off Rose Anna Lane, Jan. 19
• Danny Clyburn Jr., 37, a former Major League Baseball player, shot to death outside a North Market Street home, Feb. 7
• Cynthia Barnes, 47, found dead in a home in the 700 block of East Dunlap Street, Feb. 9
• Linda Massey Gaymon, 54, found strangled to death in a vacant house in the 900 block of Starnes Street, Feb. 24
• Curt Alan Reed, 46, was found shot to death March 8 outside a J.B. Denton Road home. Authorities say Reed, who was armed, tried to force his way into the home and was shot by the homeowner in self-defense. No charges were filed against the homeowner.
• The body of Joseph DeVivo, 87, from Stroud Township, Pa., was found March 12 in a creek bed off Mt. Carmel Road. Stroud had been missing from his home since Feb. 25.
• Jonathan Duvall Reid, 25, and Azor Lee Cloud, 30, both found shot outside “The Café” nightclub on Old Landsford Road, March 23
• Verdie Mackey, 87, found stabbed to death inside her home in the 900 block of Grace Avenue, April 15
• Stephen Lamont Westbrook, 39, of Rock Hill, and Mardrickus Javon Belk, 25, of 896 Mark Lane, Lancaster, shot each other May 9 in a shootout at a home in the 2300 block of Old Blackmon Road
• Donald Eustace Morris, 53, was found dead in his South York Street home on June 18, five days after he was hurt during a home invasion
• Timothy Alan Wissinger, 42, was found shot to death inside a truck just off Lamplight Road in Lancaster on July 25
• Gaeric Q. Johnson, 23, was shot Nov. 19 at a Cedar Pine Lake Road home and died soon after at Springs Memorial Hospital.
• Michael Lamar Catoe, 25, was found shot to death on the side of Beecher Horton Road in Heath Springs on Dec. 9.


Locals react to data breach (Nov. 2)
2 Mallory Blackmon believes it’s possible a criminal could sell her identity to somebody looking to illegally enter the United States.  Such scenarios swirl through Blackmon’s mind as she continues to get more information about a statewide data breach.
On Oct. 31, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley updated reporters on a massive information breach at the S.C. Department of Revenue that was discovered Oct. 10.
The hacking – believed to have been initiated overseas – started in August after an unidentified S.C. Department of Revenue employee clicked on a link in an email, which installed dangerous software – called “phishing malware” – on the employee’s computer.
That allowed hackers to access more than 3.8 million Social Security numbers from people who paid state income taxes since 1998, along with information on their dependents. The state also announced the state is paying for consumers to get free one-year credit monitoring and up to $2 million in identity theft insurance, plus lifetime credit-fraud resolution. The protection, for which almost 850,000 people have signed up, is supplied by the Experian credit agency at a cost of $12.5 million to the state.
Anyone who has filed a South Carolina tax return since 1998 is urged to visit protectmyid.com/scdor or call (866) 578-5422 to determine if their information is affected.

Father gets one year for incest (Dec. 12)
3Tiara Stevens had to wait 14 years for her day in court. Her father, Fred Lee Montgomery, 47, pleaded no contest to the charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor for sexually assaulting her in 1998.
Though the charge can carry up to 20 years in prison, Circuit Court Judge Ernest Kinard handed down a 15-year sentence suspended to one year in jail. As part of the sentence, once released, Montgomery will be on four years of probation and must also register as a sex offender.
For Stevens, who gave birth to her father’s son at 13, the sentence was anticlimactic.
“It’s actually ridiculous the time it took. I’ve been pushing for so long to get something to happen,” Stevens said. “Just knowing the case file has been up here for 14 years, it’s really bad. You can’t sleep, you’re in and out of depression and you never know when you’re going to get a call.”
Montgomery was indicted and jailed in March 2000 after a DNA test showed he was the father of Steven’s son. However he posted bond and was released. A court date was set for 2000, but Montgomery failed to show up.
The case became lost in the shuffle after the county courthouse burned in 2008, said Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield, who shouldered the blame for getting the case to trial.
“(Montgomery) was walking around like a free man and through all that time my case was in the system collecting dust. And then to give him one year,” Stevens said. “That blew my mind. I was expecting the unexpected. I was expecting something bizarre to happen because it was my case.”
Barfield said he was also disappointed it took so long, but was glad to see a conclusion to the case.
“The case sort of got, for lack of a better phrase, lost, between the change in (solicitor’s) office locations and the fire at the courthouse. There’s no great explanation. It was pending and we didn’t pick up on it,” Barfield said. “We all realized we had this one pending and then worked on it. We reached out to her (Stevens) and we got it resolved.”
Barfield said Montgomery pleaded “straight up,” meaning there was no discussion about the charges.
“We argued for as much (prison) time as possible, but he was sentenced the way he was sentenced,” Barfield said.
Even though it’s a difficult topic, Stevens has explained the situation to her 13-year-old son, who was born blind.
“He’s been very, very strong. He says his grandfather needs help,” she said.
With the sentencing behind them, Stevens hopes to educate others about sexual abuse by encouraging them to come forward and hold abusers accountable.
“I feel like people should know, this is what goes on,” she said. “I can’t dwell on the bad. My sanity is at stake. He may have taken part of my life, but not my sanity. We still have a life after this. So raising awareness is the best thing I can do.”


County roads crumbling beneath us (Sept. 9, Sept. 12 and 14 issues)

4As motorists head out the door for their morning commute, coffee cups in hand, the sound most would like to hear is their favorite song playing on the radio.
Unfortunately, for many drivers, the noises they are instead greeted with include bangs, scrapes and clunks as their cars dip into potholes and maneuver along cracking pavement.
That’s long been the case for Lancaster County drivers, with many roads riddled with potholes, uneven pavement and a smattering of patch jobs.  
The problem is many secondary roads need repairs, but there is no money to fix them.
Earlier this year, The Lancaster News examined these and several other of the county’s worst roads and the factors that go into fixing and funding them in a three-part series. From the county’s Public Works department and County Transportation Committee to the S.C. Department of Transportation, there are several groups responsible for making repairs, though proper funding remains a problem.
“Given current conditions, we are on schedule to resurface state roads once every 200 years,” said Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis.


Voters pass Sunday alcohol sales  (Nov. 9)

5County voters passed a ballot measure in this year’s general election to allow Sunday alcohol sales at county restaurants after a contentious debate by those for and against the initiative.
Initiated by Indian Land resident Elissa Boyet in 2010 in an effort to draw more full service restaurants to the county, the ballot measure passed by a 16 percent margin despite vehement opposition.
The measure got a shot in the arm by voters in the Panhandle and absentee voters. However, voters in the 24 southern-most precincts defeated the effort.
“It’s a great day for Lancaster County,” said Boyet on Nov. 6. “It’s been two and a half years of hard work that’s finally paid off.”


Murder suspect slashes deputy (Aug. 10)

6Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office investigator Fred Thompson, the S.C. Deputy of the Year, was slashed in the neck by an inmate on Aug. 8.
Thompson was interviewing inmate Keith Tyrone Robinson Jr., 19, 309 Dixon Road, at the Lancaster County Drug Task Force office on Pageland Highway. Robinson was arrested June 28 in connection with the home invasion and murder of Lancaster resident Donald Morris earlier that month.
“Fred was conducting an interview with him about some other ones (crimes) we suspect him of being involved with,” said Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile said. “He had leg shackles on and had a waist chain with handcuffs on it as well. He was complaining about his leg shackles being too tight and when Fred leaned down to check them, that’s when he (Robinson) cut him.”
Faile said Robinson had taken one of the small blades from a razor after being allowed to shave and used it to cut Thompson’s neck.
Despite his injuries, Thompson was able to subdue Robinson before backup arrived.
“Fred, being the dedicated officer he is, was able to get control of him and got him detained before anyone else got there,” Faile said. “I’m thankful it wasn’t any worse for Fred than it was.”
A judge sentenced Robinson to 45 years in prison on Dec. 3 for his role in Morris’ murder and for slashing Thompson.  
Thompson said during the sentencing  the attack was so traumatic that he’s only worked three hours since August and wasn’t sure when, or if, he would return to his job.
“I can’t even imagine going back and doing it again,” Thompson said. “I can’t sit across from another person like that.
“I have no compassion for him, but I have to. I have to forgive,” Thompson said.


Buford EMS station was the $500,000 question (Feb. 12)

7It’s official designation is parcel 129 on Lancaster County Tax Map 58. On paper it was a flat, 1-acre piece of property located at 365 Rocky River Road (S.C. 522) and just a short trip to Pageland Highway. Now it’s a controversial $500,000 EMS station that opened in May 2012.
The small parcel near Buford Crossroads generated plenty of taxpayer questions about how much county officials paid for both the land and the cost of a much-needed EMS station.
The issue first came to light in the summer of 2011, but became a firestorm in late 2011 when construction started. County officials paid $233,038 for the parcel, which included a vacant house and detached shop building. According to tax records, the property had an assessed value of $50,000. Some residents also cried foul when they learned the property’s previous owner purchased the parcel for $22,500 in 2008.
The issue came to a head when passersby noticed construction crews tearing down the vacant buildings to build a new EMS station at an additional cost of $269,000.
With a total cost at $500,000, many taxpayers were livid.
“The reason we chose that area is because the former EMS director came to me and showed me a computer printout of where the station needed to be,” said District 3 County Councilman Cotton Cole, who, citing health reasons, did not run for reelection. “Right now it’s almost on the dot of where it was recommended to build it.”
Cole said the county’s choices for relocating the station were limited, although the county owned property nearby at the Buford area recreation center.
“The battleground site is here, so we couldn’t build there,” Cole said. “Then there were too many homes if you went south. With an EMS station there would be sirens and that would be too close to the homes.”
In early December, Cole said he was proud of how the EMS station at Buford turned out.
“It may have been controversial, but the main thing is we got it,” Cole said.


USCL Native American Studies Center opens (Oct. 7)

8The interior of the Native American Studies Center on Main Street is said to be so nice that visitors may think they’re in a much larger city such as Charleston or Greenville.
That’s what Lancaster City Councilwoman Sara Eddins was told by those who’ve seen the renovated Main Street building that is now occupied by the University of South Carolina Lancaster.
USCL will use the building for office and classroom space for its Native American Studies program. It will also be a permanent location to display the university’s heralded Catawba pottery collection. Seminars and other special functions will take place there, too.
The city of Lancaster bought the building in 2011, which was once the location for Badcock furniture store and then The Artisans Center. The city also funded the remodeling at a cost of more than $1.1 million largely from hospitality tax funds.
Eddins said the center was probably the best thing to happen downtown in a long time.
“It’s going to be a showplace,” she said. “I hope it will start the spark that ignites downtown Lancaster.”

CNN story sheds light on Lancaster (Jan. 20)

9 Lancaster County was featured prominently by one of the nation’s largest media outlets just after the start of the calendar year.
If you were to visit CNN.com on Jan. 19, the main profile piece you’d see at the top of the web was about Lancaster County.
But that piece left many residents frustrated at the network’s negative characterization. Not everyone was proud of the article after Lancaster was portrayed as a “downtrodden, disparaged and pathetic town” with no future.
Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis wouldn’t comment on the political aspect of the article, but worries about the story’s “characterization” of Lancaster County.
“It makes it sound like Lancaster is a little dead-end town waiting to die,” Willis said. “That is certainly not the case.”
He said the article does not mention successful new businesses.
Residents were also buzzing about the county’s media coverage. Rebecca Wallace left a post on The Lancaster News’ Facebook page, saying she was disappointed with the article.
“I followed the link to CNN and most of those comments said on national TV make us South Carolinians look very bad, don’t you think?” Wallace said.
Facebook poster Ginger Catoe agreed.
“I thought we looked like a bunch of non-educated hicks,” Catoe wrote.


Cook, Coy place hopes on petition drives (July 16) 

10The two men who were removed from the S.C. House District 44 primary ballot made substantial progress in their quest to still appear as candidates in November’s general election.
Bob Cook and Joseph Coy  ran  petition campaigns to be placed on the election ballot as independent candidates. District 44 is completely enclosed in Lancaster County.
Cook, a Kershaw resident and attorney, had been seeking the Democratic nomination against Mandy Powers Norrell.
Coy, a Heath Springs resident and businessman, had been running on the Republican side against Ryan Payne.
Cook and Coy were among nearly 200 candidates removed from ballots statewide after the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that they improperly filed statements of economic interests.
State law requires petition candidates to get signatures from five percent of registered voters in a district.
District 44 has 20,461 registered voters, which meant a petition candidate had to collect at least 1,024 signatures (5 percent) of registered voters in the district to be placed on the ballot.
Coy announced in late July that he had collected more than 1,600 signatures and ran, but Cook decided not to seek the seat.
Norrell won the seat in the general election after garnering 8,136 votes (57 percent) on Nov. 8.
Payne, the Republican candidate got roughly 20 percent of the votes while Coy, the petition candidate, had 14 percent.