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2019 sees firsts, lasts and plenty in between
2019 year in review logo

These are some of the top news and sports stories that filled the pages of the Bryan County News in 2019.

January --

The first-ever Martin Luther King Jr. parade was held in Richmond Hill. Craig and Sharon Butts, the husband-and-wife founders of Unity in the Community and the driving force behind the parade and celebration honoring King, were pleased with the turnout and are looking forward to the 2020 parade this January.

Under a new ordinance passed Jan. 8 by the Bryan County Commission, buyers of new homes in unincorporated South Bryan County would pay a one-time impact fee of $3,148 beginning April 1. New commercial projects in unincorporated South Bryan would also pay impact fees that could top $500,000 under the new ordinance. The money raised through the impact fees will be used to fund transportation projects designed to ease traffic concerns.

February --

Former Bryan County Commission Chairman Carlton Gill died. Gill, 78 and the man for which I-95 in Bryan County is named, was remembered as a public servant who made Bryan County a better place. He served on the Bryan County Commission for 18 years, first as a commissioner from 1973 to 1980 and then as chairman from 1981 to 1992.

A Bryan County man, Jessie Ray Hurt, 40, of Ellabell, who was part of the gang and drug trafficking conspiracy dubbed Operation Vanilla Gorilla, was sentenced to nearly 16 years in federal prison. There is no parole in the federal prison system.

Rex Waters, believed to be Pembroke’s last surviving veteran of World War II, died. He was 95. Ellabell native Robert Frederick Greene, another World War II veteran, passed away a couple of weeks earlier at the age of 96.

The Homebuilders Association of Greater Savannah filed suit against Bryan County’s Board of Commissioners over its recently passed impact fees and development ordinance.

March --

United Way of the Coastal Empire hired Mary Fuller as the organization’s Area Director in the Bryan County office. Fuller is responsible for the daily operations of the office, working with nonprofit partners, businesses, local government, and service organizations. She spent the last 11 years in Bryan County, where she most recently led the awareness campaign regarding the dangers of opioids and other prescription drugs through the Bryan County Opioid Prevention Project.

Two departures by Richmond Hill City Council members led to two new members in March. Longtime planning commissioner Les Fussell was appointed by the council to the seat vacated by the departure of two-term councilwoman Jan Bass, who moved to Tennessee. Councilman John Fesperman, amid pressure to resign because he no longer lived full-time in the area, gave up his seat, was replaced by Bill Donahue, who was appointed by council. Former United Way of Bryan County director Kristi Cox beat a number candidates to win the seat left vacant by the passing of Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Murphy in December 2018.

April --

Richmond Hill City Council unanimously approved the appointment of Richmond Hill Fire Department Capt. Brendon Greene, a five-year veteran of the department, as its new fire chief.

Richmond Hill and Bryan County head into court ordered mediation — which is closed to the public — to resolve differences over services and taxes that led the city to sue the county in 2018.

School safety and mental health concerns were on the minds of local high school students who had a chance to speak directly with the state superintendent of schools. The Student Advisory Council, made up of 17 students from Richmond Hill and Bryan County middle and high schools, invited State Superintendent Richard Woods to Richmond Hill High School. Principal Debi McNeal, here for six years, couldn’t remember the last time a state superintendent visited their school.

It once served as a bakery for employees of Henry Ford, but now nearly 80 years later, residents and visitors alike to Richmond Hill can relive that part of the city’s history by checking out the new Richmond Hill Visitors Center. City and business leaders in Richmond Hill welcomed a large crowd outside of the remodeled and repurposed building at 10750 Ford Avenue for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Nick Fitzgerald, who went from a star Wildcat at Richmond Hill High School to become the SEC’s all-time rushing leader among quarterbacks at Mississippi State, signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The signing came at the completion of the NFL draft, and although Fitzgerald was not selected during the draft, it didn’t stop the Bucs from inking a free-agent deal with the 6-5, 226-pounder.

May --

A fire at the Old Mill Apartments off Strickland Street in Pembroke left six families displaced, including 11 children ranging from 1 day old to teenagers. But thanks to Bryan County Family Connections and the generosity of the community, more than $6,000 was raised to help these families.

It’s rare when Richmond Hill reports a homicide, but that occurred in May when the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that Larry Rankin, 62, shot his wife, Susan Rankin, 58, and then turned the weapon on himself, causing his own death. The incident occurred at their home in the 700 block of Osprey Drive.

June --

Friends, neighbors and family gathered at the Pembroke Senior Center to commemorate the life of Altie Moody. A small fund was collected from “Bacontown Friends and Admirers” for a bronze plaque that will hang in the lobby of the center where Moody was an integral part of the senior community. She passed away in January at the age of 106.

July --

The Bryan County school board passed an $86.2 million budget for the 2020 fiscal year that includes $2.6 million in raises for teachers, media specialists, counselors and other “certified staff,” as part of Gov. Brian Kemp’s recommended $3,000 pay hike. Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher is getting a raise, too. The superintendent will make $261,000 under a new three year contract.

Kevin Jermaine Johnson was the victim of a fatal shooting outside of an Ellabell convenience store. The 39-year-old Ellabell man was allegedly killed by two men, Wandell Hills, Jr., 36, and Tavarus Brown, 38, who were charged with murder.

August –

Another defendant in Operation Vanilla Gorilla was sentenced to substantial federal prison time. Pembroke’s Cody Eubank, 27, was sentenced to 90 months in prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

Bryan County and Richmond Hill government officials signed an agreement to locate the new library at the city’s new Town Centre.

Renovations and updates were completed at Bryan County’s Hendrix Park in Black Creek, including new artificial turf on the existing football field. The upgraded Hendrix Park is a 100-plus-acre facility with amenities that include a 1.6-mile walking/running track, gymnasium, football fields, soccer fields, baseball/softball complexes, covered picnic shelters, two tennis courts and a playground area.

The Bryan County Board of Commissioners presented the South Bryan Swim Team with proclamations for becoming “2019 GRPA Class A Swim Team State Champions”.

September –

Bryan County and millions of other coastal residents in three states were on alert for Hurricane Dorian. Governor Kemp issued a mandatory evacuation for those living east of Interstate 95, which included most of Richmond Hill. Several evacuated, but many stayed. In the end, the county was spared the worst. The expected high winds never materialized. There were scattered reports of power outages and only minimal damage.

A Bryan County deputy coroner was recognized as Deputy Coroner of the Year for the State of Georgia. Tommy Perry Flanders, of Pembroke, received the award during the 2019 Annual Conference of the Georgia Coroners Association.

October –

Bryan County schools scored several percentage points higher than the state average on College and Career Readiness Performance Index numbers. The 85.4 score for all schools in Bryan County exceeded the 75.9 average for schools in Georgia. At each level, Bryan County was higher than the state, including: high schools (88 for BC and 77 for state), elementary schools (84.6 for BC and 77.1 for state) and middle schools (83.6 for BC and 72.1 for state).

Bryan County’s newest elementary school in the Richmond Hill area will be named in honor of Frances Meeks, a longtime teacher and former school board member. Frances Meeks Elementary is scheduled to open in August 2020.

The county’s largest annual outdoor event, the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival, again attracted thousands, but bad weather prompted the cancellation of its most popular evening, which would have presented the musical act the Marshall Tucker Band.

Three 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team soldiers were killed and three more hospitalized when the Bradley fighting vehicle they were riding in was involved in an early morning training accident on Fort Stewart.

November –

An election was held to determine races for Pembroke and Richmond Hill City Councils. In Pembroke, incumbents Judy Cook (mayor) and Tiffany Walraven won easily. After a recount, Robbie Ward was declared winner in the Richmond Hill Post 2 City Council race, beating challenger David London. Steve Scholar and Les Fussell were the top two finishers in another RH City Council race and would face a run-off a month later.

For the second time in the past 12 years, Richmond Hill was the site of the “Moving Wall,” a half-size replica of the Washington, DC Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It was on display Veterans Day weekend at J.F. Gregory Park.

December –

A former Richmond Hill police officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison for luring teen girls to meet him for sex. Jeffrey Allen Allmond Jr., 25, of Richmond Hill, who was convicted in June by a federal jury on one count of coercion and enticement of a minor, must also serve 10 years on supervised release after completion of his prison term.

Area residents lined the streets of Richmond Hill to pay their respects to a fallen airman apprentice, in what was his final homecoming. Hundreds, if not more, watched the procession along highways 17 and 144 for Richmond Hill’s Cameron Walters, the 21-year-old who died during an active shooter incident at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Dec. 6.

Challenger Steve Scholar won the runoff between him and Post 4 incumbent Les Fussell, by a 312-242 margin, according to unofficial results.

Quincy Hills, Bryan County Middle School 8th grade ELA teacher, was recognized as the Bryan County Schools Teacher of the Year (TOTY) at the Bryan County Board of Education December meeting.

It was an incredible season for the Richmond Hill High School football team as they came within one win of playing for the state championship. The Wildcats fell 17-14 in overtime to Allatoona in the semifinals of the Georgia High School Association state Class AAAAAA playoffs. The loss ended the best season in program history for the Wildcats, who finished 9-4.

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