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2014 in review: a look back at the first six months of the year we're leaving behind
Air Force Academy girl
Melissa Campbell became the first student from Bryan County High School to be selected to attend a military academy. - photo by Jeff Whitte

Here’s a look back at some of the stories that made headlines in Bryan County in 2014.



• The year got off to a cold start, thanks to a “polar vortex” that plunged temperatures down to the upper teens in some parts of Bryan County with wind chills near zero. Light snow and ice were predicted but never materialized.

• Richmond Hill hired Ralph Catlett as its new fire chief. The hire was announced after a Tuesday night city council meeting. Catlett, who was second-in-command at the Valdosta Fire Department, was chosen from a pool of 60 candidates. He replaced longtime chief Vernon Rushing, who retired in 2013.

• Georgia Electric Membership Corporation announced it named 2013 Coastal EMC as its Co-Op of the year. Coastal also received the GEMC’s community service and volunteerism awards.

 • An armed robbery in Pembroke prompted authorities to post fliers warning residents against wearing masks, hoods or anything that could conceal identity into local businesses. Police arrested the alleged robber, George Mincey III, a few hours after the gas station next to City Hall was robbed by a masked man.

• Richmond Hill businesswoman Amy Tavio announced her plans to run for Congress as a Democrat. Tavio, a single mother of three, was a driving force in rebuilding the Bryan County Democratic party and active in local issues. Tavio was a first-time candidate.

• Richmond Hill High School was locked down after a bomb threat was called into the school on a Friday morning. The school remained locked down for hours as law-enforcement and public-safety officers combed the campus. No bomb was found and the lockdown was lifted around 1 p.m., to the relief of a large number of anxious parents who parked nearby and waited for word that their children were safe.

• The Bryan County Board of Education began talking about coaching supplements in all sports after a local businessman and parent of a player at Richmond Hill High School tells the BoE that they were lower than those paid in other systems.

• District 4 County Commissioner Carter Infinger announced he will seek a second term.

• Longtime South Bryan County Volunteer Fire Department volunteer Mike Smith announced his retirement after 40 years of service.

• Weapons maker Daniel Defense announced a planned expansion of its operations at the Interstate Centre in Black Creek — a $20 million project expected to add 120 jobs over the next five years.

• Coastal EMC’s Mark Bolton was awarded the DeVaul Henderson Award by the Richmond Hill Bryan County Chamber of Commerce for community service. The award is given periodically to those who make positive contributions to Bryan County.

• Jeffrey Allen Farrell, former president of the Richmond Hill Branch of First National Bank, was one of seven bank officers to plead guilty on federal charges regarding the operation of an alleged loan-fraud scheme against the bank and other financial institutions. Farrell pleaded guilty to one count of making false entries in bank receipts.

• An Ellabell teen was struck and killed by a pickup while walking on Eldora Road. The Georgia State Patrol didn’t release the identity of the 24-year-old driver or the victim, who was 16.

• Schools and some government offices closed as a winter storm named Leon was forecasted to hit the Coastal Empire. The storm mostly just impacted the Gulf Coast, though, delivering freezing rain and sleet. In Coastal Georgia, the ice-storm warning was lowered, leaving Savannah with only some light sleet in certain areas.

• Richmond Hill High School football coach Lyman Guy announced he was leaving to take a job at Toombs County High School. Guy, who is from Toombs County, said he would be getting more money and a shorter commute. He spent five years at RHHS, turning a long-struggling program into a 3-AAAAA power.


• Bryan County High School senior Amy Campbell was the first from the school to be appointed to a military service academy — in her case, the Air Force Academy. Campbell is an aspiring fighter pilot whose selection didn’t surprise her teachers or Principal Dawn Hadley, who said she knew Campbell would do something special from the time she was a sophomore.

• The U.S. Marshal’s service joined in the search for Henry Gaines, 26, who was considered armed and dangerous after he eluded capture in Pembroke following an incident in which he allegedly stabbed a Pembroke resident with a butcher’s knife and then stole a car.

• A Pembroke man, Joshua R. McKinney, reportedly died after playing Russian Roulette, authorities said. Three witnesses told Pembroke police that the man, who died of a single gunshot wound to the head, was playing Russian Roulette.

• Richmond Hill announced it would stop accepting yard waste in plastic bags beginning March 1 after city council voted to require residents to put yard waste in paper bags. The move was seen as more environmentally responsible, and landfills were beginning to reject plastic bags, city officials said.

• Bryan County Commissioners decided to let voters choose whether retail alcohol sales should be permitted on Sunday in unincorporated areas of the county. But it was not unanimous, as Commissioners Jimmy Henderson and Carter Infinger both voted against the measure.

• Father Robert “Bob” Poandl, a Catholic priest who worked in several Georgia towns, including Pembroke, was sentenced to 7½years in prison by a federal court judge in Cincinnati after being found guilty of sexually abusing a boy in Ohio in 1991.

• Savannah Bank, formerly known as Bryan Bank and Trust, will be called South State Bank beginning in July, the company announced. South Carolina Bank and Trust bought Savannah Bancorp, the parent company of Bryan Bank and Trust, in 2012. It was renamed to The Savannah Bank in 2013. Bank officials said the move will make it easier for customers who travel.

• Richmond Hill was ranked No. 26 on’s list of the 50 safest cities in Georgia. The competition is for cities with populations of 5,000 or more, so Pembroke wasn’t in it.

• Operations Management International Inc. dropped its $2 million suit against Richmond Hill two months after it was filed. The public-works giant had argued the city unfairly ended its contract, but city officials contended they did nothing wrong in ending the relationship with OMI.

• Residents packed the county commissioners’ meeting room at the Administration Building in South Bryan to learn more about the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plans to widen Highway 144 and give state engineers their two cents on the project. Most of the feedback was positive.

• A Richmond Hill man, Justin Alan Parfitt, was arrested for child cruelty after a 22-month-old boy in his care is found with injuries to his face, back and buttocks, according to an RHPD report.

• Local experts said the housing market was rebounding in 2014, with some officials projecting housing permits could be more than triple what they were in 2013.

• Pembroke Advanced Communications grabbed first place at the annual North Bryan Chamber Chili Cook-off. The team consisted of Rachel Beckworth, Shalah Beckworth and Jeanne McCormick.

• The Bryan County Board of Education announced it would raise the amount it pays in salary supplements to help compensate some employees who coach sports or lead extracurricular activities. The decision was prompted, at least in part, by Richmond Hill High School football coach Lyman Guy’s decision to go elsewhere.


• Daniel Defense announced it would cut its workforce by a “net 14 percent” because of market conditions. The company said the cutbacks would not affect its five-year plan to add additional jobs.

• Six qualified to run for local offices in Bryan County — County Commissioners Jimmy Henderson, Carter Infinger and Wade Price, and school-board members Eddie Warren and David Schwartz. Rick Gardner, a former commissioner, also qualified to run against Henderson, the man who beat him for the District 5 seat four years ago. BoE members Paine Bacon and Marianne Smith also qualified prior to the deadline.  

• Police warn of phone scams in which callers identity themselves as local law-enforcement officers and claim the call recipient needs to pay up on an outstanding warrant or go to jail. A number of residents reported such calls. Among the scams was one reported by a woman in which the caller told her he worked for the Bryan County Courthouse and she had missed jury duty, so a warrant would be issued in her name if she didn’t pay $940 immediately.

• Lisa Freeman, founder of the Matthew Freeman Project and mother of Marine Capt. Matthew Freeman, who was killed in 2009 in Afghanistan, announces the creation of Matthew Bears — stuffed bears for the children or younger siblings of service members killed in combat. The bears are made of the fallen warriors’ uniforms.

• The Bryan County Family Connection director announced she needed about a dozen volunteers to help keep programs in the organization’s North Bryan Service Center running.

• Richmond Hill resident Patricia Ann Collins agreed to “an open-ended plea” in the 2012 wrong-way crash that killed Bryan County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Robert “Bobby” Crapse. Collins was driving the wrong way on I-95 with a blood-alcohol content of 0.139 when she ran head-on into Crapse. A hearing was set for April.

• Moultrie-based Ameris Bancorp announced it will buy The Coastal Bank, which has a branch in Richmond Hill. The acquisition makes Ameris Bank the “largest community bank on the Georgia coast,” according to a release announcing the deal.

• Snags including more work than anticipated on water lines and repair of Timber Trail Road held up completion of a long-awaited traffic signal at Timber Trail and Highway 144. The light might not be ready until Memorial Day, county engineer Kirk Croasmun told commissioners.

• Once Richmond Hill’s only industry, commercial food-appliance manufacturer Hobart would shut its doors before the end of the year. Hobart’s parent company, Illinois Tool Works, announced the closure a news release that noted Hobart’s 42 Richmond Hill employees were notified. The Richmond Hill operation was to consolidate with one in Ohio.

• Richmond Hill City Council approved a $22.4 million bid by a Bainbridge-based contractor to build the city’s new wastewater-treatment plant — the single largest expenditure in Richmond Hill history, officials said. The new membrane bioreactor facility is being built under an EPD mandate. It will double the city’s wastewater treatment capacity from 1.5 million gallons per day to 3 million gallons per day and can be expanded to handle 4 million gallons per day. The current plant has been unable to meet new EPD standards, city officials said.

• Richmond Hill firefighters got a funding boost of $50,000 to help buy new air tanks for firefighters, many of whom were using outdated air bottles, according to new fire chief Ralph Catlett.

• The Bryan County School system passed accreditation after a team from AdvancED spent a week wading through documents, watching teachers and interviewing school-board members, parents and faculty members. It was the first-ever districtwide accreditation for Bryan County Schools, which, in the past, went through accreditation on a school-by-school basis, officials said. AdvancEd formerly was the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

• The Richmond Hill Exchange Club honored its public-safety officers of the year for 2014 during a lunch at the city center. Those honored were Bryan County Sheriff’s Deputy William Bragg, Bryan County Emergency Services firefighter/paramedic Danny Dixon, Richmond Hill firefighter Lee Newton, Bryan County firefighter Dalton Cook, Bryan County firefighter Mark Waters, Richmond Hill Police officer Michael Akers and 911 dispatcher Shannan Argo.


• Richmond Hill High School announced Josh Eads as its new head football coach, replacing Lyman Guy. Eads, who was the offensive-line coach, had 17 years as an assistant coach at various schools under his belt.

• Richmond Hill joined the Coastal Region Metropolitan Planning Organization in order to make sure it stays eligible for federal highway money, Mayor Harold Fowler said.

• The Bryan County Relay for Life raked in more than $70,000 in the fight against cancer.

• Bryan County voted to end payment of 80 percent of an employee’s health insurance for anyone hired after May 1, citing costs.

• Bryan County Administrator Ray Pittman announced he would step down effective July 11. No reason was given for Pittman’s decision to leave a job with a $107,102 salary after only a year on the job.

• The driver of a Pepsi van was killed when his van collided with an armored vehicle on Fort Stewart, a post spokesman said, but the victim’s identity was not released. The crash occurred about a mile from Pembroke.

• Residents of the Live Oak subdivision questioned Richmond Hill City Council members over a plan to bring storage units to land behind a nearby motel on Highway 17.

• Pembroke approved a resolution it hoped would help the city acquire tax credits to bring work-force housing into the city. Councilwoman Tiffany Walraven said the city needed more affordable housing for its residents, and a 60-unit development called Sawmill Landing could be created if Pembroke is picked for the tax credits.

• A Bulloch County man was put in Bryan County Jail for first-degree homicide by vessel for the August 2013 death of Shana Crozier. Joseph Webb was indicted by a Bryan County grand jury on a number of counts ranging from operating a watercraft under the influence to making a false statement. The charges stem from an August 2013 incident on the Ogeechee River in which Crozier, of Savannah, was killed when her head struck a low bridge about 1.5 miles downstream from Kings Ferry Landing. Webb was operating the boat in a “reckless manner” and under the influence of both alcohol and a number of prescription drugs.

• School officials acknowledged a Bryan County High School teacher was under investigation, but declined to name the teacher or why he was being investigated.

• Henry Gaines, who was wanted for a January stabbing and theft in Ellabell, was caught in New York hiding under a bed in his cousin’s home, authorities said.

• Laura Maia, the mother of a teen who committed suicide in 2013, dropped a wrongful death suit against the city of Richmond Hill and its police, then filed suit asking a judge to keep police reports in the case from being released to a media outlet.

• Georgia Game Changers owners Sandra and Ron Elliott held a groundbreaking for their new health-and-fitness center on Ford Avenue near I-95. The first phase is expected to be finished in January, though that could be delayed by weather. The groundbreaking comes about 18 months after the couple built their first business, Georgia Game Changers Running Company, near Kroger.

• Patricia Ann Collins was sentenced to seven years in jail and eight years’ probation by Chatham County Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley for the wrong-way crash on I-95 that killed Bryan County Sherrif’s Deputy Sgt. Robert “Bobby” Crapse in June 2012. Collins, a former HOPE scholar who attended Georgia Tech on scholarship, pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle and faced a maximum of 35 years in prison for the crash. Collins wept and apologized to the Crapse famly, but his mother, Becky Crapse, said she couldn’t forgive her.


• Bryan County High School teacher Zachary Geibner resigned after an investigation into allegations of improper conduct, school officials announced. The teacher’s name initially was not released to “protect the interests of our students,” according to Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher. The resignation followed an investigation that came after an anonymous email in April alleged the teacher allowed a female student to stay in his room during an overnight trip to a cross country meet in November 2013. Alcohol was also involved in some way, according to the release.

• A wine and cheese fundraiser at the Richmond Hill City Center raised $14,000 toward the Bryan County Bark Park — the first park in the county designed especially for canines and their human companions.

• Despite rain and occasional thunder and lightning, local clergy and others gathered at the Bryan County Courthouse, Richmond Hill City Hall and Administration Building in South Bryan for the National Day of Prayer.

• A monthly gathering at Station Exchange known as Friday on the Train was launched to help benefit Family Promise of Bryan County, a program geared toward helping homeless families get on their feet.

• Fort Stewart Commander Maj. Gen. Lloyd Murray told area media no major deployments were on the horizon for the 3rdInfantry Division.

• Richmond Hill announced it would look into a plan for sidewalks in the city. The announcement came after years of residents asking for a more pedestrian-friendly community, and years of agreement by council members who, in the past, have said they didn’t have the money.

• Turnout was light in early voting for the May primaries, with only 297 of the county’s approximately 20,000 registered voters taking part through Thursday of the first week of early voting, officials said.

• Work started on a right-turn only lane on Highway 144 at Highway 17 in Richmond Hill. The additional lane was intended to reduce congestion, especially traffic backups that can stretch for more than a mile at peak traffic times.

• A second Elliott is heading to a service academy. After her sister Amanda signed to run track at Air Force Academy, triplet Alexa was accepted into the Naval Academy Preparatory School.

• A retired optometrist with offices in Richmond Hill and Hinesville was indicted on child-pornography charges by a federal grand jury. Dr. George Grant, who lived in Buckhead, pleaded not guilty to one count of receipt of child pornography, one count of distribution of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography, according to court documents. Bond was set at $250,000.

• The county’s two new elementary schools could cost as much as $36.6 million to build. McAllister Elementary will cost about $19 million, while the new Bryan County Elementary is projected to cost about $16.7 million. Both schools are scheduled to be open in time for the 2015-2016 school year, officials said.

• Challenger Rick Gardner tok the District 5 county commission seat in the Republican primary, unseating Jimmy Henderson, the man who ousted Gardner from office four years ago. It was close; however, Gardner outpolled Henderson 212-172.

• Bryan County High School announced its valedictorian, Ansley Avera, and salutatorian, Ashlyn Avera. They are twins. Richmond Hill High School announced that Vy Nguyen was valedictorian and Robbie Hester was salutatorian. Bryan County’s graduating class included 111 students, Richmond Hill’s 362. There were 36 honor graduates from BCHS and 94 from RHHS.

 • Well-publicized problems with veterans receiving care through the Veterans Administration were nothing new to local vets, who said there have been problems getting care for decades.


• Bryan County High School Principal Dr. Dawn Hadley and Assistant Principal Dr. Rod Bachman both resigned. While school officials wouldn’t comment on what led to the resignations, there was speculation it had something to do with the resignation of a teacher under investigation earlier in the year.

• At roughly the same time, Pembroke Fire Chief Peter Waters announced the department’s ISO rating dropped from a 5/9 to a 4/9, which should lower insurance premiums from homeowners, and Bryan County announced its FEMA community rating was an 8, which should also save homeowners money on flood insurance.

• Pembroke-based Savannah Global Solutions was named the state’s top exporter in 2014 by the Georgia Small Business Administration. The company deals with forestry products.

• Caesarstone, the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the Development Authority of Bryan County teamed up for the “Deal of the Year” as named by Conexx - America Israel Business Connector. Caesarstone, which manufactures quartz kitchen countertops and other tile surfaces, is investing roughly $120 million to build its first U.S. plant in the Belfast Commerce Centre.

• Richmond Hill’s Zack Jones announced he was headed to the Air Force Academy. The 18-year-old aspiring fighter pilot called it his “lifelong dream.” He was nominated by both Rep. Jack Kingston and Sen. Johnny Isakson.

• Bryan County Chief Financial Officer John Grotheer was named as interim county administrator while County Commissioners continued to search for a replacement for Ray Pittman, who stepped down in April.

• Richmond Hill received a $50,000 grant from the Department of Transportation to spruce up the landscaping at Highways 17 and 144. That was the maximum amount the state awarded.

• Bryan County announced it wouldn’t raise its millage rate. It would spend more money, though, estimating a budget of about $54 million during a meeting in Black Creek.





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