Editor’s note: Here is a list of 20 of the top news stories from 2009. They are not ranked in order of importance -- because all were.
SacrificeWhile on a volunteer mission in Afghanistan on Aug. 7th, USMC Capt. Matthew Freeman was on top of a roof directing close air support when he was hit by machine gun fire and killed. Freeman, 29, grew up in Richmond Hill, where he was an honor student and tennis star at Richmond Hill High School.
The outpour of local support for Capt. Freeman and his family donned many headlines in 2009. This includes coverage of hundreds lining the city streets during a precession and a street being named in his honor.
Less than a month after Freeman’s death, Army Ranger Staff Sgt. Jason Dahlke, who had purchased a home in Richmond Hill several years ago, was gunned down and killed during combat operations in the Paktika Province
The Bryan County Board of Education voted 4-3 in favor of buying out Dr. Sallie Brewer’s superintendent contract for $253,000 during a called meeting on Feb. 19. Associate Superintendent John Oliver was appointed to replace her until a full time successor was named. On Dec. 8, the BoE decided to officially make Oliver the new superintendent.
County officials advised residents in September to prepare because the H1N1 pandemic had arrived to the area.
The Bryan school system was reportedly flooded with H1N1-related absences. The harshest blow came on Oct. 18 when 4-year-old Richmond Hill resident Elaina Redick reportedly died from "an influenza-associated illness."
Richmond Hill mayor
After over two decades as the mayor of Richmond Hill, Richard Davis announced in April that he would not run for another term.
Former city councilman Harold Fowler beat current councilman Floyd Hilliard 580 votes to 422 in November’s election to become the next mayor. Also at the polls, former councilman Van Hunter beat incumbent JoAnn Bickley for the Post 1 council seat and RHHS teacher Russ Carpenter beat Darryl Petermann for Hilliard’s former Post 2 seat.
Man beaten, dies
Pembroke resident Devon Morris, 69, was reportedly attacked on June 8 while lying in his bed. Police said three people entered and ransacked Morris’ home in the early morning hours after breaking out the back window. The case was ruled a homicide after Morris died in August and police attributed his death to the beating.
The GBI has since arrested 42-year-old Brooklet resident Donna Hodges in October and charged her with the crime. A court case is pending.
The EPD was reportedly flooded with phone calls and letters from Bryan residents in January contending that a proposed wastewater treatment plant near the Laurel View River would damage the ecosystem of the local coastal marshlands. This prompted multiple public hearings, attended by hundreds of Bryan and Liberty residents, and a decision from the EPD to hold off on permitting the plant until further studies were conducted.
An Alleged fight with law enforcement led to arrests of North Bryan family and a lawsuit.
Tommy Lee Williams and four of his relatives, including 81-year-old grandmother Henrietta Williams, were arrested after an alleged scuffle with local law enforcement on April 14. A court case is pending for the Williams family.
The family filed a lawsuit against local enforcement, including Pembroke Police Chief Mark Crowe, who was a Bryan County Sheriff's Department deputy at the time. The suit was dismissed in Superior Court.
When Crowe was appointed chief in June, 40 people participated in a NAACP protest rally and marched outside city hall while the city council met inside.
A civil suit in federal court against Crowe and other law enforcement officers by the family is reportedly pending.
No new brigade
After much talk to the contrary, the U.S. Department of Defense announced in June their decision to not add a fifth brigade to Fort Stewart’s 3rd Infantry Division. The brigade would have reportedly brought a population increase of 10,000 people – and an anticipated surge to Bryan County’s economy, particularly the housing market.
Emma Carroll, 83, who suffers from dementia, reportedly wandered from her home in Groveland on July 18 and has not been seen or heard from since. A massive air and land search by multiple agencies and volunteers turned up no clues.
The family held a vigil in October and continues to spread the word via flyers and a website (www.findingemmacarroll.com) in hopes that Carroll will be brought home safely.
County lowers increase
County residents came out in droves to public hearings in opposition to the county commission’s proposed millage rate increase in property taxes from 7.5 to 8.5 mills.
In response, the commissioners voted for a .4 increase to cover a $400,000 budget shortfall. The $46,000 Harris Trail extension project, which was on the table during the original rate proposal, was cut.
Meanwhile, the Bryan County Board of Education went up two mills despite some opposition. Pembroke and Richmond Hill kept the same millage rate.
Marina draws fire
The county’s proposed Waterways Township marina near Red Bird Creek went up for debate as the EPD heard supporters and those in opposition to the project.
Supporters, including Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed and several residents, said the project will create much-needed water access for boats. Those in opposition, including former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, say the proposed site infringes on marshlands protected by the Heritage Trust Act that is never to be developed.
The EPD approved the permit for the marina in September, but a lawsuit was filed in October by Barnes, who is the acting attorney for the site’s neighboring property owner William Butler, and the Center for a Sustainable Coast to keep the land undeveloped. The case is expected to be heard before an administrative law judge.
Murder in South Bryan
The body of Savannah man Jack Harley was found dead, full of bullet holes and lying face down on the side of Cartertown Road the night of Nov. 27.
Less than a week later, the GBI declared the homicide case solved and named fellow Savannah resident Carlos Huntley as the killer. GBI Agent Micah Ward said all the details will never fully be revealed as Huntley shot himself to death on Dec. 1 when confronted by Savannah police.
Four die in I-95 wreck
A man, who was reportedly intoxicated and driving a pickup truck and travelling the wrong way on I-95 in Richmond Hill, collided head-on with a minivan containing a Florida family on July 25. The driver of the truck was killed as was the female driver and two male occupants of the minivan. The minivan driver’s three children survived with injuries.
A fire at a duplex on Miller Circle in Pembroke, suspected by the fire marshal to have started by a stove being left on, engulfed and killed residents Teresa Howard, 36, Raphel Wadley, 36, and Dorian Howard, 14 months, around 4 a.m. on Feb. 15.
Firefighters were able to get the 14-month-old out of the home during the blaze, but the baby could not be resuscitated. Left behind was the baby’s 7-year-old sister, who spent the night away from home.
A Superior Court judge sentenced North Bryan teenager Tam Duc Le to 30 years with four-and-a-half to serve in state prison at the conclusion of his trial on April 22. Le was charged with three counts of vehicular homicide for the March 21, 2007 deaths of fellow BCHS students Melissa and Heather Arthur and Laura Cobb.
The judge surmised that it was Le’s erratic driving while he was driving the girls to school that led to the tragedy.
Pembroke resident Dalton Raulerson, 14, miraculously made a near full recovery after taking a direct hit from a lightning bolt during football practice at Pinewood Christian Academy on Aug. 5.
Immediately following the strike, Raulerson collapsed on the field, was rushed to the hospital, and placed in a medical induced coma. To the surprise of his family, friends and doctors, Raulerson recovered relatively quickly and returned home two weeks later.
Henderson Park opens
After three years of planning and construction, DeVaul Henderson Recreation Park on Hwy. 144 opened to the public on March 7. The park, which is a work in progress, includes soccer/football fields, baseball fields and concession stands.
Richmond Hill Amphitheater and City Center projects came to life
The way was paved for a concert venue in Bryan County when Mayor Richard Davis broke a 2-2 tie vote of the Richmond Hill City Council to approve the construction of the $600,000 Richmond Hill Amphitheater. The venue will reportedly accommodate attendance of 5,000-6,000 people and potential national acts.
The Amphitheater was completed and debuted on Dec. 4, which included a ribbon cutting and performance from local rock band Shift N Gears.
The $6.2 million City Center opened its doors on Dec. 30. The facility is capable of housing wedding parties, conferences and meetings.
The projects sparked some controversy. Critics said the Amphitheater and Center were not needed and the public was denied input on whether or not to fund the projects.
The YMCA and land developer Lamar Smith announced in July that they were teaming up to create a new, much larger facility for the Richmond Hill YMCA.
For the last 10 years, the Richmond Hill facility has been in the small and often overlooked storefront next to Southcoast Medical on Ford Avenue. The new 10,000 square foot facility, which opened its doors Nov. 21, includes a huge fitness area, exercise/aerobic room, locker rooms with showers and a daycare room.
Prescription drug sting
Twenty-four people were arrested Jan. 23 for allegedly selling prescription drugs in Bryan and Chatham County. Police said 17 of the suspects were Bryan County residents ages 17-22. Several more local people were arrested in the following weeks as the investigation continued.