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Beginnings, tragic endings highlighted 2012
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As we close the door on 2012, the Courier recalls stories that grabbed attention and affected the community in the last 12 months. This is the third in a four-part series.
• Long County High School breaks ground — The Long County School System broke ground this year on an $18 million high school scheduled for completion in August 2013. According to Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters, the school will have 43 instructional units, 154,000 square feet and capacity of 800 students.
• No contest for Liberty constitutional officers, few changes on boards — While Long County elections featured challengers and recalls, voter apathy seemed to dominate the political scene in Liberty. Not a single constitutional officer was challenged, and only two challengers came forward in races for the board of commissioners and board of education regular races. Maxie R. Jones IV took on BoC District 2 Commissioner Donald Lovette for the chairman’s post after John McIver announced he would not seek re-election. Lovette prevailed in the primary. Former Assistant Principal Carolyn Smith-Carter challenged BoE District 2 incumbent Charlie J. Frasier and prevailed.
However, Lovette vacated his Distrct 2 seat to qualify for chairman, prompting a special election. That race drew two Democratic candidates: former Commissioner Linda Graham and newcomer Justin Frasier. Frasier was elected and will be sworn in alongside Lovette and Smith-Carter of the BoE on Dec. 28.
• Deputy shoots, kills suspect — An off-duty Liberty County deputy sheriff shot and killed a suspect May 6 while working security at Bo Maz nightclub in Walthourville. The suspect, Nathaniel Pruitt, 24, reportedly was firing his weapon, and one of the bullets struck another man. A report compiled by District Attorney Tom Durden found that Deputy Terry Perry acted in a way that was “necessary and proper.”
• Three LCSS classes go digital — At the start of the new school year, Liberty schools debuted digital course materials for three high-school classes instead of purchasing new textbooks. World history, coordinate algebra and environmental science courses will act as  pilots to test the viability of iPad-based courses in the future.
• Garrison admits Army downsizing — In one of his last appearances as the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Garrison Commander, Col. Kevin Milton said in May that the Army plans to reduce its active-duty force from 570,000 to 490,000. With the move comes stricter re-enlistment guidelines that tell commanders to retain “only the best.”
• Two Long County children die in separate incidents on same day — June 2 was a tragic day in Long County, as two young Smiley Elementary School children died in separate incidents. Ta’Keith Andrew Russell reportedly was shot by a handgun, and Hannah Marie Foreman drowned in the Altamaha River. Both would have been third graders in the new school year. In July, the school system dedicated its back-to-school rally to memorializing the children. Russell’s stepfather, Ronald Smith, was charged with felony murder for allegedly shooting the child before he rushed the boy to seek emergency treatment.
• Platero gets the maximum for soldier murders — After convicting Neftaly Platero on two counts of premeditated murder and one count of attempted premeditated murder, a military court sentenced him to life in prison in mid-June. The former specialist killed his two Army roommates in 2010 at a U.S. base camp in Iraq.
• Liberty County inmate attempts escape from LRMC — A Liberty County inmate tried to escape custody while being treated at Liberty Regional Medical Center for alleged narcotics withdrawals. The inmate reportedly climbed into the drop-ceiling while using a restroom, spurring a 90-minute lockdown and a search involving several-jurisdictions. Inmate Travis Cooler, 20, of Bloomington, eventually was found in the ceiling.
• Taylors Creek principal named top in state — Dr. Debbie Rodriguez, principal of Taylors Creek Elementary School, was named Georgia’s 2012 National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the U.S. Department of Education.
• New team takes over Stewart — The new garrison command team for Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, Col. Kevin Gregory and Command Sgt. Maj. Louis C. Felicioni, took charge July 6. It is the first garrison assignment for both.
• Gum Branch fire station opens — Officially known as Liberty County Fire Station No. 15, the first county-owned station opened this summer in Gum Branch. The construction was more than $786,000, and the facility is a step in the county’s plan to transition to a full-time, paid fire staff.

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