In the third of a four-part retrospective, the Courier recalls the top headlines from July through September of 2011.
July through September
• July 4: A lightning strike ignited a blaze June 28 at the Terrell Mill Pond on Highway 196. The Georgia Forestry Commission worked within the fire and created break lines to minimize the burning, while the Hinesville Fire Department stationed itself around the perimeter to protect homes at nearby Church Field Estates as well as Taylors Creek Elementary School. The blaze burned more than 700 acres of peat moss and woods, and chief forestry ranger David Duke later said his staff was on the scene as late as Sept. 27.
• July 6: Two Midway sisters running a lemonade stand with their cousin got a sour response from Midway Police Department, which told the girls they had to shut down the stand because they did not have a business license. The girls, Skylar Roberts, 10, and Kasity Dixon, 14, were running the stand to raise money for a trip to a Statesboro water park. While the girls’ mother, Amy Roberts, and Chief Kelli Morningstar both told different accounts of the story and county offices backed the police, the story was picked up by Savannah TV station WJCL and ignited a national media firestorm. The police station reported receiving threats over the incident, while the girls received free trips to multiple water parks, free Calypso packaged lemonade to sell, and TV spots on both “Fox & Friends” and “The John Stossel Show.”
• July 20: Contractors working on renovations to the Liberty County Courthouse discovered a sweet surprise: about 55,000 bees and their honey. Ludowici honey maker and former beekeeper David Myers extracted the bees, bottled their honey and sold it in a limited supply called “Liberty County Courthouse Honey” at the Hinesville Downtown Farmer’s Market on July 28. The novel sweet sold out within two hours.
• July 20: The remains of retired Midway soldier Ray Acklin, who disappeared in April 2008 while vacationing with his wife in Indiana, were discovered in Illinois. Acklin was identified through DNA testing, and an autopsy showed his death likely was a homicide.
• July 22: When officials responded to reports of stabbings at Midway’s Cay Creek Wetlands Interpretive Center, they found a bloody scene. Benjamin O’Neal, 60, was transported to Liberty Regional Medical Center, where he died from his wounds. He reportedly was stabbed more than 40 times. Fort Stewart soldier Kenneth Turner was charged with one count of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault in connection with O’Neal’s death. Turner would later plead not guilty, and his attorney claimed the stabbings were self-defense moves used during an altercation between the men.
• July 22: Adequate Yearly Progress results for Georgia schools were released, and the Liberty County School System did not meet them as a district. While every elementary and middle school met the benchmarks, the two high schools did not have the necessary graduation rate to pass. Later, the state announced its intention to seek a waiver releasing it from the ever-increasing national standards and allowing it to implement its own evaluation criteria. A decision on the waiver had not been made by press time.
• Aug. 14: Long County receives $1.27 million in Office of Economic Adjustment funds as compensation for work the county did to prepare for the arrival of a fifth military brigade after the military reversed a decision to station more troops at Fort Stewart in 2009.
• Aug. 18: Former Georgia Forestry Commission Long County Ranger Paul Robertson was indicted on one count of arson of lands and two counts of making a false statement to investigators. The charges resulted from a fire that began June 5 on Holmes Theus Road in Long County, and Robertson was terminated July 11. The events capped a rough year for fires in Long County, which included a 4,000-acre blaze in March that burned 18 structures and multiple vehicles and left a smoky haze in the air that spread for miles.
• Aug. 19: Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson held a town-hall forum in Jesup to seek input on federal issues that affect local voters. Job creation and economic stimulus were the primary topics of focus, and both senators said they would be willing to “reach across the aisle” to find solutions.
• Aug. 21: In a public dedication ceremony, Hinesville officials opened the doors to their new 48,000-square-foot, three-story structure that cost an estimated $7 million for demolition of the former city hall, new construction, renovation to the existing police department and installation of a new parking lot.
• Aug. 21: Vanguard soldiers returning from a 12-month deployment to Iraq would find their $306 million 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team complex complete. The facilities support 4,000 soldiers with 1,438 barracks spaces over 457 acres.
• Aug. 24: Firth Rixson announced an expansion that would create 75-100 new jobs, bringing its employee total to about 304, and increase its 200,000-square-foot manufacturing floor by about 20 percent.
• Sept. 4: Fort Stewart soldier Trevor Thomas Cushman-Clifton was arrested in connection with the July death of Journey Richardson, a 3-year-old girl who died in his care on July 27. Cushman-Clifton was charged with murder and cruelty to a child.
• Sept. 9: The Coastal Regional Commission Regional Transportation Roundtable was the first roundtable in the state to finalize a constrained list of infrastructure projects to be completed if a 1 percent sales tax referendum passes on the July 2012 summer ballot. Key Liberty County projects include a Hinesville bypass, the widening of 15th Street from E.G. Miles Parkway to the gates of Fort Stewart and modifications to MidCoast Regional Airport.
• Sept. 25: Hinesville City Council District 4 candidate Douglas Burgess was ruled ineligible by the Liberty County Board of Elections after four voters provided evidence that questioned his residency. Burgess had also been a member of the Allenhurst City Council until at least March 2011, though a candidate must reside in a municipality for at least 12 months before seeking office.
• Sept. 30: Former Walthourville fire fighter Julian Adkins pleaded guilty to charges of third degree arson to land in connection with a May fire near Carter and Griffin roads in Walthourville. He was sentenced to five years of intensive probation beginning in January and 96 community service hours to be completed before January.