As 2011 draws to a close and we look forward to the year to come, the Courier is taking a look back at this year’s most attention-grabbing stories. In this four-part series, we’ll revisit the stories that affected the community during the 2011 calendar year. Perhaps they were fodder for dinner parties or hot topics in government meetings; perhaps they dragged on in Sound off for weeks to follow, or maybe they reminded you about the value of humanity. The dates listed reflect when the story appeared in the Courier, not necessarily the date the story occurred.
January through March
• Jan. 21: Tradeport East Business Park’s third tenant, Firth Rixson, formally announced its grand opening at its 200,000-
square-foot facility in Midway. The metal forging company also announced a contract with Rolls Royce to produce car parts and said it had 70 employees at the time.
• Feb. 11: The Liberty County Board of Education approved construction of the Liberty College and Career Academy on Airport Road in Walthourville, rather than on 15 acres donated by the Liberty County Development Authority. On Feb. 25, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle joined local officials in breaking ground on the 50,000-square-foot facility, which is funded by a $3.3 million grant from the Technical College System of Georgia, ESPLOST funds and an $800,000 GaDoE grant for equipment. It is slated to open in August.
• Feb. 13: After 22 days of volunteer construction led by Homes for Our Troops and coordinated by family friend Sharon Williams, retired 3rd Infantry Division Staff Sgt. Jason Letterman and his family moved into their brand-new, wheelchair-accessible home. Letterman, a wounded warrior, lost his legs and suffered traumatic brain injuries during an IED explosion in Iraq in May 2008.
“To know I can get around my house and have everything I could possibly need to make my life easier, it’s an amazing feeling,” Letterman said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
• Feb. 16: Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden; Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey; and his wife, Sheila Casey, visited Fort Stewart on Feb. 14. During a news conference on post, the trio discussed the toll of multiple deployments on families, medical and survivor benefits and programs aimed to build the resilience of service members.
The women also stopped at Joseph Martin Elementary, where Principal Sue Tolley said the visit was a surprise. They visited the classroom of fifth-grade teacher Tracy Zapf, whose husband has been deployed three times.
• Feb. 20: A Fort Stewart soldier wanted in connection with sexual assault charges involving a 15-year-old Los Angeles County girl escaped from military custody as he was being transported to the Liberty County Jail following a medical appointment, spurring a nationwide manhunt.
Pvt. Daniel Brazelton soon was apprehended near Daytona Beach, Fla., and was extradited to California.
When reporters from multiple agencies questioned Brazelton’s escape, 3rd ID Deputy Commander Gen. Jeffrey Phillips released a statement that apologized for the incident. He said Brazelton was “incorrectly transported by soldiers from his unit without coordination through appropriate military police authorities.”
• March 11: Liberty County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a Fleming home where gunfire erupted, leaving one man injured and another, Joshua Moore, 25, dead. Later, a 16-year-old whose name was not released was arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault.
• March 16: At the polls, Liberty County voters approved an additional Educational Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax, which levies a 1 percent tax on goods sold within the county for the next five years.
• March 23: When U.S. Census results were released, local officials questioned the accuracy of the data, which showed that Liberty County has a population of 63,453 and Hinesville has a population of 33,437. Officials said the data does not account for 14,000 soldiers who were deployed from Fort Stewart last April. Both the city and county expressed concerns that the discrepancy would result in reduced state and federal funding.
Assistant County Administrator Bob Sprinkel said the county had the right to appeal and likely would discuss doing so at its April countywide retreat. Data released for Long County reflected a 40.3 percent increase from 10,304 in 2000 to 14,464 in 2010.
• March 30: Fort Stewart Sgt. Joseph Bozicevich entered a not-guilty plea in a March 29 hearing to two counts of premeditated murder in the deaths of Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson and Sgt. Wesley Durbin during a 2008 deployment in Iraq. The court-martial trial began in May, and after much testimony and an eight-hour panel deliberation, Bozicevich was found guilty. On Aug. 10, Bozicevich was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
• March 30: Former Liberty County corrections officer Kenneth Lumpkin pleaded not guilty to charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and kidnapping with bodily harm in the September 2010 death of Gum Branch woman Lori Arrowood. The next day, Atlantic Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney John Hope, who handled Lumpkin’s arraignment, was found dead at his Wilmington Island home. Officials said there were no obvious signs of foul play and didn’t know Hope’s cause of death.