As we ring in the New Year we also close out another decade. So many things have occurred over the course of the past 10 years that have changed our landscape and in some cases even changed our lives. Here is a glimpse of some of the events that made headlines this past decade. This list is in no particular order and also just a small sample of the many items we’ve covered.
If you have a favorite headline or story from the past decade, let us know by emailing us at: email@example.com
Opening of Oglethorpe Shopping Center
It took a few years of planning but in March of 2017 the Oglethorpe Shopping Center celebrated its Grand opening featuring national retailers Dick’s Sporting Goods, Hobby Lobby, TJ Maxx, Long Horn Steak House, Pet Smart and a local Starbucks.
The Oglethorpe Shopping Center provided the local economy with jobs and a boost in income. For local shoppers the national retailers provided them a place to shop without having to drive out of the County. It also provided county and city officials a means of drawing in even more national retailers and some of those plans are currently in the works.
Highway 84 looks quite different today than a decade ago. Starting in Midway they finished the Liberty County Community Complex, broke ground on the new City Hall, added a new diner with Melody’s Coastal Café taking over the vacant Sky Box Lounge and they renovated Midway Mall. In Hinesville the landscape has changed with the addition of the Oglethorpe Shopping Center, McAlister’s Deli Krispy Kreme, Cook Out Burgers, IHOP, Five guys Burgers and Fries, Chipotle, two Walmart- Neighborhood Markets, Zaxby’s, O.D. Seafood, the construction of Liberty Club Apartments (still underway). Even further down the road we have Parker’s Gas in Walthourville and the newly constructed Dawson’s General Store and Bootlegger’s Package Store in Walthourville.
DAV Clinic built, Mills House moved
In January, 2012, the iconic Mills House, which sat at the corner of Highway 84 and Memorial Drive for 125 years, was carefully moved to its new location in Long County. Exactly one year later Military and civilian leaders broke ground on the Hinesville Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic. The new DAV clinic is 23,348 square feet. Prior to the completion of the permanent clinic a temporary facility had been opened in 2011 at the Patriot Center in Hinesville.
Militia group’s case spans the decade
In December of 2011 folks in Liberty and Long County were shocked as the murder Tiffany York and Michael Roark made local and national headlines. The murder, civil and military trials that followed spanned most of the decade. The couple were executed by an anti-government paramilitary group founded by former Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, who is serving a life sentence for ordering the killing. Aguigui was also tried by the military after they re-opened the investigation on the death of his pregnant wife, which was previously ruled accidental. He was found guilty.
Aguigui collected $500,000 on his wife’s life insurance policy and used that to fund his anti-government group called F.E.A.R (Forever Enduring Always Ready).
The F.E.A.R. group was comprised of several Fort Stewart soliders that planned to destroy a dam and poison apple orchards in Washington State, set off explosives in Forsyth Park in Savannah and assassinate President Barack Obama.
Aguigui had ordered the murder of Roark fearing that he had turned in information about their group to authorities. The day the execution was conducted York happened to be with her boyfriend and was killed as well. Aguigui and accomplices Private Christopher Salmon and his wife Heather Salmon, Sergeant Anthony Peden, Private First Class Michael Burnett were all charged in the crime.
In August 2012, Burnett agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter in exchange for testifying against Salmon, Peden, and Aguigu.
In September 2012, five more men, Christopher Jenderseck, Timothy Martin Joiner, Adam Dearman, Randall Blake Dearman and Anthony Garner were indicted on various counts of tampering with evidence, burglary, theft, criminal damage to property, and violations of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act in connection with the militia.
In July 2013, Aguigui pleaded guilty to malice and felony murder, criminal gang activity, aggravated assault and using a firearm while committing a felony. Salmon pleaded guilty to malice murder in April 2014 and accepted a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole. Salmon’s wife Heather Salmon took a plea deal and was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter. In May 2014, Peden, 28, pleaded guilty to malice murder and received a life sentence that includes the possibility of parole after at least 30 years in prison.
In February 2018, the families of former Pvt. Michael Roark and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York, received $1.7 million and $2.3 million, respectively. The settlement was the result of arbitration in lieu of the suits that had been filed in Washington State. The parents’ civil suit alleged negligence by the Army and asked for $30 million for the wrongful deaths.
Cold case finally gets closure
After 12 years of wondering, guessing and searching the cold case of Debora Gail DeLoach Moody finally came to end.
Moody was reported missing on Dec. 10, 2007 and was last seen by a friend during the late afternoon of Dec. 4, 2007 at her residence. Over the next several years, the Long County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation followed many leads but nothing was successful. In September 2010 former Liberty County Jailer, Kenneth William Lumpkin was arrested and later pled guilty to the murder of Lori Arrowood. Lumpkin was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and remains in jail.
Due to similarities in the cases between Arrowood and DeLoach Moody, investigators explored the murderer’s past in an effort to determine any connection to Moody. They found that Lumpkin was an associate of Moody’s but there was no evidence linking them to one another at the time of Moody’s disappearance.
Lumpkin remained one of several suspects in her disappearance and was interviewed multiple times over the years. In June 2019, Lumpkin was again interviewed by investigators, including a representative from the Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. Lumpkin was offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for information concerning Moody’s disappearance and the location of her remains.
Lumpkin agreed and confessed that while attempting to sexually assault Moody he strangled her which led to her death. Lumpkin provided an approximate location as to where he disposed of her body. Investigators have searched the area multiple times and as of this date have been unsuccessful in locating any items of interest.
Lumpkin’s confession has been corroborated by numerous investigative acts and the authorities have no reason to believe that anyone else participated or had knowledge of Lumpkin’s actions.
Another cold case remains unsolved
In July 2013 well-loved youth basketball coach and mentor Ernie Walthour was killed. Walthour was found dead on the front lawn of a home off Lewis Fraser Drive.
According to preliminary police reports Walthour was leaving a poker game the night he was shot. He reportedly had currency when he left the game but was found with no currency in his possession.
Walthour, was well known around Liberty County and beyond for his work with youth and athletics. He founded the Coastal Crews Rebels basketball program in 1993 teaching kids the basics and skills of the game, as well as the importance of education to lead successful lives. He was also involved with the basketball program for the Fort Stewart Youth ChalleNGe Academy. In 1996 he was named the Sports Director of the St. James Sports Center. With St. James serving as home base for the Rebels, Walthour helped nearly 42 basketball players achieve scholarships to Division I, II, and III colleges and Universities. He also served as the head coach for the boys’ basketball program at First Presbyterian Christian Academy, had his own bonding company and organized an annual event, the Summer Slam, to benefit the Rebels’ so they could travel to national tournaments. Every Christmas he organized an event at the St. James Center where the children from the Holmestown community were treated to gifts and the families treated to a Christmas dinner. In 2010 Walthour was inducted into the Liberty County Sports Hall of Fame for his work with the youth in his community. However, his murder remains unsolved.
Thin Blue Line
Several notable police officers were lost this past decade, some in the line of duty. Liberty County Sheriff J Don Martin died in May 2010 after succumbing to injuries he sustained in a car wreck. He had been in and out of the hospital and rehabilitation since then. In May 2010 Martin was re-admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with sepsis. Martin had been elected to his fourth four-year term as sheriff in 2008.
Former Ludowici Police Department Chief Frank McClelland Sr., 82, died in December 2010. McClelland served as chief of the Ludowici Police Department from 2000-2007. Before that, he worked as a deputy for the Long County Sheriff’s Office and as an agent with the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Tax Unit with the Department of Revenue. McClelland retired Dec. 28, 2007 with more than 30 years of experiences as a law enforcement officer.
In January 2012 long-time Long County Sheriff Cecil Nobles passed away. Nobles first was elected in Long County in 1969 and held the office for the rest of his life, making him the longest-serving sheriff in Georgia and the second-longest-serving in the nation.
Former Liberty County Deputy William Solomon was working as a Georgia Ports Authority officer when he was struck by a semi-truck in March 2015. The result of the accident left him in the hospital with serious injuries until his death that same year in November. Robert Lee Turner, 56, of Riceboro, who was driving the big rig, was charged with DUI in connection with the incident.
Former Liberty County Sheriff Robert Vernon “Bobby” Sikes passed away September 2016. Sikes served as Liberty County sheriff after his father, Paul H. Sikes, died in office in August 1959. Sikes served the remaining two years of that term and two terms by election. He left office for other interests but was re-elected to the position after sheriff Bill Phillips died during his second term in office. Sikes kept getting re-elected and served until 1992. On Sept. 9, 2009 Sikes marked the 50th anniversary of the day he was first sworn in. Sikes also owned a local distributorship of the Standard Oil Company, with an office in the McIntosh community.
Hinesville Police Department Maj. Thomas Cribbs died in February 2017. Cribbs had just retired in 2016 after 41 years on the force. He spent 40 of those years as a detective. ribbs’ bond and affection for law enforcement was forged during his early years growing up in a small community in Bryan County known as Lanier. He realized from an early age that he was destined to become a cop. One of his former neighbors was the chief of police in Pembroke. When that neighbor moved away the new home owner was Noah Dixon, the chief of police from Collins. As a child Cribbs carried a toy pistol nearly everywhere he went. During his teenage years Cribbs spent a lot of his time with his brother-in-law, who was the coroner of Pembroke. He has said a lot of his background in forensics came about while helping out at the funeral home. Cribbs attended Bryan County High, enrolled in college but soon embarked on his passion and started working part-time at the Bryan County Sheriff’s Office. He was among the first to become state certified after the implementation of the Georgia Peace Office Training Academy during the early 1970s. He was the chief deputy in Bryan County for 6-½ years before being hired at HPD.
In September 2018 Ludowici Police Chief Frank McClelland Jr. was killed while serving and protecting the public. McClelland and Marvin Pope were allegedly struck and killed by Daniel Michael Toronto Hill while he attempted to evade police. McClelland was struck when he had exited his patrol car to stop traffic. The lifelong resident of Long County retired from the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department as a lieutenant with 21 years of service and was currently serving as chief of police in Ludowici.
Back-to-back hurricanes, snow
The weather has made front page news on several occasions this past decade with snow hitting our area as well as two seasons of being impacted by hurricanes.
January 2018 brought a few inches of snow in Liberty and Long County, enough to have school closed for snow days and folks to build mini snowmen that lasted for about a day or two. We had flurries hit the area in 2014 and also in 2011 but the snowfall of 2018 was the most seen in this area in many years.
In October 2016 Hurricane Matthew skirted the Coast of Liberty County as a Category 2 storm leaving crumbled power lines and destroyed trees in its path. Primarily a wind event hurricane for our area, cleanup crews collected roughly 200,000 cubic yards of debris.
Around a year later, in September 2017 Hurricane Irma pounded our coast with lots of rain on top of a high King tide and severe storm surge. Areas near the Liberty Coast were flooded and inaccessible for a few days. The old Sunbury lodge and the Sunbury Public boat ramp were destroyed and swept away.
This past decade several Liberty County athletes made it into the big leagues. Hinesville native and Bradwell Institute graduate Ulrick John became the first person in our area to be drafted into the NFL in 2014. Former Liberty County Panther Raekwon McMillan was drafted in the NFL in 2017 after being the first ESPN Five-Star recruit in our area. Jordan McRae was drafted into the NBA in 2014. Liberty County native Richard Lovelady was drafted in the MLB in 2016. Several local athletes like Rion Brown, Jordan Johnson, DJ Felder, Freddie McSwain and JJ Frazier are playing basketball professionally.
Former Liberty County high school basketball player Will Richardson continues to shine as a sophomore for the Oregon Ducks and Davion Mitchell is scoring big at Baylor. Mitchell, Richardson and current UGA football player standout Richard LeCounte were all members of the 2016 Liberty County High School State Championship basketball team. That same year the First Presbyterian Christian Academy boys’ basketball team also won state as did the Liberty County Recreation Department’s Senior All-Stars boys.
Just this year the LCRD 8U All-Star football team won the state championship game as well.
Change in leadership
Longtime Hinesville Manager Billy Edwards was suspended for two weeks without pay by a 3-1 vote of council members in June 2017. This started a chain reaction of events between the council and Edwards leading up to the severance agreement Edwards received in August. Edwards also agreed not to sue the city. The agreement acknowledged that the long-time city manager “was not terminated for cause,” and that his resignation will be noted in the city’s personnel records as being voluntary.
The severance agreement detailed the salary and benefits the city had to pay Edwards on the day his resignation becomes official. This included the two-weeks of wages Edwards did not receive during his 14-day suspension in June. The city is was obligated to pay Edwards the 9 months of salary he would have earned after Sept. 12. The Hinesville City Council accepted the negotiated severance package for Edwards on Aug. 17, after reconvening into regular session following an executive session in which they discussed personnel. The council then appointed Acting City Manager Ken Howard as interim city manager.
Former Hinesville Police Chief George Stagmeier retired and HPD Officer Bill Kirkendall was named the new chief in 2018.
In January 2018 Howard was named as the new city manager.
In October 2018 Howard turned himself in after being charged with solicitation of sodomy and pandering for incidents that allegedly took place in 2017 and 2018 at Fort Valley State University. He quickly bonded out. The city called for a special meeting Oct. 22, 2018 in support of Howard saying:
“Mayor and Council intend that Mr. Howard continue as City Manager pending final disposition of this case, so long as the affairs of the city are not adversely affected. The Mayor and Council are persuaded that this decision is in the best interest of the city, the Mayor and Council promise to continue to work with Mr. Howard to improve the lives of Hinesville residents and trust that the judicial system will resolve this matter without significant delay.”
On Nov. 4, 2019 the Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney office announced it would not prosecute the charges against Howard after he completed the requirements of a pre-trial diversion agreement arranged by his attorneys.
Howard along with city employees Holly Fields and Neisha Williams and Hinesville councilwoman Vicky Nelson are still named in a sexual harassment complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by city employee Danyell Barboa.
In the EEOC complaint, filed Oct. 11, 2019 with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Barboa alleges Howard made sexual advances toward her from April 2017 to June 2017 and that she was subjected to several attempts of retaliation by Williams, Fields and Nelson.
Changes in school
The Liberty County School System cleared the way for Olvey Field to be rebuilt in 2011 turning the stadium to face north to south, constructing a new practice field, parking spaces and field house. In this decade Liberty County High School and Bradwell Institute got their basketball facilities renovated and BI just completed their renovations on a brand new baseball field. We also saw changes in board members and a new Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry.