01/01/12 — Year of tragedy, triumphs

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Year of tragedy, triumphs

By From staff reports
Published in News on January 1, 2012 1:50 AM

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Roof collapse at Berkeley Mall after Hurricane Irene;

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Hailey Best performing at Goldsboro's Paramount Theatre after being crowned Miss North Carolina

The past year was, like so many others, full of ups and downs for the residents of Wayne County.

With unemployment high and rainfall low, it wasn't best of years for many, whether they worked at a business in the city or on a farm in the country. Reports of violent crime and political friction mixed daily with stories of courage and generosity.

After much review and debate, The News-Argus newsroom staff offers this list of stories as the Top 10 of 2011. No doubt, it will cause much disagreement. That is to be expected. Still, here goes:

1. DEANNEXATION: In June, the Republican-led state Legislature approved a bill that allows residents of areas subject to annexation by municipalities to petition against the inclusion. The new law was a boon to residents of the Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads area who had been taken in by the city against their will after a four-year court battle that ended in September 2008. The council decided in December to fight the measure in court but legislators have threatened to re-write state law to make the lawsuit moot.

2. CITY COUNCIL DECISIONS: In July, the Goldsboro City Council OK'd the purchase of the former Arts Council of Wayne County building at the corner of Ash Street and Spence Avenue after months of deliberation, and in December put together a committee to begin turning the bank building into an Air Force museum. The council decided in January to not build a rec center to replace the Wayne County Memorial Community Building, which had stood at the corner of William and Walnut streets and burned to the ground in 2004. The council also voted in October to reject the bids on the Center Street Streetscape project, although an altered, less expensive version of the already-scaled-down project is expected to be put out for bid soon.

3. DR. BURKETTE RAPER DIES: Dr. Burkette Raper, who served as president of Mount Olive College for more than 40 years died Aug. 1. at the age of 83. Raper guided the college in its youth, from its humble origins in an unused schoolhouse to a beautiful modern campus. Along with the college community, the entire Free Will Baptist denomination mourned his passing as more than 500 came out to see him lying in state in the college's Rodgers Chapel and 1,500 came to his funeral in Kornegay Arena.

4. AIR FORCE SUICIDES: After the 4th Fighter Wing was stood down in 2010 in response to several Air Force suicides, two more airmen allegedly took their own lives, including Tech. Sgt. Les Williams, a youth football coach and Senior Airman Cody Hendrickson.

5. 3-YEAR-OLD GIRL KILLED BY STRAY BULLET: In February, Princess Shelby King, 3, was playing on a Sunday afternoon outside her home in the Grand at Day Point when an errant bullet hit her. A three-week manhunt for alleged shooter, Derrick Raymont Best, which included his appearance on "America's Most Wanted," ended with his arrest. He is now in the Wayne County Jail facing a murder charge.

6. IRENE PAYS A VISIT: Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast in late August. The storm didn't do a tremendous amount of damage in Wayne, except to many tobacco and corn fields and a few trees, but much of its impact was felt along the coast. It did, however, cause part of the roof at Berkeley Mall to collapse and forced city officials to issue a curfew the night after it passed through. Irene continued her way up the entire Atlantic Seaboard, causing floods and damage.

7. HAILEY BEST CROWNED MISS NORTH CAROLINA: Miss Durham Hailey Best was named Miss North Carolina in June. The former Eastern Wayne High student won the talent competition and will compete for the Miss America title in two weeks.


COMMISSION: Wilbur "Andy" Anderson, the first Republican on the Wayne County Board of Commissioners since Reconstruction, announced in November he would step down, ending a nearly 20-year career in politics. Anderson, a retired Air Force colonel, hand-picked his successor, Ray Mayo, who took office in December.


MANAGER NAMED: Scott Stevens, 44, was named Goldsboro's new city manager in August, ending a months-long search that began when Joe Huffman announced his retirement. Stevens had served previously as Kinston's city manager and had worked in municipal government in Greenville prior to that. An engineering graduate of N.C. State University, Stevens had worked for the state Department of Transportation and pulled an eight-year stint with the U.S. Navy. Also new last year was city Parks and Recreation Director Scott Barnard, who replaced Ruben Wall, and the city is still searching for a new police chief as Jeff Stewart fills the post on an interim basis after Tim Bell retired in March.

10. BID-RIGGING PLEA: Two former Wayne County Schools employees, Danny Lee Langley, 54, of Snow Hill and Earl Wayne Rhodes, 58, of Pikeville, pleaded guilty in December in federal court to bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery. They admitted to having rigged bids to  help a Johnston County roofing company obtain contracts illegally. They have not yet been sentenced. Also charged were Pamela Carol Turner, 45, of Selma, and David Lee Tedder, 50, also of Selma, both with All American Roofing, which received the illegal contracts. Ms. Turner pleaded guilty to structuring transactions to evade a reporting requirement. Tedder pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery concerning local programs receiving federal funds. In a separate but related cases, Jimmy Farmer, director of development and safety with Goldsboro Housing Authority, also was charged with obstruction and making false statements to federal agents concerning a bid from All American Roofing.


Of course, the selection of the top 10 stories of the year is subjective. A number of other stories might well have made the list. Among them was the recent announcement that the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson would be getting its first female commander -- Col. Jeannie Leavitt. You can be sure that when she takes command, the story will find its place in the Top 10 for 2012.

And another story that could have easily made the list was the construction -- and dedication -- of the Wayne County Veterans Memorial, a sprawling site that honors the hundreds of sons of Wayne who have died in war and those men and women currently serving in theaters across the world.

Other stories that just missed inclusion were the revaluation of property in the county and its effect on property taxes, the opening of the first leg of the long-awaited U.S. 70 bypass, the regaining of the power by the county school board to appoint its own members, the postponement of elections in Goldsboro, Mount Olive and Fremont after the results of the U.S. Census forced the redrawing of district lines, the 4th Fighter Wing winning the Air Force Historical Foundation's inaugural Doolittle Award, the 25th anniversary of the reactivation of the 916th Wing and the 50th anniversary of the B-52 crash in northern Wayne that left remnants of a nuclear bomb buried deep in a swamp.

Wayne also said goodbye to many other good men and women throughout the year, men and women who worked for many years to make Wayne a better place, such as Dr. Paul Bennett, local historian Charles Ellis, longtime school board member Lehman Smith, attorney and education advocate William "Bill" Smith and Army Maj. (Ret.) Bob Stone, a recipient of the Silver Star for gallantry in combat, as well as the many others.