Year in review: Columbia County's highs and lows

By: Katie Beasley Email
By: Katie Beasley Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. -- It's been a year of ups and of downs for Columbia County.

The year started on a tragic note with the murder of a 14-year-old Harlem teenager. Alana Calahan was shot, her body dragged behind the home. Her friend, 14-year-old Aaron Schmitt has been charged with murder.

"I don't know why someone would take my little girl from me," exclaimed Alana's mother Betty Calahan.

In February, then-District 4 Commissioner Scott Dean was indicted by a grand jury for child molestation. In December, Dean was convicted of molesting one of his adopted daughters.

In March, another teenager was killed when shots rang out at a crowded party he was working at the Belair Conference Center. Jamie Gillette was killed. Six people were arrested, including the accused shooter, Johndrick Barnes.

The next month, an argument sparked the third deadly shooting. Columbia County employee Raymond Lee was shot outside a waste water control plant. Thomas Bradford is awaiting trial.

The summer of 2011 was met with controversy. First over stadium lights at Augusta Prep, then over at Knob Hill -- an Evans neighborhood that was less than welcoming to the family of a disabled soldier.

"I do want to live somewhere where I feel welcome and if Knob Hill is not going to welcome us, maybe we don't need to live in this community," Sharon Gittens told News 12 in June.

But it wasn't all bad news. The county cut the ribbon on several new buildings and dedicated the new Evans Town Center Park in style. Thousands packed the new amphitheater to hear homegrown band Lady Antebellum.

A mother and daughter were also arrested for murder after investigators say they neglected an elderly woman in their care. Deborah Hill and Brittany Hurst have been charged with killing 85-year-old Blanche Carpenter.

In November, the FBI, IRS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents raided a $1.7 million home in Evans and arrested nine people, including the owner Hugo Diaz-Delafuente, on charges of harboring illegal immigrants.

On Election Day, Grovetown voters said yes to Sunday alcohol sales.

Then hundreds of angry homeowners packed the commission chamber to voice concerns about Magnolia Trace, a low-income development breaking ground nearby.

"Everybody that I've talked to is concerned. Everybody wants to see this stop," said homeowner and neighbor Molly Bowman.

It was a year of twists and turns for Columbia County, certainly a year no one will soon forget.

Next year is shaping up to be big, too. We'll start things off with Dean's sentencing, then Rebecca Sears and Christopher Bowers, a mother and son facing the death penalty for murder, are expected to go before a jury in the spring.

We're also told the Gittens family, from Knob Hill, will start construction soon on their home in a new part of Evans.

Other memorable 2011 events:

  • February: Brooke Moye, 17, is killed in "distracted driving" accident.
  • March: Seven men arrested at Monterrey's Mexican Restaurant, some employees in connection with an illegal fencing operation run out of the Martinez restaurant.
  • The District 4 Special Election to fill Scott Dean's vacated seat saw Bill Morris, of Appling, beat out several other candidates for the seat
  • May: Taylor Gazaway, 18, was riding in the backseat of an SUV with friends when he was killed in an accident. The driver, Amber Lever was originally sentenced to one year in jail, but was released early.
  • July: Michael Maxwell was arrested in Edgefield County after allegedly attacking a woman outside her Evans home.
  • August: Some tenants complained about a new methadone clinic opening in a family-friendly shopping center along Washington Road.
  • August: Projects for the Transportation Sales Tax, or TSPLOST, were unveiled. A vote will come in fall 2012.
  • August: Harlem Police Chief Jesse Bowman resigned.
  • August: County Administrator Steve Szablewski retired, and Deputy Administrator Scott Johnson took over the position.
  • September: A series of gas leaks made headlines, many of them a result of broadband construction.
  • September: New county redistricting maps were unveiled.
  • November: Two Greenbrier High School students were arrested, accused of plotting to kill another student.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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