While Barrow County had more than its share of major news stories in 2009, the following were the most viewed stories of the past year on www.BarrowJournal.com:
1. Sentences issued in Superior Court
Visitors to our web site showed a strong interest in the judicial process in 2009. Thousands of people visited our site to learn what sentences were meted out in Superior Court judicial proceedings.
2. Homeland Security investigates Barrow woman
“A bunch of damn idiots” - That is how 78-year-old Beth Whitehead described the Homeland Security agents who, figuratively and literally, made a Federal case out of her complaint to the Federal Communications Commission. Whitehead was investigated as a threat to national security after she joked that she would “like to shoot the son of a gun that messed up my damn television.”
3. Barrow BOC Oks sweeping layoffs, salary cuts
In a 4-2 vote this past June, the Barrow County Board of Commissioners authorized chairman Danny Yearwood to work out the details of the sweeping plan to cut county staffing. Remaining county employees were told they would face mandated hour and pay cuts in an effort to stem the flood of red ink from the county’s finances.
4. Mother, son die just days apart from cancer
Melinda (Missy) Morgan, 46, died Wednesday, July 8. Her son Ryan, 10, died Friday, July 10. Ryan was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma in 2004 and had undergone multiple treatments in Atlanta, New York and Vermont. Missy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and had waged a tough battle while also helping Ryan with his fight against cancer. Both Ryan and Missy were well-known not just in Barrow County, but also around the state. For many people, Ryan had become the face of childhood cancer, appearing on television and doing radio fundraising to fight cancer.
The family’s struggles received widespread media attention in 2008 when someone broke into their house and stole Ryan’s puppy.
5. Winder man killed by rattlesnake bite
Winder resident Richard “Dick” Rupert, age 68, was hunting with his son and grandson in Oglethorpe County when he was bitten by a rattlesnake. Despite heroic efforts by his grandson, Rupert went into cardiac arrest and died.
6. County seeks $6.8 million in back taxes
In February, the county tax staff mailed notices to owners of about 4,700 properties in Barrow County with unpaid taxes. The county was attempting to immediately collect about $6.8 million, including $5.1 million overdue for 2008; $1.3 million for 2007; $300,000 for 2006; and $98,000 for 2005.
Among the property owners with overdue taxes were the chairman of the Barrow County Board of Education and the chairman of the Barrow County Board of Commissioners.
Barrow County Tax Commissioner Melinda Williams said BOE Chairman William Bramlett had not paid his property taxes on multiple tracts for 2007 or 2008 by the deadlines. However, Williams said Bramlett paid all his back taxes — some $21,551 in taxes, penalties and interest —after an inquiry from the Barrow Journal about his tax liability.
BOC Chairman Danny Yearwood owed $6,128 in 2008 property taxes that were due Dec. 15. That includes taxes and interest, but no penalties. Penalties don’t kick in until accounts are 90-days past due.
7. 41 arrested in countywide drug sweep
Last summer, local, state and federal law-enforcement officers conducted a large roundup of Barrow County drug suspects, making 41 arrests. A total of 100 arrest warrants were issued for in connection with drug or domestic violence charges. The arrests were on top of another 80 suspects arrested during a six-month investigation by the Barrow County Sheriff's Office and the Auburn Police Department that involved nearly 200 purchases of illegal drugs. More than $525,000 in illegal drugs were confiscated during the investigation.
8. Woman injured, robber shot in Winder armed robbery
Members of the Gwinnett Police Crime Suppression Unit followed a carload of teens into Winder after receiving information from robbery investigators indicating the occupants might have been involved in a series of Gwinnett robberies.
While police were conducting surveillance, the five suspects entered the rear door of the China Wok restaurant with bandanas over their face and armed with handguns and a baseball bat.
A female restaurant worker was injured and one of the suspects shot by police during the incident. The wounded robber and the other four were taken into custody.
9. Former teacher sues BCS
It was a story that made national headlines. Former Apalachee High School teacher Ashley Payne filed suit against the Barrow County School system in October claiming she was forced to resign because of her activity on the popular social networking site Facebook.
According to documents provided by the school system, Payne’s activity was brought to their attention by a concerned parent.
In an email to Superintendent Ron Saunders, the parent complained that her daughter used profane language and, when reprimanded, defended herself by saying her teacher, Ashley Payne, used the same language on her Facebook page. According to the email, the daughter and Ms. Payne were Facebook friends. The parent further complained that Payne had “unacceptable pictures of herself smiling with alcohol for all her online friends to view.”
Apalachee High School principal David McGee met with Payne and allegedly said her online conduct was unacceptable and that if she did not resign, she would be suspended. Payne resigned from the school system immediately.
Payne subsequently claimed her resignation was wrongfully coerced by McGee. A trial date has yet to be set.
10. Atlanta firefighter arrested in Barrow
An Atlanta firefighter was arrested in July for allegedly beating and sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend, a Johns Creek paramedic who resides in Barrow County.
Joseph Shoemaker, 22, of McDonough was arrested on numerous charges following the incident.