Top 10 Stories of 2006

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 30, 2006

Compiling a list of top stories for an annual year-in-review for a reporter is almost like picking ten of your favorite children.

Each reporter invests a part of his or herself in every byline that goes in the Greenville Advocate and while we all have our personal favorites, presented here is what we feel are the top ten stories that affected Butler County in 2006.

We hope you enjoy this look back at the year that was.

Saturday night shootout

2006 started with a bang when a suspect holed up in the Comfort Inn in Greenville on Saturday, Jan. 14 and shot a pair of police officers.

Officers Lionel Davidson and John Bass both received gunshot wounds before the suspect, later identified as Wayne Vasquez of St. Bernard, La., was shot and killed by both Bass and officer Byron Russell, who had arrived on the scene as backup.

Police were unaware that Vasquez was killed in the initial shootout, leading to an intense standoff outside the hotel.

Greenville Police, Alabama State Troopers and Butler County Sheriff's Deputies halted all traffic crossing the bridge over Interstate 65 and formed a perimeter around the hotel.

After several tense hours, an assault team entered Vasquez's hotel room and found him dead.

Bass and Russell were honored as the state's top law enforcement officers by Alabama Attorney General Troy King in November. However, Bass resigned from the Greenville Police Department in December after he was charged and arrested for allegedly assaulting his ex-girlfriend.

Both Davidson and Russell received the city's Officer of the Year awards for 2006.

Lights, camera, action

Hollywood came to Greenville and Butler County in 2006 in the form of independent film director John Sayles and actor Danny Glover. In July 2006, it was announced that the film &#8220Honeydripper” - a 50s era movie about a Blues club owner (Glover) trying to revive his business - would start production in the fall.

Butler County residents had the chance to mingle with actors like Glover and Charles S. Dutton, as well as Sayles and his co-producer and wife, Maggie. Many of the county's own were actively involved in the production, either logistically or as extras appearing in the actual film.

End of an era

2006 was an election year and in a tight contest Butler County Sheriff Diane Harris was defeated in her bid for a fourth term by former deputy Kenny Harden.

Harden edged Harris by the slimmest of margins in the June Democratic Primary, winning by 71 votes. He would go on to beat Republican challenger Clint Reaves in the general election.

In the final month of her term, Harris was recognized by the Butler County Commission for her years of service, becoming emotional as she accepted a plaque from Chairman Jesse McWilliams.

&#8220Gentlemen, I appreciate this,” said Harris, fighting back tears. &#8220I tried my best to serve the citizens of Butler County faithfully. We haven't always seen eye to eye, but we did our best to work together.”

Yes, Butler County schools

can make AYP

The county's school system received a much-needed jolt of positive information when school report cards were released in August. Five of seven Butler County schools made AYP this year. Greenville High School and Georgiana High School met academic requirements for the first time in seven, and five years, respectively.

&#8220It really exceeded my expectations as a first year superintendent,” said Superintendent Mike Looney, hired by the Board of Education in 2005. &#8220It shows what can be accomplished as a team. These are the most substantial academic gains in school history. In spite of what obstacles in front of us, if we have commitment and resolve we can really do what to many people seems impossible.”

Jim Cantore where are you?

Hurricane season came and went without even the hint of a storm with its eyes on the gulf coast of Alabama.

Following a year (2005) that saw four hurricanes – including catastrophic Katrina and Rita – strike the United States mainland, experts predicted an equally devastating 2006 Atlantic hurricane season.

But the season ended in November without a single hurricane hitting the U.S.

Scientists predicted there could be as many as 16 named storms and 10 hurricanes in 2006. Emergency agencies stockpiled meals-ready-to-eat, ice and water at staging areas around the state in preparation for a major hurricane.

The supplies weren't needed. There were nine named storms and five hurricanes this season. Only two of the hurricanes were considered major.

Butler County EMA Bob Luman urged residents not to become complacent.

&#8220I don't think many will,” he said. &#8220It's just been one year since Katrina and people still remember Ivan around here.”

OSHA takes up residence

Both Butler County's Hyundai supplier plants kicked off heavy production this year, but each was faced with a series of industrial accidents, one that resulted in the death of an employee.

In February, Michael Mitchell, 29, of Georgiana was killed during an on-site accident after being pinned between a steel roller and other material at the Hwashin America plant in Greenville. A few days later, Brandon D. Ball, 20, suffered a blow to the head in the plant and fell into a coma before recovering.

Yet another accident occurred in May - this time at the Hysco America plant - when employee Sylvester Dixon, 33, became trapped between a pair of steel rollers, suffering intensive damage to his arm.

Hwashin also suffered a roof collapse in October.

The never-ending story

Butler County officials were all set to begin construction on a new jail for the county in June when ground was broke for the $3.5 million facility.

However, initial bid results indicated that the cost could more the than double, delaying the start of construction as architects literally went back to the drawing table, intending to redesign the facility to meet budget requirements.

Architects presented the Butler County Commission with a new design for the county jail in November. The commission is scheduled to review the new bids early in 2007.

New water manager

In December, the Butler County Water Authority accepted a bid from Artesian Utility Systems Management to manage the county's rural water system, ending decades of supervision by Pioneer Electric over the same operations.

Many residents who attended the meeting protested the action.

&#8220I hate to go into the unforeseen,” said rural water customer Charles Rogers, referring to Artesian. &#8220It seems like you (the board) is handling this (decision) pretty carelessly. You're operating for the consumer when the consumer has no say in it.”

For the first time since the 70s, Pioneer Electric did not bid on the management contract, making the board an offer to instead purchase the water system.

Artesian will officially takeover water operations in the county on Feb. 1, 2007.

Wendell vs. Joan

Greenville native and Republican challenger for &#8220Walkin'” Wendell Mitchell's Dist. 30 Senate seat Joan Reynolds created a stir prior to the general election with a series of mail-out flyers, television and radio spots attacking Mitchell on everything from his support of the armed forces to his voting record in the senate.

Reynolds called her campaign an &#8220eye-opener” for Dist. 30 residents.

Mitchell called Reynold's campaign &#8220all lies.”

Voters went with the incumbent as Mitchell walked away from Reynolds with 62 percent of the vote.

DA charges Lee

Almost one month after resigning her position as Director of the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce, Carol Lee was charged by District Attorney John Andrews for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from a fund set aside for youth scholarships.

Andrews charged that Lee stole $7,270.94 from the Butler County Achiever Award scholarship program and misused approximately $850 in other funds while serving as the Chamber's Executive Director.

Lee had worked at the Chamber since 1993.

The case goes before the grand jury in February.