Each year The Exchange staff members select what they determine to be some of the top stories of the previous year. We don’t rank them, but instead present them to the degree that is possible in chronological order. It is a subjective measure, and we know some might disagree with our selections. But here they are — the top stories of 2017 as picked by the news staff at The Laurinburg Exchange — editor.
One of the biggest local stories of the year was the construction of a new $9.1 million City Hall. The new municipal complex was meant to house the police department and every other city department. City officials said the facility was needed to replace the two aging buildings that house the police department, administrative offices and council chambers.
But many residents, who became vocal critics of the project, questioned the expense and need of a new City Hall. Opponents became a constant presence at city council meeting, collected petitions and held public protests.
There was even a group formed to save the W. Charles Barrett Building — one of the buildings slated to be razed. A group calling itself the Super Majority for Saving the Barrett Building had formed with the prospect that it might take legal action over plans to level the building. No court action was taken, but the group continued to voice their opposition.
Supporters argued that staff has long since outgrown the early 1950s-era building on Church Street that currently houses the Laurinburg Police Department, the city’s finance department and utilities collections, and the city council’s meeting chambers.
The Barrett Building, which houses other city departments — human resources, development, and the city manager and city clerk is even older and in worse shape, according to council members.
The city council with the exception of Mayor Matthew Block insisted that the city proceed with the project and voted to seek a loan for construction in October.
The Barrett Building — a former church parsonage constructed in the 1930s — was taken down just before the November municipal elections.
The fight over City Hall spilled over to the races for city council. The issue turned the election ugly with social media and various websites trafficking in accusations and insults.
In the end, voters tossed out two incumbents on the Laurinburg City Council in favor of challengers who said they would be more responsive to citizens.
District 1 incumbent council member J.D. Willis lost to challenger Mary Evans while Laurinburg voters also favored at-large challenger James Garby Jr. over incumbent Dee Hammond.
But incumbent Drew Williamson was able to keep his District 2 seat against three challengers Frank Evans, George Medlock and Brian Gainey.
School consolidation and LGC appeal
The Scotland County Schools Board of Education moved forward with Phase II and III of consolidation. Originally consolidation was only supposed to consist of two phases; however, after the school board was unable to come to a consensus on a site for the new school a third phase was added.
Phase II transformed into two additions to Sycamore Lane and Laurel Hill Elementary school — construction is slated to be completed by Aug. 1. The additions will house the students from Covington Street and North Laurinburg, which will be closing at the end of this school year. Starting in August, Covington Street will house Scotland Early College High School (SEarCH).
The financial proposal for Phase II was approved by the Local Government Commission in September but an appeal was submitted by Laurinburg Mayor Matthew Block — it was the first appeal of its kind ever filed with the LGC. Despite the appeal, the LGC approved the financing requested by the school district.
The school board then voted 5 to 3 in October to purchase a 30-acre plot of land located off Old John’s Road as the site for the new elementary school. Once constructed, the new elementary school will be house the students from South Scotland and I. Ellis Johnson Elementary schools.
Armory lead contamination
In March, it was announced that the National Guard Armory in Laurinburg will be closed indefinitely to the public because of a lead contamination.
Capt. Matt Boyle with the North Carolina National Guard said that no airborne lead had been found at the local facility but that traces of lead were found on surfaces. The contamination is the result of weapons discharged during past training exercises at the facility’s indoor firing range.
No lead-related illnesses have been reported in connection to the local armory. Boyle said the building was closed to the public due to the remote possibility that small children and the elderly could be affected.
Due to the building being closed to the public, the Kiwanis Club was forced to cancel its annual pancake breakfast fundraiser and voters in Precinct 4 had to find a new polling location. The 3,477 voters that make up Precinct 4 were moved to the South Scotland Fire Station, which is located behind the armory.
Tecumseh Jones, a 19-year-old Wagram teenager and member of the Tuscarora Tribe, returned from Budapest, Hungary in September where he was a member of the cast of the BBC miniseries, “Jamestown.”
“I thought .. that a lot of people would appreciate someone from our community going to represent us as a community and a people, and a state,” he said. “There’s not a lot of Southeastern tribes that get recognized.”
The drama, produced by one of the creators of “Downton Abbey” is set in 1619 in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. “Jamestown” the first English settlers as they establish a community in the New World, including a group of women destined to be married to the men of Jamestown. The series is also expected to be show in the U.S. later this year.
The Scotland High graduate spent two weeks on the set filming the series, he was one of 20 American Indian actors chosen from across the U.S. and Canada.
Though he did not have a major speaking role, Jones was required to learn Algonquin for the lines he spoke in the background.
Residents and employees at Willow Place Assisted Living and Memory Care at 1703 Stonewall Road had a tumultuous year following state inspections in April and May. The inspections were the result of complaints by patients and caregivers. The home was cited for 16 infractions some of which placed residents’ well being in danger.
The Department of Health and Human Services Division of Health Service Regulation found Willow Place had violated state codes concerning patient care and staffing. Short staffing caused issues with patient safety and personal care, in some cases causing them to miss meals because residents who needed assistance were not out of bed and dressed to go to the dining room.
The April/ May investigation also found grave errors with patient care. Some of the most serious were failure to comply with doctor’s orders and wrongly administered medications. The inspection also found that the facility regularly ran out of food and fed patients inadequate meals.
Willow Place was issued a provisional license in June and had its ability to admit new patients halted.
The home submitted a Plan of Protection and was given until October to come into compliance.
In August, DHHSR conducted a second inspection to address additional complaints and found an additional 18 infractions some of which the facility had already been cited for in the spring. The home was again cited for insufficient staffing, improper medication administration, failure to follow doctor’s orders, failing to provide proper meals and failing follow dietary regulations, and other safety violations.
Willow Place presented a second Plan of Protection on Aug. 29 promising that staff would be given additional training to address the problems.
In December, DHHSR, reinstated the home’s license, largely because the 90 days for the provisional license had expired. State officials said Willow Place had taken steps to come into compliance and would be subject to further inspections.
Laurinburg and Scotland County have seen more 30 shootings in the last year in which someone has been seriously injured or died. Some of the cases were cleared while others remain open.
The most recent was the November shooting at Gibson Village Apartments on Church Street in Gibson which sent Ramon Bines to the hospital in critical condition. Officials believe the shooting was the result of a domestic situation.
Scotland County Sheriff’s Office worked with Bennettsville, S.C. Police Department and Marlboro County Sheriff’s Office to locate and arrest three Bennettsville men.
The shootings were not restricted to one geographical area but were spread out across the county.
One of the most concerning incidents for residents took place in town in a crowded parking lot following a happy event. A crowd of revelers celebrating the 69-47 victory of the Scotland High School’s Fighting Scots over longstanding rivals the Richmond Raiders had to run for cover in the parking lots of Scotland Crossing shopping center, Cook Out and Waffle House when shots rang out on Nov. 4.
At 11 p.m. Police were called to the shopping center concerning a melee, but before they could arrive, they were informed that shots had been fired. The shooting left two injured.
Chris Chavis, 20 of McKay Street in Wagram, was shot in the head and airlifted to an undisclosed hospital, according to police.
Kenneth Parker, 20, of Old Lumberton Road, was shot in the ankle.
The fight began between two people and spiraled out of control when onlookers got involved, according to police.
No arrests have been made in the incident.
In another case, one person was responsible for several shootings in North Laurinburg.
In April, Teon Trevareus Thomas, 20, of Creedle Street, was apprehended by US Marshals in Maxton. Police had been looking for Thomas since March in connection with a February shooting on Tuskegee Drive where he was believed to have shot into a vehicle occupied by four adults and two children. Police connected him to a second shooting on Gill Street in March where they say he fired shots into a home.
Thomas was charged with 11 counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, three counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and three counts of discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling/moving vehicle.
Work could soon begin on two fire substations after Scotland County Board of Commissioners voted in December to award a building contract to Hawkes Builders at cost of $697, 618 total.
The decision ends a tumultuous process to get the two stations built. Early on, the controversy was between the county and residents who were upset that fire taxes had been raised to build the structures and believed that the county was dragging its feet. They were upset that because they were promised the substations to provide extra fire protection and improve fire insurance rates and no new buildings meant that their insurance rating stayed in a higher bracket.
Once a decision was made as to location, size and timeline for building, local firefighters became upset. County officials had considered building the substation on the south end of town before starting a second project on the north end, but were meet by opposition from some county firefighters and residents.
They also objected to the location of the south station. County firefighters believed that the Laurinburg Fire Department would benefit from the substation being built there. They were also upset that city departments would be manning the station. The fire commission wanted the station built on Leisure Road and to have it manned by Gibson Fire Department.
In March, Commissioners ended the dispute by voting to build both buildings at the same time at the original size and original cost but sticking with the location on Purcell Road for the south station. The north station will be built on Gum Swamp Lake Road.
In October controversy again erupted when the county opened bids from builders. The lowest bid to build both came in at $697, 618. A number of firefighters in the county were not happy with the amount because they had hoped to build both substations for under $300,000.
They were also worried that the extra expense would jeopardize the county’s budget and the ability to replace fire equipment and trucks.
County Manager Kevin Patterson promised the board that he had run the numbers building the stations at that price would not threaten the fire fund.