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2013: A look back - Part Two of Three

Flooding, KershawHealth and Gabbiee mark mid-2013

Posted: December 31, 2013 4:14 p.m.
Updated: January 1, 2014 5:00 a.m.

And so we come to the middle of the year gone by -- the months of May, June, July and August 2013. What was the big news? Flooding, the transformation of a former school, Bethune’s police department, KershawHealth’s financial struggles and the saddest, but not entirely unpredicted end to a story of a missing teenager from Columbia.

May

Early May marked the first of three times -- the second and third times in July -- that Lake Wateree overflowed causing local residents to deal with flooded yards and inaccessible docks. In May, Kershaw County Fire Marshall and Emergency Preparedness Director Gene Faulkenberry reported that all five hydroelectric units at Wateree Dam north of Camden were operating to pull water from the lake. He also said most residents heeded Duke Energy Progress’ warnings and pulled their mobile homes, trailers and boats away from the water. At one point, the lake was at 101.9 feet, nearly 2 feet above full pond. Two months later, the Wateree flooded again, reaching about 102 feet. In late July, the lake reached full pond yet again.

Johnny Outlaw would later be recognized by Kershaw County Council, but in May Outlaw announced the opening of the Antioch Community Center in what was once Antioch Elementary School. The school, constructed in 1956, closed in 1995 and was later the home of Kershaw County Head Start. The building fell into disrepair, but once Outlaw was done, it boasted a café, auditorium and space for a sheltered flea market among its many improvements. In September, council passed a resolution honoring Outlaw “for his service to Kershaw County and its citizens.”

After months of talking and planning, the Ross Beard’s firearms collection finally went on display at the Camden Archives and Museum. The collection boasts more than just guns -- there’s spy gear from the real James Bond, and memorabilia from the G-Man days when FBI agent (and Beard’s godfather) Melvin Purvis brought down John Dillinger. Guns do make up most of the collection, ranging from almost ancient wheel-locks to German Lugers and Carbines. Barely a month after the collection opened to the public, the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism awarded a $10,000 grant to the city of Camden to help market it to tourists.

June

Leonard Price died at the age of 92 in the early days of June after years of philanthropy to both local youth and the Kershaw County School District (KCSD). For many years, Price had opened up his property to the Boy Scouts; he assisted Camden Military Academy with funds to refurbish its gym; he bought new cleats for students after they donated old ones for an African youth soccer program. In September 2012, Price donated 25 acres to school district for a new proposed elementary school. For his many contributions, KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan called Price the county’s “quiet giant.”

It really started in late March when minutes of a Bethune Town Council meeting revealed council had disbanded its police force due to financial difficulties. At meetings in mid-June, Mayor Carlisle Davis assured citizens that didn’t mean the town was out of money. Many citizens, however, criticized the lack of public discussion on the issue ahead of the decision. By not having a police department the town ended up with a $30,000 surplus. At a September meeting, two of three attending council members voted to hire Davis’ son as police chief, making citizens wonder whether nepotism was in play and how the town could afford to resurrect the department. In November, Charles McCoy beat Davis to become the town’s first new mayor in a generation.

One of 2012’s biggest stories hit a milestone in mid-2013 when former Kershaw County Sheriff Steve McCaskill settled a $2 million lawsuit he had initially filed against current Sheriff Jim Matthews. Due to Matthews’ status as sheriff, the lawsuit continued against the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office as a county agency. McCaskill settled for $75,000, joining three others who had also filed suits against the sheriff. As of the end of 2013, however, former magistrate Gene Hartis’ $4 million lawsuit was still pending, with claims that Matthews’ comments to Kershaw County Council in early 2011 defamed Hartis’ character.

July

KershawHealth’s finances once again became a major headline in early July following a late June meeting where Executive Vice President and COO/CFO Mike Bunch predicted that the healthcare organization could lose $32 million by Fiscal Year 2018. Bunch said KershawHealth could lose that much money due to the continued shift in the marketplace from inpatient to outpatient -- and South Carolina’s decision not to expand Medicaid. That news, along with continued monthly losses concerned members of the KershawHealth Board of Trustees, who also had to deal with a new reality in August: the search for a new CEO as Donnie Weeks announced his retirement. Late in the year, trustees chose Terry Gunn as interim CEO while they continued the search for a new permanent leader.

KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan presented the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees with options to move forward with Phase 2 of the school district’s facilities equalization plan. Phase 1 had been financed through special funding during the last decade. Now, the district is considering a bond referendum for voters to consider to fund the second phase. Morgan presented two options, one costing $103.92 million; the other $117.2 million. For weeks afterward, Morgan held public meetings throughout the county to educate voters and solicit feedback. He said he hoped to offer draft referendum language by this month -- voters might get the chance to vote on the matter in November.

Camden kicked off its Leaders Legacy bench program with its first set of five benches in July. The benches recognized Camden community leaders both living and from the past. They included former mayor James L. Anderson, Phil Minges and Austin Sheheen Sr.; community activist Ruby Minton; and Dr. Paul T. Joseph Sr. The program was the brainchild of former Mayor Jeffrey Graham, who himself was honored in December.

August

For nearly a year, people in both Richland and Kershaw counties had hoped that Gabriella “Gabbiee” Swainson would come home. Unfortunately, that was not the case as -- in early August -- suspect Freddie Grant of Elgin led authorities to her body just outside the Elgin town limits. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson worked out a deal with Grant that led to his cooperation: he would plead guilty in exchange for having the death penalty taken off the table and if authorities would release his daughter from jail and drop charges against her for trying to get rid of Gabbiee’s cell phone. Hundreds gathered for a vigil in Gabbiee’s honor a few nights later at Elgin’s Potter Community Park.

The weather -- in different ways -- led to some obstacles as the new school year began in August. First, Lugoff Elementary School delayed its first day of school for students due to a major mold problem. School officials said heavy rains likely brought on the mold thanks to additional moisture in the building. The mold affected about 15 to 20 classrooms. A few days later, the heavy rain caused a catch basin to collapse under Wildwood Lane near Lugoff-Elgin middle and high schools causing some travel delays, but not to the start of the school year.

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