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2015 Year in Review - Part 2

Tragedy in Charleston, UWKC completes shelter and the Queen of England responds to Historic Camden’s

Posted: January 3, 2016 6:47 p.m.
Updated: January 1, 2016 1:00 a.m.
C-I file photo/

Elgin native Brooklyn Mack and Misty Copeland of The Washington Ballet perform in Swan Lake. They are the first African-American duo to dance the lead roles.

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May

In early May, students at North Central Middle School (NCMS) mourned the loss of NCMS math teacher Helen Charlene Mathis who passed away unexpectedly on April 29. Mathis had been working at NCMS since 2005. “Ten years ago, I had the good fortune of hiring Charlene Mathis to the faculty at North Central Middle School. (She) possessed all the attributes of the perfect teacher -- loving, caring, patient and knowledgeable,” NCMS Principal Burch Richardson said. 

A significant loss of two Elgin businesses, Sloan Roofing, owned by the family of Elgin Councilwoman Dana Sloan and Jesus Automotive occured in May after being destroyed in a four-alarm fire. Lugoff-Fire Department Chief Dennis Ray noted how well the firefighters worked to stop the fire from spreading. All first responders to the fire were recognized during June’s Elgin Town Council meeting. 

On lighter notes for the month of May, Kershaw County School District named 4th Grade Jackson Elementary Teacher Amanda Harris as the 2014-2015 Teacher of the Year on May 4. Kershaw County School District Superintendent Frank Morgan said judges praised Harris for her teaching methods and student engagement. 

In May, the C-I also reported on Elgin native Brooklyn Mack’s exceptional rise to stardom in the competitive world of international ballet. In April of 2015, Mack was a part of the first duo of African-American dancers to perform the lead roles in Swan Lake with a major dance company. When speaking about earning the role Mack said he worked and trained very hard, so he wasn’t surprised when he was selected for the role. But, he was honored. “I was humbled and honored to be a part of that, break down some barriers and hopefully bring about change and make that something that is not out of the ordinary. I hope that this is inspiration for everyone but especially for other minority youths who have never seen someone portraying these kinds of roles,” Mack said.

During the end of May, the United Way of Kershaw County added finishing touches to its first transitional men’s shelter on Gordon Street. The finishing touches included a much needed roof installed by Ageless Restoration, a Camden business. New Day on Mill Program Director Harriet Reid said the business provided some shingles for the roof and labor after hearing about the shelter’s needs. 

June

As Charleston, South Carolina and the nation mourned the June 18 shooting of nine Emanuel AME Church members, Kershaw County leaders also reflected on the tragedy and remembered the victims. District 27 Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden worked alongside Emanuel AME’s pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney. “I met Clem when I was elected to the House and he had just moved over to the senate in 2001. Then I really got to know him when I was elected to the Senate, which was in 2004. I thought I was the youngest senator. I always thought Clem was older than me back then. He always looked so distinguished...,” Sheheen said. “So we got to be friends then. We both sat on the back row. We’ve always sat close to each other and this year we sat beside each other.” Rev. Marion Bennett, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Lugoff, said Roof’s acts were against not only a targeted group of people, but on the church itself. “We’re saddened by the fact nine innocent lives were lost. I see it personally as a hate crime but also an attack on the church,” Bennett said. “Our voices as a community, state and nation need to come together and not let it have an effect on our lives. We need to iron out our differences and learn to live together as a people.”

June also saw a new addition at the Camden Archives and Museum: a custom designed interactive kiosk which was programmed with a number of videos featuring Ross Beard talking about the extensive collection the archives now houses. The information goes into detail about the items on display, but also gives insights into many items still in storage which have yet to be featured in the museum’s displays. “It’s literally as simple as touching the screen,” Curator Rickie Good said. “It’s very, very easy to use – much simpler than a computer system, which is what we were first considering.”

July

In late June, Dale Thiel passed away at the age of 83, which came nearly two years after that of his wife, the late Judy Thiel, leaving a huge void in Camden’s equine community as well as other areas. The C-I reported on Thiel’s passing in July and looked back on the life and influence of Dale Thiel. Thiel was the director of the Camden steeplechase races on a “temporary” basis for 15 years until his retirement in 1990, but his impact was also felt on the Camden Hunt, what is now Camden Hunt Country, show jumping in Camden as well as steeplechasing and thoroughbred racing.

Another prominent figure in the equestrian world passed away during the summer, Sylvia Upton “Sibby” Wood. Wood, a long-time resident of Camden, was remembered for her sunny, down-to-earth demeanor, good natured competitive spirit and generosity. She was also an enthusiastic supporter of the arts. “She was behind so many things -- so generous with her time and her enthusiasm for Camden and everything she did for Camden will really be missed,” long-time friend Sally Brown said. 

July also saw the arrests of an Elgin police officer and a former Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) deputy. Deputies arrested Douglas James Barton, 41, after a 911 hangup call came in to dispatchers. Barton was charged with second-degree criminal domestic violence and was suspended from the Elgin Police department. Also in July, Former Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) deputy Nakia Karrien Johnson was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a series of sexual acts with a child less than 11 years old. 

A major development with emergency management services (EMS) occurred in July:  EMS would operate as part of the Kershaw County government. Since December 2014, county officials said, the county and KershawHealth -- which previously operated EMS -- have worked hard on the transition, necessitated by the hospital’s pending lease/sale to Capella Healthcare of Franklin, Tenn.

Nearly a month after the tragic church shooting in Charleston, a Confederate battle flag was hung from a downtown Camden office building. Whoever was responsible cut the letters H A T E out of the middle of the flag, which caught the attention of people driving down Broad Street near the main intersection with DeKalb Street. The flag was removed and taken to the Camden Police Department.

A big crime story from July involved four men -- two from Lugoff, one from McBee and one from Sumter – being arrested in a Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) prostitution sting in Lugoff. Deputies arrested and charged Corey James Gripper, 44, of Lugoff; Antonio Adrian Perez, 34, also of Lugoff; Quinton Jamal Shaw, 28, from Sumter; and Lucious Levon Green, 51, of McBee, each with solicitation of prostitution. KCSO deputies conducted an “online” undercover operation in which numerous male subjects contacted an undercover officer by phone and text message to meet at a Lugoff hotel for paid sexual favors. Each of the men and the undercover deputy made arrangements which, ultimately, led to the men meeting an undercover female deputy. A surveillance and arrest team, stationed nearby, took the suspects into custody without any resistance.

July also saw the bizarre case of James Fletcher “Les” Spires who eluded the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department (LCSD) for 18 months. Spires had been staying in a Camden office building eluding jail time and fines for numerous church-related scams in which he’d raise funds for fraudulent ministry and missions activities. Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said Spires managed to “stay off the grid” with the help of a system and a network of associates and family members. Spires had been sentenced to one year in jail and fined more than $27,000 in connection to unpaid child support payments when he began hiding.

August

Camden High School and Kershaw County suffered the loss of another student in August with the death of 17-year-old Robert Edmond “Drew” David IV who died from injuries he received in a one-vehicle crash. The Kershaw County School District (KCSD) said Drew would have soon been entering his senior year at Camden High School (CHS) and was a popular member of the Bulldog football and baseball teams. CHS Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Jimmy Neal said Drew was an ideal student/athlete on and off the field. “Our hearts go out to the entire David family and the whole community at this loss...” Neal said. “The students are too young to have to go to through this. I’m 59 and I’m too young. We appreciate all Drew has meant to our athletic department and to our school.”

Haier America, with help from Gov. Nikki Haley, officially broke ground on the $72 million expansion to the company’s existing $40 million Camden manufacturing facility in July. The project will increase the square footage of the plant from the current 365,000 to 550,000 and is expected to add 410 new full-time jobs during the next five years, growing the plant’s production by approximately 50 percent.

Powerful August thunderstorms made headlines when they knocked out power to most if not all of Camden along with other city of Camden electric customers. Blinding lightning flashes struck around the city, causing minor damage at KershawHealth and, possibly setting fire to a barn on Firetower Farm Road. Strong winds knocked tree limbs onto power lines or knocked power lines on to roadways. 

Camden High School and Lugoff-Elgin High School raised a combined total of $67,144 for the United Way of Kershaw County (UWKC) during the first week of school, leading up to the first football game of the season for CHS and L-EHS. L-EHS led the way in donations by contributing more than $40,000. “We worked with lots of different clubs, businesses and students. This was a team effort and it is really neat to see everyone come together for one goal,” L-EHS Student Government Advisor Kelley Little said. 

And finally for August, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England replied to an invitation from Historic Camden inviting her to the Battle of Camden commemoration. Historic Camden officially received word that the queen would not be able to attend the commemoration, via a letter from The Queen’s Senior Correspondence Officer, Sonia Bonici. “I am sorry to send you a disappointing reply. Nevertheless, I am to convey The Queen’s warm good wishes to you and to all those who will be present, for a most memorable and successful ceremony and tribute to those who lost their lives in the battle, in the year 1780,” Bonici wrote.

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