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2015 Year in Review - Part 1
New officials, freezing temperatures and restaurant seizure mark first third of year
Old Armory Front
A handwritten Closed sign is taped to the front door of the Old Armory Steak & Seafood restaurant on Rutledge Street in Camden. Internal Revenue Service agents, accompanied by Camden police officers, seized the restaurant due to unpaid federal taxes. - photo by C-I file photo

As 2015 ends, it’s natural to look back at the events which shaped the year. Today, the Chronicle-Independent reviews the news from January to April we believe made an impact on Kershaw County’s communities. Friday, we’ll look at stories from May to August, and end Jan. 5 with the events from September to December.

January

With the 2014 general election nearly two months in the past, early January saw several newly elected officials take their posts. David West became the county’s coroner, while Debbie Brabham took the bench as the county’s probate judge. Dr. Charles King II returned to the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees after a four-year absence as Mark Sury became the board’s newest member. The county welcomed new Kershaw County Council chairman Julian Burns, while long-time businessman Dennis Arledge joined the council. Soon, voters in county council District 1 will choose who will replace Willie Mickle, who resigned in November.

As January began, KershawHealth continued dealing with an ongoing surge of flu cases stretching back to the end of September 2014. For the week ending Dec. 27, 2014, KershawHealth recorded 215 positive rapid flu tests. Since the week ending Oct. 4, 2014, KershawHealth reported a total of 553 positive flu cases, which matched the entire flu season from a year before. Some people had to be hospitalized during the tough flu season, although they had begun to decline by early January. Statewide, the flu was considered widespread with 28,667 confirmed flu cases compared to only 13,966 a year earlier.

At the end of January, the C-I made some news of its own, announcing the return of long-time favorite writer Jim Tatum. Tatum, who had worked for the C-I previously in the late 1990s and from 2003 to 2007, returned as senior staff writer, taking back the city of Camden beat he’d started with years before. With his return, the C-I converted its long-running Localife page into People & Places with Tatum writing and newly promoted Design Editor Tenell Felder creating the page. Much later in the year, C-I Assistant Editor Gary Phillips was promoted to editor of The (Blythewood) Country Chronicle, as the C-I moved from publishing three times a week to twice weekly in October.

February

The beginning of February marked the beginning of a very tough 10 months for Camden High School (CHS). On Feb. 7, CHS served as the funeral site for junior Lomar Clark, a popular Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) cadet known for raising the American flag each and every morning of his time at the school. Clark died Jan. 30 in a single-vehicle accident while on his way to school. Unfortunately, there would be two more traffic-related fatalities of CHS students. In early August, just before the new school was to begin, CHS baseball and football player Drew David died several days after being injured in a crash not far from his home. Drew’s death impacted the community for weeks, fostering the slogans “We Are Camden” and “Camden Strong.” Then, in late November, another CHS football player, Sterling Felder, died from injuries sustained in a collision in Lugoff 10 days earlier. The three deaths lead the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office to step up patrols on the county’s secondary roads and crack down on violations of basic traffic laws.

Another death impacted CHS in February: Clyde Jones, who died at the age of 82. Jones served as the assistant coach of the 1964 undefeated championship CHS Bulldogs football team. In addition to coaching, he taught classes before becoming principal of Camden Middle School. Voters would later elect him to a seat on the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees. Friends and former players (who were often both) remembered Jones as an authority figure, a mentor, a devoted husband and father, a man of faith and a friend to many.

Vandalism in and around Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS) caused damage to the school’s auditorium and the loss of more than 400,000 gallons of water to the Lugoff-Elgin Water Authority. The vandals opened several fire hydrants around the school property early one Thursday morning, lowering pressure in water lines. Then, an alarm went off in L-EHS’ auditorium indicating the sprinkler system had activated -- something officials said had to have been done manually. Doing so damaged the stage and orchestra pit.

About a week later, freezing temperatures greeted Kershaw County residents, leading the Kershaw County School District to close North Central area schools and delay classes at other schools on one particular Tuesday. Schools and district offices opened on delayed schedules often for more than a week. Later in the year, during October’s historic flooding, schools would close again, leading the district to come up with ways to make up lost class time.

March

One of the biggest crime-related stories of the year came in early March when Nickolas Jermaine Miler, 26, finally pleaded guilty to abducting Hope Roscoe Melton of Chesterfield County in December 2011, raping her and killing her after bringing her into Kershaw County. The reason the story made an impact is because Miller originally faced the death penalty but ended up receiving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Why? Because of actions taken by former Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker, who is now in jail for misconduct in office, due to actions regarding the case. For one, Parker promised Miller he wouldn’t face the death penalty if he took deputies to Melton’s body -- something he had no authority to promise. He also allowed Chesterfield County detainees to handle evidence in the Melton case. Miller’s life sentence then became the best outcome in a tragically contaminated case.

In mid-March, Camden and Kershaw County said goodbye to one of its most prominent philanthropists when John Rainey passed away at age 73. Best known locally for his sponsorship of “Reconciliation,” the statuary depicting Larry Doby and Bernard Baruch in front of the Camden Archives and Museum, Rainey also served as director and treasurer of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and sponsored the Second Chances horse-inmate rehabilitation program at Wateree Correctional Institution. He also acted as executive producer for “Homestretch,” a documentary about the Second Chances program, and of “Corridor of Shame,” the award-winning documentary on the neglect of South Carolina’s rural schools. Rainey was also known for his attempts at reforming state politics, highlighted by his legal battle with Gov. Nikki Haley claiming she used her influence as a state legislator to settle a dispute involving an engineering firm where she once worked.

Also in March, the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees voted, 7-2, to move forward with developing a potential new referenda concerning funding for facility upgrades throughout the county. Four months earlier, voters narrowly rejected a pair of referenda calling for $130 million bond-funded upgrades and a penny sales tax to offset the necessary millage increase to go with them. March’s vote didn’t authorize new referenda, but set the stage for discussions -- including a series of public feedback meetings on facilities in September and October -- to craft such referenda if a majority of the board later determined it would be the best direction to take. Trustees plan to continue its discussions in January, plan to draft at least one referendum in February and take a vote on whether or not to move forward Feb. 16.

April

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents and Camden Police Department officers walked into the Old Armory Steakhouse during lunch in mid-April and shut the restaurant down. The IRS seized the business, under court order, because its owner, Demetrious Voulgarelis, owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal, state and unemployment taxes. Three months later, in July, the IRS auctioned the restaurant’s contents. Several days later, Ed Caraminas announced he and his brother had purchased the property and planned to open a new restaurant, which they did in mid-November.

Also in mid-April, the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office released information from March it had cleared several U.S. Marshals of any wrongdoing in the December 2014 shooting death of Lake Wateree resident Joseph Glenn Folsom. On Dec. 5, 2014, Marshals entered Folsom’s home on Blue Heron Lane in an effort to take him to federal prison, as ordered by a judge following his June 2014 conviction on four counts of interstate transportation of stolen money. A jury found Folsom guilty of stealing more than a half million dollars from a deceased client’s estate and used it for his personal gain. He failed to report to prison on his own, leading Marshals to track him down. Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson concluded the Marshals acted appropriate in shooting and killing Folsom because he swung a shotgun in their direction when they entered his bedroom.

The Upchurch & Jowers Insurance Agency and Kershaw County School District hosted their 20th annual All-County Academic Team banquet in April, inducting 32 new members from across the district. The series of honors began in 1996 when Victor Jowers decided to honor academic excellence in the same manner as the county’s all-star football team. Out of more than 10,000 seniors to graduate during those two decades, only 587 have been named to the academic team. In conjunction with work done by former educator Rebecca Stokes, the C-I ran a series of articles highlighting some of the members from the team’s first 20 years, a testament to the impact the program has had on some of the county’s best and brightest students.