The Daily Journal staff voted on a wide selection of news stories, and the following are summaries of the top 10 news stories of 2012 chosen by the staff, and are in no particular order.
Several big stories that broke this year have yet to play themselves out, such as criminal cases which are still under investigation or pending in court.
NASCAR’s return to The Rock
NASCAR surprised everyone, and made a historic move, when eight years after leaving the Rockingham Speedway, the racing association came back. NASCAR had never before returned to a track it left. Andy Hillenburg, owner of Rockingham Speedway, had SAFER walls installed beginning in November 2011 as part of an effort to keep up to date with NASCAR regulations. The walls cost more than $1 million and bolstered turns one through four and the back stretch.
The inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was presented by Cheerwine on Sunday, April 15, 2012. NASCAR officially returned to town on Thursday evening, April 12, when the big rigs representing various companies and teams rode through downtown Rockingham. County Manager and Economic Development Director Rick Sago said the return of NASCAR brought a sense of pride to the county and made a positive impact on Richmond County’s economy.
“The obvious impact is the addition of several thousand fans to Richmond County for several days. These fans will bring an immediate economic impact for the Speedway, the hotels, motels, restaurants, gas stations etc. All of these businesses and others will reap the benefit of the money that the fans will spend in Richmond County during their stay,” he said.
“Richmond County will once again receive the national exposure that a NASCAR event brings. Also the corporate sponsors that will attend the event may someday be looking for expansion opportunities and they will have been exposed to Richmond County and its economic development assets,” Sago said.
NASCAR will be visiting The Rock once more in the coming year. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will come back for the April 14, 2013, 200-mile race. Tickets are currently on sale and will be mailed out Feb. 11, 2013.
Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.rockinghamspeedway.com or by calling 910-205-8800.
Discovery Place advances
Discovery Place KIDS-Rockingham is an interactive learning and play museum designed for the children of the greater Sandhills region. Months of planning and capital campaigning have lead to a slew of private donations, and the upfitting of the old McKenzie Furniture building could be seen from the outside when driving by on East Washington Street in Rockingham. A media tour of the inside was held once flooring and lights had been installed, and newly established Museum Director Katie Rohleder guided the tour, explaining which exhibits would go inside the museum and what their main goals were.
Exhibit installation has been going on for about three months after the exterior, sign, facade and sidewalk were finished. The Discovery Place, Inc. Media Relations staff announced the tentative opening date that has been set for February 2013. Hand-tiles can be ordered on which your child can have their hand-print glazed for a $50 donation to the museum, and the tiles are set to be displayed on a large inside wall.
City Officials confirmed in November that Rockingham’s former police chief Robert Voorhees was indicted by a grand jury for allegedly embezzling money from a police bank account.
Voorhees resigned from his job as chief of police in February 2012. His letter of resignation said he resigned to “further challenge myself professionally and continue to grow my career.” He had worked for the department for 21 years, and served as chief for about 10 years.
The criminal case was investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation, and a special prosecutor, according to city officials. The grand jury issued a true bill of indictment charging Voorhees with one count of embezzlement of $33,000.
At the time of his resignation, city leaders and officials wished Voorhees well in his new ventures.
Leak Street community says goodbye to school
Richmond County Schools moved the students of Leak Street School to the Ashely Chapel School, which now houses the Alternative School and the Leak Street School. The Leak Street School building was deemed surplus by Richmond County Schools at a public hearing held to receive comments about the closing. Former Leak Street teacher and principal J.C. Watkins spoke on behalf of the community and school, with many former students and members of Leak Street Alumni in the audience. Watkins said the closing is sad, but he will not protest the plans.
Bones found in well
Skeletal remains were found in July at an abandoned TNS cotton mill on Lee Street in Rockingham. The remains were discovered by 26-year-old Walter Burlington, an amateur photographer from Charlotte who said he saw the bones and clothing at the bottom of a well.
According to Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly, the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the remains are those of Cecil Collins, a 58-year-old Rockingham man who had been missing since January 2009. Kelly said they were able to x-ray a broken bone in his left arm and were able to match them 100 percent.
The entrance to the well is located inside a small pump house on the property.
Inside the 15-foot deep well is a metal beam, Kelly said, and the injuries that were found by the medical examiner may have been caused by Collins falling and striking the metal beam, or from blunt force.
The cause of death may have been an accident but the case is still under investigation.
Hamlet Police Chief fired
Hamlet Police Chief John Haywood was terminated in September after working for the department for 20 years.
According to a statement released by Hamlet City Manager Marchell David to the Daily Journal, after a written request was submitted, “The chief’s approval of the disposition of city property (seized vehicles). The failure to keep accurate records of financial transactions in the police department. The failure to run all financial matters through the proper channels,” were cited as the “events that lead up to the dismissal.”
Haywood said the situation started in January when the police department was cleaning up its firing range and needed to get rid of seized vehicles, some of which were over 20 years old. The cars were taken to be salvaged per court order, and Officer Michael Veach collected the funds, he said.
While Haywood said the money was only spent on departmental improvements, he admitted he didn’t go through the appropriate channels.
Haywood said that when he was approached by the city manager, she had the termination papers already drafted. Upon discussing the matter further, David extended him the opportunity to resign, but Haywood declined.
Store owner killed in robbery
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office arrested two men on Nov. 30, after a breaking and entering at the Normal General Store that left the store owner, Michael Leverne Collins Sr., 53, dead. The suspects, Alexander Ingram, 61, of Jackson Springs and Henry Thomas Ingram, 50, of Candor, were both charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon and murder. According to Sheriff James Clemmons, the men are cousins. Both men have extensive criminal records, according to the North Carolina judicial system, dating back to the late ’70s and early ’80s, including breaking and enterings, assaults, possessions of firearms, and both have served multiple jail and prison sentences.
Fire claims the life of 13 year-old boy
Garon Wayne Benson, 13, was killed in a fire at his home in East Rockingham on Nov. 18, according to Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. Around 4:35 a.m. that morning, East Rockingham Fire Department and Cordova Fire Department were dispatched to a structure fire at 268 Safie 2nd St. in East Rockingham.
Two people escaped the home. Garon’s mother, Mandy Carpenter, was transported to FirstHealth then to UNC Chapel Hill Burn Center for third degree burns. Carpenter’s husband, David Carpenter, 29, was treated by EMS, Clemmons said. The fire did appear to be an accident, officials said.
The death of Garon has weighed heavily on neighbors, friends, classmates and family alike. Due to his age, Richmond County Schools arranged to have extra counselors on staff for grieving students and classmates. More than 100 bikers from the region gathered a week later on Nov. 25, in Rockingham, for a benefit ride for Garon and his surviving family. Collectively, nearly $4,000 was raised by the event, which was presented to David Carpenter later that night.
State seeks death penalty in child murder case
Julius Juan Lilly, 39, of 3206 Ledbetter Road, Ellerbe, is facing charges of first degree murder and felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury, in the death of his girlfriend’s daughter, Reba Lynn Marie Ryan.
According to the indictment, Lilly “unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did intentionally commit an assault that resulted in serious bodily injury, laceration of the liver and subdural hematoma to the right side of the head on Reba Marie Lynn Ryan … At the time the defendant inflicted the injuries, the defendant was providing care for the child as boyfriend of the child’s mother.”
According to the North Carolina Department of Correction, Lilly has been convicted of crimes in Stanly and Montgomery counties and spent time in state prison. Lilly’s record includes convictions of assault on a female, wanton injury to personal property, misdemeanor breaking and entering and communicating threats in Montgomery County.
End of year traffic deaths
The end of 2012 saw a rash of traffic accidents that claimed several lives.
• A slippery road and speeding were factors in a wreck Nov. 27 that involved two teenage girls who were not wearing seat-belts, according to police. Allison Butler, 17, of Rockingham, died in the crash. Mikayla Boone, 17, was driving the car, police said. Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly said the wreck occurred on Aslington Street in Rockingham at 3:15 p.m. According to Kelly, “It appears the driver went off the right side of the road, which caused her to roll several times.” Kelly said Butler was ejected from the vehicle and died.
• A collision that took place between two vehicles on East Broad Avenue in Rockingham claimed the life of 9-year-old Jody Williams and injured his grandmother Emma Williams, and is still under investigation. The car that struck Williams’ car was driven by Christopher Scott Goodwin, 44, of Rockingham, according to the crash report. Goodwin was driving with Angela Rene Goodwin, 41, in the front passenger seat of his 2004 Volkswagen, the police report said. Williams was driving her daughter-in-law’s 1997 Dodge, with grandson Jody as a passenger. The report shows that Goodwin was exceeding the posted speed limit for that section of East Broad Avenue. He was driving 60 mph in a 45 mph speed zone, headed northwest, according to the report.
• A 29-year-old Ellerbe man was killed when riding on the back of a moped being driven by his father. The N.C. State Highway Patrol determined the 2008 scooter was being driven by 49-year-old Larry Miller Sr. around 10 p.m. on Railroad Street in Ellerbe with his son, Larry Jr., riding on the back. A 1995 Honda approached the scooter from behind and struck it. Both riders were thrown from the bike, and the son died at the scene as a result of his injuries while the father was not seriously injured. Jason Parsons, 24, of Sandy Ridge Church Road, Ellerbe, is charged with failure to reduce speed and misdemeanor death by motor vehicle.
• According to the N.C. State Highway Patrol, a tractor-trailer had moved to a shoulder and while parked was hit from behind by a white Ford work van when the driver of the van fell asleep. The van had five passengers who were heading home to South Carolina after installing flooring at Fort Bragg. The collision caused the side of the van to be torn off, and the passengers were pinned in the vehicle. Trooper Russell Corry said the call came at 1:29 p.m. Two passengers who were not wearing seat belts were ejected from the vehicle, according to Highway Patrol. Trooper Corry said he suspects a third passenger wasn’t wearing a seat belt, which may have contributed to his death. Jeffrey Louis McKee, 42, of Rock Hill, lost his life in the wreck, Highway Patrol said. The collision occurred almost a mile south of Hamlet, on N.C. Highway 74, just past Exit 38, before the bridge. Two patients and the deceased were taken to FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital in Rockingham, and the other two were taken to Sandhills Regional Hospital.
• A two-vehicle collision at the intersection of Northam Road and Snead Road in Rockingham turned fatal Nov. 16. Courtney Deese, 27, of Rockingham, was killed in the collision after another vehicle failed to stop at a stop sign, according to N.C. State Highway Patrol. Deese’s three children, Ethan, Chase and Kylee, all between the ages of five and eight were passengers in the vehicle driven by Deese.
— This report was compiled by Staff Writers Dawn M. Kurry, Cassidy Odom and Laura Edington.