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2017 in review

There was good news, bad news and news that fell somewhere in-between across Atmore and the surrounding area in 2017, including the controversial consolidation of a local elementary school with two other schools, the 50th anniversary of a local business and one of its employees, and a state football championship.

There were also a spate of August murders and arrests for previous murders, a destructive fire that heavily damaged a local factory, high-dollar embezzlement within the workings of Poarch Band of Creek Indians and one of the most blatant examples of child abuse in local history.

The top stories of the year, in no particular order:

Golden Anniversary
The Matthews family — siblings Dale Matthews Ash, Cindy Matthews Colville and Hooper Matthews III —celebrated the 50th year that the family has operated Pepsi Cola Bottling of Atmore, which was purchased by their parents, Hooper Matthews Jr. and Merle Mathews, in 1967.

The family members were joined by about 300 employees, friends and business associates at a luncheon to mark the milestone, which also represented the 50th year of company employment for Webb Nall.

$1M in rip-offs
Three Atmore women were sentenced in federal court in August for their part in two different schemes that cost Poarch Band of Creek Indians and Wind Creek Casino more than a half-million dollars each.

Carolyn Dortch, the senior services director for Poarch Band of Creek Indians, was ordered to serve five years on probation for using fake receipts to steal more than $500,000 over a period of several years.

Jasmine Hansell, 26, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison; her mother, 50-year-old Gunilla Marshall, was ordered to serve five years on special-conditions probation. The two were arrested after auditors reportedly discovered that Hansell downloaded more than half a million dollars on “free play” cards that she gave to her mother.

Education consolidation
Escambia County BOE members approved after several meetings with the public a consolidation plan that would shut down A.C. Moore Elementary School and send all its incoming 4th-graders to Escambia County Middle School and its incoming 3rd-graders to Rachel Patterson Elementary School.

Many teachers and parents voiced concern over the move, but school officials announced during a September breakfast meeting of Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce that the school consolidation was “going smoothly.”

August murders
Two murders occurred within days of each other during the year’s hottest month, and an arrest was made in a murder that was committed in April.

A Camden resident, 31-year-old Shawn Oneil Quarles, who had been staying at Patterson Street Apartments for several months, was gunned down in a case of mistaken identity as he pedaled his bicycle along Ann Street.

Four days later, Robert Kennedy, 56, of Atmore and 45-year-old Joi McClammy of Flomaton were shot by a trio of intruders who forced their way into Kennedy’s home as he and his female companion lay in bed. Kennedy later died from his wounds, while McClammy eventually recovered.

Darrell Octavius Brown, 29, was arrested in November, along with a Mobile man and a juvenile, in connection with Kennedy’s death. In November, as Brown remained in the county jail, he was charged in the April murder of Donta Demorris Russell.

New coach
Less than four months after Rico Jackson guided Aliceville to the Class 2A state football title, he was hired to rebuild the floundering Escambia County High School football program, which won state championships in 1974 and 1983 but last made a postseason appearance in 2010.

Jackson and his coaching staff laid a solid foundation for future success, but the Blue Devils lost their last seven games after a 2-1 start and wound up with the same 2-8 record as posted by former coach Royce Young’s last team.

Twice as nice
Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce broke with tradition and named two individuals to share Citizen of the Year honors.

Tom Tschida, a volunteer with Pride of Atmore Committee and numerous other organizations, and Conrad Weber, whose Escambia County High School choir earned an invitation to appear at this year’s Festival at Carnegie Hall, were named co-winners of the award during the Chamber’s annual banquet. The dual selections reportedly marked the first time that two individuals who were not related shared the honor.

The Chamber also named United Bank its Business of the Year; Dale Ash was recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Destructive fire
A July blaze leveled the main production facility of Tiger-Sul, a manufacturer of sulfur-based specialty fertilizers, and left many company employees without a job until the facility can be rebuilt.

The fire, which was discovered in the early morning hours, sent sulfur-laden smoke into the air all around the plant, forcing a “shelter in place” order that sent hundreds inside their homes for hours and forced the temporary evacuation of nearby Alto Products. Company officials say they plan to rebuild the factory.

State champs
Escambia Academy got over a major stumbling block by outplaying arch-rival Autauga Academy for a 30-20 win that gave them the AISA Class AA state football championship.

The Cougars, who also won the state title in 2014, had fallen to the Generals in each of their last three meetings, including the 2017 regular-season contest and the 2016 state title tilt.

Human trafficking
The community was shocked when news broke in July of the arrests of a grandmother who is charged with accepting money from her 87-year-old boyfriend in exchange for allowing him to have sex with her 13-year-old granddaughter.

Charges ranging from first-degree rape to first-degree human trafficking, promoting prostitution and enticing a child were lodged against Mary Lue Daw and Charles Clarence Stacey.

The child’s mother, 37-year-old Melissa Deann Stoker was later arrested when investigators determined that she knew of her daughter’s sexual abuse but continued to leave her in Daw’s care.

Stoker was eventually released on bond, but the bond was revoked in December when Atmore police learned that she was staying at a home where there were young children. Stacey was released on special-conditions bond and remained free at year’s end, while Daw has remained behind bars since her arrest.

Some of the other stories of local significance or interest that occurred in 2017 included

The remains of former Atmore resident Walter Henry Sollie, who died Dec. 7, 1941 in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, were returned to his family for interment in Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola.

Popular postal clerk Chuck Ferguson retired after working 23 years and 20 days at the Atmore Post Office.

Two local seniors were selected by the Fort Mims Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the Revolution as DAR Good Citizens. The honorees were Bailey Colleen Lancaster of Escambia Academy and Ziah Hassani Young of Escambia County High School.

More than 1,000 people witnessed Atmore’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade.

Atmore City Council members approved issuance of a warrant deed that cleared the way for construction of a new Sonic restaurant at Rivercane.

A Wesleyan Covenant Service was held at Atmore’s First United Methodist Church to celebrate the refurbishing of the church sanctuary.

Alabama Power Foundation awarded a $2,500 Power to Play Grant to ECHS’s choir program for the purchase of gowns and tuxedoes for students who were to perform as part of a nationwide mass choir during Festival at Carnegie Hall.

Three Escambia Academy student-athletes — Kris Brown, Trae Lee and Drew Parker — were awarded scholarships to compete at the college level. Lee earned a football scholarship to Navy; Brown a football scholarship to Mississippi College; and Parker a baseball scholarship at Coastal Alabama Community College.
Rainy January-Bell, a 2012 graduate of ECHS, graduated magna cum laude from Alabama A&M University with a BS in Computer Science.

Gov. Kay Ivey appointed Atmore native Steve Marshall as the state’s Attorney General.

Presiding Circuit Judge Bert Rice was recognized at the Alabama Judges Winter Meeting for completing 300 hours of judicial teaching education.

Escambia Academy weightlifters Trae Lee (heavyweight), Kris Brown (middleweight) and Chase Bell (lightweight) set new AISA state records.

Atmore officials learned that the city had been awarded a $200,000 grant from Delta Regional Authority for construction of an access road from Alabama 21 into Rivercane Industrial Park.

Greater Mount Triumph Missionary Baptist Church celebrated its 130th anniversary.

Atmore resident Bradley Dortch landed a 4-day total of 20 bass weighing a total of 73 pounds, 9 ounces to win the Fishing League Worldwide bass tournament in Leesburg, Fla.

Four people, all living undetected in an elderly resident’s apartment, were arrested on drug charges at Point Escambia, a complex for senior and disabled persons. Charged with possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine) and possession of drug paraphernalia were Thomas “Tommy” Smith (48), Kimberly Fuller Smith (47), Casey Lynn Wall (44) and Owen Casey Orem (44).

John English’s calf was fifth in Class 15 Junior Showmanship at the 2017 Alabama Junior Beef Expo.

Concrete contractors poured the slab for the Brown Precision manufacturing facility that is under construction at Rivercane.

Derek James Staples, 28, was arrested on drug trafficking charges after a search of his Harris Street home turned up more than a kilo of marijuana packaged for sale.

Five people — William America, Earl Etheridge, Dr. W.T. Hall, Howard Shell and Edmund Staff — were inducted into the Atmore Area Hall of Fame.
Escambia Academy’s track team won its third straight AISA state meet; the school’s 4×100 relay team — Kris Brown, Fred Flavors, Patrick McGhee and Louie Turner — set a new state record.

Donta Demorris Russell, 20, was shot to death inside his car at the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Old Ship Circle.

An Atmore man — Dante Maurice Haynes, 38 — was arrested on drug possession and distribution charges after a search of his home, which faces the back of now-vacant A.C. Moore Elementary School, revealed powder cocaine and crack cocaine.

Presley Street Baptist Church Pastor Mike Grindle fulfilled a promise to himself and his congregation when he walked into the church under his own power and delivered the Easter sermon from his wheelchair. The pastor, who died June 24, had been told in 2016 that he had less than a year to live.

Traffic backed up along Alabama 21, just off Interstate 65, as Atmore’s Sonic restaurant finally experienced its long-anticipated opening.

Two semi-trailers full of discarded devices and appliances were collected during Poarch’s electronics recycling event.

Jacinda Stahly of Atmore graduated from Eastern Mennonite University with a BA in Music Performance.

Three local residents, including the owner of a local restaurant, lost their lives as the result of a violent head-on collision on Jack Springs Road. Christopher Henry Lowe, 37, owner of Brickyard BBQ, was killed in the crash, as was 22-year-old Shalonda Trenee Rudolph. Jay’Ceon Jermain Howard, 4-year-old child who was a passenger in Rudolph’s car, died four days later.

Atmore native and Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Lyn Stuart was the keynote speaker for the annual Law Day observance at the county courthouse.
Gunfire erupted during a Patterson Street vigil for Donta Demorris Russell, 20, who was killed inside his car on Martin Luther King Drive in April.

Five local students — James McKinley (Master of Business Administration); Caitlyn Bruley (BS, Nursing); Colton Cumbie (BA, Communication and Information Science); Jamieka McMorris (BS, Commerce and Business Administration); and Sarah Ziglar (BS, Education) — graduated from the University of Alabama.
Escambia Academy upper-grades teacher Bobbi Sasser was named AISA Class AA Teacher of the Year.

About 150 people of all ages attended the citywide National Day of Prayer observance held at ECHS’s Cornell Torrence Gymnasium.

Thousands attended the annual Mayfest celebration at Tom Byrne Park.

Escambia County High School Principal Dennis Fuqua announced that graduating seniors had received $4.3 million in scholarships and grants-in-aid, a new record for the school.

Atmore Rotary Club handed out $17,000 in scholarships — including the Randolph Luttrell Scholarship, which went to Jade Adams, and the William and Mary Grissett Scholarship, which was presented to Ziah Young — during its annual Academic All-Stars awards banquet.

Susan Helton, who earned an associate’s degree in nursing, and her daughter, Karen Eiland, who earned an AD in Veterinary Technology, graduated together from Coastal Alabama Community College. Susan graduated summa cum laude and was valedictorian of her class.

County commissioners approved a one-cent, countywide sales tax to help offset a series of budget shortfalls. The new tax, which went into effect July 1, was expected to raise $2.7 million per year.

Principals in David’s Catfish House announced that they would be opening Gather, the only upscale dining establishment in Atmore’s downtown.

Jaime LeAnne McCoy of Atmore, office manager for a local real estate company, was arrested on first-degree theft charges after she allegedly embezzled several thousands of dollars from the company.

Incumbent Tribal Chairman Stephanie Bryan and incumbent At-Large Tribal Council members Arthur Mothershed and Garvis Sells were re-elected to the tribe’s governing body.

The Gamma Omega Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma awarded its annual Annie Ruth White Grant-In-Aid Scholarships to Escambia Academy’s Sarah Elizabeth McGill and Escambia County High School’s Ziah Young.

Atmore native Evander Holyfield, who won four world heavyweight boxing titles, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Lt. Col. Gerry L. Jackson, an Atmore native and a 1988 graduate of ECHS, relinquished command of the U.S. Army’s 352nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.

Poarch Creek Indians’ Park at OWA, a $500 million entertainment, shopping and dining complex near Foley, was recognized as the state’s largest creator of jobs for the year. The $361 million invested in 2017 was the state’s second-largest business investment of the year.

Atmore Memorial VFW Auxiliary earned two National Chief of Staff Awards and several program awards at the Alabama VFW Convention in Birmingham. Chapter President Gayle Johnson was the group’s Auxiliary President of the Year.

Local crops, inundated by rain over a period of several weeks, lay rotting and drowning in fields after Tropical Storm Cindy dumped up to seven inches of rain on parts of the county.

Robert Thrower, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for Poarch Band of Creek Indians, was killed in a single-vehicle mishap on U.S. 29 in the Dixie community.
Bob Jones, president and CEO of United Bank, was elected as chair of the Community Development Bankers Association.

Daniel Ray Raybon, 30, was charged with attempted murder after a passerby reportedly saw him trying to drown a woman in Perdido Creek.

Kevin Bishop, a senior corrections supervisor at G.K. Fountain Correctional Facility and a staff sergeant in the Alabama Army National Guard, was awarded the U.S. Army Soldier’s Medal for his part in quelling an inmate uprising at nearby W.C. Holman Correctional Facility. The medal is the highest honor the Army bestows on a reserve officer who acts with valor in a non-combat situation.

David’s Catfish House in Atmore was chosen as Bama’s Best Catfish Restaurant in a contest sponsored by Alabama Catfish Producers.

A county deputy’s traffic stop brought two decades of freedom to an end for 60-year-old Texas parolee Ricky Lee Waters, who fled that state and established a quiet life in Atmore after being convicted of several violent acts in the Lone Star State.

Escambia Academy’s Victoria Sawyer was chosen first alternate in the Escambia County Distinguished Young Women scholarship program that was won by T.R. Miller student Tori Knapp.

Escambia County Probate Judge Doug Agerton announced that software had been installed that allowed for the filing of most documents at the satellite courthouse in Atmore, eliminating the need to drive to Brewton for such filings.

Atmore Area Christian Care Ministry began accepting applications for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and assisting applicants in filing for the assistance.

Murder suspect Andre Henderson, wanted in connection with a fatal shooting on the streets of a Boston, Mass. neighborhood, was captured in Atmore, where he had been hiding for more than a month.

Thousands of locals either watched in person or viewed television coverage of the first solar eclipse visible in the United States since 1979. Several local schools made a viewing of the celestial event a part of their science classes.

Escambia Academy defeated Abbeville Christian for the first win in a season that would end with the Cougars capturing the AISA Class AA state title.

Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks and Escambia County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mike Lambert announced that Atmore’s police jurisdiction had been expanded, allowing APD officers to patrol areas that were previously patrolled by deputies.

Cindy Johnson, a former teacher who became known throughout the area as Miss Tippy Toes for her Christian outreach ministry aimed at children, passed away at her home in Brewton from the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

An Atmore man, 22-year-old Ladarius Jamaal Crenshaw, was arrested for the August 3 murder of Shawn Oneil Quarles.

Jane Lee Russell, a 65-year-old Atmore woman, was killed when a fire ravaged her Carver Street home.

Mitzi Fitzpatrick, who worked for more than 45 years in an administrative capacity at Escambia Academy, was inducted into the Alabama Independent School Association’s Hall of Fame.

Keyaira Wilson and Sydnie Lassiter were chosen as homecoming queens at Escambia County High School and Escambia Academy, respectively.

The Blue Legion, ECHS’s marching band, under the direction of Hayley Cockrell, was selected as Most Entertaining Band and received Superior ratings in all phases during a competition in Daleville.

Barnetta Williams, once Atmore’s oldest living citizen, died just two weeks short of her 110th birthday. Williams was living with her great-granddaughter in Philadelphia, where she moved in 2016 at age 108 at the time of her passing.

Atmore resident Timmy Joe Sprinkle, 32, and 63-year-old Susan M. Moore of Hollywood, Fla. were killed in a single-vehicle accident on Dailey Road in the Freemanville community. Two days later, another single-vehicle accident, on Butler Street in Atmore’s police jurisdiction, claimed the life of Clinton Cole Gregson, 20, of Uriah.

United Bank president and CEO Bob Jones was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve on the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Advisory Board.

Muskogee Inn, a part of the local business community for more than 30 years, closed its doors.

William Howell, a student at Escambia Academy, earned his Eagle Scout ranking.

Voncile Stallworth was recognized for 40 years of service as an instructor with Bethlehem District Association #2’s departments of Ushers and Christian Home.

Wind-driven rain and cold temperatures kept attendance down at the community’s annual Williams Station Day celebration.

James Hamilton “Jamie” Scott was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 2015 slaying of his brother, Tony Scott.
Sheryl Vickery retired after several years as executive director of Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce.

The fund for construction of a new Splash Pad children’s water park reached $150,000 as local businesses and individuals continued to pledge financial support for the project, which is a joint effort of Atmore Rotary Club, Atmore Lions Club and City of Atmore.

ASAP EMS was granted a business license, marking the first time since 2009 that two ambulance services operated within the city and its police jurisdiction at the same time.

Escambia Academy’s Cougars polished off a dream season with a 30-20 win over arch-rival Autauga Academy to claim the AISA Class AA football title.

Escambia County Board of Education members voted themselves a pay increase, from $600 per month to $800 per month.

Just 10 days after leading EA’s football team to the state championship, Hugh Fountain was named headmaster of the local independent school.

City officials announced that Atmore Fire Department resources would no longer respond to non-emergency medical calls except under certain circumstances.

Scottie Rodgers, a 1991 ECHS graduate, was named as the Sun Belt Conference’s Associate Commissioner for Strategic Communications.

A downtown revitalization effort, fueled by a Creative Placemaking grant from Delta Regional Authority, gained some traction as several business owners opened shops or stores along Main, Ridgeley, Church and other streets.

A rare December snowfall left the city and county nestled in a blanket of white and sent excited adults and youngsters outside to enjoy the experience.

Five Escambia Academy football players — Jojo Nance, Louie Turner, Fred Flavors, Jamie Welker and JoJo Carpenter — were selected to play in the AISA All-Star Football Game.

Perry Metzler, a student at Troy University, was listed in Who’s Who Among Students at American Colleges and Universities.

Escambia County Middle School fourth-graders and Rachel Patterson Elementary School third-graders combined to capture six of the Top 10 spots in Imagine Math’s Alabama Do Math! Pay it Forward contest. ECMS was the top school overall.

Atmore officials announced as the year came to a close that a new recycling program was in the works. The city’s recyclables collection center was closed since late October.

LA Bikers Motorcycle Club conducted its annual Toyz for Kidz Ride, which delivered toys to 41 children of needy families within an area that stretches from Bratt, Fla. to Brewton and Atmore. The annual bike ride was one of many local programs that collected toys, food, clothing and other items for less-fortunate families during Christmas.

The year 2017 ended with cold temperatures. The low Sunday evening, December 31, was 32 with lows expected in the teens and low 20s for several nights.