2020: Year of the coronavirus

Top stories July through December


The county’s COVID count topped 500, with 13 deaths; Mayfest and A Taste of the South were canceled; and Unity in the Community was held in a drive-through fashion. A national coin shortage was also blamed on the virus.

Former resident Scottie Rodgers was named Director of Communications for the Cotton Bowl Classic football game, while Woody McCorvey, also a former resident, was selected for induction into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

Escambia County Commission Chairman Karean Reynolds resigned from that position to become Atmore’s first black Municipal Court Judge. A 19-year-old Atmore man was shot and killed at a backyard gathering, although none of those at the gathering recalled seeing the shooting, and no arrest had been made by the end of the year.


Election time brought changes to the governmental makeup of Poarch’s Tribal Council when Candace Fayard was elected to fill the at-large tribal council seat formerly held by Garvis Sells, who did not seek another term.

Voters in Atmore’s District 3 voted in Eunice Johnson, who became the first black woman to serve on the council, while Shawn Lassiter won a four-person race for the District 4 seat vacated by Susan Smith’s run for mayor.

Local healthcare officials announced the construction of a new primary care clinic for Atmore Community Hospital. Dr. Layla Lindquist-Smith and Certified Nurse Practitioner Lydia Bonner were later hired to head the medical staff.


Gov. Kay Ivey announced that one of the state’s privately run “super prisons” would be built here, and that an $80-plus million peanut shelling plant would be built along Industrial Drive. Officials of Atmore Senior Village announced the upcoming construction of a 50-unit affordable housing complex for seniors.

Hurricane Sally ripped across Atmore, flooding a large part of the city and uprooting and breaking limbs from giant trees, which fell across streets, houses and vehicles. An Atmore man was charged with murder after a body was discovered in a thicket near Nokomis. The victim had not been identified at year’s end.

On a positive note, Anna Norton was named Executive Director for Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce; local country singer Ricky Crook released his third single; and Alihyana Etheridge was named homecoming queen at ECHS.


There was a mix of good and bad news as 2020 entered its final quarter. A local youngster was killed when another vehicle tried to pass several cars in a no-passing zone and slammed into his family’s vehicle. Hurricane Zeta roared through town, ripping several metal roofs from local businesses.

About 20 people marched through downtown in protest against the continued pastorship of a local minister accused of several acts of sexual deviance, and Jack’s Family Restaurants announced it would build a restaurant here in 2021.


Loumeek White replaced Willie J. Grissett as District 5 representative on the Escambia County Board of Education after Grissett was unable to file qualifying papers in time. A local referendum, to designate the community of Canoe a landmark district, passed by a 3-1 margin.

Gabrielle Williams and Heather Knowles were named homecoming queen at, respectively, Escambia Academy (EA) and Northview High School. EA’s Cougars played in their fifth straight AISA Class AA football championship game, falling 36-34 to Chambers Academy.

Two local residents lost their lives in traffic mishaps. William Van Cooey, owner of Pensacola Salvage, was killed when his Harley crashed on Jack Springs Road; Jacob Oryan “Jake” Bailey was fatally injured when the vehicle in which he was a passenger, and in which the driver was intoxicated, turned into the path of another vehicle. An unidentified teen was shot and killed at a Harris Street residence; no arrest had been reported by the end of the year.


Health officials announced that the newly approved COVID-19 vaccination would be administered to local healthcare employees in January. The town’s Twilight Christmas Parade was held, although to a smaller crowd, and the use of contact tracing forced the closing of Escambia County High School for the final pre-Christmas week after 10 students tested positive for COVID.

Marlo G. Young was hired by the county school system as Mental Health Services Coordinator for public schools. Portions of U.S. 31 between Atmore and Brewton were named in honor of the county’s two Medal of Honor recipients, Col. Sidney Manning (World War I) and Sgt. William Wayne “Billy” Seay (Vietnam War). Lyn Stuart, former Atmore resident and former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was recipient of the Howell T. Heflin Honor & Integrity Award.

On the year’s final day, longtime local healthcare advocate Ruth Harrell passed away at age 81, and the retirements of Gloria Marshall Jones and Bobby Davis represented the loss of a combined 80 years of service for West Escambia Utilities.

Local economic development officials reported that capital investment from announced and anticipated projects could come close to $1 billion, with the eventual creation of up to 1,000 new jobs.

Among the projects not previously listed are the expansion of Coastal Alabama Community College’s Atmore campus, a new urgent care facility that will be built near Interstate 65, and the spinoff businesses expected to set up operations here to support or enhance the peanut mill and other facilities.