Drug problem, gun violence persisted; crashes, fires claimed local lives
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Last week [December 28, 2022], we looked back at some of the good news that occurred in our hometown during 2022. Unfortunately, the good is only one side of a community’s story, and this week we present a recap of the bad and ugly news that evolved from a “new normal” that has swept the nation.
The possession of illicit substances continued to run rampant within the community in 2022, as dozens of locals and visitors became felons when miniscule amounts of controlled substances — ranging from methamphetamine to synthetic marijuana to the animal tranquilizer fentanyl — were discovered inside their vehicles or on their person.
The local drug problem was magnified twice when Atmore women were arrested after their newborn babies tested positive for controlled substances — one for cocaine, one for methamphetamine.
Although there were a handful of sizable drug seizures made by city police, most of the cases made by patrol officers stemmed from “residue” on a pipe, or from single pills hidden away in a purse. Alabama’s “zero tolerance” drug laws make it a felony to possess even trace amounts of herbs, powders and pills that have made their way onto the controlled substances list.
Guns and ammo
*An Atmore man was arrested after he shot his brother during an argument over money.
*An Atmore woman was arrested when she used a gun to settle a parking dispute at a local apartment complex.
*A student with what turned out to be a BB gun was arrested after he caused the lockdown of Escambia County High School (ECHS). A student at Escambia County Middle School (ECMS) was arrested on campus and the school was placed on lockdown when a loaded semi-automatic pistol was found in his possession.
*Two local men were arrested after separate incidents during which they fired a gun into an occupied home. One of the two was charged with nine counts of attempted murder.
*Mother Nature created two local news stories during 2022, once when savage winds tore through Big Oak Trailer Park, destroying or damaging nine mobile homes and causing injuries of varying degree to at least six people, and again as the year ended, when an arctic cold front paid a four-day Christmas visit to the area.
Fires and fatalities
*Atmore Fire Department personnel and mutual-aid agencies fought at least four major structure fires during the year just past, including one on Ann Street that claimed the life of a 90-year-old man. Other major fires occurred on 5th Avenue, Airport Road and at the corner of 4th Avenue and Horner Street.
*At least five fatal crashes occurred in and around Atmore last year, including one in which a former resident lost his life when another vehicle plowed into the man’s truck, which had broken down along U.S. 31. Other lethal local crashes included one each on Bell Fork, Booneville and Smith Dairy roads, and an Atmore man was killed in a multi-vehicle wreck on Interstate 65.
*In a related matter, a woman who was responsible for a 2021 rear-end crash on U.S. 31 in which a local 9-year-old died, was indicted on charges of reckless murder, first-degree assault and aggravated speeding in connection with the wreck.
Sorry, no service
*The lack of available mental health services in Atmore and Escambia County was made manifest when individuals reportedly plagued by mental issues were arrested, one for breaking into a home and trying to “cleanse it of demons,” and one who beat his stepfather with a stick then broke out all the windows in the man’s home.
Other bad news
*A local clothing store employee was beaten with a crowbar in a robbery that netted a Pensacola man a total of $36 cash and the employee’s credit and debit cards.
*At least three locals were arrested for financial exploitation of an elderly relative.
*An Atmore man apparently hung himself to death in the city jail. State Bureau of Investigation agents had not completed their investigation by year’s end.
*Several Atmore men were charged by police with various sex crimes against children.
*A teacher at ECHS was arrested and placed on administrative leave after he was indicted in Mobile County on a charge he had sex with a student when he was a teacher and coach at LeFlore High.
*Former Escambia County Healthcare Authority (ECHCA) CEO Jeff Booth unexpectedly resigned his position a day before he was twice arrested on charges of public drunkenness.
*Escambia Academy (EA) football coach and athletic director Hugh Fountain, who also served as EA’s headmaster, announced his resignation after 10 years at the school.
*Brandon Wilcox, tabbed to replace Fountain as coach and AD at EA, was relieved of his duties after the Cougars dropped their first three games.
*Escambia County High School (ECHS) was labeled a “failing school” for the fifth successive time, based on standardized test scores posted a year ago by juniors, when the state’s latest “report cards” for public schools were released.
*At least two family pets were killed with bow and arrow in the Fernwood area. No suspect was ever arrested.
*City of Atmore officials implemented a 50 percent ($10 per month) increase in the fees charged residents for twice-weekly solid waste collection.
*An employee of a local recycling business escaped serious injury when a giant fuel tank, thought to have been properly cleaned, exploded as the employee used a torch to cut it into pieces of scrap metal. The explosion was felt from Nokomis to Robinsonville.
*Escambia Operating Company’s Big Escambia Creek processing plant was fined $160,000 for a reported four-month total of more than 1,700 Clean Air Act violations through releases of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.
*Organizers of the county’s widely acclaimed Law Day program rescinded the invitation of this year’s keynote speaker — former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who was convicted in 2005 of bribery in the HealthSouth scandal — after education and other officials objected to his appearance.