Top 10 stories of 2009

Published 7:46 pm Saturday, January 2, 2010

What follows is our ranking of the top 10 stories of 2009. You may or may not agree with our ranking or even feel that other stories were perhaps more noteworthy. After each recap, we give our reason for ranking that story.

No. 1: Pilot killed in plane crash

A single-engine experimental plane crashed just outside of John Essex High School on April 24, killing the pilot, Mark E. Keeley, of Forkland.

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According to Demopolis Municipal Airport director Buzz Sawyer, the aircraft — reportedly powered by a Volkswagen engine — took off at 1:25 p.m. that day.

The crash took place at about 1:40 p.m., nearly 1.5 miles east of the airport behind the school. Investigators determined the plane took off by mistake while Keeley was doing high-speed ground tests on the runway.

Why it’s No. 1: A plane crash is an uncommon and tragic event in any part of the world. That one happened in Demopolis – and so close to John Essex High School – makes this tragedy that much more noteworthy.

No. 2: Suspects arrested for 2008 murder

Randy Warren was found shot to death in his apartment on the morning of Feb. 16, 2008, the apparent victim of a shooting the night before.

On Nov. 24, Demopolis police chief Tommie Reese announced the apprehension of two suspects in the 22-month-old case.

Arrested were Darius Powell, 18, and Jeffery Williams, 24, both from the Demopolis area. Both are being held in the Marengo County Jail on the charge of murder, and each is being held on a $250,000 bond.

Why it’s No. 2: Fortunately, murder in our community is not a common thing. When it happens, it rocks the community to the city limits. The arrests that accompanied this crime were important.

No. 3: Vickers bolts for Saraland

News surfaced in March that Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Dr. L. Wayne Vickers was a finalist for the same job at Saraland. In late June, he signed a four-year contract at Saraland with an annual value of $132,000 with no allowances or bonus incentives. The Mobile County school system has offered to reimburse Vickers for 90 days’ moving expenses or until the sale of his home in Demopolis.

Dr. Neil Hyche was named interim superintendent at Demopolis in July and remains in that capacity today.

Why it’s No. 3: A leadership change at the top of the city’s educational system effects all students, teachers, employees and citizens.

No. 4: Food World closes its doors

An eleventh-hour and $46-million bid by Southern Family Markets appears to have salvaged many of Bruno’s properties, but not the Demopolis Food World.

Bruno’s announced intent to close the store in May, taking with it a Robertson Banking branch and a pharmacy.

Shortly after the closing of the store, Food World’s pharmacists, Raymond and Bud Boone, opened their own pharmacy.

Why it’s No. 4: Not only did the community lose a large store, it lost several jobs. The building currently remains vacant, but that may all change soon.

No. 5: Hospital outsources ambulance

The board of directors at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital voted in April to outsource its ambulance service to AmStar, a locally-owned organization headed by Kevin Horne and Mitchell Snipes.

Snipes was the director of emergency medical response services at BWWMH. The transition day to move from the Tombigbee Emergency Medical Services to AmStar was May 20.

Why it’s No. 5: Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital is the only hospital we have, and having a local ambulance service is critical to those in the area.

No. 6: Clark hired to lead DHS

Demopolis High School principal Dr. Isaac Espy Jr. was approved by the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education on May 12 to become the principal at Northridge High School.

Espy was hired as the principal at Demopolis High School on June 17, 2005, beginning work on July 1 of that year. During his tenure at DHS, the school earned the No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Award in 2008, one of only three high schools in the state to earn that achievement.

His departure cleared the way for former Thomasville High School principal Leon Clark, who was hired to the same position at DHS in July.

Clark signed a three-year contract with the Demopolis City Schools system.

Why it’s No. 6: The city school system is at the core of everything that makes Demopolis special. A change in leadership at the system’s flagship school is major news.

No. 7: UWA comes to Demopolis

The University of West Alabama was named by the City of Demopolis as managing partner of the Demopolis Higher Education Center on June 19, replacing Alabama Southern Community College.

University of West Alabama President Richard D. Holland said UWA was delighted to take on the new role. The University envisions the Center to be a full-service educational partnership offering myriad programs to serve citizens of all ages and stages as they seek to enrich their lives.

Why it’s No. 7: UWA came into Demopolis and made an immediate commitment to the city and the students at the Demopolis Higher Education Center. They have already established themselves as a valued partner in the community.

No. 8: New Era plant’s future called to question

On Nov. 19, New Era Cap Company announced plans to consolidate its three manufacturing operations into one plant. It announced the closure of the plant in Jackson, leaving the plants in Demopolis and Derby, N.Y., to ponder their fates.

According to a release issued by New Era headquarters in Buffalo, N.Y., the move was “a result of the global recession and a significant change in consumer demand for our products.”

Why it’s No. 8: This is a story that Demopolis will carry with it into the new year. The fate of the Demopolis facility and its employees has yet to be decided but its future will likely be known in the coming weeks.

No. 9: Church destroyed by blaze

An early-morning fire in February destroyed the First Baptist Church of Faunsdale on Feb. 9.

According to deputy state fire marshal Jebb Harrison, the total burn of the building, located on Old Uniontown Road, prevented investigators from determining the area of origin.

Why it’s No. 9: The church had held services every Sunday for more than 100 years before being destroyed by the fire. In the true spirit of the church, services never skipped a beat at City Hall in Uniontown.

No. 10: Young guilty in 2006 murder

Quinton Young, 29, of Dixon’s Mill was found guilty on April 28 of murder in the death of 44-year-old Bobby Darrin Hayes.

According to testimony given during the trial, on Sept. 28, 2006, Hayes stopped to give a ride to Young and Tonny Bouler, 32, of Dixon’s Mill on Brown Hawk Road near Dixon’s Mill. Young got in the front seat and Bouler — who at the time believed that Hayes was his cousin — got in the back.

Bouler testified against Young at the trial in exchange for a reduced sentence granted to him in February 2009.

Why it’s No. 10: This conviction brought to a close a murder case that had been on the county’s books for more than two years.