Newton shooting tops list


Here is a list of the top 10 stories of 2017.

1. After three homicides in Newton County in 2016, there was only one killing in the county this past year and it occurred in Newton in the spring.

Jamarcus Townsend, 21, of Poplar Drive in Newton, was found shot to death outside a home at 113 Tillman St. at 11:54 p.m. March 17. Townsend had at least one gunshot wound to the head.

Newton Police Chief Harvey Curry confirmed that the murder was “gang-related.” In a month-long investigation, 10 suspects were eventually arrested and charged in connection to the killing.

Those facing first-degree murder charges are Darron Thames, 29; Richard Lofton, 21; Kordan Myers Jordan, 18; Robbie Chapman, 18; and Lyndale Jones, 17.

Devon Thompson, 19; Jessica Powers, 22, Robert Bender, 43; Ashton Thompson, 23; and Tranesha Williams, 21, were all each charged with accessory to murder after the fact.

None of the suspects have been formerly indicted by the grand jury.

2. For the first time in four decades, Union’s Country Day festival was cancelled this past year. The Board of Directors for the Union Chamber of Commerce, which organizes and funds the festival each year, held an emergency meeting in mid-August to discuss whether they would proceed with plans to hold the 41st edition of the festival. At the meeting, the board decided to cancel the festival.

Also at the meeting, former Union Chamber Director Stephanie Collins also stepped down from her position with the chamber, because the director’s salary was paid from the money raised during the annual festival.

Country Day started in the mid-1970s as just a way for part-time musicians in Union to play music in front of eager crowds. It was also used as a time when many Union families would schedule their reunions.

The festival grew to include events such as the Country Boy and Gal Pageant, Country Music Showdown, a parade, a car show, 5k races and even a petting zoo in recent years. It was also an event that showcased political speaking, especially during election years. The festival usually featured as many as 100 vendors for food, arts and crafts and other unique items.

The board of directors has lost several members during the summer, as either those members’ businesses closed or the board member has taken a new job outside of Union. Collins said they didn’t have enough time to recruit new board members before Country Day.

New Chamber President Sherry Harrison has said that the festival will return this year.

3. On Dec. 15 the students, teachers and administrators of the Newton County School District were honored by the Mississippi Department of Education for its “A” rating on Friday afternoon, and also got a surprise announcement.

Hartley Peavey, founder and CEO of Peavey Electronics Corporation, and his wife, Mary, were at the event to help announce that the company was donating the company’s former manufacturing facility, located next to the Newton County Middle High School campus, to the school district to use to expand its curriculum.

The facility will be renamed as the Peavey Annex.

Burton formally announced the donation at the event and it received thunderous applause from the students in the audience.

The 125,000-square-foot facility and 38 acres of land includes lighted parking and is valued at more than $3 million. The school board had long discussed the possibility of purchasing the property but learned of the possibility of the company donating it around five months ago.

Hartley Peavey founded the company in 1965 and its headquarters are still located in Meridian. The manufacturing facility in Decatur closed several years ago and has sat vacant since then.

4. After more than three months of discussion and negotiations in a disagreement that involved hundreds of parents and students in two neighboring counties, the transfer issue for the Lake and Sebastopol students living in the Newton County School District was finally settled over the summer.

In June, the Newton County School Board and the Scott County School Board reached an agreement concerning Newton County student transfers for the 2017-2018 school year. The Union School Board also agreed to the plan at their June meeting.

The three boards agreed that all children receiving transfers shall be allowed to attend school in Sebastopol, Lake and Union for the 2017-2018 academic year.

The NCSD board voted to change the policy at its March 9 meeting, and the district sent letters to parents of students in Newton County who had been attending schools in Union, Lake and Sebastopol stating that the NCSD would not grant transfers for the upcoming school year unless they fell within a legally recognized exception.

The change was estimated to impact more than 100 students who live near Union, Lake and Sebastopol but are technically still within the Newton County School District.

According to an official statement from the NCSD, the children transferred from the Newton County School District to the Scott County School District who are enrolled in the graduating classes of 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 shall be allowed to graduate from the school in the transferee school district as long as their resident address does not change.

5. Newton and Decatur both elected new mayors this summer as well as five total new aldermen in this year’s municipal elections.

Former Newton District 2 Aldermen Murray Weems ran unopposed in the mayoral election to occupy the seat vacated by former mayor David Carr. In Ward 3, Democratic challenger Linda Wash edged incumbent Don Vares 45-44 in the March primaries. Vares held a one-vote lead after the votes were tallied on May 3, but both affidavit ballots went to Wash to give her the win.

In Ward 5, Democratic challenger Eric McCalphia held on to defeat Eva McDonald 77-74 in the March primaries. McCalphia went on to win the general election over Brenda Body Hardy 103-48.

Bob Bridges ran unopposed in the election to take over Weems’ former seat in District 2.

In Union, incumbent Democrat Mayor Wayne Welch defeated challenger Eddie Truhitt in the March primary and all five aldermen ran unopposed.

In Decatur, David Marshall easily defeated opponent Brian Evans in the June general election to take over for outgoing mayor Pat O’Neill. Danny Cherry took over for former District 4 Aldermen Sid Etie, and Phil Sutphin took over for outgoing District 5 Alderwoman Joy Hayes.

6. In the spring, Union High School became one of a few schools of its size to send two students to the Ivy League after 2017 Valedictorian Noah Winstead was accepted to Columbia University and 2017 Salutatorian Joshua Walton was accepted to Harvard University.

Walton chose the Cambridge, Mass., institution over Ole Miss and the University of Chicago after an official trip to the campus in February.

Winstead chose Columbia over the University of Virginia and Emory University.

Winstead is studying mathematics and economics, while Walton entered Harvard’s pre-med program but will also concentrate on government.

7. The Newton Municipal School Board in January decided not to renew the contract of former Superintendent Virginia Young. The board unanimously accepted Young’s resignation and then rescinded the letter of non-renewal, which was approved with a split 3-2 vote in February.

When the school board sent the initial letter of non-renewal, the board cited three reasons:

• Lack of academic progress.

• Failure to have sufficient certified teachers in testing areas.

• Not having a foreign language in the curriculum.

After a four-month search, the board hired Nola Bryant as the new superintendent in June.

Bryant was previously the Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Assistant to Superintendent of the Louisville School District.  Bryan brought more than 25 years of experience in the education field.

In Young’s last year, the district did improve its state accountability rating from a “C” to a “B” with Newton High School rising from a “D” rated school to a “B.”

8. State budget cuts forced the Central Mississippi Residential Center in Newton to make changes to its programs and personnel this summer.

CMRC’s budget was cut 14.5 percent forcing the center to reduce its staff by 52 employees.

CMRC also transitioned its Footprints Adult Day Services program and its Crisis Stabilization Unit to Weems Community Mental Health Center.

The state legislature approved $208 million for the entire Department of Mental Health from the general fund, which was a reduction of 6.5 percent. The department lost another $30.7 million in special funds in federal funding and other program grants, which was a 7.7 percent cut.

In previous years, the legislature approved individual budgets for all 14 facilities, but they left that duty up to the State Department of Mental Health Board, which announced the numbers at CMRC during a regular meeting.

CMRC took the hardest hit among all mental health facilities, as its total budget was reduced 14.5 percent from $7.9 million to $6.8 million. Of that, CMRC’s general fund budget shrank by $790,589 or 18.7 percent, the second highest cut of the facilities.

9. Snow returned to Newton County in early December just in time for the Christmas season as the area received more than 4 inches of snow fall on the morning of Dec. 8.

After light rain fell throughout Thursday night and early Friday morning, the snow started and did not cease until 11 a.m.

County EMA Director Brian Taylor said two reported wrecks occurred on Decatur-Conehatta Road and I-20 on Friday but no injuries were reported.

Newton County Schools and Union schools were closed today and Newton Municipal School closed at 1:30 p.m. and all of the area basketball games scheduled for Friday were cancelled.

All the Kemper-Newton County Regional Library branches were also closed on Friday.

Thousands of homes lost electricity during the snow storm including many in Newton County, but most of the power outages in the county had been repaired by Saturday.

10. Union native and U.S. District 1 Rep. Trent Kelly survived a scare in early June after he was involved in a shooting in Alexandria, Va., that injured five people and left the gunman dead.

A lone gunman, later identified as 66-year-old James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Ill., opened fire on a group of Republican members of Congress and other staff as they practiced on June 14 for the annual Congressional Baseball charity game.

The game has been played between Republican and Democratic members of congress for more than a century to raise money for a variety of charities.

The FBI on Wednesday confirmed the gunman’s identity as 66-year-old James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Ill.

Kelly, who along with fellow Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo was a part of the 33-member roster for the Republican team, was on third base during practice with his teammates when Hodgkinson opened fire.

Seconds later, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the majority whip who was playing second base, was shot.

Despite being the closest to the gunman when the shooting started, Kelly escaped unharmed.

Also injured in the shooting were Congressional aide Zachary Barth, Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika, and Capitol Police special agents Crystal Griner and David Bailey who engaged Hodgkinson in a firefight.

Kelly and Palazzo played in the Congressional Baseball charity game which went forward on June 15 as planned.

Scalise returned to Capitol Hill in September and Kelly returned to his alma mater, Union High School the same month to speak to students during a special assembly.