Retrospective: Top 14 stories of ’14

As we ready to wrap up our 2014 Retrospective, we at The Watchman combed through all of the happenings of the calendar year and compiled the list of the biggest stories the last 12 months.

Agree. Disagree. Debate. Whatever the case may be, there is no question that this year brought with it plenty of newsworthy items, many of which will have long-lasting effects for years to come.

gator11. Stokes takes world record gator – When a story makes national headlines, it is a pretty safe bet that it will be your top story of the year locally. In this instance, Thomaston’s Mandy Stokes set the bar awfully high for herself when she took a world record alligator in her very first hunt. The Aug. 16 kill bagged a 15-foot long, 1,011.5-pound gator near Millers Ferry in Wilcox County. The Watchman broke the story four hours before any other media outlets picked up on it and our original post has since been shared more than 5,000 times on Facebook.

White2. Woman shot, killed outside Marengo jail – The July 2 incident was the first shooting death in Linden in more than two decades. Gallion resident Eddie White confessed to shooting and killing Joyce Houston in a crime of passion that was caught by the security cameras at the Marengo County Sheriff’s Department. Houston died on the scene in the parking lot adjacent to the Marengo jail just minutes after having fled to the location for safety. White confessed to the incident July 3 after being apprehended by the Linden Police Department hours earlier.

3. BWWMH bids farewell to L&D, administrator – There was little doubt 2014 would be a pivotal one for Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital after the facility had to make significant personnel cuts to close 2013 and swiftly turned the conversation to the embattled labor and delivery unit after the start of 2014. News broke early in the year that L&D would be no more after Feb. 28. Town hall meetings, task forces and city council intervention would not be enough to keep the unit open. But the closure was far from the final change for the hospital. After 11 years at the helm of the hospital, Mike Marshall resigned in October, leaving Art Evans to run the facility in his stead.

essex 24. John Essex School closes its doors – Much-maligned and long-embattled, the other shoe finally dropped for John Essex School in April when the Marengo County Schools Board of Education voted to shutter the doors of the community institution. Dwindling enrollment numbers spelled financial hardship for Essex. When the 1003g grant expired, the math became simple. Essex watched 12 seniors graduate in May in a ceremony that marked the beginning of something new for those students and the end of something for the west Marengo County school.

 Dr. Ken Tucker, left, has been elected by the University of West Alabama Board of Trustees to serve as president of the 179-year-old institution, effective January 1, 2015. Pictured with Tucker is Board of Trustees President Terry Bunn.

Dr. Ken Tucker, left.

5. UWA cuts Holland, appoints Tucker president – The handwriting was firmly on the wall for University of West Alabama president Dr. Richard Holland March 3 when the school’s board of trustees voted to put him on administrative leave. Later in the year, UWA parted ways with Holland. The presidency of the Livingston institution took on a new face in November when the board tabbed Dr. Ken Tucker of Demopolis to fill the office.

6. Robertson Banking Company robbed – It was more than just the talk of the town April 22 when someone walked into the downtown branch of Robertson Bank and made off with an undisclosed amount of cash in a grab-and-dash robbery attempt that involved no weapons. Eight days later, the Demopolis Police Department arrested Tommie Lee Williams and Roderick Moore of Tuscaloosa. For his role in the crime, Williams received a sentence of eight years in December.

7. Higher education changes in Demopolis – The look of higher education in Demopolis began to take on a new look in 2014. After years of rhetoric that Shelton State would ultimately have some presence in the City of the People, the talk came to fruition this year when the community college opened a truck driving school at the former New Era Cap Company Building on Cedar Avenue. The higher education landscape turned a little more toward then end of the year when the announcement was made that UWA would be pulling out of the Demopolis Higher Education Center, leaving the facility with no tenant at year’s end.

8. Fire department gets major budget cuts – When the city council issued cries to “stop the bleeding” of reserves earlier this year, there was little doubt changes were coming. There, indeed, were budget cuts across the board for the city’s departments but no other municipal area garnered quite the attention of the Demopolis Fire Department. When the city council approved its budget for the new fiscal year the fire department learned it would have some $252,900 less with which to operate in the coming year. While the effects of those cuts have yet to be truly felt, it stands to reason the trimming will prove impactful sooner rather than later.

9. City attorney found shot in office – City attorney Bill Poole made state headlines Jan. 17 when he was found in his office suffering from a gunshot wound. Poole would recover and ultimately get back to work in 2014, ending the year far better than he began it.

10. City loses prominent citizens – It was a year of saying “goodbye” for Demopolis as it bid farewell to Christmas on the River co-founder and long-time community pillar Barry Collins, former assistant police chief Bobby Meigs and well-respected former fire chief Aubrey Randall.

11. Stokley leaves Sweet Water – After 17 years in the Marengo County Schools system and 12 years as the principal of Sweet Water High School, Stan Stokley walked away in 2014 to take over Saraland Elementary School. Stokley replaced former Demopolis Middle School principal Chris Tangle who left SES to take over Thompson High School in Alabaster. Marengo County Schools Board of Education picked Phyllis Mabowitz, the school’s instructional coach, to take over as interim principal.

snow12. Snow closes schools, businesses – This particular story is not “year-in-review” material in some parts of the country, but in a city that had not had measurable snowfall in years, it is worth mentioning. Demopolis got significant snowfall in late January, closing schools for three days.

13. Luker, Causey leaves posts – Stacy Luker garnered plenty of attention Jan. 6 when he stepped down as the head football coach of Sweet Water High after 12 seasons. Luker retired with a career record of 171-66 and four state championships. Luker spent the 2014 season coaching Neshoba Central in Mississippi. Tom Causey made headlines much later in the year when he tendered his resignation from the Demopolis High head football coach post Dec. 17. Causey won a state championship for the Tigers in 2009.

14. No news is good new for incumbents – The races got heated leading into the primaries but Marengo County’s election year resulted in no major changes in 2014. Incumbent Ben Bates won his second term as sheriff of Marengo County while Sharon Barkley retained the revenue commissioner post.