A look back at the top stories of the Lowcountry in 2012
The year 2012 began with the promise of prosperity and ended with a doomsday prophecy and the prospect of the nation tumbling off a fiscal cliff.
2012’s top-viewed stories on postandcourier.com
Post and Courier readers have different approaches to stories when they’re viewing postandcourier.com. Here is a brief outline of the most-viewed items on the website in 2012.
How readers view postandcourier.com on mobile devices:
5. Motorola DroidX
4. Motorola Droid RAZR
3. Amazon Kindle Fire
2. Apple iPhone
1. Apple iPad
What they’re viewing online:
5.Daniel Island resident Jason Schall tells incredible fish tale, and it’s true
4.Video of Folly Beach arrest draws mixed reaction
3.Infant boy killed when mauled by family dog in Ridgeville as father slept
2.Folly Road crash ends dream
1.Really Photogenic Guy in Cooper River Bridge Run goes viral
5.USC football gets big site upgrade
4.Pro wrestling blog
3. South Carolina Stingrays blog
2.Clemson Tigers blog
1.USC Gamecocks blog
5.St. Patrick’s Day at Park Circle
4.Ravenel Bridge standoff
3.29th annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival
2.Sullivan’s Polar Bear Plunge
Most-viewed daily items
4.Letters to the Editor
3.Local news index
Most-viewed non-news items
5. Automotive classifieds
4. Real estate classifieds
3. Events calendar pages
2. Monster job search pages
No, the past year didn’t bring the robust economic recovery we all had hoped for. And the folks in Washington remain locked in a Festivus-worthy airing of grievances over competing plans to keep the country solvent.
But at least the campaign robocalls have stopped and the world didn’t explode like a cheap piñata when the Mayan calendar finally ran out of pages.
The Chinese dubbed 2012 the Year of the Dragon, and it certainly had its moments of fire and bluster.
We re-elected the nation’s first black president after a contentious campaign, saw a superstorm hobble a metropolis and pinched pennies to keep our families afloat amid rising prices and stagnant salaries.
We watched athletes chase greatness at the Olympic games in London and saw just how low a human could sink in the massacre of innocent school children in Connecticut.
The year was no less memorable here in the Lowcountry — and not just because of the Blake Lively-Ryan Reynolds wedding in Mount Pleasant. In fact, we couldn’t even fit all the big stories in a standard Top 10 list this time around.
Our list largely is composed of local stories, but a few of them are so huge that they affect the entire state, including folks in the Charleston area.
So as we prepare to pop the bubbly Monday night and look to the promise of change around the corner, let us not forget these stories that moved and captivated us over the past dozen months.
In perhaps the mother of all state government failures, some 3.8 million South Carolina taxpayers learned this fall that their tax and financial information had been compromised in a massive breach by an international computer hacker.
The hacker, whose identity remains a mystery, most likely infiltrated the state Department of Revenue’s computers through a malicious email, then harvested a bounty of highly sensitive information.
Gov. Nikki Haley initially insisted that no state employees were to blame and that nothing could have been done to prevent the hack. Cyber-security experts hired by the state, however, found that the attack was “not that sophisticated,” and probably could have been prevented with a $25,000 dual-password system.
In all, the breach resulted in the theft of records of 3.8 million individual taxpayers, 1.9 million dependents, 699,900 businesses, 3.3 million bank accounts and 5,000 now-expired credit card numbers. Those affected are now at risk for fraud and identity theft.
The Revenue Department this month got permission to take out a loan of more than $20 million to address the mess. About $12 million will cover the state’s contract with Experian for a year of taxpayer credit monitoring and other services.
I-526 gets the nod
After years of hand-wringing and heated debate, Charleston County Council voted this month to move forward with the long-stalled completion of Interstate 526, a project that has been on the books since the 1970s.
Council adopted a plan to finish 526 with a parkway that will cross James and Johns islands and offer a consistent speed limit of 45 mph. The price tag: $558 million.
The 5-4 vote came after decades of lobbying and wrangling. Project supporters argued that the road will improve traffic safety and congestion. Opponents said it will just promote sprawl and increased development, especially on Johns Island.
County Council had been reluctant to build the road, but it finally opted to do so after the city of Charleston made a failed bid to take over the project.
Still, it will be years before construction actually begins. The project faces a lengthy federal approval process and likely challenges to environmental permits.
Folly bans booze
Folly Beach, long a laid-back bastion of seaside chillitude, after a series of rowdy, alcohol-fueled dust-ups wore out the patience of many locals.
Folly had been the only local beach where drinking by the ocean was allowed, but some sloppy behavior turned the tide on that policy.
The proverbial straw arrived on July 4th, when an Independence Day gathering turned into a booze-fueled riot that resulted in a mess of garbage, some injured cops and a stack of arrest reports. After a trial dry-out, island leaders voted in September to permanently ban booze on the beach.
James Island becomes a town — again
The fourth time proved to be the charm for the thrice-spurned town of James Island.
Three times since the 1990s, voters in the unincorporated part of James Island had formed a town, only to see Charleston challenge its legality and the S.C. Supreme Court dissolve it.
This time around, town supporters used the Supreme Court ruling as a road map for building a municipality that would survive another legal challenge. They shrunk the proposed boundaries and left out neighborhoods such as Riverland Terrace to ensure that the town would be geographically contiguous, as state law requires.
That proved to be the magic bullet, and islanders celebrated when Charleston Mayor Joe Riley announced in June that he would not mount another legal challenge against the town, which has about 11,000 residents.
ReVille goes to prison
Prolific molester Louis “Skip” ReVille began a 50-year prison term in June after pleading guilty to sexually abusing 23 boys in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.
His crimes dated to 2002, when he began preying upon boys at his alma mater, The Citadel, where he was a summer-camp counselor. Before he was caught, ReVille cycled through nearly a dozen coaching, teaching and church posts where he found new victims. In all, he admitted to molesting more than 40 boys between the ages of 10 and 17, authorities said.
One of the victims spoke at ReVille’s sentencing, describing him as “a disease to society.”
Boeing rolls out first S.C.-made Dreamliner
Some folks snickered when Boeing announced that it would build a new production plant in South Carolina, a state that had never built an airplane.
But the Palmetto State had the last laugh in April when Boeing rolled out its first locally produced Dreamliner in a ceremony filled with pomp and pageantry.
The massive factory, which opened in summer 2011, delivered its first locally made plane in October and its second this month, both to Air India.
Boeing also has taken steps to potentially triple the size of its footprint in North Charleston, laying claim to more than 800 additional acres around its 787 plant.
DeMint resigns, Scott makes history
U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint stunned supporters and critics alike this month when he abruptly announced plans to resign his seat to lead the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.
The South Carolina Republican, a tea party favorite, was in the midst of his second six-year term and wasn’t up for re-election until 2016.
From a fast-jockeying pack of contenders, Gov. Nikki Haley chose Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Scott to replace DeMint.
Scott, scheduled to be sworn in within days, becomes the first black senator from South Carolina, the first from the South since Reconstruction — and only the seventh in the history of the U.S. Senate.
Adding to the buzz around DeMint’s move was an announcement by former Gov. Mark Sanford that he is mulling a run for Scott’s seat, a post he held from 1995 to 2001. Sanford has largely stayed out of the limelight since leaving office in early 2011, his political career derailed by a 2009 affair with an Argentine woman, now his fiancée.
The dumping ground
The Francis Marion National Forest is a lush expanse that straddles two counties, offers abundant recreation and is home to deer, bear and wild boar.
This year, it became known for a more sinister purpose as well after a series of bodies turned up in its wooded crannies.
In February, 34-year-old David Hedrick shot his fiancée, Dara Watson, 30, in the head and buried her in a shallow grave in the forest. The Mount Pleasant man, head of a surety company, kept up a ruse for days to mask her disappearance before fatally shooting himself.
In late August, Dana Woods, an 18-year-old college student, and June Guerry, a 22-year-old mother and Walmart employee, turned up dead in the forest near Cordesville after heading out to run errands. Two 23-year-old cousins, Caleb Bradd Matlock of Summerville and Arthur Ray Chavis of Cordesville, were later charged with murder and robbery in their deaths.
Then, in September, Robert Moultrie, 31, of Conway, was found shot to death inside a vehicle abandoned 20 yards off Brick Church Road. Investigators later filed murder charges against Huger residents Patrick Dwayne Kinloch, 22, and Joshua Michael Pruitt, 18, citing robbery as the motive for the killing.
Crosstown gets a makeover
For decades, the Septima Clark Parkway (a.k.a. The Crosstown) has been a crucial artery for the city of Charleston, but one prone to serious flooding when the rains come and the tide is high.
Many a commuter has endured a white-knuckle ride on this urban ribbon of road, waves splashing over the hoods of their cars as they try to avoid stalling out in the salty soup.
This year the city completed a long-awaited first phase of a $154 million drainage-improvement project designed to take the sog out of your slog along the Crosstown.
But don’t put away your hip-waders just yet. The project is still several years away from completion, with deep tunnels and pumping stations needed to help clear thousands of gallons of water that show up during torrential downpours.
Suspected arsonist nabbed
After years of detective work, an investigative task force in November made its first arrest in a string of arsons that terrorized peninsula residents for the past decade.
In all, more than 80 suspicious fires had broken out since the early 2000s in a tightly packed area bisected by the Crosstown. The city put an arson task force to work, hung out a $50,000 reward, slapped up surveillance cameras and beat the streets in search of clues.
A complex undercover operation led last month to the arrest of 55-year-old Kenneth Boone, a Charleston contractor who had done repair work on at least a couple of the homes that burned. Boone is charged in connection with three fires — a 2010 blaze on Montagu Street and two more in rural Hollywood. It remains to be seen if he will be charged with setting more of the fires or if other suspects will emerge from the shadows.
S.C.’s winning streak ends
South Carolina’s streak of picking the GOP presidential nominee came to an end this year when its primary victor, Newt Gingrich, failed to go the distance.
In all five contested GOP presidential primaries since 1980, whoever won here had become the party’s nominee. Palmetto State Republicans hoped to continue that streak in 2012 after solidly backing Gingrich in the January primary.
Gingrich, however, won only one other contest (in his native Georgia) before running out of steam and throwing in the towel in April.
Charleston named top tourism spot
Sure, we get our share of tourists here in the Holy City — nearly 4.5 million a year, to be exact. But who knew we had better chops than Rome, London, Paris and all those other fancy destinations?
In October, Conde Nast Traveler named Charleston the top travel city on the planet. The renowned travel magazine also ranked the city as the nation’s No. 1 tourist destination for the second year in a row. Charleston had missed out on the top planetary spot the previous year, finishing third behind Sydney, Australia, and Florence, Italy.
Apartment complex fire kills three
An explosion shattered a sunny May afternoon in Goose Creek when a fireball erupted from the top floor of a 16-unit apartment building in the Pine Harbour complex.
By the time the flames had been extinguished, the building was a wreck, 46 people were homeless and three were dead — 19-year-old Morgan Abernathy, her 4-year-old cousin, Sammy Garbe, and 69-year-old military veteran Joseph Raeth.
Investigators found the remnants of a methamphetamine lab in the unit where Morgan and Sammy died.
Morgan’s father, Shonni “Scooter” Abernathy, 40, and Gerald McCabe, 33, were indicted on federal drug charges in July, and both face the possibility of life in prison.
Prosecutors have also won drug indictments against 35-year-old Alberta Pierson, who is Abernathy’s common-law wife, and Michael Still, 19, the boyfriend of Abernathy’s and Pierson’s dead daughter.
Mary Lee takes a shine to Charleston
The Lowcountry picked up a new mascot of sorts this year with the arrival of Mary Lee, a 16-foot-long, 3,456-pound great white shark. Mary Lee was tagged by OCEARCH, a shark research group, in New England in September. She made her first appearance in the Lowcountry in November, and seemed to take a liking to the place. After spending the better part of a month around Savannah, the shark apparently caught wind of Charleston’s Conde Nast ranking and headed north to hang out off Kiawah Island.
The past year brought its share of vicious-dog stories, including a pair of maulings that killed young boys.
The first attack occurred in April, when an adopted Labrador retriever mix snatched 2-month-old Aiden McGrew from a bouncy swing and mauled him inside his family’s Ridgeville home.
His father, Quintin McGrew, was home at the time, but sleeping when the attack occurred. He is now awaiting trial on a charge of unlawful conduct toward a child.
In May, another dog attack took the life of Mount Pleasant toddler Ja’Marr Tiller after the 2-year-old wandered out of his home. He was bitten repeatedly by dogs that a family member had been feeding. An autopsy revealed 193 puncture wounds on the boy’s 34-pound body.
After an August coroner’s inquest, a jury ruled the toddler’s death an accident.
Meanwhile, sheriff’s deputies and police spent weeks rounding up roaming feral dogs blamed for killing a half-dozen cats and scaring residents on James Island. By September, animal control officers had captured 13 of the wild canines.
The sheriff and the slap
Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon found himself in the middle of a federal civil rights investigation after he admitted to slapping a suspect after an intense, high-speed chase in January.
The episode began when Timothy McManus, a 31-year-old driver with a suspended license, nearly collided with Cannon’s cruiser in Mount Pleasant, deputies said. The encounter ignited a 25-mile chase through East Cooper that reached speeds of 120 mph and ended when Cannon and deputies shot out the tires of McManus’ pickup in the Francis Marion National Forest.
Cannon admitted to slapping McManus as he sat handcuffed in a sheriff’s vehicle.
The sheriff, set to begin his seventh term on Monday, was eventually cleared of civil rights violations. But he did face a state charge of third-degree assault and battery, for which he enrolled in a pre-trial intervention program for first-time offenders.
North Charleston rail deal
A rancorous chapter in government relations came to a close this month when the city of North Charleston and the state reached a settlement that clears a path for a rail yard on the former Navy base.
The city fought the state’s plan for years, racking up about $750,000 in legal bills, because of fears that rail traffic would harm neighborhoods north of the base. The city was also miffed about the secretive manner in which the state went about acquiring the land.
The final deal lets the state proceed with a rail yard on the base with north and south rail access. In return, the city gets $8 million, more than 100 acres of the waterfront land at the north end of the former base around Riverfront Park, and an agreement that the state will undertake a major transportation study aimed at improving rail and truck traffic in the city.
The state also will pay off $6.6 million in debt associated with redevelopment work on the former base, which included creating the park.
Commuters ran into a traffic jam of epic proportions one afternoon in February after an upset man blocked the Ravenel Bridge with the words “Stay Away,” “Back Off” and “Game Over” painted on the windows of his Lexus.
The move forced police to close the span, disrupting thousands of motorists during rush hour and causing gridlock on local roads for miles around.
The man behind the blockade, 38-year-old Phillip DeClemente of Mount Pleasant, held police at bay for more than two hours before surrendering. He then spent the next month in a psychiatric hospital.
DeClemente later told The Post and Courier that he wasn’t suicidal, didn’t have a bomb and had no plans to harm the bridge. He said he was trying to expose what he described as a smear campaign against him and ongoing harassment by police and private investigators.
Ethics and transparency
The importance of ethics became a central theme around the state capitol this year, resulting in some shake-ups in leadership and uncomfortable allegations for others.
Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned in March after being indicted for using his campaign account to buy personal items. That cost the Lowcountry some serious clout as veteran lawmaker Glenn McConnell resigned his powerful post as Senate president pro tem to take Ard’s old job.
Gov. Nikki Haley was the subject of a summer House Ethics Committee investigation into of allegations that she illegally lobbied and exploited her office while a House member from Lexington County. She was cleared of all charges, and in October created new study panel to look into ethic reform measures.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, meanwhile, also faced tough questions after a Post and Courier report revealed that the Charleston lawmaker had reimbursed himself about $280,000 from his campaign account since summer 2008.
Harrell returned $23,000 to his campaign coffers after saying he lost receipts for those purchases in an office move. He maintains he is in compliance with all ethics laws and has also called for stronger ethics measures.
Changing of the guard
The past year also brought the resignations of two of the area’s top cops and an interesting shuffle to replace them.
North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt announced in November that he would be stepping down at January’s end to return to his native Kansas. His departure ends an 11-year run marked by falling crime numbers, as well as criticism over what some saw as heavy-handed tactics targeting minorities.
Mayor Keith Summey tapped Eddie Driggers, a chaplain and former lawman, to replace Zumalt.
That led Mount Pleasant Police Chief Harry Sewell to resign his post to take Driggers’ newly vacant spot as a crisis chaplain. Sewell said he is stepping down after five years as chief “to serve my Lord, Jesus Christ.” His last day as chief is Monday.