Year in Review: Officer's death, raccoons made headlines in '10

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

Mahaffey killed in line of duty

For the first time since 1917, Rockdale County witnessed one of its law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty this year.

Rockdale County Sheriff's Office Deputy Brian Lamar Mahaffey, 28, was shot May 8 at a home on Sand Hill Drive while attempting to serve a warrant. Mahaffey was taken to the hospital and later died.

Mahaffey and other RCSO investigators were serving an arrest warrant on 41-year-old Terry Lewis Brown Sr., who was a suspect in a rape the night before the fatal shooting. Brown reportedly hid in a closet when deputies went in and searched the residence. Brown opened fire from the closet. Deputies returned fire, killing Brown at the scene. Mahaffey was shot during the gunfire exchange -- once in the arm and again under his protective vest.

Thousands attended Mahaffey's funeral with full honors May 12 at the First Baptist Church of Conyers to say a formal, final farewell to the public servant who made the ultimate sacrifice. The fallen deputy was a football standout at Heritage High School. He was married with two young children.

Violent crime shocks community

Crime held a higher profile in 2010 than in recent years based on the shocking and deadly nature of some of the incidents reported.

The year opened with authorities on Jan. 13 finding 34-year-old Jarmecca Whitehead beaten and stabbed to death in the bathroom of her Conyers home in Bridle Ridge Walk subdivision.

Conyers police later charged Whitehead's twin daughters, Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah, with the murder. The girls were arrested in May and held in a Youth Detention Center. They were moved to the Rockdale County Jail in November when they turned 17 where they await trial. Both girls have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The year ended with two fatal shootings that occurred within a few days of each other. Two men held up the Conyers GameStop store on Veterans Day. The armed robbery ultimately resulted in the shooting death of 40-year-old Adrian Tyrone Snow of Stone Mountain, who walked in on the crime in progress. Snow resisted the robbers and was shot twice. Police caught two of the robbers shortly after the crime. A third suspect was later arrested after he spent the night in a nearby storm drain.

The three Atlanta men arrested -- Markus Isiah Seymore, 17, Tron Hill, 25, and Giovannte Maddox, 27 -- each face armed robbery, murder and other charges related to the robbery and shooting.

On Nov. 14, shooting broke out again during a late night house party on Tree Leaf Lane in the Preserve at Travers Creek subdivision. Tevin Aqwunray Williams, 17, and James Wansley Edwards, 17, both of Conyers, are accused of firing shots in a crowd where 18-year-old Dequavious Mapp of Conyers was killed. A 15-year-old and a 16-year-old were also shot.

Jeavoye A. Jones, 21, was also arrested and charged with keeping a disorderly house in connection with the fatal shooting. Jones was allegedly operating the home as a nightclub with alcohol.

The shootings stirred the community and sparked a candlelight vigil and a citizen-organized town hall meeting held Nov. 18. Nearly 300 people reportedly attended the town hall meeting to hear response from local leaders and state officials. The meeting was also an opportunity for residents to voice their concerns about large house parties, young people with guns and criminals coming from outside the county.

City takes over

Cherokee Run

Conyers officially took the reins of Cherokee Run Golf Club on Dec. 10 after a two-year entangled legal struggle with the former leaseholder Jong Kyu Kim.

A federal court hearing was held at the request of the city because of the leaseholder's failure to pay taxes and keep the golf course up to the standards of an Arnold Palmer designed golf course. Dispossession was about to happen before Kim filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2008, as he owed $2.6 million in defaulted property taxes and rent payments to the city on the facility.

Kim emerged from bankruptcy protection in March without meeting court-imposed renovations and the city sought managerial control of the golf course. Kim surrendered the property to the city on Sept. 27.

The city closed the course shortly afterward for revitalization efforts and reopened in December as a city-owned daily-play golf facility. The city made budget amendments totaling $2 million in late October to fund the efforts.

Counties in financial straits

More than 40 Newton County employees were laid off in 2010 due to a more than $5 million revenue shortfall, including several department heads. Still, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. A majority of commissioners approved the rollback millage rate of 10.9, which reduced the number of employee layoffs by about half. Also, as a result of the budget cuts, several departments, including Planning and Zoning, Code Enforcement and GIS, were consolidated to create the Department of Development Services, housed in the Newton County Administration Building.

Rockdale County was already working on tightening its spending when the local government was shook with a budget crisis in May when County Commission Chairman Richard Oden announced an anticipated $4.5 million shortfall in property tax revenues. The county eliminated several positions in July that included laying off 16 county employees, eliminated unfilled positions and reclassified others that resulted in a savings of $1.18 million. The county also used a mix of furlough holidays, $1.1 million in spending cuts approved early in the year and an increase in the county's millage rate 1 mill from 14.53 to 15.53 mills to cover the reminder of the 2010 general fund budget.

Man kills self hours after shooting girlfriend

Nineteen-year-old Audrey Atkinson was gunned down at a Crowell Road convenience store by her 22-year-old boyfriend and father of her 8-month-old son in March of 2010. Newton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Cpl. Anthony Washington said at the time of the incident, "She pulled into the parking lot and he confronted her. They had a verbal altercation ... She fled inside the gas station and he followed her inside where he fired several rounds, fatally wounding her." The shooter, Anthony Michael Barrow, shot himself the next day following a four-hour standoff with Covington/Newton County SWAT.

It was later discovered that Atkinson had filed a temporary protective order against Barrow when he threatened to kill her and their infant son about 10 days prior to her death. She told deputies who answered a call she made when she moved out of the residence she and Barrow shared that he had threatened to kill her and had forced their son to kiss one of the bullets in his handgun, saying he would kill her with that bullet.

City takes over airport

The city of Covington took over operations of Covington Municipal Airport in December in response to ongoing complaints regarding fixed base operator Dixie Jet Service Inc. The city paid nearly $1 million to the FBO operator to terminate his contract early. The contract was set to expire in 2019. The city also hired an airport engineer in 2010 and purchased about 83 additional acres of land near the airport for future economic development. Members of an airport authority are expected to be appointed in the coming year. The authority's main purpose will be to acquire, construct, equip, maintain, operate and improve the airport and related facilities.

Infant mauled in

crib by raccoons

In early November Newton County deputies were horrified when they were called to a Mansfield home and found a 9-month-old baby who had been mauled in her crib by a pair of raccoons while she slept. "It was an awful sight. I'm not sure about any other injuries, but there were extensive injuries to the face and head area," said NCSO spokesman Lt. Tyrone Oliver. The child was hospitalized and listed in critical condition for several days at an Atlanta children's hospital. Only one of the raccoons was captured and while it was found not to be infected with rabies, the status of the second one was unknown and experts generally felt that the child would have to undergo a series of rabies shots as a result of the attack.

Investigators were initially mystified as to how and why the attack occurred, but it was later learned that the child's father had allegedly bottle-fed the raccoons while they were young and had recently set them free in the family's backyard. They allegedly had access in and out of the house through a space left when a window air conditioning unit was installed. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources brought charges against the father, Michael Wayne Cannon, 35, of 125 Brookhollow Way. He was charged with holding and possessing game species without a game holding permit and unlawful possession or use of wildlife.

Mathews takes over as schools superintendent

In July, Gary Mathews was sworn in as the new superintendent of the Newton County School System.

The Newton County Board of Education selected Mathews, who was most recently superintendent of the Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools in Virginia, in March from a pool of 51 applicants after a nationwide search.

He replaced Steven Whatley, who retired at the end of June, after more than 20 years at NCSS and four years as superintendent.