Editor’s note: Following are the top three stories covered by the Citizen newspapers in Rockdale and Newton counties in 2013, as well as some other notable stories that stood out during the year.
CONYERS — The top story of 2013 in Rockdale County was also one of the most tragic in recent memory.
In the late night hours of Jan. 8, fire broke out in the Pinedale Circle duplex home of Reeba Roberts Glass. Inside the home with Glass were her five children and her mother. Four of the children perished in the fire. One child, a 6-year-old boy, survived when Glass was able to drop him from a second story window and then follow him out to safety. Glass’s mother was able to escape through a ground floor door.
The community responded to the tragedy by embracing Glass and her family with emotional, spiritual and financial support.
In addition, Rockdale County presented proclamations recognizing two brothers who lived in the Pinedale neighborhood who tried to save the four children but were turned back by the flames. Lamonta Stroud and Richard Slater had a day designated in their honor.
Rockdale Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Morgan announced four days after the fire that the cause of the blaze was the 6-year-old playing with a lighter.
Because there was no working smoke detector in the Glass home, the tragedy brought into focus the need for smoke detectors, Morgan said last month.
“As tragic as that event was, there were a number of good things that came out of that,” he said.
The Fire Department had always had a program where smoke detectors were provided by request. If firefighters were in a home and noticed that a smoke detector wasn’t installed, they would return at a later time and install one. However, the fire that claimed four young lives prompted the department to take a more proactive stance toward providing smoke detectors to citizens.
“Because of this, we made a concerted effort, especially through the summer months,” Morgan said. “We had smoke detector blitzes in certain areas of the community where we thought there might be issues, where there were duplexes or houses that might be rental.”
Morgan said all engines were supplied with smoke detectors, ladders and tools so that firefighters could install smoke detectors while they were on location without having to make a return visit.
“We have over 200 now for the year that we have actually installed, which is more than we normally would have done,” he said.
Firefighters also promoted fire prevention education in area elementary schools, Morgan said, taking the opportunity to push the message of fire safety to youngsters.
Other top stories in Rockdale for 2013 include:
• In July the city of Conyers approved a rezoning allowing development of a controversial and ambitious mixed-use project that will include 1,451 housing units, retail space and office space.
Four A International worked with the City Council and the city’s planning department to come up with a rezoning ordinance that addressed the concerns of city officials, finally winning approval of its development plan after weeks of meetings, public hearings, vote deferrals and debate.
Dozens of local residents spoke out about the proposed development, with most citing concerns about traffic, costly infrastructure improvements, school crowding and increased multi-family housing.
The Four A plan calls for a maximum of 1,451 housing units — 726 single-family detached homes, 290 townhomes, and 435 multi-family housing units. The project also includes 300,000 square feet of retail space and more than 200,000 square feet of office space. The development is planned for property located south of Interstate 20 and bounded by Flat Shoals Road, Johnson Road and Iris Drive.
• In the November 2013 elections, attention was focused on the mayoral race in Conyers. Three candidates challenged Mayor Randy Mills in his bid for re-election. One of those candidates — Olivia Ware — was determined to be ineligible to run due to residency issues.
Ware subsequently filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that she was not given proper notice of a hearing on her eligibility. The city responded by filing a counterclaim to Ware’s suit and demanding that she withdraw her lawsuit, calling it “abusive litigation.” City officials said at the time they were prepared to pursue legal costs, damages and attorneys fees.
Shortly thereafter, Ware dropped her lawsuit and apologized to the city.
An investigation into Ware’s misleading candidate qualifying information was initially turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which later turned it over to the Georgia Secretary of State.
The city of Conyers has said it spent nearly $10,000 in legal fees and efforts to verify Ware’s eligibility to run for the office of mayor — about the same amount it cost to hold the election.
Mills handily defeated his remaining opponents to win a fifth term in office.
Other stories of note:
• Rockdale County voters approved an $83.6 million special purpose local option sales tax in November, which will be collected over the next five years and used to fund security upgrades and other improvements in the school system.
Rockdale County Public Schools Superintendent Rich Autry said at the time of the vote that technology and technology infrastructure improvements will be the first projects addressed with the E-SPLOST funds.
The referendum was approved with just 11.75 percent of the county’s voters casting ballots.
• A water main break in April created a need for north Rockdale residents to temporarily boil their water and highlighted some areas for improvement for Rockdale Water Resources.
The water line located underneath Ga. Highway 138 at the Sigman Road intersection was breached when a contractor with the Georgia Department of Transportation drilled into it while installing fiber optic cable. The resulting softball-sized hole in the 16-inch main caused water pressure in the system to drop so low that RWR enacted its emergency response plan and notified residents in the affected area to boil their water.
RWR employees were aided by personnel from the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office, Conyers Police Department, Walton County Fire Department, Rockdale Fire and Rescue and the county Transportation Department who worked through the night to repair the water line break.
RWR Director Dwight Wicks said the water line break brought several issues to the forefront to be addressed. He said the water line repair was complicated by the fact that many valve covers in the roadway have been paved over. He also said RWR did not have the needed pumping capacity to keep water out of the work site while repairs were underway.
“One of the things we did was assess the need for our pumping capacity,” Wicks said. “We are putting into our (2014) budget funding to buy another mobile or portable pump.
“We also looked at the need for and have identified a valve location and exercise plan,” Wicks added.
• In October thousands of thrill-seekers came to the Georgia International Horse Park for a chance to take part in the Great American Bull Run.
For a fee runners — many dressed in the traditional white outfits, red handkerchiefs and red scarves of the more famous bull run in Pamplona, Spain — were allowed to be chased by a bull or steer in the Grand Prix Arena.
Despite an 11th hour challenge to the event by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the bull run came off on schedule and with only a couple of minor injuries to participants.
City officials recapped the event as one of the best organized ever held at the horse park.