More 2008 highlights: sheriff trial, gas shortages, Democratic victories

Published 12:41 pm Friday, January 2, 2009

Former Polk County Sheriff Chris Abril in court.The second half of 2008 was a time of change in Polk County as well as the nation.

Gas prices fluctuated wildly and for weeks in the fall it was often difficult to find a station that had gas.

The local and national election dominated the news for months, with record voter turnout. Democrats took over the Polk County Board of Commissioners.

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Another focus was the trial of former Polk sheriff Chris Abril on rape charges relating to incidents alleged to have occurred 20 years ago involving two girls, 10 and 11 years old at the time. Abril resigned and pleaded guilty to two counts of solicitation to take indecent liberties with a minor.

The area lost several notable community members, including Seth Vining Jr., Ellis Fincher Sr., George Scofield and three young people. Other tragic deaths included Herman Edward Hawkins Jr., who was killed by a falling tree limb at Harmon Field, and Curtis Jenssen, who fell off Bradley Falls while fighting a fire.

Highlights for each of the second six months of 2008 are below:July

&ull; The Town of Tryon was sued over its second involuntary annexation plan. The lawsuit has not yet been resolved.

&ull; A tree limb fell and killed Herman Edward Hawkins Jr., 44, of Tryon at Harmon Field. The incident occurred during a sudden wind storm at Harmon Field while Hawkins was walking his dog across a bridge.

&ull; The Lynn community began working on being incorporated as a town.

&ull; Tryon lowered its minimum water usage rate, which resulted in higher costs for water customers, especially those outside city limits.

&ull; Grace Wilson, Polk County&squo;s oldest person, celebrated her 107th birthday on July 4. Wilson died shortly after celebrating her birthday.

&ull; Carl Mumpower, a candidate for N.C. Congressman, said that Polk County Republicans denied him a spot on the Republican float in the Coon Dog Day Parade. Mumpower later lost the election to incumbent democrat Heath Shuler.

&ull; The area celebrated the 4th of July with the Fabulous Fourth festival held in Columbus. The 45th annual Coon Dog Day festival was held in Saluda the following weekend.

&ull; Criminal activity was cited in the Polk County Sheriff&squo;s Office. Narcotics officer Capt. Juan Hernandez was fired after an investigation revealed that Hernandez may have acted criminally regarding an account he opened with drug seizure funds. The investigation is still ongoing.

&ull; Tryon decided to stop negotiations to bring a YMCA to Harmon Field. Harmon Field is now looking into selling or leasing the building that used to house the Tryon Middle School library and classrooms.

&ull; A fire destroyed Henson&39;s. Inc.&39;s building in Tryon. Investigators determined the fire was arson, although no suspects have yet been named.

&ull; N.C. Sen. Kay Hagan (D) visited Polk County while running against incumbent Elizabeth Dole (R) for the U.S. Senate seat. Hagan won the election later in November.

&ull; A bear was spotted on Melrose Avenue.

&ull; County commissioners began discussions on moving offices out of the aged Jervey-Palmer building in Tryon.

&ull; Tryon began kudzu eradication using goats.

&ull; Thermal Belt Outreach&bsp; faced possible cutbacks in services because of lack of funding and reached out to the community for help.

&ull; The area experienced the driest June in the past decade.

&ull; The National Register of Big Trees officially recognized a lofty and broad mimosa tree that stands on the front lawn of the Mimosa Inn in Tryon as a National Champion Tree.

&ull; Polk County completed its courthouse renovation project. Court was held in the historic courthouse in August for the first time in several years.

&ull; The Polk County Historical Association decided to move its museum from the old Tryon Depot to the bottom of the Feagan building in Columbus. The new museum is not quite complete.

&ull; Polk County held zoning board of adjustment hearings on a proposed equestrian facility in Green Creek that was donated to the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club. The board approved a conditional use permit for the facility to operate in the county&squo;s multiple use zoning district.

&ull; Area residents began voicing concerns over the Town of Columbus&squo; initial plans to move the Doughboy statue and cut down historic trees in the town&squo;s proposed Courthouse and Gibson Street renovation. The town later decided to leave the Doughboy where it currently stands and to save as many historic trees as possible.

&ull; Gas prices rose, with North Carolina prices for regular unleaded gas reaching $4.09 per gallon.

&ull; The Town of Columbus lowered its building height limits. Permitted heights for buildings now range from 29 to 36 ft. compared to the previous 36 to 50 ft.

&ull; N.C. Governor candidate Pat McCrory (R) visited Polk County. McCrory was beaten by new governor Bev Perdue (D).

&ull; A forest fire most likely caused by lightning engulfed a portion of White Oak Mountain in Columbus. Firefighters from area departments and the N.C. Forest Service speent a couple of days containing the fire.

&ull; Polk County commissioners decide to hold a referendum on a land transfer tax. Commissioners said they would use the revenue to preserve farmland. The referendum later failed during the November election.

&ull; Harmon Field was struck by vandalism for the third time since the spring. The vandalism included broken windows, damaged picnic shelters and trash cans, tables and benches pushed into the Pacolet River. Harmon Field has since decided to apply for a grant that includes funding for security cameras.August

&ull; A house was given away in Landrum. The &dquo;free house – you move&dquo; sign drew many interested parties. The house was moved by Truman Bostic and Jack Nodine.

&ull; New flood maps in Polk County drew large crowds to a meeting. The new maps were later approved by the Polk Board Commissioners.

&ull; A fire burned on the steep slopes of &dquo;Rocky Spur.&dquo; Lightning most likely caused the fire, which burned approximately 25 acres.

&ull; The Polk County Sheriff&squo;s Office was reported to have a 95 percent turnover rate.

&ull; Tryon native Jack Martin won the 21st Century Automotive hypermilling competition by attaining 124.62 miles per gallon in a Honda.

&ull; Saluda and Polk County law enforcement officers helped break up a golf cart theft ring.&bsp; Golf carts stolen in South Carolina were being sold in Saluda.

&ull; Construction work began on a water line owned by Polk County that runs from the Broad River Water Authority to the Inman Campobello Water District.

&ull; Landrum re-introduced saying a prayer at city council meetings. The prayer was prohibited for a while by state law but the law changed. Council members rotate saying the prayer prior to each meeting.

&ull; Padraig Harrington, PGA champion and winner of the British Open the past two years, was given an honoray Polk County citizenship. Harrington is affiliated with the White Oak Plantation Golf Course in Polk County. .

&ull; A bear was sighted near Columbus.

&ull; A N.C. Forest Service firefighter fell from Bradley Falls while fighting a fire and died. Curtis Jessen, 32, was at least the fourth fatality near the Big Bradley Falls location near Saluda since 1993.

&ull; Wallace Hughes, Landrum First Baptist Church pastor, won the S.C. Palmetto award.

&ull; It was reported that Polk County&squo;s real estate sales were down 50 percent.

&ull; Unemployment was the highest Polk County had seen in five years. Polk&squo;s unemployment rate rose from 4.5 percent in June to 5.2 percent in July.

&ull; Polk County hired Lynn Sprague as its first Agricultural Economic Development Director.

&ull; The area received 6.72 inches of rain in a 48-hour period after months of exceptional drought.

&ull; Recycling greatly increased in Polk County, with reports showing that the county was receiving more revenue from recycling than last year. The recycling push began as a citizen group initiative. Since then, the towns of Tryon and Saluda have installed community recycling centers. The Polk County Recycling Advisory Board continues to work on county-wide recycling. Also, after previously reporting a 4 percent recycling rate, the City of Landrum reported a rise in recycling to 11 percent.September

&ull; Polk and Henderson County boards of commissioners jointly met to discuss Polk County&squo;s plan to create a water system by purchasing Lake Adger.

&ull; The 10th annual Green Creek Heritage Festival was held.

&ull; Residents from Green Creek began to plead with county commissioners to supply them with water as their wells had gone dry. Polk County approved a temporary extension policy and has since begun plans to lay lines in a few areas.

&ull; The Polk County Courthouse restoration wins a 2008 Gertrude S. Carraway Award of Merit from the Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina.

&ull; Polk County approved selling to James Tool a building that the county formerly leased to the plant. The county sold the building on Locust Street in Columbus for $285,000.

&ull; Hurricane Ike caused runs on gasoline locally with many area gas stations completely running out for days at a time. Local gas prices then hit record highs at 4.69 per gallon.

&ull; 21-year old Seth Ray Alvarado was killed after falling off the top of a car in the Sunny View area. The driver of the vehicle, Donald Edwards, 18, was charged with misdemeanor death by a vehicle.

&ull; Polk County released and later approved a new property value schedule as part of its 2009 property revaluation. Property values at the time were expected to rise about 20 percent, but the economy has since declined and new property values are currently unknown. The county is scheduled to send notices of new values in January and February.

&ull; Tryon denied a request from Bradley Crossing, a proposed development in Lynn, to be voluntarily annexed into city limits. The town denied the request at Bradley Crossing&squo;s request and decided to provide the subdivision with water services.

&ull; Landrum High School Sophomore Tyler &dquo;Cole&dquo; Quinn, 16, of Inman was killed as a passenger in a vehicle leaving school. The 15-year-old driver and Quinn&squo;s step-brother, who was a passenger, were also seriously injured.

&ull; The Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Tryon celebrated its 100th anniversary.

&ull; Local fire departments received a grant to be equipped with pet air masks to save dogs and cats during fires.

&ull; Polk County set a temporary water extension policy, which includes residents paying up to $5,000 to receive a water line extension.

&ull; Debra Constance, a second grade teacher at Tryon Elementary School, was named Polk Teacher of the Year.

&ull; A new town park was opened in Tryon&squo;s Eastside community. A $4,000 grant from the Polk County Community Foundation funded the new park on Markham Road near West Livingston Street.October

&ull; The Nina Simone/Eunice Waymon birthplace in Tryon receives a marker. The home has been refurbished to commemorate the world famous singer who was born and raised in Tryon.

&ull; A deck was built at Polk County&squo;s new library in Columbus.

&ull; After the town received a recommendation from its planning board, Columbus considered but declined a push to impose a three-acre lot minimum for major subdivisions.

&ull; Columbus Town Council renovated city hall for new, larger council chambers.

&ull; Grover Industries in Lynn shut down after decades of plant operations. The plant suffered a slow decline. At the time of closing, it employed only 30 people, which was down from a crew of about 125 at the beginning of this decade.

&ull; A single car crash killed Polk County Senior Joshua Dodson, 17, of Saluda.

&ull; The City of Landrum received a $200,000 grant to install sidewalks on N. Randolph Street. The project is expected to begin in 2009.

&ull; Molly Corn was crowned Landrum High School Homecoming Queen, with Alyssa Florillo as first runner-up and Kansas Wofford as second runner-up.

&ull; Lauren Whitmire was crowned Polk County High School Homecoming Queen. Cassidy Culbreth won Maid of Honor and Haley Champion won Miss Wolverine.

&ull; About 30 students and two staff members were evacuated from Polk County&squo;s Virtual Early College because of&bsp; a carbon monoxide leak. Some students lost consciousness and were transported to the hospital.

&ull; Seth Vining Jr. died at the age of 84. Vining, the former owner and publisher of the Tryon Daily Bulletin, was also a Polk County commissioner, Polk County school board member and a volunteer with several organizations.

&ull; Complaints were filed against the Polk County government for alleged improper actions in supporting the county&squo;s land transfer tax referendum.

&ull; Polk County created a historic preservation commission.

&ull; Crossroads Cafe in Green Creek was destroyed by fire.

&ull; Saluda was filmed for a UNC-TV documentary on &dquo;Vanishing Americana.&dquo;November

&ull; A record 52 percent of registered voters in Polk County voted early.

&ull; Democrats won all three open Polk County Board of Commissioner seats, although initial results showed that Democrats Cindy Walker and Renee McDermott won along with Republican Ted Owens. After recounts, Owens lost by six votes to Democrat Ray Gasperson. The win by Walker, McDermott and Gasperson made the board all Democratic, which hasn&squo;t occurred in Polk County since the early 1990s. Walker was later named chair.

&ull; The Landrum High School Volleyball team won its third straight state championship.

&ull; Dr. Joseph Fox, Mary Hardvall and A. Davison Rie won the N.C. Governor&squo;s Award for their volunteer work for local organizations.

&ull; Lorna Dever, chair of Friends of Harmon Field, won a grant to write a book on America&squo;s Harmon Fields.

&ull; Polk County Sheriff Chris Abril resigned and a few days later pleaded guilty in Haywood County to felony charges of solicitation to take indecent liberties with a minor. Abril is currently serving house arrest.

&ull; Area residents shared their thoughts on Barack Obama winning the U.S. Presidency.

&ull; Polk County purchased two acres on Park Street in Columbus with plans to possibly construct a new department of social services building. The county paid $95,000 for the land.

&ull; Upstairs Artspace celebrated its 30th birthday.

&ull; An elderly woman was reported missing from Columbus. Joyce Elaine Earley, age 78, was found the next day in Chapel Hill.

&ull; Polk County commissioners appointed Donald Hill as the county&39;s new sheriff. Hill previously worked with the sheriff&squo;s office for almost 18 years.

&ull; The Tryon Garden Club celebrated its 80th birthday.

&ull; The Town of Tryon accepted the low bid of $3.225 million to begin work on rehabilitating its water plant. Construction is awaiting state approval.

&ull; Polk County&squo;s &dquo;flag man,&dquo; George Scofield, died at the age of 85. Scofield was the former founder and curator of the House of Flags.December

&ull; Polk County approved running fiber optic in Green Creek for approximately $40,000. The fiber will be included in about 2.5 miles of trench being dug for a water line.

&ull; Former Tryon Mayor Ellis Fincher died at the age of 81. He served as mayor for three terms as well as town councilman.

&ull; Sunny View Elementary School was named among 15 Governor&squo;s Real D.E.A.L. winners in North Carolina.

&ull; Work was completed on the Morgan Chapel Bridge replacement in Tryon after years of planning and public input.

&ull; The Landrum Masonic Lodge rededicated its lodge and opened a time capsule for its 100th anniversary.

&ull; Re-elected Polk County School Board members Melanie Talbot, Cindy Allen and Rick Covil were sworn into office.

&ull; A Polk County High School student brought a BB gun on a school bus. The 15-year old faced an immediate 10-day suspension.

&ull; Hearts Refuge Ministries in Landrum opened. The Christian organization is a place designed for kids to congregate.

&ull; Tryon received a request for answers and information relating to a lawsuit filed against the town for its latest annexation plan. The town objected to most questions. The lawsuit over the town&squo;s involuntary annexation decision has not yet been resolved.

&ull; Tryon approved hiring its own part-time economic development director. The town is partnering with the Tryon Downtown Development Association and the Tryon Tourism Development Association for the position, which has not yet been filled.

&ull; Columbus adopted a strict water bill policy to alleviate problems with renters being delinquent on bills. The town is now allowing 11 days from the due date for payment to be received before cutting off service.

&ull; James Walter Parker of Pea Ridge was found guilty and sentenced to 200 to 249 months in prison for attempted murder of his wife. Parker appealed the sentence, so he is still being held in Polk County under a $300,000 bond.

&ull; Columbus ended its moratorium on major subdivisions early. The town imposed an 8-month moratorium last May.

&ull; Columbus applied for the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant for 2009 to purchase an adjacent lot and build a shelter at Veteran&squo;s Park.&bsp; Polk Democrats celebrate after big victories in November.