2011 a year of heartache, change

Published 8:38 am Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The death of LCpl Travis Nelson in Afghanistan was one of the most tragic and inspiring stories of 2011.

As 2011 draws to an end, and many around the world begin reflecting on the events of the last 365 days, residents in the Atmore area may look back on the year with mixed emotions.

From heart-wrenching tragedies to tales of seemingly super-human courage, 2011 took local residents on a whirlwind ride fueled by extremes and traveling the full gauntlet of emotion.

And now, at look back at the ten stories that left the biggest impressions on the Atmore Area in 2011:

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10.  The debate over whether or not a 5,100-acre landfill will be built in Conecuh County raged on in 2011. Tempers flared when a 3-2 decision by the Conecuh County Commission approved the construction of the landfill last spring. What followed was lawsuits by the City of Repton and many other communities, including the City of Atmore, attempting to keep the landfill out of their backyards, a two-year moratorium on landfills passed by the Alabama Legislature and heated legal arguments that will not come to a close as the year does.
Developer Conecuh Woods LLC has appealed a judge’s decision to allow the lawsuits to go forward, ensuring the fight will continue through 2012.

9  In April, longtime Atmore Mayor Howard Shell shocked local residents when he announced he would not seek re-election in 2012 after 22 years in office. Shell, who has been mayor since 1986, with only a one-term gap in his service, surprised residents and council members alike with the announcement he would not seek the office in the up-coming election. Shell made the declaration during a city council meeting, at which time he also publicly endorsed three-term City Councilman Jim Staff, who will vie for the seat next during next November’s election.

8  Atmore lost two local icons this year as a town staple closed its doors to business and its founder passed away shortly after. In January signs of the faltering economy could not be ignored in Atmore as Brantley’s Tires closed its local shop after 59 years of business. Less than one month later the company’s owner Frank “Bud” Brantley Jr. passed away from complications with pneumonia on February 10 at a Fairhope hospital. Brantley was 81 years old.

7  A bright spot for the Atmore community in 2011 lasted most of the year as new businesses popped up literally left and right at the Rivercane development area on Highway 21 near Wind Creek Casino and Hotel. This year a Hampton Inn and a second McDonald’s location were added to the list of Atmore businesses located on the Rivercane property. Although no other concrete plans for more new businesses have been announced, the Atmore Industrial Development Board has spent the year in talks with several different businesses about the possibility of bringing their services to Atmore. The McDonald’s location was completed in 2011 and is currently in business, while the Hampton Inn is expected to open its doors in early 2012.

6  Atmore residents had to endure a slight increase that made a big difference in 2011 as the Atmore City Council passed a one percent increase on the town’s sales tax in February. The increase officially went into effect in April upping the sales tax from 8 to 9 percent. Following the announcement, Atmore Mayor Howard Shell said the decision to implement the increase was not reached lightly and the proceeds from the increase would be used to improve local streets and provide community services.

5  On April 27, Alabama endured one of the worst lines of storms to ever hit the state as tornadoes ravaged the southeast and spread devastation from one end of the state to the other. In the wake of the deadly weather many were dead and still more missing and residents and officials in Atmore were one some of the first to come to the aid of those in need. As locals loaded several Pepsi trucks with food, water and other needed materials many said they felt it was their duty to help their fellow Alabamians during their time of crisis, many of whom they said had been quick to help Atmore after the devastation left by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

4  In May, years of work by local veterans including the Atmore American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters came to fruition as the Atmore Veterans Memorial Monument was officially dedicated at its new home in front of Atmore City Hall. The monument was the result of years of toil, negotiations and fund raising on the parts of the two veteran posts and displays the names of Atmore residents who served in all five branches of the military during major American wars.

3  The year certainly had its uplifting moment in Atmore, but no amount of joy seemed to be able to erase the grief cast over the town by the deaths of three young men in an early morning car accident in early September. Jeremy D. McNeil, 25, Rickey Herrera, 17, and Coby J. Smith, 14, were all pronounced dead on the scene after the vehicle they were traveling in left the road an struck a pair of tree on Brookwood Drive around 2 a.m. on Labor Day. A fourth person, Leonardo Cuenca Jr., 18, was injured in the accident and has since recovered from his injuries. In the days following the accident, nearly 100 locals gathered at Tom Byrne Park for a memorial honoring the life and mourning the loss of Smith, the youngest of the three victims.

2  Some events in 2011 were as inspiring as they were tragic, and none seemed to encompass those elements more clearly than the death of 19-year-old LCpl. Travis Nelson, a Bratt, Fla., resident killed while on duty with the Marine Corps. in Afghanistan.  Nelson lost his life to enemy fire only a month after arriving in Marjah, Afghanistan. Following Nelson’s funeral at First Baptist Church in Atmore the feeling of loss seemed as if it might lurk the streets of town for years to come. But the initial response to Nelson’s passing seemed to shock, not only the Atmore area, but the country. Only days after helping dedicate a new park in Bratt to Nelson’s memory his fiancé, 21-year-old Madeline Cates, announced she planned to follow in his footsteps by joining the Marine Corps. Cates has since explained her decision on several national television programs and has been the subject of a number of articles and broadcasts. During Christmas of this year Nelson’s memory continued to uplift the community and inspire people to reach out to their neighbors as his parents and other family members cooked and distributed nearly 100 holiday meals to people in need in the local area all in the name of their fallen Marine.

1  Despite tales of great heroism, dreams seen realized and legacies made in Atmore this year, 2011 will likely be seen by many as a year fraught with loss of young lives. That horrific trend seemed to come to a head in November as a house fire took the lives of three toddlers left home alone at night.
Three-year-old girls Aniyia and Takayiah Abner and 21-month-old Michael Coleman were killed after a fire erupted in their home while their mothers were not on the premises. State fire marshal’s investigators concluded the most likely cause of the blaze was a stove left open in the home, presumably to provide heat for the house.
Less than a week after the loss of their three children, twin mothers Akeevia and Tekeevia Abner, both 18, were arrested and each charged with three counts of murder.

As 2012 looms large on the horizon a trial date for the two women has yet to be set, almost assuring the pain from November’s events will continue long into the new year.