A look back

Published 10:00 pm Friday, December 28, 2012

Atmore’s new administration includes, from left, Chris Walker, Chris Harrison, Jim Staff, Cornell Torrence, Susan Smith and Webb Nall.

With only three days left before the arrival of 2013, the time for reflecting on the events of this year has arrived, and 2012 was full of changes for the Atmore area – changes for both the better and the worse. Now it is time to look back at the biggest local stories of 2012.

10. Rivercane continues growth
The Rivercane development property, located off Interstate 65 exit 57, added several newcomers in 2012, expanding both the variety of businesses in Atmore and the sales tax revenue for the city. Joining McDonalds, Hardees and Holiday Inn Express in 2012 were Hampton Inn and Suites, Waffle House, Sizemore Creek Bottling Company and Fairfield Inn and Suites. While both Fairfield Inn and Sizemore Creek are still in the developmfor business in October. Both Sizemore Creek and Fairfield Inn are scheduled to open in 2013.

9 New county officers elected: One of the biggest stories of 2012 was the campaigning that led up to November’s elections across the country. While national elections garnered much of the attention, local races also proved interesting. In Escambia County, an incumbent fell to a challenger, a current county commissioner defeated a former commissioner and two new candidates squared off for an open seat. The races in 2012 brought some new faces to local politics, as well as some familiar ones, and when the votes were tallied, incumbent Probate Judge Emilie Mims was defeated by challenger Doug Agerton; John Robert Fountain edged out Becki Breckenridge in the hunt for the circuit clerk spot coming open when Ken Taylor retires in January; incumbent county commissioner in District 4 Brandon Smith defeated former commissioner for District 4 Junior Hall. The newly elected officials officially take over in January.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

8New city administration chosen: 2012 was certainly a year of change for the leadership in Atmore as a new mayor and two new city councilpersons were added to the new administration. Replacing longtime mayor Howard Shell in 2012 was three-term city councilman Jim Staff. Incumbent city councilmen Cornell Torrence, Chris Walker and Webb Nall all retained their seats, while Susan Smith defeated Larry Houck for the council seat in District 5, replacing Staff, and Chris Harrison defeated Michael Arnold in a runoff race for the District 4 seat vacated by the retirement of John Garrard.

7 ECHS queen issue resolved: In 2012, Escambia County High School officially ended a practice that had been in place since the integration of schools in the 1950s. Early in the year, ECHS Principal Zickeyous Byrd said he was aware of some local residents unhappy with the school’s practice of choosing two homecoming queens – one white and one black. Following an article in The Advance addressing the issue, the Escambia County School System was contacted by a member of the United States Justice Department, informing them the use of race as criteria for any school competition was illegal. Although the practice of choosing two queens was not official school policy and had been abandoned following the article, the warning from Washington caused an official change in policy that forever ends the long-standing tradition.

6 Poarch faces legal action: The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has enjoyed momentous growth over the last decade, but in 2012 they faced several legal issues, including a possible law suit from the Escambia County Commission. The chaos surrounding the ongoing back and forth between the commission and the tribe began  when the commission held an impromptu meeting in April to discuss whether PCI should be paying taxes on their Wind Creek Casino and Hotel, which is built on federally protected trust land. Commission members said their concerns stemmed from a 2009 United States Supreme Court ruling they said should have nullified the trust land the tribe currently owns. Legal maneuverings and meetings continued between the tribe and the commission until June, when a letter from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior affirmed the tribe’s right to hold land in trust. Despite the federal opinion handed down, the commission has continued to look into the matter and as 2013 rolls around, chances are locals have not heard the last of this continuing dispute.

5 Howard Shell retires: After 24 years in the city’s highest office, Atmore Mayor Howard Shell stepped down in November, making way for the newly elected Jim Staff. Shell’s retirement was not a surprise in 2012, as he announced in 2011 his plans to step down, but that did not make his departure any less emotional. In November, a visibly shaken Shell fought back tears as he delivered his final words as Mayor at an Atmore City Council meeting. Shell spoke of his many memories serving the city and the hopes he has for the Rivercane development site, which has become his legacy.

4 Twin mothers sentenced for murders: Likely the most tragic story in recent memory topped the ten biggest stories of 2011 but carried over into 2012 as twin mothers Akeevia and Tekeevia Abner were both convicted of the reckless murder of their three children, who died in November of 2011 in a house fire after they were left home alone late at night. Both mothers were sentenced to 25 years for each of the three counts of murder, to be served concurrently, but may be eligible for parole in as few as 10 years. Killed in the fire were 3-year-olds Aniyia  and Takia Abner and 22-month-old Michael Coleman.

3 Northview wins first state title: The Northview High School Chiefs football team just kept going back to the state semifinal game over the last few years and kept hitting a wall, unable to get the final win that would send the program to Orlando and the Class 1A state championship game. All of that came to an end in November as the Chiefs finally got over the semifinal hump and punched their ticket to the title game.
The Chiefs entered Orlando’s Citrus Bowl as the underdogs, facing the undefeated Trenton Tigers, but quickly showed the crowd they were not to be underestimated. NHS jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half and never trailed en route to a 42-21 thumping of the Tigers and brought home the school’s first football state championship to Bratt, Fla.

2 Lotto storeowner killed in robbery: Like any other town, Atmore has its share of crime, but homicides are few and far between. That is one reason why the two murders that took place in 2012 top this year’s list of biggest stories. Only one homicide had occurred in 2012 until late in the year when 74-year-old Thomas Gerald Kroll was shot and killed during an apparent robbery attempt at his O’ Yes Lotto store on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Authorities determined two men who had purchased Spice, or synthetic marijuana, from the store returned wearing ski masks and armed with guns and attempted to rob the store of more of the substance. Gunfire was exchanged and Kroll was killed. Arrested for the crimes were 24-year-old Malcolm Troy McGhee and 20-year-old Brent Dewayne Lambeth. Both men have pleaded not guilty in an Escambia County (Fla.) court where they await trial on no bond.

1 Aspiring businessman shot in back: Certainly the life of one person is no more or less important than the life of another, but the circumstance surrounding the shooting death of Kendrick Lamon Dortch in June made it the biggest story of 2012.
Dortch, a 38-year-old aspiring businessman, was found dead from a gunshot wound to the back the morning of Tuesday, June 26. Dortch was found lying in front of a building on Ridgeley Street where he was working to renovate the structure and turn it into a pool hall and arcade. The tragic twist, according to friends and family members, was that Dortch’s passion to open the business stemmed from his desire to give local teens a safe, drug free facility in order to keep them out of trouble. Days after the murder, 16-year-old De’Anthony Dailey was arrested for the crime. Although Dailey has not yet been tried, family members and friends have expressed shock over their loved one being taken so suddenly, allegedly by a member of the very group he was working so diligently to help.