Darlington County Year in Review

By the time this photo was taken, the fire was nearly extinguished. Photo courtesy of Palmetto Rural Fire Department

JANUARY 2019

Washington’s duties expand
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington will become the city’s public-safety director, also assuming authority over the Fire Department, under a “reorganization” plan launched by City Council.

After a brief executive session during its Jan. 8 session, City Council voted unanimously, with almost no public discussion, to begin a reorganization that will allow Washington to remain in charge of the city’s 24-person Police Department, but will also put the city’s seven paid firefighters and 21 volunteer firefighters under his authority.

Fire Chief Pat Cavanaugh, who has run the department since 2012, will continue to serve as the city’s fire chief, Washington said in a statement the day after the vote.

“I am excited about this new opportunity and look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of Darlington,” said Washington, who became the city’s police chief last year. “Chief Cavanaugh will continue to be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Darlington Fire Department.”

New members join school board
From staff reports

The Darlington County School Board Jan. 14 swore in two newly elected board members and two members who were re-elected to new terms.

New members Richard Brewer (District 5, Darlington) and Leigh Anne Kelley (District 1, Darlington) were sworn in by county Clerk of Court Scott Suggs. Kelley replaces Billy Baldwin; Brewer replaces Maureen Thomas.

Suggs then swore in Wanda Hassler (District 7, Hartsville) and Thelma Dawson (District 3, Darlington), two returning board members who were re-elected without opposition. Meeting for the first time in the new year, the board elected member Warren Jeffords as its new chairman. Jeffords succeeds Jamie Morphis, who had served for two years. Dawson was chosen the board’s new vice chairman.

‘Just a mother that got 40 kids off a bus to safety’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

One firefighter gives thanks to God and a quick-thinking school bus driver for the fact that 40 Darlington County elementary-school students escaped injury Jan. 22 when a car slammed into their bus from behind, starting a fire that engulfed half the bus.

Mayor Gloria Hines, left, presents Bernadine Reed a key to the city Photo by Bobby Bryant

“That had all the makings of being a total disaster,” said Thomas Spivey, chief of the Palmetto Rural Fire Department, which responded to the 6:30 a.m. accident on McIver Road near Wellman Industries. “The Lord was with us this morning.”

And so was the driver of the bus, Bernadine Reed, a Darlington resident who’d been working as a school-bus driver for only 45 days. “The bus driver did a superb job of getting the students off there,” Spivey said.

At a news conference the day after the accident, Reed explained that she had just stopped for a railroad crossing when the car slammed into the rear of the bus, which was carrying 40 Brunson-Dargan and Cain elementary school students.

“A little girl from the back of the bus said, ‘It’s smoking,’” Reed told reporters. “I opened the door so everybody (would) be able to get off the bus. … The only thought I had was getting them all off the bus to safety.”

“They all know that if something happens, you have to follow my rules, so that’s what they did,” Reed said. “ … They all were nervous, screaming and crying. But after we got off the bus, we all huddled in a circle (and) they (were) fine.”

Darlington County Schools Superintendent Tim Newman, who joined Reed for the press conference Jan. 23, said the new bus driver — 45 days on the job — had become his hero. Reed told reporters: “I’m just a mother that got 40 kids off a bus to safety.”

FEBRUARY 2019

Domino’s driver slain: ‘Shock and grief’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Domino’s Pizza at 510 Pearl St. in Darlington was open for business last week, but it wasn’t business as usual.

Abdul McKenzie, his wife, Trinity, and their three children.

For one thing, employees were carrying a load of “shock and grief and sadness,” said the restaurant’s owner, Osman Qasim. “People walking around with a heavy heart.”

For another, half of the restaurant’s proceeds for the early part of last week – Monday, Jan. 28, through Wednesday, Jan. 30 – were being donated to the family of longtime Darlington Domino’s employee Abdul McKenzie, who was shot and killed while delivering pizzas late at night on a rural Darlington County road.

McKenzie, 39, was found dead in a car on Rogers Road near Larry’s Drive just before midnight Saturday, Jan. 26, according to the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office and the Coroner’s Office. Qasim said the vehicle was McKenzie’s personal car, with a DOMINO’S sign on top.

McKenzie had worked for the Darlington Domino’s for nearly 20 years, Qasim said. For most of that time, Qasim said, he had been a delivery driver: “He just liked to deliver.”

“People are just shocked,” Qasim said. “He was a wonderful, gentle team member for 20 years. Just a wonderful human being.” And a big fan of Marvel’s Spider-Man, Qasim said. “We lost a wonderful human being to something senseless. … We just hope justice will be served.”

New coaches for DHS
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

The Darlington High Falcons will take to the football field and volleyball court this year with new leadership at the helm.
DHS held a press conference Feb. 1 announcing Raymond Jennings as head varsity football coach and Cellina Epps as head coach of varsity girls volleyball.
“Both of these coaches are incredible educators and will be serving in the classroom as well as on the court and on the field, and we’re excited to have them help our athletes grow in their classes and their sports to open up opportunities to them in the future,” said DHS principal Cortney Gehrke. “We’re very much looking forward to the things they’re going to accomplish here at Darlington High School.”

Raising deputies’ pay
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

In 1993, when Sheriff Tony Chavis began his career as a trooper with the Highway Patrol, his starting pay roughly matched that of a present-day Darlington County deputy. Now, 26 years later, prices have gone up on everything, but a deputy’s starting salary has not kept pace.

Chavis hopes to change that by asking the county to budget for pay increases this year. “These men and women put their lives on the line every day. We need to pay them, reward them with a good starting salary and pay increases for longevity,” he says.

In 2017, a deputy’s starting salary was $26,547; now it is $28,621. But that’s before deductions and fringe costs cut that down to $17,859, meaning that a deputy with a spouse and a child earns 14 percent below the U.S. poverty level. Chavis says this is unacceptable.

To that end, he has proposed a step increase that would boost deputies’ salary over $30,000, keeping DCSO in step with pay offered by police departments in Hartsville and Darlington. Chavis notes that young officers come to DCSO, require an investment of at least $50,000 for training and equipment, and often leave within three years for higher-paying jobs with other law enforcement agencies.

A $4 million gift for history
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

At Darlington County Council’s Feb. 4 regular meeting, members voted unanimously to accept and secure a generous gift left in their care.

Council approved receipt of a $4 million bequest from the late Carolyn “Bet” Norment Phillips, which she set aside for the Darlington County Historical Commission.

“The estate bequeath was specific that we establish a Darlington County Museum, and that the residual funds after that’s created would go to the care and maintenance of that facility,” explained Brian Gandy, Darlington County Historical Commission director. “Now that the vote is official, we’ll pick up some speed and as we progress along the way, we’ll bring reports as to where we’re at and what’s going on.”

A show of respect for Stone
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

A line of fire trucks and emergency vehicles, lights flashing, escorted the body of Jim Stone home from a Florence hospital last Thursday night.

Stone, who had worked with the Darlington Fire Department for 50 years, including more than a quarter-century as fire chief, died Feb. 7 after a long struggle with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), friends said. Stone, 78, had retired from the fire department in 2012.

Stone died at McLeod Regional Medical Center, where he had gone for treatment as his illness worsened. Within hours of his death, Darlington fire trucks and rescue vehicles arrived at McLeod and formed a funeral procession away from the hospital.

“It was extremely touching,” said Stone’s friend Rodney Langley, a former Darlington city manager. “It was a show of respect for sure. … I don’t know how they got the word out” so fast. Stone received another rare tribute on Saturday, when his body lay inside a flag-draped casket in the lobby of the Darlington County Courthouse for about four hours during the afternoon and evening. Mourners filed past the casket.

‘These comments have gotten out of hand’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Citizens who want to speak before Darlington City Council would have to sign up six days beforehand, tell a city official what they want to discuss, limit their remarks to three minutes and make “no personal attacks” on council members, under a plan that won initial approval Feb. 12.

The ordinance, championed by Mayor Gloria Hines as a necessary way to limit damaging and divisive comments during the “public comment” portion of council meetings, would significantly tighten council’s rules on “Citizens Wishing to Speak Before Council,” as it’s listed on the agendas.

“I have noticed for the past year that several comments that have been made by citizens and others have become personal and very offensive,” Hines told council. “ … These comments have gotten out of hand and must cease at once if we are to move Darlington forward.”

The ordinance needs one more vote of approval by council before it can take effect. That second and final vote is expected at council’s next regular session March 5. Under the new ordinance, these changes would take place:

— Citizens wanting to speak before council would have to meet with City Manager Howard Garland six days in advance of the regular monthly council meeting and tell him what they want to discuss. Up until now, citizens could sign up to speak immediately before a council session.

— Citizens speaking to council would be limited to three minutes. Up until now, they got five minutes, and some recent speakers have gone far past the five-minute rule.

— “No personal attacks on (the) mayor, council members or staff will be allowed,” the ordinance says.

Vandalism reports draw a crowd
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Lamar Town Council’s Feb. 11 regular meeting offered standing room only at Town Hall as many citizens came to show support for Mayor Darnell Byrd McPherson after her vehicles were vandalized last week.

McPherson said that last Wednesday, Feb. 6, someone came onto her property and spray-painted on her car and her husband’s car. Initially unaware of the vandalism, she drove her vehicle to work the next day, then later reported it to police. Lamar’s acting police chief, Lt. Robert Kilgo of the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office, said the incident is under investigation by SLED.

During the meeting, McPherson addressed Lamar’s fraught history with racism, which includes incidents of riots and violence when public schools were integrated in 1970. She also spoke about racist rhetoric in the current national political climate and observed that such hostility can give rise to crimes motivated by hatred.

Some guests spoke up about this possibility, offering reassurance that even if the vandalism was spurred by racism, Lamar’s African-American mayor has support from her white neighbors. “I want you to feel that there’s more good people in Lamar that will back you up just like your family … and if we stick together as good people, we can overcome it,” said one woman, drawing applause from the audience and thanks from McPherson.

Another look at Blue Laws
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Darlington County Council member Bobby Kilgo made a suggestion at council’s Feb. 18 work session that might provide local businesses with more commerce while protecting those who wish to reserve a day for religious observance.

“Darlington County can, if it chooses, move to exempt the Sunday Blue Laws,” said Kilgo. “We’ve already done that for alcohol. We had to do that by referendum; the people voted for it. I think we need to look at the possibility of doing the same thing for businesses.”

Currently, Blue Laws restrict retail businesses in unincorporated areas of the county from opening on Sundays prior to 1:30 p.m. Kilgo explained that while businesses located within municipalities like Hartsville and Darlington are exempted by local statutes, stores outside city limits are still legally hamstrung.

“What this would allow is for all our Dollar Generals and Family Dollars out there in the county to fairly compete with Walmart in the cities,” said Kilgo. “It would allow people who want to go shopping to do it on Sunday morning.”

Council chairman Bobby Hudson observed that some stores in the county already open before 1:30 p.m. on Sundays, and council member Le Flowers quipped that changing the law would simply make legal what those businesses are already practicing.

Upgrades for the Courthouse
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Improvements to the Darlington County Courthouse are under consideration, and County Council discussed some of these plans at their Feb. 18 work session.

County administrator Charles Stewart said the county is looking at several repair options for the aged HVAC system. Council recently approved spending $70,000 to fix a clogged coil system that leaked condensation from floor to floor, staining ceiling tiles, flooring and causing moisture issues. He added that it might cost close to $1 million to change out all the old fan coil units and change to an electric valve system.

Stewart said staffers are waiting on quotes for several climate control improvements, including replacing a furnace original to the 1965 building, and installing a dedicated HVAC system for the vast 5th Floor courtroom. Stewart said this room is almost a microclimate unto itself, and controlling humidity and mildew presents a major challenge.

Members of council tossed around the idea of remodeling the large courtroom to make better use of the space and cut heating and cooling costs. Council member Bobby Kilgo, who practiced law for many years in the courthouse, suggested lowering the ceiling and installing new lighting to replace the current lights. “I almost need a flashlight to be able to do anything in there.”

An installment plan for property taxes?
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Darlington County Council will consider allowing citizens to pay their property taxes in installments. This issue was one of many discussed at a Feb. 18 work session, and it drew varied responses from members of council.

“I commend you on how fast you are doing this,” said Joyce Wingate Thomas, noting that a citizen very recently requested such a program for those enduring financial hardship.

Council member Le Flowers observed that tax installment payments had been discussed years before, but met resistance from retired county treasurer Belinda Copeland. “We’ve been talking about this since the last time Belinda was elected, and she would not even think about it,” said Flowers.

It seems County Council is ready to proceed with trying installment payments now, and county administrator Charles Stewart pointed out that council has the authority to instruct the treasurer — now Jeff Robinson — to institute the program. Stewart added that as with all major changes to county policy, the program must be written up as an ordinance and pass three readings by County Council.

MARCH 2019

‘I definitely want to start with the cameras’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The Darlington County School District is moving ahead with a nearly $5 million plan to blanket the county’s public schools with surveillance cameras and to have students start using electronic key cards.

At a work session Feb. 25, the county school board agreed that county Education Superintendent Tim Newman will develop detailed plans for rolling out a new and tighter security system over a two-year period, then bring those plans to the board for consideration.

The discussion at the board’s work session picked up from where officials had left the debate in December, when the board was briefed on a $4.6 million proposal to tighten security at county schools. Some high schools would get more than 100 video surveillance cameras under that original plan, the board was told, and the cameras would account for most of the plan’s costs.

The board appears to agree that security at county schools should be tightened, but members had many questions and concerns about exactly how that should be done, and some members were worried what might happen if the computer systems controlling the security network either malfunctioned or failed because of a power outage.

The discussion bounced back to the security cameras. “What we’re talking about here, 85 percent is the cameras; 15 percent is the card access,” Newman told the board. “I definitely want to start with the cameras.”

Name that school
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

A new elementary school is being built in Darlington. Should we call it:

Cain, because it will replace Cain Elementary?

Brunson-Dargan, because it will also replace Brunson-Dargan Elementary?

Brunson-Dargan-Cain, or some variation on that, to honor both schools?

Some “place” name based on its location?

Something else entirely?

At a Feb. 25 work session of the Darlington County school board, county Education Superintendent Tim Newman indicated that committees that will consider new names for the Darlington facility and two other new schools might need clearer guidelines from the school board. The board’s “preferred” policy is to name all county schools after geographical areas – but that’s not mandatory.

The board’s informal decision: Wait until the committees come up with the names they want for the new schools, then think about whether the board needs or wants to change its “preferred-place-name” policy. The board took up the school-name issue largely “to begin the discussion,” said board member Charles Govan of Hartsville. “ … I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue – but it could be. People can be territorial sometimes.”

Speaking to council: Old rules remain
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Darlington City Council’s relaxed rules for letting citizens speak out during council sessions will stay the same, at least for now.

Minutes before starting a March 5 public hearing on new and tighter rules for public comments to council, Mayor Gloria Hines tabled a second and final vote on the changes – effectively killing the new rules unless someone puts the issue back on the agenda.

Council let the public hearing continue as planned, even though it was now a moot point. The 10 people who spoke during the hearing were commenting on a plan that already had been withdrawn. “I did that at the last minute,” Hines said the next day of her action. “ … I’m going to let God handle it.”

Hines said council will continue to discuss and study the best way to let the public comment during meetings, but said she didn’t know if or when it would again come before council. “We are going to discuss it. … I don’t mind it staying as it is,” said Hines, who plans to run for a second term as mayor.

County eyes Blue Laws
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Darlington County Council’s March 4 meeting saw the first steps toward altering the county’s Blue Laws and establishing an installment program for property taxes.

Council held a first reading (title only, no vote required) for Ordinance 19-01, which would give Darlington County citizens the option to pay their taxes on real property through installments. The payments would be for taxes due the following year, and would be based on estimates drawn from total property tax due the previous year. Credits and adjustments reflecting reduced value would be applied by the county assessor.

The ordinance proposes a schedule of six payments (each equal to 16 and 2/3 percent of the total estimated tax) due on Feb. 15, April 15, June 15, Aug. 15, and Oct. 15, with the remaining balance due on or before Jan. 15 of the following taxable year.

A first reading for Ordinance 19-02 revealed that the county plans to “indefinitely suspend Sunday work prohibitions” and allow businesses located in unincorporated areas of the county to open prior to 1:30 p.m.

Lamar, police and pollen
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

An overflow crowd at Lamar Town Council’s March 11 meeting forced a relocation to the Fire Department truck bay. Several of the citizens in attendance voiced concerns over three topics: Lamar’s lack of local police protection, the ongoing troubles with the town’s water and sewer system, and the mayor’s claim that her vehicle was vandalized in a possible hate crime.

Lamar Mayor Darnell Byrd McPherson addresses an overflow crowd at the March 11 meeting of Town Council. Photo by Samantha Lyles

Mayor Darnell Byrd McPherson reported to police that on the night of Feb. 6, someone spray painted her car and her husband’s car while they were parked in their yard. An incident report by the Lamar Police Department characterized the yellowish and powdery substance found on the vehicles as similar pollen, and the case was turned over to SLED for investigation.

The social media firestorm that followed (trackable under the hashtag “Lamar Pollen Challenge”) was, in McPherson’s words “hell in a handbasket.” She apologized for any distress the incident has caused the community.

A citizen asked McPherson why she didn’t make a public statement to allay concerns once the powder was determined to be pollen, and McPherson replied that the jury is still out on what the substance actually was. “The problem was, he (the responding police officer) did not take a sample,” said McPherson. “But it was not pollen… what it was and how it got there, I do not know.”

Other questions centered around how the town suddenly found itself without a police force. The previous week, Lamar’s last two officers left the department and joined the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office.

‘Universal happiness’ in Society Hill
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Coming to Society Hill within the next few years: A CareSouth Carolina office building where at least 50 employees will work.

Society Hill’s reaction: “Universal happiness,” says Mayor Tommy Bradshaw. “It’s great, great news. … We’ll be much, much better off. It’s a great day.”

On March 12, the Darlington County school board quickly and without debate voted to cut the legal red tape that for many years has restricted how Society Hill, a town of 560 people, could use St. David’s Academy, a former school that was shut down in the 1980s.

That clears the way for Society Hill Town Council to convey the deed for the property to Hartsville-headquartered CareSouth, which wants to renovate the “eyesore” former school into an administrative office for at least 50 employees who will be relocated from other sites. The company and the town have been in talks about the project for about a year, Bradshaw said.

When opened for business, Bradshaw said, the CareSouth office will be by far Society Hill’s biggest employer. “This is great news for our little town,” Bradshaw said. “I’m just very, very pleased. It’s just a win-win. It just seems to be very positive all the way around. … It’s something I’ve been dreaming of since I’ve been the mayor.”

Hines and Bruce launch campaigns
By Bobby Bryant and Samantha Lyles

Saying that Darlington’s potential is boundless, Mayor Gloria Hines officially announced March 12 that she will seek a second term. Two days later, City Council member and mayor pro tem Carolyn Bruce announced that she is also running for mayor, and she promised to use her “leadership and professionalism” to move the city forward.

Flanked by dozens of supporters during a brief speech on the grounds of the Darlington County Courthouse, Hines asked the city to make history by re-electing Darlington’s first black and first female mayor.

“I have worked hard to harness the extraordinary opportunities available to our city,” Hines said. “During my service as your mayor, Darlington Wal-Mart and other local businesses have economically promoted and provided many jobs in the city. Many downtown merchants are restoring their storefronts.”

She also cited new sidewalks being built on South Main Street and the city’s moves to address stormwater problems. “My business going forward is for all of us – and I say all of us – to work together to guide our city into its next chapter,” Hines said. “I am asking you to help put the shine back on the Pearl of the Pee Dee.”

During Bruce’s news conference, the councilwoman was flanked by supporters.

Bruce said: “We are at a time in our city where there is racial divide, name-calling, negative outside influences and finger-pointing. I stand before you today to offer my leadership and dedication to bridge the gap for a better Darlington.”

“To lead this city,” Bruce said, “the next mayor will have to work to gain the confidence of every part of our city.” She said a leader should “measure and balance the needs of every neighborhood and every person.”

A sidewalk for South Main
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Friday saw the end of a five-year quest to build a sidewalk along Darlington’s South Main Street, making the trek to Walmart much safer for the city’s pedestrians and bicyclists.

Mayor Gloria Hines says the new sidewalk makes the street more attractive and offers citizens a cleaner and easier path to the market, drugstore and other businesses along South Main. “I felt it was important because when we started talking about this in 2014, we kind of knew that Walmart was coming. We wanted people to not have to walk in the grass and walk in water,” says Hines.

“Since the sidewalks run from Avenue F all the way to Walmart, it’s much easier and safer for those people who are walking.” Hines acknowledges that state Sen. Gerald Malloy (District 29) provided crucial assistance in helping complete the project.

Malloy says the project was a team effort, and he hopes to work with the city more often to establish new infrastructure and other improvements as the U.S. 52 Bypass area continues to grow. “The Southeast Darlington sidewalk project is a five-year collaboration between the South Carolina Department of Transportation, the City of Darlington and my office,” says Malloy.

Residents reject ‘Sgt. Carraway Street’

By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

“Sgt. Carraway Street” won’t be a Darlington residential address after all.

After objections from longtime residents, the city’s Planning Commission last week rejected a proposal to rename Southern Pine Street after Sgt. Terrence Carraway, a Darlington resident and 30-year veteran of the Florence Police Department who was killed Oct. 3 when a gunman ambushed law-enforcement officers.

The four Planning Commission members in attendance at a March 19 public hearing on the name change voted unanimously against the proposal after several people objected to the plan, said Darlington planning director Lisa Chalian-Rock.

No one had anything against Carraway, who has been hailed as a hero many times since the shootings that killed him and another officer, Rock said. But residents didn’t want to go through the trouble and cost of changing their addresses on driver’s licenses, passports and the like, she said.

APRIL 2019

‘Our body-camera program is fully implemented’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Notice anything different about the Darlington County sheriff’s deputies you’ve seen on patrol this week? All the county’s patrol deputies, investigators and any deputies who interact with the public finally have their body cameras.

It’s the payoff of an effort that Darlington County Sheriff Tony Chavis began in January 2017, said Chavis’ spokesman Lt. Robby Kilgo. As of the end of last week, Kilgo said, the Sheriff’s Office had 65 body cameras “in the field” and another 10 in case they are needed.

“Our body-camera program is fully implemented,” Kilgo said. “ … That is a promise (the sheriff) made – that our deputies would have body cameras – and now they do.” Grants from the state ($112,000) and federal government paid the $122,000 cost of the program, Kilgo said.

Pay raises in county budget
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Pay raises may be in store for Darlington County Sheriff’s Office deputies, correctional officers, EMS workers and CDL drivers, if County Council approves the budget proposed at an April 3 work session.

The fiscal 2019/20 budget offered by county administrator Charles Stewart includes a 6.5 percent pay increase for DCSO law enforcement certified hourly positions currently below the rank of lieutenant. Correctional officers working at the W. Glenn Campbell Detention Center and Darlington County Prison Camp in certified hourly positions currently rank of sergeant or below would receive a 4 percent raise.

Full time EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) assigned to Darlington County Emergency Medical Services ambulances in certified hourly positions would also receive a 4 percent pay hike, as would licensed CDL drivers with Environmental Services and Roads & Bridges.

Stewart said he proposed these pay increases in hopes of improving employee retention, since deputies, guards, EMTs and CDL drivers frequently leave Darlington County for higher pay with neighboring counties. “These positions are always advertised. Anytime you pull up our website, you’re going to find we’re looking for these people because they come and go,” said Stewart. “One of the big reasons they come and go is that the pay is low for the jobs they do.”

Boyd makes it three in mayor’s race
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Businessman Curtis Boyd, 54, has become the third candidate for Darlington mayor.

Curtis Boyd announces he will run for mayor. Photo by Samantha Lyles

Boyd held a cookout/press conference April 4 and announced his intent to enter the race, where his opponents will include Mayor Gloria C. Hines and Darlington City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Bruce.

Boyd first made clear that he has relocated his residence to within city limits to qualify as a candidate. He spoke about building his Fitness World gym business — a process that taught him the importance of delegating duties and building strong working relationships.

He encouraged everyone to support local businesses and restaurants so that Darlington can continue to grow, and he cautioned against publicly deriding the city with negative comments. “We need an attitude that we’re going to support our city, we’re going to be proud of our city, we’re going to stand up for our city, and we’re going to truly love our city,” Boyd said.

“Everyone says we need change, but we’re at a point where we need more than change for our city,” said Boyd. “We need a leader that’s going to bring everyone together to make a difference in our city.”

‘Things went down that we had no control over’
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Lamar Town Council received a report on the 2019 Egg Scramble Jamboree at their April 8 meeting, and the news was mostly good … with one exception.

“Everything went extremely well until Saturday evening, and things went down that we had no control over,” said Nell Bradley, chair of the Egg Scramble Committee.

Bradley recounted how every festival activity – including night and day parades, concerts, the Taste of Lamar and other regular events – went off without a hitch. But as night approached on Saturday, tensions mounted between two groups of young men. One witness described hearing the groups shout obscenities at each other, and she asked them to refrain because there were children nearby.

They complied for a while, then observers noted to Bradley that they felt “something was about to happen.” She says she went to find a deputy and the tensions finally erupted into violence. Bradley said she was only a few feet away from the skirmish and witnessed pushing, shoving and punches being thrown.

The fighters crashed into one vendor’s stall and upturned a fryer filled with hot oil, which fortunately did not burn anyone. Though the young men assaulted each other, Bradley said the violence never escalated to gunplay.

Closer to courthouse renovations?
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Darlington County Council convened a brief special meeting last Friday to approve the next step toward renovating parts of the county courthouse.

In session only long enough to pray, pledge allegiance to the American flag, and vote once, council agreed to pay $42,228 for design and engineering firm Michael Baker Inc. (MBI) to formulate a renovation plan for the fourth and fifth floor court facilities.

For several years, judges and attorneys have lobbied County Council to address security concerns for all court facilities, including 4th Circuit Court proceedings and Family Court. Each court facility has its own challenges — cramped quarters, dangerous proximity between opposing parties, judges and defendants crossing paths, etc.

County Administrator Charles Stewart says this plan will incorporate input from committees and meetings with staff regarding the needs and wants of each department.

According to the Scope of Work proposal submitted by MBI, the total project renovation area on floors 4 and 5 is approximately 17,298 square feet over two floors, each approximately 8,649 square feet. The existing building is a multistory, nonsprinklered, protected steel-framed structure with a masonry finished exterior and casement windows. The structural grid and column spacing are approximately 18 feet on center, each way. There are five occupied stories above grade, a basement level and a mechanical penthouse.

Dedicating a memorial to fallen officers
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

A dedication ceremony was held April 16 for the planned Terrence Carraway Fallen Officers Memorial Park at South Main Street and Avenue D in Darlington.

Local businessman Curtis Boyd donated the land to the Carraway Foundation, which plans to erect a statue of the late Sgt. Carraway, a monument engraved with the names of South Carolina law enforcers killed in the line of duty, and a teardrop wall.

“We’ll have spots for all 377 officers that have given their lives,” said Boyd, adding that the park will also memorialize 10 K-9 dogs that died on the job.

Boyd said the park will feature a flower garden, a six flag display, a basketball court and a parking space reserved for the use of any law enforcement officer.

“Terrence lived every day like it was his last, encouraging others with words and a smile to top it off like no other. The love he had for his home, his family and community will always be in our memories,” said his widow, Allison Carraway. “In honor of Terrence and the fallen officers, we must help each other in times of need.”

MAY 2019

Facing the ‘Lamar Riots’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

They waited 49 years for these 12 minutes.

On April 30, Hartsville Sen. Gerald Malloy led the state Senate in a recognition of the six black Darlington County students who were terrorized March 3, 1970, when a mob of about 200 white people turned over their school bus in Lamar during a riot protesting school desegregation.

Three of those former students — David Lunn of Detroit, Mich., Clarence Brunson of Hartsville and Ronald Bacote of Virginia — stood in the Senate chamber with family members as Malloy recounted what happened during the “Lamar Riots.”

He introduced a resolution hailing the six as “an incredible group” long overdue for recognition “for their role in the fight for desegregation and for their outstanding resilience in the face of trauma.” Two others aboard the overturned bus – Edward Lunn of Texas and Woodrow Wilson Jr. of Columbia – could not attend the Senate session. A third person on the bus, Sally Wilds, is deceased.

No installment plan for property taxes
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

At their May 6 meeting, Darlington County Council voted to allow businesses to open early on Sundays, but scrapped a plan to let residents pay property taxes via installment payments.

Council deadlocked at four “ayes” and four “nays” on third reading for Ordinance 19-01, which would have given Darlington County citizens the option to pay next year’s property taxes through installments.

During discussion prior to the vote, county administrator Charles Stewart explained that instituting this program would require the purchase of an $8,500 software module and around $1,500 in annual maintenance costs.

“I just don’t see where it’s worth $10,000 of taxpayers’ money to set up an installment payment,” said council member Le Flowers (District 5, Swift Creek Area). He expressed doubt that the program would generate adequate participation to offset the expense.

A backlash against officers’ memorial?
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The widow and brother of slain police officer Terrence Carraway appeared before Darlington City Council last week to defend a planned park honoring slain S.C. officers after a resident showed council what she described as a petition, signed by 200 people, opposing the project.

Betty Jackson, who told council she lives near the park and memorial planned at South Main Street and D Avenue, appeared before council May 7 to argue that residents don’t want the project, which is spearheaded by mayoral candidate Curtis Boyd, a longtime friend of the Carraway family.

“We all want to honor and praise Officer Terrence Carraway … (but) to put another park in the busiest intersection in this city seems excessive and unnecessary,” Jackson told council. “The inclusion of a basketball court and picnic tables in a basically senior-citizen neighborhood will be noisy and distracting.”

And displaying a sheaf of papers filled with signatures, Jackson added: “And I have over 200 names already signed for a petition by my neighbors.”

Allison Carraway told council: “Sgt. Terrence Carraway paid the ultimate sacrifice – he died to protect those that could not protect themselves. … I never thought that I would be standing here, defending the validity or intentions of this project, much less its purpose,” she said.

Lamar mulls municipal-service rates
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Lamar residents will soon see increases on their monthly municipal services. Town Council met May 13 and moved toward raising rates for garbage pickup and water and sewer service.

Council member/Mayor Pro Tem Lang Howell said that currently, residents receive garbage pickup service eight times per month for $10, and he observed that there is “no way in the world” the town can meet expenses this way. He proposed raising garbage pickup rates to $18 per month, with no changes in services. Council agreed and passed first reading of this increase; second and final reading should take place at their June 10 meeting.

Howell said that since Darlington County Water and Sewer Authority (which provides water to the town) is raising rates by 5 percent, the town needed to raise rates to keep pace. Following a brief discussion, council agreed to levy a 10 percent increase on municipal water and sewer service. Second and final reading of this change will take place in June.

Also, council member Angele White Bradley proposed raising the wastewater acceptance rate Lamar charges Darlington County Water and Sewer Authority. She noted that for every 1,000 gallons of wastewater the county pushes into Lamar’s oxidation pond, Lamar charges only $1.95.

‘If he could help, he would help’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

“If he could help, he would help,” Dariasha James says of her cousin Milton B. McGee of Society Hill. On May 21, that urge to help cost McGee his life.

McGee, a 47-year-old truck driver, was trying to aid the driver of a disabled tractor-trailer on U.S. 52 in Society Hill when a pickup truck slammed into him and killed him, officials said.

“It was a devastating day yesterday in Society Hill,” James said the day after the predawn accident. “You could feel the vibe,” she said. “He was well-known around Society Hill. … It was a sad day. You could tell everybody was down, shocked, upset, crazy. It was a mess.”

The incident began about 5 a.m. last Tuesday near the intersection of U.S. 52 and U.S. 15, officials said. The tractor-trailer driver – a relative of McGee’s, according to James – had pulled out of a private driveway when his rig broke down. Lanes of traffic were blocked, officials said. The S.C. Highway Patrol said that a “pedestrian,” later identified as McGee, approached to help the driver. McGee was standing near the disabled tractor-trailer when he was struck by the driver of a Dodge pickup truck traveling southbound on U.S. 52, officials said.

JUNE 2019

‘We didn’t hear the gunshot because we had somebody singing’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Pine Ridge Holiness Church pastor Randall Harrelson and his congregation didn’t hear the gunfire a few hundred feet away from their Darlington County church.

“We didn’t hear the gunshot because we had somebody singing” during the church’s Memorial Day weekend Sunday-morning services on May 26, Harrelson told the News & Press. “We think it happened about 11:30,” right in the middle of services.

Just down the highway from the church near Hartsville, a 24-year-old Hartsville man had been killed outside a Markette convenience store at West Bobo Newsome Highway and West Old Camden Road. The victim, Desmond Coe, had been on a motorcycle in the road when he was shot. Officials said Coe “retreated” to the Markette after he was hit, leaving his motorcycle behind.

When the 40 or so parishoners at the nearby church left the building, they walked out onto the remnants of a crime scene, with the fallen motorcycle roped off with yellow tape and backed-up traffic on Bobo Newsome Highway beginning to be cleared out.

A salute to Stone
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

At a special ceremony May 26, the Cashua Street building housing “Our Pat” (the city’s first fire engine) was dedicated in memory of the late Darlington Fire Chief Jim Stone, who served 50 years with the department.

Speakers included Mayor Gloria Hines, Darlington Fire Department Chief Pat Cavanaugh, City Council member John Segars, Darlington County Coroner Todd Hardee, First Baptist Church Pastor Brian Sherwood and Jason Stone, who donated his father’s fire helmet to display with “Our Pat.”

Each speaker shared memories of Stone as a witty and charming man, a prankster, and a dedicated public servant who deeply loved his city, his family and his firehouse.

Stone died on Feb. 7 at age 78. His body lay in a flag-draped casket at the Darlington County Courthouse before his funeral services — a rare honor.

Cavanaugh and Darlington City Manager Howard Garland unveiled a custom plaque that bears Stone’s likeness and relates a brief history of the small brick building (the city’s first fire station) and the antique horse-drawn fire engine it houses.

City wrestles with budget issues
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Darlington residents will pay slightly higher property taxes and $1 more a month for garbage pickup under a budget plan that got preliminary approval from City Council last week.
The city’s $6.8 million budget plan for next fiscal year, which needs one more vote to become final, raises the city’s tax millage rate by 3.2 mills – from 131.41 to 134.61. That means the owner of a $100,000 home will pay $13 more per year in property taxes, said City Manager Howard Garland.
The millage increase will raise $57,000 to be used for paving roads owned by the city. During a series of work sessions on the budget, council members indicated they wanted road improvements, and Garland offered council a millage increase as an option.
Council’s decision to raise garbage-collection fees means the fee for trash pickup in the city goes from $21.50 a month to $22.50. Garland recommended the increase to council because the city has had to buy a new trash truck and other equipment.

Raises all around for school district
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Every employee in the Darlington County School District gets at least 4 percent more pay under the district’s new budget plan, which quickly won final approval from the school board June 10.
The $95 million budget for fiscal 2019-20 also gives teachers in the district raises averaging 6.8 percent, officials said. The budget sets the starting salary for new teachers at $39,000; new teachers also get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.
School-board members have said they were pleased with the budget-writing process, especially the “much-deserved” raises for all employees.

Lamar enlists new police chief
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Lamar’s Town Council chamber rang with applause on June 10 as Carl Scott was introduced as the new chief of police. The town has been without a chief – and without local officers – for several months, but the hiring of Scott brings a close to that chapter.

Scott, 43, is a native of Lake City and a career law enforcement officer who served 15 years with the Florence County Sheriff’s Office and has worked for the past six years with the Kingstree Police Department.

Scott said he has also subcontracted with the U.S. Marshal’s Service, and has contacts and good relationships with several agencies, which he hopes to utilize to Lamar’s benefit. He revealed that he is already revamping the application process and screening candidates to fill openings for police officers with the goal of finding officers who will “fit the Town of Lamar.”

Scott voiced an open-door policy and encouraged any members of the public to come visit him when they have concerns or just want to talk. He said he plans to publish his e-mail address in the next town newsletter (included with monthly water bills) for those unable to visit in person. Scott added that he wants the community to buy in and help the department fulfill its main mission: public safety.

Festival fears in Society Hill
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Over the Memorial Day weekend, a community group held a small festival in the parking lot outside Society Hill’s Town Hall building. The event featured food and games for the kids and the county fire department sent over a fire truck for extra entertainment. Firefighters helped children shoot jets of water into the air, and kids played in the “rain” created by fire hoses.
There were only two problems: The town’s government didn’t know about this event on town property, and the festival’s organizers didn’t have insurance in case anyone accidentally got hurt. Now, Mayor Tommy Bradshaw plans to have the town of 560 people start regulating public events on town property to protect Society Hill’s government from potentially disastrous legal liability.
At the Town Council’s June 11 meeting, Bradshaw announced that the town would develop an application process for any group seeking to hold a public event on town property. A form would be filled out and the town would issue a permit if no problems are found. Any group wanting to have a public event on town-owned property would be required to arrange $1 million worth of liability insurance.

JULY 2019

Name that school: 6 choices
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Can you name one school for three educators?

A committee considering a name for Darlington’s new elementary school thinks not. The panel has narrowed the list of possible names for the new school to six, and none of the options attempts to work in the names of all three educators whose names grace the schools this one will replace.

When you get to vote on the new school’s name late this summer, you’ll have the option of sticking with Brunson-Dargan Elementary or J.L. Cain Elementary – the names of the two schools that will be folded into the single new elementary now under construction and set to open in 2020. But none of the six options combines all three names.

Here are the final options that will later be presented to residents and to affected students, parents and school employees: EAST DARLINGTON ELEMENTARY. FIRST STREET ELEMENTARY. BRUNSON-DARGAN ELEMENTARY. J.L. CAIN ELEMENTARY. DR. WILLIE BOYD SR. ELEMENTARY. C.C. WEARING ELEMENTARY.

Nucor’s new deal
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net
Nucor Corp. plans to invest $75 million in new land and equipment, and Darlington County Council voted unanimously in favor of a tax incentive package to help facilitate the company’s plans. The vote took place at council’s July 1 regular meeting.

Due to confidentiality requirements, all prior readings of Ordinance 19-10 referred to the 50-year-old steel mill as “Project Heat Wave.” The final reading of the ordinance revealed that Nucor plans to invest $75 million over five years, mostly by acquiring land and purchasing new machinery to grow their local operations. There are no new jobs associated with the expansion project at this time.

Nucor will be granted a fee-in-lieu-of-taxes (FILOT) agreement, assessing the expansion at 6 percent annually for 30 years. Nucor will also receive a special source revenue credit of $25,000 a year for the first 10 years. The ordinance states that Darlington County will receive an additional $8.5 million in revenue from the FILOT over the 30-year term.

Here come the cameras
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

A nearly $5 million plan to blanket Darlington County public schools with surveillance cameras should be ready to launch by November, a school-district official said last week.

All of the district’s nearly two dozen schools, including the three elementary schools under construction, will be part of this web of cameras that are far more sophisticated than what the district has now, Diane Sigmon, executive director of technology for the district, said in an interview.

“We have a standard, and it (will be) implemented in every school, equitably,” Sigmon said. “That’s how we always approach it. … We worked with each principal, particularly at the high schools, because they know where the nooks and crannies are that kids like to hide.”

“We have figured out the number of cameras for every school, because every school gets (the new) cameras,” Sigmon said. “We should be complete by November.”

Kids and computers
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Thousands more students attending Darlington County public schools will be allowed to take home their school-issued computers starting this fall.

Until now, only students in grades 9-12 were able to take their school-issued laptop computers home with them. Under a new plan approved July 8 by the county school board, students in grades 3-8 also will be allowed to take home iPads issued to them by the school district.

Kids in grades 3-8 will be required to pay the district $20 a year to cover possible damage to iPads owned by the district. High-school students must pay $50 a year for insurance coverage on their school-issued laptops.

‘Fear of flooding’ meets the mayor’s race
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

After a summer of sudden thunderstorms and ferocious flooding in parts of Darlington, “fear of flooding” has become an issue in the race for mayor.

Last week, mayoral candidate Curtis Boyd said on his Facebook page that the constant flooding problems were keeping business investments out of the city.

“I was approached … and told by a very large business in town, by their manager, that they have money to expand in Darlington, but with the drainage issue, they WOULD NOT spend money here,” Boyd said on Facebook. He did not name the company.

“I assured him that this is a serious issue that has been let go too long and will be one of our TOP priorities,” Boyd continued. “The businesses and citizens of Darlington have the right to feel secure in their surroundings without fear of flooding every time rain comes to our town.”

Boyd, a businessman seeking to unseat Mayor Gloria Hines in her bid for a second term, posted photos of flooded streets on his Facebook page July 13 and said: “How many years? All over town. Two hours of rain. This has to be addressed. This has gone on for years. Please be careful out. Already seen five cars towed. Broad St. Russell St. Main St. Pearl St. Please do not drive through it.”

AUGUST 2019

Library reaches for the stars
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Kids who excelled in the Darlington County Library System’s summer reading program helped the library launch its latest educational program and cut the ribbon on a new portable planetarium, dubbed the Darlington Discovery Dome.

On Aug. 2, the Darlington Library unveiled the 18-foot StarLab inflatable dome and welcomed two outstanding readers and their families inside for a preview of the space exploration-themed show. Obtained with support from the Sonoco Foundation, the planetarium will provide an immersive educational experience designed to fire the imaginations of future scientists and explorers. Best of all, the planetarium is conveniently located and show admissions will be free.

“Not everybody has the transportation or the resources to go to the planetarium (at Francis Marion University) … so we worked with the Sonoco Foundation to bring the planetarium experience to Darlington County,” said Jimmie Epling, Darlington County Library System director.

‘Darlington is drowning’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

“Darlington is drowning,” one resident told City Council last week in asking for help with continuing flooding problems.

She was one of two citizens who addressed council during its monthly meeting Aug. 6, and both asked the city to make more use of its “vac truck,” a specialized vehicle for cleaning out storm drains and sewers. “That truck should be out there every day because Darlington is drowning,” resident Rose Pruitt told council.

“I don’t think for an instant that I’m the only area that floods in town,” she said. “I’m aware that those big storms have caused some problems. However, I’ve (had) 2 feet of water at the end of my driveway … I’ve got water lapping at siding that was recently replaced because of this flooding damage.” She lives in the West Broad Street area.

“It’s not just my property,” Pruitt said. “It’s all my neighbors’ property. It’s escalating. We’ve got cars stalling out. We’ve got crazy people trying to go 100 miles an hour and hydroplane. And this time … somebody tried to go around the flooded street, and they’re going down the sidewalk.”

School district misses a chance for ‘eLearning’ program
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The drill for hurricanes and winter storms is going to remain the same for Darlington County public-school students – time off now, make-up days later.

The Darlington County School District didn’t make the state’s list of districts being allowed to join a pilot program to test “eLearning,” which lets students do lessons from home, by computer, even when a weather emergency shuts down their schools. This would let schools shed the burden of make-up days.

Darlington County was one of 23 school districts that had applied to join the five districts already testing the program — Anderson 5, Kershaw, Pickens, Spartanburg 1 and Spartanburg 7. But only 10 more districts were allowed to join in for this year, and Darlington County was among those passed over.

Lamar takes the Internet leap
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Last December, Spectrum Cable and Charter Communications announced plans to install a state of the art fiber network in Lamar, bringing cutting-edge online service to a town that had lobbied 10 years for better connectivity. On Aug. 13, Spectrum execs came back to town to celebrate the completion of the network and offer gifts to help local residents merge onto their new online expressway.

“Today is truly a celebration. We are connecting Lamar, South Carolina, to Spectrum’s high-speed Internet network,” said Ben Breazeale, Spectrum’s Senior Director of State Government Affairs.

Spectrum customers in Lamar will now be able to access a 200 mbps Internet connection – the same speed available in top markets like New York City, Los Angeles, and other major cities. Company reps said the Lamar project is part of Spectrum’s commitment to improve communications infrastructure in rural communities. In 2018, Spectrum expanded their network to provide broadband to 500,000 additional homes and businesses across the nation, with 34.6 percent of those customers living in rural areas.

“With faster Internet speeds, especially in more rural areas of South Carolina, the doors will be open for future business investments, expanded educational opportunities, and will attract more people to live here in South Carolina,” said Charter Communications Assistant VP of Field Operations Tony Sieiro.

Robbers raid Dollar Generals
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

It was a brutal 36 hours for Dollar General employees in Darlington County.

On Aug. 18, two men swiped money from an open cash register at the Dollar General on McIver Road. No weapons were involved, and the case is considered a larceny, not a robbery.

On the same day, a Sunday, a female store employee was shot during an attempted armed robbery at the Dollar General on Main Street in Lamar. The next day, a man entered the Dollar General at 904 Lamar Highway, showed a weapon, demanded cash and escaped with an undetermined amount of money.

That string of incidents in a day and a half has prompted the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office to reach out to Dollar General’s corporate office to try to establish a dialogue about what might be done to strengthen security at the company’s stores in the area. Lt. Robby Kilgo, a spokesman for Sheriff Tony Chavis, told the News & Press, “We have reached out to Dollar General to see if they will go over their security measures and provide suggestions.”

Police roll out new utility vehicles
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

When responding to calls in flooded or confined areas, officers of the Darlington Police and Fire Departments now have greater ability to access and navigate these scenes, thanks to three recently acquired utility vehicles.

Honda donated a new Big Red side-by-side UTV to the Darlington Police Department, and the Darlington Fire Department received two used Gator utility vehicles through a South Carolina Forestry Commission grant program.

Kelvin Washington, City of Darlington Public Safety Director and Chief of Police, says the used vehicles only required a little TLC to get them ready for duty.

“The guys at the Fire Department are amazing and very resourceful. They were able to go in and work on these vehicles…with a couple of guys from our office, they’ve torn them down and made repairs. Most of this free equipment has very little wrong with it, so it’s mostly body work and wiring and small repairs,” says Washington.

SEPTEMBER 2019

Airport reaches for the sky
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Planned improvements to the Darlington County Airport (DCA) could lure larger, heavier aircraft in for a local landing. Starting this September, a project to upgrade the field’s main runway will triple its current weight capacity, opening up options for current tenants and enhancing the airport’s appeal to new ones.

“We applied for a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to come in and basically do an overlay on our runway,” says airport manager Barry Kennett. “The asphalt on the runway is over 20 years old, and generally that’s about the lifespan for asphalt surfaces.”

Kennett says that due to age and the regular traffic of heavy aircraft on hot asphalt, the runway has developed ruts. Engineers recommended an overlay to repair the surface, and DCA applied for a federal grant to help cover the estimated cost of $4 million- $5 million. The project will mill down between 2 and 7 inches of asphalt and lay a thick pad of concrete along the 5,500-foot-long runway, providing a more durable and hardy surface. “That’s going to triple our weight-bearing capability,” Kennett says.

Bethea plans $23 million project
From staff reports

Bethea Retirement Community in Darlington last week broke ground on a $23 million, 60,000-square-foot health care and rehabilitation facility.

The project, to be completed in the fall of 2020, is “a pivotal moment, a life-changing event, in the future of every resident and staff (member) of Bethea,” said Tom Turner, CEO and president of the S.C. Baptist Ministries of Aging. Bethea is a ministry of that group. Bethea held a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 27 on the project.

The facility, when complete, will encompass 88 private rooms, 22 of them for short-term care and 66 for long-term care.

Also included will be a rehab therapy gym (3,000 square feet), a primary care office (1,500 square feet), screened porches and an ice-cream parlor. The design will allow private living for residents who have previously had semi-private rooms.

The design features four “households,” groups of 22 residential rooms; each “household” is to have a kitchen and recreation area.

Hurricane? What hurricane?
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Darlington County hunkered down last week for an assault by Hurricane Dorian, but the area mostly just got a steady rain and moderate winds.

“We were very fortunate,” said Molly Odom, emergency management coordinator for the county. “It’s much better than expected.”

“The rain has been less than they forecast,” Odom said last Thursday as the county began moving out of the peak danger zone from the storm.

“We’re experiencing significantly less impact than what was forecast.”

Forecasts had called for up to 4 inches of rain in the county and wind gusts of up to 40 mph. According to local media reports, the Darlington area got 2.3 inches of rain; the Florence area, 2.8 inches.

David Self, Deputy of the Year
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Earlier this summer, Darlington County Sheriff’s Office Deputy David Self was selected by the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association as 2019 Deputy of the Year. Last week, Darlington County Council passed a resolution honoring the officer and celebrating his outstanding work.

“I just want to say how proud I am of this young man, and that he’s a deputy in his home of Darlington County, serving the people,” says Sheriff Tony Chavis.

Self’s father served as a deputy, and he followed in the family tradition by joining the North Charleston Police Department. From there, he applied to the DCSO and Chavis says he was happy to welcome Self to the department.

“I’m so glad we were able to bring him back home. His work is really speaking for itself,” says Chavis.

Hugo: 30 years ago
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Thirty years ago, Darlington County was a wreck.

Trees were down on houses. Trees were down in roads. The power was out. Phones were out. Even water service was out in some places.

Grocery-store shelves were stripped bare. Frozen food rotted in dead refrigerators and freezers. Store awnings on Darlington’s Public Square were stripped off. Hundreds of evacuees took shelter at four public schools in the county; all the other schools were shut down.

Some 3,000 homes in the county were damaged; some simply collapsed. Cleanup of the whole mess was going to take two or three months, officials estimated. This was where we were 30 years ago this week after Hurricane Hugo roared across South Carolina Sept. 21-22, 1989.

“THE LONGEST NIGHT,” the News & Press called it in a headline. Another headline said, “Hugo takes no prisoners.”

OCTOBER 2019

Deputies kill ‘man with a gun’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Darlington County sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a “man with a gun” last week after he refused to drop his weapon and kept walking along New Market Road near Hartsville, officials said.

Daryl Strickland, 65, of Hartsville, died in the Sept. 25 incident, said Darlington County Coroner Todd Hardee. Sheriff Tony Chavis has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate the slaying; SLED routinely handles officer-involved shootings.

The Darlington County Sheriff’s Office released the full incident report on the shooting Friday. It deletes the names of three officers involved in the incident, but otherwise provides a full account of what took place according to the deputies on the scene.

The report states that at 6:38 p.m. last Wednesday, the unnamed deputy responded to the area of 847 New Market Road in response to a call about a “man walking with a gun.” At 6:51 p.m., the report says, the unnamed deputy and two other officers “made contact” with the man “walking on New Market Road with a gun in his hand.”

“All deputies approached the suspect and gave verbal commands to drop his weapon . . . which suspect ignored,” the report says. “The suspect continued to walking,” the report continues. “The suspect then stated something … which this deputy did not understand. When the suspect turned, he was fired upon,” the report says. “The suspect was struck with gunfire and dropped to the ground.”

Judicial center plans reviewed
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Darlington County Council met Oct. 2 to review preliminary conceptual designs for a new $14 million judicial center.

As depicted in artist renderings and floor plans from engineering and design firm Michael Baker International, the new 38,000-square-foot building would feature improved security for judges and court personnel with a separate entrance and exit, gated parking lot and sequestered office space. A sally port (for loading and unloading detainees from vehicles) and a secured detention area would keep prisoners making court appearances safely apart from judges, attorneys, jurors, witnesses and court employees.

Darlington County administrator Charles Stewart said the building will hold five judges’ offices, each with an administrative area and restrooms. Three specific elevators will serve judges, criminal detainees and the public. He noted that this will end longstanding concerns about citizens randomly encountering prisoners while in transit.

“This is a separation that we cannot achieve without installing two additional elevators in our current courthouse facility,” said Stewart.

General Sessions court would take place on the first floor. Stewart said this main courtroom would be “the same size you already have in the current building.”

Judicial center plans advance
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Plans to build a new $14 million courthouse in downtown Darlington will move forward, as Darlington County Council voted unanimously at their Oct. 7 regular meeting to pursue the project.

With this vote on Resolution No. 709, council granted Darlington County administrator Charles Stewart permission to “engage and seek an engineering and architectural contract for the design, construction and completion of a new judicial center for Darlington County.” The proposed build site is on North Main Street, in front of the Historical Commission.

At a special meeting on Oct. 2, members of council and the public got their first look at artist renderings and floor plans for the new 38,000-square-foot building, which would feature improved security for judges and court personnel with a separate entrance and elevator, gated 15-space parking lot, and sequestered office space.

City’s only Bi-Lo fades out
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Darlington’s only Bi-Lo grocery store is being closed because it’s “underperforming,” parent company Southeastern Grocers said last week. The store, at 508 Lamar Highway, will close “on or before” Nov. 11, the company said in a statement Oct. 10.

“We realize that the closure of an underperforming store in your community can be challenging,” Southeastern Grocers said. “We do not take these decisions lightly, and only make this tough choice after careful consideration of its impact on our associates and our customers has been made.”

Employees at the store “were the first to know of this decision and have our dedicated support during this transition,” the Florida-based company said. However, when the News & Press called the store shortly after receiving the company’s statement, employees said they had not been told the store was to be closed.

MUSC: The doctor is in
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Patients seeking a primary care health practice have a new option with the opening of MUSC Primary Care Darlington, which held a well-attended ribbon cutting ceremony Oct. 9 in conjunction with the Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a good day in Darlington County. We are happy to have MUSC as part of our community,” said Rep. Robert Williams (S.C. House Dist. 62). “We are so happy that they’ve made Darlington part of their strategic plans.”

Darlington Mayor Gloria C. Hines shared the excitement and expressed confidence that the community will quickly warm to Canadian-born primary care physician Dr. David Sherwin. “The welcome that I’ve had here in Darlington has been overwhelming. I am very much looking forward to serving the community and advocating for my patients’ health,” said Sherwin.

Name that school: Down to one favorite
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The public didn’t have to look far to find its favorite name for Darlington’s new elementary school.

Nearly 1,000 people – community members, students, parents, school district employees – turned in valid “name that school” ballots to the Darlington County School District. And the clear winner was “J.L. Cain Elementary,” the same name as the school that sits next to the new school’s construction site on First Street.

“Cain” got 454 votes out of 958 valid ballots submitted to the school district. The current Cain Elementary will be absorbed into the new school next year, along with another school, Brunson-Dargan Elementary. But only 49 ballots favored “Brunson-Dargan” for the new facility’s name. After “Cain,” the public’s No. 2 choice was “Dr. Willie Boyd Sr. Elementary,” which got 223 votes.

A disturbing checkup
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

The 2019 “county snapshot” for local health outcomes shows the current prognosis for Darlington County is not exactly rosy. In fact, it’s pretty grim.

The annual Community Health Assessment from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reveals that Darlington County ranks 38th out of 46 counties for health outcomes, which measures length and quality of life.

The report includes a map breakdown of life expectancy across the county, and the results vary by several years depending on location.

The highest life expectancies were found in the Clyde community, with an average of 77 years, and the lowest expectancies were found in the city of Darlington, where the average lifespan is around 69.5 years. Areas of Hartsville varied notably, with those living west of town near Bobo Newsome Highway averaging 76.8 years and South Hartsville residents averaging 70.1 years. Life expectancies in Lamar and Society Hill were 75.2 and 75 years, respectively.

The leading causes of death are familiar culprits: heart disease, cancer and stroke. Increased risk factors for these chronic diseases — including obesity and smoking – are keeping our numbers elevated. The report says that 39.1 percent of county adults are obese, and 21.8 percent still smoke cigarettes.

NOVEMBER 2019

‘The spirit here is so strong’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Race day in Darlington embodies the kind of “spirit, excellence and competition” that makes South Carolina special, Gov. Henry McMaster says.

“I’ve brought people over here,” the Republican governor said last week at a cookout celebrating Darlington Raceway’s sellout crowd for the 2019 Bojangles’ Southern 500 Sept. 1. “And they look out, they look over at the infield, they look at the people tailgating.”

“And they say, ‘I cannot believe such spirit down here in this place, this small place’ — it’s not the biggest place in the world, one of the best – ‘The spirit here is so strong – the people, they act like they’re family.’ I say, ‘They are family.’ Most everybody is related. … Everybody knows everybody.”

“So what we see here – the kind of spirit that is demonstrated, and the excellence and the competition that’s exhibited every time we have race day here in Darlington — is an enormous positive reflection on the state of South Carolina.”

McMaster was a guest Oct. 29 at the raceway’s Cale Yarborough Cup Garage for a celebration of the sellout crowd that attended the rain-delayed Labor Day weekend race.

Meet the new mayor
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Early in the morning on Election Day Nov. 5, Curtis Boyd posted a message on his Facebook page about how his day began.

“God started me off today with a beautiful message from a friend,” Boyd wrote. “Then I walk out the house to see God’s soldiers, the Darlington and Hartsville F3 (fitness) group, stop and pray with me this morning. Now a pastor called me and prayed for me.”

By 8:45 that night, Boyd had been elected the new mayor of Darlington.

Boyd, an athlete and owner of a chain of Fitness World gyms in eight cities, defeated Gloria Hines, Darlington’s first black and first female mayor, with 58 percent of the vote, a solid win that avoided the runoff election most people had expected.

Hines, a cosmetologist and longtime council member who was elected mayor in 2015, finished the race with 622 votes (32 percent) to Boyd’s 1,134 votes. Another challenger seeking the mayor’s seat, City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Bruce, received 195 votes (10 percent).

Bruce, who also was running to keep her at-large seat on council, lost that race as well.

Two other council members, Bryant Gardner and John Milling, were re-elected to their at-large seats. The fight for Bruce’s council seat now goes to a Nov. 19 runoff between newcomers Howard Nettles and Ernest Boston.

“I just want to say thank you,” Boyd told the News & Press. “I’m more than humbled by the support and love that’s been shown by everybody.

We prayed for these numbers and God gave us above and beyond what we asked for. … I’m looking forward to going to work.” Asked if he could point out one thing he did that was key to winning the election, Boyd said: “I would say if I had a single thing, it was putting God first. I left it in God’s hands and He led me in the right direction.”

Name that school: Cain!
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The discussion took about a year. The decision took about a minute and a half.

With no debate, the Darlington County school board last week made it official: Darlington’s new school, opening in fall 2020, will be called J.L. Cain Elementary School, and its mascot will be a tiger.

The Nov. 11 vote ended roughly a year-long, painstaking process of forming a committee, gathering suggested names for the new school, getting input from school district employees, students and the public, and distributing ballots asking people to pick a favorite name. Results were given to the board Oct. 14, and Cain was the overwhelming favorite.

Cain got 454 votes out of 958 valid ballots given to district officials. Location might have been a big factor in the public’s vote: The new $20 million school is being built next to the current Cain Elementary, named for black educator James Lawrence Cain.

Nettles wins council runoff
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Aided by an endorsement from Mayor-elect Curtis Boyd, Howard Nettles claimed an at-large seat on Darlington City Council in a runoff election last week.

Nettles, director of community outreach and marketing for Genesis Health Care, got 554 votes to defeat Ernest Boston Sr., who works for Generation 3 Powersports and who received 430 votes in the Nov. 19 runoff. (These election numbers are unofficial.)

Nettles said he only fell four votes short of winning outright in the Nov. 5 elections. “A runoff takes a lot of extra time and a lot of effort from a lot of people. I’m just happy we were all able to get it together and the voters came out,” Nettles said.

New center: It’s a deal
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Darlington County Council held a special called meeting on Nov. 20 to officially contract architectural and engineering services for a new $14 million courthouse.

Council voted almost unanimously to work with Columbia-based design firm Michael Baker International Inc. (MBI). The lone “nay” vote came from Albert Davis III (District 6, Hartsville).

According to the contract, the county wishes the cost of the new building to be $13 million. MBI will be paid $1,226,560 to supervise the design and construction of the facility.

At a special meeting held Oct. 2, council reviewed preliminary conceptual designs for the new judicial center. As depicted in artist renderings and floor plans, the new 38,000-square-foot building would feature improved security for judges and court personnel with a separate entrance and exit, gated parking lot and sequestered office space.

‘Tax increase … different for different people’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Yes, residents of the city and county of Darlington, your property taxes have gone up. And depending on where you live and the house you live in, the effects are going to range from mild annoyance to a painful surprise.

“There is a tax increase,” said Darlington County administrator Charles Stewart. “(But) it’s different for different people, it really is.”

It’s all a result of a complex stew of relatively small changes that in some cases are adding up to a painful hit on residents’ property-tax bills – and in other cases are barely being noticed.

Bottom line: If you live in the city of Darlington, you’re going to notice a hike in your property-tax bills more so than if you live in the county. If you live in an expensive home, you’re going to notice it more than if you live in a modest one. And if you live in an expensive home in the city, it’s likely going to sting.

‘I’ll still be up here all the time’
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Gloria C. Hines effectively ended her four-year tenure as Darlington’s first black and first female mayor with a fast flurry of awards and hugs at last week’s City Council session.

“I’ll still be up here all the time,” Hines said during her final council meeting Dec. 3 – a quick, 40-minute session with a routine agenda. “You know what? It’s in my blood.”

When council holds its first regular session in January, Mayor-elect Curtis Boyd will be sworn in and council member-elect Howard Nettles will take the at-large seat now held by Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Bruce. Hines lost her bid for a second term, and Bruce lost her bid for the mayor’s job, in the city’s Nov. 5 elections. Bruce also lost her race for re-election to her council seat.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., sent a message congratulating Hines and Bruce for their service on council, and council members also thanked them for serving. Hines was a longtime council member before being elected mayor in 2015, and Bruce has been on council four years.

Coming up: New fire trucks
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Darlington County Council convened their final regular meeting of 2019 on Dec. 2, and members voted to make some key purchases for the Fire District, E-911 and Environmental Services.

Without objection, Council approved a $1.3 million purchase of three new fire trucks for the Darlington County Fire District.

This includes two Pierce Pumper/Tankers with Freightliner chassis ($698,594) and a Pierce ENCORE rescue vehicle ($599,016).

One new pumper tanker will replace an older unit at Society Hill Station #11, and the other will be deployed from Dovesville Station #13.

Newman’s contract extended
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The Darlington County school board has extended Education Superintendent Tim Newman’s $180,000-a-year contract through June 2022.

In a unanimous vote Dec. 9, the board gave Newman a “satisfactory” evaluation for the 2018-19 school year – his first at the district — and renewed his contract. The board has held executive sessions over its past few meetings to talk about Newman’s contract.

“I feel honored that the board has expressed confidence in the direction that the district is moving,” Newman told reporters after the board’s vote. “I’m very encouraged because we’re just getting started with many good opportunities in the Darlington County School District,” he said.

“ … I think this year was an excellent year for the district, but it’s just a start.”

Hello, goodbye in Hartsville
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Hartsville City Council’s Dec. 10 meeting was a bittersweet occasion, as council welcomed a new member and said goodbye to a beloved, long-serving member.

After holding the District #2 seat since 2007, Councilman Bernice Wilson elected not to run for re-election this year, and this was his last official meeting. Wilson received a plaque commemorating his service, and the occasion drew expressions of respect and affection from his fellow council members.

“(I am) a person who loves this city. Born and raised here, wouldn’t trade Hartsville for nothing. I love the citizens of this place,” said Wilson. “I just want to say to my fellow council members that I’ll miss you and I love you, but I’ll be here to check on you every now and then.”

Bryson S. Caldwell was sworn in as the new District # 2 representative. Caldwell is a Hartsville High School graduate and owner/president of Caldwell Insurance Consultants. Though he kept his remarks brief, Caldwell expressed admiration and respect for Wilson, and said he was ready to get to work.

In search of a new sponsor
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The Bojangles’ Southern 500 is no longer the Bojangles’ Southern 500.

The fast-food company, which has been the title sponsor of Darlington’s signature NASCAR race since 2012, has ended its sponsorship deal.

The most immediate fallout from Bojangles’ exit can be seen on the Darlington Raceway’s website – the Southern 500 logo featured there no longer displays the name BOJANGLES’. The logo now simply says Darlington Raceway Southern 500, with no sponsor, at least for now.

Author: Rachel Howell

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