2020 Year in Review

By Bobby Bryant

Editor

editor@newsandpress.net

2020 might have been a pretty good year.

All new years begin with promise: A clean slate, a new calendar, New Year’s resolutions, a chance to sort of go slow for a little while after the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s crunch. 2020 gave us about two months of “normal,” marred by a January nightclub shooting in Hartsville that left three people dead, shocked the county and made national news.

Then came a new virus, called COVID-19, in March. And since then … nothing has been “normal.”

There’s no way to even begin to sum up the terror and turmoil the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the nation, the state and the county. Or the phrases that COVID has brought to everyday discussions: Social distancing. PPE. Ventilators. Online learning. Virtual meetings. ZOOM. Masking up. No-contact food delivery. Front-line health workers. COVID stimulus packages. Positivity rates.

As of last week, more than 275,000 cases of COVID had been recorded in South Carolina, including Gov. Henry McMaster and his wife, Peggy. More than 4,700 people in South Carolina had died from the virus. More than 3.5 million COVID tests had been given in the state.

Vaccines are coming – Pee Dee health-care workers are getting them now – but for the average resident, they’re months away. Which means that COVID, the biggest story of 2020, will continue to be the biggest story of 2021.

At the start of each January, the News & Press reviews the previous year; usually, it’s a little of everything – politics, crime, business, celebrations. This year, it’s mostly COVID – the story that infected the world.

 

JANUARY 2020

 

Solicitor: No wrongdoing by deputies who killed woman

Darlington County sheriff’s deputies who fatally shot a woman wielding a knife a little more than a year ago have been cleared of any wrongdoing.

April Elizabeth Webster, 47, of Edna Street north of Darlington, was killed in December 2018 when she confronted deputies at her home with what was described as a large serrated knife. She had a history of schizophrenia, and had stopped taking her medication, officials were told. Darlington County Sheriff Tony Chavis immediately asked SLED to investigate the case, which is routine in officer-involved shootings.

The News & Press obtained a copy of SLED’s report. Based on the SLED report, the solicitor’s office issued no indictments in the case, 4th Circuit Solicitor Will Rogers told the News & Press. The deputies involved are not accused of wrongdoing and have long since returned to their jobs.

— Bobby Bryant

 

New mayor hits the ground running

When he was elected Darlington’s new mayor in November, businessman Curtis Boyd said, “I’m looking forward to going to work.”

During his first City Council session as mayor Jan. 7, Boyd did exactly that.

He made no speeches, but within an hour and a half of being sworn in as mayor, Boyd was pitching council a video presentation on the first phase of a proposed system of walking trails for Darlington and jumping into a crowded three-hour agenda that ended with council moving toward buying $600,000 worth of land for a new recreation complex featuring new baseball and softball fields.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall, Boyd was sworn into office by a robed Darlington County Coroner Todd Hardee. Boyd succeeds Gloria Hines, who served four years as the city’s first female and first African-American mayor, but lost nearly 2-1 to Boyd in the Nov. 5 elections.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Darlington remembers Judge Causey

When word spread that Judge Dan Causey had passed away on Jan. 4, it wasn’t long before friends and colleagues began sharing memories of the man who served as Darlington’s city judge for 30 years.

“I first met Dan when I came back to Darlington in 1975 to practice law,” recalls Bobby Kilgo, attorney and member of Darlington County Council. Kilgo remembers lawyer Causey as being “very zealous in his representation of his clients in family court” and very knowledgable on the application of the law.

Darlington County Coroner J. Todd Hardee knew Causey as his attorney, mentor, and friend. He credits Causey’s counsel with shepherding the Billie Hardee Home for Boys from “a little foster home to one of the premier child care facilities in South Carolina.”

— Samantha Lyles

 

Teacher accused of sex with teen was a star student at FMU

When Anna Patton was a student at Francis Marion University a few years ago, she was a busy single mom who still managed to land on the President’s List for top grades every semester and still found time for volunteer work.

“It can be overwhelming when I have five or six classes with homework and tests, then volunteer work and then still have that time with (her young son),” Patton told the FMU student newspaper in 2017. “I’m doing all of this for him, and I need to make sure I have a relationship with him.”

Last week, the 22-year-old English teacher at Lamar High School was released from jail on a $7,500 bond after being accused of having an illicit sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student. (She is no longer employed by the Darlington County School District.)

— Bobby Bryant

 

‘We can do better’: August running for sheriff

Darlington County Sheriff Tony Chavis has picked up his first challenger in his 2020 re-election bid, and Chavis’ opponent says more challengers are preparing to join the race.

Michael August, who announced his campaign to seek the GOP nomination for sheriff over the weekend, said: “In the coming weeks, I predict there will be several other candidates to announce their intentions of running for sheriff. This is symbolic.”

“Darlington County is at a critical point in its history,” August told the crowd at his Saturday-afternoon news conference at the Courthouse. “ … We need a dedicated, hardworking, honest sheriff to ensure the welfare of our citizens. Too much is at stake for this call to go unanswered.”

— Bobby Bryant

 

Lamar debates its ‘vulture problem’

Lamar Town Council held their regular monthly meeting on Jan. 13 and discussed strategies to rid the town of a destructive flock of vultures roosting around the recently repainted water tower.

Council talked about the vulture problem in December and citizen Angela Grooms volunteered to investigate abatement options, which she delivered as a report during this meeting.

Grooms said the vultures currently troubling Lamar are the aggressive variety that attack small or vulnerable live animals, rip out rubber gaskets and silicone seals around roofing and windows, short out transformers and substations, and deposit massive amounts of acidic droppings and urine – which can lead to costly property damage.

“The accumulation of bird droppings can reduce the functional life of a building’s roof by 50 percent,” said Grooms. “They can also damage metal structures and the painted finishes on cars. We have that problem around our church … because they like to roost all the way across the top of our church.”

— Samantha Lyles

 

Chaos at Hartsville bar: 2 dead, 4 wounded*

Two people are dead and four others wounded after a shooting rampage at a Hartsville lounge early Sunday, and two suspects were in custody.

Killed in the incident at Mac’s Lounge on Camden Avenue were Dicaprio Collins, 21, and Bryan Robinson, 29, said Darlington County Coroner Todd Hardee. Their hometowns were not immediately known. Four other people, names and conditions unknown, were taken to McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence and Carolina Pines in Hartsville.

Local news media said about 200 people were in the bar when the shooting began. The shots triggered a stampede, with customers dropping their cellphones and personal belongings. “It sounded like a firecracker and people freaked out, so I was, like, OK,” witness Samuel Dupree told Columbia’s WIS-TV. “I look to my right and I see gunfire coming out of the gun, and it’s by the pool table, by the patio door, and I saw shots being fired, so I was like, this is real now.”

*(One of the wounded later died, bringing the death toll to three.)

— Bobby Bryant

 

Farmer plans to challenge Malloy for Senate

A Hartsville-area farmer plans to challenge Darlington County attorney Gerald Malloy for the S.C. Senate seat he has held since 2002.

J.D. Chaplin, 25, has put up a website and a Facebook page saying he will run against Malloy for the 29th District state Senate seat. “After 18 years of Gerald Malloy’s failed leadership resulting in poorer families, crumbling schools and washed-out bridges yet to be fixed, it’s time for a change,” Chaplin says on his web page.

Chaplin, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully for an S.C. House seat (District 54) in 2016. “It’s been a long-coming decision,” Chaplin said of his bid to run against Malloy, a Hartsville Democrat. Chaplin said he’s in the race mainly because of his frustration with Malloy, and he is especially concerned about the poor shape of Darlington County’s roads.

–Bobby Bryant

 

 

FEBRUARY 2020

 

Cup plant to close amid $145 million Dixie expansion

Georgia-Pacific has revealed the secret of “Project Peach,” and it means good news and bad news for Darlington’s huge Dixie plant.

The good news: Georgia-Pacific is investing more than $145 million to expand and modernize its operations for manufacturing paper plates and paper bowls. The bad news: The company is shutting down its cup-making plant here – the plant so well-known that most Darlington residents refer to the entire facility as “Dixie Cup.”

“The investment at Darlington will not create new jobs, but will modernize and expand the plate and bowl capacity of the facility,” Georgia-Pacific announced in a press release. Referring to the 80 or so employees whose jobs will end with the closing of the cup-making plant, Georgia-Pacific said: “During the coming months, Georgia-Pacific will work with affected employees on transitions to roles in plate operations, other opportunities within GP or other Koch companies or opportunities outside of the company.”

— Bobby Bryant

 

Darlington honors Carraway with new park

Darlington celebrated the official opening of a new city park named in honor of fallen police officer Sgt. Terrence Carraway with a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Carraway’s family and friends.

While kids enjoyed the sunshine and swing sets at the Magnolia Street park (which features playground equipment and a basketball court), guest speakers shared memories of Carraway.

Mayor Curtis Boyd said the city aims to build more parks for residents to visit, for families to gather, for children to enjoy, because “that’s what Terrence would love to see.”

— Samantha Lyles

 

County’s comprehensive plan says we need a hotel

At Darlington County Council’s Feb. 3 meeting, an update on the county’s comprehensive plan included discussion of a major goal for local economic development: a new hotel.

Alexander Brebner, a Charleston-based planner, worked through the Pee Dee Regional Council of Governments to help the Darlington County Planning Commission update the comprehensive plan. Brebner said the 100-page document includes questions, suggestions, and strategies to help the county deal with flooding issues, utilize natural and historical resources, and jumpstart population growth.

One of the plan’s central economic development ideas, he said, is “to introduce a hotel and community meeting space or convention center near the (Darlington) Raceway.” Brebner said that while the NASCAR track draws visitors from all across the nation to the annual Southern 500 race weekend, little of the accommodations revenue stays in Darlington County. “You are leaking a lot of economic opportunity to Florence County because that’s where the hotels are,” Brebner said.

— Samantha Lyles

 

City’s recreation plans moving ahead

The city’s plans for walking trails and a recreation complex in Darlington – launched last month under new Mayor Curtis Boyd – took another step forward at City Council’s Feb. 11 meeting.

Last month, council agreed to enter into an option with landowner Olin B. Kirven to buy 116 acres of land off the Harry Byrd Highway for $600,000 – land to be used as the nucleus of what Recreation Director Lee Andrews calls a “recreational complex” for the city. Council’s agenda for last week still referred to this as land for “ballfields.” New softball and baseball fields will be part of the project, but if the city’s hopes work out, it will be much more than that, over time.

Last week, City Council gave initial approval to an ordinance allowing the city to purchase the Kirven land for the agreed-upon price (the money is to come from a previous bond issue). One more vote is needed to make the deal final. Council amended the plan to address concerns Councilman John Milling had over annexation options.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Board follows public’s picks in naming 2 schools

In a matter of minutes last week, the Darlington County school board nailed down the names for two new elementary schools being built in Hartsville and Lamar.

The Hartsville school will be called Bay Road Elementary; the Lamar school, Lamar-Spaulding Elementary. Without debate, the board followed the wishes of the public – those names led the list when the community cast votes on naming the schools.

The board’s Feb. 10 votes closed the discussion on what to call the three $20 million elementary schools being built across the county. The board had earlier decided to call Darlington’s new school J.L. Cain Elementary; it will replace the original Cain Elementary and Brunson-Dargan Elementary.

–Bobby Bryant

 

Former Hartsville police chief challenging Chavis

Former Hartsville police chief James Hudson Jr. will challenge Darlington County Sheriff Tony Chavis in the Democratic primary this summer.

Hudson, promising to “return law and order to Darlington County,” becomes the second candidate to oppose Chavis’ bid for re-election. Michael August, a law-enforcement veteran, is seeking the Republican nomination for sheriff. Chavis was elected in 2016 as a Democrat.

Hudson says he wants to work with Darlington County Council to come up with a law-enforcement plan for the county that “benefits everyone.” Other goals on his agenda include “community-oriented policing,” “less politics” and an “open-door” policy in terms of communicating with citizens and employees.

— From staff reports

 

MARCH 2020

 

Hardees plan ‘beautiful’ future for old Post Office

Why did the family of Darlington businessman Todd Hardee decide to buy the 105-year-old, 10,000-square-foot former Post Office building on Pearl Street? It was a combination of opportunity and duty, Hardee says.

“Step up to the table,” says Hardee, who runs Kistler-Hardee Funeral Home and South of Pearl restaurant in addition to serving as county coroner. “We’re all going to have to chip in to make Darlington what it once was.”

Hardee announced last week that he and his sons Templin and Sandy Hardee, who work with him at the funeral home, have purchased the massive Post Office building at 201 Pearl St. It moved the town’s mail from 1915 until 2001, when a new Post Office was built across the street from the Darlington County School District headquarters. Since then, the old Post Office has been mostly unused except for a period when small shops operated inside the building.

The Hardees said they plan to see what develops once the property is prepared for a new life. Templin Hardee said, “I have several ideas but whatever it is, it will be beautiful and it will be in keeping with the betterment of the town.”

— Bobby Bryant

 

Biden sweeps county, state

Former vice president Joe Biden won a staggering 61 percent of Darlington County’s vote in the Democratic presidential primary, and carried South Carolina with equal ease, finishing first statewide with 48 percent of the vote.

Out of 6,924 ballots cast in Darlington County’s 32 precincts, Biden got 4,231 votes, beating his closest rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, by a 4-1 margin. Sanders finished with 16 percent of the Darlington County vote, or 1,105 votes.

No. 3 in Darlington County was billionaire activist Tom Steyer, with 13 percent (911 votes). He quit the presidential race shortly after the S.C. results were counted. Fourth in the county was former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, with 4 percent, or 287 votes. Fifth in the county was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with 3 percent, or 208 votes. Sixth was Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, with 1 percent, or 86 votes. Seventh was Hawaii Sen. Tulsi Gabbard with 0.8 percent, or 55 votes.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Sinkholes threaten Fire Department, officials say

Dangerous sinkholes have been eating chunks of Orange and Wells streets since at least 2015, causing headaches for drivers and Darlington city officials.

But those are the streets that the Darlington Fire Department must use to send its trucks to battle fires – and now the headaches have turned into real fears and concerns. “The other day, a fire truck came out; the road collapsed under it,” city Fire Chief Pat Cavanaugh told City Council March 3. “Fortunately for us, no damage was done,” Cavanaugh told council.

“I don’t know what else to say,” Cavanaugh told council. “But we need to get something done. My biggest fear is that the side of the (fire station) building along Wells Street collapses out. The parking lot right now, if you look out front by the road, we get sinkhole after sinkhole.”

— Bobby Bryant

 

Schools closed; DCSD students to ‘learn from home’

Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered all South Carolina public schools closed through March 31 as the global coronavirus threat grows. That means 10,000 students in the Darlington County School District will stay home for at least a few weeks – but the district had already been preparing for that possibility.

Nearly a week before McMaster ordered the school shutdown, DCSD officials said they were readying an online “e-learning” plan that will let teachers conduct classes by computer for as long as necessary.

McMaster shut down all public schools in all 46 counties, even in counties – such as Darlington – where no coronavirus cases had been reported. “We’re just wanting to make sure … to be ready,” county Education Superintendent Tim Newman said. “I’ve made the comment several times over the past few days, ‘Look how much has changed in two weeks’ time.’ … We have to be able to react pretty quickly.”

— Bobby Bryant

 

Local governments close doors on virus threat

Darlington County, the city of Darlington and the city of Hartsville are locking up, to varying degrees, in an attempt to lock out the coronavirus threat that’s paralyzing the nation. Darlington and Hartsville city governments are not shutting down their offices, but they are barring the public through the end of the month. Crucial services will continue, but residents will have to conduct business by phone or e-mail.

Darlington County is not shutting down the Courthouse nor blocking all access by the public. But the county will only allow “very limited access” for business that can’t be handled by phone or computer. And visitors must have their hands sprayed with sanitizer and be scanned by an electronic thermometer, in addition to the usual security procedures such as going through a metal detector and putting purses, briefcases and satchels through an X-ray machine.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Churches use Internet, radio to reach out during virus threat

As our national and state governments scramble to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, group meetings of more than 10 people have been strongly discouraged, meaning that for the foreseeable future, regular church worship services have been suspended. While we all wait it out and hope for the best, local churches are employing technology to keep our spirits up and keep us connected.

“We’re following suit with most folks and will be live-streaming on Facebook,” says Pastor Tim Coker of Darlington’s Central Baptist Church. Their March 22 stream included only Coker’s sermon, but he said Central Baptist plans to include a few musicians on the March 29 live stream, bringing music into people’s homes.

“We can maintain the crowd size restrictions and close off the sanctuary, but still do the regular service so people can watch it online,” says Coker. “I think most of my fellow ministers are looking into doing that same thing.”

— Samantha Lyles

 

APRIL 2020

 

Schools closed 4 more weeks

It will be at least the end of April before Darlington County public schools open again. As the global coronavirus threat grows, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster decided last week to extend his closure of all S.C. public schools past McMaster’s original end date of March 31.

As the Darlington County School District faces another month of conducting classes by computer and organizing giveaways of free meals to students who depend on the meals provided by the school district, county Education Superintendent Tim Newman spoke to the public last week via a video posted on the district’s Facebook page and website.

“None of us,” Newman said, “(has) experienced what we’re experiencing right now in our lifetime, what’s going on in our world, with the coronavirus, with being at home with your children, and more than likely, home from your job as well, and having to keep up with all this.”

–Bobby Bryant

 

In ‘digital meeting,’ city wraps up recreation-land purchase

In its first “digital meeting,” Darlington City Council last week completed the purchase of $600,000 worth of land that will be the basis for a recreation complex near Darlington Raceway.

Forced to meet entirely by video because of coronavirus concerns, council on April 7 took its final vote on buying the 116 acres off Harry Byrd Highway. That final OK had originally been set for council’s March 3 meeting, but last-minute legal issues led council to postpone the vote.

Those issues were never publicly discussed, but one official described them as mostly a matter of “dot(ting) the I’s and cross(ing) the T’s” on the deal. Council’s unanimous vote last week wraps up the purchase, although the city is still working with adjacent landowners to let the city annex a thin strip of land that would serve as a “bridge,” bringing the recreation property into the city limits.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Reluctant City Council eyes raising water/sewer rates

Darlington City Council knows the timing couldn’t be worse, but council members are reluctantly considering raising the city’s residential water/sewer fees at least $9 a month to shore up those departments’ sagging revenues.

“We’ve just got to get ourselves in line; we are way behind,” Mayor Curtis Boyd said during an April 13 council work session that was held by video because of coronavirus concerns and broadcast live on the city’s Facebook page. “I’m sorry,” Boyd said. “I’m sure the rest of the City Council is sorry. We don’t want to go up on anything. Now is not the time to want to go up on anything.”

— Bobby Bryant

 

Hartsville aims to avoid employee furloughs

Hartsville City Council convened their monthly meeting on April 14 via teleconference and, aside from handling regular business, there was some discussion of how the city is handling financial pressures accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic.

City manager Natalie Zeigler said that while the Municipal Association of South Carolina has reported a number of cities are cutting budgets and furloughing employees, Hartsville is trying to lessen the impact on city workers and those reliant on city services.

“We are monitoring the situation, looking at our cash flow, trying to figure out how it’s going to impact us, and attempting to make changes elsewhere to try to avoid the furloughs,” Zeigler said. “I don’t have those answers right now, but we are working through it.”

— Samantha Lyles

 

Some retailers reopen, but schools stay closed

Local retailers are starting to revive after being shut down for weeks because of the coronavirus crisis, but all public schools in Darlington County and the rest of South Carolina will stay closed for the rest of the academic year.

Last week, Gov. Henry McMaster loosened restrictions on some types of retailers, but also ordered that S.C. public schools – closed since mid-March – remain shut down for the rest of the school year, which is June in most districts.

State officials are hoping that students can go back to their schools in August, and state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said she’s creating a task force aimed at helping ensure an August restart.

— Bobby Bryant

 

‘You can’t make another Winfred Flowers’

When Winfred Lewis Flowers passed away April 19 at 76, all of Darlington County lost a good friend.

Born in Darlington to E.J. Flowers and Mary Jordan Flowers, Winfred spent his life trying to help the community he loved. After graduating from St. John’s High School in 1962, Flowers served the Navy. He followed up his military service with an 18-year term as Chief Magistrate of Darlington County, where he earned a reputation for fairness and even-handed treatment of all who appeared in his courtroom.

Winfred kept friends and neighbors comfortable by selling furnishings through his Flowers Furniture business, entertained by hosting bluegrass and gospel concerts at The Music Hall venue, and heartened by helping build the Friends Mission Church. Though Flowers was a friend to all, those who knew him personally will miss him with a special fondness.

— Samantha Lyles

 

MAY 2020

 

Herald Group to chart News & Press’ future

The Herald Group has assumed ownership of The News and Press effective May 1 to continue delivering quality local news and trusted advertising to the people of Darlington County.

The acquisition was the perfect fit for The Herald Group and the Jordan family, who own The Dillon Herald, Dillon County’s oldest continuously operating business, having been established in 1894.

The Jordans have a unique understanding of the importance of having a local, family-owned newspaper in a community, rather than a cookie-cutter newspaper owned by a large group based in another state.

“Local news matters,” said Thomas Jordan, president of The Herald Group, “and we wanted to ensure that the people of Darlington County will continue to have a true local newspaper to read about their local government, education, events and news about their friends and neighbors that they can’t get anywhere else from a staff who knows, understands and cares about the community.”

— From staff reports

 

3 NASCAR races! But fans must stay home

The coronavirus crisis is giving local NASCAR fans both a dream and a disappointment.

The dream: Three NASCAR races are going to be held at the Darlington Raceway in a four-day period between May 17 and May 20 as NASCAR relaunches its season, which had been shut down by the virus pandemic.

The disappointment: Fans won’t be allowed at any of those races to protect them from possible exposure to the virus. All three races will be run amid empty stands and an empty infield. (The races will be televised on FOX and FS1, a FOX-owned cable sports network, and can also be followed online and by radio.)

— Bobby Bryant

 

Seniors to get ‘in-person’ graduations

After weeks of uncertainty about how the Darlington County School District could give graduating seniors an honorable send-off despite the coronavirus danger, the district has settled on a plan for “in-person” graduations June 2 – with tight restrictions.

Graduation ceremonies for the district’s four high schools will be held in the football stadiums, officials announced last week. Darlington High School, Hartsville High School and Lamar High School will hold graduation ceremonies at their home football stadiums at 9 a.m. June 2 (a Tuesday). Mayo High School for Math, Science & Technology will hold graduation at 11:30 a.m. in the stadium at Darlington High.

Ceremonies will be live-streamed on the Internet. Also, each high school will also create a special “virtual” graduation program as a backup plan, and keepsake for seniors.

— From staff reports

 

Beloved teacher honored with retirement parade

After 38 years teaching at Darlington’s Pate Elementary School, retiring educator Kathy Johnson received a delightful surprise May 28 as colleagues staged a drive-by parade in her honor. With social distancing still in place, planned parties and gatherings weren’t possible, but her fellow teachers wanted to celebrate her career anyway.

As a stunned Johnson laughed in her front yard, dozens of vehicles streamed past while passengers honked, danced, shouted encouragement, and showered her with gifts, including a dozen roses and a commemorative plaque. “It’s been awesome. I have been so blessed,” said Johnson, adding that Pate Elementary felt like her second home.

— Samantha Lyles

 

JUNE 2020

 

One day, 600 diplomas

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Darlington County School District compressed four commencement ceremonies into one day, with more than 600 students from Darlington High School, Hartsville High School, Mayo High School for Math, Science and Technology and Lamar High School all receiving their diplomas on the morning of June 2.

Graduates donned traditional robes, ribbons and mortarboards, along with 2020’s must-have accessory: face masks. With the ceremonies staged at Darlington, Hartsville and Lamar’s football stadiums, students were able to maintain social distancing, as were their families, who received tickets via lottery.

The unusual nature of the proceedings was not lost on the students, who delivered words of humor and hope to their fellow grads. “So, this isn’t how this was supposed to happen, was it? We all thought that finally, after four long years, there would be some sort of grand payoff. But alas, one sick bat had to throw everything out of place,” said DHS salutatorian Gabriel Howle. “Now look at us. Socially awkward, wearing masks of all colors and sizes, and frequently asking ourselves – do we have enough toilet paper?”

— From staff reports

 

Officials drop dress-code rule that barred student from own graduation

The Darlington County School District has tossed out a dress-code rule that kept a Lamar High School student from attending her own graduation last week. Graduating senior Dynasia Clark told WPDE-TV that she had to stand outside the fence around the school’s football stadium, where the ceremonies were being held, because she insisted on wearing pants, rather than a dress, under her gown.

Clark, who is openly gay, told WPDE: “I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal, because we’re already here, we’re already fixing to walk, but now I can’t go because of a dress code. I was angry more than anything because we worked hard to even have a graduation and then I can’t walk because I don’t got on a dress.”

Clark told WPDE that school officials did not even call out her name as diplomas were handed out. “That was the part that made me more mad than anything because I was there; you could have least called my name,” Clark told WPDE. “It seems crazy to me. It seems stupid, like petty, because it was just an outfit to me.”

— From staff reports

 

Sheriff, councilman fall in primary

Darlington County Sheriff Tony Chavis and veteran County Councilman Bobby Kilgo lost their parties’ nominations for new terms in primary elections last week.

Democrat James Hudson Jr., a former Hartsville chief of police, won 56 percent of the June 9 primary vote, claiming his party’s nomination for sheriff in the November general elections. Chavis, who is in his first term as sheriff, got 43 percent. In total numbers, Hudson got 4,159 votes to Chavis’ 3,198.

In the night’s other upset, political newcomer Angie Stone Godbold captured the GOP nomination for Darlington County Council’s District 1 seat, defeating incumbent councilman Kilgo by 64 percent to 35 percent (664 votes to Kilgo’s 363). Since no Democrat filed for the seat, her primary win means Godbold will represent District 1 starting in January.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Fee hikes: ‘Do not put this on our back’

At a public hearing last week, Darlington city officials argued forcefully that the city must raise several fees, including water/sewer rates. Darlington residents argued just as forcefully that the city must not.

It’s not clear if any minds were changed during the hearing at Harmon Baldwin Gym June 25 – the first time residents have gotten the chance to speak in person to City Council about the increases. But a final vote on the hikes was set for June 29, as council wraps up its budget for next fiscal year.

“At a time like this, it’s wrong,” one speaker told council. “ … The previous mayor didn’t get anything done. But you’ve got a mayor now with less than six months in service, is already going to raise your water rates, way up there. … Do not put this on our back.”

— Bobby Bryant

 

Cowick pleads guilty in 2016 slayings

Cephas Cowick, a Darlington man awaiting a death-penalty trial for double murder, has pleaded guilty and accepted a sentence of life without parole.

Cowick, 25, was accused of killing Denise Couplin, 52, and her 9-year-old granddaughter, Deziyah Davis, at their home off Bobo Newsome Highway on July 17, 2016. Cowick pleaded guilty June 24 during a hearing conducted by video because of COVID-19 concerns.

Cowick’s wife is also charged in the slayings, but her case has not yet gone to trial.

— Samantha Lyles

Hartsville passes face mask resolution

Hartsville City Council stopped short of requiring face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the emergency resolution they passed June 30 strongly encourages their use. By a unanimous 7-0 vote, council members approved Resolution 06-20-05, “to decrease the widespread proliferation of COVID-19 among citizens of the city.”

A review of Darlington County COVID-19 case numbers reveals a sharp recent uptick in Hartsville’s 29550 ZIP code. While the city had only 19 active cases as of June 20, the July 1 report showed that Hartsville accounted for 45 of 89 active cases in the county.

The resolution addresses this trend by stating “if COVID-19 continues to spread in the city and surrounding areas at its current rate, the number of persons relying on medical, pharmaceutical, and general cleaning supplies will increase, absenteeism will negatively impact the private and public sector work force, and the demand for medical facilities may exceed locally available resources.”

— Samantha Lyles

 

City fee hikes get final OK from council

You won’t see them on your bills until October, but Darlington City Council last week gave final approval to a set of fee increases that will cost the typical household about $216 more per year.

Meeting in person June 29 at City Hall for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down in March, the council quickly gave final approval to the city’s $11.5 million budget for the next fiscal year, which started July 1. Included in the budget are a series of fee increases that council has been debating in video meetings for months – increases no one on council was eager to approve because of the economic hits the area has taken from COVID-19.

The increases raise city water/sewer rates by $9.55 a month for residential and commercial users; raise sanitation rates by $6 per month for households and businesses; raise stormwater rates by $2.50 a month for residential customers and $3.50 a month for businesses.

— Bobby Bryant

 

JULY 2020

 

‘You are going to have to shoot me’

The 4th Circuit solicitor’s office has found no wrongdoing by Darlington County sheriff’s deputies when they killed an armed and “agitated” Hartsville-area man during a confrontation last year.

Daryl J. Strickland, 65, was killed Sept. 25, 2019, when deputies were called to investigate reports of a man carrying a shotgun along U.S. 151 near New Market Road outside Hartsville. According to a State Law Enforcement Division report obtained by the News & Press, Strickland repeatedly refused deputies’ orders to put down his gun, cursed at them and told them, “You’re going to have to shoot me.”

Deputies told SLED investigators that the situation became very dangerous very fast, and as Strickland approached the deputies with his shotgun leveled at them, one investigator shot Strickland through the heart, killing him. A sheriff’s deputy told SLED investigators that “one of us would have been shot” if the officer had not fired first, because “it was getting that heated out there, that quick.”

The incident began when people driving along that stretch of U.S. 151 in the late afternoon noticed a man walking along the roadside, carrying a shotgun. One driver said that at one point, the man was in the road; the driver said he had to change lanes to avoid a collision. Multiple calls about the armed man came in to 911, and deputies were dispatched.

— Bobby Bryant

 

$250,000 lottery winner ‘(cried) for about 15 minutes’

An unidentified woman walked into a Darlington convenience store recently and asked the cashier to choose a $10 scratch-off lottery ticket for her. The cashier cannily selected a ticket for a new game, just started on June 23 of this year, which likely meant that most of the top prizes were still available.

The customer presented photo identification, required at this store to purchase lottery tickets, and took her $250,000 Ca$h In game ticket to the back of the store, where she scratched away the opaque dollar signs concealing her fate. “My cashier said the lady stood back there crying for about 15 minutes,” says Bryan Clark, store manager for Young’s # 3609 on North Main Street, “and that’s when she told my employee what had happened.”

The woman won the game’s top prize of $250,000, beating the 1 in 780,000 odds of winning. The winner later told officials with the South Carolina Education Lottery that she threw her hands up and wept from sheer disbelief. “I still can’t believe it. … I’m in shock,” she reportedly said.

— Samantha Lyles

 

Board aims to reopen schools Sept. 8

Sept. 8 is the target date for Darlington County’s public schools to reopen – but everything depends on how hard COVID-19 hits the county between now and then.

On July 13, the county school board – masked and “socially distanced” – unanimously endorsed Education Superintendent Tim Newman’s plan for a careful and cautious return to in-person classes Sept. 8, a pushback from the Aug. 10/17 dates he had been considering.

Before the board met, a small group of parents and another group of teachers assembled outside to push for keeping all county schools closed for safety. On the day the board met for the crucial vote, they learned that state health officials had bumped up Darlington County from “medium” to “high” risk for COVID-19.

— Bobby Bryant

 

A write-in win for Lamar council

Mary Ann Mack won a surprise win in the July 14 special election for Lamar Town Council, garnering 86 votes by write-in and besting ballot candidates Buzz Segars (23 votes) and Tyler Cook (28 votes) by a wide margin.

Though write-in campaigns rarely secure victories, Mack’s win is even more surprising because it was an 11th-hour effort. “I was approached just over 24 hours before the election by some people in the community who asked me if they did a write-in for me, would I be willing to serve,” says Mack, who admits she didn’t immediately warm to the idea. “Originally, I said no, but told them I would think about it.”

Recently retired after 32 years with the Lee County Disabilities and Special Needs Board, including serving as director, Mack reflected that her original retirement plans did include taking a bigger role in community service.

— Samantha Lyles

 

City Council asks state to review Baccus incident

After meeting in private for two hours last week, Darlington City Council voted to ask the Governor’s Office and the State Ethics Commission to review an incident in which councilwoman Sheila Baccus allegedly made racial remarks to a city police officer who gave her a parking ticket.

Council members have gotten “hundreds” of phone calls about the June 17 incident since it was reported on Florence TV stations a few weeks ago, one council member said. Staffers at City Hall also have been flooded with calls asking the mayor or council to “fire” Baccus, not understanding that elected officials can only be removed by the governor, and only for serious crimes.

Council scheduled a special called meeting July 21 to talk about the incident, and nearly all of the meeting took place in executive session in a small room off the basketball arena at Harmon Baldwin Gym, chosen to allow more spectators while still “social distancing.”

(As of the last week of December, no ruling on the incident had been announced.)

— Bobby Bryant

 

AUGUST 2020

 

Two killed by gunshots near Lamar

Darlington County Coroner J. Todd Hardee has confirmed the name of a man whose body was discovered Aug. 3 near Lamar. The man was identified as K’Quan Hurley, 25, of Lee County. Hardee confirmed that Hurley and his brother (who is a juvenile and therefore remains unnamed) both died from gunshots.

The two victims were found at 11 a.m. last Monday morning in a vehicle close to Lynches River on Highway 401, in the front yard of an abandoned house. Hardee ruled both deaths were caused by homicide, and their bodies were transported to MUSC in Charleston for autopsy.

Lt. Robby Kilgo with the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office said the autopsies had been completed and law enforcement was engaged in an “around-the-clock investigation” to find those responsible for the killings.

— Samantha Lyles

 

Southern 500 plan: 8,000 fans, but no parades

The situation with Darlington’s annual Southern 500 stock-car race has been changing faster than a pit crew can switch a tire, but here’s what we know right now:

— The race will be held as scheduled Sept. 6, with up to 8,000 fans in the stands, or about one-sixth of the raceway’s capacity.

— Fans must observe strict rules for protecting themselves and others from the COVID-19 virus. Those rules will include mandatory face masks; a questionnaire about your health; temperature checks; “social distancing” in the stands; the likelihood of new seating assignments and staggered entry times.

— Two mainstays of the Southern 500 race season – the annual Darlington Car Hauler Parade and the annual Southern 500 Parade – will not be held this year because of COVID-19 concerns.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Accused killer’s brief freedom on bond stirs a debate

Freddy Ray Harris III’s $100,000 bond only bought him one day of freedom. But it was enough to ignite a debate over whether his bond was too low for a murder and kidnapping charge – and whether a judge should have set any bond at all for him.

Immediately after putting Harris, of Hartsville, back in jail Aug. 1 for allegedly violating terms of his bond, Darlington County Sheriff Tony Chavis drew the line: “Harris should have never been given a bond on a murder charge and allowed to go home,” the sheriff said.

“I think we have a dirty system,” says Stephanie Stewart, who was friends with both Harris and the man he allegedly killed, Kurt Russell Scholl, 36, a Hartsville resident who ran a car-repair shop. She said a “good old boy” network in Darlington County, which she said lets some suspects walk free from jail on low bonds, is part of the problem.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Democratic nominee for sheriff: Son’s arrest was ‘by the book’

When his 27-year-old son was accused of attempted murder last week, “We did everything by the book,” says James Hudson Jr., the Democratic nominee for Darlington County sheriff in November’s elections.

“My wife and I got our son to turn himself in because it was the right thing to do,” Hudson, who works for the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and is a former Hartsville police chief, told the News & Press in an Aug. 12 interview.

Jordan Hudson of Hartsville is accused of shooting an unnamed man in the back with a handgun during an Aug. 9 altercation in the 2200 Block of Center Road outside Hartsville; he’s been charged with attempted murder.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Hartsville mandates masks; Darlington defers debate

If you’re shopping, dining, or conducting business in Hartsville, be sure to bring your trusty face covering of choice or risk a $25 fine.

At the Aug. 11 meeting of Hartsville City Council, members approved an emergency ordinance requiring the wearing of face masks in public areas of the city. This action is in response to the spiking numbers of COVID-19 cases in Hartsville.

Meanwhile, at a meeting on the same day, Darlington City Council voted to defer any action on a resolution to encourage residents to wear face masks as a way to fight COVID-19.

— Samantha Lyles, Bobby Bryant

 

Washington to head S.C. Police Chiefs Association

Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington has become the first law enforcement officer to head both the South Carolina Sheriffs Association and S.C. Police Chiefs Association. When he takes over as SCPCA president in November, he plans to lobby legislators to fund incentives for police officers, and hopes to guide policy changes that will shape the future of policing in our state.

Washington was elected as president by his fellow SCPCA members this summer, marking the third time a Darlington Police Department chief has been so honored. Chief Roy Williams Jr., held the position in 1993, and Chief Jay Cox was elected as president in 2004.

— Samantha Lyles

 

SEPTEMBER 2020

 

Harvick wins Southern 500

Minutes after winning the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway Sept. 6, Kevin Harvick got right to the point. “Welcome back, fans!” Harvick called out to the 8,000 or so people in the stands – an audience drastically limited from the usual 50,000 because of COVID precautions.

“It’s a hell of a lot more fun with you guys up there,” Harvick added. The last time Harvick won a race at Darlington – in May, when NASCAR restarted its COVID-stalled schedule with three races in one week – the stands were empty. Officials felt that the pandemic risk was too high to allow any spectators.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Darlington County schools delay in-person classes

School will still resume Sept. 8 for the Darlington County School District, but classes will be online-only for at least the first two weeks.

District officials had been prepping for most students to physically come back to school the day after Labor Day – “social-distancing” classrooms, stocking up on sanitizer, ordering tens of thousands of cloth face masks to help protect kids from COVID-19, the virus that shuttered the county’s schools in March.

But the final decision was always going to hinge on the county’s COVID-19 numbers, and the numbers weren’t where they needed to be. “We are still ‘high’ in Darlington County,” based on state health department data, a face-masked county Education Superintendent Tim Newman told the face-masked school board.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Thompson named DCSD’s Teacher of the Year

Elizabeth Thompson, an English teacher at Mayo High School for Math, Science and Technology, will represent Darlington County School District (DCSD) as District Teacher of the Year for 2020-21.

Thompson is English Department chair at Mayo High and she teaches English and Literature there. “Mrs. Thompson brings a fierce dedication for her students every day,” said county Education Superintendent Tim Newman. “She embraces the challenges of emerging technologies and approaches, and she cares for the success of each of her students.”

 

Pee Dee Electric, Marlboro Electric announce partnership plan

Darlington-based Pee Dee Electric Cooperative and Marlboro Electric Cooperative have announced their entry into a management agreement effective Sept. 18. Under the terms of the agreement, William Fleming Jr. will serve as president and CEO of both cooperatives.

This strategic partnership aligns the two neighboring electric cooperatives in an effort to create economic benefits, long-term efficiencies and provide overall improved service for the members of both entities. The combined service areas will result in the largest geographical territories of any commonly managed cooperatives in South Carolina.

Having held the position of president and CEO of both Marlboro Electric Cooperative and Marlboro Development Team since 2014, Fleming previously served as Vice President of Marketing and Economic Development at Pee Dee Electric. An alumnus of Harvard University and Harvard Business School, Fleming also holds two degrees from the University of South Carolina, and a certificate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Applied Neuroscience and Mathematics.

 

After 6 months, kids return to classes

This week, about 7,000 Darlington County public-school students are returning to in-person classes for the first time since COVID-19 closed county schools’ doors six months ago.

And the key to reopening the county’s two dozen or so public schools came down to one sentence spoken by county Education Superintendent Tim Newman during a school board meeting Sept. 14: “Based on what I’m looking at,” Newman said, “I’m ready for our students to get back in school.”

By a vote of 6-1, with Charles Govan voting no and Connell Delaine absent because of illness, the school board endorsed Newman’s plan for bringing students back to class Sept. 21 – younger students full-time, older students part-time. This plan will be used for at least a month, then officials will review how well it’s working.

— Bobby Bryant

 

SLED: 2 shot, deputy injured in confrontation

Darlington County sheriff’s deputies shot two people during a confrontation last Thursday that also left a deputy injured and two vehicles wrecked.             The wounded people – identified by the State Law Enforcement Division only as a “male suspect” and “a second person” – were taken to an area hospital; their conditions were not known to the news media.

SLED agents were leading the investigation into the incident in the Trexler Street area off North Main Street, just outside the Darlington city limits. SLED routinely handles officer-involved shootings anywhere in the state.

— Bobby Bryant

 

News & Press changing name, expanding focus

With a recent change in management and a new outlook on the delivery of news in Darlington County, the News & Press is excited to announce that we are revamping our newspaper and its content effective immediately.

The first change that will be made is a change in the name to show that we want to be inclusive of all of our communities in Darlington County. The newspaper will be changing its name from News & Press to Darlington County News & Press.

“In recent years, the focus of the News & Press has been primarily Darlington. After the Herald Group took over, we began hearing from Hartsville residents requesting that they get more coverage of their community. We hear you, Hartsville, and we will be making changes to accommodate this wish,” said General Manager Johnnie Daniels.

“While the Darlington County News & Press will still be covering Darlington, we are going to significantly expand our coverage of the Hartsville area,” said Daniels. “We will also be asking for more news and advertising from the Society Hill, Lydia and Lamar areas. We want to be a true county newspaper.”

 

OCTOBER 2020

 

Darlington lands a 2nd NASCAR Cup Series race in 2021

NASCAR is adding a second NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway next year – on May 9 – and Darlington officials are already revved up.

In addition to the 2021 Southern 500 Sept. 5, a second Cup Series race is set for Mother’s Day weekend 2021. This will be the first time Darlington has been on the NASCAR schedule to host two Cup Series race weekends since 2004.

“It’s fantastic news and we are more than pleased that the Track Too Tough To Tame will host two races next year,” said Darlington Mayor Curtis Boyd. “We hope to pack them out, and we will give the raceway our full support. We certainly look forward to those visitors coming to town.”

— From staff reports

 

DHS football player accused of murder

One Darlington teenager is dead and another charged with murder after a Sept. 24 shooting incident. Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington said that around 11 p.m. on Thursday night, Sept. 24, reports came in of gunfire near the Short Coker Street area.

According to the incident report, a witness stated that she heard gunshots and “observed an unknown person running down Brunson Street” from the edge of the walking path at Arnold Street and Brunson Street. “Officers responded to that area and upon their arrival, they canvassed the area and found a young man with a gunshot wound. EMS was notified and he was transported to McLeod Regional Hospital, where he later expired,” said Washington.

Darlington County Coroner J. Todd Hardee identified the victim as Jameke Parker, 18, of Darlington. Police charged Kenlarris Kelly, 18, of Darlington, with one count of murder and one count of attempted murder. Kelly is a member of the football team at Darlington High School; he went on to play in the Falcons’ Sept. 25 game against Myrtle Beach the next evening.

— Samantha Lyles

 

County moves to take charge of Carnegie Library building

Plans are in the works to have Darlington County, rather than the city, take responsibility for the old Carnegie Library on North Main Street, which has been vacant for decades as officials have hoped to one day turn it into a civic center or museum.

During its Oct. 6 meeting, Darlington City Council gave initial approval to an ordinance that would let the county lease the 100-year-old library for 50 years for a token rent of $1. Under the plan, the county would be responsible for maintenance of the building.

It wasn’t clear from council’s brief discussion what the county hopes to gain from taking charge of the library building, and a spokesman for County Administrator Charles Stewart said the county did not want to comment on the plan yet.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Longtime school board member Delaine dies

Darlington County school board member Connell Delaine, who represented the Society Hill, Mechanicsville and Dovesville areas since 2002, has died after an illness, according to the county school district.

Delaine, who had been hospitalized for several weeks, “was an unwavering supporter and advocate of our students and employees, and he will be deeply missed,” the district said in a statement. Delaine was a retired U.S. Army sergeant major with 27 years of service in military police and was a veteran of both the Vietnam War and the first Persian Gulf War, the district said.

Charles Govan of Hartsville, a member of the school board for 20 years, served with Delaine for 18 years of that time. He said Delaine’s passing will be felt by the board and the community. “It’s going to be a void on this board as well as the community,” Govan said in an interview. “He will sadly be missed.”

— Bobby Bryant

 

NOVEMBER 2020

 

County elects 1st black sheriff since Reconstruction; senator fends off challenger

Darlington County voters elected the county’s first black sheriff since Reconstruction and nearly shut out a powerful state senator in the Nov. 3 general election – balloting that set records for both total turnout and early voting.

Democratic nominee James Hudson Jr. will be the county’s sheriff beginning in January, after he defeated GOP nominee Michael August 49.3 percent to 45.2 percent in unofficial returns. Supporters of current sheriff Tony Chavis, who lost the Democratic nomination in June, ran a write-in campaign for him that captured about 5 percent of the vote.

Democratic state Sen. Gerald Malloy of Hartsville, arguably the county’s most powerful politician, lost Darlington County to GOP rival J.D. Chaplin, a Hartsville farmer in his 20s who has never held office. According to unofficial returns, Chaplin won 51.8 percent of the Darlington County vote, to Malloy’s 48.5 percent. But Malloy’s district represents parts of other neighboring counties as well, and those voters boosted Malloy to victory. In Marlboro County, Malloy won an estimated 5,792 votes, and in Lee County, an estimated 3,512 votes.

In the night’s only upset of an incumbent Darlington County official, Republican Angie L. Suggs defeated Democratic county auditor Margaret R. Rogers 52.4 percent to 47.5 percent, according to unofficial returns. (Suggs is married to county Clerk of Court Scott Suggs, who was re-elected without opposition.)

— Bobby Bryant

 

Classes or computers? DCSD asks if kids want to switch

At least some Darlington County public-school students will get a chance to switch from online learning to in-person classes, and vice versa, when the next semester starts in January.

County Education Superintendent Tim Newman told the county school board last week that the school district was preparing to ask parents and students if they’re interested in changing their “mode of instruction.”

Newman estimated that about 480 public-school students are interested in leaving all-online learning in favor of face-to-face education, and that about 180 are interested in going from in-person classes to online education.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Broadband plan could plug in entire Pee Dee

Coming to you soon from Pee Dee Electric Co-Op and other S.C. cooperatives: Broadband Internet access? It might happen, thanks to a new law that S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster came to Darlington last week to applaud and promote. The legislation will allow co-ops to step into expanding broadband access in rural areas of the state – to offer customers data as well as electricity.

“This is going to have ramifications for years,” McMaster said of the plan during a ceremonial re-signing of the legislation at the headquarters of Pee Dee Electric Co-Op in Darlington. “ … In our state, we all work together so well anyway. This is just going to make it a little bit closer, in terms of education, in terms of medicine, in terms of business — this is going to open things up.”

S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas of Hartsville said: “I can think of nowhere where this bill will have a greater impact than the Pee Dee.” Flanked by a crowd of lawmakers and industry executives, McMaster signed, once more, the Broadband Accessibility Act. The governor originally signed this legislation into law Sept. 29.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Deputies’ Thanksgiving mission: Hot meals, warm hugs

It’s about 9:15 on Thanksgiving morning, and Capt. Kaynnera Capers is driving a Darlington County Sheriff’s Office vehicle toward Lamar. In the back seat are boxes containing dozens of dinners – each packed with baked turkey, yams, green beans, snack cake and a roll. Capers has a list of names and addresses, compiled by local agencies, of the elderly residents who’ll be receiving these Thanksgiving meals.

He’s one of about 20 deputies and 12 community volunteers helping prepare and deliver about 500 of these meals in the fourth year of the Sheriff’s Office’s “Operation Love Thy Neighbor.” A Summerton native, Capers was raised by his great-great-grandmother, who lived to 107. “So I have a heart and passion for senior citizens. … There’s a lot of places, a lot of agencies, that are serving meals a few days before Thanksgiving, but there’s nobody out there checking on these seniors on Thanksgiving Day.”

A little earlier, as sheriff’s vehicles were being loaded with meals, Sheriff Tony Chavis explained how and why the operation works. “We find out who’s there by themselves and who’s going to need a meal. I’ve received several phone calls saying, ‘I’m by myself. My family can’t come (because of the pandemic).’ They don’t want to contaminate Mama, Grandma, Great-Grandma. So we’re going to bring them something to eat.”

— Bobby Bryant

 

Annual turkey giveaway packs the predawn Square

They were ready. They were bundled in heavy coats against the 37-degree predawn temperatures. They were masked (mostly) against the possibility of COVID-19. They’d arrived either early or on time for the 6 a.m. start. And when the moment came, Darlington-area residents eagerly but politely seized their frozen turkey.

Darlington’s annual Turkey Giveaway on the Public Square was held Nov. 24, two days before Thanksgiving. The math worked out just about right, said Darlington chiropractor David Eads, who spearheads the project: About 800 people showed up, and organizers had brought about 800 turkeys.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Gardner remembered as public servant and friend

When John P. Gardner Jr. passed away Nov. 20 after a three-year fight with cancer, Darlington County lost a capable attorney, a dedicated public servant and a true friend. “He was an excellent political, an excellent lawyer, and just a good guy,” said Robert “Bobby” Kilgo II, who knew Gardner since childhood.

Kilgo recalled Gardner as a distinctly bright individual who finished law school at the University of South Carolina in just two and a half years, then won a seat in the S.C. House of Representatives where he was, at that time, the youngest member ever elected.

“John did an excellent job for Darlington County,” said Todd Hardee, Darlington County Coroner and longtime friend of Gardner. “He fought for the people. … He was kind of quiet, but he would argue his point all day long for something he believed in.”

— Samantha Lyles

 

DECEMBER 2020

 

Bethea completes $22 million expansion

Bethea Retirement Community of Darlington welcomed guests to a preview of their new “household style” expansion, complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony to formally celebrate finishing this ambitious $22 million project.

“We broke ground in August of 2019, and this is a 55,000-square-foot expansion,” said Benjamin Spurling, executive director. “The bulk of the project is a replacement skilled nursing facility for our existing campus. We went with a household design, which is a really neat and innovative concept unlike anything in this area.”

The project also includes a new inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation center and a primary care office. All future residents of this facility, whether they’re in for a brief stay to rehab from injury or illness or staying a bit longer to recuperate with full-time nursing care, will enjoy conveniences designed to make them feel at home.

— Samantha Lyles

 

Mayor on his 1st year: ‘We’ve done a lot of good things’

Looking back on his first year in office, Darlington Mayor Curtis Boyd remembered a question he was asked during his campaign.

“The media asked me, when I ran for mayor, ‘What would you do different? How would you compete with Florence and Hartsville?’” Boyd recalled Dec. 3 as he gave his first “State of the City” address to a meeting of the Darlington Kiwanis Club at the Darlington Country Club.

“I said, ‘I’m not going to compete with them.’ … I want (us) to do what Darlington does best. I want other people to look at us and go, ‘What’s happening in Darlington?’ And that’s already happening.”

“Progress has been made, people are looking, and we’re getting attention,” Boyd said. “ … We’ve done a lot of good things. … We’ve accomplished a lot.”

— Bobby Bryant

 

S.C. shares spotlight at Beasley’s Nobel moment

When Lamar native and Society Hill resident David Beasley accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the U.N. World Food Programme, one of Beasley’s old friends saw it as just another step on the path God set for him.

“I see the hand of God in all this,” says Columbia political consultant Bob McAlister, who has known Beasley since the 1980s, when Beasley was an S.C. House member representing Darlington County. “It’s the Lord laying out a path for David … taking a bright young man from Darlington County to guide him every step of the way to where he is today,” says McAlister, who was a top aide to then-Gov. Carroll Campbell.

On Dec. 10, Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme, accepted the Nobel on behalf of the agency that combats world hunger. President Trump nominated Beasley to lead the agency in 2017. The Nobel presentations are normally held in Oslo, Norway, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year Beasley accepted the award in an online ceremony from the U.N. agency’s headquarters in Rome.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Council says farewell to Kilgo

At their Dec. 7 regular meeting, Darlington County Council bid a fond farewell to one of their own as Councilman Robert L. “Bobby” Kilgo Jr. left their ranks. Council Vice Chair Lewis Brown praised Kilgo’s commitment to the best interests of Darlington County and cited his “passion and tenacity” to bring a new county courthouse to downtown Darlington.

“What will go unnoticed is how much money it saved the county as a result. … Under your leadership, I think we came out with a much better project and product because of your guidance,” said Brown.

Kilgo’s 16 years of service on County Council was split into two segments; his first term lasted from 1981 to 1989, and the second from 2013 to 2021. Kilgo lost a re-election bid in the June primary to challenger Angie Stone Godbold, who will assume the District 1 seat in January.

— Samantha Lyles

 

Plan to honor mill workers takes a monumental step

Once upon a time, the Darlington Manufacturing Co. was the lynchpin of Darlington’s economic and social life, with generations living and dying on “Mill Hill” and earning their pay by putting in long hours at the cotton mill. For the past decade, descendants of these West End families have worked to establish a permanent marker honoring those workers. Last week, that dream became reality.

Jim Kelly and Peggy Sheffield of the nonprofit West End Heritage Corp. say the handsome granite monument now standing at the corner of Pearl and Cleveland streets was a long time coming. “We bought this property around 2013, but we had this project in mind well before we got the property,” said Sheffield.

“And we’ve been working to get this monument done for the past four years,” added Kelly. Crafted by Nelson Blackmon of Blackmon Memorials at a cost of nearly $10,000, the polished stone base features three images of the mill as it looked in the 1950s. Perched on pillars over this base, the capstone is engraved with the words Darlington Manufacturing Co. 1883-1956.

— Samantha Lyles

 

Lamar to require face coverings for shoppers, diners

Lamar Town Council convened their regular monthly meeting Dec. 14 and passed an emergency ordinance requiring the wearing of face coverings in certain situations.

With COVID-19 case numbers spiking across Darlington County, Lamar followed suit with Hartsville and formalized a mask mandate to suppress the virus. The ordinance specifies that masks or face coverings will be required when shopping or dining in enclosed areas.

Staff at retail and food establishments will also be required to wear masks when interacting with the public, and with each other in situations where a 6-foot social distancing buffer cannot be maintained. Fines of $25 could be levied against individuals found in violation of the ordinance, and responsible individuals (such as business owners) could be fined $100 per violation. This emergency ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1 and expires in 60 days unless renewed by Town Council.

— Samantha Lyles

 

County schools shut down sports for three weeks

All sports at all Darlington County public schools will be suspended Dec. 21-Jan. 11 because of the COVID-19 threat, the county school board has decided.

The suspension was to begin the day before the Darlington County School District started its two-week Christmas break and end one week after students return to school, the board decided in its Dec. 14 meeting. The suspension covers all athletic competitions and practices.

— Bobby Bryant

 

Author: Rachel Howell

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