Murders, election protests highlight last six months of 2012

  • Monday, January 14, 2013

A horrific double murder and election drama dominated the news in the second half of 2012.
The abduction and murders of Dana Woods and June Guerry on Aug. 26 shocked Berkeley County. The two girls were reported missing only to have Woods’ burned-out car and their bodies discovered two days later.
Other news dominating the front pages were the election protests filed by a number of candidates throughout the state over the summer months, including Berkeley County District 3 councilman Bob Call who embarked on a six-month protest of his June 12 primary loss to councilman-elect Ken Gunn.
• A new principal came to Berkeley High School when former Summerville High School Assistant Principal Steven Steele was approved by the Berkeley County School Board to become the new leader of BHS.
Steele replaced Kim McLaren, who was promoted to the position of BCSD Director of Secondary Education at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. Steele and his wife, Mindy, were introduced at a summer school board meeting.
“I’m very excited about getting the chance to work with the students of Berkeley High School and help them realize their full potential,” Steele said. “It’s good to be a part of the rich heritage and tradition that is Berkeley High School.”
• Berkeley County Councilman Bob Call filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn his June 12 GOP primary defeat. The lawsuit challenged Call’s opponent Ken Gunn’s candidacy, claiming Gunn’s paperwork was not filed in accordance with South Carolina Republican Party regulations. Call lost to Gunn – a political newcomer – by 371 to 265 votes in the GOP primary.
Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson ruled in favor of a motion filed by the South Carolina Election Commission seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, which would have reversed Call’s primary loss.
Nicholson dismissed the suit in Charleston, on the grounds that Call waited more than three months after the May 2 state Supreme Court ruling requiring non-exempt candidates for election to file their statement of economic interests online to file his suit.
Nicholson questioned the reasoning and motive behind the three-month delay and accepted the S.C. Election Commission’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Since there is no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6, election, Gunn will assume Call’s District 3 council seat in January 2013.  “The judge’s ruling today validates the public’s wishes,” Gunn said after the lawsuit’s dismissal.
• The unthinkable unfolded over the first week in September with the horrific double murder of 18-year-old Dana Woods and 22-year-old June Guerry.
What began as a missing persons case on the weekend of Aug. 25 turned into a case of double murder as August passed into September, as the bodies of Woods and Guerry were discovered one day and about 10 miles. Woods was laid to rest on Sept. 1, while Guerry’s funeral was Sept. 2.
The women disappeared on Sunday, Aug. 29. Woods and Guerry were last seen in the evening hours at a Burger King in Moncks Corner. Relatives said they had left that evening to take a family member home to Pinopolis.
The collective shock, grief and anger of the community turned to relief as two suspects were taken into custody for the killing.
Shortly after Woods’ funeral, family members of the two victims were brought into the BCSO headquarters and given the news that a pair of arrests had been made in their daughters’ murders.
Arrested and charged with two counts of murder were Caleb Brad Matlock, 23, of Summerville, and Arthur Ray Chavis, 23, of Cordesville.
 “These are the two people responsible for the deaths of these two young ladies,” said BCSO Capt. Rick Ollic, who heads up the BCSO’s Criminal Investigations Division.
Jennifer Hill, Woods’ mother, stated simply, “Thank God” on her Facebook page after hearing of the news.  
“I really want to thank everyone for concerns, prayers, support, donations, and love for our girls,” Hill said. “Our community has pulled together and we are going to win this battle. Again, our family can't thank everyone enough.”
• A South Carolina Law Administrative Law Court ruling that Berkeley County can support two hospitals was announced on Oct. 3. The ruling was a victory for Roper St. Francis Healthcare, which wants to build a hospital near Goose Creek, and a setback for Trident Health, which has planned to build a 50-bed facility in Moncks Corner, and has maintained that Berkeley County could not support two such facilities.
The two hospitals have been battling in the press and courts for more than three years. The ruling favors Roper St. Francis, which plans to move forward with construction on its long-awaited hospital in the Carnes Crossroads community in Goose Creek.
In the order provided by Judge John D. McLeod, the judge agreed with the DHEC decision.
“I find that Berkeley’s population size is well able to support two 50-bed hospitals,” McLeod said. “Trident’s position that both hospitals will financially fail if both are approved is inconsistent with Trident’s financials and its application.
“I find the overwhelming evidence admitted at trial proved that both hospitals are needed and both hospitals in Berkeley County will be financially successful.”
In a statement released after the ruling, Roper St. Francis reiterated its position about the Berkeley County market being able to support two hospitals.
“Roper St. Francis is very pleased that the court has upheld DHEC’s 2009 decision to allow both hospitals, but it is the residents of Berkeley County who have won,” said David Dunlap, president and CEO of Roper St. Francis Healthcare. “Roper St. Francis has fought hard for Berkeley County for more than three years on this issue. We have not wavered in the position that both hospitals, proposed for two different areas, are needed and would be supported.”
Trident expressed its disappointment in the ruling.
• In November, the national and local elections dominated the news as President Barack Obama was reelected to a second presidential term.
Berkeley County voters turned out steadily throughout election day on Nov. 6. The official voter turnout was more than 67 percent close to 70,000 voters went to the polls. More than 68 percent of voters turned out statewide.
President Obama won the national election and in Berkeley County received 41 percent of the vote while Republican challenger Mitt Romney received 56 percent of the county’s vote. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson received just over one percent.
The $198 million school bond referendum passed with more than 59 percent of the vote as 40,092 residents voted in its favor.
Other local contested races were for State House Dist. 100, in which Republican Edward Southard won with 65 percent of the vote over Democratic and Working Families candidate Tonia Aiken-Taylor.
In State House Dist. 102 Democratic incumbent Joe Jefferson won with 66 percent of the vote as Republican challenger Allan Weiss received just over 33 percent of the vote.
In the Berkeley County School Board District 7 race incumbent Wilhelmina Moore received more than 60 percent of the vote to defeat challenger Marty Housand.
In School Board District 1 incumbent Kent Murray won with 55 percent of the vote as nearly 45 percent went to challenger Kevin Cox.
Republican incumbent Tim Scott won the U.S. House of Representatives District 1 race with 65 percent of the vote. Bobbie Rose ran against Scott as a member of the Democratic and Working Families parties. She received more than 32 percent of the county’s votes.
In U.S. House District 6 Democratic incumbent Jim Clyburn received 93 percent of the county and state vote.
In Berkeley County 58 percent of voters marked “yes” to the constitutional amendment that will make the South Carolina governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket in 2016. More than 55 percent of the state voted in favor of the amendment.
• Road construction projects made their presence felt in December with the US 17A widening project kicking into high gear and the repaving of Hwy. 6 nearing completion. Traffic was often slowed while construction crews and heavy equipment worked to improve local driving conditions for area motorists.
In 2008, the voters of Berkeley County passed a one percent sales and use tax for “financing the costs of highways, roads, bridges, and other transportation-related project facilities, and drainage facilities related thereto,” according to the Berkeley County website.
• The news year ended with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley tabbing First District Congressman Tim Scott to fill Jim DeMint’s U.S. Senate seat.
“I think this is a new day in South Carolina,” Haley said. “The process was pretty simple. Tim understands the focus we need in our business community as we fight for new jobs. Tim knows the value of a dollar.
“This man loves South Carolina. He knows that every vote affects South Carolina and affects our country. Congressman Scott earned this seat through the person he is and the results he has shown.”
Scott’s appointment makes him the first African American since Reconstruction to represent South Carolina in the U.S. Senate.
“Our nation finds itself where we need some backbone,” Scott said. “We need to make some difficult decisions. When you have a problem with spending it means you don’t have enough revenue to cover it, and we have a spending problem not a revenue problem.”
DeMint is resigning in January to become president of the Heritage Foundation. His senate replacement will serve until a special election is held in 2014.
State Sen. Larry Grooms is among the candidates who are running for Scott’s Congressional seat.

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