Crime tops news stories of 2010

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, January 2, 2011

It was a year of reflection.

Despite events around a tumultuous world that got a little bitcrazier in 2010, the people of Brookhaven and Lincoln County spentthe last 365 days looking on the inside, assigning blame for whathad gone wrong and praising the enablers of what had gone right.They gave many thanks for the new industries moving into town,guessed at who the bad guys were who keep trying to close down abeloved state institution and scratched their heads in unison asthe economy fluctuated from bad to better to somewhere inbetween.

But nothing caused more soul-searching, more worry or concernthan The DAILY LEADER’s top news story of 2010 – crime. Theever-changing story of many faces and many names was voted No. 1 bythe newspaper’s editorial board during the annual year-end reviewand took the majority of votes in the paper’s last online opinionpoll of 2010.

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“The public concern without a doubt is warranted, as evidencedby the number of violent crime stories we covered this year,” saidThe DAILY LEADER Publisher Bill Jacobs. “When the economy getstough, crime always increases. As the economy improves, theseincidences should decrease.”

Throughout 2010, the newspaper wrote more than 100 storiesdetailing crimes, arrests, court appearances and efforts by lawenforcement and the community to curtail the law breaking. The cityand county were awash with crime and talk of crime, with everythingfrom unsolved murders to simple pot arrests. Last year saw sixslayings in Lincoln County and numerous thefts, burglaries andassaults, not to mention a six-member jail breakout that ended withall escapees arrested in New Orleans.

None of last year’s many crimes caught as much attention as theApril shooting of 86-year-old Eva Pullen, who was shot multipletimes and robbed while sitting in her car in downtown Brookhaven ona beautiful Saturday morning. The incident produced 13 storiesdetailing the hunt for her attackers, their appearances in courtand Pullen’s thankfully improving health. Her attack was thecatalyst that caused the community to demand change, leading localorganizations to call emergency meetings, city officials to discussweapons training and law enforcement to promote the formation ofneighborhood watches.

“Regardless, it is the city and county leadership that isresponsible for putting emphasis on public safety and the publicshould, and will, hold them accountable if they do not,” Jacobssaid. “But at the same time, perception is reality – but not alwaysfactual. When people see the repetitive TV coverage about crime inJackson, it places a certain amount of unnecessary fear inresidents here in Brookhaven. Our community is changing, but aJackson we are not – thus the importance of everyone workingtogether to make our streets safer.”

The No. 2 story of 2010 also caused much worry.

The global economic recession took a toll on Brookhaven andLincoln County last year, as money and jobs became more rare whilelow tax revenue grew too common. Sales tax collections did turnupward toward the end of the year, but there’s a long way to go yetwith the local unemployment rate still hovering around 10percent.

The downturn was felt in government budgets – supervisors arepaving fewer and fewer miles of county roads as funding drops toall-time lows, while the recession came home to the BrookhavenSchool District, which was forced to terminate some employees’contracts and close a few programs. And anyone can see the effectsof the recession in the grocery store.

An accurate count of newspaper stories written about economicconditions in 2012 is nearly impossible, as the sad state ofaffairs seemingly crept into almost every story, just as it creptinto almost every life.

The No. 3 story of 2010 is much easier to track, and is nostranger to the annual year-in-review list. For the secondconsecutive year, a few state lawmakers tried their best to closeor move the Mississippi School of the Arts out of Brookhaven, andfailed.

It was the same old story as in 2009 – it allegedly costs thestate too much to operate MSA in Brookhaven, so it should be mergedwith the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science inColumbus. Bills were filed in the Legislature, local leaders mademultiple trips to Jackson to argue against the move two cities werecaught in what has been an ugly crossfire. The legislationultimately died when it was proven the run-down buildings at theMississippi University for Women where MSA would be moved neededalmost $3 million in renovations – not very cost-effective for thestate, either.

“I think the arts school was, by design, put in Brookhaven,”said House Public Health and Human Services Committee ChairmanStephen Holland, D-Plantersville, a northerly friend of MSA. “Thestate has invested heavily, it’s a beautiful facility, a wonderfulspirit and it’s beautifully educating the kids like we wanted it todo.”

In the early months of 2010, 10 stories and editorials werewritten about the legislation and its consequences, and the samestory crept back into countless other pieces about the arts schoolin general.

While the No. 3 story was about attempts to take away fromBrookhaven, the No. 4 story was about adding to it. Last year hadbarely begun when Florida-based Rex Lumber Co. announced itspurchase of the former Columbus Lumber Co. in Brookhaven and plansto restart the sawmill and replace the more than 100 jobs that werelost with its closing in 2009.

Rex Lumber should get back in production in early 2011, andGreat Southern Wood Preserving – which produces YellaWood lumber -has already started up its end of the deal.

Sixteen stories and editorials were written about the lumbercompanies in 2010, and the good-news industry was featured inseveral other stories about the local economy.

The No. 5 story of 2010 was also about welcomed additions to thecommunity. King’s Daughters Medical Center capped off a long,expensive renovation project last year, celebrating the officialcompletion of a new emergency room, new ICU, delivery departmentand fitness and therapy centers. The improvement of the hospitalgives local economic developers another tool to use when promotingthe city to potential industries, who check out the quality oflocal health care before making a business decision.

“If you have good facilities, you can get good physicians andprovide good health care,” said KDMC Chief Development OfficerJohnny Rainer. “When you bring people in and you show them a new ERand ICU, it makes an impression.”

Five stories and editorials were written to bring closure to thehospital’s technological leaps forward.

Last year’s No. 6 story played out on the fields of competition.It was an interesting year for local sports, with several teamsadvancing deep into the playoffs and bringing back hardware.

The fastpitch and slowpitch softball teams at Bogue ChittoAttendance Center claimed state titles, while Brookhaven Academyclaimed top prizes in baseball and boys basketball. Copiah-LincolnCommunity College’s women’s basketball team won the region and cameup seventh in the nation.

And what could have been a mediocre year for the Brookhaven HighSchool Panther football team turned into a long, amazing journey -that fell one step short. Despite four losses in the regularseason, the Panthers ran off consecutive victories over teamsconsidered to be stronger in the playoffs, advancing to the statechampionship game in Jackson in December. The squad lost to WestPoint, but proved their mettle.

There was a tie for No. 7 in the newspaper’s list of top 10stories of 2010, with equal interest in ongoing changes in theBrookhaven School District and the indictment of Lincoln CountyCircuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins.

Superintendent Lea Barrett and Assistant Superintendent JamesTillman announced their retirements in late August, setting off asearch for a new district leader that brought in close to 30applications. In early November, Watkins was indicted onembezzlement charges for allegedly misusing approximately $131,000.Barrett’s last day in office could come as soon as a newsuperintendent is hired, while Watkins’ first day in court will beduring the first week of January.

Four stories have been written thus far detailing the hunt for anew school leader, while one story highlighted Watkins’indictment.

The No. 9 story of 2010 had to do with living, assisted living.In a retirement community without a single assisted living center,the announcement that two such facilities are on the way waswelcomed news. Providence Development Group, LLC, won a change tothe city’s zoning ordinance and plans to build a $7 million, 60-bedfacility near KDMC, while local developer Gayle Evans’ $7 millionbuilding will be built downtown.

“If you have two facilities that are very attractive, peoplefrom outside Brookhaven will want to come stay in them,” saidBrookhaven Mayor Les Bumgarner. “It’s kind of ironic. We’ve neverhad one and now we’re on the verge of having two.”

Eight stories were written about the pending centers in2010.

The DAILY LEADER’s list of the top stories of 2010 ends on anote of uncertainty. The No. 10 story of the year deals with theMississippi Adolescent Center, its reductions and layoffs in anattempt to stay alive and the somber fact it may be too late tokeep the facility open.

MAC, a facility for treating adolescent males with developmentaldisabilities that is operated by the Mississippi Department ofMental Health, has long edged nearer to the chopping block as staterevenues declined. The Brookhaven facility is funded 100 percentfrom the department’s budget, with no means of recouping its costthrough Medicaid or other reimbursements. Its $5 million budget hasshrunk by $1 million in the last two years.

Those reductions hit home in 2010 when MAC was forced to lay off16 employees and close one of its three dormitories. MACadministrators are inching closer to a new designation that wouldallow for Medicaid reimbursements – which would cut the facility’sstate budget in half and may allow it to prosper – but the centercontinues to find itself on the expendable list at the statelevel.

“Without this licensure, we will not be in existence,” said MACDirector Shirley Miller. “It’s imperative we get this license andstart billing Medicaid so we can continue to be a productive partof this community.”

Eight stories were written about MAC’s struggles in 2010.