2009 in review: Part 1

January

PILOT PARACHUTES

OUT OF PLANE OVER SHELBY COUNTY

Marcus Schrenker, an Indiana investment manager, attempted to stage his own death by putting his six-passenger Malibu plane on autopilot, faking a distress call and parachuting out over Shelby County Jan. 11. The plane crashed in Milton, Fla. Schrenker fled to Tallahassee, Fla., where he was captured.

LOCAL STUDENTS WITNESS HISTORY

Many Shelby County students made the trip to see Barack Obama’s inauguration, including a group of 35 Vincent High School students and 20 adults, a group from Oak Mountain High School and another group from Thompson High School.

February

RILEY SHUTS DOWN HOOVER HOSPITAL PLANS

Gov. Bob Riley abruptly halted plans to build a Hoover hospital, saying he was concerned the hospital would create increased Medicaid costs for the state. Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos said he would continue to look for a way to bring a hospital to Hoover. He said need is critical, since Hoover is the largest city in Alabama without a hospital.

HOOVER MAYOR SHOWS INTEREST IN JOINING SHELBY COUNTY

Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos said Feb. 10 he could be interested in de-annexing Hoover from Jefferson County and fully into Shelby County if the Jefferson County financial crisis continues. However, county officials said it was unlikely to happen even if it was ever seriously proposed.

SUNDAYS SOBER UP

In February, Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board served notice on Shelby County restaurants that serve alcohol on Sundays that they had to choose between holding a retail restaurant liquor license or a club liquor license. The private club license allows for liquor sales on Sunday; the retail restaurant license does not. Unlike their counterparts in Jefferson County, Shelby County restaurants must hold a private club license in order to sell alcoholic drinks on Sundays.

COLUMBIANA COUNCIL VOTES TO SHUT DOWN YOUTH HOME

The Columbiana City Council voted not to grant a business license to the Fortress Group Home for young boys after receiving numerous complaints and hearing about the boys’ run-ins with police. The home housed boys aged 14-19 who were wards of the state. A March special council meeting upheld the decision not to grant the license, and Fortress shut down in late May.

March

RARE SNOWFALL BLANKETS SHELBY COUNTY

March roared in like a lion with 2-3 inches of snow across Shelby County on the first day of the month. It had been nine years since Shelby County had seen so much snow.

EX-BANK PRESIDENT INDICTED ON FEDERAL CHARGES

Helen Harrison Phillips, former president of the First National Bank of Shelby County, was indicted by a federal grand jury for bank fraud. According to the indictment, Phillips’ housekeeper took out a $45,000 loan, which Phillips used for her own personal gain. Prosecutors also said Phillips arranged to pay off the loan to hide the scheme.

HUMANE SOCIETY TAPPED FOR ASPCA PROGRAM

The effort to reduce the unwanted pet population in Shelby County got some big-time help as Shelby County was selected as one of two communities in the country by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for its Mission: Orange program, which aims to reduce the number of animals euthanized in shelters.

April

CALERA DELEGATION GOES TO WASHINGTON

A small delegation of two attorneys and one Calera city councilman traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with U.S. Department of Justice officials to discuss the rejection of the city’s 2008 election results. The Justice Department rejected the city’s redistricting plan for a second time in March, arguing the plan eliminates the Calera’s only black voting district.

FRINGS OWES $30,000 IN BACK TAXES

The Internal Revenue Service placed a lien on property owned by Alabaster Mayor David Frings and his wife, Jennifer, for owing more than $30,000 in back taxes.

ERWIN, WARD LAUNCH STATE CAMPAIGNS

Both Hank Erwin and Cam Ward launched their campaigns for lieutenant governor and a state Senate seat, respectively. Ward is running for the seat in the 14th District, which Erwin will vacate in 2010.

STERRETT MAN CHARGED WITH CAPITAL MURDER

Randy O’Neal Davidson of Sterrett was charged with one count of capital murder. Davidson was suspected to have strangled 62-year-old Diane Donahoo Rice. Rice’s body was found April 7 in a wooded area in St. Clair County. Davidson later said he was high on drugs at the time. Davidson is currently being held in the Shelby County Jail without bond.

May

LIMESTONE QUARRY PROJECT ANNOUNCED FOR VINCENT

Vincent officials announced a limestone rock quarry was being considered for the more than 1,000 acres of land bought up by a mining company over the last two years. The project is being proposed by White Rock Quarries, a division of the Vecellio Group of West Palm Beach, Fla. Citizens immediately banded together to create groups both for and against the quarry.

COUNTY SEES RISE

IN OVERDOSE DEATHS

In just five years, the number of accidental drug overdoses has steadily increased from 10 in 2004 to 41 in 2008. The high came in 2007, with 53 confirmed accidental overdoses. While many counties across the nation suffer from illegal street narcotic overdoses, prescription medications proved to be the real problem in Shelby County. An overwhelming majority of those who overdosed in the five-year span were white, and the ages of those dying are dropping. The youngest person to overdose was 16, in 2007.

BOTTOMS UP, SHELBY COUNTY

The Alabama Senate overrode Riley’s veto of a bill that would allow restaurants already selling alcohol on Sundays to continue doing so. While no new restaurants can have both a retail restaurant liquor license and a club liquor license, those that already had both were grandfathered in and didn’t have to deal with potential loss of revenue.

June

LIZ COCHRAN WINS MISS ALABAMA

Helena native Liz Cochran has danced her way through life. On June 6, the poise and grace she gained from dancing helped her capture the title of Miss Alabama 2009. Cochran’s platform is called “With Every Beat – Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease.” Cochran will compete in the Miss America pageant Jan. 30, 2010.

WATSON COULD FACE MURDER CHARGES

Troy King, Alabama attorney general, said he planned to press murder charges against Gabe Watson if state prosecutors found evidence he planned to kill his wife while at home in Alabama and then executed his plan during their honeymoon in Australia. Watson, 32, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison in Brisbane Supreme Court June 5. However, a judge ordered Watson’s sentence be suspended after he served 12 months. Watson pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2003 drowning death of Christina “Tina” Thomas Watson of Helena. The court later added six months to the original 12, bringing Watson’s total prison time to 18 months. King later announced he would seek capital murder indictments against Watson.