2012 in review, part 1
FROM STAFF REPORTS
In this two-part series, we take a look back at Shelby County’s most important stories of 2012.
POLICE: MAN MOLESTED CHILDREN IN CLASS
Alabaster police said a former school teacher admitted to sexually abusing at least 21 girls at various Alabaster schools over a 25-year period, including at least one incident in a classroom in front of other students. Then-Alabaster Deputy Police Chief Curtis Rigney announced the arrest of Daniel Montague Acker Jr. during a press conference Jan. 5. Acker was charged with four counts of felony first-degree sexual abuse.
AFTER 17 YEARS, FORMER TEACHER’S SHUNNED ACCUSER VINDICATED?
When Montevallo resident Beverly Watson saw the news that former Alabaster school teacher Daniel Acker Jr. had been arrested and charged with sexually abusing former students, 17 years’ worth of frustration immediately turned to vindication. She then got in her car and drove to the offices of the Shelby County Reporter. Watson said 17 years ago, she lived in Acker’s neighborhood. She remembers accusations from a neighborhood girl, who was also one of Acker’s students, that he molested her.
REPORTER EMPLOYEE PASSES AWAY
A beloved employee of Shelby County Newspapers — a “superstar” in her profession —passed away Wednesday, Jan. 4. Jessica Hardin, 25, a marketing consultant for Shelby County Newspapers Inc., died of complications of pneumonia during her battle with leukemia. She had worked for Shelby County Newspapers since July 2010.
ACKER’S ALLEGED VICTIM SPEAKS OUT
A former Thompson Elementary School student who said her fourth-grade teacher, Daniel Acker Jr., molested her at home and in a TES classroom more than 20 years ago said she was “shocked, happy and sad all at the same time” after hearing about Acker’s Jan. 4 arrest. The victim, who asked to remain anonymous at the time, was later revealed to be Kristin Hurt.
MAN CHARGED WITH RAPING, MOLESTING GIRLS
A 27-year-old Georgia man was released from the Shelby County Jail Jan. 6 on bonds totaling $45,000 after he was arrested by the Alabaster Police Department and charged with one count of rape and one count of first-degree sexual abuse. Police arrested Ellijay, Ga., resident Kevin Nichols Wallace on Jan. 3 after police said the charges were tied to incidents involving a 10-year-old family member and a 13- or 14-year-old family member. The alleged incidents occurred between March 2006 and January 2007.
ACKER FACING TWO MORE CHARGES
Alabaster police on Jan. 18 charged Daniel Acker Jr. with two more counts of sexually abusing a child younger than 12 years old. As a result of the two new charges, Acker is now facing six counts of first-degree sexual abuse. Police originally arrested Acker on Jan. 4 and charged him with three counts of first degree sexual abuse before bringing a fourth charge two days later.
GUILTY PLEA IN U.S. 280 SLAYINGS
Torre Jovan Gholston will spend 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of murder in relation to the 2008 slaying of five men at a U.S. 280 apartment complex. Gholston was the fourth man to plead guilty in the slaying of five other men in August 2008. He was one of six men charged with murder in the Cahaba Lakes complex slayings.
POLICE: MOTHER LEFT KIDS ALONE IN PELHAM HOTEL
A 30-year-old Alabaster woman was arrested by the Pelham Police Department on Jan. 18 and charged with two misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child after police said she left her two young children alone in a hotel room possibly for several hours. Police arrested Crystal Ceraso Goldberg after she turned herself in at the Pelham Police Department a day after officers discovered her two children, one of whom was 4 years old and one who was 14 months old, in the Value Place motel off Oak Mountain Park Road.
THROUGH DEATH, 17-YEAR-OLD GIVES LIFE
Parker Morris was a 17-year-old who “lived her life by her heart.” According to Elaine Walton, Morris’ mother, an “accident” involving a gun occurred in Thorsby on Jan. 21. Morris was taken to Shelby Baptist Medical Center at 7:30 a.m. that day with a gunshot wound to her head. She was pronounced dead at 10:40 a.m. on Jan. 22. Walton said her daughter, a senior at Calera High School, chose to be an organ donor when she acquired her driver’s license. Morris’ heart was donated to a 17-year-old in Ohio, Walton said, and doctors were able to donate other portions of her body.
ARCHITECT REVEALS PLANS FOR NEW HELENA HIGH
The upcoming Helena high school will feature 39 classrooms, eight science classrooms and two large storm shelter rooms, an architect for the project announced during a Shelby County School Board meeting. The Shelby County School System awarded a bid to grade the new high school site on Jan. 31, which is across Hillsboro Parkway from Helena Middle School. Once completed, the school will be 225,000 square feet, will feature a gymnasium, a band and choral room and a football stadium with a track.
COUNTY CELEBRATES BIRTHDAY
Shelby County residents, officials and visitors met at the Shelby County Museum and Archives to celebrate the county’s 194th birthday on Feb. 5.
UM COLLEGE NIGHT REMAINS GOLDEN
Before Student Government President Sherrod Hall even had a chance to finish speaking, the Gold side members erupted into cheers as Gold Victory won College Night for the second year running. On Feb. 11, Palmer Auditorium was packed full of students and alumni alike sporting colors that represented their loyalty to either the purple or gold side for the university’s 94th annual College Night. The divided room rang out with cheers, taunts and songs throughout the evening.
MAN’S BODY DISCOVERED IN PELHAM
Pelham police officers said they suspect no foul play after a crew of construction workers found the body of a 35-year-old Pelham attorney near the Shelby County Services Building off Shelby County 35 on Feb. 15. Shelby County Coroner Diana New identified the man as Chace William Swatek, whose law practice is listed on Canyon Park Drive in Pelham.
VERIZON ENDS SPONSORSHIP WITH AMPHITHEATRE
The general manager of Pelham’s Oak Mountain Amphitheatre said the music center is practicing “business as usual” after Verizon Wireless recently ended its six-year sponsorship with the venue. During Verizon’s sponsorship, the venue was named the Verizon Wireless Music Center, but changed its name back to the Oak Mountain Amphitheatre after the sponsorship ended.
WATSON CAPITAL MURDER TRIAL DISMISSED
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tommy Nail dismissed the Gabe Watson capital murder case on Feb. 23. Nail’s office confirmed the ruling and said the decision was made because of the prosecution’s lack of sufficient evidence.
BORELLI ARRESTED AGAIN
The Alabaster Police Department has brought one more theft charge against Alabaster resident Roseanna Paulin Borelli, after police said she allegedly pocketed nearly $30,000 donated to help cover her son’s medical expenses. Police arrested Borelli on March 5 and charged her with one count of first-degree theft by deception. The arrest came about six months after she was arrested on charges of allegedly stealing money intended to fund a special-needs playground at Pelham’s Linda Nolen Learning Center.
ALABASTER APPOINTS SCHOOL BOARD
Alabaster residents Linda Church, Melanie Shores, John Myrick, Adam Moseley and Ty Quarles will serve on the city’s first school board, after they were appointed to the board during a March 5 City Council meeting.
SANTORUM STOPS IN PELHAM
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum criticized President Barack Obama during a March 8 campaign stop at the Pelham Civic Complex, and said “liberty is the biggest issue,” during the upcoming presidential general election. Santorum’s comments came during a nearly hour-long speech to a group of more than 100 supporters who gathered at the Civic Complex.
PASTOR INJURED IN HIT AND RUN
The pastor of Calera Baptist Church was injured in a hit-and-run accident around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night, March 4. After leaving church, Pastor Hal Warren was driving on Alabama 25 when a vehicle turned in front of him and struck his motorcycle. The driver sped away, according to Calera Police Chief Sean Lemley.
ACKER INDICTED ON ABUSE CHARGES
A Shelby County grand jury returned several indictments against longtime Alabaster teacher Daniel Acker Jr. He was indicted on two counts of first-degree sexual abuse and six counts of sexual abuse of a child younger than 12 years old. One of the first-degree sexual abuse charges and one of the sexual abuse of a child younger than 12 charges were added to Acker’s original six counts after the Alabaster Police Department presented evidence to a Shelby County grand jury in early March.
LOCALS ELECTED AS GOP DELEGATES
State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and several other Shelby County residents went to the 2012 Republican National Convention after they were elected as delegates for Republican presidential candidates. Ward won a delegate spot for presidential candidate Mitt Romney during Alabama’s March 13 primary elections.
MATTHEW BLOUNT LAID TO REST
A funeral procession including dozens of friends, family members, fellow soldiers, police officers and members of the Patriot Guard Riders escorted U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Matthew Blount to his final resting place at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo on March 13. Blount, a Pelham native, also received several posthumous awards and recognitions from the state of Alabama and the U.S. Army Reserves during a memorial service held at the First Baptist Church of Pelham. Blount, who served in the Army for 13 years as a combat medic and on a mortar platoon in Iraq, passed away March 10 after a lengthy battle with cancer and leukemia.
ACKER PLEADS NOT GUILTY
The trial of a longtime Alabaster teacher who was indicted on several counts of sexual abuse was scheduled to begin on Aug. 13 after he pleaded not guilty to the charges.
TEEN DROWNS AT STATE PARK
Oak Mountain State Park officials and several area law enforcement and rescue agencies discovered the body of 18-year-old Childersburg resident La Memphis Fuller at about 7:15 a.m. on April 2, said Shelby County Coroner Diana New. OMSP Superintendent Michael Jeffries said Fuller was reported missing in the park lake off Terrace Drive shortly after 3:30 p.m. on April 1.
BAND DIRECTOR ARRESTED
Jeffrey Scott Atkins, a teacher and band director at Oak Mountain Middle School, WAS arrested for inappropriate contact with a student. The 38-year-old Alabaster resident was arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree sexual abuse, one count of enticing a child for immoral purposes, one count of electronic solicitation of a child and one count of a school employee having sexual contact with a student under the age of 19.
VETERANS TO GET LEGAL HELP
Circuit Judge Bill Bostick recently announced that Shelby County has been selected by Alabama Chief Justice Chuck Malone to serve as a pilot county for the establishment of a Veterans Court. Bostick will preside over the court, which will provide judicial supervision for military veterans facing criminal charges, with assistance from the Veterans Administration.
GENTRY’S BODY IDENTIFIED
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office identified a body recovered from an abandoned Leeds quarry as Carrie Elaine Gentry. Gentry, a Chelsea resident, was reported missing March 29. Her body was found inside her 2002 Lexus RX300 after it was recovered. The vehicle was found in about 40 feet of water.
EIGHTH-GRADER CHARGED WITH RAPE AT SCHOOL
A Berry Middle School eighth-grader has been charged with rape after an incident on the Berry campus. Officers received a report that an assault had occurred on April 13. The incident allegedly took place after school let out for the day, when students were on their way to the buses. The victim, also an eighth-grader, reported that she was sexually assaulted in an upstairs boys’ bathroom.
LOCAL SEX OFFENDER NUMBER RISING
There are currently 200 sex offenders in the county, including 110 who are required to register for public notification. That number, which is monitored by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, has risen slightly in the last 12 months. Last year, 189 sex offenders were registered in the county.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE’S SPEECH INSPIRES SPAIN PARK STUDENTS
Former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice, a Birmingham native, came back home April 18 to speak to the Spain Park student body, sharing life lessons from her own experiences.
POLICE: WOMAN PROSTITUTED GIRLS
A 22-year-old Wilsonville woman, Chelsea Marie Joiner, was arrested by the Pelham Police Department on April 20 and charged with five felony counts of promoting prostitution — some of which involved girls younger than 16, police said.
ACKER PLEADS GUILTY
Daniel Acker Jr., a longtime Alabaster teacher, will serve at least 17 years in prison after he pleaded guilty May 3 to eight counts of sexually abusing underage girls during his teaching tenure. The guilty plea came a little more than a month after Acker, 49, pleaded not guilty to the charges. The plea came at the Shelby County Courthouse before presiding St. Clair County Judge James Hill Jr., who took over the case after all Shelby County judges recused themselves from the case.
ACKER’S VICTIM ‘VINDICATED’ AFTER PLEA
When Kristin Hurt heard the word “guilty” exit 49-year-old Daniel Acker Jr.’s mouth during a May 3 hearing at the Shelby County Courthouse, a surreal feeling came over her. When St. Clair County Presiding Judge James Hill Jr. accepted Acker’s guilty plea and sentenced him to serve 17 years behind bars, it helped to ease the torment Hurt has been dealing with for more than 20 years. In addition to seven other sexual abuse charges Acker pleaded guilty to during the hearing, Acker admitted he had traveled to Hurt’s house when her mother was not home in 1991 and fondled the 11-year-old student on the family’s couch.
BODIES FOUND IN APARTMENT COMPLEX
Shelby County Sheriff’s Office deputies found two people deceased in an apartment after responding to an apparent murder-suicide on May 7. At approximately 5:06 p.m., deputies responded to a “shots fired” call where a person was reported shot at an apartment in the Lakes of Inverness apartments.
MAN GETS 30 YEARS FOR CHILD PORN
A 61-year-old Alabaster man and former substitute bus driver for Shelby County Schools will spend the next three decades in prison after he was sentenced on May 9 for producing child pornography. The sentencing came about four months after Alabaster resident Michael Wayne Wooten pleaded guilty to the charges. Wooten, a retired Birmingham police officer, formerly served as a security officer with Birmingham City Schools from July 1997-May 2011, and worked as a substitute Shelby County bus driver from May 2011 until his arrest six months later.
TEACHER NAMED STATE’S FINEST
A Hoover City Schools teacher was named the state Teacher of the Year during an Alabama Public Television broadcast May 9. Suzanne Culbreth, a geometry teacher from Spain Park High School, was named Alabama Teacher of the Year after the list of finalists for the honor was cut from 16 in early April to four going into the May 9 broadcast. The final four included another Hoover City Schools teacher, Mandy Fox, a gifted education teacher from Greystone Elementary School.
YOUTH EVANGELIST ARRESTED
Matt Pitt, the well-known youth evangelist who founded The Basement youth service that meets at Birmingham’s Boutwell Auditorium, was arrested by Calera police early on May 12 on charges of impersonating a police officer.
NEW CALERA MIDDLE SCHOOL DELAYS OPENING UNTIL OCTOBER
The new Calera Middle School was set to open Oct. 15. The updates to the former Shelby Academy facility were supposed to be completed prior to the fall 2012 semester, but due to weather and construction delays, the school won’t open until mid-October.
DA: GRANDMOTHER STABBED, BEATEN
Carrie Elaine Gentry of Chelsea, whose body was found in a vehicle submerged in an abandoned Leeds quarry April 10, allegedly died from stabbing, being struck with a hammer or possible strangulation, the Shelby County district attorney said at a press conference June 15. Gentry’s grandson, Daniel Scott Gentry, 24, also of Chelsea, has been indicted on one charge of capital murder/burglary for Elaine Gentry’s murder. Elaine Gentry was reported missing March 29.
COUNTY COMMISSIONER RECOVERING
County Commissioner Daniel Acker Sr. spent time at home recovering after he suffered a stoke on Friday, June 15. Acker said the stroke only affected his vision and he would continue to carry out his county leadership duties.
HOOVER STUDENTS TO GET iPADS, NOOKS
After the success of a pilot program that put Nook e-readers in the hands of Hoover elementary school students, Hoover City Schools expanded the pilot program to include 50 more elementary classrooms, as well as the middle and high schools. High school students were set to get iPads.