January-March 2011: Jemison officer dies in line of duty; I-65 crash takes five lives; local celebrity has box office success

Published 6:16 pm Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Editor’s note: Between now and Tuesday, The Clanton Advertiser will revisit some of the top stories of 2011. Below are memorable stories from January through March.


Gaines loses battle with rare disease

Chris Gaines of Jemison was 36 years old when he passed away Jan. 3 after battling Batten Disease, a rare neurodegenerative disorder, nearly his entire life.

Gaines’ mother, Becky Lucas, sponsored an annual golf tournament for several years in Bibb County to fund research for Batten Disease. She continued with the tournament in September.

Clanton completes renovation projects

The city of Clanton completed several projects in 2011, including repairs on the West End sewer project, cleaning and painting the city’s water tank off County Road 28 and extending the walking trail at Goose Pond Park to City Park.

Deputies with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department perform a 21-gun salute during Jemison Police Officer Josh Newman’s funeral in March.

Blaze destroys home

A fire destroyed a mobile home near Thorsby on Jan. 12, killing a dog and litter of puppies in an adjacent shed.

 Body found in camper fire

The body of 69-year-old Jonnie Knueptel was discovered in a camper that caught fire on Jan. 13.

Investigators found nothing to indicate foul play as the exact cause of the blaze.

The camper, which was located off County Road 454 near Airport Road in the Refuge community, had been the woman’s residence for about a year, and she was the only one living there.

Thorsby fire department awarded $60k grant

Congressman Spencer Bachus announced that the Thorsby Fire Department was awarded a $60,268 federal fire grant to purchase communications and protective equipment.

The grant replaced 20 firefighters’ equipment purchased in 1996, as well as communication devices.

Chamber names Business of the Year

The Chilton County Chamber of Commerce presented the Business of the Year Award to Janice Hull and Crystal Russell of Hull and Russell PC at its annual awards banquet on Jan. 13.

Clanton First United Methodist Church received the Community Spirit Award, an award that isn’t given every year.

Ellison-Mims Funeral Home opens doors

Ellison-Mims Funeral Home marked its grand opening with an open house and ribbon cutting.

The full-service funeral home is locally owned and operated by Tim Mims and Aaron Ellison.

Dispatcher arrested on enticing complaint

Jemison resident Cameron Lee Emerick was arrested on criminal complaints of enticing minors for sex.

Emerick allegedly arranged to meet who he thought were a 14-year-old girl and an 11-year-old girl on Jan. 8 in Shelby County but instead was arrested by agents with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations unit.

Emerick was employed as a Chilton County E-911 dispatcher at the time of the arrest.

Meth lab found in store parking lot

Three individuals, two of which were from Chilton County, were arrested and charged with drug-related crimes after Alabaster police officers discovered a rolling meth lab in a Walmart parking lot Jan. 17.

Ricky William Easterling, 34, of Verbena was charged with unlawful manufacturing of a controlled substance and trafficking in methamphetamine.

Christopher Wayne Headley, 33, of Clanton was charged with unlawful manufacturing of a controlled substance and trafficking in methamphetamine and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia.

Officers raid counterfeiting operation

Chilton County Sheriff’s Deputies, along with Secret Service agents, confiscated material used to make counterfeit money in the county.

Law enforcement agents obtained a search warrant and raided a home while no residents were present. Evidence was turned over for forensic examination.


 Stolen trailer returned after nine years
A trailer that was stolen from Joe and Judy Perkins was returned on Jan. 16 after 9 1/2 years, refurbished and with a note explaining how the person was attempting to make up for past sins.
The trailer had been painted, the floor replaced, new tires and rims put on, and a winch installed.

Thorsby band earns honors
The Thorsby High School Southern Pride Rebel Band made the cut at District V All-State tryouts Saturday, Jan. 29 in Prattville.
Five out of six Thorsby students made first chair for the District Honor Band on Feb. 18 and 19, which will be held at the University of West Alabama in Livingston.
Another Thorsby student made the All-State Red Band, the highest honor at the tryouts.

Annual peach production meeting held
The annual Chilton Area Peach Production Meeting was Feb. 1 at the Alabama Power Conference Center in Clanton.
Presentations concerning Chilton County’s No. 1 industry were given, including useful information for farmers and updates on work at the Chilton Research and Extension Center and the Chilton Food Innovation Center.

Local celebrity Grayson Russell signs autographs before the opening night showing of his new movie “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” at the Alabaster AmStar theater in March.

CIS celebrates Black History Month
Clanton Intermediate School students celebrated the school’s Black History program, which included dancing to a song by El Debarge, a presentation of the U.S. Postal Service’s African-American Heritage Stamp heroes and a performance by musician John Scalici on Feb. 3.

Settlement reached in apartment case
A settlement reached in a case of racial discrimination at a Clanton apartment complex will require three defendants to pay more than $15,000 among other concessions.
Chandi Biswas, owner of Rolling Oaks Apartments, and two employees, Kenneth R. Scott and Frankie L. Roberson, were accused of violating the Fair Housing Act by making discriminatory statements against black renters when undercover agents with the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division visited the complex.
The settlement includes no admission of wrongdoing by the defendants. A consent decree outlining terms of the settlement was approved by Chief Judge Mark E. Fuller in Montgomery.

Republicans elect new leaders
The Chilton County Republican Executive Committee elected seven new officers and bonus members to the Alabama Republican Executive Committee on Feb. 3.
The committee included: Carol Harrison, county chairperson; C.J. Robinson, vice chairman; Judy Walls, secretary; Michele Headley, treasurer; Betty Bennett, Renee Powers and Rep. Kurt Wallace, county bonus members; and Alex Fox and Bob Sanders, who were elected by majority vote in the Republican Primary election.

Restaurant opens its doors
The 7 Place Café held its ribbon cutting Thursday with employees, local leaders, pageant queens and friends from the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce.

Hardesty given Pillar of Community award
District Court Judge Rhonda Hardesty has been recognized by the Clanton Evening Lions Club as their 2010 Pillar of the Community.
Hardesty was recognized for her hard work, time and dedication to the community. She is serving her third term as district judge in Chilton County.

PEECH grants given out to teachers
Some area teachers were surprised with grants from a local education support group called Partners Enhancing Education in Chilton County, or PEECH, on Feb. 1.
Grants ranging from $250 to $800 were used for various class projects and supplies.

Thorsby students Jennifer Spivey and Bailey Lucas throw snowballs after a winter storm blanketed Chilton County on Feb. 9.

Pedestrian hit along CR 42
For the second time in three months, a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle on County Road 42 and seriously injured.
Making the most recent case even more remarkable is that the same driver was involved with both incidents.
The first accident occurred on Nov. 10.
At about 6:05 a.m. on Jan. 27, a 60-year-old Union Grove man was struck by a pick-up truck near Interstate 65 Exit 219, Jemison Police Chief Shane Fulmer said.

New film starring Grayson out on DVD
Local actor Grayson Russell played the lead role in his second movie, “The Rainbow Tribe,” released on DVD the first week in February.
Russell’s first acting role was in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

Local charged with cocaine distribution
A 24-year-old Clanton resident was arrested Wednesday and charged with distributing crack cocaine.
Katorri Rashuad faced three charges of distribution of a controlled substance and was placed in the Chilton County Jail on bonds totaling $180,000.

Sen. Shelby visits Chilton County
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby visited Chilton County as part of his annual trek across Alabama.
Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa) held a public meeting Feb. 11 at the Jemison Municipal Complex to address the legislative agenda for the 112th Congress as well as other important issues facing the nation and the state.
Haney named Veteran of Year
Tim Haney of Chilton County Chapter 33 of Disabled American Veterans was presented the organization’s Disabled Veteran of the Year Award for the Second District, which covers most of central Alabama.
Haney was presented the award by Bob Pearl, second junior vice commander for the Alabama division of DAV.
Pearl chose Haney from about 10 veterans; each chapter could nominate someone for Disabled Veteran of the Year.

Grand jury hears 236 cases
The grand jury reported to Judge Sibley G. Reynolds they heard 236 cases and returned 161 true bills in circuit court here in a week.
The jury also reviewed audits completed by the Examiner of Public Accounts on the Chilton County Board of Education and the Judicial Administration Fund and found no indictable offenses.

Man arrested after burglary
A Clanton man was arrested in connection with a Saturday burglary of a West End gas station.
L.J. Smith faced charges of burglary, theft, eluding an officer and resisting arrest.

Robinson promoted to deputy DA
C.J. Robinson was promoted to deputy district attorney for the Chilton County office.
District Attorney Randall Houston announced the promotion Feb.17.

IHS student awaits transplant
Fifteen-year-old Karli Marissa Chadwick awaits a kidney transplant from her donor – found in January – but doesn’t let her health condition stand in her way of doing the things she enjoys.
Karli was first diagnosed with end stage renal disease after contracting Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome at the age of 2. She was transplanted with a kidney that failed after nine years because of a virus.
Karli has been waiting on a second transplant since January 2008.

Parnell wins scholarship
James Robert Parnell of Stanton was presented the Cecil Lane Family Scholarship at the 68th Annual Alabama Cattlemen’s Association Convention and Trade Show.
Parnell is the son of Jimmy and Robin Parnell. He graduated from Autauga Academy.

Farm awarded national honor
Rasco Angus Farm LLC in Jemison was recognized nationally by the American Angus Association for having two registered Angus cows included in the association’s 2011 Pathfinder Report.
Only 2,099 of the nearly 30,000 American Angus Association members were represented in this year’s report, according to Bill Bowman, chief operating officer and director of performance programs of the Association with headquarters in Saint Joseph, Mo.

Five charged in vehicle break-ins
Five Jemison residents were charged with a total of 29 felonies following a string of vehicle break-ins.
Michael Wayne Jones, 24; Jordan David Partin, 18; Cassy Leora Tully, 18; Stephen Dewayne Hobbs, 24; and Amber Michelle Saxon, 26—all of Jemison—were arrested Wednesday at the same location in Jemison.

Tucker takes crown
Reba Tucker of Randolph was crowned the 2011 Ms. Senior Chilton County Queen.


Car wash owner arrested

Willie Griffin, the owner and operator of D&D Car Wash, was arrested on four counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance. According to police, drugs were being out of the car wash.

 EDC holds ribbon tying

Jefferson State’s Community College and the city of Clanton held a “ribbon tying” ceremony to commemorate the grand opening of the new Economic Development Center. The center would later change its name to the Clanton Conference and Performing Arts Center.

Jemison officer dies in wreck

Josh Newman, a 30-year-old Jemison Police officer, died in a car accident March 5 while on duty. During heavy rains, Newman lost control of his patrol car and struck a power pole near the Georgia Pacific Plant in Thorsby. He was just coming on to his shift and was responding to another accident involving injuries to children. His funeral was held March 10 and was attended by local enforcement officers from across the state.

CMC gets new operators

SunLink Health Systems transferred operation of Chilton Medical Center to Carraway Medical Systems, LLC. The lease included an option for the company to buy the hospital.

New Russell movie opens

Local celebrity Grayson Russell’s latest film, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick rules” opened in theaters across the country. The movie would stay No. 1 at the box office for two weeks.

Five die in traffic accident

Four Indiana high school students returning home from Spring Break and a Troy man were killed March 26 in a horrific accident along Interstate 65 near Verbena. Alabama State Troopers said the Troy man, Niall McNellis, 21, crossed into the median and collided with the teen’s vehicle. Alexx Bauer, Matthew Row, Evan Weaver and Matthew Zimmer, all 18 and students and the same high school in Angola, Ind., also died.