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The Year in Review
From headline crimes to business innovations, a local roundup of 2010
editorial-cartoon new-years

If 2009 was the year of rising up to meet the challenges of a flagging economy, natural disasters and changing political landscape, 2010 was the year of belt tightening and holding on for the ride.



This year opened with a number of tragic, headline-grabbing crimes. In reaction, the community rallied to support one another and find ways to fight back against the violence.

In May, the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office, and all local law enforcement, lost one of their own. Investigator Deputy Brian Mahaffey, 28, was shot and killed on May 8 as he assisted in serving a warrant near Honey Creek Road to a brutal rapist who hid in a closet. He was the first Rockdale County deputy killed in the line of duty since 1917.

The Heritage grad and offensive lineman joined the RCSO in July 2005 as a detention officer, became a patrolman and had been working with the Narcotics and Vice unit for the past two years. Mahaffey left behind a 2-year-old son Trenton and infant daughter Aniston, wife Diana, parents Cindy and Terry, and brother Chris along with numerous relatives, friends, and co-workers.

The community rallied around the family with fundraisers, rides, blue and black ribbons and many private condolences. In a funeral that was standing room only, thousands of law enforcement personnel came from as far as across the country to pay their respects. Mahaffey’s life, service and spirit were celebrated with testimonies from relatives and friends as they recalled the young deputy’s sense of humor, his love of fishing, trucks, stereo sound systems, his inseparable bond with his son and devotion to his family.

This year in homicides alone, the county faced at least five cases and the city had at least four cases, starting with the alleged murder of a Conyers stylist by her twin teenage daughters.

Jarmecca "Nikki" Whitehead, 34, was found stabbed and beaten to death on Jan. 13 in the home she shared with her fiancé and twin daughters, Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead, who were then 16 years old, in the gated Bridle Ridge Walk subdivision off of Dogwood Drive. Five months later, the twins were arrested and charged as adults with murder and aggravated assault after evidence test results "pointed clearly to who was responsible for the murder," said Conyers Police Chief Gene Wilson

The girls had recently moved back in with their mother on court orders about two weeks before the killing. According to a family friend, they had allegedly jumped on and attacked their mother about two years earlier and had gone to live with their great-grandmother. The girls recently turned 17 and were moved from youth detention facilities to the Rockdale County jail, where they await further court activities.

The city also was hit with a slew of bank robberies this year, with some branches being hit multiple times. Out of at least seven bank robberies, police were able to arrest and charge suspects in five of the cases. Some of the bank robbery suspects were wanted in connection with a string of other bank robberies, such as the "wigged" bandits, wanted by FBI in connection with at least nine robberies in the metro Atlanta area.

But it was the nearly back-to-back homicides at the GameStop armed robbery on Nov. 11, where 40-year-old customer Adrian Snow was shot and later died of his injuries, and the Nov. 13 shooting at a teen house party in the Travers Creek subdivision that killed 18-year-old Rockdale County High School student Dequavious Mapp and injured two other teens, that brought home the urgency of addressing crime and youth in Rockdale.

The events also marked a turn in ordinary residents standing up and playing a more proactive role.

A candlelight vigil and a Nov. 18 Town Hall meeting on what ordinary citizens could do to fight against violent crimes saw a packed attendance of hundreds, a panel of leaders from the fields of education, public safety, nonprofits and government, and passionate testimonials from victims and families of victims.

During a Dec. 11 attempted robbery and carjacking at knifepoint in the Ingles parking lot on Salem Road, a 23-year-old college student with a handgun and firearms license shot and killed one of the two suspects attempting to rob him, Yuhanna Williams, 30, of Covington. The other suspect fled on foot.

At the Dec. 23 robbery of the Georgia’s Own Credit Union, two witnesses attempted to block the getaway vehicle of the bank robbers and then proceeded to follow the suspects, forcing them to abandon their car and flee on foot.


Exits and new institutions

This was also a year of tumultuous exits for several key figures.

Conyers Police Chief David Cathcart resigned on Feb. 14 after the CPD withdrew from a voluntary professional state re-certification process that it would have failed. Cathcart began his 23-year law enforcement career with the CPD in 1987 and headed every division in the department until he was appointed as police chief in 2005. Current Chief Gene Wilson was initially brought on board in January as the Public Safety Director over the police department and city court system, a role that City Manager Tony Lucas had handled. Wilson was named Chief along and Lucas remained Public Safety Director.

In the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office, Chief Deputy Rob Cordero, who had been appointed to the newly created second-in-command position in 2006, was fired after reportedly violating department policy against associating with persons of "questionable character." Cordero, who had been with the department for 16 years, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of discrimination based on ethnicity and national origin.

Rockdale Career Academy CEO Tim Melvin, who had been CEO since 2005, resigned Feb. 23 after admitting to drinking heavily and engaging in a "public display of affection" with a subordinate during the weekend of Jan. 29 at the Renaissance Pointe bar. RCA assistant principal Miki Edwards was later named CEO.

The county’s Deputy Director of Public Affairs and Media Relations Holly LaFontaine also filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC and a lawsuit in federal court against the county after her position was cut during budget and personnel cuts this year.

There were also key achievements new to this year. Rockdale County Public School system achieved Adequate Yearly Progress for the fifth year in a row as a system and RCPS Superintendent Dr. Samuel King was named 2011 Superintendent of the Year for Georgia after his third consecutive nomination as finalist.

The Mercy Heart medical clinic for indigent patients in Rockdale County opened in February and the Phoenix Pass transitional housing for homeless women and children opened this summer, culminating years of sweat, dreams, organization, work, and fundraising by dedicated community organizers behind the scenes.



The primary race saw a heated contest between candidates for the Third Congressional District with a three way contest for the Democratic ticket, including former DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones and incumbent Congressman Hank Johnson – and four candidates for the Republican ticket, including Liz Carter and Larry Gause. Johnson and Carter faced off in the general election, with Johnson winning reelection with 74.7 percent of the vote.


This year saw a headed race for Post II County Commission seat between incumbent Republican JaNice Van Ness and Democratic candidate Courtney Dillard. Dillard had defeated candidate Caycie Dix, 30, for the Democratic nomination.


Investigation by the News into the backgrounds of the candidates revealed that Dillard had previously faced various charges including possession of cocaine in 2004, battery of a minor stemming from a 2006 incident while he was coaching youth basketball. Dillard remained in the race, responding that "There are a few things I’ve regrettably done in my past that I am not proud of, but I am no criminal." Ethics complaints against both Van Ness and Dillard were filed with the State Ethics Commission. VanNess won in the November general election with 52.9 percent of the vote to 47.02 percent of the vote for Dillard.

The Board of Elections Post 1 general election, which had five candidates running for the seat vacated by 16-year school board veteran Jeff Dugan, ended in a runoff between registered nurse Sandra Sanford and former Salem Athletic Director Jim McBrayer. The Nov. 30 runoff resulted with McBrayer winning 86.6 percent of the vote.



In the Board of Commissioners brought on board a new Chief of Staff, Greg Pridgeon, in a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner JaNice Van Ness voting against. Pridgeon had long worked with the city of Atlanta, most recently as the chief of staff under Mayor Shirley Franklin. As Chief of Staff in Rcodkale County.


Midway through the year, as it became clear the tax digest was going to be much less than the previously projected drop of – about 8 percent instead of 3 percent – the county began looking at options to cut the budget, including laying off staff, reducing operating and maintenance costs, and bringing on furlough holidays. With the combination of the cuts and a 1 mill property tax increase, the budget was balanced. About a total of 30 positions, combined full time and part time, were cut from the county personnel.


The $54.9M budget for 2011 that was recently passed by the BOC in a 2-1 vote, with VanNess voting against, is not predicted to require a millage rate increase. However Tax Commissioner Dan Ray warned that the tax digest for 2011 will be volatile and difficult to predict since new assessment laws have gone into effect.



The city of Conyers was given the Cherokee Run golf course by federal courts, after the previous owners were unable to fulfill bankruptcy requirements, and took over operations on Sept.27. The city set up a $2 million operating budget and enterprise fund for the course, including about $860,000 from its reserves as a capital infusion for many one-time repairs and rehabilitation work. The course re-opened on Dec. 10.


The city also announced the creation of a business incubator using a donation of 42 acres and 500,000 square feet of structure space from Acuity Brands Lighting. The incubator, a joint venture with the city, the Conyers-Rockdale Economic Development Council, and a third-party educational institution, would provide office and warehouse space cheaply to new startup businesses and would also offer entrepreneurs guidance from business and industry experts and the chance to work near other complimentary businesses and entrepreneurs for a "cross-pollination" of ideas, said Mayor Randy Mills