The year started off with a tragedy and was marked with the bizarre, innovative, and astounding, and saw new developments that will signficantly affect Rockdale County. Here are a few of the top stories that happened in 2013.
Glass family tragedy
The year started with a heart-rending tragedy in January. Four young children in the Glass family - Ah-Dariya, 9, Deshawn, 7, Amoni, 3, and 8-month-old Deon Jr. - died in a fast-spreading house fire, despite efforts of neighbors and officers to save them. Their mother Reba Glass, grandmother Rosetta Mitchell, and brother Darnell Jr. survived. Investigators concluded the fire started in the upstairs bathroom and hallway area after a child played with a lighter. The community rallied at prayer vigils, memorials and with donations to the family.
Newly elected Sheriff Eric Levett started an inaugural, banner year by naming a transition team which examined the department top to bottom and made recommendations in a comprehensive report. The jail acquired a new medical services provider. A salary study comparing the pay of Rockdale deputies to 57 other metro-Atlanta area law enforcement agencies was carried out. The agency went to bat for increasing the starting salaries of its patrol and jail deputies and refining the pay structure to provide more incentives for training and performance. New uniforms and new firearms were acquired and more than 40 additional vehicles were approved for the RCSO by the Board of Commissioners. The RCSO launched a surge of presence in the Salem Road area to address crime rates during the holidays.
Movie and television productions continue
Conyers-Rockdale continued its increasing role in hosting film and television productions. The Hugh Jackman thriller, "Prisoners," was largely shot in Rockdale and Newton. The new CW show, "The Originals," a spinoff of the popular "Vampire Diaries," began shooting in Conyers. The streets of Olde Town were transformed into New Orleans with balconies, new sidwalks, signs and more.
Prostitution arrests, spa crackdown
Rockdale saw an increase in high-profile sex crime arrests. Four Atlanta area women were arrested at a Conyers motel in July on prostitution charges, as part of a nationwide operation to recover child exploitation victims. In May, Conyers Police broke up an apparent prostitution ring with the arrests of eight adults and one juvenile. They faced pimping, prostitution, and pandering charges. The City of Conyers began cracking down with rigorous new city laws regulating spas and massage parlors, leading to the arrest and jail time of at least one spa employee and citations for at least two spas.
After many years in the works, Conyers City Council approved in July rezoning to open the way for Four A International's 308 acre, 1,400 unit development off Flat Shoals, Iris Drive, and Parker Road. The rezoning application was approved with the requirement that the developer provide a master plan for the build-out of the mixed-use project and that the parcel must be developed as a whole with no individual sections being sold. Public outcry developed after residents realized the size and impact of the development, which would require new sewer capacity and more schools, once all the units are built.
Olde Town storm
No injuries were reported, but a July storm that ripped through Olde Town caused havoc. The small but powerful storm damaged Las Flores restaurant, Pieces of the roof at the Pointe bar were ripped off and trees of all sizes were downed, at least one of which fell on a car.
This year brought the unexpected deaths of several Rockdale County residents in accidents that devastated the community. A Rockdale Medical Center doctor and his wife were killed in plane crash in August. The crash happened in south Georgia as the couple was flying back from Florida. Pratt Industries lost one of their employees in December when the man became caught in one of the conveyor belts and died from the injuries. He was found unresponsive by his co-workers. OSHA investigators opened a case to investigate the accident.
The entire nation watched as officials looked for a 14-year-old Ellenwood girl abducted at gunpoint from her bedroom in September. Kidnappers demanded a ransom in exchange for Ayvani Perez. A day after the kidnapping the girl was eventually found in Conyers, where she had been released to relatives. As details unfolded, authorities investigated the girl's mother as having a connection with the kidnapper suspects.
Mayoral candidate disqualified
Conyers mayoral candidate Olivia Ware was disqualified after city and elections supervisor investigations found that she did not appear to fulfill the requirements of being a registered voter and living in the city limits for at least a year. Investigations found court documents claiming a Newton County address as her homesteaded residence and voter registrations listed addresses in the county but not the city. Ware filed a lawsuit against the city, which she later dropped, and the city filed a counter lawsuit. The case was turned over to the Secretary of State's elections investigation division.
CREDC Director chosen
After an 11-month search following former Director Glenn Sears' retirement at the end of 2012, the Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Council named former Conyers city councilman Marty Jones as its new Executive Director. Jones was approved by the city council and Board of Commissioners in November. The search was re-advertised in August after the Rockdale Development Authority offered more funds to increase the salary in hopes of attracting a wider pool of candidates.
Rockdale education officials cheered this November for the passing of the education special purpose local option sales tax. The majority of voters approved the 1-cent tax set to bring in $83.6 million over the next five years. The money will be used for capital improvements and debt.
Race to the Top
For a second time, Rockdale County Public Schools grabbed national attention in Nov. as a finalist for the $25 million grant from the Race to the Top district competition. Local officials held their breath, but announced in Dec. that it missed the cut.