News-Sun file photo County administrator Rick Helms (left) was fired July 3 by thecounty commission in a 3 to 2 vote. County attorney Ross Macbeth is right.
click any photo to view this story's photo gallery
published: Wednesday, January 02, 2013
Top 12 stories of 2012
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
1) The Aaron Doty Murder:
Two young men, one 19, the other 22 years-old, beat 20 year-old Aaron Doty into unconsciousness on Sunday, June 10 in the middle of a crowded party. No one did anything to stop the beating, or stop the men from leaving with Doty's body in the bed of a pick-up. No one called 911.
Some of the party-goers helped in the removal of Doty's body, which was set on fire in the woods. Doty was missing until Monday, June 11 when he was found after a search.
Helped by friends, the two men accused of the actual beating fled to Orlando where they were apprehended after witnesses began to step forward. They are currently in custody without bond.
In addition to the accused perpetrators, four other individuals have been arrested on charges ranging from tampering with evidence, abuse of a human body, and accessory after the fact. The Sheriff's Office continues investigating.
2) Bringing the Sheriff's Office to Avon Park:
Forced with making a choice -- between maintaining their own, independent police department or contracting with the Highlands County Sheriff's Office to provide law enforcement services for the city -- residents split into emotional camps.
Debate went on for weeks, city council meetings were packed, citizen groups picketed city hall, and police officers and the Police Benevolent Association protested the decision.
The issue of money in the end settled matters, the Sheriff promising millions of dollars in savings.
On Saturday, Aug. 4, the city council voted unanimously to contract with the HCSO. The transfer took place Oct. 1.
As of Dec. 31, the transition appears to be going smoothly.
3) SFCC to SFSC:
On July 1st South Florida Community College became South Florida State College by adding a bachelor degree program. This was the third time the college grew into a new name. It opened in 1965 as the South Florida Junior College and expanded into the South Florida Community College in 1984.
Dr. Norman Stephens, the college's third president, retires in the summer of 2013.
4) Lake Placid --the most interesting town in America:
More than enough Lake Placid residents entered a Reader's Digest Magazine contest describing the town's unique variety of attractions and opportunities to earn Lake Placid the title of "Most Interesting Town in America." It was the third title Lake Placid has won.
5) Sebring Centennial:
2012 was not strickly speaking Sebring's 100th birthday -- because the state legislature only met in odd-numbered years, the town was not officially incorporated until 1913 -- but that didn't stop people from celebrating. In fact, celebration was in order. While official incorporation waited a year, by 1912 a town government was at work and Sebring had a sense of place and personality of its own complete with a railway stop and post office.
2012 was filled with street dances, parties, parades, bed races, special events and a special prayer meeting. A time capsule was buried in Circle Park, containing documents and artifacts, like Police Chief Tom Dettman's official badge and an American Flag. It will be opened in 2112 (if the creek don't rise).
6) James Hilton Parker III convicted of murder:
After a five hour deliberation a jury found James Parker III guilty of child abuse and murder on Sept. 19. Parker was an Avon Park police officer on March 29, 2009. He was watching 20 month old Kaedyn Short, daughter of his girlfriend Jenifer Short, along with two other little girls while Short was at work. Just after mid-night he called Short reporting something wrong with Kaedyn. Rushed to the hospital with severe head trauma, Kaedyn was later moved to a hospice where she passed away May 27, as a result of her injuries.
Parker was sentenced to 30 years for child abuse and life for Kaedyn's murder. Jenifer Short was charged with two felonies -- failure to report abuse and neglect of a child and found guilty of both on Nov. 27
7) Altersberger's's death sentence upheld:
On Sept. 6, the Florida Supreme Court turned down Joshua Lee Altersberger's appeal on his death sentence. In January of 2007 Altersberger, 19 at the time, shot Florida Highway State Trooper Sgt. Nicholas Sotille dead in cold blood. The majority of the jury (9 to 3) recommended the death sentence on April 9, 2009 when Altersberger was found guilty.
Many of the constitutional offices received no, or only token opposition.
Supervisor of Elections Joseph Campball retired, triggering a crowded campaign. Ultimately Deputy Supervisor Peggy Ogg won the position. County Commissioner Barbara Stewart chose not to run for a third term. Jim Brooks won her Avon Park seat. Avon Park city council incumbent Paul Miller was defeated by Garrett Anderson, a first time candidate.
School Superintendent Wally Cox won a fourth term of office, but faced several candidates in the primary and a strong showing by Becky Fleck, assistant superintendent of schools for curriculum and management information systems, in the general election.
9) County Administrator Rick Helms fired:
Rick Helms had been appointed to county administrator when the former administrator Michael Wright was fired by the county commission in 2010. By July 2012, it was clear Helms had lost the confidence of the majority of the commission. On July 3, Helms was fired by a vote of 3 to 2.
It was a controversial decision for three main reasons. Helms had served the county well for 38 years, he had stepped into the administrator's position only because he had been asked by the commission, and he only had eight months left on his contract.
June Fisher was named interim administrator immediately, and was offered a contract on Oct. 9.
Fisher accepted the position.
10) Animal control regulations proposed:
Sharp opposition met an appointed advisory commission's report on the state of loose animals and pet inoculations in Highlands County. Emotions were running so high, and there were so many questions regarding the usefulness, fairness and practicality that the commission tabled the issue into 2013.
Some of the criticisms were the extra responsibility imposed on veterinarians, the cost of the program, and the inhumanity of forbidding the feeding of wild cats,.
11) The weather: Drought, tropical storm, tornado:
Lake levels fell to alarming lows -- some boathouses, for example on Lake Jackson, were out of the water and some canals became nearly impassable. Unexpected rain in the fall, while not breaking the drought, helped water levels to rise.
While the rain from Tropical Storm Debbie was welcome, the violent weather that came with it did a great deal of damage.
Significant flooding out at the Avon Bombing Range entered homes, for example, and for more dangerous, tornadoes touched down in the southern portion of the county.
Heather Town died as her home was destroyed by a tornado and the wind blew her and her three year old daughter AnneMarie 200 feet. Heather House died protecting her daughter with her body. The young child survived despite serious injuries.
12) Three women saved lives while giving up their own: We've spoken about Heather Town.
Miranda Ming, 19, had made it clear to her family and friends if she should die, she wanted her organs donated to those in need. After dying in a solo car crash on Aug. 5, Ms Ming's family made sure her last wish was carried out. Her generosity improved and saved lives many lives.
Lori McKeena, 39, was shopping in a convenience store the night of Aug. 3 when a motorcyclist was knocked off his bike and into the road. Ms McKenna rushed immediately to help the fallen motorcyclist. As she rendered aid, however, a vehicle, the driver not seeing her in the dark, struck and killed her. The motorcyclist survived with minor injuries.
Small Banner Ads