1. Aiken Public Safety Officer shot in line of duty
Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers was shot and killed while investigating a suspicious vehicle in Eustis Park the morning of Jan. 28.
Rogers was the first female law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty in South Carolina and the second Aiken Public Safety officer killed in just over a month. Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson was shot during a traffic stop on Dec. 20, 2011, and died the next morning.
Rogers' accused killer, 27-year-old Joshua Tremaine Jones, remains incarcerated at the Aiken County detention center.
Authorities have said that, on the morning of the murder, Rogers found Jones in a 2002 blue BMW that he reportedly had stolen from his father and an altercation ensued. A minute after Rogers reported being out with the blue vehicle, another officer called for her, but she didn't respond.
A fellow officer on Rogers' shift called out that shots had been fired and that an officer was down.
Officers pursued the accused shooter in the BMW at speeds of more than 100 mph and issued an all-points bulletin search for Jones and the vehicle. After officers lost sight of the vehicle, a helicopter was brought in to help with the search.
Jones was taken into custody about 11:30 a.m. Jan. 28 at his home in Batesburg.
Officers in Richmond County, Ga., also have a hold on Jones for his alleged role in the murder of his 21-year-old pregnant girlfriend, Cayce Vice. Her body was found at her apartment in Augusta around 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 28. She had been shot in the head sometime before Rogers was shot in Eustis Park.
2. Election mess
It all started in May when the state Supreme Court ruled that new candidates seeking elected office must submit a paper copy of a Statement of Economic Interest at the same time they submit their intention of candidacy. Those who did not do so saw, much to their dismay, their names removed from the primary election ballot. The ruling did not apply to incumbents or many of those who submitted the forms while serving in other elective or state positions. They already had SEIs on file.
As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, hundreds of candidates statewide were decertified from running in the June primary election. Eight local candidates, including each of the four candidates for Aiken County treasurer, were removed from the primary ballot.
The next option for those eight was to run as a petition candidate. Only two successfully obtained enough signatures to run as petition candidates.
The last option for those wanting to run for office was to launch a write-in campaign. As such, their names did not appear on the general election ballot; voters had to manually key it in.
As the general election approached, no less than a dozen people emerged as write-in candidates – 11 alone for treasurer – and lawsuits were filed to remove some candidates from the ballot. Each lawsuit was subsequently struck down.
In the treasurer's race, elections officials counted most of the write-in votes by hand, leaving Aiken County residents waiting for days to find out the end results of the race.
3. S.C. Department of Revenue hacked
A hacker accessed the S.C. Department of Revenue's computer files in early October, gaining access to about 3.8 million tax returns of state residents.
The hack, which made national news, was the largest ever seen by the U.S. Secret Service. Gov. Nikki Haley said the hacked files included state returns submitted since 1998 with unencrypted Social Security numbers. There also were about 387,000 credit and debit card numbers accessed, of which 16,000 were unencrypted.
The fallout from the hack triggered anger and fear from many state residents as they tried to seek answers on whether they were hacked and how they could protect themselves.
Gov. Haley faced a fire of criticism following the hacking, as conflicting information was provided on how many were affected as well as how residents could make sure their credit would be safe.
This was followed by the resignation of Revenue Department Director James Etter and an announcement from Haley that only electronically-filed tax returns were compromised in the attack.
The governor said the breach affected 3.8 million individual taxpayers, 1.9 million dependents, 699,900 businesses, 3.3 million bank accounts and 5,000 credit card accounts.
4. County Complex
After years of planning and debate, land was cleared in July, and ground was officially broken in August for the new office complex on University Parkway.
The foundation for the complex has been laid and steel beams are being erected.
The 134,000-square-foot complex is expected to be complete in February 2014. The project is funded with a mixture of Capital Projects Sales Tax money and general obligation bonds.
When complete, the building will accommodate more than 200 employees and numerous departments, including Voter Registration and Elections, Registrar of Mesne Conveyance, Planning and Development, Finance, Tax Assessor, Information Technology, Public Works and Engineering and County Council offices and chambers.
5. Carlisle family
Aiken Public Safety officers shot and killed an Aiken man on May 17 who was believed to have killed his ex-wife in her home, then fired at officers who responded to her 911 pleas for help.
Officers found 68-year-old Lynn Carlisle dead inside her Cherry Hills Drive home just after 10:17 a.m. the morning of the shooting.
About a half dozen officers with a ballistic shield entered the front door of the home in search of the gunman and found Carlisle's ex-husband, 64-year-old Craig Jarvis, who then fired at the officers, authorities have said.
Officers then returned fire. Jarvis was shot; none of the officers were struck or injured. Jarvis was rushed to Georgia Health Sciences University, where he later died undergoing surgery for multiple gunshot wounds. A coroner determined that Jarvis killed his ex-wife, then shot himself before opening fire on the officers responding to his wife's 911 pleas.
Autopsy results could not show conclusively if Jarvis' death was the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound or from returned police gunfire.
Three of the Aiken Public Safety officers who entered the home – Capt. Marty Sawyer, Sgt. Craig Burgess and Officer Steve Miano – were awarded the Medal of Valor by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Officers Association in November for volunteering to enter the home.
6. Aiken Prep, Mead Hall merge into one school
Two historic private schools in Aiken reinvented themselves in 2012, with Mead Hall and Aiken Preparatory School merging to create a single school with two campuses.
Mead Hall, which was established in 1957, formally acquired Aiken Prep last summer. The combined programs are now the Mead Hall Episcopal School.
The Mead Hall site is now called the St. Thaddeus campus and is serving preschool and elementary grades. The other location, just a few blocks away, is now the Aiken Prep campus and provides grades sixth through 12. Kitty Gordon, Mead Hall's head of school, has retained that title for the combined program.
“We've been hearing from our parents for years that they would like for Mead Hall to offer (high school) grades,” Gordon said last June. “They are now thrilled, and the community in general is very excited with what we are about to do. ... Mead Hall and Aiken Prep have a wonderful history and are linked by our love for children and a commitment to education.”
Aiken Prep dates back to 1916 and for decades was a prominent boarding academy for boys through the ninth grade. Day school students were added in the 1950s. Girls were welcomed in 1989, followed by the addition of grades 4K through three. Boarding on campus was phased out in the late 1990s, and grades 10-12 were introduced.
Bob Harrington, the Head of School emeritus, was a campus fixture at Aiken Prep for more than 50 years. The timing for the merger was good for both schools, he said in June.
“With the economy, it has been quite a challenge for us,” Harrington said when the merger was announced. “This will be a win-win situation. Mead Hall will get middle and high school students on the Aiken Prep campus, along with more campus space and a gym to use.”
Lynn Caravello, Aiken Prep's board chair at the time of the merger, also acknowledged the financial struggles the school had been dealing with.
“We needed a healthier environment,” she said. “Bringing the two schools together will give the newly formed school a much better enrollment and draw more families, as well.”
The combined school program has done just that and has continued to add students through the first semester, Gordon said recently.
The merger efforts last spring and summer had been stressful, but exciting, said the St. Thaddeus rector, Grant Wiseman. He appreciated how passionate both boards were about trying to do the right thing and honor both schools. Wiseman and his wife, Heather, wanted their twin daughters to go to private school throughout their education.
“They're getting that now, and we couldn't ask for a better place to do that with these two schools coming together,” Wiseman said.
7. SPCA gets new facility
In September, years of planning and hard work came to fruition when the Aiken SPCA's new facility opened its doors.
The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare had its grand opening Sept. 30.
The physical building process began in May.
“Last weekend, years of planning and hard work by lots of people paid off with the grand opening of the new SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare,” Gary Willoughby, president and CEO of the facility, wrote in October. “The building is beautiful, for sure, but the most important thing is the work that will go on inside.”
The new animal adoption and welfare facility is a bigger, brighter and more modern home with substantial new capabilities – though it has a lot to live up to, as the previous Wire Road facility found homes for more than 20,000 animals in its three-decade history.
8. Tom Hallman retires
As former USC Aiken Chancellor Dr. Tom Hallman often pointed out, he arrived at the university in 1983 expecting to stay only three years.
Instead, he quickly emerged as a fixture at USCA, formally becoming chancellor in 2001. Hallman retired June 30, warmly giving way to Dr. Sandra Jordan, just the fourth chancellor in the university's 51-year history.
At a banquet for Hallman last May, University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides cited so many achievements during Hallman's tenure – seven U.S. News first-place rankings in the South; a total of 43 Magellan Research Scholars; three new academic programs, higher academic standards and the construction of two residence halls and the Convocation Center.
Hallman addressed the graduates at his final commencement program last May. Whatever they choose for work experience, he stressed the students needed to be a part of something larger than themselves. He encouraged the students to look for civic engagement and community service as part of their life's work.
Jordan started out as an art history teacher at Lander University. Even then, she also had an administrative role and found herself fascinated by higher education and the impact one could have at different levels. Previously, Jordan served as the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Georgia College & State University.
With her new role as USCA's chancellor, she oversees the efforts of other administrators and faculty and staff members. She finds joy and also challenges in working with alumni, community residents, students and their parents.
Even before she formally joined the USCA campus, Jordan described her focus on “visioning,” a process of tapping into people throughout the campus and community to explore the university's goals. In September, the chancellor joined a group of more than 50 undergraduates to engage in a conversation about the university.
9. Laurens Street bridge repairs
The Laurens Street Bridge was completely replaced after a corner of the structure began sinking in April due to erosion from heavy rains, making it unsafe for drivers and pedestrians to cross.
The bridge was closed starting April 2 and re-opened on Oct. 5.
The replacement project was mostly covered by Federal Relief Funds. The project would have been 100 percent paid for by federal monies if it was completed within 180 days. Construction continued a few days after the deadline.
The project's final cost came in at approximately $2.5 million.
The S.C. Department of Transportation paid 20 percent of the remaining cost. At the cutoff date, there was about $30,000 worth of work left, meaning the state will have to pay out about $6,000 while federal funds will pick up the remaining $24,000.
10. Cracker Barrel opens
Cracker Barrel Restaurant and Country Store opened its doors on Jan. 30.
Two men, who identified themselves as Frank and Lloyd, arrived at the restaurant at 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 30, patiently waiting for the doors to open at 6 a.m., according to restaurant staff. The two were holding a sign that read, “First in line, first to dine” and were treated to a free breakfast.
Cracker Barrel has kept busy since then, as it was a highly anticipated restaurant by residents who waited several years for the eatery to come to Aiken.
Located at 2634 Whiskey Road, the construction of the restaurant was given the official thumbs up by City Council in December 2010. Construction began in late August of 2011.