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Home > Tuscaloosa Business News

Tuscaloosa Business News - 2014-12

We have news items here related to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Alabama fans outnumbered in New Orleans - NEW ORLEANS | University of Alabama fans have been outnumbered in the days leading up to tonight’s Sugar Bowl.
Ohio State fans clad in scarlet and gray began arriving en masse early in the week. Alabama supporters can’t eat a beignet at Cafe Du Monde or grab a beer at a Bourbon Street speakeasy without being surrounded by Buckeyes.
Frank Blewitt, a 30-year-old Tuscaloosa resident and UA graduate, arrived Tuesday and estimated that he saw 15 Ohio State fans for every Alabama fan. By midday on New Year’s Eve, more Crimson Tide supporters had begun to show up.
“I feel like we’re catching up,” Blewitt said.
Blewitt has been married for less than a month to Emily, an Ohio State graduate from Cincinnati.
“We were hoping the match-up would happen one day, but we weren’t expecting it so soon,” he said. “We found out the day after our wedding. It was a mix between being excited about it and wondering how it was going to split the household.”
The honeymoon in West Palm Beach, Fla., was put on hold so they could go to the Big Easy for the big game.
“I knew we weren’t going to the beach anymore,” Emily Blewitt said.
Nancy Jemison is an Alabama fan from Akron, Ohio, who splits time between living there and in Gulf Shores. She didn’t escape Buckeye fans by traveling to the game.
“There does seem to be a lot of them here,” she said. “I really thought that being so far that there wouldn’t be so many to make the trip.
“We have four boys. They are all OSU fans. I’m raising my grandchildren to be for Alabama.”
David Anderson, a 50-year-old Alabama fan Millbrook, arrived on Tuesday and immediately realized he was in the minority.
“So far it’s been a lot of Ohio State,” he said. “When we first got here there was a group of young kids and they were pretty boisterous. Today’s been better.
“I think by the game it will be at least 50-50, and we may have more.”
Ohio State fans also expect a lot of late arrivals in the Alabama camp.
“That’s the way it was when we went to watch Florida and Ohio State (play in Arizona for the 2007 national championship), we didn’t see any Florida fans until the game,” said Bob Wingfield, a 61-year-old Ohio State graduate from Kenton, Ohio. “The airport was all Ohio State fans when we got here, but we know the Alabama fans can drive in later.”
Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.
December 31st, 2014
Tuscaloosa recycling truck involved in accident on Jack Warner Parkway - The driver of a Tuscaloosa city recycling truck apparently lost control and drove the car into the woods off Jack Warner Parkway and Hackberry Lane on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.
The driver was taken to the hospital, according to the Tuscaloosa Police Department.
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December 31st, 2014
Woman, 2 children killed in Alabama highway crash - ROCKFORD | Authorities say a woman and two children have died in a car crash in central Alabama.
Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Cpl. Jess Thornton tells WSFA-TV (http://bit.ly/1AijhQ0 ) a woman, a 3-year-old and an infant died in a crash involving a Nissan Versa and a tractor trailer on Wednesday morning. The passengers' identities haven't been released and details on the cause of the crash weren't immediately available.
Thornton says the crash happened on U.S. 231 near the mile 201 marker in Coosa County.
December 31st, 2014
Psychics say signs point to Buckeye win at Sugar Bowl - NEW ORLEANS | Ohio State is going to win the Sugar Bowl. It’s in the cards: two out of three Jackson Square psychics agree.
Reading the omens through their tarot cards, professional psychics who ply their trade in the historic French Quarter park divined the outcome of Thursday night’s game at the Superdome, and said the signs point to the Buckeyes beating the University of Alabama.
The Crimson Tide will come up short, according to Jade, a psychic reader in a purple wig who did a three-part reading that involved picking three cards for each team, then two, then one to determine the winner.
Disharmony, she said, will be Alabama’s undoing.
“This team is going to have a bit of a teamwork issue. It’s not going to be huge, but it’s going to get in the way,” she said.
Ohio State will also experience adversity.
“They can expect an injury in the game,” she said. “Their performance is going to be up and down. They’re going to fumble a couple of times.”
Alabama’s play, she said, “is going to be overall pretty good, balanced. They can expect no or minimum incidents of any sort.”
UA, Jade indicated, might play tight.
“They are too stressed,” she said. “That is going to be a problem.”
The cards, as Jade read them, point to an adjustment by Ohio State to win the game: perhaps by going to more of a spread offense.
“I don’t know much about football,” she said. “These guys are going to play wide as opposed to narrow. Once they play wide, their performance will improve.
“They are going to win. They’re going to pull a really good play at the end of the game, and that’s going to win it.”
Velvet, a red-haired woman in a red jacket and red-tinted glasses who calls herself a sensitive, did a three-card reading that reached a different conclusion than Jade’s.
“It’s going to be a tough game, but Alabama is going to win,” she said, staring at the cards. “It says triumph after struggle.”
There was a vague indication that UA quarterback Blake Sims might be the difference-maker, based on his jersey number.
“There’s something about the No. 6, but I don’t know what it is. But the number is going to play a part in it,” she said.
Silver-haired Sissy, a professional psychic since 1967, broke the tie.
“It’s going to be Ohio,” she said. “I’ve had 52 people ask me and I’ve done all the readings. According to the cards, it’s going to be Ohio.”
Other Jackson Square psychics were skeptical about their competitors’ ability to predict the outcome of an athletic contest.
“It doesn’t work that way,” said Betty. “If I knew who was going to win the game, I wouldn’t be here.”
Brett, a noted metaphysician and smart aleck, offered this prediction: “As far as who is going to win the game, it will be the team with the most points.”
Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or 205-722-0224.
December 31st, 2014
Alabama Supreme Court blocks suit over pension investments - MONTGOMERY | The Alabama Supreme Court blocked a lawsuit Wednesday that challenged the state pension fund's investment in hotels, golf courses and other properties in Alabama.
The court ruled 6-2 that the suit filed by two public employees should be dismissed.
Public employees Tonya Denson and Venius Turner contended the Retirement Systems of Alabama had invested up to 15 percent of its assets in Alabama properties, including the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, convention hotels, office buildings, newspapers and TV stations, and they were yielding lower returns than other investments would have. They wanted the courts to block future Alabama investments if they would yield lower returns than other investments would.
The Supreme Court said the state constitution gives the pension fund immunity from such suits. The justices also said the Legislature had delegated investment decisions to two boards that oversee the Retirement Systems, and the separation of powers doctrines keeps the courts from overseeing the investment policies of another branch of government.
"The type of continual oversight and analysis that would be required of this Court to assess compliance with permanent orders of the type sought by the plaintiffs highlights the fact that this is not a task for which the courts of this State are suited and is not a task that has been delegated to them," Justice Glenn Murdock wrote in the majority decision.
Retirement Systems attorney Leura Canary said the Supreme Court made it clear that the courts should not be involved in the operations of the pension fund.
The employees' attorney, William Pritchard, said his clients were disappointed and were reviewing their options.
They filed the suit in 2011 when the Legislature required public employees to start paying more of their paychecks toward their pension benefits. The move came after several years of low returns during the recession.
Retirement Systems Chief Executive David Bronner said the suit was filed as "harassment" when returns were low. He said the returns have rebounded, averaging about 15 percent for the last three years and ranking in the top 13th percentile of public pension funds.
Chief Justice Roy Moore and Justice Greg Shaw dissented. They said the case should not be dismissed before a lower court considers all the issues in the suit.
The Retirement Systems appealed to the Supreme Court after Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy denied a request by the pension fund to dismiss the suit shortly after it was filed in 2011.
December 31st, 2014
Man dies after being shot by officer outside Alabama animal shelter - DOTHAN | Authorities say a man shot and wounded by a Dothan police officer outside a local animal shelter has died.
The Alabama Bureau of Investigation said 30-year-old Robert Earl Lawrence was pronounced dead shortly before 10 p.m. Tuesday at Southeast Alabama Medical Center.
The ABI said it is investigating the shooting at the request of Dothan police, and that results will be turned over to the Houston County District Attorney.
Authorities have said the man became disorderly after he dropped off a stray animal and was asked to show identification.
Police say Lawrence was repeatedly told to calm down, and was eventually told that he was being arrested. Authorities say an altercation then occurred and Lawrence was shot in the abdomen.
December 31st, 2014
Arrest made in death of Birmingham pizza delivery man - BIRMINGHAM | Birmingham police say a teen is charged with capital murder in the death of a pizza delivery driver.
Homicide Sgt. John Tanks said Tuesday that 17-year-old Corey Arrington Jr. has been charged in the assault that led to the death of 63-year-old Najeh Masaeid, who was a delivery driver for Domino's Pizza.
Authorities have said Masaeid was killed Dec. 21 at an apartment complex behind a shopping mall. Investigators say Arrington has also been charged in the November robbery of a Papa John's delivery driver at the same complex.
Police said in a statement that the teen will be held without bond on the capital murder charge, and a $100,000 bond on the previous robbery. It's unclear if the teen has an attorney.
December 31st, 2014
Autopsy: Alabama woman died in jail after drug overdose - BESSEMER | An autopsy has found that an 18-year-old Brighton woman died in the Bessemer City Jail after a drug overdose.
Sheneque Proctor was found dead Nov. 2, less than 24 hours after being arrested on disorderly conduct and other charges after a disturbance at a Bessemer motel.
Authorities have said that Proctor struggled with police during the arrest, and that officers used pepper spray on her.
Al.com reports that the Jefferson County Coroner's Office found that the cause of her death was complications of overdosing on a combination of drugs.
The autopsy states that tests found cocaine, methadone and alprazolam in her system. Alprazolam is used to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and anxiety caused by depression.
The coroner's report lists the manner of death as accidental.
December 31st, 2014
CHALK TALK: 'Alabama Gothic' parodies classic painting - Ryan Watson's artwork is lit up like a theater marquee sign hanging above the stacked beer glasses.
At first glance, the chalkboard drawing at the Druid City Brewing Co. looks like a classic American painting.
But on second glance, the drawing depicts college football's ultimate odd couple.
Alabama football coach Nick Saban is the farmer and ESPN college football analyst Paul Finebaum is his daughter in the parody version of Grant Wood's 1930 painting “American Gothic” at the Druid City Brewing Co. taproom.
They call it “Alabama Gothic.”
“Around big games, it has kind of become like a weird tradition (for Druid City Brewing Co. to) take a classic piece of art and then parody it with some of the iconic Alabama (football) figures,” said bartender and fellow artist Sarah Ferguson.
Other artists have previously drawn renditions of Michelangelo's “The Creation of Adam” with Paul W. “Bear” Bryant as God and Saban as Adam. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has also been portrayed as Venus in Botticelli's “The Birth of Venus.”
Ferguson said Bo Hicks, co-owner and brewmaster of the company, suggested that Watson draw Finebaum's face on the farmer's daughter's body instead of their original idea to use Kiffin because he thought Finebaum would be funnier.
Ferguson said the chalk art doesn't have an underlying meaning. It's meant to be satirical.
“We don't really have any implication,” she said. “We just do it because it's funny.”
Watson said they chose “American Gothic” because it's an easily recognized piece of art.
Watson and Ferguson collaborate to create one-of-a-kind works of chalk art at the taproom on 14th Street, but they only parody classic pieces of art when it comes to
football-themed drawings.
During the off-season or when UA plays a lower-level team, the artists chalk up the board with themes based on the month. They drew a “Beetlejuice” theme board for Halloween and a woodland theme during the summer.
But for one of Alabama's most important games — Alabama vs. Ohio State on Thursday in the College Football Playoff semifinal 1 in New Orleans — Watson drew the rendition of the classic painting and Ferguson drew up the surrounding menu using large, cartoonlike letters to contrast Saban's serious expression.
Watson said he hopes Saban is focused on the game but that it would be nice if he noticed the drawing.
“Yeah. We don't want to distract him, but if it happens to come to a point where he catches a glimpse, we'd like to think that he got a giggle out of it, if he's capable of giggling,” Ferguson said. “I think one of the cool goals is it might make Saban think about smiling.”
In the meantime, Ferguson said the drawing will put a smile on new customers' faces and serve as a conversation piece.
However, “Alabama Gothic” could be gone almost as quickly as it went up.
“If we lose, it's gone,” Druid City Brewing Co. co-owner Elliott Roberts said. “If we win, it will be up there until at least the final game.”
The taproom at Druid City Brewing Co., 607 14th St., is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from 2 to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
December 31st, 2014
Tuscaloosa Garden Club to meet Jan. 8 - The Tuscaloosa Garden Club will meet Jan. 8 at 1339 Auxford Ave. off Old Greensboro Road in the Southridge subdivision.
Club members will have coffee at 9:30 a.m., followed by a short meeting and a program on horticulture.
Visitors are welcome to attend. Call 205-394-4081 for more information.
December 31st, 2014
Tuscaloosa event to celebrate Emancipation Proclamation - It was Jan. 1, 1863.
The bloody Civil War that raged across the nation neared its third year.
On that day, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are and henceforward shall be free.”
The Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves in Confederate territories and changed the nature of the war from an attempt to preserve the Union to a struggle to abolish slavery.
At 11 a.m. Thursday, the Tuscaloosa County Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance will host a celebration honoring the significance and lasting impact the Emancipation Proclamation had on the nation at Elizabeth Baptist Church, 2650 Elizabeth St., in Tuscaloosa.
“It’s really the proclamation, and we try to celebrate that each year,” said the Rev. Percy Mills, president of the Ministerial Alliance and pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Cottondale.
“We’ll also give out individual awards to those individuals that we feel are deserving in different categories like religion and education. We do historical references on certain individuals and how they have helped us.”
The event’s keynote speaker will be Bishop David Sylvester, co-founder and pastor of New Dimensions Ministries Inc. in Northport.
The Tuscaloosa County Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance is a group of Christian clergy and lay leaders from predominantly black churches in the area that financially support numerous service agencies throughout West Alabama.
Reach Jamon Smith at jamon.smith@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0204.
December 30th, 2014
80-year-old Tuscaloosa County man in serious condition after attack at home - An 80-year-old man is in serious condition after an intruder struck him in the head at his home Monday night.
The victim told Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s deputies that a stranger knocked on the door of his house on Keene’s Mill Road at 8:30 p.m. and asked to use the phone, said Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit commander Sgt. Dale Phillips.
“We believe that the suspect hit the victim, causing him to fall and strike his head,” he said.
Victim and witness statements led investigators to Joseph Ray Perkins, 28, who was arrested Tuesday afternoon.
The victim suffered from a laceration and internal head injuries. He was still being treated at DCH Regional Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon, for injuries Phillips described as serious.
Homicide investigators believe that Perkins took the victim’s wallet and contents and say he may have taken some medication. They do not believe that anyone else was involved, Phillips said.
The investigators arrested Perkins at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday and charged him with first-degree assault, first-degree burglary and first-degree robbery. He remained in jail Tuesday afternoon with bond set at $150,000.
December 30th, 2014
Tuscaloosa extends hours for Holidays on the River ice rink - The city of Tuscaloosa’s Holidays on the River ice rink will extend hours for this season’s final week.
The rink will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday.
The hours the weekend will remain the same: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, the rink’s last day.
Tickets can be purchased at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater box office or at the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum, 1901 Jack Warner Parkway. Tickets can also be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.
General admission, including skate rental, is $12 for ages 2-12 and $15 for ages 13 and older.
December 30th, 2014
Alabamians signing up for insurance faster - MONTGOMERY | Alabamians are signing up for health insurance through the federal marketplace at a much faster rate than they did last year.
The Department of Health and Human Services reported Tuesday that 64,926 Alabamians selected plans in the marketplace between the opening of enrollment on Nov. 15 and Dec. 15. That compares to 28,663 who had signed up through Dec. 28, 2013.
Enrollment in the first year was slowed by problems with the federal website (https://www.healthcare.gov). That has not been the case in the second year. Also, there are more options for Alabamians in the second year because United Healthcare, which did not participate the first year, is offering plans in all 67 counties for the second year. Those policies start Jan. 1.
The department said that 91 percent of those who have selected a plan are eligible for federal assistance to lower their monthly premiums. That's higher than the national average of 87 percent.
In addition to the 64,929 who selected an insurance plan, another 3,434 who sought to sign up were determined to be eligible for either Medicaid or Alabama's health insurance program for children.
Of those who have selected a plan, 53 percent participated in the first year and 43 percent are newcomers. Nationally, enrollment has been divided equally between returning customers and newcomers, the department said.
Alabama is one of 34 states using the federal marketplace rather than setting up their own insurance exchange under the federal health care law. The open enrollment period ends Feb. 15 for all states.
December 30th, 2014
Police probing shooting on Montgomery hospital campus - MONTGOMERY | Police are investigating a shooting that took place on the campus of a medical center in Montgomery.
Police spokeswoman Sgt. Denise Barnes tells the Montgomery Advertiser a man was shot on the campus of Baptist South Hospital Tuesday afternoon and suffered non-life threatening injuries.
Barnes says one person has been taken into custody and charges are pending.
Details on the shooter's potential motive weren't immediately available.
December 30th, 2014
Officials want to keep $358,955 seized in Greene County traffic stop - Authorities are taking legal measures to take control of $358,955 seized in a traffic stop in July.
DEA agents seized $358,955 and three grams of cocaine from a driver stopped on Interstate 20/59 on July 3, according to court documents.
The U.S. Attorney's Office filed a forfeiture request in U.S. District Court on Dec. 22.
According to the filing, a Greene County Sheriff's deputy stopped Ivan Servin of El Paso, Texas near the 32 mile marker on July 3 for driving 114 miles per hour in a 70 miles per hour zone. Servin said he was trying to make it to Texas before the July 4 holiday, according to the document.
A police dog named Ringo detected drugs in the vehicle before agents conducted a search. They found three grams of cocaine, an open container of alcohol and 18 bundles of cash wrapped in cellophane and axle grease concealed in the
2011 Hyundai Sonata.
Servin was charged with possession of a controlled substance in Greene County and pleaded guilty in October, with an agreement to serve three months in jail.
U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler will decide whether the $358,955 will be forfeited to the U.S. government.
December 30th, 2014
88-year-old man killed in accident in Marengo County - An elderly man was killed Monday after striking a tree with his car in Marengo County Monday, according to Alabama Law Enforcement Agency State Troopers.
William Kelly Etheridge, 88, died after his 1991 Ford Crown Victoria struck a tree on the side of Alabama Highway 69, two miles north of Myrtlewood. Etheridge, or Myrtlewood, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Troopers are continuing to investigate the accident.
December 30th, 2014
Alabama head coach Nick Saban named Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year - University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has been named the winner of the 2014 Dodd Trophy.
“It's truly an honor to be selected the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year,” Saban said in a video released with the announcement Tuesday. “I think I am very blessed -- we are blessed -- to be at a very special institution like the University of Alabama and have the opportunity to be there coach. But at the same time when you accept an award like this, you do it on behalf of your entire organization, your entire team.”
The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl presents the annual award to recognize a head football coach whose program embodies the principles of scholarship, leadership and integrity, while also having success on the playing field throughout the season, according to the announcement. The trophy, established in 1976, is named for legendary Georgia Tech head football coach Bobby Dodd.
“Coach Bobby Dodd is a legend in the way he did things,” Saban said. “You know, his leadership, scholarship, integrity and the way he did things is certainly the way we try to do things here at the University of Alabama, so to get this award is certainly a very humbling experience that we very much appreciate probably more than you know, and I really thank the Peach Bowl, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, for this honor.”
Officials from the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Foundation and the bowl praised Saban for his success on the field and his work in the community through his family's nonprofit, Nick's Kids Foundation.
”His success on and off the field this season made our decision an easy one. He represents the pinnacle of coaching achievement. At Alabama, he has not only built an exceptional football program, but has prepared a community of young men to be leaders in the world, ensuring that Coach Dodd's legacy will continue for generations to come,” said Jim Terry, chairman of the Dodd Foundation, in prepared comments.
Saban was one of 12 finalists for the award. The winner is selected by a panel of previous winners, members of the media, a member of the Dodd family, and a College Football Hall of Fame member.
”Coach Saban has long exhibited the ideals that are emblematic of Coach Dodd — leadership, scholarship and integrity — so we are honored to recognize him and the impact he has had on his student-athletes and on the Alabama community,” said Gary Stokan, president and CEO of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Saban's Crimson Tide squad will play The Ohio State University in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 in the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans as part of the first regional semifinal matchups of the College Football Playoff era.
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December 30th, 2014
Alabama Supreme Court sets execution dates for 2 inmates - MONTGOMERY | The Alabama Supreme Court has set execution dates for two death row inmates, the first prisoners scheduled to be put to death with the state's new lethal injection drug combination.
Tommy Arthur is scheduled to be executed Feb. 19. Bill Kuenzel is set to be executed March 19.
The state last executed an inmate in 2013. A shortage of drugs left the state unable to carry out death sentences. The Department of Corrections adopted a new three-drug combination in September.
Arthur's lawyer argued that the drugs are the same ones used in botched executions in other states. A state lawyer said there's no proof those inmates suffered pain.
Arthur was convicted of the 1982 murder-for-hire of a Muscle Shoals man. Kuenzel was convicted of the 1988 murder of a convenience store clerk.
December 30th, 2014
Authorities probing a fatal shooting in Odenville - ODENVILLE | Authorities are investigating a deadly shooting in Odenville.
Odenville police say they were called to a residence on Pleasant Valley Road around 10:15 p.m. Monday.
WBRC-TV reports (http://bit.ly/1CRouk0) that officers found a man at the residence suffering from a gunshot wound. His name wasn't released.
Few other details were immediately available early Tuesday.
Odenville is about 30 miles northeast of Birmingham.
December 30th, 2014
Tuscaloosa Kwanzaa celebrations open to the public this week - The seven-day African-American holiday called Kwanzaa is in full swing this week, and at least two groups in Tuscaloosa are hosting celebrations that are open to the public.
Christian Community Church is celebrating at 6 p.m. Tuesday night, Wednesday and Thursday. The church is at 5600 18th Ave.
Gwendolyn Sutton, wife of the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clarence Sutton Sr., said the church is celebrating Kwanzaa this year in partnership with the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which is an organization made up of nine historically black fraternities and sororities.
“We’ll have a speaker from one of the sororities as the speaker tonight,” Sutton said. “We’ll have a meal ending the celebration on the last day, Jan. 1. It’ll be at 6 p.m.”
The other group in Tuscaloosa having an open Kwanzaa celebration is the Nation of Islam Tuscaloosa Study Group. Narkita X Tucker said the study group’s celebration is being held at 6:30 p.m. nightly through Jan. 1. It’s being held at the study group location, which is 2678 21st St.
“We started it Dec. 26,” Tucker said. “Tonight is the fourth night. Today’s principle is ujamaa, which means cooperative economics. Guest speakers will be there to go over economic strategies and teach us how to support each other and build different projects in the community.”
Kwanzaa, which means “first fruits” in Swahili, is a weeklong interfaith, cultural holiday created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a professor and chairman of black studies at California State University in Long Beach, Calif.
According to the official Kwanzaa website, Karenga created Kwanzaa because he wanted to give black Americans the opportunity to celebrate their history and culture in addition to celebrating mainstream holidays.
Each day of Kwanzaa is celebrated by lighting a candle and examining one of the holiday’s seven guiding principles.
The seven principles in order and their meaning are as follows:
■ Umoja: Unity.
■ Kujichagulia: Self-determination.
■ Ujima: Collective work and responsibility.
■ Ujamaa: Cooperative economics.
■ Nia: Purpose.
■ Kuumba: Creativity.
■ Imani: Faith.
December 30th, 2014
Tuscaloosa County transit officials await word on $1.8 million federal grant - The Tuscaloosa County Parking and Transit Authority expects to hear within the next two weeks whether it has received a $1.8 million grant from the Federal Transportation Administration.
The grant — which is technically an extension of a current grant from 2014 — totals $3.5 million, combined with the $1.7 million the transit authority received in 2014. The transit authority receives grants from the Federal Transportation Administration every year. The federal grant money is matched with money from the city of Tuscaloosa, said Russell Lawrence, executive director of the transit authority.
“We won’t operate if we don’t get the grant,” Lawrence said.
If approved, the transit authority will use the grant to replace four vans that are used to help people with disabilities who cannot otherwise get to a bus stop, Lawrence said. Right now, there are five vans in the Tuscaloosa metropolitan area that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The five vans, equipped with lifts, make about 1,550 trips a year, Lawrence said. The new vans will replace the current vans, which are old and have high mileage, he added. The remaining grant money will be used for surveillance and security equipment, fare collection equipment on the trolleys, radios, plus operating, preventive maintenance and subsidies for employee training.
The transit authority has received some sort of grant through the Federal Transportation Authority annually for about 15 years.
“This organization wouldn't be here without the grants,” said Jill Hannah, transportation planner for the West Alabama Regional Commission, which assists the transit authorities with the grants.
Without the federal funding, the transit authority would likely have to charge $5 or $6 per trip on its trolleys, instead of the $1 per trip and 20 cents per transfer fee. Senior citizens pay half that, with a 50 cent fare.
“It’s still the most economical way to get around,” Lawrence said.
The transit authority operates six routes in the city of Tuscaloosa, plus special transport for people with disabilities. In total, about 340,000 people ride use the transit authority transportation each year, Lawrence said.
Reach Lydia Seabol Avant at Lydia.SeabolAvant@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0222.
December 30th, 2014
Eufaula plant expanding, adding 20 jobs - EUFAULA | CARBO Ceramics in Eufaula is expanding and adding 20 jobs.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced that the state is providing a $200,000 grant to help pay for sewer improvements required for the addition to the CARBO plant. Bentley says the city of Eufaula is providing $40,000 in funding for the project.
The company is investing about $75 million in the expansion. The 20 new employees will join 75 who already work for at the Eufaula plant.
The company makes products and provides services for oilfield service companies and operators of natural gas and oil wells.
December 30th, 2014
Alabama deadlines approaching for disaster loans - MONTGOMERY | Deadlines are approaching for low-interest federal loans tied to two rounds of severe weather in Alabama.
The Small Business Administration says small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small aquaculture businesses and most private non-profit groups have until Jan. 26 to apply for disaster loans from flooding that occurred in seven Alabama counties on April 6-10. They are Bibb, Blount, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties.
The loan application deadline is Feb. 2 for severe storms and flooding that occurred in 34 Alabama counties on April 28 through May 5. The counties are Baldwin, Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Chambers, Cherokee, Clarke, Cullman, DeKalb, Escambia, Etowah, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Macon, Madison, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Morgan, Pickens, Russell, St. Clair, Shelby, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Walker and Washington.
December 30th, 2014
Mike Hubbard case tops Alabama news stories in 2014 - BIRMINGHAM | Political intrigue and elections dominated the news in Alabama in 2014, but plenty of other stories made headlines in the state. Here are the Top 10 Alabama news stories of the year as selected by The Associated Press:
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who claims credit for the Republican takeover of the Legislature, is indicted on 23 felony charges of using his office for personal gain. Hubbard denies any wrongdoing and calls the charges a political witch hunt; the case will move toward trial in 2015. Separately, state Rep. Barry Moore is acquitted on a charge of lying to a grand jury, and former Rep. Greg Wren resigns his seat and pleads guilty to a misdemeanor.
The Republican Party strengthens its grip on the Alabama Statehouse as Gov. Robert Bentley is re-elected by a wide margin and GOP gains transform the Legislature into a body composed mainly of white Republicans and black Democrats. The party's control is so complete that Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions becomes the only U.S. senator re-elected without opposition from a major party.
U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller is arrested on a domestic violence charge following a fight with his wife at an Atlanta hotel but avoids prosecution by entering a pretrial diversion program.
Fuller, best known for presiding over the corruption trial that ended in the conviction of former Gov. Don Siegelman, is removed from handling cases and faces calls for his resignation or impeachment headed into the new year.
Winter strikes Alabama with an unusual vengeance. A winter storm causes havoc in late January, forcing thousands of schoolchildren and teachers to spend the night in Birmingham-area schools because roads are too icy for travel.
Thousands more have to camp out in their workplaces, and stranded motorists are rescued from vehicles throughout the state's largest metropolitan area. As much as a foot of snow covers north Alabama two weeks later, and icicles hang off palm trees at the coast.
Investigators make a gruesome discovery when the bodies of five children are found amid scrub pines, dead trees and weeds atop a hill in rural central Alabama. Their father is later arrested in Mississippi and charged with murder in their killings in South Carolina. Investigators said the man trekked across the Deep South with the bodies in his SUV before dumping them a few miles from an interstate exit near Pine Apple.
The Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System becomes a focal point for trouble amid allegations of mismanagement in the nation's health care system for veterans.
Reports show facilities serving veterans around Montgomery have some of the longest delays in the country for care, and the Department of Veterans Affairs removes the system's director and chief of staff.
Eight people from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas plead guilty in a federal dogfighting case that involved the second-largest seizure of pit bulls in U.S. history.
An organizer of the high-stakes dogfights, Donnie Anderson of Auburn, gets eight years in prison, the longest sentence ever in a federal dogfighting case and four times as long as the term of NFL player Michael Vick.
Desmonte Leonard is convicted of murder in the shooting that killed two former Auburn University football players and a third man at a pool party in 2012. Lee County jurors recommended life without parole for the Montgomery man, but a judge could still condemn Leonard to death at his sentencing, set for Jan. 20 in Opelika.
Meanwhile, a Tallapoosa County man is charged with killing another Auburn football player, Jakell Mitchell, in December at the same apartment complex where the 2012 shootings occurred.
The Department of Corrections is embroiled in court fights over conditions in Alabama's overcrowded prison system.
The U.S. Department of Justice investigates Tutwiler prison for women, while the Southern Poverty Law Center sues over medical conditions in prisons. Gov. Robert Bentley appoints a task force to look for answers.
Meanwhile, the state is forced to halt executions because of a shortage of drugs for lethal injections.
The ministry of an Alabama pastor comes to an end following shocking allegations of wrongdoing. Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery has to sue the Rev. Juan McFarland to get him to leave after he admits from the pulpit to having AIDS, having sex with married church members without telling them about his illness, and using illegal drugs.
December 29th, 2014
Greensboro man fatally shot by deputy - SAFFORD | A man was fatally shot by a Dallas County sheriff’s deputy who was responding to a domestic violence call in Safford.
Chief Deputy Randy Pugh said the man was shot early Monday when he came out of a house and opened fire on a deputy who was pulling into the driveway.
District Attorney Michael Jackson has identified the man as Thomas Monts of Greensboro.
Pugh said some of the shots Monts fired hit the deputy’s car and that one bullet pierced the windshield, narrowly missing the responding deputy.
Pugh said the deputy took cover and returned fire.
The deputy has been put on administrative leave,
and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation is looking into the shooting.
December 29th, 2014
Part of Dr. Edward Hillard Drive will close - Dr. Edward Hillard Drive will be closed between 13th Street East and 14th Place East from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesday for water main construction.
December 29th, 2014
University of Alabama becomes smoke-free Thursday - Students and staff at the University of Alabama will return from the holiday break to a smoke-free campus next week.
The new policy, announced in November, begins Thursday, the first day of 2015, and applies to students, faculty, staff, campus visitors and contractors. The university resumes normal business hours on Jan. 5, and classes for the spring semester begin Jan. 7.
UA announced plans to go smoke-free as part of a policy change meant to improve health and reduce litter and the risk of accidental fire.
The policy does not cover smokeless tobacco products, though it does include electronic cigarettes and other vapor devices.
The university plans to offer cessation resources through various departments and websites as well as free classes. UA launched a website, www.ua.edu/smokefree, to assist with the policy change.
Assistance and resources will be available through the Student Health Center, Office of Health Promotion and Wellness, and the College of Community Health Sciences and University Medical Center.
UA will use information campaigns, including more campus signs, and reminders for smokers on campus to encourage adherence to the policy.
December 29th, 2014
Tickets for 2015 Tuscaloosa Regional Air Show on sale - Tickets are on sale for the 2015 Tuscaloosa Regional Air Show featuring the Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron.
The air show is set for March 28-29 at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport, with the show beginning at noon both days. General admission will be $5 for people 13 and older. Admission is free for children 12 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater box office or online at www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets will also be available at the airport on the days of the show.
This is the fourth time the Blue Angels have performed at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport since 2009, the most recent being in 2012.
“It promises to be an amazing event,” said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox in the “Mayor’s Minute,” an online video message. “In 2009, (bringing the air show to Tuscaloosa) was one of the proudest moments of my administration.”
Each show has attracted thousands of spectators, with the 2010 show drawing the largest crowd, estimated at 150,000.
The Blue Angels are an 18-member squad of Navy and Marine Corps pilots that visit between 30 and 35 sites across the country each year to give an average of 60 to 70 performances in the Navy’s Hornet and the Marine Corps’ C-130 “Fat Albert” aircraft.
For the Hornet pilots, the maneuvers can range from about 200 feet off the ground to between 10,000 and 15,000 feet, with some of them — the Diamond, for example — bringing the planes within 18 inches from wingtip to the adjacent canopy.
The show’s main sponsor is Pepsi.
For more information, visit www.tuscalooosaregionalairshow.com or call 205-248-5311.
December 29th, 2014
Tuscaloosa Public Library director Mary Elizabeth Harper resigns - Tuscaloosa Public Library director Mary Elizabeth Harper has resigned from her position, following employee complaints that preceded her leave of absence a month ago.
Details of those complaints were not discussed at a meeting called Monday for the library's board of trustees to accept her resignation, effective Dec. 31.
Harper did not attend the meeting. Assistant director Rick Freemon, a library employee for 16 years, will serve as interim director until the board selects a new director.
Harper was hired in February 2011 to oversee the system that provides services at the main branch on Jack Warner Parkway, two satellite branch libraries and two bookmobiles. She was paid $94,000 when she was hired and was making $116,000 when she resigned.
Complaints from employees were first made public in 2012, when a former employee complained of “bullying, harassment and intimidation” and claimed that at least seven employees had resigned from the main library branch because of the new director.
In March 2012, three former library employees wrote a letter published in The Tuscaloosa News stating that the library was “experiencing unprecedented deprofessionalization.” The former employees wrote that “management practices and policies have been instated that breed distrust and uncertainty between staff and administrators. Restructuring is a necessary and productive activity, but it requires trust and transparency in order to truly achieve positive change. Trust can't exist in a hostile work environment.”
The same year, the library board heard from a human resources consultant who talked to 90 percent of the library's employees and said her impression was that overall morale was high. The board created an employee handbook and conducted an anonymous employee survey to boost morale and improve communication in March 2012.
The board's executive committee will handle any issues that arise, such as the cleaning out of Harper's office. A transitional committee of board and staff members will meet to discuss what kinds of changes should be made within the system, members said Monday.
Board subcommittees will meet to discuss how to approach the search for a new director.
The nationwide search conducted by the board in 2010 and 2011 to replace former longtime director Nancy Pack with Harper took six months.
December 29th, 2014
Huntsville officer indicted in bribery scheme - BIRMINGHAM | Authorities say a Huntsville police officer accused of bribing a colleague to invalidate drug charges that stemmed from a vehicle search has been indicted by a federal grand jury.
Prosecutors said Monday that 45-year-old Lewis Bernard Hall of Meridianville is charged with conspiracy, bribery, obstruction of justice and making a false statement.
Authorities say Hall offered a fellow officer $5,000 if the officer claimed that a vehicle search on July 29 that led to drug charges being filed against the driver was unlawful, which would have invalidated the charges. Officials say the driver was found with three ounces of cocaine.
Prosecutors say the officer who was offered the bribe helped in the investigation, which included the FBI.
It's unclear if Hall has an attorney.
December 29th, 2014
Alabama man fatally shot by deputy was armed with sword - HOLLY POND | A man who was fatally shot by a Cullman County sheriff's deputy was armed with a three-foot sword when he approached emergency responders, authorities said Monday.
Chief Deputy Max Bartlett told the Cullman Times (http://bit.ly/1ECmiP6 ) the slain man has been identified as Darren Robert Kindgren, 51. Emergency medical officials were responding to a call in the Holly Pond area about a man who injured himself on Saturday. Bartlett has said Kindgren became uncooperative with emergency responders and eventually ran back inside the house that authorities were called to.
Kindgren came back out of the house with a sword and threatened to harm those who were on the scene, Bartlett said. The man was shot after repeated commands to put the weapon down and after deputies tried using a Taser on him, Bartlett has said. The deputy who shot Kindgren fired four times and an autopsy in Huntsville is expected to determine how many of the bullets hit the man.
Video and audio footage of the shooting was captured on newly-purchased body cameras and will be used as evidence in the investigation into the shooting, which is being led by the Alabama Bureau of Investigation Bartlett said.
December 29th, 2014
Flu cases rising sharply in Tuscaloosa - The number of people being treated for the flu at DCH Regional Medical Center is continuing to rise steeply.
According to the most recent data available, the week ending on Dec. 21 173 people tested positive for the flu at DCH, compared to 114 positive flu tests the prior week. The vast majority of the positive cases are type A flu, which is now the most common strain in the U.S. Of the positive tests at DCH last week, seven were type B flu.
December 29th, 2014
Bama Art House Film Series' winter film series begins January 6 - The Bama Art House Film Series' winter film series will begin Jan. 6.
Seven films are in the winter series, which is organized by the Arts Council of Tuscaloosa. The Arts Council aims to bring unique new films to West Alabama through the series.
Here are the films in the winter series:
* Jan. 6: "Boyhood"
* Jan. 13: "The Babadook"
* Jan. 20: "Citizenfour"
* Jan. 27: "Zero Motivation"
* Feb. 3: "The Homesman"
* Feb. 10: "Listen Up, Philip"
* Feb. 17: To be announced
The films will be shown at the Bama Theatre, 600 Greensboro Ave., on Tuesday nights at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets will be $8 for general admission, $7 for seniors and students and $6 for Arts Council members. Discounted tickets for any 10 Bama Art House films are available for $60.
The box office will open at 6:30 p.m. and the doors will open at 6:45 p.m.
Patrons can visit bamatheatre.org/bamaarthouse to view film details and trailers.
Call 205-758-5195 or visit bamatheatre.org for further information.
December 29th, 2014
Tuscaloosa police searching for suspect in car theft - Tuscaloosa Police have released a photo of a man they believe stole a car from a gas station on Skyland Boulevard and abandoned it in Birmingham.
The owner of the silver 2011 Toyota Camry told police that she left her car running when she went inside the gas station on Skyland Boulevard earlier this month, said TPD spokesman Sgt. Brent Blankley.
The car, stolen at 9 p.m. from the station in the 4400 block of Skyland Boulevard East, was recovered in the 1900 block of 21st Avenue North in Birmingham the next day.
Tuscaloosa investigators released a surveillance photo of the suspect Monday.
Anyone who recognizes the man is asked to call Tuscaloosa County CrimeStoppers at 205-752-STOP (7867) or text “Tusc” and the suspect’s information to CRIMES (274637).
December 29th, 2014
Heavy weekend rain soaks West Alabama - Tuscaloosa had nearly three inches of rain during weekend, according to the National Weather Service in Birmingham.
The rain gauge at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport measured 2.92 inches during the 48-hour period that ended at 5:53 a.m. Monday.
A flash flood watch was issued Sunday afternoon for Tuscaloosa County. Other West Alabama counties covered by the were Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Marengo, Pickens and Sumter.
December 29th, 2014
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard's lawyers seek media calls - MONTGOMERY | Lawyers for indicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard have subpoenaed a recorded phone conversation between a talk show host and a prosecutor.
Hubbard's lawyers in a Dec. 23 court filing say they believe there might be other conversations involving prosecutors in addition to the one recorded by Dale Jackson of WVNN in Huntsville. Jackson said he posted the off-the-record conversation on his blog after it had been subpoenaed.
Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart in the call said prosecutors are not acting with political motivations and that accusation demeans the grand jury. Hart noted Republicans previously cheered him when he was prosecuting Democrats in the two-year college case.
Defense lawyers say the call shows an effort to taint the jury pool.
Hubbard faces multiple felony ethics charges and has pleaded not guilty.
December 29th, 2014
Birmingham shooting leaves 1 dead, 2 wounded - BIRMINGHAM | Birmingham police are investigating a shooting that left one man dead and two others wounded.
Police tell Al.com that the gunfire happened Saturday night in the city's Ensley neighborhood.
Birmingham police Lt. Sean Edwards says officers were called an address on Avenue N after shots were heard in the area. Several minutes later, three gunshot victims arrived at Princeton Hospital.
One of the wounded people died around 1:45 a.m. Sunday.
December 29th, 2014
FedEx truck overturns on I-20/59 in Tuscaloosa County - A FedEx truck overturned Monday morning, spilling packages across Interstate 20/59 near the Black Warrior toll bridge.
The truck overturned in the northbound lane at 7:55 a.m., according to Alabama State Troopers.
One lane was still partially blocked as of 9:30 a.m. Traffic is slow-moving, but not stopped.
Troopers urged drivers to use caution in the area while crews work to clean debris from the highway.
December 29th, 2014
Experts' predictions for 2015 - Experts at the University of Alabama predict in 2015 dining habits will move away from three meals a day, cars will become as smart as our phones and an ongoing shift away from coal for electrical utilities will continue. The far-ranging list of educated guesses is in its 34th consecutive year.
Despite growing interest from millennials in cooking at home, the concept of three square meals a day will dissipate in 2015 as more people dine on the go or choose options like green smoothies or snacks, predicted Sheena Quizon Gregg, a registered dietician and assistant director in the department of health promotion and wellness.
Demand for primary care doctors will continue to increase in 2015 under the Affordable Care Act, but the controversy surrounding it will begin waning as people see the benefits, predicted Dr. Richard Streiffer, dean of the College of Community Health Sciences.
The U.S. economy is forecast to grow by about 2.6 percent in 2015, led, in part, by growth in transportation equipment manufacturing, said Ahmad Ijaz, associate director of the Center for Business and Economic Research in the Culverhouse College of Commerce.
Lower gas prices will add about .4 percent to real gross domestic product, but this will only negate some of the economic impacts of higher grocery prices, Ijaz estimated.
In 2015, cars will become more connected to the Internet with a seamless integration between smart phones, computers and vehicles, said Bharat Balasubramanian, a professor with joint appointments in mechanical, electrical and computer engineering.
Social-media savvy small business employees will lead to an increased presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, while viral marketing will provide unpredictable but massive growth in brand awareness, predicted Susan Fant, instructor of marketing.
During 2015, NASA will announce the most concrete evidence to date of water on Mars, but evidence of previous life on the planet will remain elusive, predicted William Keel, professor of astronomy.
Cheap natural gas will continue to drive a shift by electric utilities away from coal-fired power generation, predicted Jason Bara, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren may have a real shot at the Democratic nomination as a less-polarizing alternative to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said George Hawley, assistant professor of political science.
Any large-scale changes to the Common Core standards that occur in 2015 will likely come from state rather than federal efforts, predicted Jeremy Zelkowski, professor of math education.
December 28th, 2014
Woman accused of randomly shooting at cars in Tennessee - CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. | Authorities say a woman who drove around a Chattanooga neighborhood randomly shooting at people in their cars is facing several charges, including attempted first-degree murder.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that Julia Shields, who was wearing body armor, was eventually arrested late Friday afternoon.
Earlier that day, two people in the usually quiet Hixson neighborhood notified police that they were sitting at a stop sign when a woman pulled up beside them and fired shots into their vehicle.
A short time later police received additional calls about a woman firing at another vehicle, and threatening to shoot people as she passed by them in her car. No injuries were reported in any of the cases.
Jennifer Clouse said she was standing in her yard when she saw a woman quickly drive by holding a gun outside her window.
“She was just casually holding a gun,” Clouse said. “It was crazy. This is a pretty quiet area.”
Police located Shields sitting in her car in a church parking lot. She sped away, but officers caught her at an intersection and arrest her.
In addition to the three counts of attempted murder, Shields also faces seven counts of aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, felony evading arrest and felony reckless endangerment.
Shields, 45, was being held at the Hamilton County Jail. As of Saturday night, her bond had not been set.
December 28th, 2014
LOOKING BACK: December 29 - Tuscaloosa Circuit Court Judge Walter B. Henry ordered the state health department to issue a license for the Oak Hill Nursing Home for 1965 or to appear in court to show why it should not be issued. The action was filed by W.D. Partlow, attorney for Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Clayton, nursing home operators.
Alabama quarterback Joe Namath was re-injured during practice for the Orange Bowl game in Miami, making it possible that he would miss the game, though he did not. The pro football players’ market hit “an unbelievable inflationary high” with the revelation that the New York Jets team was ready to pay $389,000 for a quarterback with a bum leg. Joe Namath signed with the New York Jets of the American Football League after the Orange Bowl. A headline described him as the “world’s richest rookie.”
Although Namath made 18 completions that set an Orange Bowl record and was voted the game’s most valuable player, the Crimson Tide was defeated by the Texas Longhorns, 21-17.
Deaths this week included noted historian and retired emeritus professor James Benson Sellers at 75.
The new Arcadia Elementary School would open after the holiday break.
As many as 50 Tuscaloosa employees turned out to tell the City Council they felt cheated by the merit pay plan implemented a year ago. It was the third straight meeting where workers complained about the plan’s evaluation process and the way it was decided who would receive bonuses in addition to pay raises.
Harco Drug Inc. would introduce a new store category to Tuscaloosa with the opening in February of Drug Mart in McFarland Mall. The store would be a “deep discount drugstore,” featuring discounts up to 50 percent on brand-name products acquired through special sales and closeouts.
The Crimson Tide was preparing for the Sugar Bowl after a decade’s absence from that venue; ticket demand for the game in New Orleans on New Year’s Day was high.
Katherine Scott Calhoun, the director of the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band, led more than 1,000 high school band members, plus the combined UA and University of Miami bands in the National Anthem before the kickoff of the Sugar Bowl game.
The Miami Hurricanes defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl football game, 33-25.
UA football coach Bill Curry visited the University of Kentucky to talk to officials there about a vacant head football coaching position.
Brent Drug Store closed after 73 years of continuous operation by the same family.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit filed by the mother of a 10-year-old girl that claimed a Tuscaloosa deputy used excessive force when he handcuffed the girl at an elementary school in Holt.
Four UA football players would participate in the Senior Bowl — All-SEC offensive linemen Wesley Britt and Evan Mathis, All-SEC linebacker Cornelius Wortham and defensive tackle Anthony Bryant.
The Crimson Tide came up short in the Music City Bowl game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, 20-16.
Brand DeWayne Anderson Jr. was the first baby of the New Year born in Tuscaloosa County; parents are Jamie and Brandon Anderson from Reform.
The Crimson Tide continued preparation for the BCS National Championship Game against Texas on Jan 7. A screened fence was constructed around the Crimson Tide’s makeshift facility in Costa Mesa, Cal., for privacy while the football team practiced.
An agreement was finally reached regarding the fate of Bryce Hospital. UA bought the land and a new hospital would be built in Tuscaloosa. The university paid $60 million for the Bryce campus.
Deaths this week included longtime Tuscaloosa Academy track coach, Don McDaniel, at 69.
Kyland Bostic was the first baby born in 2010 in Tuscaloosa County. Kyland’s mother is Amber Haley.
The Alabama football team was in New Orleans for most of the week preparing for the Sugar Bowl matchup with Oklahoma. The Crimson Tide was “Sacked by the Sooners” in that game, 45-31. Quarterback AJ McCarron was sacked a season-high seven times.
All DCH Health system properties banned tobacco use, both inside and outside the facilities, at DCH Regional Medical Center, Northport Medical Center, Fayette Medical Center and Pickens County Medical Center.
Several downtown streets were closed for underground utilities repair. The sewer project on 22nd Avenue was expected to keep that street closed until April.
In spite of a deficit for the 2013 season, Mayor Walt Maddox endorsed a contract extension of Red Mountain Entertainment of Birmingham, the company hired to bring acts to the music venue. The mayor said that last year’s concert season brought 90,000 people to the shows.
Compiled by retired News librarian Betty Slowe.
December 28th, 2014
Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile marks 50 years - MOBILE | One of Alabama’s best-known attractions is preparing to mark its 50th anniversary in Mobile.
Battleship Memorial Park opened 50 years ago on Mobile Bay as the USS Alabama went on public display on Jan. 9, 1965.
The park is planning a yearlong celebration to mark its 50th anniversary. It begins Jan. 9, when visitors will be able to enter for free with an Alabama driver’s license.
Events will be held later in the year to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and Veterans Day.
The Alabama saw more than three years of active service during World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.
The ship was mothballed after the war, but a fundraising drive brought it to Mobile for display.
December 28th, 2014
2014 farmer of the year Andy Benton says it's in his blood - Farming is in his blood. When his father was nearing the end of his battle with cancer in 1998, Andy Benton took over the farm. In Fosters, Benton works 240 acres of centipede sod and Bermuda turf on a farm that has been in business since the late 1970s.
Benton said he thinks it was an appreciation for his father's hard work building the foundation of the farm and respect for him for carrying on the family business that won Benton Sod Farm the 2014 Tuscaloosa County Farmer of the Year Award.
“It's a great honor to be mentioned with all the previous winners,” Benton said. “I couldn't have done it without my father teaching me integrity and hard work.”
The award is given by the Kiwanis Club of Greater Tuscaloosa, which looks at several factors when choosing its recipient each year. Those factors include length of time farming and community impact.
Benton is a member of the Tuscaloosa County Farmers Federation board of directors. He has also served on the state sod and horticultural committees.
Benton said it was a team effort among him, his father, his family and his employees that led to the award.
He said his daughter keeps the books while he and his employees work the fields harvesting seed, cutting sod, spraying for weeds, mowing, irrigating, fertilizing and fixing equipment. He said sometimes they're out in the fields from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Benton also provides landscaping services installing sod for churches, houses, schools, businesses, athletic fields and roadways, which helps prevent erosion.
He said every day is different because what they do is predicated by the weather, and he determines what needs to be done when he gets in the fields.
Benton said he got his know-how from his father, who taught him all the skills he would need, and continues his education by attending educational functions such as the annual ALFA Commodity Marketing Conference and the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition in Moultrie, Ga.
Benton said he hopes his daughter takes an interest in the farm and continues the family business.
“(Farming) has been in my blood the whole time,” he said.
Of taking over his father's farm, he said, “I guess fate would have it that way.”
December 28th, 2014
12 Alabama law enforcement agencies are now just one - MONTGOMERY | Alabama’s massive consolidation of law enforcement agencies has been completed ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline, and the most visible sign of the merger is more patrols on the busy highways during holidays.
Gov. Robert Bentley said the consolidation is good for the taxpayers.
“But you may not like that if you are speeding,” he said.
With Bentley’s support, the Legislature voted in 2013 to combine 12 state law enforcement agencies and set Jan. 1, 2015, as the deadline for completing the work. Bentley picked his Homeland Security director, Spencer Collier, to head the new Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.
“It is the largest realignment of law enforcement resources in the history of the state,” Collier said.
Collier, 41, was a former state trooper and state representative from Mobile who served with Bentley in the House. He said having experience in law enforcement and politics was valuable in overseeing the merger of organizations that didn’t always work together.
“When we started this, we had state agencies working on the same case unbeknownst to each other,” he said.
The 12 agencies combined to make the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency were: Department of Homeland Security, Department of Public Safety, Alabama Bureau of Investigation, Fusion Center, Criminal Justice Information Center, Marine Police, Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Enforcement, Department of Revenue Enforcement, Forestry Commission Investigations, Agricultural and Industry Investigations, Public Service Commission Enforcement, and Office of Prosecution Service Computer Forensics Lab.
Together, they have 1,400 employees, including 850 officers with arrest powers.
Collier said the consolidation was largely completed when the state’s new fiscal year began Oct. 1, but emblems on patrol cars and other visible signs of law enforcement are still being brought into uniformity as the deadline approaches.
Collier said the biggest advantage of the merger is being able to shift resources where needed. When the merger started, there were 289 Highway Patrol officers on Alabama’s highways. Collier said 60 officers have been shifted from other functions to the highways, and 60 Marine Police officers are helping patrol the roads in colder months when Alabama waterways aren’t busy. In warmer months, officers traditionally involved in liquor law enforcement are helping Marine Police with cracking down on drunken boaters and underage drinking on the waterways and around marinas, Collier said.
Other changes are on the way. Collier said motorists should soon be able to renew their driver’s licenses online. Those needing to take a driver’s exam will be able to make an appointment online rather than spend hours waiting at a driver’s exam office.
Also, self-service kiosks, now used in the agency’s offices in Mobile and Birmingham, will be added in other urban areas.
When the Legislature passed the merger legislation, supporters talked about savings of up to $35 million a year.
The merger legislation provided that no one would be laid off. Instead, supporters expected savings when management employees retired and weren’t replaced and when support services, such as radio systems and fleet management offices, were combined.
Collier said the savings projections weren’t based on the final legislation that passed. He said he would like to invest savings back into the agency to increase the number of officers patrolling Alabama’s highways.
“It is dismal what our numbers are,” he said.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, who sponsored the consolidation legislation, said he’s pleased with how the merger has gone, but he questions pouring all the savings back into the agency.
“I hope we eventually see dollars saved, not just spending those dollars elsewhere,” Marsh, R-Anniston, said.
December 28th, 2014
The year in review: From triumph to tragedy, a lot has happened - It was a year of triumphs and tragedies. In reviewing the stories covered by The Tuscaloosa News in 2014, our editors picked 10 stories that they thought define the year in West Alabama. Here is a recap of those stories in no particular order.
It was a trial that caught the attention of the country, being featured on the CBS crime show “48 Hours” in November.
Tracey Grissom of Northport was found guilty in August of murdering her ex-
husband, Hunter Grissom. Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge John England sentenced a tearful Grissom to 25 years in prison on Sept. 2.
Grissom shot and killed her ex-husband on May 15, 2012, at the Binion Boat Landing where he was working.
During her trial, Grissom's attorney said she feared for her life and that she was a victim of an abusive marriage. Hunter Grissom's family disagreed, describing him as a good, hard-working man who wanted nothing to do with his ex-wife after their divorce.
On the day of the killing, Tracey Grissom drove to the boat landing with a loaded gun in her vehicle and shot her ex-husband in front of his co-workers.
After the Crimson Tide football team lost its last two games of the 2013 season, fans wondered if the team would make a comeback this year.
The Tide won its first four games, raising hopes, but then fell to Ole Miss on Oct. 4. The next week, the Tide squeaked past Arkansas, winning by one point.
But then things turned in the Tide's favor with a shutout of Texas A&M and a Nov. 15 victory over then-undefeated Mississippi State.
The Tide rose to No. 1 in college football polls. Victories in the Iron Bowl and SEC Championship game guaranteed Alabama the top seed in the four-team college championship series.
The Tide faces Ohio State in New Orleans in the first round on New Year's Day, with the winner advancing to the title game in Dallas on Jan. 12.
In June, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Vance officially rolled out the first American-made C-Class sedans destined for customers and dealer showrooms. The auto plant has made Mercedes SUVs since it opened in 1997, but this year, after a lot of planning and almost $2 billion in additional spending and expansions at Vance, the new top-selling Mercedes model became a made-in-Alabama product.
Mercedes' decision to add C-Class production at Vance is part of its global strategy to build its vehicles in or near the markets where they will be sold. MBUSI will make the C-Class for the North American market.
The sedan is the fourth model being made at Vance. MBUSI production figures for 2014 will not be released until next year, but MBUSI President Jason Hoff said the Tuscaloosa County plant will set a record this year, producing more than 200,000 vehicles.
Tuscaloosa does not see snow often, but on Jan. 28, a freak winter storm unexpectedly descended upon the city and state.
The storm caught everyone by surprise. Meteorologists initially forecast a light dusting for the area, but overnight the storm model changed. By midday on Jan. 28, icy roads caused traffic gridlock. Schools closed and 1 to 2 inches of snow fell in Tuscaloosa and surrounding counties. Many students, home from school, got to venture out to enjoy the winter wonderland, at least for a day.
But circumstances proved treacherous for many motorists. Authorities reported more than 120 wrecks and around 1,100 emergency calls. At least one West Alabama fatality was attributed to the icy roads.
The state and much of the Southeast faced similar problems from the storm.
It was the end of an era. UA gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson announced her retirement after 36 years at the Capstone.
The last remaining coach hired by the late Paul W. “Bear” Bryant, Patterson led her gymnastics teams to six national championships, eight Southeast Conference titles and compiled an impressive 1,006 victories at UA.
The 58-year-old Patterson announced she was stepping down on July 15, citing medical reasons that included two planned knee replacements.
“I think what I'm most proud of, overall, of the success of our program, is David (her husband and volunteer assistant) and I have helped a lot of women in 36 years to have great careers,” she said at the time. “We've tried to be a role model for them as great parents and as a husband-and-wife team.”
Just weeks after the fall semester started, the University of Alabama's Tutwiler Hall, home to about 900 students, was put on lockdown. The action was prompted by a threat of gun violence was posted on the Internet in response to a YouTube video about sorority recruitment.
The posted threat said the author would seek retribution against students who discriminate against minorities.
No gunman was found on campus, but many students and parents expressed fear and concerns as rumors went viral. Investigators got subpoenas for records from social media in attempts to identify the author of that and a second Internet communication.
In the following days, two UA students were arrested. Charges against one student were dropped earlier this month, and he was given youthful offender status. Charges against the other student are pending grand jury review.
A university spokesman said both of the students were suspended for the fall semester.
An Atlanta man formerly from Tuscaloosa was charged with murder in June after his 22-month-old son died after being locked in the family's car for several hours.
Justin Ross Harris, a graduate of Central High School and the University of Alabama, was charged with malice murder, felony murder and child cruelty in the June 18 death of his son, Cooper Harris, in Cobb County, Ga.
Harris told police he was supposed to drop his son off at day care but forgot he had the child in his SUV and went to work instead. He said he discovered Cooper's lifeless body in his SUV about seven hours later. Outside temperatures were in the high 80s at the time.
Police said they do not believe the death was an accident and that they discovered an Internet search by Harris in which he researched how long it would take to die in a locked vehicle.
Harris pleaded not guilty to the charges in October and is awaiting trial in Cobb County.
Funeral services for Cooper Harris were held in Tuscaloosa.
Uber, a cellphone-app-based company that allows people to book a ride from individuals with private vehicles, tried to expand to Tuscaloosa in September. It was driven out of town a month later.
Uber claimed it is not a taxi service and thus did not need city taxi or business licenses or to undergo vehicle inspections. It said it simply was a service matching people who needed a ride with those willing to drive them. City Hall disagreed.
After discussions with Uber officials broke down, the city told Uber to cease operations. When it did not, police conducted an undercover operation, citing Uber drivers, including one who was arrested for possession of marijuana, driving with an open liter of peach vodka and other traffic violations.
That was enough to end Uber in Tuscaloosa. Similar problems have occurred in other cities around the world where Uber has tried to expand this year.
Gov. Robert Bentley of Tuscaloosa easily won a second term in November. Bentley, a retired dermatologist, led the Republican sweep of all statewide offices that also saw the GOP add to its majorities in both houses of the Alabama Legislature.
Another Tuscaloosan, John Merrill, will join Bentley in holding a statewide office next year. He was elected secretary of state. Republican Merrill chose not to seek re-election to his State House seat to run for the statewide office that in the past has often been a stepping stone to higher office.
Tuscaloosa County voters also elected Ron Abernathy as their new sheriff.
Construction seemed to be going on everywhere in the heart of Tuscaloosa this year.
The Shoppes of Legacy Park, a new retail development in an area leveled by the April 27, 2011, tornado, started construction this fall.
When it opens next year, the $55 million retail center will be home to retailers new to West Alabama. Stores will include Bed Bath & Beyond, Dick's Sporting Goods, The Fresh Market, PetSmart, Cost Plus World Market and DSW. Developers promise that restaurants new to the area also will be tenants.
The finishing touches also are being made to a new Embassy Suites Hotel. The $31 million, 154-suite downtown hotel is expected to open early next year.
And just up University Boulevard from there, workers are finishing the Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel, which is across the street from the new 2700 Capitol Park, a $20 million apartment complex that opened this year at the western end of University Boulevard.
Another apartment complex, the $42 million Riverfront Village at Jack Warner Parkway and Greensboro Avenue, opened but not without problems.
Delays in construction kept the student-oriented complex from being ready at the start of the fall semester, leaving students who had signed leases unable to move in.
The Tuscaloosa City Council also approved recommendations of a student rental housing task force. The adopted plan restricts how many unrelated people can live in rental units in certain parts of the city.
December 27th, 2014
Recalling those we lost in the past year - Some prominent West Alabamians died in 2014. They include politicians, educators, business leaders, athletes, artists and jurists.
Here’s a look, in no particular order, at some of those who left a mark in our community and now are gone.
- Paul Hubbert, a native of Hubbertville in Fayette County, was often called the most powerful man in Alabama and was frequently referred to as “Alabama’s other governor.”
An educator by training, Hubbert in 1969 became president of the Alabama Education Association, the state teachers’ union, and quickly turned it into a political powerhouse in Montgomery.
Hubbert was the power behind the throne during the time when Democrats were in control. Hubbert twice unsuccessfully sought the governorship and was the Democratic nominee in 1990, losing the general election that year to incumbent Gov. Guy Hunt.
Hubbert retired from AEA in 2011 and died Oct. 14 in Montgomery at age 78.
- Joab Thomas was born in Holt and was an educator who served as president of the University of Alabama from 1981 to 1988, leading the university during the transition from the era of football coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant and helping develop UA as a research institution.
Thomas, who earned three degrees in biology from Harvard, initially joined UA as a professor teaching botany but in 1961 became a UA administrator before leaving in 1975 to become chancellor of North Carolina State. He returned to Tuscaloosa six years later to head UA.
Two years after leaving UA, he became president of Penn State University, leading that school until his retirement in 1995.
Thomas died March 3 in Tuscaloosa at age 81.
- Joe Langston was one of the leading broadcasters in Alabama. Born in Tuscaloosa County, he grew up in Northport and was a graduate of Tuscaloosa County High School. He earned a degree from UA in 1954, served two years in the Army and then returned home to serve as station manager at WNPT in Northport.
Langston, who spent more than 30 years as an Alabama broadcast journalist, moved into TV journalism in 1964, joining WBRC-TV in Birmingham. He retired as the station’s news anchor in 1989 and then served as chairman of the communications department at Jacksonville State University, retiring from there in 1998.
He died June 20 at age 82.
- The Rev. William McKinley Branch was a leader in the civil rights movement and the country’s first elected black probate judge in 1970. He served in that office in his native Greene County for 18 years.
Branch, who was born in Forkland in 1918, served as pastor of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Forkland for more than 60 years. During the civil rights era, he worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and met with every president from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton. He considered Richard Nixon a personal friend who invited him to the Oval Office for discussions.
In a 2005 interview with The Tuscaloosa News, Branch recalled how his relationship with Gov. George Wallace grew from being adversarial to friendship over the years.
Branch died Jan. 13. He was 95.
- Gordon Rosen was born in Rochester, N.Y., but grew up in New Mexico, where, as a young man, he worked as a cowboy on cattle drives. After serving in the Navy in World War II, Rosen earned a law degree at UA and chose to stay in Tuscaloosa. He proudly claimed later in life, “I am a true Southerner by choice, not by accident of birth.”
A founding partner of Rosen Harwood law firm, Rosen served as Tuscaloosa’s municipal judge for 14 years. He also was one of the state’s leading cattlemen, operating a 380-acre ranch near Romulus.
Rosen ran his ranch and was one of the state’s oldest still-active attorneys, practicing law until a few weeks before his death on May 14 in Northport at age 92.
- Burrell Odom was elected to the Tuscaloosa City Council in 2013, defeating a two-term incumbent in District 1. He campaigned with a goal to continue improvements to Fosters Ferry Road and Palmore Park and addressing high rents that kept residents from acquiring quality living spaces, and had discussed those topics with fellow council members during his 14 months on the City Council.
Odom, a Mobile native who made Tuscaloosa his home after his marriage, was active in the NAACP and twice ran unsuccessfully for the city school board before winning the City Council seat.
He died Dec. 22 in Tuscaloosa. He was 62.
- Richard Ellis Sr. came to Tuscaloosa to manage a textile plant. As the textile industry collapsed in West Alabama and across the South, he went into the real estate business and helped change the face of Tuscaloosa.
Ellis founded Advantage Realty in 1974 and ran the business until selling it to his son four years ago. Ellis sold and developed residential, commercial and industrial properties throughout the area.
Ellis was 72 when he died Sept. 11 at a New York City hospital.
- Robert “Bob” Almon Sr. literally transformed Tuscaloosa’s appearance. Almon, a civil engineer, worked on projects ranging from the building of Lake Tuscaloosa to revitalizing the city’s downtown.
The founder and longtime head of the engineering firm Almon & Associates also planned and helped implement the city’s first sewage collection system, the widening of 15th Street from a two-lane street to a six-lane thoroughfare and the Tuscaloosa Riverwalk during a career that spanned decades.
Born in Selma in 1933, Almon came to Tuscaloosa to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering at UA. In addition to starting Almon & Associates, he also co-founded Tuscaloosa Testing Laboratory, now TTL.
Almon died in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 19 at age 81.
- Everett Cameron “Buddy” Powell Jr. grew up working in his father’s service station in Tuscaloosa, washing cars and pumping gas as a teenager. He went on to become a local business leader, owning the Buddy’s Food Mart stores and Kykendall & Powell Oil Co. He sold his business, now called Powell Petroleum, to his son in 2009.
Powell, who earned a chemical engineering degree from UA, worked for the old Gulf States Paper and U.S. Pipe before becoming an entrepreneur and ultimately building a chain of 12 convenience stores in the Tuscaloosa area.
Born in Tuscaloosa in 1944, he was an active civic leader known for his generosity. He died in Tuscaloosa on March 23 at age 69.
- Sam F. Jackson Jr. grew up in the general store his father acquired seven years before Jackson was born. He later ran the family business bearing his name, reaching a milestone earlier this year — the 100th anniversary of the family-owned business.
His store — Sam Jackson Co. — was known throughout West Alabama as a destination for those seeking gift items and collectibles that might be hard to find elsewhere.
Jackson took pride in helping customers find the perfect gift.
He died Dec. 18 in Tuscaloosa. He was 93.
- Lloyd Hegenbarth of Cottondale was a restaurateur whose Nick’s Original Filet House on Culver Road was a part of college life for many UA students over the years.
A Birmingham native and UA graduate, Hegenbarth became the third proprietor of the restaurant in the mid-1980s. To acquire Nick’s, Hegenbarth sold Lee’s Tomb, a downtown bar he ran after graduating from UA.
For many UA students, a date, a drink and a steak at Nick’s was a long-held ritual.
Hegenbarth was 65 when he died Sept. 12.
- John Servati was a member of UA’s swimming and diving team who died a hero by saving his girlfriend’s life.
The two had taken shelter in a basement of a home on 22nd Avenue on April 21 as a tornado warning was issued for the city. Heavy rains, which accompanied the storm, caused a retaining wall in the basement to collapse. Servati, a 21-year-old junior from Tupelo, Miss., held up the wall long enough for his girlfriend to escape, and then the wall collapsed on him.
He was declared dead at DCH Regional Medical Center later that evening.
Servati was a general business major and one of a dozen UA swimmers named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll for having at least a 3.0 grade-point average.
- Tommy Lewis was a former UA football player who became known for coming off the sideline to make a tackle in the 1954 Cotton Bowl.
“I guess I’m just too full of Alabama. He just ran too close,” Lewis said at the time of his decision to leave the bench and tackle the opposing team’s running back.
A native of Greenville, Lewis played fullback for the Crimson Tide and was captain of the 1953 SEC championship team. He went on to play for the Ottawa Rough Riders in the Canadian Football League.
He then coached high school football in Tallahassee, Fla., and Gadsden before moving to Huntsville to run an insurance company for 40 years.
He died in Huntsville on Oct. 12 at age 83.
- David Langner played football at Auburn University and starred in one of the most memorable games in Iron Bowl history.
In the final minutes of the 1972 game against a then-
unbeaten Alabama, an Auburn teammate blocked two Alabama punts, and Langner returned both for touchdowns.
The Tigers won 17-16 in what became known as the “Punt, Bama, Punt” game.
He was Auburn’s career
record-holder with 287 interception return yards, including 108 yards in a 1971 game with UT-Chattanooga.
Langner, who was born in Birmingham in 1951, was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and the Birmingham Vulcans.
He later moved to Tuscaloosa and worked in the car business, retiring last year. He died April 26 at age 62.
- Glenn House Sr. of Gordo was an illustrator, sculptor, papermaker, printer and a student of whatever art medium that caught his attention.
One of his iconic works is the Moon Winx Lodge sign in Alberta. House designed the sign in his first job after college. The neon grinning moon sign survived the April 27, 2011, tornado and became a symbol of the tornado-ravaged area’s resilience during its recovery.
House’s funny face sculptures became a highlight at Northport’s Kentuck folk art festivals. And his expertise in printing and papermaking brought him into teaching at UA’s School of Library and Information Studies. While on the UA faculty, he helped create the university’s Book Arts Program and the first master’s degree program in book arts in the country.
He also co-created the Crossroads Arts Alliance in downtown Gordo, which became the studio for a number of West Alabama artists.
House was 83 when he died in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 14.
- Frank Calloway was a folk artist who spent much of his life at Bryce Hospital. He became known late in his life for folk art murals drawn in crayons, pens and markers on long butcher paper rolls, some of which were 60 feet long. The pictures of rural Southern scenes showed the animals, farms, homes and railroads of his childhood. His artwork was displayed at Kentuck and at art museums and galleries in Montgomery, Baltimore and New York City.
According to some state records, Calloway was 118 when he died in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 1. The Gerontology Research Group in 2008 said based on its records, Calloway more likely was born in 1915, making him 98 or 99 at the time of his death. Because of his early impoverished life, no birth or baptismal records exist.
December 27th, 2014
McCalla woman dies in one-vehicle crash - Authorities say a woman is dead after a single-vehicle crash in the Birmingham area.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said the crash happened shortly after midnight Saturday on a road in the northern part of the county. A 51-year-old woman from McCalla was driving alone when she lost control of her vehicle, which left the road and struck an embankment before flipping onto its roof.
Sheriff’s officials say the woman was pronounced dead at the scene. Her name was not immediately released as authorities worked to notify the woman’s family.
December 27th, 2014
Weather service issues flash flood watch for Tuscaloosa - The National Weather Service in Birmingham has issued a flash flood watch through Sunday night for much of central Alabama, including Tuscaloosa.
Forecasters expect up to 2 to 3 inches of rain Sunday. With the heavy rains of Dec. 23, the already-saturated ground conditions will contribute to a higher threat of flash flooding, according to the weather service. A flash flood watch means conditions may develop that lead to flash flooding.
In addition to Tuscaloosa County, other West Alabama counties covered by the watch are Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Marengo, Pickens and Sumter.
December 27th, 2014
Renovation is moving forward at Kentuck - For more than a year, the Kentuck Art Center has been operating out of a temporary office and art gallery after a bat infestation made its main building uninhabitable.
But the Kentuck board of directors is hoping that will soon change as it moves forward with plans to revamp the center’s 95-year-old Georgine Clark building on Main Avenue in downtown Northport.
Kentuck has retained Ellis Architects, the same firm that designed the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in Tuscaloosa, to oversee the project. Plans are being drawn up, which will include an updated exhibit space, newly designed gallery, a kitchen to help serve community events, ADA-compliant restrooms, courtyard access, and offices and meeting space for Kentuck’s art programs.
“The renovations will provide badly needed space for the support of our community outreach programs and enable Kentuck to accommodate more events throughout the year,” said Amy Echols, Kentuck’s executive director. “By this time next year, we hope that Kentuck artists, patrons and the citizens of Northport and Alabama will have a facility in place that adequately reflects the national leadership role Kentuck fills as a major year-round arts resource.”
Although plans for the building are in the works, Kentuck did not disclose the total cost of the renovations. The city of Northport announced earlier this month plans to commit $300,000 to Kentuck over the next three years for the building’s renovation.
Originally, the city planned to give $50,000 toward the bat removal in 2013, but after the bats were removed, it became apparent that there were structural issues that needed to be resolved and that the cost would be much higher, said City Administrator Scott Collins. The city is giving Kentuck the $300,000 as a grant in lieu of the $50,000 originally committed toward the project, Collins said.
Combined with the money that Northport will contribute, Kentuck has a total of about $700,000 for the project to date.
“This is a great head start, but we still have a long way to go,” said David Pass, who is chairing the Kentuck Capital Campaign.
“It is premature to formally announce a capital campaign goal until we get the final figures on construction and refurbishment,” Pass said.
Echols said Kentuck plans to kick off its official capital campaign this spring and will request financial support from other local governments for the project, including the Tuscaloosa County Commission. Although Kentuck is technically based in Northport, the Tuscaloosa Sports and Tourism Council estimates that the economic impact of the Kentuck Festival on Tuscaloosa County is $5 million a year.
“Our budget is around $400,000 per year,” Pass said. “The simple math is that for every $1 invested in Kentuck, $12.50 is returned to the community in economic benefits.”
Kentuck, founded in 1971, draws approximately 12,000 people to its annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts each October, with artists and vendors from across the country. Kentuck also holds monthly art nights and exhibitions, offers activities through Kentuck for Kids, and provides studio space and support to local artists.
The building’s final architectural renderings and fundraising goal will be announced at a special event in April.
Reach Lydia Seabol Avant at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0222.
December 27th, 2014
Police: Fight over money led to Downing Place homicide - Investigators believe that the victim of a Christmas morning homicide arranged to pay the suspect for sex, and that the encounter turned deadly when the two argued about money.
Darnell Duane White, 34, was found dead Thursday in the Downing Place apartment he shared with his girlfriend. Suspect Joshua Marcell Fluker, 22, has been charged with murder in White’s death.
Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit investigators believe that the men met for the first time on Christmas Eve, said Sgt. Dale Phillips, unit commander.
“It appears that this was a chance meeting on the street,” he said. “There is no indication that they knew one another before that. Apparently, they exchanged numbers and agreed to meet later.”
Evidence indicates that White agreed to pay Fluker for sex, Phillips said. Fluker went to White’s apartment between midnight and 3 a.m., investigators believe.
The men argued about money, Phillips said, which led to a struggle.
Phillips would not say what type of weapon was used, but confirmed that White sustained sharp force trauma to his chest, neck and head. White’s girlfriend found him dead around 3 p.m. Christmas Day.
The investigators quickly identified Fluker as the suspect after they examined physical evidence, video and phone records. They found evidence that supported Fluker’s involvement while searching his home on Dogwood Lane on Friday, Phillips said, before they arrested him at a home on Kristi Lane in Fosters at 11:20 p.m. Friday. Fluker gave a statement before his arrest, Phillips said.
Fluker remained in the Tuscaloosa County Jail on Saturday with bond set at $75,000.
Authorities initially considered, but later ruled out, robbery or a failed drug transaction as potential motives.
December 27th, 2014
SCHOOL NEWS: December 28 - Hallie Harrison received an AISA Cheerleading scholarship.
Price McGiffert was named as one of Charter Media’s two Tuscaloosa Area Star Seniors.
Suzy Gatewood, a teacher at Tuscaloosa Academy, was one of the 23 local teachers recognized for their outstanding performance with children in the local community at the Nick’s Kicks Foundation luncheon.
Members of Taylorville Primary School Singers performed Dec. 6 at the Waterside Stage in Downtown Disney. The group traveled from Tuscaloosa to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida to take part in the Disney Performing Arts program. The students, under the direction of Mary Kathryn Mathews and Tina Turner, performed several holiday vocal numbers.
December 27th, 2014
MILITARY NEWS: December 28 - James Cox of Tuscaloosa has been promoted to Navy petty officer first class. He was awarded the promotion by Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, during a ceremony at the Naval Support Activity in Naples, Italy, earlier this month. Cox previously was a fire control technician first class.
December 27th, 2014
Thousands 'like' black mom's Facebook story of kind white police officer - LAFAYETTE, La. | A black Lafayette woman wanted the world to know about a white policeman’s holiday-season kindness to her 2-year-old son. Casha Montgomery told the story on a television station’s Facebook site.
It had nearly 4,000 “likes” by Thursday evening.
“THIS shows that not all officers are bad and people NEED to see that!!!” Casha Montgomery wrote in a message posted with a photograph she took and posted Dec. 9 of her son, M.J., sitting on Lt. Monte Potier’s knee in a grocery store where Potier was working off duty.
Her message and the approval by others are especially touching at a time when police are being called racist because some white officers killed African-Americans, Potier told The Advertiser.
“It’s good to know there are people out there who don’t paint all officers with the same brush,” the 22-year police veteran said.
Montgomery wrote that she and her husband have been working with M.J. on what to do if he ever gets lost — go up to a police officer and give his name, his parents’ names and their address.
When he saw Potier, she said, he ran up and recited them all.
“The officer was so impressed and told me thank you for teaching him that AND making sure he doesn’t fear police,” she wrote.
As Potier and Montgomery were saying goodbye, M.J. walked up, asking if he could have a “Toy Story” puzzle.
Montgomery told him to put it back on the shelf, adding that he might get it for Christmas if he wrote to Santa.
Potier said the boy’s bottom lip quivered but he obeyed. “That just melted me,” Potier said.
Montgomery wrote, “Usually he’d throw a fit but he politely put it back.”
Potier bought the puzzle. As the Montgomerys left, Potier said, he stopped them and told M.J. he’d called Santa to tell him what “a good and smart boy you are.” Then he bent down and added, “He thought you should have this.”
He said Montgomery asked if she could take a photo of him and her son, but he never thought about what she might do with it.
Montgomery wrote, “This made my night and as you can see, it made MJ’s as well!!! Thank you, sir. In a world so filled with hate it’s good to witness kindness.”
December 27th, 2014
Funeral held for Phenix City toddler who died from cancer on Christmas - PHENIX CITY | An Alabama family is saying farewell to a 1-year-old boy who died from cancer on Christmas Day.
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported that the funeral service for young Joshua Johnson of Phenix City was scheduled Saturday morning.
Joshua was diagnosed with cancer as a baby and underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor a few days before his first birthday on Aug. 31.
The newspaper said the boy was admitted for inpatient hospice care two days before he died. The funeral home Vance Memorial Chapel of Phenix City said in an obituary that Joshua died Thursday in the arms of his parents, Chris and Melissa Johnson.
December 27th, 2014
"Carly's Law" advocates anticipate marijuana oil as seizure treatment - HOOVER | Three-year-old Carly Chandler, the girl who inspired Alabama's first medicinal marijuana law, sits in a specially made rocking chair in front of her family's Christmas tree when her tiny body suddenly jerks.
It's one of the hundred small seizures she has each day. The severe grand mal seizures, the ones her parents worry will kill her, mostly happen at night, with a recent one sending her into gasping convulsions for 10 minutes. In Carly's teal and white bedroom, her father, Dustin Chandler, said all he could do was bow his head.
“I literally prayed over her bed that she would make it through the seizure,” he said.
Families who pushed for Alabama's first medicinal marijuana law hope their children can start trying the potential seizure treatment sometime in early 2015 and hope that it can provide relief where heavy regimens of pharmaceuticals have not.
“Carly's Law” funded a University of Alabama at Birmingham to study the marijuana derivative cannabidiol, or CBD oil, to treat severe seizures. Gov. Robert Bentley signed the legislation into law nine months ago, but the university had to await federal approval to begin the study.
Carly started having seizures at just 8 weeks old. She was diagnosed 10 days after her first birthday with CDKL5, a rare genetic disorder that causes severe neurodevelopmental impairment and is characterized by frequent seizures.
“We worry every day that she could die from what is called SUDEP, sudden unexplained death in epilepsy,” said her mother, Amy Chandler. “The brain literally stops and shuts everything down.”
Carly can't speak or walk. She rocks her head side to side when she wants a turn rocking in the infant swing. Like most 3-year-olds, she likes the taste of grilled chicken nuggets, although hers are pureed and spoon fed to her. She laughs when she gets tickles from Daddy and enjoys Christmas lights and music.
The Chandlers hope that if Carly's brain can just get a rest from the daily onslaught of seizures that maybe she could make some developmental gains, perhaps say a few words.
“Her voice would be priceless. Just to hear her talk to us,” Amy Chandler said.
The Chandlers' fight for the oil came after a CNN special that featured a Colorado girl who saw a reduction in her severe seizures, and regained her ability to talk, after taking CBD oil.
“We thought, 'Why can they have it and we can't? Because they live in a different ZIP code?' ” Amy Chandler said.
The oil is an extract from marijuana, but comes from a plant variety with very little tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the component that gets a person high. Instead, it is rich in the compound cannabidiol.
The scientific evidence about the oil is limited. However, the ancedotal accounts from parents were enough to bring scores of parents to Colorado, where marijuana is legal for both medicine and recreation, and sparked legislative pushes by parents in statehouses from Georgia to Utah to make CBD oil available.
Dustin Chandler, a Realtor and Pelham police officer, went to Montgomery to lobby for the legislation. The original version of the bill would have given people with seizure disorders a justifiable defense if charged with drug possession over the oil. It quickly ran into stumbling blocks because of concerns about patient safety and political fears of approving a medicinal marijuana bill in an election year. “You know this and I know this, it provided the Republicans some political cover,” Dustin Chandler said of using a university study. However, he said the involvement of university doctors means that dosage and potency are controlled. Both are major pluses for patient safety, he said, in addition to looking for scientific evidence about the oil's effectiveness.
“I just wish it was a broader bill. I think we can push for that once we get this started and start letting doctors determine whether this is a valid treatment for these disorders,” Dustin Chandler said.
The Food and Drug Administration sent UAB letters this month greenlighting the two studies, one for children and one for adults. UAB spokesman Bob Shepard said the FDA requested some changes in the protocol and those will go before a review board next month. Unlike studies in which some patients are given placebos, the UAB study will provide the oil to all participants. More than 400 people at one point had expressed interest, he said.
One of them is Amy Young of Wetumpka. She hopes the oil can help her 3-year-old daughter Eleanor, nicknamed “Leni,” who can have a dozen major seizures a day, even on heavy doses of anti-seizure medication.
“We have been on everything. We have tried everything,” Young said. “I hope and pray, first, that we get into the study and next that she gets some relief,” Young said.
Leni had a stroke before she was born that destroyed all but about 10 percent of her brain. Still, she was progressing normally as an infant — laughing, rolling over and reaching — until the seizures started happening when she was about 7 months old. Doctors didn't think she would live and advised hospice. But the family brought Leni home instead, preparing to say good-bye, but hoping for a miracle.
Today, Leni, like most 3-year-olds, sings along to Frozen's “Let it Go” but in “her own language.”
She likes looking at a neighbor's Christmas light display, synchronized to the sounds of the same Disney film. But Young describes a two steps forward, two steps back existence. Leni will regain a basic baby skill, like rolling over, only to have it wiped out when she has a severe round of seizures.
Parents say they realize the oil might not be a miracle cure; it is hope, where hope hasn't existed before.
“We know it's not a cure for her seizures. We don't even know if it will help her seizures. All we can do is pray that it is going to work for her,” Amy Chandler said.
Her doctors have said that Carly will “write her own story” but Amy Chandler also worries that the seizures, if uncontrolled, could wipe out the abilities she does have.
Carly takes physical therapy several times a week to try to build her strength. On this day, she howls in protest as her physical therapist Daphne Wallace adjusts a walker that holds Carly upright. Protests aside, Carly slowly moves one pink sneakered foot forward and then the other.
“She's stepping more,” Wallace says. “Good girl, Carly. I know. I know,” Wallace coos encouragingly.
The walker inches slowly down the hallway.
December 27th, 2014
Holidays on the River attraction open through Jan. 4 - 27666
December 27th, 2014
Councilman Burrell Odom's funeral will be Wednesday - A funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Weeping Mary Baptist Church for Tuscaloosa City Councilman Burrell Odom.
Odom died Monday at DCH Regional Medical Center. He had been hospitalized for treatment of complications from diabetes.
The body will lie in state from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the church at 2701 20th St.
After the 2 p.m. funeral, burial will follow at Cedar Oak Memorial Park.
Odom was serving his first term as a Tuscaloosa City Council member, representing District 1.
Survivors include his wife, Phyllis Wade Odom; two daughters, Leigh Odom and Rachel Grice; two sons, Phillip Odom and Damon Odom; a sister, Janice Womack; and two brothers, Raynald Holder and Maynard Odom.
December 27th, 2014
Alabama database of payday loans still on hold - MONTGOMERY | A database to track payday loans in Alabama remains on hold because of a court fight.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported that the system isn't being implemented while the loan industry tries to block it.
The database is aimed at improving enforcement of a $500 limit on the amount of payday loans a person can have. But payday lenders sued Alabama's Banking Department to block creation of the system last year.
A judge in Montgomery ruled against the industry in August, and the industry appealed.
Banking Department attorney Elizabeth Bressler says the state hopes to have a final decision soon.
“We hope to have one in the next couple of months,” she said. “Right now, if we have one and everything goes well, we anticipate having the database up by June 1.”
The state signed a contract with a Florida company to build the database, and legislators approve the deal earlier this month. But the work remains on hold because of the litigation.
If the database can be established, payday lenders would be charged a fee of 68 cents per transaction for the first year to fund it, Bressler said.
Payday loans are short-term loans lasting between 14 and 30 days. Lenders can charge upward of 456 percent APR on the loans, and advocates of reform say the practice pushes the poor into unsustainable cycles of debt, which are often serviced by taking out additional loans.
A coalition has pushed unsuccessfully to cap payday loan interest rates at 36 percent for several years.
The payday industry has opposed the limit, arguing the interest rates reflect the risk of the loan and saying they provide service to people generally underserved by the banking industry.
December 27th, 2014
Will "The Interview" change how Hollywood does business? - LOS ANGELES (AP) — “The Interview” was never supposed to be a paradigm-shifting film. But unusual doesn’t even begin to describe the series of events that transpired over the past few weeks, culminating in the truly unprecedented move by a major studio to release a film in theaters and on digital platforms simultaneously.
Sony is in uncharted waters now with the film, which earned $1.04 million from 331 locations on Thursday, according to studio estimates, in addition to the untold VOD grosses.
“Considering the incredibly challenging circumstances, we are extremely grateful to the people all over the country who came out to experience “The Interview” on the first day of its unconventional release,” said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures in a statement.
For a film that would have just come and gone in the usual 3,000 theaters without much fanfare, the $40 million comedy has now become an accidental case study in the world of day-and-date releases, in which titles are available both in theaters and for digital rental simultaneously. The industry is watching closely to see just where audiences will choose to place their dollars in the coming days and weeks. The big question is whether or not this strategy could be viable for major releases in the future.
While a $3,142 per-theater average and sold-out showings when audiences had the option to watch the film from the comfort of their own homes is nothing to scoff at, analysts agree that it probably doesn’t signal the beginning of a significant change in how Hollywood does business.
Day-and-date releases are nothing new, for one. Independent distributors have embraced this strategy for years. But those are generally small films with even smaller budgets—ones that can’t afford a more traditional, widespread marketing campaign.
For the major studios, it’s never really been an option.
Theater chains depend on exclusive first-run content to survive. If audiences were given the choice to just rent anything from a mid-budget comedy to a $200 million blockbuster on the day of its release, theaters would undoubtedly suffer.
“The last thing the major theater chains want is for this kind of strategy to be employed by the major studios on a more frequent basis,” said BoxOfficeGuru.com editor Gitesh Pandya. Earlier this year, Warner Bros. experimented with an unconventional day-and-date release for “Veronica Mars.” Theater chains Regal and Cinemark declined to screen the film because of its online availability. The film ended up showing on 270 screens, most of which were AMC.
“The relationship between big studios and exhibitors is so monumental that they’re not going to start changing things around anytime soon. Possibly down the road, little by little. But the old-school model of putting your major releases in 3,000 theaters nationwide will stay intact for the time being,” Pandya said.
Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for box office tracker Rentrak, agreed. “Theatrical is the engine that drives everything else. I don’t think this is a sudden gateway to studios wanting to release films this way,” he said.
Also, “The Interview” is an imperfect case. Patriotism, free speech, pure curiosity and even the desire to be part of the nationwide conversation have all played in to why audiences flocked to theaters on Christmas Day to see the movie.
“Awareness is through the roof,” Dergarabedian said. “People went out to the theaters and made an event out of it. They’re going to be talking about this for a long time. That’s a very interesting and unusual phenomenon that’s usually reserved for films like ‘The Hobbit’ or ‘Star Wars.’“
Added Pandya: “Audiences who would otherwise never go to see a Seth Rogen movie were hearing about it and decided to come out to see what all the fuss is about.”
Long-term prospects for “The Interview” at the box office remain a mystery. Pandya believes that theatrical grosses will be frontloaded, and that’s at least partially attributable to the quality of the film.
“The movie is mediocre,” he said. “If it were a brilliant film, the word of mouth would carry it week to week.” He predicts a dramatic drop off when the holidays end.
Also, the public may never know how the movie fared on the digital platforms. Smaller distributors like Radius-TWC, who released “Snowpiercer” on demand while it was still in theaters, have started pulling back the veil on VOD financials, but it’s unlikely that Sony will ever give the public a peek into “The Interview’s” success or failure online.
“I’m sure they’re not that impressive. For studios, the biggest part of reporting box office is to brag,” Pandya said. “If the numbers aren’t brag-worthy, they’re probably going to keep it in their own files.”
“The Interview” might now forever be in the history books, but it probably won’t change the way audiences see new movies. For the big movies, theatrical will always come first, Dergarabedian said.
“It’s a system that works and audiences like it,” he said.

December 26th, 2014
Details emerge on Christmas Day homicide at Downing Place - Investigators say that a failed drug transaction and robbery could be the motive of a Christmas Day homicide in Tuscaloosa.
Darnell Duane White, 34, was killed at Downing Place Apartments between midnight and 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit commmander Sgt. Dale Phillips said.
Phillips said White’s girlfriend found him at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday and called police to respond to Unit D of the apartment complex at 423 38th Place East where the couple lived.
The homicide unit was called to investigate at about 3:30 p.m.
“Once we got there, we were able to determine that foul play was involved,” Phillips said. “There appears to have been a struggle.”
The investigators spoke with White’s girlfriend and other people who were in the area who said the apartment complex is located in a high-traffic area for drugs, Phillips said.
“We do not have a motive for this homicide. However, we believe that it could either be a failed drug transaction or even a robbery or even a combination of both that led to his death,” Phillips said. “We’re not releasing how he was killed.”
Phillips said no one has been ruled out as a suspect, including White’s girlfriend and the last person who saw White shortly after midnight. No one is in police custody at this time.
The investigation is ongoing.
December 26th, 2014
Scores attend vigil for slain Birmingham delivery driver - BIRMINGHAM | Scores of people attended a Christmas night vigil for a pizza delivery man whose killing has prompted an outpouring of support in Birmingham.
About 200 people gathered and lit candles outside a Domino's pizza store Thursday night for 63-year-old Najeh Masaeid.
Daughter Jordan Hosey released a lighted lantern into the sky in her father's memory. And supporters sang "Silent Night" and other songs.
Masaeid was found dead Sunday night while making a pizza delivery at an apartment complex.
Police haven't made an arrest, but they say the killing may be connected to an attack that occurred on another delivery person in the same complex last month.
Donors have contributed more than $78,000 to a fund set up to help Masaeid's family since the slaying.
December 26th, 2014
NCAA playoff experience to cost fans plenty - Plan on going to the see the Crimson Tide compete for the national title in person? Let’s hope Santa Claus stuck some extra cash in your stocking. 27660
December 26th, 2014
An answer to prayer: Funds for $10K water well donated - The $10,000 goal that 10-year-old Eva Henderson of Northport set out to raise in May to build a clean-water well in Ngongongari, Tanzania, has been met. 27659
December 26th, 2014
What to do in New Orleans on New Year's - The only downside to the Crimson Tide’s Sugar Bowl appearance? There’s so little to do in New Orleans. No rich food, swinging music or thrilling, vaguely shady clubs. Such a snoozy little Mayberry of a town. 27658
December 26th, 2014
Louisiana family a bit drunk on names of famous liquor - GRAY, La. | A man named after whiskey has named his son for bourbon. 27657
December 26th, 2014
Law enforcement investigating suspected homicide - Law enforcement authorities are investigating a suspected homicide at Downing Place Apartments in Tuscaloosa. They were called to investigate the incident at 3:30 p.m. Christmas afternoon.
“We are conducting a death investigation that we believe to be a homicide at this time,” Sgt. Dale Phillips, commander of the Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit, said.
The victim is male but no further identification nor other details have been released at this time.
Downing Place Apartments are located off 37th Street East.
December 25th, 2014
Sugar Bowl tickets cheaper than previous title games - Tickets to the Alabama Crimson Tide's national semifinal matchup against the Ohio State Buckeye's may not be as high-priced as you think.
At the least, the Sugar Bowl's secondary market is friendlier than for Alabama's recent national championship games, suggesting that fans are either tapped out or saving their money for a possible title game appearance on Jan. 12.
According to Tiqiq.com, several online brokers have Sugar Bowl tickets available about a quarter to a third below market rates. A few online markets list upper level seats for less than $200 each — in the neighborhood of what initial buyers paid.
The other semifinal, the Rose Bowl game between Oregon and Florida State, is even cheaper, with prices starting around $100, well below face value.
December 25th, 2014
Families look to marijuana oil as seizure treatment - HOOVER | Three-year-old Carly Chandler, the girl who inspired Alabama's first medicinal marijuana law, sits in a specially made rocking chair in front of her family's Christmas tree when her tiny body suddenly jerks.
It's one of the hundred small seizures she has each day. The severe grand mal seizures, the ones her parents worry will kill her, mostly happen at night, with a recent one sending her into gasping convulsions for 10 minutes. In Carly's teal and white bedroom, her father, Dustin Chandler, said all he could do was bow his head.
"I literally prayed over her bed that she would make it through the seizure," he said.
Families who pushed for Alabama's first medicinal marijuana law hope their children can start trying the potential seizure treatment sometime in early 2015 and hope that it can provide relief where heavy regimens of pharmaceuticals have not.
"Carly's Law" funded a University of Alabama at Birmingham to study the marijuana derivative cannabidiol, or CBD oil, to treat severe seizures. Gov. Robert Bentley signed the legislation into law nine months ago, but the university had to await federal approval to begin the study.
Carly started having seizures at just 8 weeks-old. She was diagnosed 10 days after her first birthday with CDKL5, a rare genetic disorder which causes severe neurodevelopmental impairment and is characterized by frequent seizures.
"We worry every day that she could die from what is called SUDEP, sudden unexplained death in epilepsy," her mother, Amy Chandler said. "The brain literally stops and shuts everything down."
Carly can't speak or walk. She rocks her head side to side when she wants a turn rocking in the infant swing. Like most 3-year-olds, she likes the taste of grilled chicken nuggets, although hers are pureed and spoon fed to her. She laughs when she gets tickles from Daddy and enjoys Christmas lights and music.
The Chandlers hope that if Carly's brain can just get a rest from the daily onslaught of seizures that maybe she could make some developmental gains, perhaps say a few words.
"Her voice would be priceless. Just to hear her talk to us," Amy Chandler said.
The Chandlers' fight for the oil came after a CNN special that featured a Colorado girl who saw a reduction in her severe seizures, and regained her ability to talk, after taking CBD oil.
"We thought, "Why can they have it and we can't? Because they live in a different zip code?" Amy Chandler said.
The oil is an extract from marijuana, but comes from a plant variety with very little tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the component that gets a person high. Instead, it is rich in the compound cannabidiol.
The scientific evidence about the oil is limited. However, the ancedotal accounts from parents were enough to bring scores of parents to Colorado, where marijuana is legal for both medicine and recreation, and sparked legislative pushes by parents in statehouses from Georgia to Utah to make CBD oil available.
Dustin Chandler, a Realtor and Pelham police officer, went to Montgomery to lobby for the legislation. The original version of the bill would have given people with seizure disorders a justifiable defense if charged with drug possession over the oil. It quickly ran into stumbling blocks because of concerns about patient safety and political fears of approving a medicinal marijuana bill in an election year. "You know this and I know this, it provided the Republicans some political cover," Dustin Chandler said of using a university study. However, he said the involvement of university doctors means that dosage and potency are controlled. Both are major pluses for patient safety, he said, in addition to looking for scientific evidence about the oil's effectiveness.
"I just wish it was a broader bill. I think we can push for that once we get this started and start letting doctors determine whether this is a valid treatment for these disorders," Dustin Chandler said.
The Food and Drug Administration sent UAB letters this month greenlighting the two studies, one for children and one for adults. UAB spokesman Bob Shepard said the FDA requested some changes in the protocol and those will go before a review board next month. Unlike studies in which some patients are given placebos, the UAB study will provide the oil to all participants. More than 400 people at one point had expressed interest, he said.
One of them is Amy Young of Wetumpka. She hopes the oil can help her 3-year-old daughter Eleanor, nicknamed "Leni." who can have a dozen major seizures a day, even on heavy doses of anti-seizure medication.
"We have been on everything. We have tried everything," Young said. "I hope and pray, first, that we get into the study and next that she gets some relief," Young said.
Leni had a stroke before she was born that destroyed all but about 10 percent of her brain. Still, she was progressing normally as an infant -- laughing, rolling over and reaching -- until the seizures started happening when she was about seven months old. Doctors didn't think she would live and advised hospice. But the family brought Leni home instead, preparing to say good-bye, but hoping for a miracle.
Today, Leni, like most 3-year-olds, sings along to Frozen's "Let it Go" but in "her own language." She likes looking at a neighbor's Christmas light display, synchronized to the sounds of the same Disney film. But Young describes a two steps forward, two steps back existence. Leni will regain a basic baby skill, like rolling over, only to have it wiped out when she has a severe round of seizures.
Parents say they realize the oil might not be a miracle cure. It is hope, where hope hasn't existed before.
"We know it's not a cure for her seizures. We don't even know if it will help her seizures. All we can do is pray that it is going to work for her," Amy Chandler said.
Her doctors have said that Carly will "write her own story" but Amy Chandler also worries that the seizures, if uncontrolled, could wipe out the abilities she does have.
Carly takes physical therapy several times a week to try to build her strength. On this day, she howls in protest as her physical therapist Daphne Wallace adjusts a walker that holds Carly upright. Protests aside, Carly slowly moves one pink sneakered foot forward and then the other.
"She's stepping more," Wallace says. "Good girl, Carly. I know. I know," Wallace coos encouragingly.
The walker inches slowly down the hallway.
December 25th, 2014
Rain conditions improve in Alabama from 2013 - BIRMINGHAM | Alabama's rainfall picture looks better this week than it did a year ago.
New statistics from the U.S. Drought Monitor show 60 percent of the state is either abnormally dry or experiencing some sort of drought conditions.
The situation is an improvement from the same time in 2013, when 71 percent of the state was dry.
The latest report shows that areas north of Birmingham to the Tennessee line are experiencing normal rainfall for the year.
But areas to the south are at a deficit for rainfall. Alabama's driest area is along the coast, where southern Baldwin and Mobile counties are classified as being in a severe drought.
December 25th, 2014
Fire marshal: No cause yet of fire at Rolando McClain home - Alabama's state fire marshal says more work is needed to determine the cause of the fire that gutted a house owned by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain.
Ed Paulk says investigators from his office spent two days at the scene of the burned-out mansion owned by the one-time University of Alabama star.
But Paulk says it will likely be at least a week before authorities determine whether the blaze was accidental or deliberately set. Paulk says the structure was totally destroyed.
The brick mansion was on the market for $1.5 million when it burned Monday night on the shore at Lake Tuscaloosa.
Authorities have said the fire was suspicious because the house was unoccupied and so expensive. They also say a vehicle was seen speeding away from the scene.
December 25th, 2014
Rain hampering probe of fire at Rolando McClain's home - Rainy weather slowed down investigators Wednesday as they probed a fire that burned the Alabama mansion of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain.
Investigators were back at the scene of the fire at Lake Tuscaloosa, but a spokesman said rain was making the search for clues more difficult.
"This is like finding a needle in a haystack," said Lt. Andy Norris of the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office.
The Cowboys said McClain, 25, missed practice because he was in Alabama handling issues related to the blaze.
Sheriff's officials and the State Fire Marshal's Office are trying to determine what caused a fire that gutted McClain's home north of Tuscaloosa.
The house was on the market with a price of $1.5 million when it burned.
Authorities said a witness reported seeing a speeding car leaving the area around the time the blaze began Monday night, but Norris said investigators weren't able to get a description of the vehicle.
Norris said suspicions were also raised because the house was high-priced and vacant.
McClain lived there during the offseason.
December 25th, 2014
Alabama Republicans look at charter school bill in 2015 - MONTGOMERY | Alabama is one of eight states that do not allow charter schools, and some legislators want to change that.
Several Republican lawmakers said they will make another push to establish charter schools in Alabama, at least on a limited basis, calling the schools another education option that should be made available to parents.
"The more choices we can give parents, the better off we are going to be," said Republican Sen. Dick Brewbaker of Pike Road.
Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate outside the rules and regulations of regular public schools. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he anticipates a charter school bill in the 2015 legislative session but that the details are still being decided.
"There would be a limited number to start with. They would be limited on the amount of growth that is allowed. A lot of local control over that process," Marsh said of the bill he envisions.
Alabama is one of eight states that do not allow public charter schools, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
"We've become the island in the South," said Emily Schultz, executive director of the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools.
Republican Gov. Robert Bentley and GOP legislators made charter schools a top legislative priority in 2012 only to have the effort flop under internal disagreements and political opposition, including from the Alabama Education Association. Republicans came back in 2013 and pushed through a more controversial school choice program, the Alabama Accountability Act, which gives tax credits to help some families move their children to private schools.
Rep. Phil Williams of Huntsville, who sponsored one of the 2012 charter bills, said lawmakers are having big picture discussions about what to propose when the session begins in March.
"Since my bill crashed and burned, there is more and more data coming in about what is working. We are truly last to the party, but I think that's a wonderful thing. We can learn from everybody," Williams said.
Opponents have called charters a threat to limited to education resources.
House Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford, the ranking Democrat in the House, said establishing new charter schools would drain money away from the state's already underfunded public schools.
"We're going to continue to hold true to our principles to support our public schools, not to abandon our public school system," Ford, D-Gadsden, said.
While Marsh said he only wants to look at charter schools within the public system, Ford said he is concerned with the prospect of outside and for-profit groups being brought in to run the schools.
Republicans increased their existing majorities in both chambers of the Alabama Legislature in the 2014 elections, something that could make it easier to pass legislation.
"We could ram something through, but it still is not going to be successful until we get school boards and superintendents on board," Brewbaker said.
Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said her organization believes local school boards should be the ones that decide whether to open a charter school. Howell said she also believed the schools need "to participate in all accountability systems" and also be strategically located.
"Alabama underspends on education, and when you are creating more schools you are going to further diffuse those resources. If we are going to look at this effort, let's make sure we're putting it in a place where public schools have not been performing well," Howell said.
December 25th, 2014
Good Samaritan Clinic in Northport to get wellness program - The Good Samaritan Clinic in January will add a wellness clinic to its free health-care services for the uninsured in Northport.
The wellness clinic will offer one-on-one appointments with patients to focus on diet and exercise as well as group learning sessions, said University of Alabama nutrition student Katherine Boles.
“We will be focusing on patient-centered goals for weight loss and exercise,” Boles said. “Members who join the wellness classes will form teams, and each team will make their own schedule as far as exercising.”
Registered dietitians will supervise students who work with the clinic, Boles said.
Nutrition students from UA have been raising money in order to operate the wellness clinic. According to Boles, they have raised $500, with a projected goal of $2,100. Several more fundraisers will be held in 2015.
The Good Samaritan Clinic does not receive any state or federal funding, said Mary Mitchell, volunteer coordinator for the clinic. The clinic relies on donations from local churches, United Way of West Alabama and the community to operate the facility.
The clinic added dental care in September, with a wait time of about a month for dental services, Mitchell said. Dental care is offered on Thursdays and occasionally Friday mornings. Because of the overall demand, the entire clinic has expanded the hours by another half of a day. She said they were able to do so because of the University of Alabama. Four residents of UA volunteer their services on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, Mitchell said.
“Our volunteers consist of approximately 15 medical doctors, 10 nurses, people who work on the floor, administrative personnel, pharmacists, plus maintenance help and students,” Mitchell said. “We prefer our students be headed towards a career in medicine because it is a learning environment for them.”
The Good Samaritan clinic provided 1,839 visits to 609 patients in 2013. With 2014 coming to a close, Mitchell said the clinic has provided around the same number of visits to about 650 to 700 patients.
Barbara Wallace, the clinic's social work coordinator, has been volunteering at the clinic four years. Wallace screens each patient to make sure they do not have insurance and are 185 percent below the federal poverty guideline, she said.
“Originally, I was a patient,” Wallace said. “When I came back to Tuscaloosa from being a missionary in New York, I was down on my luck,” Wallace said. “When I got back on my feet, I decided I was going to give back to the Good Samaritan Clinic.”
Wallace said she is able to relate to the patients because she knows what it is like to walk through the doors of the clinic and need help. She is mindful of patients when she has to ask difficult and personal questions about their finances, Wallace said.
Although the clinic meets the physical needs of the patients, they also help meet their spiritual needs, Mitchell said.
“Foremost, this is a ministry,” Mitchell said. “Pastors are always available to pray with someone and to talk with them. A lot of our patients just need someone to listen to them.”
For more information about the wellness clinic program, call 205-343-2212. The clinic is closed through Jan. 6.
December 24th, 2014
Tuscaloosa City Council eyes additional occupancy enforcement rules - City leaders are considering additional steps that could lead to effective enforcement of the city's occupancy limitations for unrelated people.
The latest approach will require landlords to pay their rental taxes — which city officials described as this industry's business license fee — based on the individual rents collected from each address.
Currently, landlords issue one check to City Hall for 1 percent of all the rental units it has occupied.
Mayor Walt Maddox told the City Council's Administration/Policy Committee last week that requiring landlords to provide a detailed breakdown of their properties and the rental amounts collected could expose those who are renting spaces to more people than the law allows.
“I think that's going to be beneficial for us,” Maddox said.
Should the City Council approve the change, Maddox said the goal would be to form a database of rental property showing the addresses and the fees each paid the city.
The database could be in place as early as Jan. 1, 2016.
Requiring private business owners to give specific details of their earnings is not without precedent. For example, retailers have to provide financial proof that they are paying the adequate amount of sales taxes.
Outside of special student-based zones, the city limits occupancy of dwellings to a maximum of three unrelated persons per dwelling unit. This falls to two unrelated occupants in historic districts.
This change to boost residency enforcement is coming at the request of several neighborhood
representatives who claim to be dealing with the issue of illegal occupancy regularly.
“Our neighborhoods are impacted by this — heavily — every day,” Robert Parsons, president of the Forest Lake Homeowners Association, told the City Council last week. “We need help and this is only place we can get it.”
Parsons was one of nine neighborhood representatives who signed a letter that was sent to the City Council asking for additional enforcement.
The letter acknowledged prior efforts by the City Council, such as this year's removal of the Zoning Board of Adjustment's ability to grant variances to the occupancy restrictions for areas in the University Area Neighborhood.
The council also voted in June to make violations of the occupancy rules a criminal matter that will first be adjudicated in municipal court while ensuring the occupancy restrictions are immediately met prior to an appeal's outcome.
Before, violators would typically seek a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment in order to get around the occupancy requirement. If denied, the violators would then appeal to Tuscaloosa Circuit Court while continuing to ignore the occupancy limitations until the court made a decision.
The process took months for the court to issue a ruling, thereby allowing violators — typically landlords — to exceed the occupancy restrictions until the college school year ended.
Despite the changes, enforcing the rules still proved difficult.
In September, Ashley Crites, land use controls manager for the Tuscaloosa Department of Planning and Development Services, told the City Council that she spent more than 40 hours in the past year on one occupancy violation investigation. It involved a third occupant in a historic district, where only two unrelated people can share a living space.
At one point, the third tenant moved out as Crites watched, but the tenant actually faked it.
“It reached the point where there was nothing more that our offices could do anymore,” Crites said then. “We couldn't prove it.”

Reach Jason Morton at jason.morton@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0200.
December 24th, 2014
Realizing the Dream events to include appearances by Juan Williams, Cece Winans - The 26th annual Realizing the Dream activities will include a lecture by Fox News political analyst Juan Williams and a performance by gospel singer CeCe Winans as part of local celebrations honoring the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Williams will deliver the annual Legacy Banquet lecture at the Hotel Capstone on the University of Alabama campus at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 16. During the banquet, artist and activist Arthur L. Bacon, a Talladega College professor emeritus, will receive the Mountaintop Award; former Tuscaloosa police chief Ken W. Swindle will receive the Call to Conscience Award; and the Horizon Award will be presented to UA student Tyler Merriweather.
Winans is scheduled to be the featured artist at the Realizing the Dream Concert at the Moody Music Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. Jan 17.
Unity Day activities, sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, will begin at 7 a.m. Jan. 19 with a unity breakfast at Hay College Center Dining Hall on the Stillman College campus. The Rev. Tyshawn Gardner, pastor of Plum Grove Baptist Church, will be the speaker.
A unity day march is scheduled to begin at noon at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, and the annual mass rally begins at the First African Baptist Church, 2621 Stillman Road. The speaker will be the Rev. Jeffrey Cammon, pastor of St. Peter AME Zion Church.
Bryan A. Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, will be the speaker for the Realizing the Dream Distinguished Lecture at 7 p.m. March 10 at Stillman College.
Sponsors of Realizing the Dream are Shelton State Community College, Stillman, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and UA.
Banquet tickets are $25 for individuals or $200 for a table of 10. Concert tickets are $15. For more information about Realizing the Dream activities and events call 205-348-7111 or email community.
December 24th, 2014
Alabama, OSU students met at 1978 Sugar Bowl, been together since - Lawn statues of Big Al and Brutus Buckeye stand opposite each other in the Wilson’s backyard.
A painted 1978 Sugar Bowl rock separates the college football mascots, and is flanked by decorative stones featuring University of Alabama and Ohio State University logos.
Welcome to the house that UA’s Bear Bryant and OSU’s Woody Hayes built.
If the legendary coaches had never met in the 1978 Sugar Bowl, then the life that Bob and Gina Wilson built together in Tuscaloosa would never have been.
“I’m just so grateful they were both wonderful coaches, or I don’t think our paths ever would have crossed,” Gina said.
It was 37 years ago when a young OSU student met a UA graduate student in the lobby of the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street — the same hotel the Wilsons will stay in next week when they watch the No. 1 Crimson Tide take on the No. 4 Buckeyes in the 2015 Sugar Bowl. Like every visit the Wilsons make to the Royal Sonesta, the couple will take a photo together in the same exact spot they met.
Times have changed since the Tuscaloosa native with the Barry Williams hairdo teased the girl from Columbus, Ohio, about the “Go to Hell Alabama button” she was wearing on her shirt.
“I think you get a bunch of guys together from Alabama, and here is some girls from Ohio State, so it was kind of natural to want to talk to them,” Bob said. “The button was something to kid about, so it was a lot of fun.”
Back then, the couple’s courtship consisted of two to three visits a year, long-distance phone calls and letters in the mail. There were no cellphones, no Internet and no social media, but the Wilsons made it work. With no other forms of communication, they arranged to meet for their first date on News Years Day at Pat O’Brien’s, and decided they would rendezvous at halftime of the Sugar Bowl the following day.
“He was very sweet at halftime when we met,” Gina said. “We decided before the game we were going to meet at halftime, and he never mentioned the score (UA 13, OSU 0). Even afterwards, our plane was going to leave later so my friend and I decided to go back to Pat O’Brien’s and they were there. All of the guys were nice and never mentioned the score. They were all southern gentlemen.”
Bob knew better than to bring up Alabama’s 35-6 victory over Ohio State.
“Probably if I had said too much about it, that might have ruined my chances of seeing her again,” he said, laughing.
A chance encounter
New Years Eve, 1977.
Gina DeVictor was exploring New Orleans with a friend, and couldn’t shake the feeling they were being followed. The girls decided to go inside the Royal Sonesta for their own safety.
“There was this man I sensed was following us, and we needed to get away from and fortunately the Royal Sonesta is a nice place, so we went in just to get away from him,” Gina said. “I never would have turned in there. We were just waking down Bourbon Street, so now I think he was an angel in disguise.”
Bob hadn’t planned on making the trip to New Orleans with his fraternity brothers. He had a date, but after she became ill and canceled, he headed on a road trip to watch the Crimson Tide. Bob doesn’t remember why they decided to attend the party in the Royal Sonesta lobby that night, but he’s glad they did.
“If the teams hadn’t played, she would have never been there, so we were just lucky,” he said.
The courtship
Gina loved Bob’s southern accent, so much so that when he called her to talk, she would record the conversations.
Between the letters, visits and phone calls, the couple dated long distance from 1978 to 1981.
In January 1981, Gina received a call from her husband of 33 years that he’ll never live down.
A nervous wreck, Bob dialed Gina’s number and proposed.
“At the time, I was very excited, but over the years I think he could have been a little more romantic, but the end result was good,” Gina said, smiling.
The couple married on July 25, 1981, at St. Cecilia in Columbus.
Sweet home Alabama
The Wilsons moved into their apartment at Essex Square after their honeymoon. It was the first time in their entire relationship that the couple had lived in the same state, let alone the same city.
Gina transferred from OSU to UA to finish college. She missed her friends and family, and the snow during the holidays, but through the years, Tuscaloosa became her home.
She gave birth to their daughter, Rachel, on March 30, 1989. Rachel, 25, grew up with the Crimson Tide, and like her parents, is a proud UA graduate.
Gina has officially lived in Alabama longer than she ever did Ohio, and even though she’ll be rooting for UA next week, there is still a special spot in her heart for the Buckeyes. She cheers for OSU when they aren’t playing Alabama, and like any born-and-raised OSU fan, she still can’t stand the University of Michigan.
It was her love for the scarlet and gray, after all, that led her to the love of her life.
Reach Joey Chandler at joey.chandler@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0223.
December 24th, 2014
Remembering Syrup Sopper Ron Price from Tuscaloosa radio - Every Christmas morning of his childhood, Ron Price and his brother would wake up before the sun to open presents from under a tree decorated with fake snow and surrounded by Christmas decorations on every surface and in every corner of their home.
But there was something about the Price family Christmas that was unusual to most other families. In the den of his Claymont subdivision home in Alberta, a microphone and radio sat amongst the many decorations.
Every Christmas morning since he can remember, Ron Price listened to his voice on the radio feeding back to him like an echo as his father hosted a Christmas morning radio show live from the den of his home.
Today marks the 10th Christmas without his father, who died in 2004, but Price said he still remembers the many people who joined his family on Christmas and his father's words “from our house to yours, Merry Christmas,” signing off.
“It was really like a big open house, but it was from our den on Christmas morning,” Price said. “(My dad) looked at it as a way to share the Christmas morning.”
Clyde Price, Price's father, was the Syrup Sopper every morning on Tuscaloosa's WACT radio station.
The name was given to him by a listener based on what he talked about on the show, Price said. He said his father talked about growing up in hard times on a farm, being so poor all they had to eat were biscuits and syrup.
Price said his father began working at the station in 1954 and was there every morning at 5 a.m. except on Christmas morning when he brought home a Volkswagen van carrying a radio transmitter and recorded live in between Christmas songs.
But the Price family's voices weren't the only ones heard in homes across Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas.
Price said family, friends and listeners of the show would come and go, bringing biscuits, sweet rolls, ham and other food with them and sitting sipping coffee while chatting with his father.
“It was a big celebration,” he said. “You never knew who was going to stop by or what they'd bring.”
Floy Ricks, a family friend, said she never went to the Price house on Christmas morning because she hosted her own family in her home, but her radio was tuned in.
“People came in (and called in) and talked about things that went on in the past year,” Ricks said. “You just felt like you had been on a visit when you turned your radio off.”
Price said the listeners could feel warmth from the community coming through their radios all those Christmas mornings.
“I think, in a way, (my dad) thought he was sharing with people who didn't have family,” he said.
December 24th, 2014
Alabama police hand out gift cards instead of tickets - HACKLEBURG | For several people in northwest Alabama, Santa Claus wasn't wearing his typical red suit this year.
He was wearing a police uniform.
Officers with the Hackleburg Police Department ventured out in the soggy, wet weather Tuesday to make random traffic stops, but instead of giving out tickets for traffic violations, they handed out gift cards.
"This is something I've wanted to do for some time now, and we finally decided to do it this year after seeing similar events take place in Kansas City, Missouri," Hackleburg Police Chief Kenny Hallmark said. "They have a businessman who calls himself their 'Secret Santa' that gave out thousands of dollars to policemen in Kansas City and told them to give it to people who looked like they needed it. I was able to take up donations from our council, clerk and others so that we could have a similar event here."
As they stopped people Tuesday afternoon, Assistant Police Chief Jeremy Marbutt said, the reaction from those who received the gift cards was priceless. But he was left almost speechless by the reaction of Bonnie Cayson, of Hamilton, who was on the way to Phil Campbell to take her sister to the doctor.
"They had radioed and said for me to pull over this one vehicle, so I did," Marbutt said. "The lady in the vehicle could barely talk because she has had throat cancer and has gone through two or three surgeries because of it. When I told her I wasn't pulling her over to give her a ticket but that I was pulling her over to give her a gift card for Christmas, she was overwhelmed.
"She said this had made her Christmas. If I wasn't able to give out another gift card, that right there would have made it worth it — just seeing her appreciation and knowing we had made a difference for her. It was a wonderful moment."
The department collected $1,200 and purchased 50 gift cards. Fifteen of the cards were distributed Tuesday. Any left after Christmas will be given to those in need who come in contact with the department.
Marbutt said, due to the weather, there weren't as many cars on the road as normal, so Hallmark had gone to some of the houses in town where they knew people could put the gift cards to good use.
"We just want these gift cards to get in the hands of people who need them and who might be able to use them to make Christmas a little bit better than it might have been," Hallmark said. "Everyone has been very appreciative, and it's been great to be a part of this.
"I think this is a great thing for us to do because it emphasizes the service part of our motto 'to protect and serve.' Some people just need a little extra help, and we were glad to do this for the community. Contrary to what some people think, most law enforcement officers really do care about the communities they serve, and we want the people of Hackleburg to know we care about them and will try to help them whenever we can."
Other law enforcement agencies in the area have held similar events this week, including the Bear Creek and Florence police departments.
December 24th, 2014
Pizza delivery slaying possibly linked to past attack - BIRMINGHAM | Birmingham police say the killing of a pizza delivery driver may be linked to a previous attack in the same location.
Authorities say 63-year-old Najeh Masaeid was killed Sunday night at an apartment complex. He was trying to make a Domino's pizza delivery at the time.
WBRC-TV (http://bit.ly/1rhObG6 ) quotes police as saying investigators believe the killing is linked to an attack on another pizza delivery driver that occurred two days before Thanksgiving at the same complex. That driver wasn't killed.
Lt. Sean Edwards says police believe more than one person was involved in Masaeid's slaying. Officers don't believe the attackers live in the complex, but they may have relatives or friends who live there.
Donors at an online site have given more than $75,000 to help Masaeid's family.
December 24th, 2014
Sony, YouTube to stream "The Interview" - LOS ANGELES | Sony has struck a deal with YouTube to offer digital rentals of "The Interview" beginning Thursday, a source with direct knowledge of the situation says.
The deal comes just one day after Sony announced a limited release of the film it previously said it had no plans to release.
The unusual release marks one of the first times a studio movie will be shown simultaneously in theaters and video on demand. Usually, larger studio films aren't made available on digital platforms for at least a few months after the initial theatrical release, to ensure maximizing theater box office.
The studio is expected to name more streaming partners for the Thursday release of the film.
December 24th, 2014
Nurse charged with abusing 96-year-old patient in Alabama nursing home - FLORENCE | A nurse is charged with mistreating a 96-year-old patient at a nursing home in Florence.
Authorities say 27-year-old Lebarbara Deshay Currin of Pulaski, Tennessee, is charged with elder abuse and neglect.
The TimesDaily (http://bit.ly/13BDdk1 ) reports Currin is accusing of physically abusing a 96-year-old woman who lived at Glenwood Nursing Home in Florence.
The abused allegedly occurred in August and was reported to authorities by nursing home officials. A report says the patient had a bruise on her arm and multiple knots on her head.
Florence police say Currin was indicted in August but it took until this month for members of a federal fugitive task force to locate and arrest her. Currin is now free on bond.
Currin is scheduled to enter a plea on Jan. 27.
December 24th, 2014
Severe storms slam the South, killing at least 4 - COLUMBIA, Miss. | Power companies struggled to restore electricity to thousands of people in Mississippi on Wednesday, a day after a powerful storm swept through the southern U.S. and killed at least four people.
Police in Columbia, Mississippi were stationed at all major intersections because traffic lights were swept away or destroyed amid Tuesday's powerful storms. The severe weather also injured 50 people and damaged or destroyed an unknown number of homes and businesses.
Teams from the National Weather Service office in Jackson arrived in Marion and Jones counties Wednesday to determine if a tornado or high winds had caused Tuesday night's damage.
In Alabama, authorities said thunderstorms left trees and power lines down across the state and flooded several roads.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch in south Georgia as thunderstorms continued in many parts of the state. A tornado watch was issued for parts of northern Florida. A flood warning was issued for Lawrence County in Alabama and Tangipahoa Parish in Louisiana.
On Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared an emergency for two southeastern counties where the victims died. Emergency management officials said four people were killed, three in mobile homes and one in a business.
Marion County Emergency Management director Aaron Greer said the 50 people injured in county were treated at Marion General Hospital in Columbia, about 80 miles southeast of the capital of Jackson, and Forest General Hospital in Hattiesburg. He did not know the extent of the injuries.
"The whole town of Columbia is without power," Millie Swann, a spokeswoman for Marion General Hospital said. "The hospital is running on generator (power), but was able to treat people in the ER unless they needed a higher level of care."
Swann said the hospital's emergency room has since quieted.
"Any time there's an event like this things get hectic, but health care people are used to working under pressure," she said.
Photos tweeted by from several local media and the National Weather Service in Jackson showed damage to a Walgreens, car dealership, day care and the strip mall. Several local news outlets said none of the children at the day care were injured.
"It's chaos over here," Marion County coroner Norma Williamson said. "All the lines are down."
Mississippi Highway Patrol Lt. Johnny Poulos said authorities have shut down the three highways that lead into Columbia because of downed trees, power lines and other debris.
December 24th, 2014
Audit cites Alabama Supreme Court accounting practices - MONTGOMERY | A state audit accused the Alabama Supreme Court of years of sloppy financial practices, including leaving thousands of dollars in checks uncashed and underpaying its own members.
The report, released by the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts this month, said the clerk's office failed to deposit $61,050 in checks from October 2009 through September 2013.
A former court worker has reimbursed the court more than $15,000, the audit said, and other missing checks were deposited.
Reported Tuesday by WSFA-TV (http://bit.ly/1x49rzY ), the audit also said the court underpaid its own justices by about $39,213 dating back to 2004 because a raise wasn't implemented correctly.
The audit did not identify the justices but said two remain on the all-Republican, nine-member court, and one is retired. One justice was shorted $17,651; another was underpaid by $16,394; and the third was underpaid by $5,168, according to the report.
At one point last year the court owed the state treasurer $465,543 and owed the Supreme Court Library $4,455, but those amounts have since been repaid, the audit said.
The court takes in checks as it collects docket fees that must be paid to file cases, and it also makes money by issuing certificates to attorneys to practice before the court and by selling copies of court documents.
Current Chief Justice Roy Moore requested the audit shortly after taking office in January 2013. Moore said the court currently is operating "at a highly efficient level, disposing of 143 more cases on our docket than were filed in the past year ...."
A former assistant clerk reimbursed the court $15,350 on Oct. 29, and current staff located another $45,700 in undeposited checks, the audit said.
The Supreme Court routinely failed to make deposits and reconcile its two checking accounts for four years ending in 2013, the audit said.
"Performed correctly, monthly bank reconciliations allow entities to compare their accounting and banking records in order to expose any discrepancies. Not performing regular bank reconciliations increases the possibility of undetected loss due to error or theft," the examiner report said.
Checks are now deposited regularly, examiners said.
December 24th, 2014
Thunderstorms in Alabama bring down trees, power lines - Authorities say Tuesday’s thunderstorms left trees and power lines down across Alabama and flooded several roads.
Tuscaloosa County received 2.37 inches of rain on Tuesday.
In Lamar County, the county emergency manager reported to the National Weather Service that 25 roads across the county were flooded late Tuesday night. Authorities said at least 10 roads were impassable in Lamar County, about 90 miles northwest of Birmingham.
Alabama Power said that at 4 a.m. Wednesday, it was aware of fewer than 1,900 outages statewide.
Light rain was still lingering around Wednesday morning, but forecasters expected sunshine on Christmas Day in West Alabama with highs in the mid-50s and lows tonight in the mid-30s.
December 24th, 2014
Gifts will be distributed to children Wednesday - A local nonprofit charitable organization will accept donations and distribute gifts to children on Wednesday at the gazebo area in Capitol Park.
The Alverta Hall Hughes Foundation Inc. will accept donations from 10 a.m.-noon at the park. People can assist by dropping off toys, gifts, books, fruits, nonperishable goods and monetary donations. Children will receive their gifts from noon-2 p.m.
The children are from low-income families in Tuscaloosa city and county schools, Greene County schools and Pickens County schools. All monetary donations are tax-exempt and must be made out to the Alverta Hall Hughes Foundation. This is the 10th annual Christmas holiday distribution drive.
Children are recommended by school superintendents and school administrative personnel from the various counties. Walk-in students, from preschoolers to sixth-graders, can attend the distribution drive, but they must be wait until after the recommended list has been served. For information, call 205-792-9997.
December 24th, 2014
"Great Day Tuscaloosa" will feature holiday songs - The 15th annual “Great Day Tuscaloosa” Christmas special will be broadcast live from noon to 1 p.m. today on Comcast channel 21.
Host Kip Tyner will have guest performers to join in singing classic holiday songs.
December 24th, 2014
Stolen medals replaced for Huntsville World War II veteran - HUNTSVILLE | Medals earned by a Huntsville veteran who was among the thousands who landed in Normandy during World War II have been replaced after they were stolen.
How that happened — and the speed in which it took place — is nothing short of a military Christmas miracle.
Charles Boynton was among a group of 250 soldiers dropped on the beaches of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. Of those, only a handful survived. Boynton received military honors for his service but said the medals were later stolen.
His family sought to have them replaced but was concerned with the amount of time that would take.
Boynton is receiving care through Gentiva Hospice of Huntsville. Through the hospice's We Honor Veterans program, it teamed up with Still Serving Veterans, a local group that assists veterans with a variety of needs, to try and speed up the replacement process.
“When I asked Mr. Boynton's daughter about the medals, she told me that her daughter had applied to receive them and that they were supposed to arrive in January or February of next year. She also stated that they wanted to surprise Mr. Boynton with them,” said Nicole Simmons, Manager of Volunteer Services at Gentiva Hospice and Chair of North Alabama Hospice Veteran Partnership.
Boynton is battling a serious illness, however, and Simmons knew time was of the essence.
The process of replacing lost medals can be a long one. The actual process can differ depending on the branch of service and different forms are required. Sometimes there is a charge to replace the medals; other times they are provided free to the veteran. There are even various definitions for who qualifies as a next-of-kin — something that makes the requesting process easier — based on the branch of service.
In this case, the Army TACOM (formerly Tank-automotive and Armaments Command) Medal Department, was contacted about the medals.
“When I contacted (TACOM), I left a message stating the purpose of the call,” Simmons said. “Later that day, I received a call from Tina, their representative, who immediately went into action and informed me that the medals would arrive the following week. The next morning I received another call from the Army TACOM Medal Department, informing me that the medals were being shipped over night, and that the family would have them the following day.
“I'm happy to report, that the medals arrived as promised, and the family is overjoyed,” she said.
Boynton was recently presented the medals by retired Col. William Webb, president of Still Serving Veterans. His family was on hand for the ceremony, as were staff from Gentiva and Still Serving Veterans.
December 24th, 2014
Interstate lane repairs Wednesday - Workers will be making emergency guardrail repairs Wednesday on the outside lane of Interstate 20/59 at milepost 79.
The repairs, which will require the closure of a lane, are scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. and be finished by 11 a.m. today.
Delays are expected and motorists should consider taking an alternate route.
December 24th, 2014
Holidays on the River ice skating rink reopens Friday - The Holidays on the River ice skating rink will be closed today and Thursday for Christmas.
The rink will reopen Friday, close for Dec. 31 and remain open through Jan. 4.
The rink is at 1901 Jack Warner Parkway, next to the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum. Tickets are available through the Holidays on the River website, www.holidaysontheriver.com. Each $15 ticket ($12 for those 12 and younger) is good for two hours on the ice.
December 24th, 2014
One person killed in wreck Tuesday afternoon - A driver was killed in a two-vehicle accident at the intersection of Interstate 20/59 and University Boulevard late Tuesday afternoon, according to a spokesman for the Tuscaloosa Police Department.
Sgt. Brent Blankley said police and fire units responded to an accident at 5:50 p.m. involving a Ford F-250 truck and a Ford Taurus.
One of the vehicles was going westbound and crossed over into the eastbound lane causing a head-on collision, he said.
The driver of one of the vehicles died at the scene, he said. The other driver was taken to DCH Regional Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.
The TPD’s accident reconstruction unit is investigating the wreck. Blankley said that pending the investigation he could not say which vehicle the victim was in or whether wet conditions played a role.
Authorities are withholding the identity of the victim pending the notification of the family.
December 24th, 2014
City sets holiday garbage schedule - Making Christmas memories can often leave behind mountains of ripped paper, empty boxes and evergreens brittle enough to be a certified fire hazard.
To deal with the remnants of this holiday magic, the city of Tuscaloosa’s Environmental Services Department is setting up temporary drop-off locations for residents to clear out the clutter.
Manned garbage drop-off and cardboard recycling locations will be available Sunday — one day only — from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at these locations.
Arcadia Elementary School, 3740 Arcadia Drive.
Oakdale Elementary School, 5001 25th St.
Skyland Elementary School, 408 Skyland Blvd. E.
Verner Elementary School, 2701 Northridge Road.
Westlawn Middle School, 1715 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Paul W. Bryant High School, 6315 Mary Harmon Drive.
McAbee Activity Center, 3801 Loop Road beside the Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs Medical Center).
Former Bruno’s parking lot on McFarland Boulevard.
For the cardboard boxes, officials ask that they be empty and kept separate from garbage.
With the observance of the Christmas holiday, the city’s garbage, trash and recycling crews will be taking the day off today and Thursday. This will delay customers on this route for two days. Regular Wednesday routes will be collected on Friday and Thursday route customers will be collected Saturday.
City officials also have planned for the worn-out decorations.
A Christmas tree recycling drop-off center will be available outside the former Bruno’s grocery store on McFarland starting Friday and running through Jan. 11. Natural Christmas trees, wreaths and garland will be accepted, but all lights and decorations must be removed.
Artificial trees, wreaths or garland will not be allowed.
After ripping the Christmas lights free from their once perfect placements, they can be placed in the electronics recycling container that also will be at the city’s Christmas tree recycling drop-off site.
Also, the Tuscaloosa Environmental Services offices at 3440 Kauloosa Ave. will accept lights such as these and other electronics anytime through its electronics recycling program. Hours are 8 a.m. to
4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
The department has prepared for an influx of unused electronics from residents clearing out the old to allow for the new. Examples of items that will be accepted at the Environmental Services offices are:
Computers (including laptops, desktops and tablets)
Gaming systems
Televisions, however, will not be accepted.
City officials are urging residents to recycle as many items as possible this holiday season, said Ashley Chambers, the education outreach and coordinator for the city’s Environmental Services Department.
She referenced statistics that indicated households create 25 percent more garbage between the Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day holidays, and Chambers is encouraging residents to keep as much of this out of area landfills as possible.
“Holiday wrapping paper, bags and boxes are easy to reuse and recycle this time of year,” she said.
Newspapers, magazines, wrapping paper, steel cans, aluminum cans, plastic containers bearing the “No. 1” logo, plastic bottles marked with the “No. 2,” and plastic film can be recycled in the blue curbside recycling bins that are offered to all city garbage customers.
These items also can be taken to one of the several recycling trailers that the Environmental Services Department has placed across the city.
Chambers also said that city garbage customers can request, at no additional charge, a new or additional recycling bin by calling Tuscaloosa 311 at 205-248-5311.
Reach Jason Morton at jason.morton@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0200.
December 24th, 2014
Winds will dry the roads today after soaking rains - The National Weather Service in Birmingham said that western winds this morning should dry the roads after heavy rains soaked Tuscaloosa County and much of the surrounding area on Tuesday.
Forecasters advised holiday drivers to remain aware of weather conditions today along their routes after Tuesday’s storms, which were predicted to dump between 2 and 5 inches of rain in west and central Alabama.
Looking ahead to Christmas Day, forecasters said West Alabama should have sunny skies with highs in the 50s.
Flood and tornado watches and warnings were issued Tuesday for a swath of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.
Warm, moist air surging northward paired with a low pressure system moving northeast from the Gulf Coast brought the severe weather into Tuscaloosa County, causing heavy showers and thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service.
Billy Green, deputy director of Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency, said the heavy rain and flooding could have contributed to a couple of traffic accidents Tuesday, including the overturning of an 18-wheeler loaded with coal on Alabama Highway 216. The accident led to the closing of the highway from Milldale Road to Crisstown Road for much of the day, but the road was cleared for traffic by 5 p.m.
There were also reports of small hail in Greene, Pickens and Hale counties.
Wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour were also reported in West Alabama on Tuesday.
The rains caused traffic delays on Interstate 20/59.
The National Weather Service also issued flash flood warnings near Huntsville, Birmingham and much of southeast Alabama.
December 24th, 2014
Flood advisory issued for Tuscaloosa County - A flood advisory was issued Tuesday afternoon for Tuscaloosa County, according to the National Weather Service in Birmingham.
Rainfall totals between 1 and 2 inches are expected to accumulate by 6 p.m. Tuesday.
December 23rd, 2014
Birmingham theater to show "The Interview" - BIRMINGHAM | At least one Alabama theater plans to show the new comedy at the center of the Sony hacking case.
Edge Theaters tweeted Tuesday that it will show "The Interview" at its Birmingham theater on Christmas Day. The Edge 12 lists a total of eight screenings of the movie on Thursday.
Sony Pictures Entertainment is releasing the movie on a limited basis after initially saying it wouldn't be shown.
Sony announced last week it had called off the scheduled Christmas release of the North Korea satire following hacker threats of violence against theaters.
Edge Theaters is based in Birmingham.
December 23rd, 2014
Witness: Car seen speeding away from fire at Rolando McClain's home - A witness reported seeing a car speeding away from the Monday night fire that destroyed the Lake Tuscaloosa mansion owned by Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker Rolando McClain, a spokesman for the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office said.
Lt. Andy Norris said Tuesday that the vehicle could be a clue in the origin of the fire, but investigators have not determined whether the fire was an accident or set on purpose.
County detectives and investigators from the state fire marshal’s office on Tuesday were on the scene of the fire, which destroyed a six-bedroom, five-bath brick house at 15139 Waters Edge Drive that was listed for sale on real estate websites at $1.5 million.
A crime dog will be used to determine whether something was used as an accelerant to start the fire, Norris said.
“Any time you have a vacant home burn, you have to treat it as a suspicious fire until proven otherwise,” Norris said. “Taking that into account, we have requested the state fire marshal assist our investigators.”
A spokesman for the Cowboys declined comment on the fire.
McClain was also not immediately available for comment, however, he sent a message on Twitter about the fire: “It can’t be real! To (sic) much of my ‘history’ in that house for it to be gone...”
McClain, a 25-year-old Decatur native, listed the house as his home address in a court document filed in September. The court document accused his ex-wife of failing to give him adequate visitation time with their 3½-year-old daughter.
The house sat on 4 acres of land beside Lake Tuscaloosa about 14 miles north of Tuscaloosa, where McClain played college football at the University of Alabama. The house had a three-car garage and a boat house on the shore.
McClain is now making an NFL comeback with the Cowboys after legal scrapes that include his conviction in July on charges including resisting arrest.
The fire was spotted around 6 p.m. Monday and the entire house was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived, making it impossible for firefighters to save, said Fire Chief Tom Clarke of the Carroll’s Creek Volunteer Fire Department.
The Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Service also responded, helped fight the fire and keep the flames from spreading to neighboring properties.
McClain was out of state at the time of the fire. The mansion was McClain’s off-season home.
December 23rd, 2014
Fire deaths up slightly in Alabama in 2014 - MONTGOMERY | Fire deaths are up slightly this year in Alabama over 2013.
The state fire marshal's office says 86 people have died in fires so far this year in the state. That's four more fatalities than during the same period last year.
Fire Marshal Ed Paulk says the worst month for fire deaths so far in 2014 was January, when 28 people died in house fires. The state experienced an unusual mix of bitterly cold weather and snow that month.
Paulk says many fires are started by the improper use of ovens and heaters.
Fires are also more common this year partly because of Christmas trees. Some trees have been up since Thanksgiving and are already dried out and very flammable.
December 23rd, 2014
Registered sex offender pleads guilty to rape in Dallas County - SELMA | A registered sex offender is going back to prison for rape in Dallas County.
A judge sentenced 37-year-old Frederick Jermain Prince to 16 years in prison after the man pleaded guilty to rape and burglary.
Prince was accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in March 2013. Police reports say Prince threatened to kill the girl and some of her relatives.
District Attorney Michael Jackson says the victim's family members were pleased with the sentence.
The Selma Times-Journal (http://bit.ly/1E7hAbS ) reports that Prince was convicted of raping a woman in Dallas County in 1997.
Prince registered as a sex offender, but Selma police found that he wasn't living at the correct address.
December 23rd, 2014
Highway 216 in Tuscaloosa County closed today - Alabama Highway 216 from Milldale Road to Crisstown Road Will be closed most of the day Tuesday, according to the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office.
The Sheriff's Office said the closure is needed for cleanup after an 18-wheeler truck loaded with coal overturned.
December 23rd, 2014
Donors give more than $59k to family of slain pizza delivery driver in Birmingham - BIRMINGHAM | Donors have given more than $59,000 to help the family of a longtime pizza delivery driver who was killed in what police believe was a robbery.
Contributions ranging from $1 to $2,000 flooded into a website established after the killing of Najeh Masaeid, 63.
Masaeid, a native of Jordan, was found dead Sunday evening after an apparent robbery at an apartment complex.
The slaying didn't appear to be a case of random violence, police said, and no arrests had been made as of Tuesday.
"That particular delivery driver was called to a vacant apartment," said police Lt. Sean Edwards. "So our investigators are really combing through all the details and trying to determine what happened, what took place, who was it that called."
The man's daughter, Jordan Hosey, set up a fundraising site to help cover funeral costs and living expenses for the man's widow. The original goal was $25,000, but more than 1,500 donors had given more than $59,000 by Tuesday morning.
Some donors on the gofundme.com site left messages saying the native of Jordan made deliveries to them during his more than 15 years of working as a driver for Domino's.
Hosey posted a message that said she was "emotionally drained" by her father's death.
"In the same vein, my heart cries in joy and mourning for all of the overwhelming support my family has received in the past 24 hours," the note said.
Masaeid's car was still running in the parking lot when authorities arrived, and an insulated bag found near his body still contained warm pizzas.
December 23rd, 2014
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