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2. After an eight-year destruction process, workers at the Anniston Army Depot on Sept. 22 destroyed the last of the base’s stockpile of chemical weapons. That eliminated what Army officials and activists agreed was a big risk. Now, the program’s workforce of around 900 people is dismantling the incinerator; soon they’ll be looking for new jobs.
3. Anniston police Officer Justin Sollohub, 27, was shot dead during an Aug. 24 footchase, launching an hours-long manhunt for the suspected shooter, Joshua Russell. Thousands lined local streets a few days later as Sollohub’s body arrived for his funeral. Family, friends and fellow officers remembered Sollohub as fearless, with a special zeal for his work and a soft spot for kids. Russell remains in the Etowah County Jail without bond, awaiting a Jan. 12 arraignment on a capital murder charge.
4. Wellborn Elementary School teacher, Anniston High School alumnus, Jacksonville State University graduate, and Jacksonville resident Kevin Thompson went missing April 21, and was found murdered days later, brining much of Calhoun County together in grief. Family, friends and colleagues remembered the 29-year-old Thompson as selfless and a hard worker. His principal called him “Superman in the classroom.” Three men are charged with capital murder in connection with Thompson’s death. They remain in the Calhoun County Jail with no bond set, awaiting trial.
5. During the second week of May, Anniston marked the 50th anniversary of the infamous 1961 Mother’s Day burning of a bus carrying Freedom Riders defying racial segregation. Victims of that attack and college students retracing their route got a much different reception this year, as the city faced its Civil Rights-era past and unveiled murals commemorating the events.
6. The Anniston City Council on St. Valentine’s Day suspended a months-long, wide-ranging inquiry, but there was little love lost among the council members. Councilman John Spain was convicted of assault after a Sept. 13 fight with Mayor Gene Robinson, and later stepped down from office in December in a deal to have that charge and others dropped. Councilman Ben Little, meanwhile, was shouted down by an angry crowd at a Sept. 1 press conference after criticizing police in the wake of officer Justin Sollohub’s murder. City police in November sued Spain and Little for — among other things — harassment, intimidation and defamation.
7. In March, video surfaced of Sheriff Larry Amerson using physical force to confront a restrained 14-year-old boy at the Calhoun County Jail, raising questions about the sheriff’s actions and about the program that brought the boy to the jail in the first place. The boy’s mother later sued the sheriff and a jail employee in a case that is set to be heard in April.
8. At least 18 Calhoun County residents died as a result of violent crimes, one of the bloodiest years on record.
9. Statewide budget cuts stung the Calhoun County Courthouse and the Department of Forensic Sciences on Sept. 1. The state closed its crime lab at McClellan, taking its employees and their expertise in evidence processing and crime scene investigation to Hoover. More than half of the courthouse’s workers – 13 – had their jobs eliminated. Local officials predicted delays in solving and prosecuting crimes, and in moving cases through the court system.
10 (tie). Veterans Memorial Parkway and Iron Mountain Road opened Jan. 19, clearing a path from Interstate 20 to McClellan’s eastern reaches, bypassing downtown Anniston. Work continues on the parkway’s final leg, which stretches to an interchange with U.S. 431 and McClellan Boulevard north of downtown.
10 (tie). The Alabama Republican Party’s 2010 electoral triumph continued to shake up the state political landscape. As the GOP took control of state executive offices and pushed its “Handshake with Alabama” through the Legislature, local Democrats switched sides in droves. Among the defectors in Calhoun County were Probate Judge Alice Martin, Circuit Judge Brian Howell, License Commissioner Barry Robertson, Coroner Pat Brown, and longtime “yellow dog” stalwart Eli Henderson, whose switch gave Republicans a majority of the County Commission’s five seats.
12. The local economy continued to struggle along with the rest of the nation in 2011. Locally, the unemployment rate hovered at between 9 and 10 percent of the Calhoun County workforce for much of the year. Home sales and prices remained low and foreclosures continued at a higher rate than before the recession. The local unemployment rate dipped to 8 percent in November, though economists cautioned against assuming a recovery is in full swing.
13. Results from the 2010 Census released in February included a number of surprises – Anniston is now a majority-minority city, according to the Census Bureau, with 51.5 percent of its 23,106 residents describing themselves as black. Anniston, meanwhile, remained the county’s largest city, as Oxford’s growth to 21,348 wasn’t enough to top the county seat. Jacksonville grew to 12,548, up by nearly 50 percent from the 2000 count.
14. Big changes continued in the Davis Farm area of Oxford — an area rich in local historic and pre-historic significance. Word of the planned Oxford Commons shopping center at the site leaked in May, and Mayor Leon Smith announced in June the center would anchored by a long-awaited Public Super Market, with the city paying $7 million to prepare the site. Meanwhile, Oxford also agreed to move an Indian-built stone mound from a nearby hill to make way for more commercial development. Crews moved the rocks in December. Oxford also got the go-ahead to resume building a planned sports complex, where work was halted when human remains were unearthed in 2010. In October, the city sued an architecture firm that had been involved in the design of the site, seeking $2 million to recover its costs from delays related to the human remains.
15. Snow shut down much of Calhoun County for days after a Jan. 10 storm dropped up to 3 inches of the white stuff in some parts of the area. Frigid temperatures kept some roads icy and slushy for a few days, and schools remained closed for much of the week.
16. The Legislature in June passed a new immigration law that Republican leaders had promised during the 2010 elections. Critics derided it as draconian and difficult to enforce. Local officials seemed to agree on the second point, at least – some law enforcement agencies said they found parts of the law confusing. In December, a Japanese national working at Honda was briefly detained because of the law after he was stopped at a roadblock without his home country’s driver license.
17. Clay County and Lineville high schools went at it on the gridiron one last time, 89 years after they first faced off in what became known as the Clay Bowl. It was the longest, continuously played high school football rivalry in the state. Ashland’s Panthers won the final contest 7-6. Both teams played their way to the state semifinals in their respective divisions. There was more to the story than football: the schools will merge into Central High of Clay County in 2012, in a new facility still under construction.
18. A March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan led to shortages of auto parts produced there, which caused slowdowns in production at Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Lincoln, where about 4,000 people work. Things were just beginning to look up in the fall, when flooding in Thailand forced closures at supply plants there, leading to further slowdowns here.
19. In early January, federal marshals in Minnesota arrested Chen Shi, who’d eluded officers for more than 14 years. He’d been wanted in connection with the 1996 death of Zihui “Linda” Liu, a Chinese national and Jacksonville State University student whose body was found in Glencoe two months after she went missing. Shi has since returned to Calhoun County to face a murder charge. In December, Shi was back in the courtroom, as prosecutors added a kidnapping charge to the allegations against him. Shi is set to be arraigned on the murder charge Jan. 12.
20. Sheriff’s deputies from Calhoun and Etowah counties converged on the home of Jonathan Singleton on Gate 5 Road in Alexandria on Feb. 9 to serve a warrant. They wound up in a four-hour standoff that ended with Singleton’s death by his own hand and a fire that burned his home, sparked when deputies fired tear gas canisters in an attempt to end the standoff. Meanwhile, deputies also found the body of Singleton’s uncle, John Payne, shot dead in a trailer home nearby.
In October, the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office announced that Singleton was responsible for Payne’s death, and for the death of another man, Joey Lynn Alford. Alford had been found shot dead in his garage in Wellington several weeks before the standoff with Singleton. Investigators said evidence recovered at Singleton’s burned-out home helped tie him to both homicides.