Sea Coast Echo News Stories of the Year
By Dwayne Bremer and Cassandra Favre
Dec 31, 2013, 09:29
The year 2013 was a year of historic events and terrible tragedy in Hancock County. The past 12 months saw historic victories, political upheavals, economic shake-ups and more than a few tragedies.
As 2014 begins, we take a look at the top news stories of the past year.
These stories were chosen by the editorial staff of the Sea Coast Echo.
10: Bay High girls take home state hoops/dance titles.
The Bay High School girls basketball team took home the class 4A state basketball title in March, culminating an undefeated 36-0 season. The Lady Tigers defeated Pontotoc 65-42 in the championship game. Junior Krista Reed was named the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the year.
The Bay High Steppers claimed two state titles at the recent MHSAA State Dance Team championships held Dec. 13-14 at the Mississippi Coliseum.
The Bay High Steppers began during the 1998-99 school under the direction of Miranda Compretta, who is currently director of the Arabesque School of Dance.
Deputies escort accused murderer Timothy Evans to court. In August 2013, a Hancock County jury voted to sentence Evans to death for the 2010 murder of his landlord, Wenda Holling.
9: Death penalty handed down for first time in two decades.
A Hancock County jury handed down a historic sentence in August giving convicted murderer Timothy Evans, 56, the death penalty. It was the first death sentence in Hancock County in more than two decades. Evans was convicted of the 2010 murder of his landlord Wenda Holling.
8: Animal hoard.
In April, local officials were shocked when they discovered a secluded farm off Tal Moran Road at Kiln where nearly 200 animals were being kept in inhumane conditions.
Hancock County deputies found a large assortment of cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens, ducks. quail and turkeys penned in a number of ramshackle buildings and campers at the property. All 82 of the cats had to be put down due to a number of respiratory diseases. Hancock Animal Shelter officials were able to find homes for the surviving animals.
Sharon Merritt, 59, and Todd Klibert, 55 – both of Metairie – were charged with 50 counts each of cruelty to animals, and one count each of malicious injury. Jefferson Parish authorities were waiting for them when they returned home, where they were charged with animal cruelty through the parish Bureau of Adjudication. The pair voluntarily surrendered 20 more cats, dogs and birds to officials there,
7: Local icons die in 2013.
Hancock County lost three well-known residents in 2013, including two who spent many years in local government.
Long-time funeral home owner Edmond Fahey unexpectedly died in March after complications from heart issues. Fahey's funeral home on Main Street in Bay St. Louis has been a fixture in Hancock County for decades.
Bay St. Louis City Councilman Ray Kidd passed away in May after a long battle with cancer. Kidd served six years on the city council. He also owned and operated Lil Rays seafood restaurant in Waveland.
Long time Hancock County Attorney Gerald Gex passed away June.
Gex served both the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission and the board of supervisors for decades. He was also a municipal and chancery court judge.
In November, the county honored Gex when the chancery courtroom at the Hancock County Courthouse was named after him.
6: Big developments for Bay Council
Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame was re-elected for a second term in May and promised that he was ready for four more years of hard work, bringing the newest parts of the city up to standards and maintaining "America's coolest small town" status. The city elected two new councilmen. Mike Favre was elected councilman-at-large, replacing the retiring Bill Taylor. Lonnie Falgout was elected Ward Six Councilman.
Financial worries plagued the new council this year, beginning with the use of reserve funds to pay for city projects, an unbalanced utility fund, open FEMA projects and the city's overdue Solid Waste and Hancock County Utility Authority bills. Council elected to raise the utility rates to balance the utility fund and pay the overdue bills. The council also authorized a $500,000 revolving line of credit to pay past due bills.
The state of Mississippi finally completed repairs and reconstruction at Buccaneer State Park, historically the biggest draw in the state.
5: Buccaneer Park returns.
It took more than seven years, but the rebuilt Buccaneer State Park was finally completed this summer. The park now has its full set of amenities, including the popular Wave Pool and water park. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, Buccaneer was the most profitable state park in Mississippi.
Officials said they hope Buccaneer Park can return to its pre-Katrina numbers and help spark the local economy.
4: Violent crimes shock community.
There were four murders in Hancock County in 2013 and several other violent crimes that made headlines.
In February, Kiln resident Kevin Boudreaux allegedly shot and killed his sister Janell Boudreaux outside their family's C.C. Road home.
In August, 23-month-old Maleah Bush died after an incident at a residence on Amar Street in Waveland. In December, her father, Oren Lewis, 31, was charged with the murder.
In December, Kiln resident Gary Topham, 55, allegedly killed Bruce Necaise at his Deerwood Road and then barricaded himself inside a barn for two hours before he was arrested. Later in the month, Pearl River County resident James Smith, 41, allegedly kidnapped two young boys, drove them to a trailer in Leetown, molested one of the boys and cut the other's throat. Smith was arrested and charged with attempted murder, sexual battery, and kidnapping.
On Christmas day, the body of local homeless man David Bourgeois was found in an abandoned shack across from Hancock Bank on Highway 90 in Waveland. Two days later, Bourgeois' friend Edward Winnicki -- another homeless man -- was charged in the slaying.
3: Man dies in fall from Bay Bridge.
The body of Pass Christian missing person Cody Duncan was found in October after a night out in Old Town Bay St. Louis. According to Bay police, the cause of death was accidental drowning. Authorities believed Duncan may have gotten sick and leaned over or sat on the railing and was knocked into the water by the wind. Duncan left behind his wife Haley and eight-year old daughter Joey.
2013 was an eventful year for Hancock Medical Center, bringing a change in leadership and management companies – Ochsner has taken over management of the day-to-day operations. The year also saw the unveiling and grand opening of the hospital’s post-Katrina renovations.
2: Shakeup at HMC.
Officials at Hancock Medical Center revealed this summer that the county-owned hospital was millions of dollars in the red.
In response, the Hancock County Board of Supervisors sacked the hospital's previous management company and brought in Ochsner Health Services.
The year began on a high note for HMC when, in April, the hospital board unveiled Phase II of its post-Katrina renovations.
The next week, however, HMC's director Bob Pascaio was replaced.
Ochsner was brought onboard in August and it has begun a feasibility study to identify the hospital's needs and there have been rumors that the county may sell the hospital.
In October, supervisors agreed to allow the Hancock County Hospital board to seek a $6.5 million bond issue to stabilize the hospital's finances.
In November, HMC unveiled the last of its Katrina renovations which officials said, make the hospital a state-of-the-art facility.
1: Diamondhead takes shape in '13.
2013 was a historic year for the city of Diamondhead. The newly-minted city held its first elections and its new mayor and council got to work on several important issues.
The year began with the former city council naming a new police chief, former Gulfport Police Chief Alan Weatherford.
In June, Tommy Schafer was elected as mayor, along with councilmen Joe Lopez, Ron Rech, Ernie Knobloch, Blaine Lafontaine, and Tom Sislow.
After the elections, Weatherford resigned and city leaders ultimately decided to extend the contract with the Hancock County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement purposes.
In 2013, the city also finalized a lease of a new city hall facility and held its first ever venue for Cruisin' the Coast.