Franklin County was bustling this year. Here is a look back at some of this year’s headlines.
An EF3 tornado rocked the county April 19. No deaths resulted from the tornado, but two injuries were reported and one Sydnorsville couple lost their home.
Delores Anderson sought refuge in the basement of her Windy Ridge Road home when she heard the tornado warning and noticed the increasing wind. A nearby worker, who had stopped by her home, heard her yelling for help and pulled her out of the basement as the home was in shambles around them. Delores’ husband, Larry, had not been home and was shocked by the scene when arrived at the house.
Within an hour of the storm passing, 30 to 50 friends, family and neighbors had gathered to help the Anderson’s salvage what they could of their belongings. The couple is rebuilding their home in the spot the old one once stood.
The National Weather Service confirmed the tornado started in Oak Level and cut an 8.2-mile path northeast to Henry Fork where it dissipated just south of Doe Run Road. According to the NWS, the maximum wind speed reached 159 mph in the funnel, which spread a width of 250 yards.
Mother Nature showed off her power again in June when Franklin County faced a dayslong deluge that caused flooding throughout the county, prompting at least one swift-water rescue. The rain canceled the annual Court Days, as well as several other local events planned for that weekend. More than 30 road closures were reported by the Virginia Department of Transportation on June 8 as rain continued to fall over two days.
The area was not immune to the early 2019 partial-federal government shutdown. Booker T. Washington National Monument was closed for more than month due to the shutdown that started in late 2018. Visitors were welcomed back to the monument Jan. 27 just days after President Donald Trump signed a temporary deal with Congress to end the shutdown.
In education, the recent news that Franklin County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Church will be retiring in 2020, ending a 34-year career as an educator, caught some by surprise. Church has served 20 years of his career in the county’s school system.
Since early in the school year, when a question about the district’s dress code was raised at a school board meeting, a controversy over the Confederate flag has arisen. Months later, the board continues to table any updates to the dress code after a couple of contentious, emotional meetings. The board did, however, revise a policy regarding delinquent school lunch accounts and the policy of providing students with a meal.
The old policy allowed for students in grades K-8 to receive a modified lunch of a sandwich and milk once their lunch account was overdrawn. Students in high school were given nothing until they brought money to pay for lunch or their lunch accounts were paid off.
After several complaints, the new policy extended the alternative meal to all students in grades K-12 and allowed more time for parents to pay before the alternative meal is offered. Under the new policy students are given a $20 limit in which they continue through the lunch line once their account is out of funds, receiving the same meal as everyone else. Once that $20 limit is surpassed then they get the alternative meal.
In Boones Mill, the town erected new signs along the U.S. 220 corridor in March welcoming motorists to the town. In May, the town dedicated a hiking trail behind Town Hall to former Mayor Maurice Turner. Turner had taken the first steps to blazing the trail on the 22-acre site.
Meanwhile in Rocky Mount, Harvester Performance Center celebrated five years and profitability. Harvester CEO and Assistant Town Manager Matt Hankins said the town underwrites nearly $400,000 annually for personnel, utilities and upkeep, but that the economic activity brought to Rocky Mount by Harvester more than makes up for that in tax revenue. For 2019-20, the town only budgeted for $355,000 as the Harvester was able to start sustaining itself.
A new event made headlines this year as thousands of vehicles flooded the town of Rocky Mount for Cruisin’ Rocky Mount. Within days of creating a Facebook page, the event had 1,100 members and is now up to more than 3,800. A committee of five members, including Jeff Rakes, Ronald Campbell, Kimberly Najduch, Fred Jamison and Rocky Mount Council member Jon Snead, organized the event. The event was so successful that some area businesses touted they had their busiest nights ever and earned the organizers recognition from Town Council. The group also gave back recently to We Care of Franklin County with funds earned from event sticker and T-shirt sales. The first Saturday of the month event will return in March and continue until November.
The Franklin County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of the Ferrum Area Plan, a land-use plan that will serve as a guide for future growth and development. The goals of the plan include creating a stronger sense of place, supporting economic development and a sense of vitality and enhancing community well-being, health and safety. Ferrum residents and business owners have been gathering to keep momentum going on the plan, and the New Year could bring about interesting changes there.
The November elections resulted in the reelection of constitutional officers, including Sheriff Bill Overton, Commonwealth Attorney A.J. Dudley and Commissioner of the Revenue Margaret Torrence. Susan Wray also was reelected as treasurer.
The Franklin County Board of Supervisors will see two new faces take the dais this month with Ronald Mitchell Jr. (Blackwater) and Lorie Smith (Gills Creek). Tim Tatum (Blue Ridge) and Tommy Cundiff (Union Hall) were reelected to their seats.
Two new faces were elected to the Franklin County School Board this year as well: Artlet Greer (Blackwater) and Jon Atchue (Gills Creek). Julie Nix (Blue Ridge) and P.D. Hambrick (Union Hall) were reelected to their seats.
Summit View Business Park welcomed its first two businesses with groundbreaking ceremonies. Valley Star Credit Union broke ground in September and Stik Pak Solutions followed suit in October. Both are expected to be completed this year.
ValleyStar is investing an estimated $7 million and creating 20 new jobs with a total of 40 positions at its new 19,000-square-foot building on 8 acres of land. Phase I of the new facility is expected to open by the end of 2020.
Stik Pak’s groundbreaking signaled the start of a $14.3 million project that will expand the contract packaging company into a new 50,000-square-foot facility expected to be completed sometime next year. The company also plans to expand the facility to 100,000 square feet within six years and employ as many as 95 people by then.
Vicki Gardner, Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, stepped down after 17 years, making way for new executive director Christopher Finley to take the helm. Gardner also made headlines for her pending lawsuit against WDBJ for alleged negligence in its hiring of former WDBJ employee Vester Lee Flanagan II, who was behind the August 2015 shooting at Bridgewater Plaza. Gardner was the sole survivor of the shooting and has undergone multiple surgeries as a result of her injuries.
In other business-related news, Franklin County welcomed new businesses, while others expanded. There also were landmark anniversaries, including Tinbenders, which celebrated 30 years in business, and Franklin Vendors, which entered its 45th year in business.
Twin Creeks Distillery opened its tasting room in Rocky Mount and celebrated five years in business in the county. Franklin Restaurant reopened in the former Sea Captain building and Hometown Diner opened in the space occupied by Franklin Restaurant. Southlake Spa & Salt Room opened in Union Hall; while Kupkakery and Southern Smoke BBQ reconfigured its space in Rocky Mount.
In Boones Mill, Holly Jo’s restaurant expanded its footprint as Franklin County Distilleries expanded its offerings to include food and dancing. Pearle’s Thimble also opened in June in downtown Rocky Mount offering alterations and sales of formal dresses.
Franklin County had a busy year with several criminal cases.
In August, Rodney Frith was sentenced to 33 years after facing 16 counts of sexual assault on two girls who were in their early teens. Frith entered an Alford plea to three charges earlier in the year.
Tabitha Amos of Rocky Mount was sentenced to six months in jail in November for drug possession and child cruelty related to the 2017 death of her daughter, 13-month-old Gabriella Moore. On Sept. 24, 2017, Amos found Gabriella lying unresponsive in a toilet at the Carolina Road home of a friend they were visiting. Despite efforts to resuscitate Gabriella, the child could not be revived. The medical examiner ruled the cause of her death was drowning.
The judge also gave Amos 4½ years in suspended time and three years of probation, and he ordered her to be on good behavior for life.
In April, a two-year-old murder case saw its conclusion with the trial of John Isaiah Hodges for his role in the death of Allyn Gray Riddle, a teenager shot and killed in his Rocky Mount home during the summer of 2017.
After about three hours of deliberations by the jury, Hodges was found guilty on four felony counts — of being a principal in the second degree or accessory before the fact to capital murder, to robbery, to armed burglary and to grand larceny of firearms. Hodges’ sentencing, however, has yet to take place. After the jury reached “an inability to tender … a recommended punishment within range set forth in the instructions,” the sentencing obligation fell to Judge Clyde Perdue. Hodges’ sentencing is currently scheduled for Jan. 23.
Aaron Seth Dean pleaded guilty in 2018 to charges that included Riddle’s murder and the theft of more than a half-dozen of Riddle’s guns. He is currently serving three life terms plus 48 years in prison.
An alleged rape at Smith Mountain Lake in June led to two men being charged. Charges against Sammy Hamadeh and Jorge Pena, both of Roanoke, were certified in Franklin County General District Court in October.
The two were accused of attacking an acquaintance, a college student, who was 19 at the time, while the three were hanging out with others at SML Community Park. Hamadeh is charged with rape and Pena as an accessory to that crime. Both are being held without bond at Western Virginia Regional Jail currently awaiting trial, which is scheduled for March 30 in Franklin County.
The town of Rocky Mount saw its first homicide in 20 years in June with the death of 26-year-old Tony Bruce at his Bland Street home. Siblings Richard Hannon Jr., 28, and Kaniesha Hannon, 27, were both charged in connection with the incident. Kaneisha Hannon, who is facing charges of murder in the first degree, shooting into an occupied building, use of a firearm in a felony and grand larceny is awaiting trial at Western Virginia Regional Jail. The trial is scheduled for May 18-20 in Franklin County Circuit Court.
A charge of nonviolent possession of a firearm against Richard Hannon in Franklin County General District Court was dismissed in December.
The biggest headline-maker in 2019 was the multi-state manhunt that ensued following the alleged murder of a Franklin County man by his girlfriend’s son.
Michael Alexander Brown, a Franklin County native and United States Marine corporal, was accused of second-degree murder in the Nov. 9 shooting death of his mother’s longtime boyfriend, Rodney Wilfred Brown.
Brown fled and was arrested nearly three weeks later after having been spotted in a campground in South Carolina and in Roanoke near his grandmother’s home. Police say Brown had an RV that they found in church parking area in Roanoke’s Grandin neighborhood, which prompted a lockdown of the area and Roanoke City Schools to close for the day.
Brown was taken into custody without incident at his mother’s home — the site where the alleged murder occurred — after crawling out of the attic. He faces charges of second-degree murder, use of a firearm in a felony and fugitive with felony arrest. A preliminary hearing is currently scheduled for March 19.
For more headlines, visit thefranklinnewspost.com.