In 2017, Sampson County saw many ups and downs. There were tragic losses and devastation from tornadoes that are likely still fresh in the minds of most people. But there was also progress. Though not complete, the widening of NC 24 has made strides, with portions completed from Autryville to Stedman. New leaders have assumed positions on Clinton’s City Council and town boards like Garland, and schools across the county have seen strides in academics and athletics.
Below is a brief look back at just a few of the major news stories from 2017. This is not meant to be a list of the Top 10 stories and does not include all the good, nor not so good, occurrences in the county.
Tornado, winds cause destruction
Within a week’s time, the town of Autryville was hit hard by a tornado, and the Kitty Fork and Keener areas were struck by straight-line winds that caused enough damage to have officials looking into a possible second tornado.
Portions of Autryville, the small town that sits at the westernmost point of Sampson, were decimated in a matter of moments in late May, as a tornado bounced along N.C. 24 and into residential areas, ripping trees down, peeling roofs off several structures and throwing pink insulation from mobile homes everywhere.
According to the National Weather Service, an EF1 tornado with wind speeds in excess of 100 mph touched down near Autryville at about 4:40 p.m. May 23. Officials said the tornado tore a 100-yard-wide path through the county for a sporadic 14 mile-stretch. A State of Emergency was declared in Autryville and town officials issued a mandatory curfew for the town’s residents.
Sustaining the most damage in the tornado was the Autryville Fire Department and a home just across the street, belonging to Torie Turner and Gerald Locklear. Luckily, no injuries were reported from the tornado’s damage.
Seven months after the storm, Autryville Fire Chief Andrew Hawkins says the department is working to start the process of rebuilding the station.
Less than a week later, another powerful storm blew across Sampson. Many thought it was a tornado, but the storm was later identified as straight-line winds by the National Weather Service. The destruction, however, was just as devastating, with roofs blown off homes, trees uprooted and power lines downed.
Susan Holder, assistant county manager for Sampson County, reported damages, north of Salemburg and through the Kitty Fork and Keener areas. There was also damage in the Faison area. There were 14 reported injuries following the storm. None were life threatening.
Community morns losses
Throughout 2017, the lives of many civic, political and educational leaders, as well as several others well known throughout the community were lost as a result of natural causes and horrific accidents.
Some of those lost during the year include Superior Court Judge Douglas Parsons, former Register of Deeds Mae Troublefield, former Clerk of Court Charlie McCullen, educator and Clinton City Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem Maxine Harris, former Clinton City Schools educator and long-time principal illiam Whitaker, community leader Jim McGuirt, former Sampson County Board of Education member Mike Bass and his wife Vicki, Clinton High graduate Andrew Warren, Ryan Oates and Joe Wilson.
Parsons was the senior resident Superior Court Judge and passed away in his sleep while on an annual golfing trip to Myrtle Beach in late September. He was just two weeks shy of his 67th birthday.
Troublefield, the retired Register of Deeds, McCullen, the retired Clerk of Court, Harris, a current City Council member, Whitaker, a retired educator, and McGuirt, a local businessman, all died of natural causes.
Mike and Vicki Bass were killed in an automobile accident. Vicki was killed instantly, while Mike succumbed to his injuries just over a week after the accident. Their daughter Kristy remained in the hospital for two months following the accident.
Warren, only 19, was killed in a single vehicle accident on Interstate 40 traveling home from college. Warren graduated from Clinton High School and was attending N.C. State University. The young man, a soccer standout in high school, was the son of Bill and Lori Warren and grandson of Danny and Ann Peterson and Ronnie and Shelva Warren.
Oates, known by family and friends as “DaeDae,” passed away at the age of 9 in March. The Roseboro Elementary School (RES) student was diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a disease of the central nervous system. A memorial and balloon release at RES was held in his honor.
Wilson, 81, was killed in an ATV accident just days before Christmas. Wilson was the one-time owner of Wilson’s Grocery on U.S. 13 in the Spivey’s Corner community.
McGuirt, from Salemburg, was a community leader and served on many area boards. Cancer claimed his life in November.
Local boards face changes
From the resignation of town leaders to the goodbyes of others, the faces of several local municipal boards have changed throughout 2017.
Longtime Clinton City Councilman Steve Stefanovich said goodbye after serving 16 years on the Council. The City Council bid him farewell, bestowing upon him the Key to the City; he was also awarded the state’s highest honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
Stefanovich represented District 1 and was first sworn into office in 2001. Newcomer Daniel Ruggles was sworn in Tuesday, Dec. 5, to take the District 1 seat.
Darue Bryant, who was chosen to fill the seat left vacant after the passing of Harris, was elected to his first full term as District 5 representative.
History continues in Garland
After placing his hand on the Bible and taking an oath, Austin Brown became the youngest commissioner in the town’s history.
The 22-year-old made several attempts to join the board when there was vacant seats, but he was never picked to join the board. That changed during election night in November after collecting enough votes. During his campaign, some of his goals were to improve infrastructure and buildings throughout town.
During a swearing-in ceremony, Brown was joined by incumbent S.J. Smith and newcomer Eddie Bronson Jr., a resident with more than 20 years of law enforcement experience. Mayor Winifred Murphy was also sworn in for another four-year term. Earlier during the year, the town also welcomed Joseph Lee Carberry, a military veteran, after he was selected to fill a vacant seat.
In 2017, vacancies on the town’s board of commissioners came with twists and turns. Some of the debate included Commissioner Ralph Smith returning to board, after resigning several times. He eventually, became the mayor pro tem. The position was previously held by longtime commissioner and contributor Haywood Johnson. Conflicts also arose with alleged nepotism issues with a vacancy for public works. In December town officials resolved the issue by filling the vacancy.
With her mayoral address Murphy called for unity and expressed the importance of building on progress. One of the building steps includes a new police department. In June, the town hired Ronald Matthews as the chief.
Another major highlight of progress was the grand opening of the Curtis D. Cain Memorial Park, which features playground equipment for children. The park was named by a former commissioner and businessman after the land was donated by his daughter Connie Cain Rackley. It was made possible though a collective effort of residents such as former commissioner Judy Smith and other board members.
N.C. 24 work makes progress
A project on N.C. 24 has come closer to completion since it’s beginning in 2013. The 40- mile Improvement Project running through the center of Clinton and Sampson County will serve as a major connector between Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune and is expected to bring economic growth to the area.
When completed, the $400 million-plus project will consist of a four-lane highway, stretching from Cumberland County to I-40 near Warsaw. Work is scheduled to be complete early 2019.
Much of the roadwork is complete from the Cumberland line to Roseboro.
Kristy Carter and Chase Jordan contributed to this article.