Top 10 News Stories From the Past Year: Boylan's Downfall Heads the List
This has been a rough year for soon-to-be-former state Rep. Joe Boylan.
In April, Boylan was arrested and charged with driving while impaired after wrecking his truck on a dead-end road late at night near Cameron. That likely cost him his seat in the House. He lost to Southern Pines funeral home owner Jamie Boles in the Republican primary in May. Boles won the general election in November.
Boylan pleaded guilty to the DWI charge in July. Later that month, he gave an emotional address on the House floor, acknowledging that he is an alcoholic and asking for forgiveness. His colleagues responded with a standing ovation.
He leaves office Dec. 31 after serving just one term -- something probably few political observers would have predicted two years ago, when Boylan defeated the mighty Richard Morgan in a bitterly contested Republican primary, earning him the designation of The Pilot's Newsmaker of the Year
The Pilot's news staff recently voted Boylan's troubles as the No. 1 news story of 2008 in Moore County.
Coming in a close second was the improved status of Taylortown Mayor Ulysses Barrett. After Barrett was exonerated of criminal wrongdoing in March, the Town Council reinstated him as mayor in late September. He had barely won re-election in 2007, with the cloud of misdemeanor criminal charges hanging over him, and the new council had replaced him as mayor with bitter rival Jesse Fuller.
The situation in the small Moore County town, dubbed "Taylortown Turmoil," was voted the top story of 2007 by The Pilot. In addition to Barrett's legal problems last year, then-Councilman Lonnie Jones III was arrested on felony drug charges. Despite calls that he step down, the defiant Jones ran for re-election last November and lost. Earlier this year, he accepted a plea bargain deal on the charges.
Another big story this year was the resurgence of the Pinecrest High School football team, which had been on the brink of disbanding just two years earlier.
The team completed an improbable season this year, ending with its first playoff berth since 1996. Along the way, Pinecrest knocked off conference powerhouses Richmond Senior and Scotland High schools as it jumped off to a 6-1 start. Even though the Patriots lost to Wilmington-Hoggard, the defending 4AA champions, the future of the program looks bright. Many credit second-year coach Chris Metzger with the turnaround.
In one of the more tragic stories of the year, former Army medic Joseph Patrick Dwyer -- made famous by a 2003 photo of him carrying an injured Iraqi child -- died of an apparent accidental overdose of inhalants in June. The 31-year-old Dwyer was apparently unable to escape the mental horrors of the war in Iraq. His death drew national attention to post-traumatic stress disorder, something that affects many veterans who have returned home from the Middle East.
A couple of continuing legal battles in the village of Pinehurst again placed among the top 10 stories this year -- efforts by Pinewild residents to block involuntary annexation and the fight to halt the traffic roundabout at the intersection of N.C. 2 and Carolina Vista Drive. Both had been on the list in 2007.
State and federal court judges ruled against the attempt by a group of Pinewild residents to fend off the unwanted annexation by Pinehurst, which had been set to take effect June 30. Appeals are still pending and could be resolved sometime next year.
Despite the setbacks in the courtroom, involuntary annexation foes across the state won a partial battle in the political arena when the state House of Representatives approved a bill calling for a moratorium on annexations to allow time to study possible reforms to state laws. But the bill stalled in the Senate. A study panel was appointed. It includes Pinewild resident Doug Aitken, who heads the Fair Annexation Coalition.
Roundabout foes, meanwhile, finally threw in the towel after losing yet another series of court rulings in August in a last-ditch effort to halt the project. Construction began, and the roundabout finally opened earlier this month. A group called Concerned Citizens of Pinehurst had formed to fight the roundabout, arguing it would harm the historic nature of the area.
One of the first big stories of the year was the Southern Pines Town Council's vote on the controversial rezoning request for Pine Needles Village, a large mixed-use development proposed on 558 acres between U.S. 1 and Camp Easter Road.
The council voted 3-2 in January to approve the rezoning, but because of a protest petition, four votes were needed. After the long-debated project was dead, the council turned its attention to a building moratorium and the appointment of a committee to craft a long-range plan for the town. The council enacted a moratorium with a limited scope in May.
Three stories that made The Pilot' top 10 were ones that went well beyond its borders: (1) the historic November elections, which saw Republicans sweep local offices at the same time Democrats won at the state level and Barack Obama become the first black to be elected president of the United States; (2) the local effects of the economic turmoil and recession now gripping the nation; and (3) the admission by former Sen. John Edwards in August that he had an affair with a campaign worker. Edwards, who grew up in Robbins, denied that he had fathered the woman's child.
Other stories that received votes but failed to make the top 10 included the Riverbend saga, in which flooding caused by torrential rains from Tropical Storm Hanna washed out an earthen bridge in Riverbend; the huge early morning fire at the old Robbins Mill in August; and the September ABC referendum in Robbins, in which residents narrowly approved the sale of wine but rejected sales of beer and mixed drinks.
The Pilot's newsroom staff members voted on the top 10 stories, chosen from a list of 20 nominees.
News value, the main criterion in the judging, is an admittedly subjective and hard-to-define measure. It is not necessarily the same as long-term community importance -- though that, too, factored into the staff's consideration. Other criteria included reader interest and the amount of coverage given to each story.
Here are the top 10 news stories of 2008:
1. Boylan's Troubles
Highway Patrol Troopers charged state Rep. Joe Boylan, a Pinehurst Republican, with driving while impaired April 10 after he wrecked his truck on a dead-end road in Cameron.
His vehicle swerved off the left side of Thomasson Road about 10:30 p.m, ran down a rock-lined ditch and struck a tree. He was taken to the hospital but was not seriously injured.
Boylan said he accepted "full responsibility" for the accident and that it was a "wake-up call" for him. He pledged that he would get help for his drinking problem.
The DWI likely cost Boylan his seat in the House. He finished last in a three-way Republican primary in May. Southern Pines funeral home owner Jamie Boles won and went on to defeat Democrat Betty Mangum in November. Boylan's term ends Wednesday.
In July, Boylan pleaded guilty to driving while impaired during a special session of Moore County District Court.
Judge Jack Klass, a special judge brought in from Davidson to hear Boylan's case and one other, gave him a 60-day suspended jail sentence with unsupervised probation for one year and took away his license for a year.
Boylan was to remain without driving privileges for at least 45 days. After that time, he was permitted to apply for limited driving privileges.
"I've admitted my guilt, taken my treatment and am moving on," Boylan said after leaving court with his wife and parents at his side. "It's good to get it behind me. But this whole ordeal has really been a blessing from God. I hope some other people can learn from it."
In an unexpected move, Boylan addressed his colleagues on the floor of the N.C. House of Representatives later that month, telling them that he is an alcoholic.
"My behavior over the past year has hurt a few of you, disappointed many of you, and has reflected poorly on this House," he said. "For that, I am truly and deeply sorry."
Boylan concluded his remarks on the House floor by saying, "My name is Joe. I am an alcoholic, and I ask for your forgiveness and your prayers."
After a few seconds of stunned silence, the House broke out in sustained applause.
2. Barrett's Turnaround
The Taylortown Council reinstalled Ulysses Simpson Grant Barrett Jr. as mayor Sept. 30.
In a passionate address during the council meeting, Charlotte Worthy apologized publicly to Barrett for what she described as listening to other council members and some town residents instead of to her heart and what she knew of him. She asked Barrett if he would consider serving as mayor again. He indicated that he would, and Worthy made a motion to elect Barrett to once again lead the town.
Taylortown's council elects a mayor from among its members and can make a change at any time. At the first meeting last year -- after she was the top vote-getter in the November election -- Worthy joined Jesse Fuller and Ellis Ray to elect Fuller as mayor, displacing Barrett, who was facing criminal charges at the time.
Worthy also switched sides that night to defeat Ray's motion to reinstate former Police Chief Tim Blakeley. The previous council had fired him in March 2007, and Blakeley filed suit against the town.
This time, Worthy joined Barrett and Moody to approve her motion to elect Barrett as mayor on a 3-1 vote. Fuller voted against him. Ray -- a strong opponent of Barrett -- was absent because of illness.
Barrett, who had served on the council for 16 years, most of them as mayor, won re-election to the council in November, finishing fifth. He had been a lightning rod for controversy, culminating with his arrest by the State Bureau of Investigation on three misdemeanor charges in January 2007. In March, a Superior Court judge found Barrett not guilty.
He had been accused of violating state laws by acting as a town manager while holding the position of mayor; benefiting from a public contract while being a public officer; and violating a fraud statute for allegedly paying a resident's legal bill without the permission of the council.
3. Pinecrest Football
The Pinecrest High School football team captivated the entire community with its improbable season.
The Patriots made their first playoff appearance since 1996, losing to defending 4A state champion J.T. Hoggard in Wilmington -- a remarkable feat for a program that was on death's doorstep two years ago and hadn't had a winning season since 1995.
"It goes without saying, it's unbelievable," Tom Benton, head of the Pinecrest Football Boosters, said in an interview before the playoffs. "The excitement and enthusiasm is incredible."
Benton called second-year head coach Chris Metzger the key ingredient to the football team's revival. Metzger had come to Pinecrest from Lely High School in Naples, Fla., in early 2007.
"It's just unbelievable to think where we're at," Benton said. "But it's easy to understand why when you're around Coach Metzger and his staff."
The team had a combined record of 3-40 in the four years before Metzger arrived, having lost 30 conference games in a row.
There were serious doubts about the future of the struggling program two years ago when the Moore County Board of Education considered eliminating it altogether.
In Metzger's first season, the Patriots squad showed improvement and finished the year at 3-8. But the 2008 campaign has proved to be something the community could have never imagined.
The Pinecrest players quickly jumped out to a 6-1 start, beating in-county rival Union Pines and stunning a Southern Lee team that beat them 63-0 in 2006. It was after dropping a tough one to Douglas Byrd that the Patriots registered back-to-back wins against Scotland and Richmond counties, both powerhouse teams in the conference. The win over the Scots was Pinecrest's first conference victory since 2002 and its first over that school since 1996. The win over Richmond was the first over that school since 1992. The team finished the season at 7-4.
Benton said community support for the team has been incredible.
"It's a rallying point for the entire community," he said. "I couldn't ask for anything more."
4. Death of Troubled Soldier
An Army medic whose image had made the nation's front pages in the early days of the war in Iraq died June 28 in Pinehurst.
Joseph Patrick Dwyer, 31, succumbed to the effects of an apparent overdose in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. After breaking down the door to Dwyer's home, officers had found him surrounded by empty cans of aerosol-gas dusters and prescription pills.
Dwyer's wife, Matina, said in an interview in June that he had sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
"He was a very good and caring person," she said. "He signed up to fight for his country. He was originally from New York. When he saw what happened with the towers (in the 9/11 terrorist attacks), he felt like it was something he had to do."
Dwyer, a private first-class medic, became an image of the Iraq war after a picture showing him carrying an injured Iraqi boy away from a fire fight ran on the front pages of several major newspapers in 2003, just after the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces.
His widow said she hoped that her husband's death would bring more attention to PTSD.
"He was just never the same when he came back, because of all the things he saw," Matina Dwyer said. "He tried to seek treatment, but it didn't work. We know that Joseph is at peace now. He doesn't have to deal with the awful pictures he would see in his mind."
Army Times photographer Warren Zinn snapped the picture of Dwyer racing across the battlefield with the frightened Iraqi boy in his arms.
That shot, showing Dwyer in full battle gear, was splashed across the front page of USA Today and other newspapers and on television all over the world.
Dwyer instantly became an American icon, a symbol of American fighting men and women in Iraq. Some compared the photo's impact to the World War II picture of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima.
Dwyer later said he wished he'd been able to remain an "unknown soldier" -- that the picture really represented all American soldiers.
"He never regretted going over there, doing what he did," Matina Dwyer said. "He couldn't actually come home. He was still there in his mind."
5. Annexation Battle
In October, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by some Pinewild Country Club residents trying to block the involuntary annexation by the village of Pinehurst.
A judge had earlier dismissed a suit filed in state court in an effort to stop the annexation. An appeal is pending in that case.
The federal suit had asked a judge to declare that the annexation of Pinewild would be a "taking of private property for public use," something that requires compensation.
A federal judged ruled that the residents cannot make such a claim until the alleged "taking" occurs. The residents were not asking for any compensation.
The village of Pinehurst had enacted an ordinance to annex Pinewild effective June 30 of this year, but that is on hold pending resolution of the lawsuits.
The federal suit claims that property owners "will lose valuable property, privacy and contract rights, sustain an estimated $54 million diminution in market value of their property due to public taking of this private property, and face an estimated tax increase of over $1 million without receiving anything in return for those additional taxes."
But as long as there is an annexation appeal making its way through state courts, Pinewild will stay outside Pinehurst. A decision could come from the N.C. Court of Appeals in May or June.
On the political front, foes of involuntary annexation scored a partial victory in July when the House of Representatives approved a bill calling for a nine-month statewide moratorium to allow time to study possible reforms to state laws. But the bill died in the Senate. The General Assembly did appoint a committee to study the issue.
6. Pine Needles PUD Fails
A majority of the Southern Pines Town Council voted Feb. 12 to approve the Pine Needles Village rezoning, but that wasn't good enough -- ending a nearly two-year battle.
The council voted 3-2 in favor of rezoning the property to Planned Unit Development (PUD), but the measure required four votes because of a valid protest petition. Council members David Woodruff and Abigail Dowd voted against, effectively killing the proposal. Mayor Mike Haney, Mayor Pro Tem Chris Smithson and Fred Walden voted in favor.
The developers had asked the town to rezone 558 acres bounded by U.S. 1 and Camp Easter Road to allow for the 832-home mixed-use village.
"It's not the right project at the right time for Southern Pines," Dowd said during the meeting.
Kelly Miller, president and CEO of Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, left the meeting after the vote. When reached by phone afterward, he said the land would be developed in some way.
Immediately after the vote on the rezoning, Dowd, who had won election to the council in November 2007, made a motion to instruct Town Attorney Doug Gill to draft an ordinance enacting a one-year moratorium. She wanted the moratorium in place as the town goes through the process of enacting a new long-range development master plan. The town's current plan was adopted in 1988.
The council voted in May to enact a one-year development moratorium on planned unit developments and rural residential zoning only in areas north of Midland Road and west of U.S. 1. The council later hired a consultant and appointed a committee to begin the process of developing a long-range plan.
7. Roundabout Opens
The five-year odyssey of the Pinehurst roundabout finally came to an end Dec. 10.
After a couple of weeks of delays, the new roadway opened. It had been delayed because of the installation of brick sidewalks around the area. N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) officials praised the contractor, who worked over the Thanksgiving holiday, to finish the job.
The contract called for completion of the roundabout by Nov. 21. Construction began shortly after the U.S. Amateur golf championship, giving the contractor a window of about 90 days for the project. Even though the situation was out of its control, the contractor still had to pay a daily penalty until the job was completed.
The roundabout is located at the realigned intersection of N.C. 2 and Carolina Vista, between the Pinehurst Country Club and the Carolina Hotel. It is designed to "improve traffic operations and safety, reduce congestion at this intersection, as well as provide a visual gateway to the village," according to the village's 2003 Comprehensive Long-range Village Plan.
The project has been at the center of controversy since it was announced. Some residents opposed the plan because they believed it was detrimental to the historical nature of the village. A group called Concerned Citizens of Pinehurst, led by John Marcum, ultimately failed in its efforts to stop the project through the courts, though it was successful in delaying the project substantially.
The group dropped its legal battle in August after a Superior Court and the N.C. Court of Appeals rejected a last-ditch effort to stop the project the day before construction was to start.
8. Democrats Win Big
Moore County Democrats reveled on the night of Nov. 4 in the victories of their candidates in the presidential, gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.
Sen. Barack Obama, the first black ever to be elected president, capped off his historic 21-month presidential campaign with a stunning victory over Republican Sen. John McCain in the general election.
"It's an impossible dream come true," said Earl Jones, one of the Obama supporters who gathered at the Days Inn in Southern Pines to watch the election returns and celebrate a long-awaited night.
Obama carried North Carolina, a state that voted in big numbers for President Bush in 2000 and 2004 and hasn't gone Democratic since 1976.
In the gubernatorial race, Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue edged out Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, and in the hotly contested U.S Senate race, Democratic state Sen. Kay Hagan soundly defeated Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole.
Even though Democrats did not win a single race in Moore County, the county headquarters also resounded with excitement Tuesday night.
Jonah Person, an 80-year-old black man who lives in Robbins, said he had not expected to live long enough to see a black man win the presidency. In fact, he confessed that he had not expected it to happen in the lifetimes of his children or grandchildren.
Republicans had great success locally, but those gains failed to translate to the state and national level.
Former Gov. Jim Holshouser called the 2008 election "historic," saying it signified a shift in direction of the country. He singled out the economy and the recent financial crisis as defining issues. He said the election results would likely cause some "self-examination" by the Republican Party.
County Republican Party Chairman John Owen predicted that Republicans would regain control of the U.S. House and Senate in the next election. In two years, he predicted, the Democrats will lose control "and lose it miserably."
9. Economic Turmoil
The country is now officially mired in a recession. As in the rest of the country, there has been a lot of hand-wringing going on locally as Moore County residents watched the economy go into a tailspin.
"I've never seen people this concerned before, and it's justifiable," William Clement, a local financial adviser, said in late September. "Nobody's ever seen anything quite like this."
In September, Congress approved a revised $700 billion financial bailout package designed to stabilize the volatile economy by helping banks make more credit available. In the days after the House's initial rejection of a bailout package, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted more than 700 points in late September, the worst sell-off in American history. It has been on a roller-coaster ride since then.
Congressman Howard Coble, a Greensboro Republican who represents Moore County, voted against the first bill and said it was a "bad deal from the beginning." He said most of his constituents were opposed. But Coble switched and voted in favor of the revised bailout a few days later, indicating that most of his constituents now favored it.
Closer to home, Wachovia, the nation's fourth-largest bank, announced in September that it was selling its retail banking operations to Citigroup for $2.2 billion. That deal fell through, and Wells Fargo later agreed to buy those operations. Charlotte-based Wachovia has two branches in Moore County and maintains a large presence in the Southeast.
The Wachovia buyout was the latest chapter in a wave of uncertainty to hit the financial sector. Merrill Lynch, one of the country's most respected financial planning firms, was acquired by Bank of America. AIG, one of the world's largest insurers, was bailed out by the federal government.
Another investment firm, Lehman Brothers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In August, the federal government assumed control of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two largest mortgage backers, as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis.
Compounding the economic chaos were soaring gasoline prices, which topped the $4 mark earlier this year. Supplies had been cut as a result of damage to refineries in the Gulf from Hurricanes Ike and Gustav in September. Many local stations, like others around the state, nearly ran out of gas in late September, touching off widespread panic.
Since then, gas prices have plummeted to about $1.64-$1.65 a gallon. Economic experts predict that prices will remain low going into the new year.
10. Edwards Hits Bottom
John Edwards acknowledged in August that he had engaged in an extramarital affair with a campaign filmmaker while running for president, ending months of denials of what he had dismissed as "tabloid trash."
Edwards, a former North Carolina senator who grew up in Robbins, went on ABC's "Nightline" to admit his affair with Rielle Hunter, a 44-year-old videographer hired by his campaign. But he denied fathering her child.
"In 2006, I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs," Edwards said in a statement issued after ABC News reported the news. "I recognized my mistake and I told my wife that I had a liaison with another woman, and I asked for her forgiveness. Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public."
In apologizing, Edwards said: "In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic. If you want to beat me up -- feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need my help."
The admission likely ended Edwards' once-meteoric political career -- which saw him rise from a prominent Raleigh trial lawyer to the U.S. Senate, two serious presidential campaigns and a place on the 2004 ticket as a vice-presidential candidate. He abandoned his bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination in January.
The acknowledgment tarnished Edwards' image as a clean-cut family man who stood by his wife through the loss of their son in an automobile accident in 1996 and during her continuing battle with incurable cancer.
Edwards denied that he had fathered Hunter's baby girl, Frances Quinn, who was born Feb. 27 in Santa Barbara. He said the timing of his affair in 2006 made it impossible for him to be the father. He offered to take tests to prove he had not sired the child.
The National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid, first reported the story last October.
The allegations resurfaced when The Enquirer reported that Edwards had visited Hunter in the Beverly Hills Hilton and the tabloid printed a grainy photograph of Edwards holding a baby.
Edwards told ABC that he met with Hunter in an effort to keep the scandal from becoming public. He questioned the authenticity of the photograph showing him with the baby.
Andrew Young, a married, longtime Edwards aide, has said he fathered the child with Hunter. Young and his wife were living in a Governor's Club house in Chapel Hill last year. Hunter was living in the same development, according to The Enquirer. Hunter and the Youngs later moved to Santa Barbara.
The affair took place after Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of the 2004 election. Edwards said it ended before the couple announced in March 2007 that her cancer had returned.
Edwards told ABC that his wife was angry when he told her in 2006 about the affair.
"I think furious would be a good way to describe it," he said.
Senior Writer Florence Gilkeson and Staff Writers John Chappell, John Krahnert and Matthew Moriarty contributed to this story.
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