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Top 10 local stories for 2007
[December 31, 2007]

Top 10 local stories for 2007

(The Free Press (Kinston, NC)(KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Dec. 31--2007 was an interesting year for the planet, and the same holds true locally. Below are the top 10 local stories of the year, as decided upon by Free Press editorial staff.

1. Young life cut short.

April's ghastly murder of a 7-year-old Pink Hill girl was easily the top newsmaker of the year locally. Chastity Amelia Sumner's body was found April 28 a short distance from the home she shared with her grandmother. Investigators later determined she was raped and murdered. John Allen Manning, a family acquaintance living with Sumner and her grandmother at the time, was charged with killing the girl and is still in jail awaiting trial. The murder shook Pink Hill as memorials appeared across town and the school where Sumner attended, Pink Hill Elementary School. Hundreds of people attended the girl's funeral.


2. Closing up shop.

The region's declining textile industry took another blow this year when Unifi closed its Kinston plant in November, leaving about 260 people without work. The company had operated out of its N.C. 11 facility since September 2004. DuPont also has an operation there, which was not affected by Unifi's closure. The move had a ripple effect, and several shops and gas stations near the plant braced for a loss of business. One shop, King Mart, closed its doors because of Unifi pulling out. Company officials cited increased foreign competition as the reason for shutting down the local facility.

3. Drying out.

The region suffered along with the rest of North Carolina this year as a drought which first struck over the summer and is still in existence hurt crops, dried up riverbeds and caused more brush fires to break out than normal. Drought conditions forced state and local officials to enact a ban on open burning for much of the year. Farmers here and across the state reported drastic decreases in crop yields. Dry conditions also kept firefighters busy with brush fires on an almost daily basis. The worst such fire happened in September, when 65 acres of farmland between Kinston and Dover were burned.

4. Groundbreaking moment.

September's groundbreaking of a new Veterans Administration nursing home on Hull Road in Kinston was heralded by state and local leaders as a boon for the city, since it will eventually create up to 120 new jobs in the area. But the event was marred by controversy when Lenoir County leaders began planning for the celebration. At first, county commissioners agreed to spend up to $20,000 of taxpayer money on an invitation-only luncheon that followed the groundbreaking ceremony. Commissioners backpedaled after hearing complaints from the public, and the luncheon was paid for by private donations.

5. School construction begins.

In 2006, Lenoir County voters approved a $69.7 million bond to renovate, expand and build new schools across the county. In 2007, the projects started taking shape. Workers began building a new school in Pink Hill that will house the elementary school there, and another new building that will combine Contentnea Elementary and Savannah Middle schools. Meanwhile the school board picked a site off Martin Luther King Boulevard that will be a new elementary school combining Bynum and Teacher's Memorial. The latter's school building will house the district's pre-kindergarten program. In La Grange, workers demolished the condemned portion of the elementary school building and began work on expanding the current part of the facility. Most of the projects under way are expected to be complete by mid to late 2008.

6. Heading west.

In June, the Kinston City Council started studying a plan to annex three areas west of the city. The targeted area includes Crestwood and Briarwood in a combined area, Hickory Hills and commercial properties along U.S. 258 North. The process was sparked by businesses along the highway that contacted the city for sewer service. The council voted in September to formally kick off the process, which is expected to take about two years. The city will spend 2008 developing a report, and the council is expected to vote on the annexation in February 2009.

7. Not in my backyard.

A Raleigh-based company looking to build a housing subdivision in northwest Kinston was met with heavy resistance from residents who live near the project site. Evergreen Construction sought to build a 51-lot subdivision that would be bordered by Carey and Hodges roads and Jennifer Street, among others. Developers said they wanted to build market-rate homes for low- to moderate-income families. Opponents claimed Poyner Place would decrease property values, increase traffic and create flooding problems. The Planning Board approved the subdivision, but the Kinston City Council, under pressure from residents, rejected it. Evergreen sued to overturn the council's decision, but earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Paul Jones sided with the city. Evergreen officials may appeal the decision.

8. Better late than never.

It took 22 years, but justice was finally served in August when 45-year-old Johnny Ray Mewborn admitted to the 1985 murder of Benita Murphy in Kinston. The case had gone cold for two decades but was re-opened in 2005 when investigators developed new leads in the case. Using hairs taken from Murphy and advances in DNA technology, investigators were able to link Mewborn to the killing. Mewborn pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was handed a life sentence. He was already serving a life sentence after being convicted in 1997 of being a habitual felon.

9. Just say no.

An otherwise lackluster off-year election season was made somewhat interesting when commissioners in Lenoir and Greene counties placed a referendum on November's ballot calling for a .25 percent sales tax hike. The state had taken back a portion of the sales tax when it agreed to take over paying for Medicaid, and county leaders were looking for a way to recover that lost revenue. Without a solid plan outlining how the additional sales tax would be spent, voters in both counties soundly rejected the measures. This year's election also saw incumbent council members in Kinston returned to office, while some incumbent councilmen in La Grange and Pink Hill were voted out of office. A proposal in Snow Hill to allow for the sale of mixed drinks was also defeated.

10. Saying goodbye.

This year was a whirlwind year for Craig Hill. It started with him being named the Southeast Regional Principal of the Year in February, winning the State Principal of the Year in April, and it ended with him leaving Kinston High School in November after an eight-year stint there. Hill left to become an assistant superintendent in Wilson County. On his final day at KHS, Hill walked the halls of the school escorted by JROTC members and to thunderous applause from students and staff.

Charlie Kraebel can be reached at (252) 559-1074 or ckraebel@freedomenc.com. Check out Charlie's blog at ckraebel.encblogs.com.

To see more of The Free Press or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.kinston.com/.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Free Press, Kinston, N.C.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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