As usual, a lot happened over the course of the past year.
As we look back over the year that was 2019, nothing, though, seemed to catch the attention of more people than the Stone High School tennis team bringing home the Mississippi High School Athletic Association 5-A state tennis championship.
Coach Freddie Wegner had led his team to the title match each of the previous eight years, only to return home with the runner-up trophy.
Not in 2019.
When Wegner saw his mixed doubles team of Nick Alexander and Emily Luke approach the net to shake hands with their opponents from Lafayette High on April 26, he knew the dream had finally been realized.
The 6-3, 6-4 victory by the mixed doubles duo gave the Tomcats their fourth, and winning, point of the match and Alexander presented the ball which had been struck for the winning point to his coach.
The Tomcats were now, and will forever be recognized as, the 2019 MHSAA 5-A state champions.
“I think it validates the eight previous South State championships,” Wegner said at the time. “It’s the first time in 12 years Oxford or Lafayette has not won the 5-A championship.”
In seven of those years, Oxford had beaten the Tomcats and, last year, Lafayette defeated Stone 4-3.
“I think it’s long overdue,” said Stone High athletic director Greg Amacker. “I think coach Wegner has done a wonderful job of building a tennis program from the ground up and it’s paying off like a ‘program,’ should.”
The Tomcats were dominating in the season’s playoffs, winning 25 singles or doubles matches while losing only three.
They finished the overall season with a record of 20-2.
In the state title match, they won 6-1; Lawson Pearson defeated Nate Leary 1-6, 6-1 (10-3), Orren Ladner and Kyle Bond defeated Dawson Welch and Barrett Childress 6-3, 6-4, He Feng Ou and Triston Hill defeated Sam Case and Brett Lampton 6-3, 6-3, Kendall Burn and Kaylen Bond defeated Sara Moore and Alexandra Lampton 6-0, 6-2 and Anna Stringer and Lainey Cunningham defeated Hudson Lindsay and Valerie Smith 6-3, 6-3.
Stone’s only loss came at girls’ singles where Noelle King fell 6-0, 6-0 to Ally Bowen.
“There have been a lot of quality players over the years, some of whom won individual state titles but, unfortunately, never won that team title,” Amacker said. “It’s a huge credit to the coaches, the parents and especially the parents that the program has experienced such consistency.”
Things look fairly bright for the Tomcats’ in 2020, as well.
Wegner graduated eight seniors, but only five starters, and has quality competitors returning for next season, when the team will play in the 4-A classification.
“I like our chances next season,” Wegner said.
Running a close second in grabbing people’s attention was the flooding of Mothers’ Day weekend.
Stone County residents are accustomed to seeing Red Creek rise with torrential rains.
It’s not at all unusual to see campers pulling trailers out of the Perk Beach campground on Hwy. 49.
It is not outside of the norm for rescue personnel to have to evacuate residents in low-lying areas.
Nobody, however, could remember when Red Creek went that high and did that much damage.
“I’ve been here 67 years and I’ve never seen the creek go over Hwy. 49,” said Dick O’Neal.
Cabins in Red Creek Camp, across the creek from Perk Beach, took five feet of water in an area that had never been known to see serious flooding.
“The measurement at Daisy Vestry was 21.6 feet,” said Stone County Emergency Management Director Raven James. “I’ve never seen it that high.”
James has been the county EMA Director for 21 years.
He said his measurements indicated the area had received 13.5 inches of rain in a 36-hour period and said that was conservative.
“Some areas could have had a high of 15 or 16 inches,” he said.
All Stone County volunteer fire departments, along with the Wiggins Fire Department, were joined by Stone County Sheriff’s Department deputies, Wiggins Police Department officers, EOC/911 personnel and members of the Stone County Hospital Ambulance Service in rescuing and rendering treatment to flood victims.
“Nearly 100 people were rescued,” said Wiggins Fire Chief Jody Hatten. “Most of it was just getting people out of their homes after the water got too high.”
Many were taken by surprise by the swiftly rising water and the sheer volume of it.
“Nobody alive, I don’t think, has ever seen anything quite like that here in Stone County,” Hatten said. “Some were unprepared, but others simply could not get out before the water made roads impassable.”
The Stone County Sheriff’s Department continues to seek the whereabouts of Robert Bruce Hariel, a 38-year-old Stone County man who has been missing since Jan. 11, 2019
Investigator Amanda Schonewitz said the investigation into Hariel’s disappearance remains open and law enforcement officials have been following leads and tips received from the public.
“We have conducted several searches based on tips we have received but we have not been successful in finding Mr. Hariel,” she said. “We intend to continue searching in the hopes of getting some answers in this case.”
Dwaine Rogers and Christopher Hendrix were arrested in the case and charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Hendrix was the last known individual to be seen with Hariel and had a preliminary hearing May 15 in Stone County Justice Court.
Both men had bonds set at $250,000.
Rogers posted bond while Hendrix remains in custody.
At Rogers’ preliminary hearing, Schonewitz testified that Rogers had told her Hendrix had killed Hariel.
“He told me . . . that Chris had left for Texas, had killed Bruce and had dumped the body in Black Creek at Fairley’s Landing,” she said.
A subsequent search of Black Creek failed to turn up Hariel’s body.
Schonewitz said investigators are awaiting a grand jury decision in the case.
“We still get leads here and there, but nothing has panned out,” she said.
Stone County’s 37th mural was dedicated at a ceremony at Perkinston Elementary School Jan. 18.
Featuring the State of Mississippi’s official butterfly, the spicebush swallowtail, and the state wildflower, Coreopsis, or tickseed, the mural was created by Pensacola, Fla. artist Cindy Mathis and executed with help from local artists Kelly Spacht and Brittany Huse.
“It was a huge community effort,” said Kathryn Lewis, founder of the Telling Trees Project.
An attempt to stop a suspicious vehicle in Harrison County on Feb. 6 culminated in a wreck and a shootout with law enforcement officers in Stone County.
A Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper located an attempted carjacking suspect driving a 2002 Dodge Durango traveling south on Highway 605 and driving in a careless manner.
The trooper attempted to initiate a traffic stop on the vehicle when the driver made an attempt to evade law enforcement by refusing to stop the vehicle.
Troopers, along with the assistance of the Harrison County and Stone County Sheriff’s Departments, pursued the vehicle and shots were fired at law enforcement officers from the suspect vehicle as it entered Stone County before crashing along Hwy. 15.
Officers returned fire.
The driver of the vehicle, Miles Dylan Cooper, a 25-year-old male resident of Gulfport, crashed and died at the scene from wounds received in the shootout.
Two passengers, Charlie Randolph Grissom, a 24-year-old male resident of Kiln and Tarrah Lynn Owens, a 35-year-old female of Saucier, were both injured and taken to Garden Park Hospital in Gulfport where they were treated for gunshot wounds.
The second annual Tomcat Expo was held Feb. 8 with employers and educators from throughout South Mississippi manning booths to share information concerning career paths.
“Once again, the Tomcat Expo was a huge success,” said Stone County School District Superintendent Inita Owen. “I believe that the administration, counselors, and volunteers truly outdid themselves this year.
“I think their passion and dedication led to some great opportunities for our students to discover what path they might follow after high school.”
Stone County Sheriff’s Department identified the victim of a fiery vehicle collision that occurred on Old Hwy. 26 Jan. 28.
The driver of a Jeep Patriot which crossed the center line and struck another vehicle head on was 24-year-old Sydney Brooke McElrone of Eau Claire, Wisc.
She struck the vehicle of 20-year-old Hailey Shoemake of Poplarville. Chad Berry, a 24-year-old Poplarville resident, was a passenger in Shoemake’s vehicle.
“Several witnesses said McElrone had been driving very erratically weaving from line to line,” Olds said. “She crossed the center line and struck the other vehicle head on.”
McElrone’s vehicle caught fire and she couldn’t be extricated until firefighters had extinguished the blaze.
Shoemake and Berry both suffered horrific injuries with Shoemake being airlifted and Berry transported by ambulance to Forrest General Hospital.
The Wiggins Police Department moved back into its headquarters on First Street after having spent five years in rented facilities while the building was renovated.
An 11th-hour business deal saved Pine Burr Country Club from going to auction on the steps of the Stone County Courthouse.
A new company, Pine Burr Properties, LLC, was formed by Roger, Brent and Whitney Hickman and purchased the property from deed holder Preston Carpenter.
The new owners have made major renovations to the clubhouse and have been working consistently on the grounds in order to make it a major regional attraction.
They renamed the property Pine Burr Golf Club.
Wiggins resident Joy Jennings was selected as the Exhibitions Director for the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts online gallery.
A very active artist, Jennings was already a contributor.
“I have, for some time, contributed to their collections,” she said. “They asked if anyone wanted to volunteer, so I did.
“As the director, I was coordinating exhibits and submissions and they’ve asked me to curate the exhibits.”
The gallery web site, ecva.org, has exhibits archived back to 2000 and contains a wide variety of themes.
Cold weather dampened enthusiasm for the annual Pine Hill Festival.
While cold weather kept some festival goers away, the foot races, food vendors and musicians still put on a great show for those in attendance.
For the second time in approximately one year, Julian Langston was charged with statutory rape.
Of the same person.
Langston, a 40-year-old resident of Wiggins, allegedly made his way into a home and was caught in the act of perpetrating rape on a minor.
“He had been out on bond on the first charge while awaiting a grand jury hearing,” said Investigator Amanda Schonewitz of the Stone County Sheriff’s Department. “He faces up to life in prison because it’s the second time he’s been arrested for the same crime within the past year.”
Stone High School archers won the Archery in Mississippi Schools statewide competition.
The Tomcats, coached by Cory Danner, shot a team score of 3,057 to win the 5-A portion of the event.
A lifetime of commitment to scouting resulted in John Alexander and his son, Brenton Alexander, being named Pine Burr Area Council Good Scouts for 2019.
Folks turned out for the first annual Art Walk to see local artists practicing their craft along the sidewalks of Pine Hill while other artists plied their trade inside.
Youngsters were offered, and accepted, an invite to lend a hand at creating a community painting in front of the former Serendipity restaurant.
Approximately 700 people attended the fourth annual Wing Over Wiggins fly-in event at Dean Griffin Memorial Airport.
Hundreds of childfren converged on Blaylock Park on Good Friday as Animal Care Clinic of Wiggins and The Vision Center sponsored an Easter egg hunt featuring more than 3,000 eggs.
Charles Guy “Dinkey” Evans, an All-State football player at Perkinston Junior College before an All-SEC career at Mississippi State, was inducted into the MACJC Sports Hall of Fame.
Len Blackwell, a longtime fixture in the Perkinston community, received another in a long line of distinctions.
A member of the Brunini law firm in Gulfport, Blackwell was inducted into the University of Mississippi Law Alumni Hall of Fame.
Chris Brown, a Stone High senior, won the heavyweight title in the MHSAA 5-A powerlifting meet.
Brown lifted 330 pounds in the bench press, 630 pounds in the squat and 570 pounds in the deadlift for a total of 1,530 pounds.
An alert off-duty Biloxi police officer who lives in Stone County was responsible for taking the alleged shooter of another Biloxi police officer off the street May 6.
Officer Wheeler [who asked that his first name not be used] was returning home when he spotted 19-year-old Darian Tawan Atkinson walking near Hwy. 49 and Hall Street.
Wheeler contacted the Wiggins Police Department and then tracked Atkinson until Sgt. Tim Hill and patrolmen Tyler Roberts and Cody Rayburn could make contact.
The WPD officers pursued Atkinson until they subdued him at gunpoint in a field just north of the Hampton Inn.
Atkinson is the suspect in the brazen shooting of officer Robert McKeithen in the parking lot of the Biloxi Police Department May 5 and, at the time, faced a charge of capital murder of a law enforcement officer.
The City of Wiggins took the opportunity to allow Police Officers’ Memorial Day 2019 to serve dual purposes.
Not only did the city honor Henry Bond, Brandon Breland and Odell Fite for their having made the ultimate sacrifice, it also dedicated its new justice complex.
Dignitaries were on hand from around the state and the nation as the city renamed the police/municipal court building on First Street the Bond-Breland-Fite Memorial Justice Complex.
A Memorial Day weekend camping trip turned into a tragedy when a man drowned in Red Creek.
Johnell D. Alexander, Jr., a 21-year-old resident of Gulfport, went for an early-morning swim with a companion in about eight feet of water and failed to emerge from the water.
Mike Welch, owner of Trinity Taxidermy in Wiggins, earned the People’s Choice as the best taxidermist in the State of Mississippi.
Welch’s mount featuring an adult raccoon and three babies scampering on a tree was selected as the People’s Choice winner in the Mississippi State Taxidermists Association annual competition held in Jackson.
Welch would later win several awards in the Alabama state competition, as well.
Stone County Enterprise Editor Jody O’Hara was recognized by his peers with a first-place award for a photo he took of two veterans living in squalid conditions.
The photo earned the award in the Feature Photo category of the 2019 National Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Editorial contest.
Fred’s announced it would be closing its Wiggins store.
The announcement came with a new round of store closings intended to shore up the company’s financial situation.
At the time, the company said the pharmacy at the downtown Wiggins store would remain open, but the entire store eventually closed.
Editor’s note: The Enterprise will feature the top news of the second half of 2019 in next week’s edition.