Change, triumph, tragedy highlight first half of 2019


A look back at the first half of 2019.

  • In April, up to six inches of rain fell on Franklin County, washing out roads, including Rocky Ford Road (above) and bridges. A Madison County Swift Water Rescue Squad (right) was called in to rescue a family on Goolsby Road after their yard was flooded.
    In April, up to six inches of rain fell on Franklin County, washing out roads, including Rocky Ford Road (above) and bridges. A Madison County Swift Water Rescue Squad (right) was called in to rescue a family on Goolsby Road after their yard was flooded.

The first six months of 2019 were tumultuous ones in Franklin County.

There were changes in leadership, both elected and appointed, in local governments.

Weather in the form of a near half-foot of rain washed away roads and bridges.

And there were tragedies on I-85 and county roads.

But there was also triumph.

Local sports teams and athletes accomplished much and were honored for it.

A new industry was announced for the Central Franklin Industrial Park.

Following is a look back at the first half of 2019.

• January.

The start of 2019 saw the swearing in of new and returning elected officials. Franklin County Probate Judge Ken Eavenson swore in new Franklin County Board of Education member Randall Gailey and Franklin County Commissioner Ryan Swails. Alan Mitchell was sworn in for his second term in Post 4 seat on the Franklin County Board of Education. Robin Cato was sworn in for her third term for Post 5 on the board of education. Eddie Wester was sworn in for his second term as the District 4 commissioner on the Franklin County Board of Commissioners.

The Franklin County Board of Education began officially looking for a new superintendent during their regular meeting.

The Franklin County Board of Education approved the 2019-20 school calendar. The calendar was increased from the system’s current 164-day schedule to 170 days. That decision came after a community debate over whether to stay at 164 days or increase to the traditional 180 days.

St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Hospital welcomed its first baby of 2019 Jan. 2 at 2:02 p.m., when Rion Tymeria Mattox was born. Rion is the daughter of Tykeria Mattox of Hartwell and weighed 7 pounds, 11.3 ounces at birth and was 20 1/4 inches long. 

For the first time in its history, the Lavonia Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners elected a resident and an African American as its chairman: Sandra Mayfield.

Seniors Levi Jackson and Eliza Kate Floyd were crowned Mr. and Miss Lion at Franklin County High School. Jackson and Floyd were chosen by vote of their classmates for the honor. 

The 2018 Class AAA State Champion Franklin County Lady Lion softball team was honored by the Georgia General Assembly Jan. 16 and had an audience with new Gov. Brian Kemp.

Franklin County High School senior Autumn Stroud became one of three FCHS students to make the Georgia Music Educators Association (GMEA) All-State Band since 2003 and the first one since 2008.

Franklin County Lady Lion softball players were presented their state championship rings and a banner commemorating their championship was presented.

• February.

Plans were announced for a new development on the site of the former Cobb Memorial Hospital in Royston that would include a restaurant, meeting room and new Ty Cobb Museum. The Cawthon family, owners of the site on Franklin Springs Street (U.S. Highway 29) in Royston, has announced plans for the new mixed-use development.

Ed Cushman, a 39-year-old Shelby, N.C., man, died when the minivan he was traveling in on I-85 caught fire. He was on the way to the Super Bowl with his family after asking Team Gleason Foundation, which was founded by former Saints player Steve Gleason who also has ALS, to help him find Super Bowl tickets that would provide him with Americans with Disabilities Act seating.

Franklin County commissioners planned to hold town hall meetings soon to discuss a proposed building inspection program for the county.

Kristen Odister pleaded guilty to the murder of Lavonia businessman Samuel Harbin. In exchange for her full cooperation and providing additional information to the state in its case against co-defendant Rayfondia Rashan Craft, the state took the death penalty off the table and offered instead life with the possibility of parole in 27 years.

A group of poultry farmers, led by Franklin County Commission Chairman Thomas Bridges, asked the Royston City Council for natural gas service to Red Hill.

Nekita Beasley Eppes was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame back in November. The Franklin County native competed – and set records – at the high school and college levels and finished eighth in the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team trials in New Orleans, La.

Franklin County Libraries Branch Manager Rosie Chitwood retired.

The city of Franklin Springs bought 130 acres near the intersection of Highway 327 and Campbell Ridge Road.

The search for the new superintendent of Franklin County School System officially began in February. The Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) posted the position Feb. 6 on behalf of the Franklin County Board of Education. The deadline for applications was March 17.

Franklin County’s Tommy Waldrop, who was head of the Georgia State Patrol since 2014, was appointed head of External Operations for the Georgia State Patrol, effective Feb. 16. The new job came with a promotion from major to lieutenant colonel.

The Franklin County Lions basketball team made the state playoffs as a wild card team and advanced to the Elite Eight with wins over Central Macon and Beach high schools. The team fell just short of the Final Four with a loss at Dawson County.  

Prospects for a new solar farm near Lavonia were clouded in March when Franklin County Commissioners tabled the idea to allow the county’s economic developers to weigh in.

The city of Lavonia asked the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to study the intersection at Highway 59 and West Main Street.

Thirty-nine members of the Franklin County High School Class of 2019 were honored at the annual Honors Breakfast in the Swails Center. The event has been sponsored by the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee for more than 30 years. Maleah Mathews was the class’s valedictorian and Averi Pitts was salutatorian.  The breakfast also included recognition of Jesse Robertson, the class’s STAR Student, and Linda Frederick, Robertson’s choice as STAR Teacher.

Candice Paige Martin pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle-leaving the scene in the death of her husband. This was a change of plea for Martin who was indicted on malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, homicide by vehicle-leaving the scene and hit and run charges. The other charges in the case were dismissed.

Franklin Life Executive Director Tina Brock testified in front of the United Nations in New York, N.Y.

• March.

The first Lavonia Boat Expo cruised in to East Main Street and welcomed sight-seers.

According to Franklin County Board of Education Chairman Robin Cato, the school system received a total of 32 applications for its superintendent position.

The city of Royston continued to investigate a possible expansion of gas lines into the Red Hill community.

An institution that has helped the needy in the Royston area for more than 30 years got a “new life.” The Rainbow Pantry in Royston got a new director, a new sign and a renewed commitment to continue to help those in need.

A Toccoa man was indicted by a Franklin County grand jury in a case involving the death of a 3-year-old child. Willie Deshone Spencer was indicted for cruelty to children in the first degree after charges were brought last year. According to the indictment, Spencer allegedly caused the child cruel and excessive physical pain by strangling the child with a rope and striking the child with an unknown object.

Ananya Ganesh, a 17-year-old student at Atlanta’s Westminster School, started the Girls Maker Initiative at the Royston Public Library for middle school students.


A Texas man drowned in Lake Hartwell when he jumped into the water to retrieve a kayak that had come loose from a dock. 

A fire that destroyed a double-wide mobile home March 27 at 4294 Sandy Cross Road in Sandy Cross was ruled an arson.

Franklin County commissioners and economic development leaders reached a compromise with a company to allow a new solar panel farm on industrial property near Lavonia. 

Work to patch and resurface parts of Georgia Highway 17 from Royston to Canon began on the portion of the road between the two cities. 

One week after setting a new school record of 12:55.98 in the 3,200 meter run, FCHS sophomore Gracie Woods ran the event with a time of 12:31 and shattered her own record. Woods also set a new school record in the 1,600 meter run with a time of 5:48.78, breaking the record set in 2017 by Alicia Martinez by nearly seven seconds. 

The Emmanuel College Clay Target team won the national title for Division III.

Interstate-85 South was shut down for an hour and a half after a possible bomb was reported in a vehicle parked on the side of the road. Traffice was backed up for miles. 

Franklin County native Don Johnson was presented an award in Washington, D.C., for his book The Wealth of a Nation: A History of Trade Politics in America

A Lavonia resident was charged with the shooting death of a man at a home on Poplar Springs Road Saturday. Billy Whitworth, 29, of Lavonia was charged with felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in connection to the death of Michael John Ehlers. 

Two rounds of severe weather downed trees and limbs and knocked off power to parts of Franklin County. 

Ground was broken at Franklin County Middle School for a new field house and at Carnesville Elementary School-Intermediate for additional classrooms to house Carnesville Elementary in one building.

Briannah Henry signed a scholarship to run Cross Country with Emmanuel College.

Torrential rains wreaked havoc on county roads causing an estimated $1 million in damages. Nearly a half foot of rain spawned flood waters that forced the county to close seven roads. A total of 55 roads sustained damage.

Bond was denied for William “Billy” Lamar Whitworth, who was charged in the death of Michael John Ehlers.

A South Carolina toddler died in a hit-and-run accident on I-85. Solomon Carter, 3, of Fountain Inn, S.C., was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene.

Montana Cheek set a new school record for girls pole vault with a height of 9’1” at the Jackson County Quad Meet.

The 2019 Ty Cobb Museum Baseball Card was unveiled in a ceremony celebrating the 100th anniversary of the last of Cobb’s 12 American League batting titles with a .384 and 191 base hits. The museum also offered a limited edition 2019 relic card, which included game-used bat sawdust in each card. The relic cards sold out in hours.

• May.

The Franklin County School Board found itself facing a deficit for the fiscal year 2020 after a teacher pay hike and lower student enrollment. 

Franklin County Manager Elizabeth Thomas was honored with the 2019 Jerry R. Griffin Excellence in Public Service Award by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

The Lavonia Main Street program, based in the historic depot downtown, was reaccredited after meeting national standards for the program. 

Night time paving of Georgia Highway 17 around Royston began. 

The Franklin County Lady Lions slow-pitch softball team brought home a state runner-up trophy for the second year in a row last week. The softball program at FCHS now has one state championship and two runner-up finishes in the last calendar year. 

Farm families were honored in the John W. Swails Center as more than 250 members of the local community attended Emmanuel’s fourth annual Founding Farmer’s Gala. 

FCHS senior Drew Holland signed a scholarship to play soccer for Truett-McConnell College.

FCHS seniors participated in the inaugural graduation walk. The soon-to-be Class of 2019 graduates from FCHS did grad walks through the county’s elementary schools and Franklin County Middle School. 

Franklin County Commissioners replaced Airport Authority Chairman Harris Little with Eddie Addison by a unanimous vote. 

A man accused of burglarizing at least three Hart County homes was arrested after breaking into a house on Lavonia Highway while the owner was there. The suspect, William Ralph Maxwell, 56, of 185 Carolina Lane in Lavonia, was arrested without further incident and charged with first-degree burglary. 

Lavonia resident Margaret Ayers was recognized by the Lavonia city council for her 75th work anniversary at Northeast Georgia Bank.

Maggie West was named the new branch manager at Franklin County libraries in Royston and Lavonia.

The family of Lavonia Police Officer Scot Stowe planted a tree near the Lavonia Police Department Shooting Range in his memory. Stowe passed away in his sleep Feb. 8, 2018.  

The Franklin County Board of Education announced Christopher Forrer as the sole finalist for the superintendent position. Forrer was the director of school improvement and accountability for Madison County Schools. 

Steve Horton, the first system-wide athletic director in Franklin County history, announced in a letter to coaches and friends that he would resign. Horton left the head athletic administrative position to return to coaching in Hart County.

Keelon Glen Bradley pled guilty in Franklin County Superior Court to two counts of rape and three counts of child molestation. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with mandatory 25 years served before possibility of parole.

FCHS head baseball coach Frank Vashaw resigned after three seasons with the Diamond Lions.

The Franklin County High School track and field 4x400 relay team of Everett Haselden, John Clayton Reed, Titlan Wells and Josh Beasley won the state AAA title in Albany with a season-best time of 3:23.03, a full 1.67 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. The 4x400 meter girls' team of Emma Maffett, Adriunna Earl, Cikari Lockleer and Kori Esco set a new school record at the state track meet. Gracie Woods also bested her own school record in the 1,600 meters. 

FCHS senior Jacob Davis signed a scholarship to play baseball with the University of South Carolina-Union Bantams.

The FCHS Class of 2019 – 236 strong – received their diplomas in front of a packed Ed Bryant Stadium during the school’s 55th Commencement Exercise. The class heard speeches from Valedictorian Maleah Mathews, Salutatorian Averi Pitts and STAR Student and Class President Jesse Robertson. Briannah Henry was presented the Emma Lee Burroughs Outstanding Senior Award. 

Kevin Phillips of Royston was named the 2019 Citizen of the Year by the Royston–Franklin Springs Pilot Club.

Willie Deshone Spencer was arrested for the offense of murder. The charges stemmed from an investigation began in August of 2018, pertaining to the death of a child under the age of 18. 

Emmanuel College held its graduation ceremony at the Swails Center. Approximately 150 students received degrees. Emmanuel graduate and International Pentecostal Holiness Church General Superintendent Dr. A.D. Beacham was the commencement speaker. 

The Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) approved $72,000 in emergency funds for the county to use to fix Rocky Ford Road and Banks Road, which had portions washed away by flooding from heavy rains in April.

An explosion on a boat in Lake Hartwell sent a man to the hospital with significant burn wounds. Craig Fulghum with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said the victim, Anthony Wayne Edwards, 64, of Dallas, possibly had just fueled up his boat at Harbor Light Marina in Lavonia. Edwards was thrown from the boat and burned severely.

A Mexican company that builds equipment for poultry houses signed papers to be the very first industry to open in the Central Franklin Industrial Park. Kool Farm LLC purchased 10 acres in the park for a $2 million facility that will make cool cells for the poultry industry. Kool Farm is a part of a parent company named Klean Air, based in Torreon, Mexico.

• June.

Franklin County Commissioners voted to close a stretch of Bowman Street from Lavonia city limits to Highway 59. The vote came over much vocal opposition from citizens and residents who live off Bowman Street.

The Franklin County Citizen Leader was judged one of the best papers its size in the state of Georgia by the Georgia Press Association’s 2019 Better Newspaper Contest. The Citizen Leader placed second in General Excellence and won 14 awards in 12 categories.

The Lavonia Police Department made an arrest in the May 30 robbery of the Subway restaurant in Lavonia. Aundrekus Jermaine Harper, 21, of Lavonia was arrested and charged with robbery. 

A fatal crash involving a tour bus killed two adults and left three people injured. The accident occurred at the intersection of Georgia Highways 59 and 77 when a Jeep Liberty, driven by 54-year-old Charles Miller of Martin,  failed to stop at a stop sign. The tour bus driver, James Patrick, 76, of Pendleton, S.C.,died on the scene. A passenger in the Jeep, 18 year old Morgan Wilson, also died on the scene.

Former Franklin County School superintendent Wayne Randall was named to head the new School of Agriculture at North Georgia Technical College.

Blevins Inc., a Nashville-based supplier of housing products, announced the acquisition of 100 percent of Tri-State Distributors and its nine branch locations. Tri-State will continue to operate its corporate office in Royston and all of its nine locations across Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi. 

The Franklin County Board of Education announced at its regular meeting that Brad Roberts would leave the Central Office and return to Lavonia Elementary to be the principal once again. Roberts’ return came after the resignation of Jenica Johnson to take a position in Jackson County.

St. Mary's Sacred Heart Hospital was designated as a Remote Treatment Stroke Center by the Georgia Department of Public Health Office of EMS and Trauma. The designation recognizes Sacred Heart's quality care for stroke patients, especially its use of telemedicine to provide state-of-the-art emergency treatment locally. 

Lavonia City Council Member Courtney Umbehant announced his resignation from the council in order to run for mayor in elections in November. 

Franklin County Head Softball Coach Jason Oliver was named athletic director for the Franklin County School System.

Veteran coach David Skelly is as the new head baseball coach at Franklin County High School. 

Franklin County Fishing Team members Tyler Campbell and Joe Mitchell finished 25th in the World Finals tournament Saturday held in Florence, Ala. The pair landed 11.15 pounds of fish in the last qualifying round to make it to the World Finals rounds Saturday with a top 31 finish.