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Flood tops list of ’09 headlines

By By Kerry Whipple Bean
publisher

Mother Nature waited until almost the end of the year to bring the city its top story of 2009 — the flood that drenched businesses in Brewton and East Brewton and caused widespread damage throughout the county.
Business owners are still cleaning up from the flooding, which began in the early morning hours of Dec. 15, and damage has been estimated at more than $5 million across the county.
The Small Business Administration is still working on an assessment of the damage, emergency management Director David Adams said Tuesday.
The economy, crime and court stories and local personalities also dominated the headlines in 2009.
In June, Winn Dixie closed its doors in Brewton. Store officials cited an increase in rent as the cause for the closure, but most Brewton residents blamed the economy and the opening of a new Walmart Supercenter for the loss of the store.
The jobless rate in Escambia County steadily went down as area employers shed some jobs and several plants in nearby counties closed their doors. By December, there was a bit of light at the end of the tunnel as the jobless rate slightly improved both in the county and in the state.
But throughout the year, local pharmacist Danny Cottrell and others continued to encourage residents to shop at home and keep their dollars in Brewton (see box).
The past year is also likely to be remembered for the teachers who gained notoriety outside the classroom rather than in it.
Teachers in Brewton and Escambia County were arrested over the past year in cases that involved drug and abuse charges.
While the headlines did cause a lot of talk, Brewton City Schools Superintendent Lynn Smith said earlier this year he did not mind the publicity.
Among the cases involving local educators:
The teachers were not the only newsmakers who found themselves in legal trouble over the past year.
In July, Brewton native Donnie Stallworth turned himself in to Escambia County authorities on charges he was involved in a much-publicized double murder near Pensacola, Fla. Stallworth remains in jail, along with several co-defendants, on charges he was involved in the shooting deaths of Byrd and Melanie Billings, a Beulah, Fla., couple known for their adoption of several children with special needs. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The penalty was a mere citation, but a truck driver got much more than he bargained for in April when he apparently tried to beat a train across the tracks and instead dumped his load of logs through the front window of First Exchange Bank in downtown Brewton. No one was injured in the incident, and the bank quickly reopened and has since fixed the damage.
The incident also prompted the city and Alabama Department of Transportation to revisit the possibility of a train traffic signal at that intersection, and one is scheduled to be installed soon.
Among the other top news in 2009: