Year in review: A look back at 2021
By Staff Reports
Hartselle and Morgan County saw several big stories in 2021. It was a busy year for the Hartselle Enquirer, and the editorial staff has covered everything from how the community continued to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic, to the stories of inspiring people, to city- and school-wide developments and improvements and more. Keep reading to reflect on the biggest stories of the year.
1. Hartselle Enquirer loses beloved columnist
In January, a long-time columnist and beloved contributor to the Hartselle Enquirer passed away after a brief illness. Dr. Bill Stewart wrote his column for the newspaper for more than a quarter of a century. Connie said her husband of 45 years was an “avid researcher” and loved writing about his hometown.
In the Jan. 13 issue, the Enquirer published an article about his life and career, commemorating his accomplishments and saying goodbye.
2. Falkville man arrested in Washington
A Falkville man arrested during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol had 11 Molotov cocktails designed to act like napalm; a semiautomatic rifle; and a handgun in his pickup truck, plus two handguns in his pockets, according to a Capitol Police affidavit. Lonnie Leroy Coffman, 71, pleaded guilty Nov. 12 to federal and local firearms offenses. He has been in custody since his arrest Jan. 6.
3. Morgan investigator gored by bull returns to work
January rounded out with a bit of good news for the Morgan investigator who was gored by a bull on his Somerville farm in August 2020. Morgan County sheriff’s investigator Caleb Brooks returned to work in after his transplant and said he’s blessed to be alive.
Sheriff Ron Puckett said Brooks’ return to working full time was nothing short of a miracle. “Caleb is a fighter,” Puckett said. “His determination, plus the prayers and support from our community, helped him get back to this point and back to serving our citizens.”
4. Former Crestline PTO treasurer faces theft charges
A Hartselle woman and former treasurer of the Parent Teacher Organization at Crestline Elementary School was arrested Feb. 5 on theft charges. Abby Wilson, 32, was charged with theft of property in the first degree, a Class B felony, according to the Hartselle Police Department. She was booked in the Morgan County Jail with a $5,000 bond.
The HPD said the investigation began Nov. 2 when members of the Crestline PTO reported the theft of money exceeding $2,500. It was later discovered the missing funds totaled more than $20,000.
5. Five face capital murder indictments
The five people who were arrested in September 2020 and charged with capital murder in the death of Anthony Larry Sheppard were indicted on those charges in April 2021.
Logan McKinley Delp, 36, and Jaclyn Skuce, 38, both of Madison; Aaron Howard, 40, of Toney; and LaJuhn Keith Smart, 25, and Angela Stolz, 34, both of Huntsville, are all incarcerated without bond.
Records show all the defendants are in Morgan County Jail except Delp, who is in Madison County Jail.
Officers with the HPD were dispatched to Sheppard’s home, 450 Dawson St., in Hartselle, as a part of a welfare check July 24, 2020. Sheppard was scheduled to appear in court that morning regarding custody and visitation issues with Skuce, the mother of his child.
6. Body of missing Cullman man turns up in Hartselle
The body of a missing Cullman man was found in a vehicle May 4 in the parking lot of the Hartselle Walmart. The body of Nicholas Tyler Billings, 30, was discovered in his 1994 Chevrolet Caprice Classic. Morgan County coroner Jeff Chunn said it appeared the body had been in the vehicle for several days.
7. Hartselle celebrates Olympic team trials qualifier
In June, Hartselle graduate Quanesha Burks, class of 2013, finished third in the long jump at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials held in Eugene, Oregon, qualifying her for a chance to compete for a place on Team USA.
Burks was a multi-sport athlete during her time at Hartselle. She starred on the basketball court and the track. During her senior year, she won state titles in the 60-meter dash, the triple jump and the long jump.
She went on to become an NCAA champion and All-American at the University of Alabama.
She narrowly missed qualifying for Team USA, placing 11th in the long jump. She visited Hartselle High School and the William Bradford Huie Library in October to share her stories from Tokyo.
8. Defendants plead not guilty in septuple homicide
In July, one of the two defendants in the fatal shootings that claimed seven lives in rural Morgan County in June 2020 pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease and mental defect, while the other requested youthful offender status.
John Michael Legg was 19 June 4, 2020, when seven people were shot dead in a house on Talucah Road in Valhermoso Springs in eastern Morgan County. Legg was denied youthful offender status in November.
A grand jury in February indicted Frederic Allen Rogers and Legg on six counts of capital murder. The defendants have been in the Morgan County Jail with no bail since their arrests in Marion County, Oregon, June 21, 2020.
Rogers’ statement said Legg was responsible for the shooting deaths of homeowner Tammy England Muzzey, 45, Emily Payne, 21, and Dakota Green, 17, all of Valhermoso Springs.
Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson said in February he would seek the death penalty for the two defendants.
9. COVID-19: Local schools won’t require masks
State Superintendent Eric Mackey announced in July there would be no push from Alabama’s Department of Education to require students or school personnel to wear masks. He said it would be up to local schools to address mask-wearing and social distancing.
Masks were not required in Hartselle City Schools, and Superintendent Dee Dee Jones at the time said the district continued to address the threat of the pandemic by fogging and cleaning the buildings regularly.
HCS has yet to go fully virtual again since implementing its COVID-19 safety precautions.
10. New Crestline Elementary announced
Hartselle City Schools board members and Hartselle City Council members joined HCS superintendent Jones and Mayor Randy Garrison at Crestline Elementary School in August to announce plans for the construction of a new school building. Groundbreaking is planned for spring 2022. The opening of the new school is projected for fall 2024.
Upon completion, the new Crestline Elementary should accommodate 800 kindergarten through fourth-grade students. The current facility, after remodeling, will serve as a centralized Pre-K center.
11. CAIN makes strides in music industry
This past year was a big one for CAIN, the Christian trio from Hartselle: siblings Madison Cain Johnson, Taylor Cain Matz and Logan Cain.
They were in the running for the Dove Awards’ New Artist of the Year, won K-LOVE’s Breakout Single award for “Rise Up (Lazarus) and returned home for a concert at First Baptist Church.
12. State Supreme Court rules for schools in Morgan; money may go to SROs, new Hartselle school
A split Alabama Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a local law and ruled that the bulk of online sales taxes received by the Morgan County Commission — millions of dollars per year — must be turned over to the three school districts in the county.
Early plans for the extra money include replacing a school in Hartselle and providing more SROs in the county, school leaders said.
The genesis of the legal battle was a local law sponsored by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and passed by the legislature in May 2019. The law, specific to Morgan County, requires the commission to redirect all but 5 percent of the online sales taxes it receives.
13. $100M Cerrowire plant becomes first tenant at Morgan Center Business Park in Hartselle
In November Cerrowire announced plans to build a second plant in Hartselle at the Morgan Center Business Park. The multimillion-dollar business park in Hartselle – vacant since its first phase was completed a decade ago – will get its first tenant when the $100M plant is complete there. The 270,000-square-foot facility is projected to create 131 new jobs, doubling its Morgan County workforce.
These stories and more can be read in their entirety online at www.hartselleenquirer.com.