Take a look at WDAM 7′s top stories from 2022
PINE BELT, Miss. (WDAM) – A lot of breaking news has happened in the Pine Belt this year.
To help break down the news of 2022, here is a list of some of the top headlines:
1. USM President Dr. Rodney Bennett announces step down, Joe Paul picked as new president
On Jan. 21, Rodney D. Bennett, Ed.D., the president of The University of Southern Mississippi, sent out an email to all USM students, faculty and staff members announcing he would be stepping down from his position at the end of his contract.
However, The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning decided to drastically shorten that timetable in June. The College Board announced that a transition plan had been developed that would see Bennett’s final day as July 15, with former USM Administrator Joe S. Paul assuming duties as interim president on July 16.
No reason was given in the IHL news release which prompted the alteration of Bennett’s timetable.
The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning announced Paul’s selection as president In October. He was formally introduced as the 11th president to the USM community on Oct. 27 at the Thad Cochran Center
2. First tornadoes of 2022 touched down in the Pine Belt
2022 has been a rough year for severe weather in the Pine Belt. On March 30, eight tornadoes touched down across the south, with two EF-2 tornadoes touching down in the Pine Belt – one in Maxie and the other in McLain. Both caused moderate damage.
There was also an EF-1 tornado reported in Oak Grove and an EF-0 tornado in Purvis.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency says 21 counties reported damage from Wednesday’s storms, with Forrest and Wayne counties being two of them.
More storms and tornadoes were also reported later in the year. You can read more about those by clicking HERE.
3. Hattiesburg firefighter passes in motorcycle accident
Ryan Jones, a firefighter at Hattiesburg Fire Station No. 9., died in a single-vehicle accident early Saturday, March 30. He was 30 years old.
Jones was off duty when the accident occurred.
On May 4, Friends and firefighters lined Hardy Street as a hearse carried Jones’ body to Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans.
His fellow firefighters gave him a final salute, draping American flags over the procession route.
4. Woman found in Leaf River, suspect captured near Bok Homa Casino
A female body discovered by boaters on the Leaf River was recovered on Sunday, May 15, according to the Jones County Sheriff’s Department.
The next day, JCSD announced they were seeking 48-year-old Marty Breazeale, of Laurel, in connection to a charge of first-degree murder in the death of Brittany Nicole Holifield.
Early Tuesday morning, deputies captured Breazeale in a pine thicket after responding to a suspicious person’s complaint near Bok Homa Casino. He appeared before Judge Sonny Saul on Wednesday afternoon and was denied bond.
A tip to the Jones County Crime Stoppers and to Jones County Sheriff Joe Berlin regarding a second possible murder victim supposedly thrown into the Leaf River led to another body search on Thursday, but no body was found and the search was suspended.
5. Columbia man allegedly kills sister, shoots at police during 11-hour standoff
A Columbia man was arrested at his home early Saturday morning, May 21, after authorities say he allegedly shot and killed his sister and shot multiple times at law officers during an 11-hour standoff.
Keith C. Sandidge, 54, was arrested on an aggravated assault charge, with more charges pending, said Columbia Police Chief Michael Kelly.
Kelly said Sandidge allegedly shot and killed his sister, 61-year-old Sherralann Longmire, at the home they shared at 414 Mary Street. She was found dead in a car on the property.
Sandidge was arrested on 13 charges, which included:
- 7 counts: aggravated assault on a police officer
- 1 count: aggravated assault on a civilian
- 2 counts: shooting into a motor vehicle (CPD patrol vehicles)
- 2 counts: shooting into a motor vehicle (civilian vehicles)
- 1 count: shooting into a dwelling
Kelly believes Sandidge was dictated by a grand jury for charges related to the death of his sister. His bond from him was reportedly denied during his initial appearance in court.
6. Ole Miss beats USM to win Hattiesburg Super Regional, goes on to win 1st national baseball championship in Omaha
Ole Miss pocketed two, one-sided victories to sweep home-standing USM out of the Hattiesburg Super Regional in June. It marked the third consecutive time the Rebels had defeated USM on their home turf this year, and the last two wins cinched Ole Miss’ first trip to Omaha, Neb., since 2014.
This was Southern Miss’ second appearance in the Super Regionals and first time hosting a National Collegiate Athletic Association Super Regional in Hattiesburg.
At the 2022 College World Series, the University of Mississippi pushed across three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to ease past the University of Oklahoma 4-2 Saturday afternoon to win, giving the Rebels their first-ever national baseball championship.
7. Former children’s home director arrested on prostitution & drug charges, replacement announced
The director of a Pine Belt children’s home was arrested on Thursday, Sept. 15, on multiple charges, including prostitution and drug possession.
Michael Garrett was the founder and director of Homes of Hope for Children, a private children’s home in Purvis. He was reportedly terminated by the institution’s board of directors Friday night and a board member who once was the athletic director at the University of Southern Mississippi was named interim executive director.
On Oct. 4, Judge Tony Mozingo held a press conference to announce he was stepping down as the 15th Circuit Court Judge in Lamar County and will become the new executive director of Homes of Hope for Children.
Mozingo said he would remain working as a judge until the end of the year. Then, by Jan. 1, 2023, he hopes to work with Homes of Hope.
8. Hattiesburg Zoo welcomes only surviving hyena cubs born in North America in 2022
The Hattiesburg Zoo has welcomed the only known surviving hyena born in North America in 2022. The baby, which was born last Monday, Oct. 17, was a single birth.
Kristen Moore, an animal curator at the zoo, said hyena births are challenging in both the wild and zoo environments.
“Hyena births are few and far between in the United States,” said Moore. “This one is particularly exciting because it’s a new genetic line that will go into the population of hyenas, so it’s super, super exciting.”
The official name and gender of the baby hyena have still not been released; However, officials say they are waiting on a blood test to return from the testing lab soon.
9. 2 killed, 1 injured in shooting in Laurel; suspect arrested in Ohio
According to the Laurel Police Department, officers responded to W 10th Street in front of Loper’s Laundry on a shooting complaint on Oct. 24.
On the scene, officers located two victims deceased in a vehicle. They were identified as 19-year-old Mary Ann Collins and 22-year-old Travion Barnett, both of Laurel.
A third victim sustained a gunshot wound to the leg and was transported by EMServe Ambulance Service to South Central Regional Medical Center for treatment of a non-life-threatening injury.
LPD said 19-year-old Ronald Buckley, of Laurel, has been identified as a suspect in this investigation.
In November, LPD announced Tuesday morning that they were notified that Buckley was taken into custody in Fremont, Oh., after receiving a tip that came through the Jones County Crime Stoppers. Laurel Police Chief Tommy Cox said members of the City of Fremont Police and Sandusky County joint SWAT team arrested Buckley at a local hotel.
Buckley is still waiting on extradition back to Mississippi.
10. Sumrall farmer rescued from soybean grain bin
A lifelong Sumrall farmer was recovering at Forrest General Hospital after he was rescued from a grain bin filled with soybeans on Tuesday, Nov. 1.
The Sumrall Volunteer Fire Department was among the cavalry to answer the call – with dozens of others. Crews had to use a circular saw to cut through the thick metal.
Wayne Breakfield’s family said they were thankful for all of the agencies that responded yesterday from Lamar County dispatchers, deputies, and emergency management as well as the volunteer crews that came from Sumrall, Hickory Grove, and Pine Ridge.
According to Breakfield’s daughter, he lost four toes on his left foot. He also will have/had to have surgery on his right knee.
11. Mike Ezell beats incumbent for 4th Congressional District, Michael Guest remains in 3rd Congressional District
During the Mississippi 2022 Midterm Elections on Nov 8, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell received around 73% of the votes and will now replace Steven Palazzo, who held the congressional seat since 2011, once the outcome is officially certified.
According to unofficial poll results that Tuesday night, the Associated Press also predicted Incumbent Michael Guest had won a third term in Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District with around 71% of the vote. He was first elected in 2018 after serving as a district attorney in Rankin and Madison counties.
For more information about all of the local winners of the 2022 Midterm Elections, click HERE.
12. Jones County reserve deputy wounded during shooting, expected to make complete recovery after surgery
After being shot the night before Thanksgiving in Jones County, an injured reserve deputy is now back on his feet.
According to Jones County Sheriff’s Department, 30-year-old Dillion Ferguson, of Ellisville, is accused of shooting JCSD Reserve Deputy Joey Davis during a civil disturbance incident at a residence on Riley Johnson Road on Wednesday, Nov. 23. He is charged with aggravated assault – manifesting extreme indifference to life.
He was later arrested in December following his release from Forrest General Hospital, where he was treated for gunshot wounds during a gun battle with law enforcement officers. It was reported that his right leg had to be surgically removed several days after the shooting.
Ferguson made his initial appearance in Jones County Justice Court on Wednesday, Dec. 14, and his bond was denied by Judge Sonny Saul.
That same week, Jones County Sheriff Joe Berlin awarded Davis with the 2022 Medal of Valor award at the JCSD Christmas Party.
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