The stories of 2015 that appealed to the most readers had one thing in common — they were personal.
The following is a recap of the 10 most-read articles on the Rome News-Tribune website. They reflect readers’ abiding interest in their schools, families, neighbors and the world around them.
11 Georgia laws drivers don’t know exist — 90,657 views: If you’re texting in a car, you’re wrong; and if you’re under 18 you can’t even use a cellphone.
If you’re a designated driver and your buddy says it’s OK to have an open beer, even though he’s not going to operate the vehicle, guess what — that’s illegal too. These were just a few of the 11 Georgia laws unfamiliar to many drivers, and the basis of the most-read story on our northwestgeorgianews.com website in 2015. But let us not forget some of the other lesser-known laws. You can’t use the center lane to merge, but you don’t have to wear shoes to drive. You can’t wear both headphones while driving but you can be pulled over for going the speed limit under the “Slowpoke law.”
School officials mourn loss of teacher, parapro at Glenwood Primary — 64,493 views: The community mourned the death of three people in a Sept. 4 wreck, including a much-loved kindergarten teacher and paraprofessional at Glenwood Primary.
Christi Mooney, 45, a kindergarten teacher, and Marsha Coleman, 60, a paraprofessional, were two of three people who were killed in the wreck on Ga. 140 east of Old Dalton Road, according to Deputy Coroner Ernie Studard and the Georgia State Patrol.
The third person who died was Ricardo Clarke, 30, who worked at the Lowe’s distribution center and the Rome Chick-fil-A Dwarf House, officials said.
Clarke was driving a Nissan pickup east on Ga. 140 while Mooney was driving west in a Lincoln sedan in which Coleman was a passenger.
Georgia State Patrol Tfc. Jeremy Battle said Clarke’s pickup truck crossed the center line and struck the sedan head-on.
While Mooney and Coleman were wearing seat belts, Clarke was not, said GSP Sgt. Shan Burnett.
Former Floyd County School employee’s property to be seized under RICO act, GBI called in — 38,694 views: A former Floyd County Schools employee was accused in April of stealing over $600,000 by using fraudulent purchase orders to buy chandeliers and high-end kitchen appliances.
The RICO filing against Derry Richardson came on the same day Floyd County Police Chief Bill Shiflett said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would assist in a criminal probe into the misuse of funds at the school system.
The civil court action, filed under the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act in Floyd County Superior Court, states Richardson and others submitted fraudulent, inflated invoices since 2007 on behalf of the Board of Education.
Richardson would then receive cash and items.
“For example, Richardson submitted fraudulent FCBE purchase orders for such things as chandeliers and Viking kitchen appliances that were delivered to him personally and are now present and being used at Richardson’s home located at 241 Riverbluff Drive, Summerville, Georgia,” the filing states.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called in to audit all bids submitted by the Floyd County School system going for the past five years, said Floyd County Police Chief Bill Shiflett.
There are 18 defendants named in the civil RICO filing and while police have said they are conducting a criminal investigation no criminal charges have been filed in the case.
GUEST COLUMN: Scrapping teacher pay schedules a step toward scrapping public schools — 38,798 views: This column by Kenneth Fuller, a retired Rome attorney and former state senator, says that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is out to destroy the system of public education by targeting the ways teachers are paid:
“He and the Republican Party believe everything operated by government will be better operated by for-profit corporations.
They have given our prisons, probation, and parole to corporations, at a great cost, and the next big pie to divvy up among their friends with eyes for the bottom line is your kid’s schools.
The ballot in November 2016 will ask you to approve something Nathan calls “Opportunity Schools” and asks you to let him operate them himself — as a czar. No, my friends, our school boards will have no input or authority. Nathan will be a dictator over our schools.
But, first, he says he will scrap Georgia’s teacher pay schedules.
2 horses and riders hit by pickup; Pleasant Valley Road reopened — 37,404 views: Two riders were thrown from their horses after being struck by a pickup truck in a wreck the responding officer described as “an unfortunate accident.”
A group of horses and riders were on Pleasant Valley Road on the evening of April 21 when a woman driving a Chevrolet Silverado came up behind them as they reached the crest of a hill.
“The sun was shining in the eyes of the driver of the truck, and she didn’t see them,” Floyd County police officer Cody Shepherd said. “She hit the back horse the man was riding and that horse bumped into another horse that the woman was riding.”
Shepherd said both horses had to be put down. The truck had extensive damage but the driver was not hurt. No citations were issued, and police declined to release the names of those involved.
Victims identified in Terhune Road homicides — 32,828 views: The man accused in the January double homicide of a Terhune Road couple is still in jail awaiting trial on murder charges.
Emerson Mack Abbott Jr., 28, is accused of murder and making false statements and writings. He was arrested Feb. 24 in connection with the shooting deaths of James and Myra Reeves.
According to court and police reports:
A friend of the Reeveses found their bodies Jan. 23 when he went to their 49 Terhune Road home. He saw shattered glass from the front storm door, and James Reeves, 69, lying on the floor.
The friend found Myra Reeves, 71, in a back bedroom.
Police first arrested Abbott on Feb. 12 on theft charges. He was accused of getting $7,500 from Myra Reeves on the day of the fatal shooting for tree work he never completed. Authorities said at the time they were conducting a dual murder and theft investigation.
He made his bond the day of his arrest, but was re-arrested about two weeks later on the murder accusations. He is being held without bond.
Authorities added charges of financial transaction card fraud and theft by shoplifting in early April.
Bandit Gang Marco charged with hindering downtown murder investigation — 31,092 views: A singer who performed at a Broad Street nightclub the night a Rome man was fatally shot gave police false information concerning a suspect in the case, according to Floyd County Jail reports.
Jamarco Montae Gibbs, 24, of 529 Magnolia St., Atlanta, was arrested in July on accusations he provided misleading information during the investigation into the murder of 22-year-old Travious Floyd.
Floyd was shot near West Fifth Avenue and Tribune Street in downtown Rome during the early morning hours of May 24. He was found in front of the Historic Floyd County Courthouse, 101 W. Fifth Ave., and died at the hospital less than 30 minutes later.
Gibbs, who uses the stage moniker “Bandit Gang Marco,” is charged with felony false statements or writings, as well as misdemeanor willful obstruction of law enforcement officers.
After his performance at the The Peach, 425 Broad St., Gibbs was questioned by police and he allegedly concealed the identity of a suspect during the investigation.
Two men have been charged with the murder and were indicted in December. Stephon D. Rickman, 25, of Elmont, New York, was charged with felony murder and three counts of aggravated assault for firing a handgun at two other people.
Joseph E. Williams, 24, of Lithonia, was also charged with felony murder and three counts of aggravated assault.
Coroner releases names of victims in triple homicide in Cherokee County, Ala. — 31,005 views: A Cherokee County, Alabama, man was arrested on Nov. 17 and charged with killing three women after what Sheriff Jeff Shaver characterized as a custody dispute.
Donnie Lee Abernathy, 38, is charged with capital murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, and first degree criminal mischief in a triple homicide that occurred in the early hours of Nov. 16.
Abernathy is accused of killing three women who were related to a woman he had been in a relationship with.
Cherokee County Coroner Jeremy Deaton identified the women killed as Clara Lee Edwards, 68; Sylvia Sue Duffe, 71; and Pamela Collette Oshel, 49.
Edwards and Duffe were sisters. Police said Oshel was the daughter of one of them. They lived on County Road 656 in the Round Mountain community north of Cedar Bluff.
Abernathy is accused of killing the women as well as wounding another person and then kidnapping a woman with whom he had been in a relationship.
“They have a child together and they had been involved in a child custody issue and domestic disputes for a period of time,” Shaver added.
The child was not at the residence at the time of the incident. Shaver stated that all five of the victims were living at the same residence in the community, which is made up primarily of seasonal homes. The chase, involving at least four law enforcement vehicles, headed toward Sand Rock but ended in a wreck. The kidnapped woman, who was in the car at the time, was treated at a hospital and released.
18-year-old Cedartown man dies in Floyd County wreck — 29,760 views: A young Cedartown man was among the 10 Georgia drivers killed during the Thanksgiving Holiday.
Justin Payton, 18, of 618 Valley Road in Cedartown, was pronounced dead at 12:05 a.m. Nov. 29 after a wreck on U.S. 27 South, according to Deputy Coroner Ernie Studard. Payton — a Cedartown High School graduate who played in the drum line of the school’s Bulldog Band — pulled out of Booger Hollow Road onto U.S. 27 South driving a 2005 Nissan Sentra. His car was “T-boned by a GMC Yukon,” according to Sgt. Brandon Robinson of the Floyd County Police Department.
“He was attempting to cross the southbound lanes to turn left,” said Robinson. “The Yukon was heading toward Cedartown.”
Payton died from multiple blunt trauma injuries, according to Studard. The crash happened right after he pulled out of Booger Hollow Road.
No one was cited, Robinson said, because the fault was with Payton. No one in the Yukon was injured. Also during the Thanksgiving travel period, Jessie Tyler Law, 21, of Cartersville, was killed in a wreck on Ga. 293 near Kingston.
Floyd police say ‘strong possibility’ remains are those of Ashley Nycole Jones — 26,259 views: The mystery surrounding the death of a 24-year-old mother who went missing on Feb. 5 near Kingston Highway continues today, although the body found in the woods was identified as Ashley Nycole Jones in April. Floyd County police Sgt. Chris Fincher said anyone with information on the case should contact the department and ask for Olivia Lom.
Jones’ body was found in the woods near Canard Road on March 27 after she’d been missing seven weeks. The GBI crime lab ruled toxicology tests on her body as inconclusive so the actual cause of death still remains up in the air. Police continue to treat the case as a suspicious death, and no suspects have been named.
Floyd County Coroner Barry Henderson said further analysis will be in the final autopsy report, but the circumstances of the case could make it difficult to come up with a definitive answer.
“It could be a while before they actually publish a cause and manner of death,” Henderson said in June. When contacted in December, he said the cause of death is still under investigation.