Top 10 Public Safety Stories of ’10: Razors in park, new twists on old cases

ariquelmy@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 29, 2010 

On a Tuesday morning in May, a 2-year-old boy spotted something on the playground at Lakebottom Park. He pointed it out to his mother, who saw that it was a razor blade taped to the playground equipment.

The woman told a nearby police officer, who found eight more blades taped to the playground.

The discovery of those blades is the No. 1 public safety story of 2010. Other top stories include four homicides over the Labor Day weekend and DNA evidence in the Stocking Strangler case.

Here’s the Top Ten public safety stories for 2010:

1. Razors at Lakebottom

A child on the playground at Lakebottom Park discovered a razor blade on a piece of equipment on May 11. That led to the discovery of a total of nine box cutter blades on the playground.

Video surveillance footage from a nearby business and fingerprints taken from the scene provided no leads to police. A tip ultimately led officers in late September to arrest Derek Kyle Fullum, 24, of Phenix City, and Gary Levon Bryan, 18.

2. Carlton Gary DNA testing

Convicted Stocking Strangler Carlton Gary was hours away from execution in December 2009 when the state Supreme Court issued a stay and ordered a hearing on DNA testing. That led to a 12-month wait that resulted on Dec. 13 in the revelation that Gary’s semen was not found in one of the women he was convicted of killing. A sample for the second victim was inconclusive and a sample for the third was not tested.

Additionally, Gary’s DNA was found in the body of woman he was not convicted of killing.

Prosecutors and the defense now plan to file motions on further testing.

Gary, 60, was convicted in 1986 of three deaths in the late 1970s and sentenced to die.

3. Arrest made in the Jim Burns stabbing cold case

Kareem Lane was 17 years old when then-Muscogee County School Superintendent Jim Burns was fatally stabbed in his Broadway home in 1992.

On May 3, Lane was arrested in connection with the slaying. Cold-case investigators said his arrest followed results from a DNA test of the knife used to stab Burns. Evidence from the knife matched Lane’s DNA profile, police said.

Soon after Burns was stabbed in his Broadway home about 12:20 a.m., residents on Front Avenue saw a masked man run to a pickup truck parked on the street and drive away, police said. Officers on Macon Road later stopped a truck matching the witnesses’ description, identified Lane as the driver, and questioned him for hours before releasing him without charge, authorities said.

4. Homicide spree over Labor Day weekend

Four people were fatally shot over five days during the Labor Day weekend.

Brian Alexander Brown, 33, was shot in the head Sept. 3 at Johnston Mill Lofts, 3201 First Ave. Police said investigators believe Brown’s homicide was drug-related. There have been no arrests.

Andrew Solomon, 20, faces a murder charge in the Sept. 3 shooting of Levy Lamont Daniel, 17, who was found shot in the back and lying in the middle of Veterans Parkway near Booker T. Washington Apartments.

Marquise Dantwon Roberts, 21, and Tray Thomas, 19, face charges in connection with the Sept. 6 slaying of 18-year-old Gerald Hatchett, who was shot in the head on the street in front of 1521 25th St. in the East Highland area.

Investigators said a burglar shot David Heath Jackson, 25, Sept. 7 at his 1667 Carter Ave. home. Ricardo Strozier, 21, faces a murder charge in connection with the death.

5. Parks & Rec: Employees arrested, director fired

Tony Adams, former director of Columbus Parks & Rec, and recreation specialist Herman Porter were arrested Aug. 24 in connection with an investigation into Parks & Rec. Adams was fired on Sept. 28 by Columbus Council after it was revealed that he was untruthful about signing a contract with Nike for a city-run youth basketball team.

Adams, Porter and East Marietta Basketball Inc. director of basketball operations William Fox face felony charges in the misappropriation of more than $200,000 for the Nike-sponsored team coached by Adams.

The troubles inside the Parks and Recreation Department were brought to light in part by an internal audit that raised management and money-handling questions.

6. Three officers accused in alleged beating

Patrick Harrington, 31, allegedly was beaten while he was handcuffed by two Russell County deputies while a Phenix City officer watched on Nov. 26 on Mullin Road in Lee County. Harrington has since filed a federal civil suit against former Russell County deputies Kirby Dollar, 37, and Tim Watford, 42, and former Phenix City police officer Rachael Hauser, 33.

Harrington states in his suit that he may suffer from possible loss of sight in his right eye and a burst ear drum in his left ear. He’s asking for $8 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

7. Church van wreck claims three lives

Nineteen members of Tabernacle of Prayer & Deliverance of Columbus were in a 15-passenger van headed to Quincy, Fla., for a revival Oct. 3 when the right rear tire blew and the van went out of control. Four passengers were killed -- Ronmyka Williams, the 35-year-old church pastor; his daughter, Jasmine Shelly, 13; Cameron Freeman, 19; and Jennifer Leanne Walton, 20.

The 15 other passengers in the van were injured.

8. Courtney Lockhart capital murder trial

Courtney Lockhart was convicted by a Lee County jury on Nov. 18 of the capital murder of 18-year-old Auburn freshman Lauren Burk, 18. On the same day, jurors recommended 12-0 that Lockhart be sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.

Jurors heard that Lockhart, 26, abducted Burk on campus on March 4, 2008, drove her around in her 2001 black Honda Civic and made her disrobe before fatally shooting her.

9. Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt arrested

Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt was arrested on Sept. 23 on accusations he provided prescription drugs to a confidential informant. Authorities investigated Shelnutt for three months and arrested him just before noon outside the ground-floor entrance of the Columbus Government Center. He faces eight counts of distribution of a controlled substance.

On multiple occasions, Shelnutt gave the informant Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and Aprazolam, also known as Xanax, the GBI has said.

In November 2009, a federal jury acquitted Shelnutt on charges of money laundering, attempted bribery and making false statements.

10. Superior Court Judge Robert Johnston III resigns

Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Robert Johnston III resigned Feb. 16 in the midst of a meeting with an investigator for the Judicial Qualifications Commission. Johnston was leaving the Government Center that day when he was approached by Richard Hyde, an investigator for the state watchdog agency that has jurisdiction over judges. About two hours later, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue’s office received Johnston’s signed letter of resignation via fax.

Johnston told the Ledger-Enquirer that he was not forced out of office and that he resigned for health reasons.

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