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The year 2022 has come to an end, leaving us with many memorable headlines and breaking news. As we begin a new year, DouglasNow is looking back at our top 5 stories of 2022, along with other memorable reports that, at times, left us all with more questions than answers.
While our top story was one that ended up being covered by almost every national news outlet, it was also one that affected not only members of our community but people from all over the world. The year's biggest story was by far the tragic death of 23-year-old Willie Spence, who passed away in an automobile accident on October 11. Willie, a former Douglas resident, captured viewers' hearts across the country during Season 19 of American Idol. The singer and the TV crew came to Douglas to film a hometown special in 2021, telling the producers it was the "best day of his life." Willie was named the runner-up during the finale and was working on his music career at the time of his death.
The news was shared by DouglasNow on the night of Willie's passing and it reached 1,352,897 people.
Our second leading story came last month with a feature on Tyreek Hill making his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl. Tyreek, who is now playing with the Miami Dolphins, garnered 293,000 votes, the second most of any player this year, according to ESPN. The story making our top 5 came as no surprise, with Tyreek being the subject of three of our top 10 most popular stories of the year, with the most recent article reaching 182,389 people.
A post with only a few sentences regarding a repeated event in Nicholls ranked as our #3 top headline. The announcement went viral on June 1, 2022, when Nicholls Police Department officers, including their chief, all submitted resignations. It was the second time in six months Nicholls citizens saw their officers resign unexpectedly, with police chief Jamie Merritt and six other employees leaving in December 2021. However, the city council rehired Merritt as chief a short time later, and the city has since regained its police presence. The post was seen by 131,356 people.
The fourth-most read story of the year highlighted a then-Coffee High School junior and track runner, Katie Merritt, who set the school's record in the 1600 for the third time in less than two weeks. She first set the school record in 5:27, then lowered it to 5:25, and then set her personal best in 5:24. The post received 111,841 views. Katie, now a senior, continued her record-setting career in the fall of 2022 during cross country season. She is expecting an equally dominating senior track season this spring with the Trojans. She will continue her running career at the United States Military Academy West Point.
The death of 27-year-old Savion McRae of Douglas, who was shot to death in Lanier County on June 18, 2022, was the fifth most-read story of the year. Since then, Travion Snell, Shammond Campbell, and Rodarious Swanson have all been indicted on charges of murder and aggravated assault in connection with McRae's death. At this time, the three suspects are still in custody and awaiting trial. The story was viewed by 109,173 people.
The GBI, the Coffee County Sheriff's Office, and the City of Douglas Police Department investigated two local homicides in 2022 and arrested suspects on murder charges in both cases. In January 2022, DPD officers discovered the body of 19-year-old Radderian "Rae Rae" Barnes, who was suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He later succumbed to his injuries. Two men, Michael Jerome Arnold, Jr., and Sedric Jermaine Powell, Jr., have been charged with his death and are both in custody.
In August, James Schmitt was charged with murder and arson after authorities reported that he shot his stepfather, John Conley, and then set fire to his house on Highway 32 West. Schmitt was recently indicted on charges of malice murder and first-degree arson.
In 2022, a third suspect, Jason Anderson, was charged with murder in the 2020 death of Vann Brown. The case made many headlines during the year, with Justin Anderson being the first defendant to stand trial. In November, a jury found Justin guilty of lying to law enforcement and tampering with evidence but acquitted him of murder and aggravated assault. Jason and the other man charged with Brown's death, Jeffery Harper, are expected to have their cases presented to a jury this year.
The community also grieved the passing of many locals, including school board member Tonya Wilkerson and Coffee County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Miguel Contreras. Wilkerson, a voice for justice and equality, and Contreras, a longtime, dedicated employee of the sheriff's department, both lost their lives after battles with cancer. Wilkerson passed away on January 2, with Contreras succumbing to his illness on September 27.
Although many arrests and tragedies took place in 2022, many stories came with positive news, including local economic growth. One of DouglasNow's biggest stories was the January 2022 announcement of national grocer Publix coming to Douglas Square. Several other businesses, including PetSmart and Harbor Freight, also announced plans to open in Douglas. Last year saw the grand openings of several national retailers, including Marshalls, Goodwill, and Ollie's, and downtown Douglas enjoyed several renovations and the opening new restaurants and shops.
Several other reports garnered a great deal of attention throughout the year, some surprising and some not so much. A portion of the stories varied from serious charges and deaths to local awards, while some came with more unique and humorous circumstances. Some of our other top stories based on their reach, views, and engagement include:
The (first) arrest of Jared Highsmith, who allegedly placed tracking devices on his ex-girlfriend's vehicle - 79,131
The death of Pernell Harris - 71,178 reach
Reed's Snack Shack taking home 1st place in the Barbeque News Magazine's 2022 Sauces of Honor national contest - 69,872 reach
A local doordash driver arrested after allegedly assaulting a customer during a delivery - 82,932 reach
Local teacher Brant Garrett being arrested on child molestation charges - 50,920 reach
The "love triangle" arrest - 42,355 reach
A stabbing involving co-workers at Diamond Cargo - 64,097 reach
- County approves FY24 general fund and special revenue funds budget, considers rezoning requests
- Officials make arrest in connection with July 4 fire at Liquidation Market
- City commission approves rate increase for trash collection
- Chamber of Commerce celebrates Little Free Libraries at Emma Ward, Eastside parks
- Martin Centre receives Cultural Facilities Grant
Latest from Kristen Kitchens
- Defendant in lone criminal trial this month pleads guilty
- American Idol to remember Willie Spence during tonight's Season 21 premiere
- Alleged impaired driver hits, totals Douglas Police Department patrol car
- Alleged domestic dispute leads to terroristic and acts charges
- Allegations of a pecan theft result in meth arrest