September 23, 2014

Duke Energy plans to remove some toxic coal ash from Williamston site

DukeEnergyDuke Energy Carolinas said Tuesday that it will remove toxic byproducts from an inactive pond at an Anderson County coal plant.

The State newspaper reported Tuesday that Duke officials told the state Public Service Commission they plan to remove coal ash from that closed basin at the Lee Steam Station near Williston. Company officials told commission members they plan to rebury the ash in a lined landfill. Lee’s coal-fired unit is scheduled to close next year. The utility plans to turn the site into a natural gas facility instead.

Duke had come under increased pressure from environmentalists and state regulators over its handling of the coal ash, which includes lead, arsenic, and some carcinogenic materials, along the Saluda River. Much of the material stored at another Duke coal plant in North Carolina spilled into a nearby river back in February.

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Coroner: Clemson student likely died after falling off bridge

Tucker Hipp (Facebook)

Tucker Hipps (Facebook)

Investigators now say they believe a Clemson student found dead on Monday had fallen off a bridge over Lake Hartwell.

The Oconee County Coroner’s Office said it appeared 19-year-old Tucker Hipps of Piedmont had died from a head injury at some point between 5:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. His body was found by a Clemson University police officer underneath the Highway 93 bridge on Monday.

The discovery came a few hours after Hipps had been reported missing around 1:45 p.m. by members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. According to a statement from the school, Hipps did not return from an activity run with other members of his frat.

In his brief report, Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis said Hipps’ injury “is consistent with him falling from one of the spans which is approximately 20 to 23 feet above the water surface.” Addis said Hipps was found in about 4 or 5-feet deep water, with rip rap rock lining the bottom. The Highway 93 bridge is a main route connecting the Clemson campus with the western shore. The bridge has sidewalks and concrete walls that are about 3 feet high.

The coroner did not say if foul play is suspected, explaining that he was waiting on the results of the investigation and for a toxicology analysis.

Students at Clemson University are grieving the sophomore’s death. Many students wore orange in solidarity with the Hipps family.

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Man dies after fall from Lake Jocassee trail

Lake Jocassee (Image: DNR)

Lake Jocassee (Image: DNR)

Authorities say an Elloree man has died after falling off a trail in the South Carolina mountains.

The Oconee County Coroner’s Office said 47-year-old Kelly Sprouse was walking by himself on the trail along Thompson River on Lake Jocassee when he somehow fell Sunday afternoon.

Investigators believe Sprouse was trying to catch up with family members ahead of him when he fell on the trail. There were no witnesses, but one of those family members eventually found Sprouse unconscious when they searched for him. Oconee County Fire Chief Charlie King told FOX Carolina that radio and cell service is very spotty in the area and crews had to boat back and forth from the incident location to areas with cell service to report updates.

King said Sprouse was loaded onto a boat and transported back to Devil’s Fork State Park, where a medical helicopter was waiting to airlift him to the hospital.

Sprouse died from his injuries at a nearby hospital later that evening. Coroner Karl Addis said the hiker had died from a head injury. He listed the death as accidental.

“Hurricane Hugo, 25 years later, Part 3: “Nothing short of a miracle”

More than 1,200 homes were damaged in the Sumter area, shocking forecasters. Hugo also caused significant damage to nearby Shaw Air Force Base (Image: Shaw AFB)

More than 1,200 homes were damaged in the Sumter area, shocking forecasters. Hugo also caused significant damage to nearby Shaw Air Force Base (Image: Shaw AFB)

South Carolina Radio Network is taking a look back at one of South Carolina’s worst recorded natural disasters, 25 years after it happened. This is Part 3 of 4. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

Hugo would weaken significantly once it hit dry land.

That, at least, was the thinking of the National Weather Service on September 21. While the winds and rains were expected to still be powerful by the time Hugo’s remnants reached inland cities like Columbia and Charlotte, NWS advisories issued in advance of the storm were worried more about flooding or tornadoes. Forecasters still expected Hugo to downgrade into a tropical storm and begin breaking up as it left its warm weather source in the Atlantic Ocean.

Roughly 150 miles from the Atlantic in York County, only a marginal staff was manning the emergency operations center overnight from September 21-22.

“We were looking at a worst-case situation of winds gusting above 50 miles an hour and tornadoes around the time school buses would’ve been on the road (the morning of the 22nd),” then-York County emergency management director Cotton Howell said. “That was what we considered to be the absolute worst-case. And boy were we wrong.”

Most of the state’s emergency response resources had been deployed south to handle the expected humanitarian disaster along the coast.

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Suspended Williamsburg County sheriff facing jail time

WIlliamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson

WIlliamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson

A suspended Pee Dee sheriff is facing jail time after he was found guilty on a conspiracy charge last week.

The State newspaper reported Friday that a federal jury found Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Prosecutors said Johnson helped a Columbia businessman named Lester Woods.

Woods ran the FIG Investments, LLC credit repair firm. The U.S. Attorney’s Office accused Sheriff Johnson of writing 130 false police reports so that Woods could tell the credit bureau Equifax that his clients had had their identities stolen, when they really just had bad credit scores. Equifax had a policy of restoring good credit if a person could show they had been the victim of identity theft. Equifax suppressed over $11 million in trade liens and public debt as a result of the scheme, according to an indictment.

Woods was also found guilty on Friday.

Two dozen of Woods’ former clients testified during the trial that they’d had no knowledge of what the businessman was doing. Some said they had never even been to Williamsburg County, yet had incident reports filed in their names.

Johnson’s attorney insisted the evidence was not enough to convict her client. Debbie Barbier argued that prosecutors could show no evidence Johnson had ever been paid by Woods for his part in the scheme.

Johnny Bartell has been serving as interim Williamsburg County sheriff since Johnson was suspended immediately after his indictment in February.

The sentence for wire fraud conspiracy is up to 20 years in prison, though Johnson is not expected to receive the maximum.