These were stories that changed the state, changed communities or changed lives. Some of them received a lot of attention and some of them were perhaps overlooked.
The stories are not ranked in any particular order.
The long, painful wait
The disappearance of a Columbia teen from her own home rattled the state in August 2012. 15-year-old Gabbiee Swainson certainly wasn’t the only missing person to be later found dead — but her disappearance captured the state’s attention months after Gabbiee’s mother returned home one Saturday morning to find her daughter gone.
The search took nearly a year and clearly frustrated Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who publicly made it clear he believed former family friend Freddie Grant kidnapped and murdered Swainson. Prosecutors managed to secure a 17-year sentence for Grant on ammunition charges in April.
But investigators said they finally caught a break after discovering Grant’s daughter had disposed of Swainson’s cell phone behind a Myrtle Beach grocery store. Lott said law enforcement was able to secure a deal: Grant led them to Swainson’s body in exchange for charges being dropped against his own daughter and a promise from prosecutors not to pursue the death penalty.
Grant was sentenced to 30 years in prison a few weeks later as part of the deal. He will serve that time after his 17-year sentence on the ammunition charge.
Man drowns in Chattooga River, authorities struggle to recover body
Tragedy struck a popular whitewater rafting river in June, when a Florida man vanished below the water after his raft flipped during a business retreat trip. It took several days for emergency crews to locate Thomas Hill’s body in the Five Falls section. But they soon lost it again after the Chattooga’s strong current pushed Hill’s body further downstream.
It was a long 11 days before Hill was found a second time in a previously unknown pool beneath a set of rapids. But the dangerous, fast-moving water halted the recovery a second time before crews finally brought Hill back to shore on July 5. More than 200 people had been involved in the search-and-recovery operation.
Baby Veronica comes back to S.C.
What began as a child custody case between an Oklahoma father of Cherokee descent and a Charleston couple who had legally adopted his daughter Veronica soon turned into a national debate over the parental rights of Native Americans.
The custody dispute was extremely complicated, but the essential question was whether or not Dusten Brown had a unique ability to re-seek custody of his daughter under the Indian Child Welfare Act after the girl’s mother had already given her up for adoption to Matt and Melanie Capobianco without his knowledge in 2009. In 2011, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that he did and gave him custody of Veronica.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Brown did not have that right. Three weeks later the S.C. Supreme Court ordered a family court judge to clear the way for Veronica’s adoption, as they were now the only party with a custody claim. Two weeks after that, the judge did so.
But Brown refused to turn over Veronica and continued fighting her adoption. Eventually, the South Carolina court filed contempt charges and sought the father’s extradition from Oklahoma. Gov. Mary Fallin initially held off until the matter could be settled through the courts. The legal maneuvering continued for nearly two months longer until Brown eventually exhausted his options and reluctantly turned Veronica over to the Capobiancos in late September. He dropped his final appeal two weeks later.
Near-tragedy leads to South Carolina crackdown on mentally ill purchasing guns
In the weeks following the massacre of school children in Newtown, Connecticut, South Carolina averted its own near school shooting crisis, leading to new legislation in the Statehouse.
Alice Boland walked up to a Charleston-area girls school in February, intent on killing faculty. But federal prosecutors say her gun jammed as she pulled the trigger. Investigators soon realized that Boland, who was ruled “mentally insane” after making threats against then-President George W. Bush, had been able to buy a gun because her name was not included on a federal registry that barred her from owning a weapon.
In response to the near-tragedy, state lawmakers passed bipartisan legislation that tries to keep guns out of the hands of any person declared “mentally incapacitated” by a judge. Technically such a law was already on the books, but South Carolina was not submitting the relevant information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a federal database used by gun retailers to make sure a purchaser is buying the gun legally.
The legislation passed in May.
Ethics reform? Yes … No … Maybe?
Ethics was a hot-button issue in the South Carolina Statehouse in 2013 after Gov. Nikki Haley’s staff declared its passage a priority at the beginning of the year.
Haley’s 11-member Commission on Ethics Reform released a list of proposed changes to ethics law in January and the governor quickly called on state legislators to pass their recommendations. After much debate, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee crafted their own version, but kept the proposal under wraps until it reached the full chamber. Once it became public, Democrats, watchdog groups, and even the governor criticized language that decriminalized ethics violations. House leaders insisted the language was a mistake and made changes.
The final, bipartisan proposal passed the House in late April. However, the Senate did not take it up until the end of the session, meaning it still sits atop the agenda for next year.
During the heart of the Senate debate, longtime State Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston) resigned on May 31. While the senator cited health issues, his resignation came a day after the Senate Ethics Committee held a investigative hearing that revealed a debit card linked to Ford’s campaign account was used for thousands of dollars in personal expenses, including gym memberships and purchases from an “adult” store. Ford’s attorney said the purchases were “gag” gifts for his staff.
The governor soon had her own brushes with ethics issues. The State Ethics Commission fined Haley $3,200 in July after her campaign admitted it was not able to track down the addresses of eight donors, as state law requires. Then, in late August, it was revealed a state-owned vehicle carrying the governor had goten into a minor crash outside a North Carolina fundraiser.
Several watchdog groups questioned whether the governor was misusing state resources for campaign purposes. However, the governor’s campaign said it had reimbursed state police $7,600 over the previous year for security and other traveling costs.
Gangland South Carolina: 2013 showcases growing problem
Gang violence got statewide attention when a University of South Carolina student took a stray bullet in an alleged gang spat. Greenville native Martha Childress is now paralyzed, and her situation prompted lawmakers , law enforcement and USC officials to call for tougher measures for gang-related violence.
The problem persisted long before the white middle class got more involved, Upstate gang fighters reminded South Carolina Radio Network.
Boeing South Carolina triples footprint, adds thousands of jobs
Boeing South Carolina ended 2013 on pace to complete 10 787 jets per month — this after a faulty battery set the parent company back in production earlier in the year. Surprising analysts, the jet was back in production in a matter of months.
The state approved $120 million in incentives, and in return, Boeing South Carolina promised thousands of jobs. They broke ground on a new IT center, purchased land for its new painting facility, and tripled its footprint in the Charleston area across two sites. It also broke ground on a new plane facility, Propulsion South Carolina that will manufacture the 737 Max.
It all adds up to a $1 billion additional investment by the company in the state. And while the fate of the 777X location remains unknown, other things are in the works for Boeing South Carolina in 2014. Next generation 787s are expected to continue to have mid and aft assembly there.
Boeing currently employs more than 6,000 people there, and about 85 percent of the workforce hails from a 100-mile radius. At a recent press conference, Boeing South Carolina VP Jack Jones reaffirmed the company’s commitment to the Palmetto State.
The resurrection of Mark Sanford
The First District Congressional race was momentous from the start beginning in January. The race began after Gov. Haley tapped then-Congressman Tim Scott as the replacement for resigned Sen. Jim DeMint.
Sixteen GOP candidates flooded the primary — perhaps diluting the vote for some of the stronger, favorite candidates. An early favorite was clearly former Gov. Mark Sanford, who would try to overcome near-political suicide when he left his post, his family and his staff unaware to go on an international trip courting his mistress in Argentina a few years earlier. The move earned him national attention and forever inscribed “hiking the Appalachian trail” into the annals of political jokes.
Instead of hitting the traditional forum circuit where candidates vied for only a few minutes of attention, a West Ashley lawyer earned a spot in the runoff against former Gov. Mark Sanford by heading to church instead. Curtis Bostic surprised those that weren’t paying attention to the assumed underdog. But Bostic’s momentum wasn’t enough and the voters that gave non-runoff candidates a nod, largely threw support behind Sanford.
That wasn’t the end to this nationally-watched race in such a heavily Republican district. Sanford then went on to face what some pundits called the most capable Democratic candidate for the seat: the sister of national TV comedian Stephen Colbert (“The Colbert Report;” Comedy Central). Elizabeth Colbert Busch had funding — lots of it — and some of it from national sources. Most familiar with South Carolina politics knew Colbert Busch had an uphill, near-impossible climb in the gerrymandered district, but that didn’t stop national pundits from speculating and pollsters crunching favorable numbers showing she not only had a chance but a good one.
The savvy political veteran Sanford knew a few campaign tricks, as well. He spent much of time shaking hands and attending dozens of functions each week. He also got national attention when he debated a cardboard cutout of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He also avoided potential landmines after his ex-wife accused him of trespassing into the couple’s former Isle of Palms home. Sanford said he did not want his son watching the Super Bowl alone.
Colbert Busch grew into her new political shoes, eventually stepping onto the stage with seasoned debater Sanford. In the only debate between the two candidates, hosted by South Carolina Radio Network and AOL’s South Carolina Patch team, she threw a few zingers and held her own toe-to-toe against Sanford.
End the end, voters clearly chose Sanford and returned to his old seat.