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Top Ten Stories of 2009

By WHQR News

Wilmington, NC – It's that time of year when WHQR News counts down the top ten stories of the year.

Number 10: Local Banks Close
At number 10, is the closing of two local banks.

Across the country, 2009 saw 140 banks close. Locally, Cape Fear Bank closed back in April, and bought by Charleston-based First Federal Savings and Loan. At the time, North Carolina's Bank Commissioner said there was a lot of interest from other banks for Cape Fear Bank.

In June, Cooperative Bank closed down, with its 24 offices reopening as First Bank. Earlier this month, computers, furniture and equipment of the Cooperative Branches were sold at auction.

Number 9: Calabash Town Manager Out
Number nine is the false identity case of Calabash Town Administrator Jeremy Cribb.

A July investigation showed Cribb submitted a false resume. It claimed experience and two college degrees he didn't have.

The investigation also showed Cribb had been charged for larceny, writing bad checks, and impersonating a police officer. Most of the charges were dropped. The town put him on probation and he resigned as Calabash Town Administrator about a week later.

In August, he was arrested and charged with obtaining property by false pretext and four counts of embezzlement by a public official. He was released from the Brunswick County jail on bond.

Calabash Mayor Anthony Clemmons says the town will do more thorough background checks on future employees.

Number 8: Fate of the NH Co Landfill
The landfill and WASTEC, the only waste-to-energy facility in the state, might be run by a private company in the new year.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners requested bids for them in October. Before that, a task force had proposed three options for how to handle the county's trash.

Seven companies submitted bids, including two who already do business with the county: Waste Management and Waste Industries. The company whose bid is selected will set prices and decide services for New Hanover County residents.

Some of the companies are expecting county commissioners to make a decision at a January 18th meeting.

Number 7: Texting and Driving Ban
At number seven is the law to stop typing on your cell phone and focus on the road.

The dangers of texting while driving have been all over the news this year. A ban on the activity was put into effect earlier this month after studies showed sending messages on cell phones can distract drivers and delay their reaction times.

Wilmington police say they aren't planning a special crackdown on texting while driving, but they will be on the lookout for it.

Drivers caught sending messages on their cell phones could be fined $100 plus court costs.

Number 6: Kid In The Tree
Charles Joyce sold the rights to airspace above his property to the New Hanover County Airport Authority for nearly $45,000. He says he didn't realize it meant the old oak would have to be cleared for a runway protection zone.

His son Alex sat camped out in the tree, but the family worried about a lawsuit and agreed not to interfere with the cutting process.

The airport says the oak could not be trimmed to meet federal requirements without killing it. The Civil War era oak tree came down on July 8th. The Joyces asked for a piece of the tree and were given a cross-section showing its rings.

Number 5: Stiller Steps Down, Iler Steps In
State Representative Bonner Stiller stepped down from the General Assembly on June 15th so he could spend more time with his family.

The Brunswick County Republican was in his fourth term since his election to the House in 2003.

The Brunswick County GOP chose Frank Iler to finish out Stiller's two-year term. Iler is the former chairman of that organization, and he says he and Stiller are friends that go to the same church.

Iler's term will last through 2010.

Number 4: Titan Secures Draft Air Permit
Titan America can begin purchasing equipment and proceeding with design plans after getting a draft permit from the Division of Air Quality in September.

It regulates the amount of pollutants the plant can emit. The permitting process took most of 2009 because of environmental concerns raised by the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission among others.

The cement plant will be the fourth largest in the nation if it's built.

Number 3: Layoffs & Retirements at New Hanover County
New Hanover County manager Bruce Shell says the county tried to avoid layoffs, but that wasn't economically viable with a projected $12 million budget shortfall.

Twenty-seven county employees lost their jobs on March 17th saving the county $1.6 million.

The county offered an early retirement package before the layoffs, 43 employees took that option including former Sheriff Sid Causey. He had been with the sheriff's office for 36 years.

Number 2: Smoke-free Bars
Governor Bev Perdue signed the smoking ban into law May 19th.

Tobacco shops, cigar bars, and private nonprofit clubs such as an Elks Lodge will be exempt but a bill to exempt North Carolina hookah bars was withdrawn in early August. Hookah bar owners in Watauga and Orange counties asked for its withdrawal because they said amendments to the bill would have greatly restricted their business.

Local health departments and police will enforce the ban. Businesses will be fined $200 on the third violation and people who continue smoking after a business tells them to stop will be fined $50.

Number 1: Difficult Year for State Senator R.C. Soles Jr.
North Carolina's longest serving legislator became the subject of two investigations in August.

A young man named Stacey Scott accused Soles of trying to molest him more than ten years ago when Scott was fifteen. He recanted the allegation shortly after, but the State Bureau of Investigation is still looking into it.

Then there's the investigation into a shooting at Soles' home in Tabor City. Police say that Soles shot Thomas Kyle Blackburn in the leg when Blackburn and another man were trying to break into his home back in August.

A Columbus County grand jury took a baby step last month towards indicting Soles for the shooting. Soles says he is innocent and was acting in self-defense.

Soles then announced in December that he will not seek reelection after serving more than 40 years in the legislature.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you. news@whqr.org.