Originally created 12/29/96

Augusta's year that was: 1996

It was the year Augusta ballooned into the second-largest metropolis in the state of Georgia.

In 1996, the line that used to divide the city and Richmond County became obsolete and the long, arduous effort to consolidate the two governments began.

"Somehow we just got stagnated and haven't done anything," Mayor Larry Sconyers acknowledged eight months into the year when the re-organization still wasn't complete. "I think we just reached the point that we all felt that we had gotten at a stalemate and nothing was going forward."

The Olympic torch run drew 100,000 enthusiastic area residents downtown on a sultry Sunday morning in July, and 20-year-old bank robber Christopher Jeburk embarrassed Columbia County authorities by breaking out of jail twice in three months.

Residents of Augusta-Richmond County saw the murder rate soar after a sudden drop the previous year. With just a few days left of the year, there had been 34 homicides - 15 more than in 1995.

Some, like Patti Rhodes, died at the hands of family members. The 44-year-old woman was gunned down in September by her estranged husband at the Gordon Highway bar where she worked. Kenneth Lyle Rhodes was barely out of jail where he had been booked on a domestic violence charge.

Domestic trouble was apparently also what led David Mark Hill to barge into the Department of Social Services in North Augusta with a loaded gun that month. By the time Mr. Hill was through, three social workers were dead.

"We're living in a more violent society now than in the past," Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Ronald Strength concluded.

It was the year Augusta College became a state university by name, and the 151-year-old Augusta Canal was designated a national heritage area by the United States Senate, making the popular waterway eligible for federal funds.

When he toured the canal in November, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt called the canal a "unique piece of American landscape and American history."

And the Garden City had other claims to fame in 1996.

Augusta rowers Tim Young, Brian Jamieson, Eric Mueller and Jason Gailes took the Olympic silver medal in the men's quadruple sculls, and native Lt. Cmdr. Susan Still confirmed she will be America's second female space shuttle pilot.

Overall, 1996 was a mixed bag, said Hugh Connolly, president of Sherman & Hemstreet Inc., and active in various community initiatives.

"There were some good things and some negative things - just like any other year, I guess," he said.


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