Originally created 12/29/96

Citadel tops South Carolina news

It was a sight The Citadel's military men had hoped they would never see.

A year after cadets cheered and did push-ups in the rain to celebrate Shannon Faulkner's decision to drop out of the cadet corps, Jeanie Mentavlos and Nancy Mace shook hands in the military college's red-and-gray checkerboard courtyard and stood at attention, ready to become the school's first full-time female "knobs."

Joined later by Kim Messer and Petra Lovetinska, they cropped their hair and marched into history at the military college - and into the top story of 1996 as voted by South Carolina Associated Press member newspapers and broadcasters.

But as the year drew to a close, the FBI and the State Law Enforcement Division were investigating allegations of hazing and other abuse of Ms. Messer and Ms. Mentavlos.

Heritage and hate were often on display in South Carolina in 1996.

Gov. David Beasley's suggestion to move the Confederate battle flag from atop the Statehouse reignited the "heritage vs. hate" debate and caused a deep split within his own Republican Party. His firing of Public Safety Director Boykin Rose also made the top-stories list.

The burning of black churches, President Clinton's visit to one of them and the subsequent convictions of Ku Klux Klan members in connection with two of the fires also brought national attention to the state.

Voters returned a symbol of South Carolina's political heritage, 94-year-old Strom Thurmond, to the U.S. Senate for an eighth term.

South Carolinians watched nervously as two hurricanes brushed the state before plowing into North Carolina. And the nation got to watch a white state Highway Patrol trooper shout at and physically abuse a black Florida woman during an Interstate 95 traffic stop - all of it caught by a video camera in the trooper's car.

John D. Long Lake in Union County, where Susan Smith drowned her two young sons in 1994, claimed seven more victims who came to look at the boys' memorials.

And death elsewhere also made the top-stories list: A gunman stormed an Aiken County social services office, killing three workers, and a father shot his four children and then killed himself in Laurens County.

The Citadel willingly opened its gates to women in July after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Virginia Military Institute's all-male policy. Ms. Faulkner, who had stayed in the corps only a week the previous year, had been admitted under a court order.

This time, the women made clear they would tough it out, though Ms. Messer and Ms. Mentavlos later were excused from more rigorous physical activities because of bone injuries.

Things were quiet until early December when there were reports the women were threatened, physically abused and their clothes set afire - though none were injured.

SLED and the FBI were called in to investigate possible violations of civil-rights and anti-hazing laws. Two male cadets were suspended and others in the women's Echo Company were relieved of military duties, and the school said it would put adult monitors in the dorms.

In November, Mr. Beasley said it was time to move the Confederate battle flag from atop the Statehouse to a Confederate memorial on Statehouse grounds. That was voted the No. 2 story of the year.

The governor said in a statewide television address he came to his decision after much prayer.

"You see, the Confederate flag flying above the Statehouse flies in a vacuum," Mr. Beasley said. "The Klan can misuse it as a racist tool, as it has, and others can misuse it solely as a symbol for racism, as they have."

Among prominent fellow-Republican opponents was state Attorney General Charlie Condon, who claimed equal television time to say the flag was a symbol of the state's heritage and to berate Mr Beasley for using his political power on such a divisive topic.

Some black leaders who see the flag as a hated symbol of slavery said the Statehouse memorial still was too prominent a display. And some ministers said Mr. Beasley would do better to use his power to oppose abortion and avoid the divisive flag issue, though others supported him.

Mr. Beasley said the burning of black churches, which became the No. 3 story of the year, helped sway his decision. At least 17 black churches have burned in South Carolina since January 1991, SLED says.

In June, Mr. Clinton toured the site of the burned Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville and told 1,500 people gathered that hatred "could burn the building down, but they couldn't burn the faith out."

Former KKK members Gary Cox and Timothy Welch pleaded guilty to setting the Mount Zion fire and one at Macedonia Baptist Church in Bloomville.

Hubert "Herbert" Rowell and Arthur Haley, also part of the KKK, admitted conspiring with Mr. Cox and Mr. Welch to burn Macedonia in June 1995 and a migrant labor camp four months earlier. All four await sentencing in federal court.

Mother Nature got in her licks and took the No. 4 ranking as Hurricanes Bertha and Fran brushed the state before veering into North Carolina and causing widespread damage there.

Bertha caused about $4 million in property damage along the Grand Strand, but also keeping tourists away during a July week that normally one of the busiest of the year.

Fran hit on Sept. 5, snapping trees, downing power lines and flooding some areas. Damage in the state was estimated at about $12 million.

At John D. Long Lake, a Union County family came to look at the Smith boys' memorials on the night of Aug. 31, starting events that led to the fifth-ranked story of the year. Their truck slipped into gear and rolled into the water near where Ms. Smith had rolled her car in with the boys inside.

Those who died included Tim and Angie Phillips and their three daughters: Courtney, 4; Meleana, 23 months; and Kinsleigh, 4 months. Also killed were 3-year-old Cody Roodvoets of Inman and Sid White, 29, of Campobello.

Investigators think an improperly installed transmission on the Phillips' truck was to blame. The state is putting in safety barriers and removing the boat ramp at the lake.

At No. 6 was Mr. Thurmond's re-election. Now that he is back in the Senate, the nation's oldest-serving senator is also on track to be the nation's longest-serving senator. In May he will surpass former Sen. Carl Hayden, D-Ariz., who served 41 years, 10 months and 11 days. Mr. Hayden also served 15 years in the House.

The Rose-Beasley feud that occupied much of the midsummer headlines was ranked seventh. Before he was fired by Mr. Beasley, Mr. Rose said the governor's office helped forge documents and manipulate $740,000 in federal law enforcement grants as political favors.

The FBI investigated, but its report has not been released. A lawyer Mr. Beasley hired said there was no wrongdoing, and Mr. Rose lost a lawsuit to regain his job.

When Highway Patrol Trooper W.H. Beckwith pulled 26-year-old Sandra Antor out of her car after a speeding chase on I-95, it's unlikely he suspected the world would get to see what would become the year's eighth-ranked story.

But the videotape camera in Mr. Beckwith's car caught him dragging the Florida woman out of her car and shouting profanity at her as he pushed her onto the pavement.

Ms. Antor, who is hearing impaired, said she was afraid to stop for an unmarked car with blue flashing lights. Mr. Beckwith was fired and Ms. Antor's lawsuit against the Public Safety Department remains pending.

In November, Johnny Satterwhite shot his four children and stepchildren in the head while they were sleeping in their Laurens home, then drowned himself in a nearby pond in the ninth-ranked story of the year.

Mr. Satterwhite had told a friend of his estranged wife that he had left four packages for her at their home. He also left a note.

"Basically it told her to have a Merry Christmas, used some profanity and said she would be alone in '97," Laurens Police Chief Robin Morse said.

David Hill, whose family troubles had led to the state taking custody of one of his children, shot three workers at the Department of Social Services office in North Augusta on Sept. 16. He later tried to kill himself.

Among those killed was the DSS worker who had handled Mr. Hill's case. Mr. Hill is still recovering from his injuries and has not gone to trial.

Top stories

The top 10 South Carolina news stories of 1996, as voted by Associated Press member newspapers and broadcasters:

  • 1. The Citadel admits four women to cadet corps, later investigates allegations they were hazed.
  • 2. Gov. David Beasley proposes Confederate flag removal from Statehouse.
  • 3. Black churches burned, Clinton visit, KKK members indicted.
  • 4. Hurricanes Fran, Bertha brush South Carolina.
  • 5. Seven people drown in John D. Long Lake.
  • 6. Strom Thurmond wins re-election to U.S. Senate.
  • 7. Public Safety Director Boykin Rose fired, sues Beasley.
  • 8. Trooper W.H. Beckwith fired for beating Florida woman.
  • 9. Laurens man kills four children, commits suicide.
  • 10. Three North Augusta DSS workers killed by gunman.

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