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Former Lexington-Richland Five student wins 1st place in prestigious literacy and arts circle

Lexington County, SC 12/29/2021 (Paul Kirby) – Former Irmo resident and past Lexington-Richland School District Five student Damarea Ogbuewu has won 1st place in the categories of theater, music, and poetry in the prestigious China Federation of Literacy and Arts Circles (CFLAC) for 2021. In doing so, Damera beat out four-time winner Ying Chang Compestine. Damarea is the first and only African American to win this distinction since the CFLAC was conceived in 1949. Damarea, now 16, can move on to compete next year in the finals for additional awards and accolades. In 2020, she took 2nd place in the same categories. By any standard, Damarea is an extraordinary young lady. As a teenager, her titles already include those of author, singer, songwriter, and poet. She is of American and Nigerian descent and currently speaks four languages. Not one to rest on her laurels, she continues to work to absorb additional knowledge daily. In a recent interview with The Lexington Ledger, Damerea said that she is interested in travelling the world soon, especially to China, and learning the Mandarin Chinese language as she continues to grow, mature, and further her education. According to their website found HERE, the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles (CFLAC) is a national non-governmental organization founded with the approval of the state in July 1949, three months before the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Its mission is to unite and serve writers and artists, to train literary and art talents, and to promote the development and prosperity of literature and arts. Its major mission is to enhance the unity of artists, establish networks through coordination and professional guidance, undertake membership administration, promote self-discipline, safeguard the rights and interests of writers and artists, and provide them with service in need. In the future, expect more news about Damerea and her success. It’s clear, this is only the beginning for this posed and talented young lady.

Former Lexington-Richland Five student wins 1st place in prestigious literacy and arts circle

Tireless opponent of abortions, Mr. Johnny Gardner, passes away after illness

Cayce, SC 07/22/2021 (Paul Kirby) – Mr. Johnny Gardner, a tireless opponent of abortions, passed away on the morning of July 21, 2021, after battling cancer. According to his son, Gardner’s Funeral Service will be held at Gantt Street Baptist Church in Cayce at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 24, 2021. The service will be proceeded by a visitation. Thousands of people have seen or know of Johnny Gardner although only a fraction of those knew his name. For decades, he was known simply as the man who protested abortions at the intersection of Airport Boulevard and Charleston Highway. This is where the cities of Cayce and West Columbia meet near the old K-Mart building and the original Piggy Park Bar-B-Que. There, he’d walk back and forth on the raised highway island that separates the lanes of traffic. He’d often push a baby carriage with a doll in it carrying an octagon sign across his shoulder that was emblazoned with the slogan “Stop Abortion Now”. There were other times he carried a doll around his shoulder in a sling often worn by new mothers or could be seen found out literature to anyone who stopped at the light and put their window down to accept his pamphlet. To say stopping abortions was Johnny Garner’s passion would be an understatement. He literally walked that highway island for decades in any kind of weather. He had tread it so often he’d worn a path in the hard ground and became famous for his presence there even if few knew him by name. His stance on his deep religious beliefs that abortions were murder, and a fetus was a child in the eyes of God was legendary. Mr. Johnny was a man whose appearance was unremarkable. He often wore old slacks, a work shirt with the pamphlets stuffed in the breast pocket, and a thin windbreaker or a heavy coat depending on the weather. On the coldest days he’d don a stocking cap and gloves as he walked back and forth waving at everyone who passed. He always had his glasses perched on his nose and walked at a measured pace that was neither frantic nor slow. As much as he wasn’t seeking attention for himself, he wanted the issue of abortions to grab the attention of everyone as he silently protested day after day. He never though of himself as famous, simply the hands and feet of God walking that spot here on earth as a good and faithful servant doing what he felt the Holy Spirit had instructed him to do. If you were to write a description of dedication regarding a cause, Mr. Johnny would have been a perfect example. He truly believed that abortions were wrong and should be illegal, but instead of just talking or debating the topic, he put his feet to work making his point. I can not imagine how many pairs of shoes Mr. Johnny wore out over his years of demonstration, but that number must be in the hundreds! He never seemed to tire even after he became older and ill. When Mr. Johnny wasn’t walking the island, I’ve been told he was constantly involved in the fight against abortions in some way every day. He’d lobby legislatures as if he were a Harvard trained attorney even though he was just a simple man. If everyone in the world had just one issue they were as dedicated to as Johnny Gardner was to stopping abortions, I truly believe there would be no wars. Instead, the entire population of the globe would be quietly working to right the wrongs they saw in our society. That’s just how dedicated Mr. Johnny was to his cause and opposition to abortions. After so many years of walking, Mr. Johnny lived long enough to see the Heartbeat Bill become a law in 2021. This bill strictly limited abortions after a fetus had a detectable heartbeat in South Carolina. It may not have been a whole loaf of bread win for Johnny Gardner, he’d like to have seen this be the law of the entire nation, but it was certainly a victory for the man whose silent protest and shirt pocket pamphlets saved countless babies lives over the years in our state. Perhaps at some point in the future, someone will put forth the effort to have a plaque erected at Mr. Johnny’s spot in the highway. On that marker, it would inform all who saw it that the worn ruts in the ground were made by a remarkable man who didn’t look remarkable at all. Instead, he simply walked, waved, and made a difference. Rest well Mr. Johnny, others will take it from here.

Tireless opponent of abortions, Mr. Johnny Gardner, passes away after illness

Coroner Fisher says two teens died in collision near South Congaree Friday

Lexington, SC 08/21/2021 (Paul Kirby) - Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher said Saturday morning that two teenagers were killed in a collision on Friday, August 21, 2021, just outside the South Congaree town limits. According to Coroner Fisher, the collision took place at the intersection of Edmund Highway and Old Dunbar Road adjacent to the Columbia Airport property. Fisher said that two young ladies, Alexis Nicole Evans, 18, of West Columbia and Maliyah Claire Scott, 18, of Lexington were traveling southeast on West Dunbar Road when they attempted to cross Edmund Highway onto Old Dunbar Road. At the intersection, a pickup truck failed to yield right of way at the traffic signal and hit the vehicle the teens were in. Evans, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was pronounced deceased on scene due to her injuries. Scott, who was wearing a seatbelt, was transported to an area hospital where she later died from the injuries she sustained in the accident. The South Carolina Highway Patrol is investigating the incident.

Coroner Fisher says two teens died in collision near South Congaree Friday

Missing Lexington County man found dead in Ward, SC

Ward, SC (Paul Kirby) - The body of a Lexington County man who had been missing for over a week was found in Ward, SC Monday. Tucker Morris, 26, was located close to his place of employment according to the Saluda County Coroner's Office. Morris had been missing since October 26th. Family and friends said he had driven to Saluda County where he worked at Pet Food Solutions in Ward. Friends of his from Lexington County began a massive campaign to try to locate their friend. They distributed flyers across both Lexington and Saluda Counties and someone appeared on the news asking everyone to help find Tucker. Saluda County officials said that Morris’ body was found in a heavily wooded area just across from Pet Food Solutions by hunters Monday at approximately 5:30 p.m. An autopsy was completed in Newberry Tuesday, and the coroner said that no foul play was involved in his death.

Missing Lexington County man found dead in Ward, SC

Deputies resolve situation at Lexington County Councilman Darrell Hudson’s residence

Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – Lexington County sheriff’s deputies responded to a residence in the 100 block of Keller Pond Drive Saturday night after receiving a request to do a welfare check on Lexington County Councilmember Darrell Hudson. Keller Pond Drive is west of Lexington in the Charter Oak Road area. According to the sheriff’s department’s spokesman Captain Adam Myrick, family had called them after a man inside the home, “Wasn’t acting like himself.”Family members became worried about him and made the call for assistance. Myrick later confirmed that deputies were on that scene at 10:00 p.m. He said that deputies had been trying to establish a line of communication with a man who was inside the home. Another law enforcement official confirmed that man had originally declined to come out of the home. The situation was resolved later in the night. Captain Myrick said that deputies were preparing to leave the scene just after 11:00 p.m. Saturday. Hudson is a ferocious advocate for his constituents and has fought tirelessly whenever necessary to facilitate changes the citizens of his district felt were important to them. He is a popular, well-known, and a successful businessman that has a large, supportive family. He represents Council District 3. This includes most of Lexington, areas west of the town around Lexington High School, and some of the shores of Lake Murray.

Deputies resolve situation at Lexington County Councilman Darrell Hudson’s residence

Lexington County businessman charged with sexual assault of minors after incident Friday night

Lexington, SC 08/16/2021 (Paul Kirby) – A local business owner has been arrested after the father of one of his victim’s says he inappropriately touched several children in a restaurant Friday night. Wilver Antonio Quijada-Quevedo, 41, is being held in the Lexington County Detention Center where he is charged Criminal Sexual Conduct with a Minor under the age of 16, Criminal Sexual Conduct with a Minor under the age of 14, Assault and Battery in the 3rd Degree, and Public Disorderly Conduct. His bond has been set at $51,087.50. According to the father of one of the victims, his wife was dining with her sister and their children at LJ’s Par & Grill, a driving range that also includes a restaurant and bar on Pilgrim Church Road near Lexington Friday night. At some point, the man’s daughter, 3, and his niece, 15, got up to use the restroom. While the children were walking through the dining area, Quijada-Quevedo, who was at the bar, approached the children and grabbed the 3-year-old by the arm. Her cousin forcefully pushed Quijada-Quevedo’s hand away from the younger child and told the suspect not to touch her. At that point, the teen says that Quijada-Quevedo groped her breast. The two children immediately returned to their table and told their mothers what had happened. One of the ladies dialed 911 and they approached the area of the business where Quijada-Quevedo was still located. They say they did so to get a good look at the suspect so they could identify him once law enforcement officers arrived. At that point, the parents say that several men who appeared to know Quijada-Quevedo, hustled him out of the business and into a pickup truck. They hastily left the business’s parking area. The father of the youngest child was called and quickly arrived at the business. After hearing what had happened and getting a description of the truck that Quijada-Quevedo fled in from his wife, he began circulating the area looking for the vehicle. With the help of some residents of a nearby neighborhood, he located the suspect and was able to use his vehicle to block the exit of the subdivision preventing Quijada-Quevedo from leaving until deputies got there. When deputies arrived, they began interviewing witnesses to the incident. Based on those interviews, they arrested Quijada-Quevedo. He was originally charged with Public Disorderly Conduct. After further investigation into the incident, Quijada-Quevedo’s charges were upgraded by investigators. According to the website of W & R Construction, Inc., Quijada-Quevedo is listed as its owner and chief executive officer. The website says the company provides large, turnkey services for both paint and drywall for the largest, high-volume builders throughout SC, NC, and GA. As of Monday afternoon, the Lexington County Detention Center’s website showed that Quijada-Quevedo was still in custody.

Lexington County businessman charged with sexual assault of minors after incident Friday night

School District Two board vice-chair faces multiple state ethics violations

West Columbia, SC 10/20/2021 (Paul Kirby) – The vice chair of Lexington School District Two’s Board of Trustees is facing multiple state ethics charges after investigators say she voted on numerous district constructions projects that directly benefitted the firm her husband works for. Beth Branham is said to have voted at least 10 times on projects that involved design work by Stevens and Wilkerson Architects, a firm where her husband holds the position of head of engineering. According to the SC Ethics Commission, Branham’s vote acted to provide a direct benefit to her family through the pay her husband received from Stevens and Wilkerson while they were doing consulting work on the district’s construction projects. In a statement and a filing from the Ethic Commission, a representative said that they will hold a hearing into this matter in April of 2022. At that hearing, Branham will have the benefit of counsel and both the commission’s attorneys, and she will have the opportunity to provide evidence and question any witnesses called during the proceeding. All of these charges stem from the money spent through a three- or four-year period that provided massive upgrades to the district’s undersized and aging schools. The funds for these upgrades were made possible after the voters of District Two approved a bond referendum in 2014 specifically for new and upgraded facilities. Stevens and Wilkerson did not actually win the bids for the design work of the construction projects. Instead, they did consulting work for Jumper, Carter Sease, a West Columbia based firm that specializes in design and engineering work for school districts among other things. Jumper, Carter Sease held the contracts, Branham’s attorney of record Scott Winburn pointed out in a written response to the Ethic Commission's complaints, not Stevens and Wilkerson. He continued to point out that the district is never involved in who their chosen design firm hires after contracts are awarded to consult for them. He also said that Branham did recuse herself from any action that directly dealt with her husband’s firm. Winburn further argued in his filing that, ““The school board does not have control or oversight of the subcontracts made by the architect firms hired by the District. In fact, the architect firms also can hire/fire any subcontractors on their project without notifying the District.” If Branham is found guilty of wrongdoing, she could be fined up to $2,000 for each of the 10 violations she is accused of committing. The State Ethics Commission could also forward their findings to SC Attorney General Alan Wilson who would then need to determine if the violations are criminal in nature.

School District Two board vice-chair faces multiple state ethics violations

EDITORIAL: PTSD or love, you decide

Pelion, SC 11/20/2021 (Paul Kirby) – Friday and today, I have wept more than I have in many years. I don’t use the word cried because that’s not what I’ve actually done. I’ve wept. Google defines wept as an expression of deep sorrow, usually by shedding tears. Tears have flown from my eyes and down my face uncontrollably and as I have been racked with sobs, I’ve unashamedly wept often over the past 24 hours. What might you ask has caused a man of nearly 60 years to weep so much? I don’t know that I actually have the answer for that. I know that it started with a heartbreaking telephone call at 6:58 a.m. Friday morning. My close friend and The Lexington Ledger’s Advertising Executive Cathy Williams called me at that point and gave me the news that absolutely devastated her family. On Thursday afternoon, her 2-year-old grandson R.J. had slipped out of his parent’s yard for a brief moment and fallen in a neighbor’s pool near Pelion. No matter how hard the paramedics, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, and medical staff tried, they couldn’t revive the baby. He died at the hospital later that night. I’ve asked myself many times since why I’ve been so devastated myself, why this child’s death hurt me so. Certainly, Cathy is a good friend and co-worker. I owe her a great deal. Still, why should I weep so openly over her loss as if it were my own? I did not know R.J. and may have met his mother once if at all. He was not one of my grandchildren. Together, two of mine celebrated their 7th and 10th birthdays with a skating party Friday night. Still, I feel devastated by this child’s death. When I spoke with Cathy, I tried to comfort her. I told her as hard as it is to understand, God has a plan and little R.J. was now in a perfect place, heaven. She knew that. I prayed for Cathy and her family. I asked that God give them comfort during this time. I called friends and family, my pastor, and others and asked them to pray the same. I truly believe this child is in heaven now so why could I not control my tears, my emotions. When I woke up Saturday, I was still asking myself why this affected me so. On Saturday morning, I woke up as I normally do about 4:00 a.m. I built a fire to warm the house and sat in my chair with my dogs in my lap. I flipped through my streaming channels and stopped on the Roku channel. Somehow, God stopped my scrolling fingers on a movie called Courageous. It’s a movie about four sheriff’s deputies learning that God intended them to lead their families, to be more involved in their children’s lives as great daddies. I recommend every daddy watch this movie. In the movie, one of them lost their 9-year-old daughter. As I watched, it was as if someone had opened a faucet and the tears started again. Just a little way in, I had run through another dozen paper towels as I mopped the tears from my face. Why was I, a grown man that was taught to be tough and not to cry such a mess? I had to pause and ask God what was happening to me. Some of you who know my history know that I became a volunteer firefighter when I was 18 years old. At 19, I was hired as a career employee with the Lexington County Fire Service. Until about 1997, I worked doing what I loved, helping people who were often having the worst day of their lives. It wasn’t just a job; it was a passion. Through all those years, I saw a little of it all. I saw battered wives who finally snapped and shot their abusive husbands dead. I ran suicides, hangings, carbon monoxide poisonings, self-inflicted gunshots, the whole gambit of how you could take your own life. I ran fatal car crashes, deadly fires, and cardiac arrests. Those were all tough. It’s tough to see someone who is dead, especially when it just happened in front of your eyes. At one point, I worked fighting fires for Lexington County and on my days off, I was an EMT in Orangeburg County. One night while on duty there, I ran a call where a man had shot himself with a .308 caliber hunting rifle. It was a mess. He had been struggling with substance abuse and his wife had left him taking their children with her. The night he died, he went to her mother’s home where she had taken the family, broke down the door and shot himself in the head. His children were in the house. It was a tragedy but we as medics used gallows humor to get by. We made jokes about it to keep our own sanity. It was wrong but at the time, that’s how firefighters and medics coped back then. Later in my career, I ran a child who was run over and killed by a school bus. He was in kindergarten. It was terrible tragedy, but it happened. I also ran a teen who was riding his dirt bike when a cable across a trail caught him by his neck. His friend who was riding with him cried and begged us to save him. We couldn’t do that no matter how hard we tried. There were no jokes this time, just a lot of sleepless nights. There were plenty more of those calls that stayed with me until this day, but I think you get the point. As hard as it is to admit it, these will stay with me until I die. Remember that this was in a day before the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was a thing. ADHD was treated with your dad’s belt back then, not with medication. Depression was just feeling blue for a few days. My how times have changed. I still to this day don’t know if I have PTSD. I’m not sure I want to know. I’m not big on excuses and sometimes, I cynically wonder if my fellow public servants who use the label PTSD use those diagnoses as an excuse for their bad days. I think that’s wrong on my part too. Certainly, they are feeling what I feel when they are sad. They cry uncontrollably or wake up at night in a sweat at times without knowing why. I may not have PTSD but still, when I weep over the loss of my friend’s grandchild so fervently, I wonder. Today I came to realize something. I weep because I am a human being. That diagnoses I can live with. My friend and her family hurt and that affects me profoundly. I am still a rough, tough man, but a man that started life as a human being. Human’s weep when things touch them deeply. No matter how tough a man I am, I’m first a human being with feelings and emotions. My feelings were hardened by the fact that I worked at a very tough job for too many years, but I’m still just a man, not Super Man. That’s why I weep at tragedy. That’s why I look away when a bad wreck has happened on a road I’m driving. That’s why I cry so easily now at the news of a tragic loss. Below the cap, the Carharts, the worked stained t-shirt, the pistol I often carry on my side, underneath all that, I am a human being. Today I ask that all other human beings pray for Cathy, Morgan, Robbie, and their family. There loss is more profound than I can fathom. They’ve lost a dear child too soon and no matter the fact that he’s now resting in the arms of God, they are in deep pain and sorrow. I also ask that you pray for all those that had a part in trying to save little R.J. The deputies, the firefighters, the medics, the hospital staff, our Coroner Margaret Fisher and her staff, I’m sure they’re also devastated. Yesterday, I called to thank them all. I spoke with Margaret. Even though she had dealt with this tragedy herself late into the night before, she had the grace to hear the pain in my voice and ask me how I was doing. I called the fire chief, the director of the county’s EMS Division, Captain Howard of the Sheriff’s Department’s South Region. I asked them all to thank their teams for what they had tried to do. Today, if one person reads this and cries, I understand. We’re all children of God. He built us to have emotions as human beings. If we didn’t feel sorrow at a time like this, what are we, when will we ever cry and show outwardly what’s happening inside? I ask today that you join me in prayer for those who are hurting because of R.J.’s death. They certainly need God’s grace and support. I ask that you pray with me for the men and women who tried so hard to bring him back, the ones who tried to change what they could not change. I ask that they somehow cope themselves. Whether they have PTSD or not, they have love in their hearts. Right now, I have decided that I don’t have PTSD, I have love. Somehow, that makes it okay in my book. I am a common man, a retired firefighter, a businessman, a writer who has love in his heart for my fellow man. I think love better describes what I am feeling. I cry because I love Cathy, I love Morgan and Robbie, I love the men and women that tried so hard to revive a child that was called home by God. It’s okay in my mind to excuse my emotions because I am human, and I love people. Let me end by saying this. No matter if you’re a man or woman, no matter your age, it’s oaky to cry if you love and your heart moves you to do so. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you’re a human being and you have love in your heart for others. That’s alright by me and it should be alright in everyone else’s eyes too.

EDITORIAL: PTSD or love, you decide

Former Shumpert's employee sentences to 48 months in penitentiary for embezzling from ATM firm

Pelion, SC 08/03/2022 (Paul Kirby) - Former Shumpert’s IGA employee Sam Jackson, Jr. has been sentenced in federal court to four years in the penitentiary for embezzling from an ATM company. Jackson had been with Shumpert’s since he was a teenager. Part of his responsibilities was managing the Little Giant ATM business owned by the Shumpert family. Jackson was captured after he fled South Carolina with a woman that was not his wife. He later told detectives he had planned to lay low until the heat was off and they would then travel to Alaska where he was going to live with this woman the rest of his life off the grid. His plans were foiled when he was tracked down by law enforcement officers in western North Carolina. This case was tried in the federal system because it involved ATMs and their operations. These are covered by the FBI just as banks are. The presiding judge gave Jackson several months to get his affairs in order before he is to turn himself in to begin serving his time.

Former Shumpert's employee sentences to 48 months in penitentiary for embezzling from ATM firm

EDITORIAL: Cathy Etheredge, a beautiful soul, has crossed the River Jordan

Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) 11/18/2020 – I did something I haven’t done in a while Friday. I went and spent some quality time with one of my children and did absolutely no Lexington Ledger work at all. Yes, I took a radio that could hear the emergency channels. Hey, I’ve listened since I became a volunteer and later a career firefighter for Lexington County 40 years ago. It’s an old habit and a hard vice to break. Friday, we quickly got out of radio range in another county and the radio was nothing but static, so I cut it off. I lived through it with no withdrawals. In a short time, I was really enjoying myself again. Let me tell you more about my day because it’s important to set the stage for a story I’m going to tell about one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known. My wife went Black Friday shopping with my oldest daughter, her sister, and other family members yesterday. Another daughter had to work, she’s in the hospitality industry, but my youngest daughter invited a friend, we took the two horses, an old Chihuahua named Chocolate, and we went to a friend’s place where there are rolling pastures, gorgeous planted pecan trees, and a large, quite pond. It was a beautiful day. The sun reflecting off the water appeared as if it were gold but alive; Close your eyes and picture golden flakes drifting in a breeze. There were geese that flew out onto the pond every time the girls road by their feeding spot, and a red-tailed hawk hunting something in the tall grass of a field. He’d sit high atop a nearby tree. I knew he was there but the small rodents didn’t, and every so often, we would take flight and aim, skillfully swoop down at lightning speed from the sky, then power for altitude out of his dive back into his tree with his latest catch clutched firmly in his talons. No radios, not even the local country music station played, and the silence was wonderful sound. When we returned to the house, I was euphoric. I had rested, thought about my life and the blessing God gifted me. A wonderful wife, family, great friends, my little dog Chocolate, and the beauty of the day are just a few. These things are worth far more than any paper money will very be. Since I was home, when my text alert went off, I reluctantly looked to see what someone wanted. It was a very old friend with a short message. My close personal friend Cathy Etheredge had died unexpectedly. The news was like a punch in the gut. It took my breathe and in seconds, a flood of old memories washed over me. Sgt. Cathy Etheredge, one of my oldest and dearest friends had gone to be with God. I know this because she was a woman of great faith. Everyone must die, it’s a part of life itself, but why did I need to hear this now God at the end of my perfect day? Selfish of me I know but I was just stunned for a minute and it took a bit to compose myself. Who was Cathy Etheredge you might ask? If you look at other news sources, she was a short story after a Twitter message and a press release, yet she was so much more. She was a mother, a lifelong public servant, a prankster, a wonderful friend. She was a strong, independent woman, a person who had been through a lot of travails but always bounced back, powered ahead, and did so with a smile. Cathy reminded me of my grandmother Kirby who life also threw many curve balls. She gave as good as she ever got if you were foolish enough to take her on either physically or mentally. She was the type of woman that had fought for everything she had including the respect of everyone who really knew her well. There was just one very notable difference between my grandmother and Cathy Etheredge. Granny’s skin was white, a healthy but pale complexion that many elegant women strove to have in her day. Cathy’s was a rich shade of brown, almost the color of a beautiful, handcrafted piece of chocolate candy; Not the bars you buy on impulse at the checkout, the expensive stuff you get at a specialty shop. Cathy’s was the color of the chocolate that is so valued that you buy it for someone you love for a very special occasion. This difference is important to this story if you keep reading on. I first met Cathy Etheredge because she was a voice behind an emergency radio, a dispatcher for Lexington County’s emergency services. She had the perfect voice for it. Deeper than some women, commanding, calm but authoritative. I was a young firefighter, just 19 years old. We both worked for Lexington County and made less than $11 thousand dollars a year. We’d serve the citizen who needed help and then we would go to another job so we could live and have the things we needed to survive. This was before 911 was even implemented fully. With no computer dispatch, Cathy was our guide to places were people were in trouble and sometimes having the worst days of their lives. She was the calm voice when someone you loved was dying, the firm, confident voice to the drunk, the hysterical, the angry people that called and needed something right now, even if they had just hurt their toe on a stone. They complained to Cathy when the ambulance didn’t get there as fast as they thought it should. These were sometimes obnoxious, rude people who demanded we do our jobs better because they were, “A taxpayers that pays your salary!” We were doing our jobs and fast. If you worked in our business long enough, you’d know the type I mean. Cathy was a single mom to sons, at least they were the ones she mentioned to me. She loved them with all her heart, and they know that I think. At some point I think she had been in an abusive relationship. It wasn’t something we talked about much, but it had come up several times over the years. She was kind, loving, traditional southern mom. Then, four decades ago, you said yes sir or yes mam, had manners, and stayed quiet when the adults were talking. She taught her children this. I think she was a great mom really. She was also a great person, a friend, the color of our skin, white and brown, played no part in that. Sadly, at the time, people in the south did still often see color and prejudged others based on that. Remember this was just a few short decades after desegregation. We were about the same age and it was a tumultuous time we were born in. It was the early 60s, a time when people were often taught to see skin color by their elders. A time when a skin color brought about preconceived notions from those with dark complexions as well as light. Those prejudices still occur with some today but hopefully not as much. Cathy was a voice behind the radio and that negated her color and people’s ignorant rationality that your skin’s color had anything to do with who you really were inside or what you were capable of. When the prejudice people called for help, they probably never knew it was a strong black woman that sent it. Cathy was a joker. Lord did that woman love a good prank! She once called a young firefighter that worked for me and by the time she had gotten finished, she had him red in the face, sputtering, and feeling a bit foolish. It all started with her best down-home country twang and a slow, boring day. She could come up with voices for every occasion and pranking someone was where she shined! When nothing was happening, watch out if Cathy was working. A good prank might come your way at any time Cathy called South Congaree station on the phone this particular day, apparently twice, and the young firefighter answered both times. She must have asked him what to do with old gasoline when she first called because by the time the second call got to me, my rookie was flustered and sputtering as he explained by starting, “Lieutenant, I did not tell that lady on the phone to put gasoline in her refrigerator!” With an intro like that, you can imagine I was a bit confused. I tried to calm him some to get more information, but he said the lady was on the phone and wanted to speak with his supervisor now! I asked a few short questions quickly, got almost incoherent responses, and then picked up the office extension. “Lieutenant Kirby,” I said. “How can I help you ma'am?” She immediately launched into a tirade! “That young fireman done told me to put old gasoline somewhere cool and then take it to a mechanic later to dump it,” she nearly shouted! “I took old lawnmower gas, put it in a pitcher, and put it in my Frigidaire cause that’s cool. Now, everything in my fridge, it tastes like gasoline!” In the middle of that sentence, Cathy paused and said as if speaking with her child, “Don’t drink that Kool-Aid honey, taste like gasoline!” before she continued yelling about that, "dumb young fellow," I had working for me. I will admit she even had me fooled for a second. I began to explain that he was new, and she must have misunderstood him. Once again, she launched into her act asking me who was going to pay for all her ruined food. Somewhere in that exchange, I realized it was Cathy Etheredge pulling a prank on a rookie that slow day. When I called her on it, she tried to continue but eventually burst out laughing. We all got a good chuckle out of Mitch’s predicament and I lightheartedly told her to find something else to do beside tease my rookie if she was that bored! We still tell the story to this day even though Mitch retired after a long and distinguished career fighting fire for Lexington County. Why do I tell you this silly story you might ask? That’s so simple. I’m trying to explain a complex woman who had so many talents, helped thousand across this county, and truly made a difference. She did all this without taking herself or others to seriously. People who are always so serious were no fun at all to her or me. She had a sense of humor and we needed that at times. Cathy was a true friend. She’d do anything for you and laugh at the prejudices of the day. “Come on, really,” she often said. We’d be talking about something an ignorant, uneducated person had said and that was her response. She’s would finish with, “Get Real,” or, “Give me a break!” It was the deep south in a different time yet this woman with the deep, dark brown skin served all the uneducated or undereducated who thought blacks were dumb or lazy. She was smart, comforting, strong, resilient, and saved countless lives. She was so far from dumb or lazy it was stunning. Some callers then were still foolish bigots who never realized it was this black woman that picked up that phone when they needed help. She heard no color in their voices. To her they were all the people she selflessly served. Cathy later went to work at the City of Cayce’s Department of Public Safety. I think she started dispatching there but eventually became a certified law enforcement officer. I remember the first time I talked to her after she hit the road. I joked, “Cathy Etheredge turned loose on the people of Cayce with a gun on her hip. God help them for sure now.” We both had a laugh about that! Eventually, Cathy moved to the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department where at one point, she worked with women and others who were the victims of heinous crimes. She was great at that. I think I know why she had a passion for helping abused women but again, we never talked much about that part of her life. Cathy was still working at the Sheriff’s Department in the office of Professional Standards Division as a sergeant; Internal Affairs if you will when she died. I wonder if she ever had to investigate deputy on deputy pranks which are frowned on these days? By the time she died, she had been serving more than four decades. It is fitting she died near Thanksgiving and my beautiful day away. I’m thankful to have called her a friend and she was truly a beautiful person and soul. Cathy passed at her home in Gaston at the age of 60. She was a tremendous, Godly woman full of knowledge, laughter, and a desire to help others. I think she and my Granny Naomi were much alike. There was nothing either one couldn’t overcome if given a challenge. I occasionally called Cathy at the Sheriff’s Department to see how she was doing, to chat, reminisce, laugh together later in life. She gave me advice when I knew a woman who was in trouble, who was being abused and thought she had no way out. She was a smart, talented woman who saw no color, just people like us doing what we could to help where we could. She was one of the greatest WOMEN I ever knew. Sheriff Jay Koon said after Cathy’s unexpected death, “Cathy’s sudden passing is a tremendous loss to those who knew her and our department. She brought a maternal and folksy style to her role that allowed her to connect with her fellow deputies on a personal level.” Amen Sheriff Koon, amen! Instead of weeping old friend, I hope you will understand if I remember and laugh at all we did and talked about. This year has had enough sorrow. I choose to celebrate your victory over the grave. I plan to see you again one day. You can read the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department’s official release by clicking this link: https://www.lexingtonscsheriff.com/agency-news/cathy-etheredge-1960-2020/

EDITORIAL: Cathy Etheredge, a beautiful soul, has crossed the River Jordan

Lexington councilmember asking for input on renewed mask mandate

Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) 12/08/2020 – Lexington Town Councilman Ron Williams is asking the public what they think regarding the first reading of an ordinance that would once again mandate that all who are able must wear a face covering while in the Town of Lexington. The mandatory mask ordinance passed its first reading in name only Monday night. There are a number of caveats and exceptions to the ordinance if it passes in the same form or much as it had in the spring. First readings are generally held as a formality to expose the thoughts or plans of a governing body. They can often be looked at as a rough draft that allows a period for each elected official to think about and study the details of an ordinance and to receive input from their constituents. Ordinance can be modified in between readings and only become a law after the final reading. Lexington had a Mandatory Face Covering Ordinance that was allowed to expire a short while back. At that point, the town’s leaders said they did not have the necessary votes to extend the ordinance another time. Since that date, scientific data has shown that cases of the COVID-19 have risen dramatically. In many areas of the country, lockdowns and mandatory face covering ordinances have been extended, reimposed, or expanded. Some elected leaders across the nation have been either strongly supported or vehemently opposed by people in favor of or against these rules. Many more conservative government leaders have decided since some time has passed since the pandemic’s onset, and the science and understanding of the virus has improved greatly, to simply strongly recommend people comply with the precaution instead of mandating them. One local official said Tuesday afternoon that telling people what they must do seems to sometimes bring out an obstinate reaction that make citizens dig their heels in and take a more, “You can’t make me,” approach due to what some are calling COVID fatigue. "I think sometimes we've seen adults act immature because they feel their freedoms are being eroded," he said. "In other cases, people have legitimate reasons for not wearing them and I think that should be their right also." The city he represents does have a mask mandate in place. In his message posted to social media Williams wrote, “Passing the ordinance affects the entire town, citizens and businesses alike. I would like to hear from town citizens on this ordinance. Feel free to email me @ rwilliams@lexsc.com or text me at 803-730-6395.” Williams closed by saying that a simple YES or NO will work if people do not want to comment further. “I appreciate those who take the time to respond.” A Public Hearing will have to be held sometime in the next week during a special called meeting of the council before the ordinance can move ahead.

Lexington councilmember asking for input on renewed mask mandate

UPDATE: Former Lexington One Board Member Sandra Backman dealing with SC Ethic’s Commission fine

Lexington, SC - 04/07/2021 (Paul Kirby) – Sandra Backman, a former member of the board of trustees of Lexington County School District One, appears to be on the hook for a substantial fine following impropriety with her campaign finances from years ago. Backman served on the school board from 2010 until 2018. In 2018, she did not run for reelection. According to a complaint obtained from the SC State Ethics Commission (SCSEC), Backman not only misused some campaign funds and failed to file the proper reports, but she also failed to pay some necessary fees. During the 2014 campaign season for school board, her first reelection bid, Backman was accused of misusing her campaign account. More specifically, it was alleged that she spent some of her campaign money on personal items at discount stores like the Dollar General, K-Mart, and at eateries like Applebee’s, the Hibachi Express, and Little Caesars’s Pizza. She also paid a nail spa at one point for a service rendered there. All of this spending was outside the scope allowed by SC state laws on campaign finance. After this spending and campaign fund mismanagement came to light, the SCSEC charged Backman with two counts of failure to file a quarterly campaign disclosure report, a single count of failure to disclose expenditures on her campaign disclosure report, 10 counts of using her campaign funds for personal expenses, and seven separate counts of failing to maintain the appropriate campaign records. It was also alleged that she failed to disclose she had withdrawn approximately $13,000 from her campaign account according to the records from the SCSEC. She also was apparently unable to explain in detail what that cash was spend on. It might be interesting to note that a political campaign war chest that has over $13,000 in it for a local school board candidate is substantial. Many local school board candidates either self finance their campaigns or get by with small donations from family and friends that do not add up to a substantial amount. A war chest of this size would indicate she had substantial support for her candidacy as she served the people of Lexington School District One. In 2018 a hearing was held on these charges. During that hearing, Backman was given an opportunity to explain the expenses and the violation. At the time, she said she had been experiencing some personal tough times and trials in her life. She also said she had been the victim of some financial fraud perpetrated by someone else, according to the records of the hearing. She also explained to the hearing officers that she had two banking cards, one for personal use and another for campaign use, that looked very much alike. Apparently, she felt the two were easy to get mixed up and she had mistakenly used the wrong card on occasion. After making her argument in 2018, the SCSEC found against her and fined Backman a total of $15,000.00 for the multiple violations. This was a civil penalty of over $13,000.00 and an administrative fee of $1,250.00. They gave Backman 18-months to pay the fine and fee. If she did not do that, then a total fine and fee of $41,250.00 would be entered in the form of a judgement against her at the Lexington County Courthouse. In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Backman said that she had been taking care of this over time. She said that when all this happened, she had lost several close family members and simply fell behind in her reporting and record keeping. "I did make a big mistake in ignoring it," she said. "I should have dealt with it when it first came up but it was such a stressful time." Backman also wondered why this was being spread around at this point. The staff of The Lexington Ledger received the hearing records attached to a number of emails and messages over a period of about two weeks. "I feel that I'm being bullied by someone and they are doing everything they can to hurt me. This happened, it was all a mistake during a tough time in my life, and now someone will not let it go." During Backman's years of service, Lexington School District One experienced tremendous growth as it still is. She served on the board, was a wife and mother, and held a full-time job during the entire period.

UPDATE: Former Lexington One Board Member Sandra Backman dealing with SC Ethic’s Commission fine