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Top 10 Stories of 2012 [The Free Press, Kinston, N.C.]

By Wes Wolfe, The Free Press, Kinston, N.C.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 30--Of the hundreds of news stories reported by The Free Press staff this year, some stood out for the importance of the event or issue reported. These 10 stories were chosen by the people who produce The Free Press every day of the year as the most significant of 2012.

1. LaRoque indicted

The year started going bad for former N.C. Rep. Stephen LaRoque when he lost the Republican primary for his house seat. It only went downhill from there.

The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, on July 17, handed down an eight-count indictment against him regarding misappropriating federal funds meant for rural development to a company that benefited a member of his family. The U.S. Attorney's office issued four additional counts Dec. 20.

The 12 total charges amount to four counts of theft, four counts of misappropriating money, two counts of subscribing a false tax return and one count each of concealing material facts and materially false, fictitious and fraudulent representation.

Facing a House investigation from political enemies and former allies, LaRoque resigned his seat on July 25.

Rumors of malfeasance stretched back to his 2010 general election campaign, and were the basis of a defamation suit that was eventually dropped.

However, an investigation by N.C. Policy Watch put the dealings of LaRoque's East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company on the front burner again. Both non-profits worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture'sRural Development division to provide grants and loans to business owners who could not otherwise obtain or afford them.

LaRoque is due in U.S. District Court in Greenville on Feb. 12.

2. Barker arrested

At 7:39 p.m. on Nov. 29, agents with the State Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant and arrested former Kinston City Councilman Will Barker at his home. Barker was charged with 10 counts of felony third-degree sexual exploitation of a child -- 10 images found on a laptop seized at the residence.

Barker attracted the attention of the SBI when the Fremont police chief contacted the agency about images on a USB drive left at a town board of alderman meeting. Barker's firm performed an audit for the town, and he spoke twice to the aldermen that evening.

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Barker left before the end of the meeting, and when no one claimed the USB drive left in the room, the police chief took it to determine its owner. On it, the chief found documents relating to Barker's business, and what he suspected were images of underage children involved in sexual activity.

Before SBI agents were able to arrest him, Barker attempted to commit suicide, but an SBI agent was able to wrestle the gun away. That attempt led to a $300,000 bond, which was reduced to $105,000 following a weekend's reflection. Barker was bailed out Dec. 3, and his attorney said he's pursing mental health counseling.

More charges could be forthcoming as the case has not yet gone to the grand jury.

3. WoodmenCommunity Centeropens

On July 26, the Woodmen Community Center held its grand opening before a standing-room-only crowd. A coordinated effort between the Woodmen of the World, City of Kinston and Lenoir County, the site represents one of the largest public-private partnerships in some time.

The fitness and meeting center is now the statewide home of the Woodmen of the World and the Kinston-Lenoir County Parks and Recreation Department. Indeed, the city and county pledged $500,000 each to the building's construction.

The structure, pegged at a total cost of $13 million, is also purposed as a pilot initiative by the fraternal life insurance company.

4. Kinston's 250th

In honor of Kinston's founding in 1762, events were held throughout the year.

They started on New Year's Eve, when a plane flew over revelers the moment it was midnight in the United Kingdom. Also, a gavel made of local wood was presented to Mayor B.J. Murphy. The wood -- lightwood pine -- was taken from an 1800s addition made to a house owned by anniversary committee co-chairwoman Isabelle Perry.

The celebration culminated in an event on Herritage Street on Nov. 3. An actor playing Gov. Richard Caswell read the proclamation establishing the city, following which an enormous birthday cake was cut. Originally named "Kingston," the "g" was dropped after the Revolutionary War.

5. Charles Buchanan dies

The chief photographer for The Free Press, Charles Buchanan, passed away March 23 at the age of 63. A Grainger High School graduate who attended the University of North Carolina, Buchanan started working for The Free Press in 1974 and full-time for the paper in 1976.

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Buchanan won numerous awards from the N.C. Press Association, including ones for general news excellence and -- in the most recent competition, sports feature photo. He is survived by his wife, Patsy.

Today, a portrait of Buchanan, honoring his memory, hangs above the photography office at The Free Press.

6. Elections give Obama, McCrory, Bell, Graham wins

The 2012 general election proved to be a historic one. President Barack Obama became the second Democratic president to win a second term after a full first term since Franklin Roosevelt, and Gov.-elect Pat McCrory became the first Republican governor in 20 years.

Locally, Lenoir County Board of Commissioners chairman, George Graham, was elected to represent N.C. House District 12, while John Bell capitalized on his GOP primary win to be elected to the N.C. House District 10 seat.

On the Lenoir County Commission, Craig Hill unseated Tommy Pharo in an upset, and Reuben Davis and Linda Rouse Sutton were reelected.

7. CSS Neuse moved

To keep it out of the hands of Union forces, members of the Confederate Navy scuttled the CSS Neuse in the Neuse River in 1865.

After being recovered from the water in 1963, it was cut into three sections to be easily moved. It was then put on display at a West Vernon Avenue location. It was moved on June 22 to its new home at 100 N. Queen St.

The climate-controlled environment, built at a cost of $2.8 million, is meant to hold more than 15,000 unique historical items related to the ironclad.

8. Free Press bought by Halifax

Halifax Media Group acquired The Free Press in June -- one of 18 daily and weekly publications sold off by Freedom Communications. Halifax had already taken over the operations of a number of New York Times Regional Newspaper Group papers on Jan. 6.

This marked the fifth change in ownership for The Free Press, which was founded in 1882. Freedom bought the paper in 1973.

9. Supreme Court declines lawsuit

In mid-November, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case from Kinston plaintiffs challenging Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The suit was brought because of a group of Kinstonians who sought to have nonpartisan municipal elections.

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The U.S. Justice Department initially ruled that such elections would disenfranchise black voters, but then reversed its ruling. The Supreme Court will hear a similar case from Shelby County, Ala.

10. Arlie Honeycutt wins Miss North Carolina

Miss Kinston-Lenoir County, Arlie Honeycutt, was crowned Miss North Carolina for 2012 at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh. Honeycutt is a junior at East Carolina University. She goes on to represent the state in the Miss America pageant on Jan. 13.

Honeycutt also captured a few monetary awards -- $16,750 in scholarships for her preliminary, overall talent and final wins.

Compiled by Wes Wolfe, Staff Writer

Breakout box:

1. State Rep. Stephen LaRoque is indicted on federal charges of theft and misuse of funds from his small business lending agencies.

2. Former Kinston City Council member Will Barker charged with third-degree sexual exploitation of a child.

3. Kinston'sWoodmen Community Center opens to the public.

4. Kinston celebrates the 250th anniversary of its founding during 2012.

5. Charles Buchanan passes away at age 63.

6. General election puts Obama back in the White House, a Republican in the governor's mansion and two newcomers in state legislative seats representing Lenoir County.

7. CSS Neuse is moved from its outdoor location to a new indoor home downtown.

8. The Free Press and other Freedom Communications properties in North Carolina and Florida are sold to Halifax Media Group.

9. The U.S. Supreme Court decides not to hear a lawsuit brought by a group of Kinston residents supporting nonpartisan elections in the city, ending a two-and-a-half-year legal battle.

10. Miss Kinston-Lenoir County, Arlie Honeycutt, is crowned Miss North Carolina.

Also receiving votes:

U.S. Department of Justice reverses itself and OK's nonpartisan elections in Kinston.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Stephen LaRoque cancels Kinston's plans to annex neighborhoods west of town.

Chef & the Farmer restaurant, damaged by fire, closes for several weeks.

Kinston's Ashlee Altise qualifies for "American Idol" appearance in Hollywood.

Tropical Storm Beryl brings flooding to Eastern North Carolina.

Jones County Schools Superintendent Michael Bracy named 2012-13 Southeast Region Superintendent of the Year.

After a period as interim superintendent, Steve Mazingo officially becomes superintendent of Lenoir County Schools.

Father and son share $1 million Powerball prize.

___

(c)2012 The Free Press (Kinston, N.C.)

Visit The Free Press (Kinston, N.C.) at www.kinston.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Wordcount: 1534



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