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2016: A Year in Review
A-Year in review pic1
Sonserea Dawn Evans, pictured, was arrested in February 2016 for spiking her Waffle House coworkers drink with methamphetamine. Evans, 43, was charged with aggravated battery and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. - photo by For the Dawson County News

Dawson County saw a year full of changes.

An historic election took precedence as the county elected its first new sheriff in two decades. Many other long-serving officials also took their leave, some giving their seats to those of a younger generation- the new voices of Dawson County.

There were big developments in capital, particularly construction on Ga. 400 that led to two rapidly booming shopping centers and one slowly pieced-together intersection at Hwy. 53.

New traffic lights and road repairs have dominated the scenery of the southern end of the county for some time, and with it more jobs and more people have come to this little corner of the world.

Not all development was welcome by the county, as commissioners stood their ground and rejected new housing units on Hwy. 53 East near Tractor Supply, to the surprise and joy of nearby residents.

Among other triumphs, 2016 was a great year for Dawson County High School sports, where students defied records and won region championships throughout the season.

In such a history-making year, it is important to look back at all of the big events that make the Dawson County community what it is, because only then can the community look forward to the future.

Woman spikes coworker's drink with methamphetamine - (pic Evans MUG
A 43-year-old Cumming woman was arrested in February after authorities said she spiked her Waffle House coworker's drink with methamphetamine.

Sonserea Dawn Evans was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and aggravated battery. Both charges are felonies, according to authorities.

Dawson County Sheriff's spokesperson Capt. Tony Wooten said authorities were called to the Hwy. 53 East restaurant Dec. 23, just before midnight, after a call was received that a 37-year-old male employee was having a medical emergency.

The victim was rushed to an area hospital in a serious condition, according to Wooten.

Authorities say that following the victim's hospitalization, law enforcement was notified that a video existed that showed the victim's drink had been drugged.

Waffle House management turned the video over to law enforcement.

"The video appeared to show Evans take her coworker's drink toward the bathroom area of the restaurant when he went outside, then shows her returning it and him drinking it," Wooten said.

Seppenfield acquitted of all charges in murder case
Miguez also released
Herman James "Bo" Seppenfield VII, 51, walked out of the Dawson County jail on Feb. 29 after being acquitted of all charges involving the 2014 shooting death of 37-year-old Brandon Weaver, also of Dawsonville.

It took the jury more than 12 hours of deliberations, spread out over two days, to reach the decision and exonerate Seppenfield on the charges of felony murder, malice murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during a felony act.

The charges stemmed from events that took place at his home on Whitney Place in southeastern Dawson County the night of Nov. 22, 2014.

Weaver died at the scene after being shot twice, following a verbal altercation that escalated and ended in gunfire.

Seppenfield spent 425 days in custody.

Tory Jude Miguez, 26, who also lived at the Whitney Place home, was charged with aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during a felony crime for his alleged involvement.

The state dropped their case against Miguez on March 2, two days after Seppenfield was released. Miguez had been freed on a $35,000 bond since February 2015.

School realignment
The 2016-17 school year in Dawson County saw the implementation of the first step in a two-stage process to realign the schools for grades 6-12.

When Superintendent Damon Gibbs took his position with the school system, one of the questions he asked was how many eighth graders were taking high school level courses.

The answer was none.

After an 18-month decision-making process, the plan to change the schools was initiated. The Dawson County Board of Education approved the change in Dec. 2015.

In the first stage, Riverview Middle School became Dawson County Middle School and went from housing 6-8 grades to only sixth and seventh.

A combined middle school staff would also offer more innovative and creative options, according to Gibbs.

Dawson County Middle School became Dawson County Junior High and in the first phase became home to only eighth graders.

In the second phase next year, those eighth graders will remain on campus for their ninth grade year along with incoming eighth graders.

Dawson County High School saw no change this school year, but in phase two will be home to only grades 10-12.

The changes allow eighth graders better access to high school level courses. This will ultimately give students a head start on options like dual enrollment and increase graduation rates.

The realignment also makes better use of space and staffing as Dawson County continues to experience growth. The change allows for up to 2,000 more students without additional facilities being built.

DCHS Sports
In its second year under Head Coach Sid Maxwell, the Dawson County Tigers football program ended at 7-3 on the year and 5-1 in Region 7-AAA as runners up.

The team was undefeated in region play before facing undefeated Greater Atlanta Christian for a region title.

Dawson County earned a bid in the state playoffs but were eliminated in the first round at home by the Lovett Lions with a 49-28 loss.

The program had 34 seniors and seven players named to the first team all-region including Luke Martin who was named defensive player of the year.

Martin posted 185 tackles.

Junior quarterback Coey Watson accounted for 2,500 yards of offense on combined rushing and passing yards as well as 34 touchdowns.

Senior Austin Young who garnered a spot on the first team at wide receiver had over 800 yards averaging 18 yards a catch.

Also named to the first team were offensive linemen Jordan Waddell and Wyatt McMahon. Clint Garrett was recognized at linebacker and Kolton Brumbelow earned first team honors for special teams after returning three kickoffs for touchdowns during the season.

Cross Country
The Dawson County varsity cross country boys' program finished the year with their second straight Region 7-AAA championship and also made it to the podium during the state competition.

The Tigers earned an overall fourth place spot in the state for Class AAA-a feat never before accomplished in school history.

Senior runner Jacob Poston led the boys' team taking second overall at state and earning an individual region championship. At the region race, Poston set a course record as well as a school record with his 15 minute, 32 second time.

Poston demolished the previous school record, beating it by 22 seconds.

It was a history making season for the varsity girls' cross country team as well.

The Lady Tigers earned its third straight region championship this year and finished fifth in Class AAA at the state level.

Frankie Muldoon became one of the top 10 runners at the state level as a sophomore. She also defended her individual region championship at Unicoi State Park in November when she won with a time of 19 minutes, 26 seconds.

Other region honors
Dawson County High School received the all sports trophy this past year for points accumulated based on number of teams competing in 20 sports and how well they fared in region play.

Aside from football and cross country, Dawson County competitive cheerleaders also brought home their third region title in a row this season and the varsity boys baseball team became region runners up after finishing at 22-9 overall. The baseball team also advanced to the Sweet 16 of the Class AAA state playoffs.

Boys soccer advanced to the Elite Eight of the state tournament after finishing second in the region at 14-4-1 overall. Girls' soccer secured their second straight region championship and senior Emily Queen was region player of the year while Coach Jed Lacey earned coach of the year honors.

The varsity girls track team became region champs for the first time in school history.

Chase Elliott
In his first season of Sprint Cup racing, Chase Elliott earned Rookie of the Year honors.

The first-year driver also won the pole position for the Daytona 500 and garnered 10 top-five finishes in 36 races.

Elliott took over behind the wheel of the iconic No. 24 and ended No. 10 on the points list for the season after being knocked out of the Chase in the round of 12.

County gets 5th manager of the year
Dawson County government saw a whirlwind of county managers in 2016 (5 in total) and has seen 11 since 2005.

David Headley was hired in September as Dawson County's newest county manager.

Headley previously worked as the public works director for the county in 2015, before being forced to resign from his position and being marked ineligible for rehire at that time.

Headley worked as the City of Dawsonville manager from Dec. 2015 to Sept. 2016.

Ga. 400 Shopping Centers Opened
Two long awaited shopping centers on Ga. 400 near its intersection with Dawson Forest Road finally began to open their doors in mid-2016.

One is the Kroger-anchored Dawson Marketplace, a two-phase shopping center that will soon host the likes of Hobby Lobby, Marshalls and Ulta.

The new Kroger Marketplace store and gas pumps opened in November after leaving the building they had occupied for over a decade.

The 125,000 square foot store is packed with amenities like a brick pizza oven, sushi bar with hot asian food, giant toy and home decor section and even apparel and accessories.

More stores will follow in 2017, and Kroger owners and real estate agents will continue their search for a new tenant for the old Kroger building.

The other shopping center, Dawson Crossroads, has seen rapid store openings since AT&T, Aspen Dental and Chili's' Bar and Grill opened in September.

Next came Publix in October, and the rest have followed suit. Petsmart, Brooklyn Joe's Pizza, La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Blush Ivey Boutique, Ten Point Boutique, Top Cleaner, Great Clips and Azalea Nails have since opened up in the space.

More stores are still under construction or yet to be leased.

Also new to Dawsonville is a Panera Bread restaurant, located on Ga. 400 North next to the LongHorn Steakhouse.

See next week's Look Ahead for more information on what's coming to the shopping centers in 2017.

Major road work continued
Work on the continuous flow intersection at Ga. 400 and Hwy. 53 continued in 2016, and an end date for construction was officially announced. A tentative finish date of May 2017 was released by the Georgia Department of Transportation in September.

Three new traffic lights have sprung up on Ga. 400 and Dawson Forest Road to accommodate traffic backed up from the CFI and the new shopping centers, with at least two more planned on Hwy. 53.

GDOT also began repair work on a bridge at Hwy. 136 over the Etowah River, with more in-depth work scheduled for this year. Work on another Etowah River bridge on Hwy. 9 is also planned for this year.

Also, as a Dawson County SPLOST-VI project, Dawson Forest Road was completely torn up and repaved in September.

2016 elections enthrall county, country
One of the biggest elections the county has seen for some time came with former Sheriff Billy Carlisle's retirement after 20 years of service. Top contenders for his replacement were Jeff Johnson, Tony Wooten, Jeff Perry and Frank Sosebee. Johnson was ultimately elected, edging out Wooten by 150 votes.

Also newly elected in 2016 were County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond, former Dawson County Fire Chief, District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines, a former city council member, and Tax Commissioner Nicole Stewart, who won the seat when three-term commissioner Linda Townley did not seek re-election.

State voters elected Incumbent Johnny Isakson (R) for United States Senator with 54.85 percent of the votes going to him.

And in one of the most contentious elections the county has ever seen, President Donald Trump beat out Secretary Hillary Clinton for the top spot in American politics.

272 housing units on Hwy. 53 denied
Developers were recently unsuccessful in their attempts to build 177 single-family homes and townhome units on Hwy. 53 near Elliott Road.

Bill Evans Jr. and his developers attempted to have property that they own on both Hwy. 53 and Hughes Court rezoned so that they could build housing units on the property.

However, a large group of Elliott Road homeowners and surrounding neighbors took up against the developers with a petition and voiced their unrest at county planning and county commission meetings.

After months of back and forth, the commission finally denied the rezoning on Dec. 13, ending the developer's plans to build on the land for the present.

Commissioners said that their main reason for rejecting the request was that the developer's plans did not fit in with the future land use plan, and that added traffic and congestion there could cause more harm than just headaches.