The last decade started with an explosion and ended with tragically timed tornado that wiped out homes in Amite County a little more than a week before Christmas.
The past 10 years have seen a lot of significant newsmaking events in Southwest Mississippi, including oil well blasts and oil booms, high-profile arrests, police shootings, building collapses and celebrity encounters.
Here’s a look back at some of the top stories of the decade:
While the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig occurred off the coast of Louisiana, its impact was closely felt here.
On April 20, 2010, the oil well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers including Shane Roshto of Liberty and former McComb resident Karl Kleppinger Jr. of Natchez. Among the rescued were Ron Pennington of Pike County and Jayess residents Eugene Moss and Randy Ezell.
The disaster left millions of gallons of oil spewing from the ocean floor for months and was quickly deemed the worst environmental tragedy in U.S. history.
Its impact on fishereies was immediate. Locally, one seafood business closed and two others cut their hours and raised prices. Some saltwater fishermen saw no effects from the oil spill, while others found contaminated areas.
Eventually, the seafood business picked back up and tourists returned to the coast.
When 11 patients turned up at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center with invasive bacterial infections, health officials noticed a common thread: They were all patients at the Rose Cancer Center in Summit.
On Jan. 12, the FBI searched the chemotherapy clinic. Six months later, on July 20, the Mississippi Department of Health closed the clinic July 20, citing “unsafe infection control practices.”
Then came news in September that clinic director Dr. Meera Sachdeva, her office manager and medical insurance biller were indicted in federal court on 11 counts of health care fraud charges, with Sachdeva facing an additional four counts of money laundering.
According to the indictment, Rose Cancer Center patients received diluted chemotherapy drugs and were injected with used syringes while the clinic billed Medicaid and Medicare for millions in fraudulent services.
The case resulted in a 20-year prison sentence for Sachdeva, who also was fined $250,000 and ordered to pay $8.2 million in restitution.
Numerous wrongful-death lawsuits were filed — including one alleging a patient contracted HIV through a contaminated needle used at the center.
As hurricane seasons went, 2012 was the most impactful after Hurricane Isaac stalled out over the area, bringing hammering rains that changed the landscape of Percy Quin State Park.
The storm made landfall in New Orleans on Aug. 28 and forced Pike County officials to open a just-completed storm shelter on Quinlivan Road earlier than expected.
Isaac pounded the area with rain for two more days.
On Aug. 29, Isaac’s deluge caused a section of the dam at Percy Quin State Park to slough off.
The threat of a dam failure made national news as firefighters brought trucks and pumped water from Lake Tangipahoa in an effort to relieve pressure on the dam.
The lake had already been scheduled for the drainage and repairs later in the year, but Isaac hastened the work.
The lake sat drained for three years and fishing didn’t return until 2016, bringing a downturn in activity to one of Mississippi’s busiest and most profitable state parks.
Now there’s a new dam and spillway at the lake, fishing and camping is back in full swing and a campsite renovation project is taking place.
Changes in leadership of three area school districts topped the news in 2013. In the McComb School District, trustees voted to hire Dr. Cederick Ellis to replace retiring superintendent Therese Palmertree.
At North Pike, longtime Superintendent Dr. Ben Cox left Dec. 31 to take on the leadership role at the Brookhaven School District and was replaced by Dennis Penton the following year.
In other news from that year, a freak hail storm on March 18 pelted the area with up to golfball-sized hail that damaged cars, homes and businesses and led to millions of dollars in insurance claims.
The beginning of the decade saw a run-up to increased oil activity in Amite and Wilkinson counties, which sat on top of an oil formation known as the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, which had the promise to produce billions of barrels of light sweet crude.
As oil companies came in to conduct hydraulic fracturing, “fracking” became the word on everyone’s lips. The practice of injecting high-pressure water, sand and chemicals into the earth to break up oil deposits trapped in shale was met with scorn in some parts of the country, but here it came with the hope for more jobs and big royalty checks among mineral rights owners.
At the start of 2014, more oil companies had entered Amite and Wilkinson counties. Motels in McComb were filled with oil company pickup trucks and 18-wheelers. More hotels sprang up to keep pace with the demand, and Pike County officials, not wanting to be left out of the boom, made plans for a new industrial park that would contain housing units for oil workers.
The TMS started out well in 2014. In March, companies were offering to buy mineral leases for $4,000 an acre from property owners, although many questioned whether selling mineral rights, as opposed to leasing them,would be the right move.
The Amite and Wilkinson county boards of supervisors formed a regional water authority to handle water needs for fracking. By June, several oil companies announced deals with venture partners that plugged hundreds of millions of dollars into their operations.
But in September, the Amite County school board, flush with cash from oil leases, rejected bids for new oil leases at the advice of the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office to renegotiate for a larger share of royalties, turning away oil company representatives with checkbooks in hand. The strategy backfired. Upon readvertising for new bids, the school district received none.
This news came around the same time oil company Halcon announced it was pulling out of the play, despite having drilled what had been considered a successful well in Wilkinson County.
Drilling in the TMS was more expensive compared to the oil fields in Texas and North Dakota. And in November, OPEC — the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries — decided the U.S. oil market, flush with the new fracking technology, was becoming too rich and flooded it with its oil supply, causing oil prices to plummet.
Companies like Goodrich Petroleum, a Texas upstart that bet everything on the TMS, saw its shares plummet and got out of the oil play altogether.
Soon, the oil companies, their workers and all of the Texas-tagged pickups parked at the motels were gone.
In the years since, companies have drilled new wells in the oil play, but not nearly on the scale of the first half of the decade and the boom days of the TMS seem all but gone.
The embezzlement case of a longtime McComb municipal court clerk raised questions about accounting methods and her punishment, and had a ripple effect on city management.
On Feb. 12, Greta Patterson met with city officials to discuss discrepancies in an audit of financial records in the court system from Oct. 1, 2014, to that day.
They fired her on the spot.
In her Dec. 14 court appearance, she admitted to the theft of $84,000. Then-mayor Whitney Rawlings has said at the time that he suspected as much as $1 million could have been stolen.
Pike County Circuit Judge David Strong sentenced Patterson to 10 years, eight suspended and two to serve under house arrest, and ordered her to pay a $200 fine.
The fallout of the Patterson case had further repercussions in city hall. In April Selectman Tommy McKenzie made a surprise motion to fire former City Administrator Quordiniah Lockley, who had questioned the need to hire an accounting firm to test the city’s financial practices in the wake of the embezzlement.
The board split 3-3 on the firing, and Rawlings broke the tie.
Lockley, who was elected mayor in 2018, was blindsided by the move, as were the three selectmen who voted to keep him.
This was the year of reality TV.
On one channel, Kye Kelley of Pike County was burning up the asphalt in his Camaro known as Shocker on the television show Street Outlaws. On another, a former McComb High School graduate achieved enough fame as the first runner-up on American idol to start going by just her first name — La’Porsha Renae.
A year earlier, she was La’Porsha Renae Mays, staying in a local domestic violence shelter with her daughter.
On March 26, McComb became the capital of “Renaenation” when she returned for a parade in her honor and a concert at McComb High School while television crews filmed segments for the show.
Amory native Trent Harmon took home the American Idol crown and La’Porsha Renae won runner-up.
Months later, she divorced her ex-husband, signed a deal with Motown Records and cut an album.
The modest skyline of downtown McComb became forever altered on July 23, when its tallest building collapsed, scattering debris that shut down the heart of the city and prompting legal battles between the building’s owners, insurers and the city.
The collapse happened late on a Sunday afternoon, just hours after a choir rehearsal for its occupants, teachers and students from the Jubilee Performing Arts Center, who were singing at an event in Jackson when the collapse occurred.
A stopped-up drain reportedly caused the building’s flat rooftop to hold water, the weight of which sent the roof crashing through three floors.
No one was injured in the collapse, which cost the city nearly half a million dollars to clean up.
The incident was a significant setback for JPAC, which had firmly established itself as a private school in recent years, with its student choir a standout attraction at many local events.
In the years since, the school has moved to a new location and the building, while stabilized, sits vacant and its interior exposed to the elements.
The other top story of the year involved a shooting spree over Memorial Day weekend that left eight people dead, including a Lincoln County sheriff ‘s deputy, in a house-to-house rampage stemming from a domestic dispute.
Willie Cory Godbolt of Bogue Chitto is expected to stand trial in February on charges of capital murder in connection with the death of sheriff’s deputy William Durr and seven counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of others who were acquaintances or relatives.
Tragedy returned to Lincoln County in 2018 when two Brookhaven police officers died in a shootout while responding to a call about shots fired early morning on Sept. 29.
Cpl. Zack Moak, 31, and patrolman James White, 35, were called to a house in Brookhaven at about 5 a.m.
The shooting suspect, Marquis Aaron Flowers, 25, of 426 E. Independence St., Brookhaven, was armed with a handgun.
After an exchange of gunfire, the two officers were pronounced dead at King’s Daughters Medical Center in Brookhaven.
Flowers was charged with two counts of capital murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Also in 2018, McComb elected its first majority-black city board in an historic election season.
Lockley won the Democratic nomination for the mayor’s race by just four votes over former mayor Zach Patterson and then defeated Republican selectman Tommy McKenzie in the general election.
Donovan Hill, who had served as Ward 4 selectman, was elected selectman at-large, Ronnie Brock was re-elected and fellow Democrats Shawn Williams and Devante Johnson joined them on the board, along with Republicans Ted Tullos and Michael Cameron, who were re-elected.
The most recent newsmaking event — the Dec. 16 tornado that touched down from just outside Liberty to Bogue Chitto — was the top news story of 2019, along with a weaker May 9 tornado that struck McComb.
Amite County residents impacted by the storm are still making repairs and a local fundraiser that sprang up on Facebook has raised thousands of dollars for the relief effort.
McComb, meanwhile, has mostly brushed off its tornado damage, with the city paying upwards of $600,000 for debris removal. That storm didn’t meet requirements for the city to qualify for reimbursement from state and federal agencies, which put a dent in cash reserves as the city faces financial struggles.