By Kay Harris
and Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times
Each year, staff members at The Valdosta Daily Times are asked to vote on the top stories of the year, based on the amount of interest the topic received from our readers and the significance of the story. While there were a number of noteworthy issues in 2012, the following are our Top Ten news stories of the year.
1. DJ Slain: On Jan. 20, 2012, Stephon Edgerton a.k.a. Juan Gatti, a popular on-air personality at WGOV, was shot three times outside the radio station around midnight, shortly after finishing his shift for the night. Edgerton was able to use his cell phone to call 911 and describe his assailant as a white male wearing a mask before succumbing to the injuries.
A family man with three children, his wife Hilda Edgerton told The Times that he was “a great father, a great husband, a great musician and just a great person. He didn’t deserve to die.”
Despite pleas for help from his family and friends and an outpouring of support from the community, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office has not made an arrest in the murder and no suspects have ever been named.
2. Lake Park Council: The year began on a sour note in Lake Park when newly elected mayor Ben Futch was sworn into office on Jan. 4 only to immediately dismiss two employees who had been with the city for more than 30 years.
Futch replaced longtime City Clerk Ann Peterson and long-time Police Chief Bert Rutland, voting to break the council’s two-to-two tie over the issues. The after-effects of the decisions were disastrous, and at least three clerks came and went in a matter of weeks as Lake Park residents complained about their water bills and more. The dismissed employees filed suit against the city, and two council members resigned, preventing the city from holding meetings without a quorum. In early July, after a contentious confrontation with Mayor Pro-tem Sandy Sherrill, Futch resigned.
One of the council members who had resigned in protest, Eric Schindler, was elected in November to be Lake Park’s new mayor.