5. Hahira ethics hearings: Following charges that he violated the ethics of his office, in January 2012, a specially appointed ethics committee ruled that Mayor Wayne Bullard did not act in an unethical manner in his dealings with a local trash collection service in which he was formerly affiliated.
The ethics meetings became quite contentious, with heated debates on both sides of the issue. The allegations were brought forth by citizens, and after the hearings, the ethics panel ruled that the charges were unfounded and Bullard had not done anything illegal.
6. Lowndes-Lanier tornado: On Saturday, March 3, 2012, a tornado swept through north Lowndes and Lanier counties. The tornado destroyed homes, left some people homeless and caused light damage to the Louis Smith Memorial Hospital in Lakeland.
The tornado struck at approximately 1 p.m., touching down approximately a mile or two north of Moody Air Force Base, traveling through the Walker’s Crossing area, heading toward Lakeland.
The twister ranked as an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Scale, according to the National Weather Service’s office in Tallahassee, Fla. The Enhanced Fujita scale ranks tornadoes from EF-0 (winds reaching no more than 85 miles per hour) to EF-5 (winds over 200 mph.) An EF-3 ranking means the winds were between 136 mph and 165 mph, according to reports from March.
In the following weeks, volunteers helped clear debris while others helped those most affected by the storms.
7. VSU student found dead: On Nov. 18, 2012, Valdosta State University students discovered an unresponsive freshman on a couch in a fifth-floor study room of the campus’ Georgia Hall.
Jasmine Cathleen Benjamin, 17, was pronounced dead. Initially, authorities reported the student appeared to have died of natural causes, but a subsequent autopsy altered the nature of the investigation.
Benjamin’s family lives in Lawrenceville, which attracted the attention of Atlanta-area media to the case. Some North Georgia media resources claimed authorities called the death a murder, but Valdosta police and other authorities denied ruling the death a murder while they awaited toxicology reports.
The case also gained additional media attention as Benjamin’s family reported learning of their young daughter’s death via a Facebook posting.