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Gwinnett Stripers offer Collins Hill High School big assist to repair vandalism damage to baseball field

One would be hard pressed to find a sport in which players, coaches and administrators take greater care and pride in the condition of the playing surface of their home field than baseball.

So it’s not hard to imagine the dismay Collins Hill head coach Zach Black and his staff felt when they arrived at their home field at the Suwanee school Sunday morning to find it had been vandalized by a large vehicle sometime following a game the previous day.

But as angry and frustrated as Black and his staff were, their mood has taken a turn for the better these past few days thanks to a big assist by the Gwinnett Stripers.

The Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, which plays its home games only a few miles from Collins Hill’s campus, have mobilized its ground crew staff and whatever resources are necessary to help repair the damage.

“We’re excited to be a part of it,” Stripers general manager Adam English said. “And we’re excited to help out because (Collins Hill is) in our backyard.”

It is precisely because the baseball community in Gwinnett County on the whole that the Stripers and Collins Hill program were able to come together to address the repairs to the field.

While unable to post photos of the field’s security cameras on social media to solicit information about the vandals as Gwinnett County Public Schools cooperates with Gwinnett County police in their investigation, Black was able to share photos of the field damage on social media Tuesday.

In addition, he had phone conversations with several of his fellow Gwinnett coaches about the situation, including one with Lanier coach Jonathan Wyman.

Wyman pointed Black to one of his community coaches, Kiley Coursey, who also happens to be a member of the Stripers’ Sports Turf Managment staff.

Coursey in turn went to the team’s head Sports Turf Manager McClain Murphy, who spoke with English.

“I saw Zach’s (tweet) on the Collins Hill baseball (Twitter account) with the pictures and stuff,” Coursey said. “I’ve known Zach for a long time. So when I saw the pictures, I sent them to Mac (Murphy) and asked, ‘Can we help these guys out?’”

It wasn’t long before everyone agreed to lend the Collins Hill program a hand, and it wasn’t a difficult decision despite the manpower and costs involved.

“I don’t think (the costs are) important,” English said. “At the end of the day, … Collins Hill’s in our backyard. Gwinnett’s our community. The surrounding counties, as well. But when it hits that close to home – I mean, some of our players might be able to stand in the parking lot (of Coolray Field) and hit a baseball close to (Collins Hill’s) field. That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but honestly, we’re very fortunate we have really partners who are helping minimize the costs to us.

“As far as getting the (OK) from me, Mac sent me the pictures of the field and (asked), ‘Do you think we can help?’ And I just responded, ‘Yes.’ It wasn’t a long conversation, and it was a no brainer for us.”

Murphy and Coursey were out at Collins Hill’s field Tuesday afternoon and evening to assess the damage and plan the repairs before returning on Wednesday.

And with the help of several volunteers from the Stripers’ staff, Murphy says the work to make repairs and get the field back into playing shape should be completed very quickly.

“So when Kiley and (Black) put it out on social media, some of our industry contacts and some of our partners reached out and offered some supplies and help,” Murphy said. “So we’ll be going over to complete it (Wednesday) afternoon. … A couple hours with enough hands and it can be done (Wednesday).

“It’s something important to us. With community baseball, people don’t (always realize) what the word community (means). … It’s a good feeling, especially with all the stuff that’s going on in the world today.”

Collins Hill’s team isn’t scheduled to play another home game until next week, but that doesn’t mean Black and his Eagles are any less grateful for the helping hand from their neighbors.

“Just simple words, I don’t know if that’s enough,” Black said. “I’m just blown away just being contacted by representatives on their ground crew. … They offered to just take care of that for is. It’s just absolutely incredible.”

It’s a sentiment echoed loudly by Collins Hill athletics director Scarlett Straughan.

“It was extremely nice. Very cool,’” Straughan said. “I’m relieved for my coaches. I know everybody brags on their coaches, but I absolutely have the best, and they’re so hard working.

“It was so devastating to them to see that hard work vandalized like that. So yes, I’m thrilled for my coaches and the kids that the Stripers have done this.”


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Gwinnett County completes purchase of aging Gwinnett Place Mall

Gwinnett County officials have finalized their purchase of Gwinnett Place Mall.

The county announced Thursday that the Urban Redevelopment Agency of Gwinnett County — which is also the Board of Commissioners — had completed the purchase of 39-acres at the nearly 40-year-old and mostly vacant mall from Moonbeam Capital Investment Groups for $23 million.

County officials will now turn their attention toward redeveloping the mall, which still has a few tenants left although much of the mall is now inaccessible.

“We are thrilled to add the Gwinnett Place Mall property to the county’s portfolio,” commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said. “The location offers us an incredible opportunity to create a redevelopment that will serve every Gwinnett resident. With community involvement and careful planning, this site will be a catalyst for future growth in our area.”

The purchase includes interior shops, walkways, the former Belk anchor and the old food court. It does not include, however, the Mega Mart, Macy’s, Beauty Master or former Sears anchors since those were owned separately from the rest of the mall.

Mega Mart, Macy’s and Beauty Master each own their respective anchors, and apartment developer Northwood Ravin owns the former Sears anchor, which is currently being used by the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments as a mass COVID-19 vaccination site.

County officials said they will work with Macy’s, Mega Mart and Beauty Master, since they are still in operation, as well as Northwood Ravin to “ensure all are aligned on goals as planning and revitalization begin.” the three anchor stores that are still open are not expected to be impacted by the county’s purchase of the mall, officials said.

Gwinnett Place Mall opened in 1984 but began to decline in the 2000s as it faced competition from newer malls in the area, such as Sugarloaf Mills and the Mall of Georgia, as well as a growing trend toward online shopping.

The county has been interested in revitalizing the Gwinnett Place area for years, however, even creating the Venture Drive Redevelopment Overlay District to the south and west of the mall in 2016.


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Man faces concealing a death charge related to missing Lyft driver from south Gwinnett found dead in Barrow County

Kim Mason left her home in unincorporated Stone Mountain at midnight on Sunday to go to work as a Lyft driver, and that was the last time her fiance told Gwinnett County police he saw her.

Two days later, Barrow County deputies found Mason’s body in the crawlspace of a home in Bethlehem, and now a man at the home is charged with concealing a death and theft by taking — motor vehicle among other charges.

“This investigation is still ongoing and there are possible pending charges based upon the outcome of the autopsy,” Barrow County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Ryan Sears said.

Adam Heard has been arrested and, at this time, faces charges of concealing the death of another, tampering with evidence, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, theft by taking – motor vehicle, theft by taking, and violation of probation in connection with Mason’s death.

Heard is being held in the Barrow County jail.

Gwinnett Police Sgt. J.R. Richter said the county police received a report of Mason’s disappearance on Sunday and had been treating it as a missing person’s case until her body was discovered.

A Gwinnett police report shows Mason’s fiance, Turner Ray, contacted the police when Mason did not come home from work.

“Ray stated that he had not seen his fiancee, Kimbala Mason, since approximately midnight when she left the residence to go to to work as a Lyft driver,” the report states. “Ray explained that he called Mason at approximately 3 a.m. and that he did not talk to her, but she responded with a text message saying that she had passengers in the vehicle.”

Mason was driving a blue 2020 Chevy Blazer and there was a .380 firearm in the vehicle, according to the police report.

Mason’s fiancee told police she had high blood pressure and that she had not mentioned any suicidal or homicidal intentions. He also told police that she did not have gang or drug-related history, or any violent history.

Richter said Barrow County deputies are handling the investigation into her death at this point.

Sears said investigators in the office’s Criminal Investigations Division received information on the possible whereabouts of Kim Mason and obtained a search warrant for 31 Tanners Bridge Road.

“The search of the residence revealed a deceased body buried in the crawlspace of the residence and it was confirmed that the deceased was Kim Mason, the missing person from Gwinnett County,” Sears said. “The Barrow County Sheriff’s Office is working closely with Gwinnett County Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to determine all of the facts related to this case.”

Mason’s brother, Creo Brady, who lives in Baltimore, has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for her funeral. Brady said Mason had four children and two grandchildren.

The campaign, which can be found at bit.ly/3d0tcUf, has so far raised $1,755 toward its $5,000 goal.

“Unfortunately, her life was tragically taken at the hands of someone she trusted,” Brady said in a statement on the campaign page. “Our family is devastated and heart broken to say the least. This was so sudden and unexpected.”


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