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Gwinnett County police arrest suspect accused of stealing car and kidnapping infant

A Buford man is facing kidnapping and other charges after Gwinnett police rescued an infant from a car that he allegedly stole from the parking lot of a strip shopping center near the intersection of Lawrenceville Highway and Sugarloaf Parkway on Monday.

Joshua Rodriguez, 29, is accused of stealing the car at 4141 Sugarloaf Parkway with a 7-month-old baby inside. Cpl. Collin Flynn said the police department received multiple calls about the car theft shortly after 6 p.m. on Monday.

“The father of the child went inside the store and left the car running with the child inside,” Flynn said. “When he exited the store, he saw a Hispanic male sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle. The father confronted the male, who put the vehicle in reverse and began driving recklessly out of the parking lot. On the way out of the parking lot, the vehicle stuck a sign, another vehicle, and jumped the curb.”

Multiple Gwinnett police officers and sheriff’s deputies swarmed the area in search of the vehicle, and the department’s aviation unit was called in as well to help with the search. The vehicle was ultimately found by an off-duty police officer who responded to the area when he heard the call go out from dispatchers.

The vehicle had been abandoned in a parking lot less than a mile from where it had been stolen, and the infant was still in the car. Rodriguez was found and arrested after a search of the area, and Flynn said officers used surveillance footage from the scene of the vehicle theft to identify him as the alleged car thief.

In addition to kidnapping, Rodriquez is also charged with aggravated assault, theft of a motor vehicle and two counts of hit and run.

Nicole Love Hendrickson: 'The proverbial glass ceiling has been shattered' as she is sworn in as Gwinnett's first African-American BOC chair

Nicole Love Hendrickson said she did not run for county commission chairwoman to make history, but she did not ignore the significance of her taking the oath to fill that office on Monday.

Hendrickson is the first African-American to be elected to serve as the head of Gwinnett County’s government. She was sworn into the office at a ceremony that showcased the county’s diversity on Monday as her four-year term officially begins Friday.

“I ran to create change, but I would be remiss if I did not reflect on the historical significance of today’s swearing in,” Hendrickson said. “Just 55 years ago, a Black woman could not even vote. Being the first Black Democratic woman to hold this seat is not a responsibility I take lightly. I realize I stand on the shoulders of giants and that my victory represents another step forward in advancing the vision of a country where all people have access to opportunities to succeed.

“Today the proverbial glass ceiling has been shattered again, and for that, I am proud.”

Hendrickson was the last of three swearing in ceremonies for new members of the county commission — all African-American — who will be taking office as 2021 begins. She is also the first Democrat to serve as the leader of the county commission in 36 years.

Although Hendrickson is making history as the first African-American chairwoman, she is not the first African-American woman to serve on the county commission. District 4 Commissioner Marlene Fosque, who was elected to the board in 2018, holds that distinction.

“I stand on her shoulders,” Hendrickson said of Fosque.

But, while the history-making aspect of the ceremony was referenced multiple times during the event, it also served as an opportunity to highlight the new chairwoman’s path to leading the commission and all of Gwinnett County government.

Several speakers highlighted her work as the county’s first community outreach director, a role in which she worked with the diverse cultural groups located in Gwinnett. The Gwinnett 101 government education program for county residents that was established under Hendrickson’s watch in community outreach, was also highlighted.

Gwinnett Chamber President and CEO Nick Masino said Hendrickson was also involved in establishing the chamber’s Gwinnett Young Professionals group and was a member of the search committee tasked with picking a new chamber president in 2019.

Prior to working with the county, Hendrickson worked for the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services.

Before the ceremony, outgoing commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash praised Hendrickson and the background that she has coming into the job.

“The one thing I know about Nicole is that she loves Gwinnett,” Nash said. “She has a big heart for the community and I think that’s a great start ... While she has a foundation and knows some things about the county organization, I think she recognizes that she has a lot to learn, and I think that’s a great attribute for an elected official to have. You know, I have 43 years working in local government and I still learn something almost on a daily basis. It’s just such a big area and so broad.”

Nash also praised her successor’s ability to work with people.

“Nicole is good in terms of listening to varying view points and trying to find ways to bring people together,” she said. “I think that’s going to be a very important characteristic and skill that she’s going to have to apply time and time again as chair.”

Nash also offered praise for Hendrickson and the other incoming members of the commission, Kirkland Carden and Jasper Watkins, as she spoke during the ceremony.

There were also recorded remarks from former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath.

“Chairwoman Hendrickson brings the deep experience necessary to lead Georgia’s most diverse county,” Abrams said. “As a social worker, she knows how to meet the needs of our most vulnerable and marginalized neighbors, empowering communities and giving a voice to those who have been historically underrepresented. She sees the possibilities of a Gwinnett where all citizens can recover from COVID’s economic and health harms with equity and full engagement.

“Building a just, and equitable and vibrant Gwinnett will require partnership, patience and vision.”

As for what she has in her plans for what she will do as commission chairwoman, Hendrickson laid out some goals during her swearing in ceremony. A key part of those plans will be inclusivity in all aspects of life in Gwinnett.

“My promise to you is that we will make Gwinnett County a community where economic opportunity is abundant for everyone, a community where affordability isn’t a luxury and a community that leads in regional connectivity,” she said. “From today forward, our county’s leadership will be a direct reflection of the people it serves.

“By working with community, civic and corporate leaders, we will ensure that Gwinnett County is ready and prepared to lead into the future.”

In a sign of unity that she said will be key to the county’s future, Hendrickson had a Jewish rabbi, an Islamic imam and a Christian preacher offer prayers at her swearing in ceremony. She also had representatives of the Latino and Asian-American communities speak at the event.

Additionally, she was introduced after her swearing in by Gwinnett Democratic Party Chairwoman Bianca Keaton, but also had Republicans — such as Melvin Everson, John Lee and Nash — participate in the ceremony as well.

Hendrickson said there is a message to be culled from that diversity shown at her swearing in about what Gwinnett will be like in the future.

“We’re going to be a Gwinnett that’s for everyone, that represents people from all walks of life,” she said.

Gwinnett preparing to ring in the new year

There may be a pandemic going on, but there will still be opportunities to ring in the arrival of 2021 in Gwinnett County.

As the final hours of 2020 tick away on Thursday, there will be different ways for residents to celebrate, whether they be families getting New Year’s meals or adults simply looking for a place to party at midnight.

Lawrenceville officials are encouraging residents and visitors to head to the city to support downtown businesses that will have special offers.

“We did such a big push at Christmas time with our Merry Little Christmas and our shop small (activities), but we still wanted to encourage downtown Lawrenceville as a New Year’s Eve destination for the community, so I checked in with all of the businesses and found out who was going to be open, who was going to be having specials, who was going to be having music and got all of that organized,” city spokeswoman Melissa Hardegree said.

These offers include New Years Eve-themed cakes and other treats before 2 p.m. at Blue Rooster Bake Shop and Eatery on the Square; New Year’s Eve pizzas at Cosmo’s Little Italy Pizza; 32 and 64-ounce growlers of 30 draft beers from noon until 7 p.m. at Exhibit A(le); $6 tequila shots, with 30 different types of tequila available, along with authentic Mexican cuisine at La Cazuela; the annual Prix Fixe NYE Dinner at Local Republic, which is requiring reservations be made at localrepublic.com; beer and food at McCray’s Tavern on the Square; and a free champagne toast at midnight, with gift give-aways every 15 minutes starting at 10 p.m., at Universal Joint. All of those businesses are located on the Lawrenceville Square.

“There’s a little bit of everything,” Hardegree said. “I think people are not doing as big a deal this year as they’ve done in the past, which I think is really smart from a health standpoint (because of COVID-19), but there’s still activities going on in downtown Lawrenceville. We’re going to have live music that will be in the gazebo on the historic courthouse square.”

Several breweries in Gwinnett are also hosting New Year’s Eve celebrations, however.

Slow Pour Brewery, located at 407 N. Clayton St. in Lawrenceville, will have its tap room open from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m. with DJ Mickey Nightrain and the Strange Taco Bar Food Truck.

Social Fox Brewing, located at 20 Skin Alley in Norcross, will host a Keg Drop at midnight and offer a special beer, Year of the Fox Champaign Beer, as well as a dinner at 8 p.m., party favors and four beers per person — in addition to the one champaign beer toast. Tickets cost $79 per individual and $150 per couple, and can be purchased at commerce.arryved.com/location/Bb8Cu-86.

Stillfire Brewing, located at 343 U.S. Highway 23 in Suwanee, will have two bands performing on New Year’s Eve. Local Tourists will perform from 5 until 8 p.m. The 90’s Alt Rock cover band, Mud Donkey Band, will then perform from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m.

Good Word Brewing Company in Duluth’s Parsons Alley will host a six-course New Year’s Eve Meal, although tickets, which cost about $75, were limited for the 8:30 p.m. seating. Anyone interested in trying it out should contact events@goodwordbrewing.com to check on ticket availability.

Elsewhere, 37 Main, located at 37 East Main St. in Buford, will host New Year’s Eve with RadioStar at 9:30 p.m. It will feature, as the name suggests, the band RadioStar.

Snellville Oak, which dates back to at least 1787, deemed unsafe and will be removed

An oak tree in Snellville that is older than the U.S. Constitution is about to come down.

City officials said arborists from the Georgia Department of Transportation have determined the Snellville Oak is becoming hollow and therefore a threat to pedestrians and drivers. The red oak, which is located near Autobell Car Wash on U.S. Highway 78, has been around since sometime before 1787.

“In recent years GDOT and the city have made attempts to save the oak by minimizing disturbances to the soil around the roots and routing utilities on the other side of Main Street,” Snellville spokesman Brian Arrington said in a statement. “However, in recent months, state arborists determined the tree is becoming hollow and poses a threat to pedestrians and drivers passing under its large heavy limbs.”

An exact time period for when the tree will likely come down has not been announced.

While the tree will be coming down, there is a possibility it could be memorialized. City officials said their hope is to have their Public Works Department and the Snellville Historical Society preserve parts of the tree.

There is a plaque that the National Arborists Association and the International Society of Arboriculture placed in 1987 which states the organizations “jointly recognize this significant tree in this bicentennial year as having lived here at the time of the signing of our Constitution.”

Snellville historian Jim Cofer wrote in his “Elegy to an Oak Tree” that the tree was once referred to as “Mr. Troy’s Big Oak,” a reference to Troy Thomason, who was a local educator, school principal and bovine entrepreneur. Cofer said the tree preceded Thomason by about 150 years, however.

“It would have likely been a sapling when members of the Lower Creek Native American tribe roamed the Snellville area,” Cofer wrote. “Later, the Jesse Bryan family would farm the land around it in the early to mid-1800s. Jesse volunteered to fight in two different wars — the Mexican-American War and the Civil War — and ran a one-room schoolhouse between those conflicts.”

The Brand family bought the property the tree sits on in 1920 and Thomason bought 70 acres of the property, including the spot where the tree stands, in 1944.

W.H. and Harold Britt then bought 28 acres of the Thomason property, including the part where the tree was located, in 1972.