Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside filed a complaint in Gwinnett Superior Court this past week to seek the removal of a Confederate monument in Lawrenceville and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams visited the Gwinnett County Health Department on Thursday
These are the top stories from the past week.
Solicitor General Brian Whiteside asking court to declare Confederate monument in Lawrenceville a public nuisance, order removal
Evoking memories of violence that broke out in Charlottesville, Va., three years ago over a Confederate monument, Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside filed a complaint in Gwinnett Superior Court this past week to seek the removal of a Confederate monument in Lawrenceville.
Whiteside had previously sent a letter to county commissioners, asking them to remove the monument, which is located on the grounds of the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse. He pivoted on Tuesday, however, and took his request to a judge instead, seeking a solution similar to one that was used to remove a Confederate monument in Decatur.
The argument outlined in the complaint, officially filed against the county, is that Whiteside sees the monument as a public nuisance because it has been the target of vandals, and he is concerned that it could become the scene of violent clashes between supporters of Confederate monuments and those who oppose them.
In doing so, he recalled a Unite The Right Rally that occurred in Charlottesville in 2017. One woman’s death was tied to the rally after a vehicle was driven into a crowd of counter-protesters.
“The Confederate monument located on the Lawrenceville Square could easily become a rallying and flashpoint for violence similar to the event in August 2017 in Charlottesville, (Va.); thus creating a public safety concern for the city of Lawrenceville and Gwinnett County,” Whiteside wrote in his complaint.
“In recent days, in the midst of historic, nationwide protests of the killings of unarmed black men, the Confederate monument in Lawrenceville has become the focus of justifiable anger and frustration, an impetus for protests and rallies, and most importantly, an urgent, impending threat to public safety.”
Whiteside’s actions are not the only steps being taken to get the Confederate monument removed from the grounds of the historic courthouse, which is a county-owned park and event space. In light of the protests over the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks among others, the monument has been the target of people who see Confederate monuments and statues as symbols of hate.
The monument was erected by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1993.
In addition to the steps taken by Whiteside, Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners District 1 candidate Kirkland Carden, an African-American, and former 7th Congressional District candidate Nabilah Islam, a first-generation Bangladeshi-American, launched a petition on Change.org last month calling for the removal.
More than 1,900 people had signed the petition, which has a goal of 2,500 signatures, as of Friday afternoon.
Amid a nationwide debate over memorials commemorating the confederate States of America, a candidate for a seat on the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and a former candidate for Congress are calling on county leaders to remove a confederate memorial that has stood on the Lawrenceville Square for nearly 30 years.
The petition, as well as Whiteside’s complaint in Superior Court, point out at least one lynching of an African-American took place on the Lawrenceville Square, about 10 yards away from where the monument stands.
Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside is asking the county commission to remove a controversial confederate memorial from the Lawrenceville Square that the prosecutor said has been the target of vandals multiple times recently.
Whiteside said in his complaint that Lawrenceville police were called to the monument on June 8 on a report that it had been vandalized with the damage estimated to be valued at $500. The marker had been spray painted with a stencil “Black Lives Matter” logo.
There were also “signs that had a long message on them, stating remarks about racism and white supremacy,” Whiteside said in the compaint.
“Every time such incidents of graffiti and vandalism occur, city resources are expended,” the solicitor general wrote. “This includes investigating potential criminal damage to the property, coordinating clean-up efforts with the monument and responding to media inquiries.”
Although city police are called to respond to the vandalism, the city has no authority over the monument since it is on county property run by the Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation Division.
State law was changed last year to protect Confederate monuments by increasing penalties for vandalizing them and making it harder to remove them. Local communities have been going through the courts, however, as a workaround to get the monuments removed and sent to museums or put into storage.
That was how the Confederate monument in Decatur was removed last month, after a judge ordered it be taken down.
State Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville, filed legislation this year to have Confederate monuments, as well as statues honoring Confederate soldiers or officials who advocated slavery, banned from public property, but that bill stalled in the Georgia House of Representatives.
State Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville, has authored House Bill 1212, which would prohibit confederate monuments, as well as statues of individuals who advocated for slavery, from being displayed on public property — except in Civil War battlefields and museums.
Whiteside suggested a judge order the monument on the Lawrenceville Square be moved to the Gwinnett Environmental and Historical Center, which has a museum of some county history.
“The Confederate monument that the community does not want has become a figurative powder keg and thus a public nuisance that must be abated quickly,” the solicitor general wrote in the complaint. “Relocating the monument temporarily will prevent injury and unrest while at the same time protecting and preserving the monument in compliance with — and indeed fulfillment of — Georgia law.”
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams calls face masks an 'instrument of freedom' during visit to Gwinnett County
Wearing a face mask is a way Americans can fight for freedom, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams at the end of a visit to the Gwinnett County Health Department in Lawrenceville on Thursday night.
For the second time in less than a week, Gwinnett health officials received a visit from a high profile figure who came to see how the county is responding to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. Adams' visit was on the heels of a visit by Gov. Brian Kemp to a testing site in Lilburn on June 26.
Adams met with district health officials for about a half hour before promoting the use of face masks during brief remarks to reporters.
On the week of the Fourth of July, the surgeon general painted the need to wear face masks in seemingly patriotic terms.
"One of the most important things that you can do is wearing a face covering, or a mask to prevent the spread of the disease," Adams said. "Wearing a face covering, or a mask, is not a restriction of your freedom. As a matter of fact, it is an instrument of freedom because we know if we have less spread of the disease in the community, more places will be open, more places will stay open.
"If we don't wear face coverings, we will lose freedom because more places will have to close."
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Adams' visit to Lawrenceville came at the tale of a day which was spent visiting cities around Georgia. He said he visited Dalton, Augusta and Savannah with Kemp — who is on a statewide tour to promote the wearing of face masks — before breaking away and heading to Gwinnett County.
But, there was a reason for his visit beyond wanting to promote the wearing of face masks.
Federal COVID-19 Response Assistance Field Teams spent Wednesday and Thursday in Gwinnett County to monitor the county's response to the pandemic. District health officials said the teams were sent to areas, such as Gwinnett, that have seen increased levels of COVID-19 cases ahead of the Fourth of July weekend.
"We've been so privileged to discuss issues with them and just really handle some intricate problems and challenges and everything that we're facing," Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale district health director Audrey Arona said.
As of the day of Adams' visit, Gwinnett had a total of 8,619 COVID-19 cases, 173 deaths and 1,119 hospitalizations during the pandemic.
The case total for Gwinnett has increased by 1,396 new cases in the span of one week, which is down slightly from the increase of 1,470 new cases seen between June 18 and June 25. By comparison, the county's case total increased by only 773 new cases between June 11 and June 18.
The county's case total has increased by 49.8% since June 18.
The federal team that visited the county this week observed drive-thru testing sites in Lilburn and Lawrenceville. Members of the team included officials from various federal agencies, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"(We're) learning about the different challenges that folks are facing in responding to the COVID outbreak, but also finding out what's working well," Adams said. "One of the things that's working well are community partnerships."
The group that Adams met with at the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Department's Administrative Office in Lawrenceville included representatives of the Gwinnett County Board of Education, the Community Foundation of Northeast Georgia and local health and government officials.
The surgeon general cited the impact the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Department's work with community partners has had on outreach to various communities, including minorities, particularly the Black and Latino communities.
"It is important to know that if you are a person of color, then you are at a higher risk of complications from COVID, based on the statistics that we have," Adams said. "Blacks are hospitalized at five times the rate of whites for COVID. Hispanics are hospitalized at three times the rate, Native-Americans are hospitalized at four times the rate.
"So, we're really trying to engage with community groups who are already trusted in that space."
That was why Adams said the wearing of face masks was an important message to get out ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. Practicing social distancing now and after the holiday is another step Adams encouraged residents to take to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
"My surgeon general's prescription is really simple, three steps," Adams said. "No. 1: know your risk. Know if you're at high risk or low risk for coronavirus before deciding whether to venture out. High risk are people who are older, people with chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure.
"No. 2: know your circumstances. Are you going to a place that's outside or inside? Outside is lower risk. Are you going to a place where it's going to be difficult to social distance or easy to social distance? Know if you're at home with someone who is vulnerable because even if you're young and have no problems, your circumstances is that you're going back home to grandma ... And No. 3: know how to stay safe. If you're at high risk from either of the two categories, the safest thing to do is to stay home this weekend and until we can get the prevalence of COVID down."
The surgeon general said as many as 50% of people spreading COVID-19 don't know they have it because they're asymptomatic and don't have a cough or fever. That has created difficulties in containing the disease, he said.
"That's why we want everyone to wear a face covering, because if you wear a face covering then even if you are a person who has coronavirus but doesn't know it, there's a lessened chance that you'll spread it to someone else," Adams said. "Protest the people around you by wearing a face covering. Protect your freedoms by wearing a face covering and preventing the spread of the disease."
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler offers glimpse of what could be coming in COVID-19 response
The federal response to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic is an ongoing effort, and there is still money available to help with local aid, according to U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga.
Loeffler is set to begin a nine-day, 14-county statewide tour July 8. She spoke with the Daily Post this week about the ongoing effort to address pandemic relief, as well as the push to encourage Americans to wear face masks in public.
Over the course of the conversation, she gave a glimpse of what the federal government could be doing in the future to address the pandemic.
“Our focus is going to be continuing to look at what have we learned and how do we apply these learnings to have a very targeted and effective response from a health perspective and an economic perspective,” Loeffler said.
This past week saw Congress take new steps to protect Americans who have been hit financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. One measure the Senate took was to vote to extend the Paycheck Protection Program, with the House of Representatives following suit later in the week.
Loeffler said that extension means Georgia small businesses affected by the pandemic have until Aug. 8 to apply for the coronavirus relief funding and, if they get the money, continue paying employees.
She wasn’t sure how long the federal government would ultimately have to continue the program, however.
“I think we’re going to wait and see,” Loeffler said. “There’s about $130 billion left in the PPP program and, in Georgia, we’ve been able to deliver $14 billion to employers, to businesses to help keep their doors open.
“What we need to look at is who needs to get the relief that hasn’t received it, and how can we continue to refine the program. I have kept an open dialogue with (U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin) and (U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell) about the designs of the programs and I supported legislation that ensured nonprofits such as churches and YMCAs can get access to it while limiting the ability of organizations like Planned Parenthood to access it.”
The bill Loeffler referred to is the Limiting Infant Fatality and Empowering Nonprofit Organization Workforces Act, also known as the LIFE NOW Act.
Senator backs calls to wear face masks
Loeffler also joined the growing number of Republican officials who are encouraging Americans to wear face masks in public.
Health officials had been encouraging face masks since the pandemic began, but lately there has been a new push by several GOP officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp, Vice-President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to encourage greater use of face masks in public.
Kemp undertook a statewide tour this past week to urge Georgians to wear face masks, and was joined by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams at some stops along the way.
“We need to continue to take that personal responsibility to keep ourselves, our families, our fellow Georgians safe, and so I think it’s a common sense measure to take as we really start to look at schools opening in the fall, getting back into church, into football season,” Loeffler said.
“So, I think this is a basic measure that I think many are following and I think we have to trust the efforts of Georgians to do what they can to keep themselves and their families and communities safe.”
Loeffler did not back a federal mandate being issued to wear face masks, however. Instead, she said it’s a state issue to deal with, leaving it up to individual governors to decide whether residents of their states should be forced to wear masks.
In Georgia, Kemp has called a face mandate a “bridge too far” for him to go.
“I think certainly states know their local situation best and I trust that the states will continue to do what’s best for their citizens just as Georgia has done,” Loeffler said.
CARES Act funding still available
Loeffler also talked about federal funds that are available to Georgians and institutions to help offset the impact the pandemic is having on the community.
“There remains significant funding left in the CARES Act to make sure that our hospitals (and) our health agencies — our public health agencies — are funded, but also getting that relief to families and employers,” Loeffler said. “So, I’ve been really focused on the case work that we’ve done across the state to connect Georgians to that relief, but then also working with the governor to figure out what the needs are on the ground.”
As Congress continues to work on legislation related to the COVID-19 response, however, Loeffler said she expects areas that have not already been addressed will begin to get a look.
“I think there will be an effort to look at what was missed by the CARES Act holistically,” she said. “There’s another element in the CARES Act called the Main Street Lending Program. That’s for slightly larger employers. So, for those family-owned businesses, such as a restaurant, (what could be looked at is) what can we do to really target sectors and industries — hospitality for example.
“Travel and hospitality have been so hard hit. They’re major employers. They provide services that we all rely on in our every day lives and it’s vitally important that they are there when we’re ready to get back to normal activities, so we will definitely be looking at that.”
Loeffler also pushes back against ‘Defund The Police’ movement
Another big issue in the news lately has been the protests over the treatment of African-Americans. There have been several protests in metro Atlanta, as well as elsewhere around the country over the issue.
The senator did issue support for police and other law enforcement as protests have targeted their treatment of minority populations. She has been particularly opposed to the movement to defund police departments.
Loeffler said she believes that movement hurts officer morale and increases the chances of rising crime rates. As a result, she signed on as a co-sponsor of the Justice Act filed by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., that is designed to be a Republican attempt at police reform.
Loeffler also filed the Protecting Public Safety and Support Law Enforcement Act, which targets federal highway safety funding for communities that choose to decrease funding for police, in June.
“The left is pushing this dangerous effort to defund the police, and I have been working hard to support law enforcement,” Loeffler said. “I have introduced legislation that would cause municipalities and states to lose federal funding dollars if they, like New York City did (Tuesday) night, actively move to defund the police without a budgetary reason.”
But as the protests have taken place this summer, with most of them being peaceful, conservatives — particularly President Donald Trump — have been targeting Antifa, a left-leaning group. They have been accusing the group of stirring violence that has broken at some protests.
In early June, Loeffler co-sponsored a resolution to label Antifa a domestic terrorist organization. At the time, she alleged that “the violence, destruction and anarchy brought to cities across America by mobs incited by Antifa are not principled protests and are detracting from the peaceful protests.”
School zone speed cameras to begin tracking drivers around four Duluth school zones starting Aug. 5
The Duluth Police Department will begin tracking speeders via speed zone cameras through the new School Zone Safety Program at four Duluth schools beginning Aug. 5 — the first day of school.
Schools participating in the program are Mason and Chattahoochee elementary schools and Duluth and Coleman middle schools.
The Duluth City Council approved the measure in June 2019. With this program, existing school zone speed limits will automatically be enforced and will notify the police if dangerous offenders or those with Temporary Protection Orders enter school zones.
Only drivers speeding more than 15 mph over the posted speed limit will be cited. Fines start at $75 for the first speeding offense and escalate to $125 for subsequent offenses.
Officer Ted Sadowski, a spokesperson for the Duluth Police Department, said this is significantly less than an officer-written ticket in a school zone that can cost upwards of $300 and which requires substantial police time to enforce.
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The program, implemented by RedSpeed USA, follows on the heels of a spike in pedestrian fatalities nationwide and traffic studies showing thousands of speeders in area school zones each day.
The Governor’s Highway Safety Association previously reported that even as cars become safer, pedestrian fatalities have spiked 35% from a decade ago. Two culprits are high speeds and distracted drivers.
With increased signage and stricter speed enforcement, Sadowski said the police department hopes drivers will slow down and pay attention. City officials also hope the program will deliver big safety benefits in school zones.
According to Sadowski, just a 5 mph reduction in speed, such as from 30 to 25, increases the survival rates of pedestrians struck by a vehicle by more than 70%.
The system will also help alert police monitor traffic in the event of emergencies, such as an Amber Alert.
By law, any revenue generated by the program will be spent on police activities to make the community safer.
The cameras will only operate on school days. There are no points awarded or insurance increases for offenses.
Gwinnett residents prepare to put on their own fireworks shows this Fourth of July
Gwinnett County residents have taken this year’s Fourth of July celebrations into their own hands.
While cities throughout the county have opted to either postpone or cancel their annual fireworks celebrations due to the coronavirus pandemic, many residents have opted to buy their own fireworks.
Phantom Fireworks of Buford Assistant Manager Sabriena Shattles said her store has seen a 20% increase in sales this year compared to last year for the month of June. Phantom Fireworks is the largest provider of fireworks in Georgia.
“Some people are saying a lot of fireworks shows are canceled due to COVID-19 and so they are wanting to do their own show and be more safe at their own house this year instead of going off with their friends and things like that,” Shattles said.
Esperanza Flores, a cashier at a Phantom Fireworks stand on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, said she’s also noticed more foot traffic since the stand opened last week.
“People don’t want to see their kids bored, so I think they’re going to be making shows more so in their backyards,” Flores said. “I’ve seen a lot of families pull up — more than usual.”
Flores said the most popular types of fireworks she’s sold are the artillery shells fireworks and the cakes fireworks. Shattles on the other hand said most people have bought the 500 Gram Repeaters at the Buford location — the biggest fireworks sold at the store.
Seemingly, the only Fourth of July celebration close to Gwinnett residents this year on the day of will be at Lanier Islands. The festivities will start Friday with DJ Sterling performing at Fin Dunker from 3-9 p.m.
Lanier Islands will hold a number of other activities all weekend-long, but its fireworks show is set to begin at 10 p.m. on Saturday at the LandShark Landing stage.
On Tuesday, the city of Lawrenceville announced that its traditional July fireworks event would now take place Sept. 11 on the Lawrenceville Lawn in conjunction with the city’s fall concert.
“The renovation of the Lawrenceville Lawn will provide expanded facilities and a beautiful permanent stage for the community to enjoy our popular concert series,” Mayor David Still said.
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our concert series was moved to the fall due to the lawn renovations. We are thrilled to reopen the Lawrenceville Lawn with a premiere concert and fireworks after canceling our traditional July fireworks event in support of public health.”
In May, Sugar Hill officials also postponed their patriotic event, Sparks in the Park, to Aug. 1 at E.E. Robinson Park. Star Spangled Snellville was postponed to Sept. 5 on the Snellville Towne Green. And Braselton moved its parade, fireworks show and festival that is normally held around the Fourth of July to Labor Day weekend.
Snellville Tourism and Trade Executive Director Kelly McAloon previously said city officials knew July 4 would be too soon to have a large gathering of people. All cities with upcoming events have several new health and safety measures built in to their plans to accommodate social distancing.
Meanwhile, Duluth, Suwanee and Norcross canceled their Fourth of July celebrations altogether. Lilburn’s Sparkle in the Park event was postponed in early June, but a new date has not been announced.
According to a report provided by the Gwinnett County Fire Department, there have been 11 fireworks-related incidents so far this year, but only one in the month of June.
According to the report, crews responded to a report of a grass/woods fire caused by fireworks on Collins Hill Road in Lawrenceville on June 19, but no property damage or injuries were reported.
The fire department also released a fireworks safety news release Wednesday.
“We would also want to spotlight outdoor grilling safety and water safety, as many residents will be celebrating outdoors,” Public Information Officer Tommy Rutledge said.
COVID-19 delays sentencing of former Gwinnett officer found guilty of using excessive force
Following former Gwinnett County police officer Robert McDonald’s trial in February, the lead prosecutor on the case requested that he be put in custody right away.
But that didn’t happen, and the coronavirus pandemic has since delayed McDonald’s sentencing. In fact, District Attorney Danny Porter said McDonald’s sentencing will most likely take place after July 13, nearly five months after the trial ended.
McDonald was found guilty during his trial of aggravated assault, battery and felony violation of oath by public officer for a 2017 incident in which he and another officer were captured on cell phone video striking and stomping on Demetrius Hollins during a traffic stop while he was handcuffed.
Presiding Judge Howard E. Cook said after the trial that McDonald could remain out on bond until his sentencing, which was later scheduled to take place in April. However, in mid-March Gwinnett County issued a judicial declaration following a stay-at-home order amid the outbreak of the coronavirus known as COVID-19.
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The judicial emergency declaration, which stipulates civil and non-essential matter will not be heard until the emergency ends, is currently set to end July 13.
“When we went into the judicial emergency back in March, sentencing on pending cases was not considered an essential matter in the emergency order so it has not been scheduled,” Porter said. “... I would anticipate that, depending on the schedule of the visiting judge and the senior judge, going forward from there we’re going to figure out some way to do that sentencing.”
Porter said the pandemic will most likely continue to pose challenges for the sentencing, but that they would be more logistical matters than legal matters.
“The challenge, I suspect, is that they (McDonald’s defense team) may want to put up witnesses and we may have limitations on people who come into the courtroom,” Porter said. “I have no idea yet how we’re going to do it.”
While out on bond, McDonald is free to work and travel. Porter said there are no specific conditions for his bond.
McDonald and former Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni were fired from the Gwinnett County Police Department and charged for the 2017 incident.
Bongiovanni pleaded no contest to aggravated assault and battery last summer and reached a plea deal so that he would spend six months in Gwinnett’s work-release program, five months home confinement and the rest of his 10-year sentence on probation instead of jail time if he testified against McDonald.
McDonald faces a maximum sentence of 26 years in prison. His attorney, Walt Britt, said after the trial that he would try to keep McDonald out of jail since Bongiovanni didn’t serve jail time. Instead, he thought it would be fair if McDonald served a period of probation.
Britt did not respond to a request for comment by press deadline Tuesday.
Lightning destroys Lovin Elementary special education teacher's home
Special education teacher Catherine Kelly had just spoken with one of her colleagues to prepare for the upcoming school year and was on the phone when she received another phone call informing her that her home in unincorporated Loganville had been struck by lightning.
At around 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Kelly’s neighbors told her they heard a loud “bang,” which shook their home. About 20 minutes later, they saw flames and smoke coming from her house. Kelly arrived home at around 5 p.m. from a Target parking lot where she had been sitting to talk to her mom on the phone.
“I started screaming and yelling in the car,” Kelly said after she received the phone call.
Still in shock by what happened Monday morning, Kelly recalled the incident as she held back tears and choked on her words. Her home was completely destroyed, as was all of her furniture and belongings. Kelly doesn’t have renter’s insurance, she said.
According to the Gwinnett County Fire Department, crews arrived to find a two-story residence on a slab with heavy fire involvement in the attic and throughout the second floor. The first arriving engine company utilized the deck gun to knock down the bulk of the flames.
After darkening down the flames, crews were able to advance two fire attack hose lines into the structure and begin to search for victims. The second floor and attic was heavily damaged by fire and the first floor received smoke and water damage throughout, according to fire officials.
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No injuries were reported. Kelly’s pets were found at a neighbor’s house and fire officials said they were doing fine. Kelly is currently staying at a hotel in Conyers using money she received from the American Red Cross until she can find a new place to live.
However, Grace Gonzalez-Davidson, who teaches with Kelly at Lovin Elementary School in Lawrenceville, started a GoFundMe page to help her find a stable home before the start of the school year.
The goal was set at $2,000, but as of Monday evening, close to $7,000 had been raised from other teachers and community members who heard about the incident.
“I know now I’m going to have enough for a down payment to get another place and be able to replace furniture and clothes,” Kelly said. “I have no idea where I’m going yet, but that money will help me with bills until I can find a place to go. I just can’t thank Grace enough for what she’s done.”
Kelly said she hasn’t been able to eat since Saturday. Two days after the incident, what happened to her home finally sank in. But at the time she said all she could think about was her 16-year-old blind diabetic dog and her cat.
“I would have been dead if I had been home, because where I think the lightning hit was my bedroom and that’s where I hang out most of the time with my cat and my dog on my bed,” Kelly said. “When I’m not in the house they usually hang out by the front door, so thank God I wasn’t home because they were at the right place, but I don’t know where they went after.”
She said this is the third time the area around her home has been struck by lightning, but the first time it’s actually caught fire. The first time was in the ’90s when lightning struck a tree behind her porch. A year after the first incident, lightning struck again, but this time it struck her driveway.
“I’m getting a little tired of having lightning come at me,” she said. “It’s not funny anymore.”
Kelly has been a special education teacher for 32 years and started teaching at Lovin Elementary in 2013. She and Gonzalez-Davidson met around 2016. Last year, when Gonzalez-Davidson got a black eye from one of her students and broke her toe, she said Kelly was there for her to offer her support.
“She really helped me find my purpose again,” Gonzalez-Davidson said. “I’m just in awe of how teachers and people we don’t know have come together to help. We hope to get her back on her feet before the start of school.”
Kelly said, if nothing else, the incident helped to show the strength of strangers. Her neighbors, for example, who she has only ever really smiled and waved hello to, have been there for her the entire weekend.
“I don’t know them and they don’t know me, but they’ve stepped up and it’s absolutely mind-boggling,” Kelly said. “I feel overwhelmed by the whole fire, but even more so from the love and support that I’m getting from everybody. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I just remember all of that. It’s times like these you find out people are really good. We’re all in this pandemic together. I know these guys are all here with me for this too.”
Gwinnett County firefighters responded to numerous storm-related emergencies late into Sunday afternoon and into the evening as a severe thunderstorm moved swiftly through all portions of Gwinnett County.
To donate to Kelly’s GoFundMe, visit bit.ly/3igQWUE.
Duluth officials calling off several city events through October because of COVID-19
A showing of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a Sept. 11 memorial event and a taco festival are some of the events that Duluth officials have said will be called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city announced several event scheduled to take place in Duluth through October are being removed from the city’s event calendar because of the pandemic. These are in addition to several spring events that had previously been canceled.
Earlier this year, Duluth joined Suwanee and Lawrenceville in canceling events scheduled through mid-July.
“In an effort to further reduce the community spread of COVID-19 and with the ever-changing restrictions placed on large gatherings, the following additional events have been removed from the 2020 lineup,” officials said in an announcement on social media.
There will be some activities offered in downtown Duluth despite the pandemic, but they not be major events. City officials said they will include having a DJ playing music in Parsons Alley from 6 until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the summer.
There will also be live music on the city’s main stage downstage from 6 until 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays during the summer.
Residents will be able to get food to go from downtown restaurants and eat in one of three “socially distanced” tents that will be located in downtown Duluth.
As for the list of larger scale events that have been removed from the city’s events calendar, they include movie events, musical events, the Duluth Arts Festival, a community yard sale, the Duluth Sept. 11 Tribute and Duluth Derby Day.
The latest event being removed from the calendar is a showing of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which had been scheduled for Oct. 24.
The events that have been removed from Duluth’s events calendar, including the dates when they had been scheduled, include:
Fridays-N-Duluth presents Food Truck Friday (July 17 — Sept.♦ 18)
♦ Fridays-N-Duluth presents Block Party on Main (July 31 & Aug.♦ 28)
♦ Whatever Floats Your Boat (July 18)
♦ Back-to-School Bubblepalooza (July 29)
♦ Flicks on the Bricks (Aug. 7 & Sept.♦ 4)
♦ Summer Stage Concert featuring Rock of Ages (Aug.♦ 15, will be rescheduled for 2021)
♦ Duluth El Senor Taco Festival (Aug.♦ 29 & 30)
♦ Duluth Arts Festival (Aug.♦ 29 & 30)
♦ September 11 Tribute (Sept.♦ 11)
♦ Duluth Derby Day (Sept.♦ 5)
♦ Community Yard Sale (Oct.♦ 3)
♦ Rocky Horror Picture Show (Oct.♦ 24)
♦ Duluth High School Football 5K
♦ Duluth High Wildcat Theater Musical
♦ Duluth Rotary Car Show
If residents do decide to visit downtown Duluth this summer, city officials are asking them to take several precautions to limit the chances of spreading COVID-19.
Those steps include:
♦ Sanitizing tables upon arrival and before leaving, using sanitation stations that will be provided by the city
♦ Frequently using hand sanitizing stations which will be located near the tents
♦ Not moving tables since they have been arranged to be socially distanced to promote safety
♦ Cleaning up upon leaving by throwing away all food and trash in bins that will be provided
♦ Not holding organized parties or events downtown
“We thank you for your understanding and our event team looks forward to bringing back all of your favorite events when it is safe to do so,” city officials said.
Lee Thompson drops bid to be Gwinnett commission chairman ahead of runoff, endorses Nicole Love Hendrickson
Lee Thompson dropped a bombshell in the race for Gwinnett County commission chairman Thursday morning, announcing he was effectively withdrawing from the Democratic Party runoff and endorsing Nicole Love Hendrickson — less than 48 hours after he officially made the runoff.
Officially, Thompson said he will “suspend” his campaign, according to an announcement from the campaign, but that is language typically used in campaigns when a candidate is dropping out. The addition of an endorsement for Hendrickson, and a call for all Democrats in Gwinnett to rally behind her campaign, also makes it clear that he is out of the race.
“In a historic turnout, over fifty thousand voters, many of whom had never bothered to vote before, told me that they want someone else to be our party’s nominee,” Thompson said in a statement. “I want those voices to be heard.
“Therefore, I will suspend my campaign for Gwinnett County commission chair and ask my supporters and all Democrats to support Nicole Love Hendrickson in her campaign. Rather than spend six more weeks working against each other, I want us to unite in support of Nicole’s campaign and begin working toward making her the first Democratic candidate to be elected Gwinnett County Commission Chair in over thirty-five years.”
Thompson’s announcement is a shocking twist in the race for county commission chairman because a recount was just concluded Tuesday to confirm that he would face Hendrickson in the Aug. 11 runoff. Lee Thompson and former state Sen. Curt Thompson had been neck-and-neck in second and third places respectively in the June 9 Democratic primary for commission chairman.
Hendrickson earned just under 50% of the votes cast in the primary and state law requires a candidate must receive at least 50% of the votes cast to avoid a runoff and advance to the general election in November.
It was not immediately clear if Lee Thompson’s suspension of his campaign means Hendrickson will now be the Democratic Party’s nominee in November, or if she will now have to face Curt Thompson in a runoff.
The Democratic Party’s nominee will face Republican David Post in November for the open seat.
In response to Lee Thompson’s endorsement, however, Hendrickson praised his years of service in a statement released by Thompson’s campaign. Lee Thompson is a former state representative and currently serves as Lawrenceville’s city attorney.
“Lee has served the citizens of Gwinnett with honor for decades and we all owe him our gratitude,” Hendrickson said in the statement. “I’m looking forward to working with him and all the candidates in this race to win in November and move Gwinnett into a healthy and prosperous future.”
Gov. Brian Kemp to Georgians: Follow COVID-19 guidelines during Fourth of July revelry
The Fourth of July is traditionally a time when large groups of Georgians gather on the state’s lakes and in other public areas to relax and enjoy a holiday.
But, then again, that tradition is usually not taking place in the midst of a global pandemic.
This year’s Fourth of July holiday will be different from tradition thanks to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic, and state and local officials are urging the public to not treat this holiday like any other Independence Day.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’ve always been doing and we’ll keep messaging how people need to act and I want to encourage them to do that,” Gov. Brian Kemp said during a recent visit to a COVID-19 testing site in Lilburn.
Kemp is embarking on a statewide tour this week to promote safe practices, such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing. The governor has resisted making the wearing of face masks mandatory, calling it “a bridge too far” for him, but he has been heavily encouraging Georgians to wear them anyway.
When asked about how the state will protect the health of Georgians and visitors, and keep them safe, if they venture to public spaces for Fourth of July revelry, Kemp highlighted lakes, such as Lake Lanier, and their attraction for vacationers.
“We could have people having worse places to gather than there on our lakes and on our beaches,” Kemp said. “What we need them to do when they get there is to socially distance themselves, to order takeout, eat outside if they can and — if they’re going in restaurants or bars — to use the precautions that we’re taking.
“Wear your face mask as long as you can till you get your food. Try to stay spread out, keep to your group, and if you’re interacting with others, try to do that from six feet away and be smart about this.”
Dr. Audrey Arona, who is the district health director for the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments, said it is possible for people to safely celebrate the Fourth of July, but they have to take precautions.
The Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale health district stretches along the east side of metro Atlanta with several places where people could end up visiting to enjoy the holiday. It includes the southern tip of Lake Lanier as well as Panola Mountain State Park and several county and city parks that are spread across the three counties.
“I want people to enjoy the holiday and I think you can safely enjoy the holiday and protect yourself and your families,” Arona said. “I think there’s a lot of ways to do that. You can gather, just be mindful of masking and staying six-feet apart ...
“And, try, like the governor said, ordering takeout. Our restaurants need that (business) anyway. We can safely have a lot of fun on July 4, but not spreading the virus in doing so.”
One example the state may be looking at when trying to anticipate what could happen as a result of the holiday is what happened after recent protests over the treatment of African-Americans.
Although Georgia has been seeing COVID-19 numbers on the rise lately, Kemp said state officials have told him that “miraculously we haven’t seen an uptick from our protests.” He said part of that is because several protesters followed guidelines designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“I’m grateful to the protesters who were wearing their masks,” Kemp said. “There were a lot of them who were not. We had a lot of our (National) Guard and our law enforcement involved in supporting those peaceful protests and making sure people didn’t get unpeaceful and make sure we didn’t have any physical harm or personal property destroyed.
“Our first responders have been in harms way, so we’ve been testing them, but thankfully we haven’t seen that uptick and I think it’s a good indication that if you’re outside, you’re in a pretty good space as long as you’re socially distancing yourself.”
The governor did say that people may need to be concerned about staying indoors for a long period of time in case they are potentially near someone who has COVID-19 and is either symptomatic or asymptomatic.
One traditional Fourth of July sight that Georgians can expect to see this weekend is the presence of Georgia Department of Natural Resources rangers, particularly on the state’s lakes.
“DNR will definitely be on the lakes on the holiday weekend, just like we’ve been doing the whole first part of this when everybody was so concerned about somebody taking their boat out and getting the coronavirus,” Kemp said. “I never was too concerned about that. I thought that was a good place for people to be, not a bad place, and we had very few issues with that.
“But, we’ll be continuing to monitor this. Let me remind people again my orders empower local police departments and local law enforcement to enforce all of these orders.”
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