Sheriff's deputies from Gwinnett and Forsyth counties helped state officials this week with the arrest of a man wanted in a multi-jurisdictional manhunt for a murder that occurred at an event hall in Norcross in July.
These are the top stories from the past week.
Gwinnett County deputies help GBI arrest suspect in Norcross event hall shooting
Sheriff’s deputies from Gwinnett and Forsyth counties helped state officials this week with the arrest of a man wanted in a multi-jurisdictional manhunt for a murder that occurred at an event hall in Norcross in July.
Atlanta resident Billy Galvez, 22, has been charged with malice murder and aggravated assault in the July 5 death of Alejandro Ramirez, 35, at the Fusion Event Hall on Brook Hollow Parkway. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Galvez was arrested after a brief foot chase in a Forsyth County park.
“The GBI investigation revealed that as a result of a dispute between Ramirez and Galvez, Galvez retrieved a firearm from a vehicle, drove through the parking lot to Ramirez’ location and shot Ramirez,” GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said. “Galvez fled the scene and had been a fugitive.”
A woman who was with Galvez when he was arrested, Jennifer “Jenni” Rodriguez-Cardona, was arrested herself and charged with Hindering the Apprehension of Punishment of a Criminal.
Galvez was booked in the Gwinnett County jail while Rodriguez-Cardona was booked into the Forsyth County jail.
The GBI thanked the Norcross and Gwinnett County police departments as well as the Gwinnett and Forsyth County sheriff’s offices and the Sandy Springs and Chamblee police departments for helping state investigators as they looked into the murder and searched for Galvez.
Anyone who has additional information on the case is asked to call the GBI at 1-800-597-8477, or by either visiting gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online or downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.
Northeast Georgia Medical Center officials break ground on Buford medical plaza
Northeast Georgia Medical Center made a major step toward opening a new 90,000-square-foot medical plaza in Buford this week.
Officials from the Gainesville-based hospital system, which also operates a major hospital campus in Braselton, joined Buford leaders to break ground on the three-story plaza building on Tuesday. The new facility, which will include an urgent care center as well as other medical offices, will be located at the corner of Buford Highway and South Lee Street.
“This new, multi-tenant building strengthens our commitment to serving this community with one convenient location that provides a wide range of healthcare services,” Northeast Georgia Health System President and CEO Carol Burrell said. “This Medical Plaza will mean more available appointments, with less lead time and much less travel.”
The medical plaza is slated to open in spring 2022 and accommodate more than 100,000 visits per year.
The urgent care facility will be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., but that is far from the only medical service provided at the facility. Northeast Georgia Health System officials said it will also feature:
♦ Cardiology services provided by The Heart Center of Northeast Georgia Medical Center
♦ An on-site lab
♦ Family medicine, OB/GYN, urology, sports medicine, orthopedic surgery and general surgery services provided by Northeast Georgia Physician Group
♦ An imaging center where services such as MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, mammograms, ultrasounds and bone density scans will be offered
“Northeast Georgia Health System has been an outstanding partner with the city of Buford dating back to the 1990s, and they’ve involved us from the beginning of this project to preserve greenspace and integrate into our vision for the downtown area,” Buford City Manager Bryan Kerlin said.
“It’s exciting to see this level of investment closer to the city limits, especially at such a highly visible intersection, and the Medical Plaza will provide an array of great healthcare services, which should help improve the health of so many people in this community.”
Although construction is just beginning on the facility, and an opening is more than a year away, family medicine appointments and cardiology appointments at the medical plaza facility can already be made.
Gwinnett picks Fuqua to handle redevelopment of former Olympic Tennis Center site
Gwinnett County officials have lined up the developer working on the Exchange at Gwinnett mixed-use development near the Mall of Georgia to handle the redevelopment of the former Olympic Tennis Center site on the southern edge of the county.
County commissioners voted Tuesday afternoon to pick Fuqua Acquisitions II LLC to be the county’s partner in redeveloping the site. The move now allows county officials to negotiate with the firm for the redevelopment project.
“They’ve given a proposal for a mixed-use development, but they’ll be extensive negotiations that staff will engage in with them to determine the specifics that will go on the property,” commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said. “But, the idea is a mixed-use development, like we’ve been talking about from the beginning, for the property.”
The 26-acre site off U.S. Highway 78 at West Park Place Boulevard has been marked for redevelopment since the county acquired the property from the Stone Mountain Memorial Association in 2016. Demolition of the center, which had not been used in years, began in 2017 and was completed the next year.
“Gwinnett County is seeking a development that will be complimentary in nature to the existing neighborhoods, to ignite new economic growth, livability and vibrant connectivity in the community surrounding the site, creating a signature southern gateway to Gwinnett County,” Gwinnett Economic Development Manager Roman Dakare told commissioners on Tuesday.
If the Fuqua name sounds familiar, that’s because paperwork filed with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office show it’s tied to Fuqua Development. That firm has been the developer behind several major projects in Gwinnett County and elsewhere around metro Atlanta.
In addition to the Exchange at Gwinnett development near the Mall of Georgia, some of Fuqua’s other work includes The Battery at Truist Park in Cobb County, the Peachtree Corners Town Center and Madison Yards in Atlanta.
The county issued a request for information from potential developers in August 2019. Six developers responded and county staff chose to issue a request for proposals to three of those firms in February.
Fuqua was one of two firms who responded to the RFP. Dakare did not specify who the other firm that responded was, but he said Fuqua was the higher scoring of the two.
Nash, who is leaving office at the end of the year, said the county is looking forward to working with Fuqua on the redevelopment of the site.
“We’re very pleased that we have a developer who has credibility and financial resources,” Nash said. “That was an important part of the proposal process because we want to make sure that we actually get a good development on the property as opposed to spending time with a proposal that perhaps doesn’t have enough backing behind it.
“So we’re very pleased to have a well-known developer like Fuqua as the winning proposal and I look forward to seeing what the final product looks like after the negotiations.”
State Rep. Donna McLeod says health officials should have done more to encourage Gov. Brian Kemp to mandate face masks
Health officials across Georgia spent months this year to follow public health guidelines such as wearing face masks, washing hands, staying home when sick and practicing social distancing in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.
State Rep. Donna McLeod, D-Lawrenceville, says they could have done more.
McLeod vented her frustrations about the lack of a statewide face mask mandate — and the absence of a major public push from health officials to get Gov. Brian Kemp to issue a mandate — during a presentation that Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health District Director Dr. Audrey Arona gave to the Gwinnett legislative delegation on Thursday.
“You cannot mandate (masks) and I understand that,” McLeod said. “But, I did not see a collective push from the health community towards our governor and our leadership in the state to say, ‘This is not something that we do based on opinion.’
“I did not see that kind of force and we are paying a heavy price, and I just want the people to know this didn’t have to be this way.”
Although COVID-19 case numbers declined for a period in the later summer and fall, they have been on the rise again lately. As of Thursday afternoon, Georgia has seen 433,353 COVID-19 cases, 8,879 confirmed deaths, 35,571 hospitalizations and 6,599 ICU admissions since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the state in March.
There has been a statewide incidence rate 344 cases for every 100,000 Georgians over the last two weeks.
In Gwinnett County alone the incidence rate for the last two weeks has been 356 cases for every 100,000 Gwinnettians. By comparison, Gwinnett’s two-week incidence rate nearly a month ago, on Nov. 9, was 191 cases for every 100,000 residents. At that time, the state’s two-week incidence rate was 213 cases for every 100,000 residents.
In all, the county has reported 37,875 cases since March, with 3,459 of them reported in the last two weeks. Gwinnett has also had 506 confirmed COVID-19-related deaths, the second highest number in the state behind only Fulton County, and 35 possible COVID-19-related deaths. There have also been 3,189 hospitalizations in the county.
Before Thursday’s numbers were released, Arona had already conceded to Gwinnett’s legislative delegation that a new spike was happening in Georgia. The two-week incidence rates for the county and state are up from last week, according to the health district director.
“Our numbers are increasing in Georgia and Gwinnett County, just like they are across the country,” she said. “Fortunately, Gwinnett is not increasing as fast as surrounding states ... but nonetheless, our numbers are increasing.”
There was a long ongoing debate over whether Kemp should issue a face mask mandate, something that the governor called “a bridge too far” for him because it would entail mandating residents to act a specific way. The governor has repeatedly faced criticism, particularly from Democrats, over that.
Part of the debate stemmed from a partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats on how to respond to the pandemic. Republicans, led by President Donald Trump, have bristled at the idea of mandating face masks or even closing businesses because of the pandemic while Democrats have been more receptive to those measures.
“This was not a political issue, it’s a scientific and data issue,” McLeod said. “Our personal opinions and personal freedom is irrelevant to what a virus will do to a human body ...
“I’m concerned and I’m just asking the question of why this was not mandated when we know this was one of the ways that we could have quashed or even subdued this virus.”
Arona acknowledged the controversy surrounding face masks and said health officials across Georgia wanted all residents of the state to take steps, such as face masks, to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In the absence of the ability to mandate adherence to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, however, she said the health officials had to rely on promoting adherence as often as they could. As a result, Arona said the issue “boils down, in my opinion, to a personal responsibility” of Americans to follow CDC guidelines.
“What we have to remember is public health doesn’t mandate anything,” Arona said. “We can’t mandate anything. It’s not in our authority to do that. We have always strongly encouraged masks ...
“But, remember masks and facial coverings are just a part of this. Social distancing, washing your hands, wearing a mask, staying home when you’re sick, staying away from others who are sick — These are the only things we can do to stop COVID. If everyone would just follow those measures, that would do far more in our entire country than shutting down the entire country for six months or whatever.”
Chicken Salad Chick opening new location in Gwinnett County
Chicken Salad Chick is coming to Gwinnett County, opening its new store in Snellville next week with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Dec. 8.
The fast-casual chicken salad restaurant is located at 1918 Scenic Highway. The ribbon cutting will take place at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 8 and the store will officially open its doors at 10 a.m. There are 32 Chicken Salad Chick locations in Georgia, 15 in the metro area.
“Georgia is home to the highest number of Chicken Salad Chick locations in our footprint of 17 states,” Chicken Salad Chick President and CEO Scott Deviney said. “The Snellville location exemplifies our path to continued growth for company-owned locations in the metro-Atlanta area, and we anticipate additional announcements early next year. We can’t wait to serve the Snellville community.”
The Snellville restaurant is hosting friends and family events this Friday and Saturday that will benefit Southeast Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry’s food pantry. Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce, first responders, local businesses, school officials and other community officials are invited to attend one of these philanthropic events. These groups can visit this link to learn more.
Guests can enter to win free chicken salad for a year by liking the restaurant’s page at facebook.com/chickensaladchicksnellville, now through grand opening week.
There will be give-aways and special throughout next week to celebrate the opening.
Lawrencville asking for public input on proposal to install speed cameras near schools
Lawrenceville drivers could soon find themselves on camera in school zones.
The City Council will hear a proposal to install speed cameras in five school zones, two of which are on different roads but are for the same elementary school, located within the city limits at its Dec. 9 work session. As part of the proposal consideration, residents are being asked to weigh in on the idea by offering feedback.
“Our research has shown positive results and reception in other communities across the state, as much as a 75% overall reduction of speeding in school zones,” City Manager Chuck Warbington said. “Utilizing speed cameras also allows police officers to be more productive in other areas of the city, while still enforcing the law for the safety of our children and educators.”
Residents who want to weigh in on the speed cameras are being asked to contact Mayor David Still as well as members of the City Council before the work session to offer their input on the proposal.
Lawrenceville would not be the first Gwinnett city to make such a move. City officials said the cameras are similar to programs that have already been put in place in Norcross, Duluth, Snellville and Lilburn.
Lawrenceville would also install new signs, as well as flashing digital speed signs to let drivers know they approaching school zones, and to advise them of what the speed limits are in those zones.
“Individuals will only be citied who are traveling in excess of 10 mph over the speed limit,” city officials said in an announcement. “Violations are civil fines and do not add points to the license. Unpaid violations are handled through the Department of Revenue by prohibiting the renewal of a car tag or sale of the vehicle, rather than a bench warrant.
“The system would only operate during school sessions, not on the weekends or during the summer break or holidays.”
The city cited National Highway Safety Administration, Governor’s Highway Safety Association and Lawrenceville Police Department studies as part of the rationale for considering installing the speed camera. City officials said the NHSA and Governor’s Highway Safety Association studies showed the cameras help reduce the number of crashes, injuries and fatalities that occur in school zones.
Officials also said the Lawrenceville Police Department’s speed study, which was conducted in August, determined the worst area for speeding around schools is around Central Gwinnett High School, but that speeding was a problem in all of the school zones located within the city limits.
The police department’s study showed the following stats for each school zone:
♦ Lawrenceville Elementary on Gwinnett Drive: 74% of all morning drivers and 89% of all afternoon drivers were driving at least 10 mph over the speed limit
♦ Benefield Elementary on Old Norcross Road: 21% of all morning drivers and 82% of all afternoon drivers were driving at least 10 mph over the speed limit
♦ Benefield Elementary on Riverside Drive: 46% of all morning drivers and 64% of all afternoon drivers were driving at least 10 mph over the speed limit
♦ Winn Holt Elementary on Old Snellville Highway: 54% of all morning drivers and 58% of all afternoon drivers were driving at least 10 mph over the speed limit
♦ Central Gwinnett High School on West Crogan Street: 95% of all morning drivers and 95% of all afternoon drivers were driving at least 10 mph over the speed limit
Georgia High School Association updates transfer rule after series of controversial moves, two involving Grayson
The Georgia High School Association’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a proposal Monday designed to address a controversial situation involving transfer athletes.
The proposal was an adjustment to GHSA By-Law 1.64 of the organization’s constitution. The new verbiage states in part, “a student who is not eligible at the former school, and then transfers to a new school, cannot regain eligibility by the transfer.”
A trio of high-profile football transfers in 2020 were ruled ineligible after their initial moves, so all three moved again to a new high school, where they were deemed eligible because they made what the GHSA deemed a “bona-fide” move. Grayson was involved in two of those three transfer students.
Quarterback Carlos Del Rio transferred from McEachern to Grayson, but was ruled ineligible. He changed schools to Cartersville to gain eligibility. Current Grayson quarterback Jake Garcia made national headlines when he moved from California to play at Valdosta, only to be declared ineligible. He moved to Grayson after he couldn’t play at Valdosta.
Another top player, linebacker Chief Borders, went from McEachern to Carrollton, but he wasn’t ruled eligible, so he transferred to Heard County.
In other news, Board of Trustees member Curt Miller spoke about the possibility of adding the penalty of taking a school out of the playoffs for using an ineligible player or falsifying transfer documents. After a lengthy discussion, the Board of Trustees directed GHSA counsel Alan Connell to work on the wording for such a proposal to be presented at a future meeting.
Snellville, developer reach agreement for City Market lease
Snellville has reached an agreement with a developer to develop and lease the City Market that will be at the heart of the city’s The Grove at Towne Center development.
The city will partner with Mid Cast LLC on the project, with Mid Cast designing, building and leasing the two-story, 24,000-square-foot facility, which will include restaurants, a coffee shop, a small market, craft beverage options and a flexible event space.
Snellville officials said Mid Cast may bring in an independent operator, approved by the city’s mayor and council, to manage the facility.
“This is another major step in bringing a world-class development to the City of Snellville,” Mayor Barbara Bender said. “The City Market will be a centerpiece of The Grove and will draw visitors from across the region who want to enjoy a unique dining and shopping experience in the heart of Snellville.”
The Grove at Towne Center is intended to be a mixed-use downtown development on 18 acres located between Oak Road, Wisteria Drive, North Road and Clower Street. It is being envisioned as a commercial center invoking memories of the old Sawyer Store and paying tribute to Snellville’s roots.
In addition to the City Market facility, it will include 250 luxury apartments as well as the new Elizabeth Williams Library branch and a business development and accelerator space. In all, the development is expected to include 50,000-square feet of retail, restaurant, office and entertainment space.
At the center of that will be City Market.
The city anticipates offering a bond to fund construction of the market, which is expected to cost between $6 million and $7 million to build. Tenants will responsible for their own interior build outs.
An architect for the facility may be selected by the end of this year, and the market’s projected opening date is in summer 2022. Concept design renderings are expected to be released early next year. It is expected to offer outdoor seating, patios and pick-up and drop-off vehicle lanes to accommodate ride sharing and take-out orders.
“This market building is a key to deliver the experience the city wants to offer residents and visitors,” Snellville Economic Development Director Eric Van Otteren said. ”Rest assured the City Market will be a destination for residents and visitors alike for decades to come.”
Motorcycle driver killed in single vehicle accident on Braselton Highway
A Dacula man was killed after he was thrown from his motorcycle in the Hog Mountain area Friday night, according to Gwinnett County police.
Cpl. Collin Flynn said John Mathews, 46, was heading south on Braselton Highway when he nearly hit another vehicle in front of him near the intersection with Hog Mountain Church Road. Although he avoided hitting that vehicle, Mathews’ brakes locked and he was thrown from the motorcycle.
He died from his injuries at the scene of the accident, according to Flynn.
“Investigators are asking witnesses to contact the police department if they have information to add to the investigation,” the police spokesman said.
Anyone who has information about the accident is asked to call detectives at 770-513-5300 or Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477. They can also visit www.stopcrimeATL.com.
There is a cash reward offered by Crime Stoppers for information that leads to an arrest and indictment. Tipsters are asked to reference case No. 20-090004.
Gwinnett County's Neighborhood Church raises money for local charities by selling Christmas trees
Sam Bolt gave his best pitch to sell a nine-foot-tall Christmas tree to a family that stopped by the Buy A Tree, Change a Life Christmas tree lot at Neighborhood Church in Buford on Saturday night.
The wife had been unsure about the Fraser fir tree. It had a slightly unusual tree because it had a larger than normal number of pine cones growing on it, but it was a large tree.
And, Bolt was determined to sell it. He kept trying to win the wife over, twirling the tree around so she could see the whole thing as he made pitch after pitch.
“This tree needs a home, it’s a nice fat tree,” Bolt, the lot’s co-director, told the woman.
The Neighborhood Church’s Buy A Tree, Change A Life lot has sold hundreds of trees through this weekend. It started with 495 trees and steady sales whittled that number down to only a few dozen trees left by Sunday morning with several families coming by that morning to look through and buy what was left.
There were about 22 trees left to be sold on Monday.
“We unloaded the trees (the morning of Nov. 21), the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and we began selling literally right off the truck,” lot co-director Craig Cothern said. “We’ve developed quite a base of followers around the local community, which is great for us because the church in and of itself, part of our mission is about winning the neighborhood, loving the neighborhood and being supporters of our community.
“It’s not just about raising money for us, it’s about community outreach as well.”
On Black Friday alone, the lot sold 130 trees. The next day, another 93 trees were sold and the church came a few hundred dollars short on that day of having back-to-back days where at least $10,000 was raised in a single day. Forty-two trees were sold on Sunday, when rain curtailed the number of people stopping by the lot.
In addition to the trees, the church was selling ornaments made from left over pieces of the tree trunks with images and messages wood burned on them, as well as wood planks with messages burned on the wood with a laser as well as wreaths made from cut off branches.
Orders for the personalized signs and ornaments will still be taken until the week before Christmas by sending an email to email@example.com.
Friday was the highest grossing day in the six years that the Neighborhood Church has participated in Buy A Tree, Change A Life, its lot directors said, with about $13,000 raised in that one day alone.
“This year ... if we sell out as we suspect we will, we’re on tap to raise a little over $51,000,” Cothern said.
The lot, which was open for its sixth year last week, is unique among the many tree lots that open up every holiday season in Gwinnett because 100% of its proceeds go to charities. It is part of a nationwide network of Buy A Tree, Change a Life Christmas tree lots that operate out of churches.
“Nothing is kept here at the church whatsoever,” Cothern said. “We give it all away.”
The Neighborhood Church gets local sponsors to help cover the costs of buying the trees from a farm in Boone, N.C. and transporting them to Buford. McMichael and Gray PC and Infinite Home serve as presenting sponsors with other companies, including longtime sponsor Peggy Slappey Properties, serving as lot sponsors.
As a result of those sponsorships, 50% of the proceeds from every tree sold goes to Buy A Tree, Change A Life’s national charity, People for Care and Learning, while the remaining 50% goes to three local charities: Home of Hope women’s and children’s shelter, Street Grace and Obria Medical Clinics.
“It’s fulfilling to know you’re making a difference,” Cothern said. “It’s not about any of our people. It’s about serving and making a difference in people’s lives.”
Bolt said he became involved in the church because of the Christmas tree program. Six years ago, his family didn’t attend the church.
That changed after they came to the lot to buy a tree.
“My first interaction here with this church was at this Christmas tree lot and my family are now members of this church,” Bolt said. “My wife is the director of the children’s ministry and I’m the co-director of the Christmas tree lot.”
Many people who came to the lot on Saturday and Sunday were first time customers of the lot, although they said they’d been aware of the lot in the past.
Buford resident Danielle Kyser said she normally doesn’t buy her Christmas tree until the first weekend in December, and the church’s lot has traditionally been sold out of trees by that time. This year, however, her son is playing in a sports tournament during the first weekend in December so she decided to get the family tree a week early.
That allowed her to pick a tree from the church’s lot for the first time ever.
“I’ve seen them every year, but usually, when I get to buy a tree ... they’re sold out so I know they go quickly,” Kyser said.
Buford resident Marco Jones came to the lot Saturday night with his wife and their three daughters and picked out a 9-foot tree. Jones said the family always gets a live tree and they had already tried a different tree lot before deciding to give the church’s lot a try.
“My wife has been trying to get me to come here every year, but every time we decided to look, they’d been sold out,” Jones said. “But, now we’ll be buying them from here every year.”
Customers said they like the fact that the proceeds from the Christmas tree sales go to local charities.
“I think that’s incredible to be able to donate back to the community that way and to have all of these sponsors,” Kyser said.
Jones said, “That’s awesome, especially in today’s time with everything that’s going on, we still have people who are willing (to help).”
Auburn resident Raymond Beal visited the lot Sunday morning with his wife and their three young sons and bought a 7-foot tree. Beal works for Allsouth Sprinkler, which is one of the lot sponsors.
Beal, like Kyser and Jones, applauded the church for donating the proceeds to charity.
“I think it’s amazing, supporting local people, especially children,” he said.
And as for that family that Bolt was trying to sell a tree to on Saturday night, they didn’t buy the tree but they did buy a wreath.
The fat tree did eventually find its home, however. In addition to the tree they bought for their home, the Beal family also bought the larger tree with plans to place in the back of their truck as a backdrop for their holiday family photos.
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