2019 was an eventful year in North Georgia, from the death of a Hall County deputy in the line of duty and the murder of a Gainesville businessman and philanthropist to the defection of a group of heart doctors from Northeast Georgia Medical Center and the arrest of a Jefferson couple on child pornography charges. As we get ready to ring in the new year, AccessWDUN is taking a moment to look back on the top stories of the year. The rankings are based on the number of unique pageviews each story got from our readers.
And now, the top 10 stories of 2019:
1. Hall County sheriff’s deputy killed during foot chase with burglary suspects
Initial story: July 8
130,641 total unique pageviews
Nicolas Blaine Dixon, a three-year veteran of the Hall County Sheriff’s Department was shot and killed during a foot chase with burglary suspects who fled from a traffic stop. Dixon was shot in the abdomen below his ballistic vest. He was the first Hall County deputy killed in the line of duty since the 1920s. Hector Garcia-Solis was charged with his murder. Several others were arrested and charged in crimes related to the shooting.
- Read the initial story. 84,800 unique pageviews
- Read about GBI arrests related to the shootings. 14,460 unique pageviews
- AccessWDUN streamed Dixon’s funeral live on our website, and it was watched by 31,381 people.
2. Physicians leave NGMC’s Heart Center, join Northside Hospital
Initial story: June 4
114,825 total unique pageviews
Twelve physicians abruptly left a cardiac practice at Northeast Georgia Medical Center over the first weekend of June and all joined Northside Hospital. A few days later, Northside announced the creation of the Northside Cardiovascular Institute, headed by one of the physicians who left NGMC. But a NGMC hospital official said at the time that operations would continue normally. A memo was sent to hospital staff on that day announcing the changes. Patients of The Heart Center were notified of the changes.
- Read the initial story. 77,478 unique pageviews
- Read about the new practice at Northside. 19,829 unique pageviews
- Read more reaction from NGMC officials. 17,518 unique pageviews
3. Gunman dead after officer-involved shooting at Gainesville dermatology office
Initial story: Jan. 24
89,187 total unique pageviews
A 62-year-old Dahlonega man was shot and killed during an altercation with Gainesville police officers inside a dermatology practice. The incident unfolded around 11 a.m. on Jan. 14 when Hall County 911 received a call alerting police to a gunman at Lanier Dermatology at 605 South Enota Drive. When officers arrived, they found Rodney Hamilton, who had been a patient at Lanier Dermatology, holding people hostage inside the office on Enota Drive when he was confronted by Gainesville police officers, according to a news release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which was called in to investigate the officer-involved shooting. According to the GBI investigation, Hamilton brandished a firearm at which point shots were fired and he was struck numerous times. He was pronounced dead at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
- Read the initial story. 45,348 unique pageviews
- Read the follow-up story. 20,484 unique pageviews
- Read about the results of the GBI investigation. 23,355 unique pageviews
4. Seven killed in accident on I-85 in Franklin County
Initial story: July 6
85,623 total unique pageviews
Seven people were killed and several others were injured in a five-vehicle wreck on Interstate 85 south of Carnesville on the afternoon of July 6. The Georgia State Patrol reports that a Ford Excursion was traveling north on Interstate 85 near mile marker 160 when, for unknown reasons, it crossed through the median and entered southbound lanes of travel. The Ford Excursion struck a Chevrolet van which was traveling south in the left lane, causing the Chevrolet van to strike a Ford E350 van that was traveling in the right lane. Two more vehicles were involved but received only minor damage from debris from the first two impacts. Officials said Alejandro Agis Perez, 53; Noe Gutierrez Cerna, 39; Oswaldo F. Hi Navarrete, 25, and Eugenio Santoyo Serna, 36, all of Hall County and Chris Years, 33, Ashley Years, 34, and Luna Years, 3, all of Paulding County, died in the accident.
5. Law enforcement disables multimillion-dollar drug trafficking organization
Initial story: Jan. 11
47,784 total unique pageviews
A major drug trafficking organization officers say distributed more than $3.5 million of methamphetamine in North Georgia over the past five months was taken down in January. Federal, state and local officers served 10 search warrants and 14 arrest warrants for members and suppliers of Larry “Lil Man” Fricks’ drug organization, according to the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office.
6. Gainesville businessman shot, killed in drug store parking lot
Initial story: Feb. 8
46,865 unique pageviews
Jack Hough, a prominent Gainesville businessman and philanthropist, was shot and killed in February outside the CVS on Park Hill Drive while he was waiting for his wife to finish shopping. Just a few days later, police arrested DeMarvin Bennett was arrested and charged with the murder. Bennett, who was from East Point, was in Gainesville to look for a job and a place to live, police said. He later pleaded not guilty.
7. Boat accident on Lake Chatuge kills one person, injures another
Initial story: March 16
42,144 unique pageviews
A 59-year-old Dawson County man lost his life March 16 in a boating accident on Lake Chatuge. It happened just north of the boat ramp at the Georgia Mountain Fair Grounds in Towns County as a bass boat headed north turned into the path of another bass boat headed south. The second boat had launched out of the Ledford Chapel boat ramp on the North Carolina side of the lake. The victim has been identified as Danny Duff. Members of the Yonah Mountain Bass Club, to which Duff belonged, said his boat was the first to depart the monthly club tournament. The club’s president said that he held off the start of the tournament until the pre-dawn light provided safe conditions, sometime just after 7:20 a.m.
8. Jefferson couple arrested in child-exploitation sting
Initial story: May 6
39,338 unique pageviews
More than 40,000 images and videos involving child pornography were obtained from a Jefferson home in May. Doug Chellew, 56, and his wife, Carol Chellew, 56, were arrested at their home located in Hickory Hills neighborhood around 5:30 p.m. by eight Jefferson officers, Chief Joseph W. Wirthman with the Jefferson Police Department said. The Chellews were among 31 Georgians arrested last week as part of Operation Southern Impact III.. At the time of the arrest, Doug Chellew was sitting at his computer in the A-frame home’s living room on multiple live chat rooms with underage children and actively downloading child pornography, Wirthman said. Carol Chellew, who was gardening at the time of the arrest, claimed she had no idea about the child pornography. Officials said the nearly 1,200 sq. ft. home wasn’t large enough for them to believe her.
9. 33 kilos of meth found in Commerce
Initial story: May 13
38,516 unique pageviews
Two men faced charges in May after Homeland Security intercepted a package being shipped to a home in Commerce containing a large amount of drugs. Agents with Homeland Security contacted Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum and notified her about the FedEx delivery scheduled for a home on Erastus Church Road. On Wednesday, agents with Homeland Security, troopers with the Georgia State Patrol, and Jackson County investigators watched as 21-year old Jose Ignacio Borrego of Statham and 27-year old Gerardo Martinez-Luviano of Commerce arrived at the home and opened the packages that contained 33 kilos of methamphetamine.
10. Chestatee band director arrested for sexual misconduct with student
Initial story: Oct. 3
34,602 unique pageviews
A Chestatee High School teacher was arrested in October on allegations of sexual exploitation of a former student. Daniel Berry Merck, 50, who has been employed with the Hall County School District since 1999 as a music teacher and band director, faces an additional charge of sexual assault by a person of a supervisory authority. Officials said Merck engaged in a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female student in 2016.
And now, here are stories No. 11 through No. 25:
11. Man kills 2-year-old son, then himself
29,567 unique pageviews
12. Pedestrian to be charged in Atlanta Highway accident
29,516 unique pageviews
13. Four charged in fight that injured Cleveland woman
26,741 unique pageviews
14. One injured in accident between train, vehicle in Flowery Branch
26,607 unique pageviews
15. Lula woman killed in Dawson County wreck
26,510 unique pageviews
16. Levi’s Call: Jackson County toddler said to be in danger
25,804 unique pageviews
17. Officials prep additional security measures after bomb threat against Hall County schools
25,109 unique pageviews
18. Child rescued in Lake Hartwell boat collision that claims life of father
24,879 unique pageviews
19. Officer-involved shooting in Gainesville results in multiple road closures
24,078 unique pageviews
20. One person shot to death in Buford QT parking lot
23,088 unique pageviews
21. Annual crackdown on speeders begins Monday
22,631 unique pageviews
22. Seven people, including five children, injured in accident on I-985
22,501 unique pageviews
23. Habersham County woman charged in Cornelia murder
22,169 unique pageviews
24. Charges pending in deadly White County crash
21,419 unique pageviews
25. Hall County sheriff’s office searches for missing 11-year-old girl
21,122 unique pageviews