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Sunday, January 26, 2014


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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia  |

gainesvilletimes com

THE BEST OF 2013

Originally Published March 17, 2013

In 2013, The Times devoted considerable time and space to covering the people and events that help shape Northeast Georgia. Our reporters and photographers worked tirelessly to find interesting stories about your friends and neighbors. Today, as has become an annual tradition, we reprint a few of our favorite stories from the past year, in case you missed them. Enjoy!

Tray Ross always wanted to be a firefighter ...

His dream come true

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A legacy of success: Russell Vandiver’s impact on economic development

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The java solution: Honduran teen goes into coffee business to pay for college

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‘Hero’ husband: Demorest man’s quick reaction helps save wife’s life

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Terror in Boston: Gainesville couple comes face to face with terror

Tray Ross, center, talks with other firefighters in training about how the mask should fit when he pulls on all of his gear.

A Gainesville resident became a hero in late 2011 when he saved another man from his burning home. Now with his GED in hand, he’s earned a spot as a trainee for Hall County Fire Services.

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For the love of the game: North Hall student unifies Trojans basketball team

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Paw pal: Rick Aiken looks back on career with Humane Society of Northeast Georgia

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Do you know your limit? A number of factors come into play when drinking alcohol

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Rocking with her memories: A donated rocking chair reunited with its owner

On the cover

Ross pulls on his gear during a drill in which he aims to get all of it on in two minutes. Ross just started training to be a Hall County firefighter, something he said he’s wanted to do since he was 17.

Story by EMMA WITMAN ewitman@gainesvilletimes.com

Photos by SHANNON CASAS scasas@gainesvilletimes.com

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hen Tray Ross risked his life to save Harold Johnson Jr., 76, blind and trapped in the kitchen of his burning home, he embodied the mentality Hall County Fire Services seeks in its employees. “We want people that care about other people. You have to have that basic want to help other people when they need it,” training officer Skip Heflin said. “As long as somebody cares and they are physically able, we can train them to where they need to be.” Ross was an aspiring professional firefighter at the time of the November 2011 fire, but he lacked a high school diploma or GED — one of the baseline requirements for employment as a firefighter in Hall. After getting his GED last fall, Ross, 21, started training this spring. In 15 weeks, he will realize his career dream. “This really is a dream come true for me. I’m just trying to really take everything in. I want to know how to do this job, and do it the best that I can,” he said March 14 at the Fire Training Center in Gainesville. Ross and 19 other recruits began training on March 11. Heflin explained that over the course of the training, Ross and his peers will spend time between classroom and hands-on instruction at the training center and burn building, learning skills from suiting up in two minutes or less to teaching fire safety to others. All of the recruits have already been hired by the county, and upon completion of training and testing, will go on to become full-time firefighters. While the requirements to apply for the job aren’t steep — at least 18 years old, driver’s license, high school diploma/GED and a clean criminal history — the hiring process is selective, Heflin said. “We had 200 and something applications, interviewed people for a week, all day everyday, then PT tested 40. The PT test is a physical requirement agility test, and it’s pass or fail. We tested 60, and probably 50 passed, then we had to hand-pick the 20 that we have here,” he said. In addition to a servant mentality, they seek certain skills and experience, he said. “We want people who have experience if that’s possible. If it was a perfect world we would have 20 paramedics,” he joked. “We also look for if they were a firefighter anywhere else before, or a volunteer, because then they know what they’re getting into.” Ross, a former volunteer firefighter in Union County, was acquainted with the dangers. In entering the burning house to save Johnson, he suffered smoke inhalation. “We tell people that all the time — this is

more of a calling. Not necessarily a job, or career even, but more of a calling,” Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said. “If you’re here for money, I’m very blunt: This probably isn’t the right job for you. But if you’re here as the fulfillment of a calling, then by all means apply.” Ross lives in Hall County with his wife and 2-year-old son. While having the salary to support them is an obvious benefit, the true fulfillment is altruistic for him. “Yes, I want to support my family, but it’s about more than that to me,” he said. “I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was 17 because I wanted to help people.” After waiting for years, Heflin said that the first week in training has gone well for Ross and the other recruits. “It’s been good. The first week is kind of rough because it’s all the introduction and HR stuff. Normally they’re here 9 to 5, but not this week,” he said. Fire departments have adjusted to increasing roles as first responders, and the amount of training reflects that, he said. “When I went to school, our recruit school was a month, and now it’s 16 weeks,” Heflin said. “When I first came on, we were a fire department and we ran some medical calls, but there wasn’t the emphasis on other things.” Heflin spoke to some of those roles. “Now we’re firefighters, educators, we run a lot of medical calls, we want everyone to be EMT and-or paramedic, we do rope rescue, hazardous materials, confined space, structural collapse, wilderness rescue. It’s a lot,” he said. “They get their fire stuff first, and that includes stuff like being an educator.” When the recruits graduate, they will all be state-certified fire and life safety educators, Heflin said, with education being a priority for the county. In addition to being educators, the recruits are perpetually learning themselves, as Kimbrell stressed, as even 16 weeks is only enough for the bare necessities. “Think of it like the military. This is basic training, and once they’re done, they’re able to work. But they’re always training. We require tremendous amounts of additional training before they can promote any further,” Kimbrell said. Heflin himself, a 23-year veteran with the department and a training officer since 2005, is in the process of completing a college degree to meet the department’s career advancement requirements. Ross embraces the concept. When asked what it was like to be a student again, he said simply, “I’m a student for life. Always learning.” Heflin hopes Ross and the other recruits suit up for life. “Some of them are going to be here for 25 years. At least that’s what we hope. That’s what we want,” Heflin said. Ross sees himself on that track. “I do hope eventually to get my degree and move up the chain,” he said.

Top: Theresa and Allan Panter. Center: Tray Ross talks with other firefighters. Right, bottom: Sylina LiBasci sits in her rocking chair. Left, top: Rick Aiken and his dogs Duchess and Hugo. Left, middle: Kevin Arita feeds coffee plants. Left, bottom: North Hall’s Nicholas Bennett. Photos by Times photographers Scott Rogers, Tom Reed and Shannon Casas.

Tray Ross, left, adjusts his mask after attempting to suit up in two minutes during training at the Hall County Fire Services Training Center.


THE BEST OF 2013

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia  |

gainesvilletimes com

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Originally Published March 31, 2013

russell vandiver’s impact

A legacy of success

For The Times

This undated photo shows a younger Russell Vandiver, right, on the job at Lanier Tech.

When it came to area economic development, Vandiver was ‘hands on’ Story by JEFF GILL

jgill@gainesvilletimes.com

It may have seemed out of sorts for some folks, like putting on tight-fitting new shoes and longing for the comfortable pair. After all, important technical education matters were being discussed at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce board meeting last week, and Russell Vandiver was nowhere to be found. But there was still buzz about the white-bearded Vandiver, who retired March 21 from Lanier Technical College after nearly 37 years. “Every company that has moved here or those that are an existing industry, he has had his hands on,” said Kit Dunlap, the chamber’s president and CEO. For many community leaders, Vandiver has made his mark in many ways. He spent the past two years as president but the previous 30-plus exclusively in economic development, recruitment and workforce training. “Russell has been the epitome of a servant leader,” said Will Schofield, Hall County Schools superintendent, in an email about his friend. “He approaches life with a can-do attitude, always willing to roll up his sleeves and get the work done.” And hard, physical work was how Vandiver started his career. The Habersham County native and Jefferson High School graduate had graduated in the mid-1970s from West Georgia College in Carrollton with a “real shiny political science degree.” “I decided I wasn’t going to go and make $8,000 a year with a four-year degree when I could make twice that just laying brick,” Vandiver said in an interview Tuesday at his southeast Hall home. He was working a job in Chicopee Village for Carroll Daniel Construction when he approached Lanier Tech for a job. He ended up starting work in July 1976, doing special needs testing in a work-study program. Companies were starting to move to Hall County about that time, particularly ones discouraged by labor unions in the North and encouraged by cheap real estate and wages in parts of the South, Vandiver said. A Lanier Tech employee who worked with industry decided to leave as a plant manager, and Vandiver saw a new job opportunity. Then, industrial interest in the Hall County area “just broke loose,” he said. “We had 10 or 12 companies every year locating and we’d do Quick Start projects for them,” Vandiver said, referring to the state program that provides free customized workforce training to qualified businesses. “I had no background on how to do it. We just figured out how to work with companies and make sure we had people that would fill jobs,” Vandiver said. In the years ahead, the work got intense and complex at times, as new industries were being lured and other community leaders were drawn into talks.

“If you talk about economic development and what Gainesville and Hall County have done, it’s a team (effort),” Vandiver said. “When you sit down and talk to a company, you’ve got all these people in the room who have all the answers, whether it’s schools, utilities or incentives that are part of the package. “Sometimes, that (togetherness) will close the deal. Companies don’t have time for the community to bicker back and forth about whether we want ’em, that type of stuff,” Vandiver said. Community efforts to attract King’s Hawaiian as the bakery’s East Coast distributor turned out to be as sweet as one of the company’s dinner rolls. Vandiver said he got a recent phone call from an executive who had called to congratulate him on his retirement. During the conversation, the executive recalled a potential deal-making dinner he had with Vandiver at Lake Lanier Islands. The executive said he had to turn to the company’s owner and tell him “to quit smiling or I wouldn’t have anything to negotiate.” The owner had his mind already made up, settling on what would be a location in Oakwood. “Before they got on the plane the next morning, there was a handshake and (an assurance) they were coming,” Vandiver said. He credited much of Hall’s recent successes to Tim Evans, the chamber’s vice president of economic development, who had worked in a similar capacity with the state. “With somebody like that, you’re going to have calls you wouldn’t have gotten if you had a normal person out there without that (background),” he said. Evans had equal praise for Vandiver. “He was revered (even long ago) as one of the real stalwarts of economic development in Georgia,” he said in an earlier interview. There have been bumps along the way, particularly in the form of the Great Recession, which slowed development — industrial and otherwise — across the nation. But Vandiver believes Hall was even able to weather that because of a diverse industrial base. “We got kind of close (to being saturated) with automotive suppliers, but that sort of took care of itself,” he said. “We’ve always been able to absorb plant closures and layoffs because we have so much diversification. People say it would be great to have a Kia plant. “You really don’t want three or 4,000 people employed by one company, because if that company goes down, it’s like dropping a bomb — it just destroys everything.” Also, a low jobless rate isn’t necessarily a great thing when it comes to industrial recruitment. “Let’s say it drops to 5 percent, other people know that too,” he said. “And if they’re looking to locate a plant and they need 200 employees, that’s a bad employment rate.” Vandiver, now 60, looks back over

Scott Rogers | The Times

Vandiver enjoys spending more time with his family.

a career with few regrets — including staying put in the same place almost his entire career. “I never looked at doing the work at Lanier Tech as a job,” he said. “It was more of a love of being able to see people getting a job, changing their lives, growing their families.” One thing that never crossed his mind was serving as president. But he jumped into it headfirst when he was appointed in September 2010. He was eager to gain a second accreditation for the college, making transfers easier for students, and accelerate marketing and branding for the school. However, Vandiver was faced with a dilemma early in his tenure. He wanted to name Tim McDonald as his successor as the college’s vice president of economic development, but McDonald was leading the Dawson County campus during a time of key construction. “I ended up, for over two years, as being the vice president of economic development and serving as president,” Vandiver said. “I would do my president’s job during the day, then do the VP’s job in the evenings and come home and wear the computer out at night trying to catch up on emails.” That kind of tireless pace caught up to him. In October 2012, he broke the news at the school’s board of directors meeting that he was retiring in March. “I’m at the point where the bucket list of stuff I wanted to accomplish (at the college) is getting down to where there’s just a few things left to do,” he said on that day. But most of all, he was ready to spend time with his family, especially with his son, Josh, his daughter-in-law, Amanda, and their two children, Jackson, 8, and Taylor, 5, who live next door. Vandiver’s wife, Laura, died in August 2012. “I’m trying to teach my grandson the wonderful art of deer hunting and flyfishing,” he said. Vandiver loves the outdoors — just one look at his living room confirms that. Deer trophies and fish he’s caught line the wall, above a roaring fireplace

that welcomed visitors on a cold, earlyspring day. The two-piece suit and tie he wore at work are way gone. For last week’s interview, Vandiver was at his most casual, down to the camouflage Crocs on his feet. His services are no longer for hire. “If I wanted to continue working, I would do that at Lanier Tech,” he said. But he’ll consider volunteer work, up to offering some advice on economic development. In the meantime, Laura Elder, Lanier Tech’s vice president of administrative services, will hold the reins until a new president is named. Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Ron Jackson, speaking at the chamber meeting, said the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia will vote this week on a recommendation for a new president. Vandiver believes all will be fine at Lanier Tech, perhaps better than ever. “It was time for a change and the college certainly needed a change,” he said. “There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit out there that I can’t see because I’ve been there for so long. ... I think you’re going to see some dramatic changes in the way Lanier Tech approaches different programs. “I’m really comfortable with that.” He echoed that sentiment during his retirement reception, where he got a glass sailboat as a gift and a portrait of his likeness was unveiled. “Things are in good shape,” he told the group. “We’ve got a bright future in front of us.” Still, McDonald, who now serves as Lanier Tech’s vice president of economic development, said he believes his former boss left a mark on the school — and the region as a whole. “His passion for growing jobs in our area is unmatched. I’ve never met anyone who was more passionate about improving the living standards of our area through job creation.” McDonald recalled being introduced to the college’s board as the new VP. When Vandiver gave him his turn to speak, McDonald said, “If you want to know what kind of fool would try to replace a legend, I’m that kind of fool.”

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia |

gainesvilletimes com

THE BEST OF 2013

Three Years

SCOTT MOORE AWARDED 20

Moore’s Wealth Management adds 5th Planning for a healthy and prosperous retirement that might last 20, 25 or even 30 years into the future can be a daunting task. You want to make your financial resources last for the rest of your life -- no matter how long you live -- and you don’t want to be wiped out by down markets, poor tax planning, or long-term care expenses. That being said, it makes sense to seek guidance from trained professionals for these most important financial decisions. Brokers, Registered Representatives, Insurance Agents and Registered Investment Advisors all claim to have the best advice and commitment to serve their clients. However, did you realize only Registered Investment Advisors under the SEC and Investment Advisor Representatives with a Series 65 license have a fiduciary duty to always act in the best interest of their clients? A Fiduciary Advisor is required to put their client’s interests above their own and declare any conflicts of interest that may arise. The “suitability standard” which Brokers, Registered Representatives and Insurance Agents are held to means that the broker must reasonably believe that their recommendation is suitable given the client’s circumstances, needs and objectives. In this case, the broker is not referred to as a fiduciary and does not need to put their client’s interests before their own or the interests of their financial institution. Broker-dealers presently

have no fiduciary duty. The suitability standard required of a traditional broker does not require a broker to always act in the best interests of their client. In fact, since the brokers do not have to adhere to the Fiduciary Standard, and are relegated to selling commission based broker/dealer products, they cannot comply with the Fiduciary Standard. At Moore’s Wealth Management “We help our clients protect their financial future through a Fiduciary Standard of Care that puts their interests First.” The Firm has been built on this standard and continues to grow in the community due to its commitment to this principle. Moore’s Wealth Management just added it’s 5th Fiduciary Advisor at the beginning of January (Kyle Moore joined Christopher Moore, Brian Moore, Mark Peterson, and Scott Moore) showing a continued commitment to grow and serve the North Georgia region. For more information on the ongoing educational seminars and college retirement planning courses that the firm offers, and how Scott, or one of the other fiduciary advisors in the office may be able to serve you and your family, please call one of their offices at 770-535-5000 or 678-566-3590. You can also learn more about the firm at www.mooreswealthmanagement.com. Drew K. Horter, founder and Chief Investment Strategist of Horter Investment Management said, “As the

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Moore’s Wealth Management Staff include: Scott & Carla Moore pictured in the center, from left to right Michelle Moore, Karly Moore, Kyle Moore, Brian Moore, Chris Moore, and Liz & Mark Peterson.

“We help our clients protect their financial future through a fiduciary standard of care that puts their interests first”

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THE BEST OF 2013

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia |

gainesvilletimes com

Sunday, January 26, 2014

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia  |

gainesvilletimes com

THE BEST OF 2013

Originally Published January 27, 2013

The java solution Honduran teen grows coffee in Habersham from homeland beans to pay for college Story by SAVANNAH KING sking@gainesvilletimes.com

Photos by SCOTT ROGERS srogers@gainesvilletimes.com

Kevin Candelario Arita grew up around coffee as a child in the mountain village of Mar Azul, Honduras. Now a senior at Norcross High School, Arita is growing coffee in the mountains of Habersham County. While most boys from Mar Azul quit going to school after the sixth grade to work in the mountainside coffee fields, Arita has put his hope for a college education into the very same plants. Arita, once an undocumented student, plans to use the beans of his native country to fund his education and to help him become an American citizen. Hundreds of 2- and 4-foot tall coffee plants fill a small greenhouse in a Cornelia backyard. The greenhouse is kept humid and warm to mimic the tropical weather the plants prefer. For the last two years, Arita and his former sixth-grade teacher and mentor Richard Stafford have carefully tended to the plants and worked diligently to “trick” the plants into thinking they are growing closer to the equator. “We really didn’t know what we were going to do with (the plants) but we wanted to see if we could grow some coffee,” Stafford said. “As it turns out, once they were growing, it’s kind of like having a dog or a cat. You can’t just give it away, I guess.” Arita and Stafford established Yonah Coffee in 2011. The company operates out of Stafford’s house. The plants won’t be ready to harvest until November 2014, so for now the company imports coffee beans from Honduras and sells them to more than 22 stores in Habersham, Rabun and White counties. Arita drives to Cornelia from Norcross on the weekends to care for the plants. He and Stafford built a larger greenhouse last weekend to accommodate more plants and to regulate the temperature more accurately. “It’s a lot of work to keep the plants alive,” Arita said. “Especially when summer turns to winter, you have to bring them in at nighttime when it gets too cold. It takes a lot of effort.” While the men have worked hard to care for the coffee, they know it’s a matter of time before they’ll see the fruits of their labors. “It’s pretty much wait and see what happens,” Arita said. “Hopefully something good can come out of it. That’s the inspiration, to start my own coffee business when I get older.” Stafford said growing coffee in the Georgia mountains isn’t as unlikely as it sounds. With patience and the right equipment, the plants might not realize they aren’t in a tropical paradise. Stafford points to the Georgia wine in-

Above: Kevin Arita feeds coffee plants being raised in a greenhouse in Cornelia. Arita and Richard Stafford founded Yonah Coffee Co. last year. Top: Arita seals cans of Yonah Coffee Co. ground coffee at partner Richard Stafford’s Cornelia home.

dustry as an example of a crop that wasn’t expected to be successful but now is. “I think people are watching us to say ‘OK, can you really do this,’” Stafford said. “It’s sort of an experiment.” Stafford said there could come a day when former chicken houses are remodeled into greenhouses for coffee plants. While the success of the coffee industry in the Georgia mountains remains uncertain, Stafford and Arita are hopeful. After all, it was hope that brought the beans to the mountainside in the first place. “This would have never, ever started without this young man having some needs,” Stafford said of Arita. Arita was an undocumented immigrant who came to the country at age 9. In 1998, Arita’s village was uprooted by Hurricane Mitch. His father left a few days before the storm, which devastated his village. With no father to provide for the family, Arita’s mother decided to come to America to find work. She obtained a temporary humanitarian visa and worked in the country legally while Arita was left in the care of his 80-year-old grandparents. After his grandmother’s death in 2003, his grandfather knew the boy needed to be with his mother. He packed all of Arita’s belongings in a black plastic bag and sent him to America with a stranger. “It wasn’t much of my decision,” Arita said. “It was my grandpa’s; he was the only one alive at the time.”

Arita traveled through Central America and Mexico with a woman and another child. He and the other little boy swam across the Rio Grande to another woman who was supposed to help him find his mother. The woman later abandoned him and law enforcement placed him in the International Education Services center in Los Fresnos, Texas. The center is for minors who enter the country illegally with no adult supervision. Some time later, immigration officials were able to reunite Arita with his mother, who was living and working in Atlanta. Arita wrote a book “Lost in America: A Young Hispanic Immigrant’s Quest for Hope” about his journey into America. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor the first Hispanic person to serve on the court, called the book “truly inspiring.” Arita penned the book under his middle name Candelario. It is available for purchase on Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble Bookstores and other book stores. A copy can also be ordered through Arita’s website, www.Candelario.org. The book sells for $12.95. Though Arita’s story is heartbreaking and at times nightmarish, he said he wouldn’t change a thing. “I have little memories about what happened,” Arita said. “Mostly I remember things that happened along the way.

I was little and it was the journey of life because it made me be the things I want to be. It shaped me into the way I am now. I know other kids my age haven’t experienced that.” Growing up as an undocumented student, Arita faced hardships and uncertainty about his future. He often confided in Stafford, his theater teacher at Norcross Middle School. “Whenever something was wrong I could tell him what was going on,” Arita said. “That’s how our friendship grew. He’s become a very influential person in my life ... I never had a dad and he always has kind of been like that.” Stafford, too, had grown fond of Arita and wanted to help him get the documentation he needed to be in the country legally. He attempted to hire lawyers in Honduras. But the remote location of Arita’s village made the task too difficult. Stafford decided to just go to Honduras and find Arita’s papers himself. After four days in the village, Stafford found what he was looking for and a little bit more. “In this little town in the mountains, where he grew up without running water, without restrooms, without electricity and a one-room school,” Stafford said, “they grow coffee in this little mountain village and I gathered together a whole sack of coffee seeds.” They planted the seeds together when Stafford returned to Georgia. Arita now has a green card, driver’s license and temporary legal status. He dreams of someday becoming an American citizen who owns his own business and helps his community. Arita plans to reach his goals by majoring in international business when he goes to college next year. Though he’s an “A” student, Arita still has concerns about paying for higher education. Stafford said the coffee business was founded for that reason: A portion of the money raised through Yonah Coffee goes to fund Arita’s education. The rest is funneled back into the company. Arita said he’d like to use his life and the opportunities he has been given to help others like him. “One of the things I’d love people to know is that there are many kids like myself,” Arita said. “They came here illegally at one point in their lives and didn’t have a say in that decision. It was made for us. Since we’re here, why not allow us to stay here and at least have the opportunity to pursue our dreams?” Stafford said it’s important for teachers and adults to realize the value of all children. He said teachers especially have “an awesome responsibility” to help their students become successful. “It would be easy to turn a blind eye to an undocumented kid in Georgia,” Stafford said. “It happens so often that you really have to value every student, even if they’re not exactly like ourselves.”


THE BEST OF 2013

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia  |

gainesvilletimes com

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Originally Published May 12, 2013

Her husband is her ‘hero’

Peggy Nolan of Demorest returned home after a one-mile walk in early April and went into full cardiac arrest. Her husband Grady went into action and began CPR until EMTs arrived and took over. He later was told by doctors at the Ronnie Green Heart Center at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center that only 10 percent of people survive a full cardiac arrest outside of a medical facility.

Grady Nolan’s quick reaction helped save wife’s life Story by SAVANNAH KING sking@gainesvilletimes.com

Photo by SCOTT ROGERS srogers@gainesvilletimes.com

“It will be a blessed Mother’s Day for my kids, my granddaughter, my wife,” Grady Nolan said, his voice cracking slightly. “And for me.” The holiday will be all the sweeter to the Nolan family of Demorest, after his wife of 52 years, Peggy Nolan, recently survived cardiac arrest. On the evening of April 2, Peggy had just returned from her daily walk around the neighborhood and sat down on the couch to resume stringing beads for a piece of jewelry she was making. “She felt something,” Grady said. “But then as soon as she felt it, she made a comment about ‘What just happened?’ And then she passed out. Of course, I thought at first that she’d had a stroke and I went over. Her eyes were still open and I looked at them and thought ‘No, it wasn’t a stroke, it was a heart attack.’” Grady Nolan immediately called 911. He picked his 69-year-old wife up off the couch and laid her down on the floor and began giving her CPR. “Then I asked the Lord to help me,” the 71-yearold husband said. “I felt that peace come over me where I wasn’t afraid of anything and just started CPR and talked to the 911 operator until the first responders got there.”

‘Then I asked the Lord to help me. I felt that peace come over me where I wasn’t afraid of anything and just started CPR.’ Grady Nolan

It had been at least 15 years sine Grady Nolan had taken a CPR course. He’d been trained to handle emergency situations through his career with the U.S. Forest Service. Grady said he just did it “old-school” and trusted in God to help him save his wife. The first responders arrived and carried Peggy to Habersham Medical Center. She was later taken to the Ronnie Green Heart Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, where she had a triple bypass heart surgery. Grady said a doctor later told him only 10 percent of people who have cardiac arrest outside of a hospital live to talk about it. Many of those who live have some form of brain damage. “We are mighty proud of our 911 emergency first responders and of Habersham Medical Center up here for doing the work they did to get her ready to go to Ronnie Green,” Grady Nolan said. “ ... We feel

that they’ve done a fantastic job.” Peggy Nolan is now wearing an external defibrillator in case her heart stops again. The machine will jump start her heart with an electrical shock. With the help of her husband, she’s resumed walking short distances for exercise and said she’s feeling great. “Grady is my nurse and my coach and all of that,” Peggy said. “And my hero.” She said she knows how close she came to death and she’s “grateful for every day.” While some people might find the thought of a close encounter with death frightening, Peggy said her faith has helped her overcome any fear and to embrace the time she has. “We know that God was in control,” she said. “He always is, but he was certainly in control of what happened. That’s how (Grady) was able to save my life and I believe he did that.” The couple have two children, Deborah Nolan, Todd and his wife Tammy Nolan, and one 10-yearold granddaughter Sarah Nolan. To celebrate Mother’s Day, the entire family will get together and enjoy a meal after church. They plan to take a trip to Alaska this summer. Todd Nolan said his father has always been his hero, but now more so than ever. He said he’s always felt close to his parents but has a new appreciation for them both. “I love them,” Todd said. “I love them a lot. You don’t realize it. We get caught up in our daily routine and we take things for granted.”

7


C 8

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia |

Sunday, January 26, 2014

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THE BEST OF 2013

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Sunday, January 26, 2014 Page 9

Originally Published April 21, 2013

terror in boston

In a frightening flash, Theresa and Allan Panter came face to face with terror. Story by Shannon Casas casas@gainesvilletimes.com

Photo by SCOTT ROGERS srogers@gainesvilletimes.com

I

n the moments after the blast, everyone responded. People knelt to apply pressure to others’ wounds. They jerked the dress belts from their pants to use as tourniquets. Allan Panter of Gainesville was about 30 feet from the explosion April 15 at the Boston Marathon, waiting for his wife Theresa to cross the finish line. “When it goes off, it’s so loud. And the smoke and stuff — you kind of throw your shoulder up like this, and I kind of ducked instinctually,” he said, demonstrating while sitting in the dining room of his North Hall home. “And the lady to my right, she screamed and started running.” He moved to the right with the crowd. Two to three steps later the second bomb went off. He stood up, expecting more bombs to go off down the street. He looked to his left and saw a woman who had gone down and a man putting pressure on her leg. Panter, emergency room director at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva, N.C., told the man exactly where to hold pressure. He stood up again, turned and saw a pile of injured people. He got to work. He pulled a man whose legs had blown off out from under a woman. Others began jumping to action. A man started feeling for a pulse on the woman and said he was going to start CPR. “I reached down and swung her back around so her head was at my feet,” Panter said. “I gave her a couple of mouth to mouth breaths, started screaming for an ambu bag, because I’m more in ER mode — I want tools to work with. And that’s when the Boston volunteers started pouring in. And literally out of nowhere someone handed me an ambu bag.” He’s being called a hero, but he said he was just doing his job. The people who don’t deal with blood every day, but responded anyway — they are the heroes, he and his wife said. Allan Panter didn’t expect to be working April 15 on the streets of Boston. He and his wife flew up April 13 to enjoy a few days, eating decadent cannolis, visiting booths at the annual expo that features all kinds of running gear and stopping at the Dunkin’ Donuts, which Allan said are on every corner of the city. Theresa poked fun at him that the many doughnut shops drew him back to Boston again this year. Theresa has been running the marathon off and on since 1999, running it with girl friends until more recently. “Running the Boston for me is an accomplishment, but it also is a fun place to go,” Theresa said. “And Boston is a great city.” The night of April 14, they decided to have Theresa’s pre-race meal together. They were looking over a menu outside an Italian restaurant when the heavyset owner burst through the French doors, chef hat on, and demanded they come in, saying “I guarantee you like it,” Theresa said, feigning an Italian accent. Not knowing what else to do, they followed him and enjoyed a dinner of pasta and garlic bread. The next morning, Theresa got on the bus with other racers at 7 a.m. Her wave started at 10:40. “I had no idea when I said bye to (Allan) what I’d be coming back to,” she said. It was perfect race weather, cool, but Theresa wasn’t doing as well as usual, she said. Her head started hurting during the second half and she was cramping. She knew her time was not where she wanted it to be. In fact, in 50 something marathons she’s run, she’s never run so slow, she said. She decided to just enjoy herself. “So I had gotten to mile 26 and was about to turn onto Boylston (Street) to see the balloons that I always see and take a picture of, but I had not gotten

there yet,” she said. Allan was monitoring her place in the race, with a chip on her shoe transmitting the time to his smartphone. As she neared the finish, he began pressing toward the barricade at the end of the course, getting his phone ready to take her photo as she ran by. The two said Allan was probably waiting, muttering about what was taking her so long.

Then the blast hit It was over in a split second, Allan said. “I had my headphones in and I heard the first of what I thought was a cannon,” Theresa said. “And I thought, ‘Well, wow, I have never heard them shoot off cannons at the finish line before.’ But then seconds later, the second blast, which was closer to where I was coming into, I became more aware of my surroundings. ... People were coming towards me and they were panic stricken and immediately we were turned backwards.” She and other runners were taken to an area five blocks away. They weren’t sure what to be scared of yet, she said. But she knew Allan was at the finish line, and she started panicking. In fact, he was with Krystle Campbell, 29, one of the three people who died. Allan didn’t have a scratch on him. He was also treating a man who had lost his legs, going back and forth between the two victims. A woman with a wheelchair came flying around his side. “The guy on the other side, the guy with his legs blown off, punched me in the chest. ‘Help me. Help me.’” He threw him into the wheelchair. Allan said he’s gone through disaster drills in his hospital training. It’s something you “mumble and cuss about,” he said because your chances of having a disaster are low. But he knew what should take place. “As far as what was going on out in the street, there is nothing there to prepare you,” he said. “That’s first responder mode, where you just have to do with what you’ve got. And basically every bystander just moved in to help the people who were down on the ground.” They got a stretcher for Campbell, the woman he was treating, but when they got to the medical tent, her pulse was gone. With the nature of the disaster, they had to move on to other victims. Allan could see no obvious reason why she died. “There’s two things that bother Allan Panter,” his wife said. “Losing something — and he lost me that day. And the other thing is not being able to fix something.” The woman had leg wounds, but nothing that would kill her. He pulled her shirt up but couldn’t find any signs of anything he could fix. Allan continued to work, as others ran around him at the medical tent. The sheer number of personnel was astounding, he said. The medical tent was well-equipped, with cots lined up and IVs waiting for dehydrated runners. At one point he remembers someone running up with a box of gauze, probably planned to treat blisters, but throwing it out for people to use to make tourniquets. Allan said he has little concept of time from that day, but after helping, he eventually told someone that if he wasn’t needed, he was going to look for his wife. He had received texts from random phone numbers saying: “I’m OK, are you OK?” Theresa doesn’t run with her phone so she had asked to borrow others’ phones to get a message to him. In the chaos, she never thought to identify herself. And she never heard back from Allan. The couple has four children, the youngest who

attends Gainesville High School, and the others in college or law school. The children received the random messages as well. Haley Panter, who is a nursing student at Brenau University, had been tracking her mother’s time on her phone, and thought she should have finished. A friend called to tell her she had better call her dad because there had been an explosion. “So then I called Dad and asked what was going on,” she said. “And Dad was calm, but he said that there were two explosions and that he was helping people, and that somebody had died and that he couldn’t find mom. And then he had to get off the phone.” That sent her over the edge, Allan said. She and her siblings began texting each other. Finally Haley’s sister, Brittany, got a response from one of the numbers that said their mom was OK. Allan, too, texted one of the numbers back, and the person on the other end told him she wasn’t there, but she was fine. Freezing after the run, without the normal food and blanket handed to her at the end of the race, Theresa was moving around just to warm up. They were finally given mylar blankets and allowed to leave the area, Theresa said, after about an hour and a half of waiting. They were instructed not to get on the buses where their bags were, but Theresa and another runner squeezed through the slats of fencing and she grabbed her bag and cellphone. She got off the bus and called Allan, leaving him “a terrible voicemail, crying.” Allan called her back and told her to run down the middle of the road, don’t go near trash cans and meet him.

Reunited and safe “We met up in Boston Commons, and of course Allan was covered in blood,” Theresa said. “Our reunion was quite a tearful one. One thing I have to say — after 30 years of marriage, I realized how much I’ve taken for granted. I appreciate his presence in my life and who he is to me, so we’ve had a lot of crying.” Then they got their first call from the media. Lee Ferran of ABC News, whose father is a doctor in Gainesville, called the couple and told Theresa to post something on social media to let everyone back home know she was OK. And the two gave their first of what turned out to be countless interviews. Once their names were out there, Allan said, the calls just kept coming — Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, Diane Sawyer — and Allan became the face of the responders. That night they gave one interview before shuffling a few feet to the next TV media setup and giving another. When they stepped away for a moment, another producer would approach, asking them to go on camera, Allan said. “You’re trying to be nice. You’re a Southerner,” Allan said of continuing to agree to requests. They got about four hours of sleep that night. The morning shows came calling at 5:15 a.m. the next morning. “We kept saying, ‘We’re not anybody. We just want to get back home,’” Theresa said. They were just starting to process what had happened. They gave more on-camera interviews, and Theresa, laughing, said her children were texting her, critiquing her. At some point, though, the Panters decided they had to get home to their children. Haley said she’s not going to let her parents go on trips together anymore. Theresa plans to run the marathon next year, though. Haley told her dad, half joking, that she’ll make sure he has to work. “Yes, I would go back,” Theresa said. “If anything to help support the very people who helped us. And then sadly enough it’s the spectators that make the race that were affected and injured. So I’ve just got to qualify first.” The two say the experience changed their life, but not like those who were maimed. After surviving the injury, they face multiple surgeries, rehabilitation with a prosthesis and then life, “totally, absolutely different,” Allan said. “You can’t prepare for that. I mean it’s just one minute you’re walking, the next minute you’re not.” They both said the emergency response was just incredible, though. “You had to almost fight to get your spot to help somebody,” Allan said. And the workers didn’t try to restrict help; if it made sense, they allowed it, he added. “I’m no different than every person that was responding,” Allan said. “I mean every person there was doing the same thing I was doing.” “I do believe that God had Allan Panter right where he wanted him,” Theresa said. “And he made me run a slow race, but regardless of that, I’m thankful we’re here.”


10

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia  |

gainesvilletimes com

THE BEST OF 2013

Originally Published February 27, 2013

For the love of the game

North Hall High School sophomore Nicholas Bennett grabs a loose ball during warmups for the basketball team.

North Hall’s Bennett is unifying force for the Trojans during regular season, state playoff run Story by MITCH BLOMBERT mblombert@gainesvilletimes.com

Photo by TOM REED The Times

No matter where he goes, Nicholas Bennett is sure to have a basketball in his hand. He’s often spotted in the North Hall High gym, firing shots long beyond the 3-point line. If he’s not there, it’s almost certain he’s shooting around on one of his numerous goals at his home. He proudly wears the green and white warm-up gear worn by the North Hall boys basketball team at every practice and every game. He’s not in the Trojans’ lineup, but he’s equally as important. If not more. Bennett has become a staple of the North Hall basketball program the past two seasons, motivating the players and coaches that interact with him on a regular basis. The sophomore leads the Trojans out on the court before every game, takes the first warm-up shot, then proceeds to support the Trojans as vocally as possible from the sidelines. Although his duties include the typical managerial responsibilities — grabbing rebounds at warm-ups and passing them back out, fetching water and cleaning the court, Trojans coach Benjie Wood doesn’t entitle Bennett a manager. “He’s one of the guys now,” Wood said. “Wherever the team goes, Nick goes. He’s part of the program and part of the team.” His involvement with North Hall has helped Bennett develop an undying love for basketball that has kept him attempting shots for his entire high school career. Because he has a goal: make 1,000 of them from beyond half-court before he graduates high school. As of Feb. 27, when North Hall hosted St. Pius X in the Class AAA state quar-

terfinals, he had 512. “Once I started hitting them, I just became good at them,” Bennett said. Bennett’s early life would have never indicated that he would develop an interest in basketball. Born with autism, fetal alcohol syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he was adopted from Russia when he was nine months old. His adoptive father, Tim Bennett, introduced him to basketball in elementary school, but it wasn’t until his freshman year at North Hall High that it became impossible to get the ball away from him. That’s when he began shooting around in North Hall’s old gym in the morning with teacher Bruce King before classes began. His interest in basketball quickly began to blossom. “(King) had gotten a basketball from the other gym and had it there every morning for him when he came in,” Tim Bennett said. “He started doing that, and you couldn’t get a basketball away from him.” It carried over to the Bennett household, where Nicholas has shooting spots wherever he could find them. From his main goal on the driveway, to a goal beside the swimming pool, to a smaller net in the living room. He even built his own goals out of cardboard and had them mounted on his bedroom walls. They can be raised and lowered, just like the goals found in typical gyms. Nicholas was a regular at North Hall games before joining the team. A diehard Trojans fan, he received a ball signed by the entire team as a gift for his support. “He told me it was the best gift ever given to him,” Wood said. Wood had an even bigger present in store for him. Shortly after Christmas during Nicholas’ freshman year, Wood

asked Tim Bennett if his son could join the team. With permission granted, the North Hall players presented Nicholas with a jersey prior to a home game. They then invited him into pre-game huddle, and he became an official member of the Trojans. “We won the game, he came up to me and asked, ‘Coach, you got an away jersey?,” Wood said. Nicholas has loyally served North Hall ever since, leading the Trojans out of the locker room and laying up the first shot before every warm-up. He has built a pre-game routine along the way, a handshake ritual with Wood before each opening tip. The only time they didn’t perform it was before a game against Lakeview Academy on Dec. 4, 2012. It ended up being one of only three losses for The Trojans’ this season. The two haven’t skipped the ritual since. “Benjie said, ‘I’ll never forget again,’” Tim Bennett said. Now in his second season with North Hall, Nicholas splits his time between two endeavors: supporting the Trojans in any way he can, and his personal goal of 1,000 half-court shots. Declared “North Hall’s H.O.R.S.E. champion” by Wood, he commonly challenges North Hall players and coaches in the popular one-on-one shooting game. He’s developed quite a winning edge, often beating his opponent. “He can beat anybody in H.O.R.S.E.,” Trojans senior Ebo Smith said. “I played him Monday and he beat me.” No shot location is beyond Nicholas’ range. He made an attempt from full-court last month, landing the ball in the perfect spot for a ricochet off the court and into the net. But he’s all business once practice begins, from team shoot-

arounds to post-practice duties. “We have the cleanest backboards in Georgia because Nick cleans them on game day,” Wood said. Nicholas keeps North Hall players motivated and upbeat during drills. Should they lose focus, he’s the first to call them out. “If we’re not focused at practice, he’s the one telling us to get focused and get ready for the game,” Smith said. “He’s always encouraging, and it helps us a lot.” To show their appreciation, Nicholas is always included in postgame celebrations. When the Trojans defeated Johnson in the Lanierland Tournament championship game on Dec. 22, their seniors received the trophy and immediately presented it to him, giving him an opportunity to proudly share his team’s accomplishment in front of a home crowd. “We all look up to Nick,” Smith said. “I love Nick, he’s an awesome kid. He’s in the gym every morning and at practice cheering us on.” Now that North Hall is in the state semifinals, Nicholas can barely contain his excitement for the team. With Feb. 23’s 50-46 win over Morgan County, the Trojans are one round beyond last year’s second-round elimination, a loss that Tim Bennett said was a tough one for his son to endure. He’s well aware of the challenges that await his team tonight, as visiting St. Pius X knocked off a tough Cartersville team that had lost just one game on the season entering the second round. A North Hall win sends the Trojans to the state semifinals Saturday at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah. “I hope we can win more than anything, because I’ve never been to Savannah and I want to go there,” Nicholas said. “We have to try our hardest, that’s for sure.” What’s certain about tonight’s game is that it will be North Hall’s last at home. Should the Trojans reach the finals, they’ll play for the championship at the Macon Centreplex in Macon.

‘He’s one of the guys now. Wherever the team goes, Nick goes. He’s part of the program and part of the team.’ Benjie Wood North Hall High boys basketball coach

But North Hall doesn’t need any more home games to know who spent time and time again firing shots from half-court in that very gym, then serving as a source of inspiration for the Trojans during an not-soon-forgotten campaign. “This is Nick’s gym, and everybody knows it,” Wood said. “He’ll lead us out. He’ll be vocal on the bench, and he’ll be excited to be into the game just like everybody else in the team.” Watching from the bleachers, Tim Bennett can’t help but be thankful for the introduction of basketball into his son’s life. Not only has the sport provided Nicholas with a goal to chase as 1,000 half-court shots draw closer and closer, it has made a world of improvement in his social development as his high school career nears its halfway point. “It’s really made a difference — he came out of his shell,” Tim said. “It just shows that there a still good educators in these schools, and there are also good kids in these schools. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.” For Nicholas himself, a signed ball and more than 500 half-court shots have led him in the direction of his ultimate prize — a state championship for North Hall. “That would be like winning the lottery, basically,” he said.


THE BEST OF 2013

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia  |

gainesvilletimes com

Sunday, January 26, 2014

11

Originally Published June 21, 2013

Humane Society

Paw pal

Aiken looks back on illustrious career Story by CARLY SHAREC csharec@gainesvilletimes.com

Photos by SCOTT ROGERS srogers@gainesvilletimes.com

‘Where can you find something that gives you so much, and asks for so little, so unconditionally? They were my best friends growing up, my dogs and cats.’ Rick Aiken

Retired Director of the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia Rick Aiken is planning on traveling a bit with his dogs Duchess and Hugo. In his career with the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, Aiken has helped grow the organization to a $1.2 million facility with its own spay/neuter program, low-cost wellness clinic and pet training education.

The home of Rick and Florence Aiken appears quiet on the outside, but the inside can only be deemed a true “animal house.” Three dogs roam the living room. A kitten meows in the background while two cats lounge on the couch, begging for belly rubs. And the two, who recently celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary, sit in the middle of it all, laughing about the benefits of hardwood floors over carpeting with so many animals around. It’s always been about the animals, especially over the past 24 years, the time in which Rick served as the executive director for the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia. And, as the humane society celebrates 100 years of being in existence, the man who spent nearly a quarter of that time leading the organization reflects on his career there, though he mostly chalks up any success to his inherent love for animals and the support of the staff, board members and community. “It was an old shelter,” he remembered about beginning the job. “It was your traditional animal shelter back in those days. Not a lot was put into them.” Since that time, Aiken has led the humane society to where it is today, in a $1.2 million facility with its own spay/neuter program, low-cost wellness clinic and pet training education and resources, among other attributes. All because he loves animals, an appreciation that was encouraged in his youth. “I grew up that way,” he said. “My mother, God bless her, she recognized that animals are great therapy. My mother and daddy divorced when I was young, and she even moved out of the fancy apartments in town and moved into a garage apartment so I could have a dog. “Where can you find something that gives you so much, and asks for so little, so unconditionally?” he continued. “They were my best friends growing up, my dogs and cats.” That appreciation for animals continued into his adult years. He was working in a factory, which he did not enjoy, when he and wife Florence decided to go back to school. Aiken attended the University of Georgia for a degree in wildlife biology. From there, the young family moved around while he attained positions at various zoos in the Southeast. He was working as the general curator of the Baton Rouge Zoo in Louisiana when he and Florence decided to move closer to home. “The Boy Scouts had an opening here, and I had volunteered with them in Louisiana, so I came here and was the district executive for six years,” he said. “I loved what I was doing, but they kept wanting me to move. ... I turned down too many promotions, and they told me that I was going to have to take one.” But Aiken and his family enjoyed the area, so moving wasn’t really an option. This was when Florence found the job at the humane society and brought it to her husband’s attention. With his background in animal care, fundraising and volunteering, it was a natural fit. It wasn’t necessarily an easy 24 years, but Aiken is proud of the work the team behind HSNEGA has done. “It’s probably the best staff you will find anywhere out there,” he said. “Those are the people that really made this, not me. One person doesn’t do it. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.” The biggest problem he faced is the overpopulation of dogs and cats in the area, a problem he says still exists, but is getting better. “In 2005, we became one of the few humane societies in the state to do our own spaying and neutering, and also offer it to the public,” he said, “which is probably one of the things I think I’m most excited about. Spaying and neutering is one of the easiest ways (to curb overpopulation).” Since the low-cost program started in 2005, Aiken said that more than 45,000 animals have been spayed or neutered. After impacting the lives of thousands of animals in the area, Aiken felt it was time for him to step back. “To be quite honest, I think it’s time to get somebody with some new ideas, and it’s ready to move to another level,” he said. “In the state of Georgia, Northeast Georgia is one of the leaders.” The new executive director, David Arias, has been in place since April. “That’s what I’m excited about seeing, what David can do,” Aiken said. “I think he’s got some great ideas and is going to make some really significant changes.” Aiken, who had assisted Arias during the transition, left the humane society around three weeks ago, and though he is currently serving as an interim director for the Atlanta Humane Society until it finds a replacement, he is more than ready to take some time for retirement and relaxation. He has missed only one University of Georgia football game since 1986, and has no plans to break that trend. He also loves to travel, and has plans to travel to Alaska next year. In fact, the Aikens own a large camper so that they can take the dogs with them on their various trips. “We’re going to stay home more than he wants to, and travel more than I want to,” Florence said, laughing. The Aikens were at a homecoming event on June 22 at Lakeview Academy in Gainesville. The fundraising event celebrated the humane society’s 100 years of serving the community. While the Aikens remain in Gainesville, and will surely still be seen from time to time at the humane society, the event was a way for community members to say goodbye to the man who spent nearly a quarter of a century saving the lives of animals who have been tossed aside for various reasons. And to Aiken, that’s what it’s always been about. “Just go ahead, and take them, and try to find them a better home,” he said. “That’s the goal. Putting them into better homes. “It’s a dream job, if you love animals and want to give back to them.”


12

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia  |

gainesvilletimes com

THE BEST OF 2013

Originally Published July 7, 2013

A TIMES SPECIAL REPORT

Do you know your limit? A number of factors influence how many alcoholic drinks it takes to reach 0.08 Story by EMMA WITMAN ewitman@gainesvilletimes.com

Photos by SCOTT ROGERS srogers@gainesvilletimes.com

The magic number for drinkers is 0.08. Past that and, if you’re caught driving, your next stop will be a jail cell. But how do you determine when your body has hit that blood alcohol concentration? And as the National Transportation Safety Board pushes for that number to be lowered to 0.05, does it become even harder to determine when one drink is one too many? In light of that recent recommendation, three Times staff members headed to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office Training Center to determine just how many drinks would put them over the limit. Sgt. Jeff Shoemaker with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office guided the 3½-hour exercise, which prescribed exact amounts of liquor, tested participants with field sobriety tests and an Alco-Sensor breath test and ensured no one drove to or from the facility. “I hope to learn something about myself. What kind of a drinker am I, and how much alcohol is OK?” government reporter Sarah Mueller said before the experiment.

Anatomy of drinking How much alcohol is OK depends on a number of factors, one in particular being size. A larger person with a larger blood volume would see less effect per drink on their alcohol content, said Dr. Frank McDonald, a neurologist at The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville. The Times’ participants ranged in weight from 107 to 172 pounds. After one margarita each, which contained 2 ounces of tequila, the science proved true. Metro editor Shannon Casas was already at 0.06, past the new 0.05 recommendation. Mueller, was at 0.04 and presentation editor R. Keith Hatchell, the heaviest, at 0.02. After a second drink with 1 ounce of tequila, Casas was just past 0.08 and Mueller was at 0.06. Hatchell had 2 ounces in his second drink and also was at 0.06. After a third drink with 2 ounces, Hatchell was at 0.08 and Mueller at 0.13. But while the test subjects had clear, measured doses of how much they were drinking, drinkers at bars and restaurants may not. “Realistically, how much alcohol is in your drink depends on how much your bartender likes you,” Shoemaker said. Gender also plays a role in how the body processes the drinks, though. Alcohol gets into the tissues and organs because, chemically, it goes where the body has water: the brain, the liver and muscle tissue, according to a presentation given during the exercise. The average male is 68 percent water, the average female only 55 percent. Thus a woman does not need as much alcohol to become intoxicated. A person’s blood alcohol content over time is also determined by the contents of his or her stomach, Shoemaker said; 20 percent of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach walls, and 80 percent through the intestines. The day’s subjects were specifically told to come on empty stomachs so they would get intoxicated more quickly. The type of drink matters as well, with a 1«-ounce shot of 80 proof distilled spirits equal to one 4-ounce glass of wine or one 12-ounce beer. But one thing is the same for everyone: Only time can help you sober up, not substances like coffee or energy drinks. “Yes, caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, but that’s kind of an old wives’ tale,” McDonald said of efforts to sober up. “The only thing that helps is time, as the liver metabolizes the alcohol.” The average person’s BAC drops by 0.015 per hour, Shoemaker said.

Slow it down Moderate drinking — unless one is pregnant or has other medical risk factors — isn’t by itself a health risk, McDonald said. In fact he said some drinking can even reduce the risk of stroke. “Alcohol per se is not necessarily bad. In fact, people who are moderate drinkers have a reduced risk of stroke than teetotaler or heavy drinkers,” he said, adding “By moderate, I mean one to two drinks daily.” But drinking in any amount, when factoring in a 2-ton vehicle, makes driving a health risk, McDonald said.

Sgt. Kelly Edwards administers a sobriety test on presentation editor R. Keith Hatchell with the Alco-Sensor.

Pushing the limit The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal agency, recommended in May to lower the blood alcohol concentration to 0.05 from 0.08. It was a little more than a decade ago that Georgia lowered its driving standard to 0.08 from 0.10, when legislation signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000 would have cut a portion of federal highway funds to states that did not comply with a legal limit of 0.08 or lower. The 0.05 recommendation is likely to play out in a similar fashion, with a recommendation that the federal government authorize the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to support states that adopt the recommendation by awarding “incentive grants.”

Standard drinks The following are about equal to one another in the amount of alcohol consumed A can of beer: 12 ounces of fluid A glass of wine: 5 ounces A shot of 80 proof whiskey: 1½ ounces

Why? Because it slows you down. “Alcohol affects the brain because it’s a central nervous system depressant and decreases brain function, which can interfere with coordination and response time,” he said. Shoemaker compared drinking and driving, even at lower levels, to any other condition that increases roadway dangers. “It’s like if it’s raining. You have to back off your speed a little bit — it’s just not safe for the conditions that are present,” he said. “Alcohol slows down the actions and reactions of the body. When we get to operating the vehicle, we’re multitasking, making judgments constantly. I probably won’t fail to act, but my reaction time is increased. And if it’s increased in a vehicle, then that’s that much further that we traveled.” As blood alcohol concentration increases, the central nervous system becomes more depressed, and the effects are more pronounced. “As it increases, coordination becomes extremely poor; your judgement gets worse, one’s ability to concentrate,” McDonald said. One field sobriety test that measures that slow down asks the alleged drinker to stand on one foot and count to 30 in 30 seconds. By the end of the exercise, and after three margaritas with 5 ounces of tequila, Mueller tried the test and counted only to 16. Getting in a car with that slowed internal clock can lead to serious consequences. About half of all fatal crashes involve drunken drivers, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies show. The average DUI driver admits to driving under the influence about 80 times each year, once every four or five nights. The sheriff’s office reported more than 350 DUI arrests in Hall County in 2012. The NTSB made its recommendation in May to lower the blood alcohol content level to 0.05 based on national traffic accident data.

Time to pull over Shoemaker said deputies look for irregularities in drivers — driving too fast, driving too slow, braking erratically, drifting and swerving tend to be good indicators of

Sgt. Jeff Shoemaker puts Times metro editor Shannon Casas through a field sobriety test in which she stands on one foot and counts to 30 in the span of 30 seconds.

driving under the influence. Once pulled over, there are three key tests to determine sobriety. There’s the horizontal eye test to detect “nystagmus,” an involuntary jerk of the eye caused by alcohol an other depressants. There also the walk a straight line test, and the one-leg stand test,” which measure both the test taker’s physical ability and ability to follow directions. Often, the nystagmus test, because it’s an involuntary physical symptom of inebriation, can be most important for catching an intoxicated person who doesn’t seem impaired to the untrained eye. “We’re looking to see the eye jerking pretty good — distinct, sustained nystagmus,” he said, explaining the eye moves like “a windshield wiper that’s getting stuck on the windshield. It isn’t smooth.” “If I’m a tolerant drinker and I’m used to standing on one foot, that’s one thing. But you can’t control your internal functions,” he added. When Casas performed her field sobriety test at 0.083, she said she surprised herself even with steady physical composure. But Shoemaker said she’d still be in handcuffs if she were caught driving. “The nystagmus alone is enough to make an arrest. She showed four

out of six indicators on the nystagmus test so, yes, I would arrest her,” he said. Training officers in the tests prepares them to make a legitimate arrest and defend it in court. “The best way for our officers to be educated to detect, whenever they encounter a drunk driver, is by seeing one,” Shoemaker said. “And that officer can testify on the stand, ‘Yes, I have seen what a drunk or impaired person looks like.’” The training is especially important for detecting those on the border of legality. “We train them to be able to find that 0.06 and 0.08,” he said. “Anybody can find the 0.15. They’re falling out the door, trying to stick their license through the window.” And the tests and training are pretty spot on, he said. “About 90 percent of our officers can make an educated decision to arrest that person or not arrest that person,” he said.

Follow the law Shoemaker stressed that a shaky field sobriety test alone cannot warrant an arrest if a person registers a blood alcohol level below 0.08. “We don’t want to take a person and say, ‘Well, you just look like

The odds: Drivers at a blood alcohol level of 0.05 are 1.38 times more likely to be in a crash than are sober drivers. The consequences: The risk of fatal crash involvement at BACs between 0.05 and 0.079 ranges from about 3 to 17 times greater, depending on the age of the driver and the type of fatal crash (singlevehicle versus all crashes). Outside lobbying groups: The American Medical Association since 2009 has called for a BAC of 0.04, saying that alcohol has a “wide variation of effect from subject to subject.” International law: According to the International Center for Alcohol Policies and the World Health Organization, more than 100 countries have established maximum BAC limits at or below 0.05, including 25 of the 27 European Union members. Deterrent effect: The majority of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes have BAC levels well over 0.08, the NTSB noted, but research on the effectiveness of laws limiting BAC levels has found that lowering the BAC limit changes the behavior of drivers at all BAC levels. Thus, reducing the BAC limit could have a broad deterrent effect, reducing the risk of injuries and fatalities.

Source: “Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving,” published by the NTSB

you’re drunk.’ If they’re below, we let them go,” he said. Although citations can be issued at lower levels in certain circumstances. “The per se limit for a ‘drunk driver’ is a 0.08 BAC, but you can be charged with a DUI at lesser levels, if say, you were involved in an accident,” Shoemaker said, a charge called “DUI Less Safe.”


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Originally Published September 22, 2013

Rocking with her memories Donated chair comes full circle Story by SAVANNAH KING sking@gainesvilletimes.com

Photos by SCOTT ROGERS srogers@gainesvilletimes.com

Sylina LiBasci remembers the night before the accident. It was 1997 and her two young sons had seen someone being put into the back of an ambulance earlier that day. The boys, 4-year-old Caleb and 2-year-old Benjamin LiBasci, had a lot of questions. “Caleb said ‘Am I going to heaven in an ambulance?’” LiBasci said, recounting the conversation with her sons. “I said ‘No honey, you’re not going to heaven in an ambulance. Ben said ‘Well, I’m going to heaven in an ambulance.’ And I said ‘Nobody is going to heaven in an ambulance.’” The next morning, LiBasci, the boys and her daughter Wesli, then 10 years old, loaded up in the family’s minivan. While turning left from Memorial Park Drive onto Browns Bridge Road, the van was struck by a garbage truck. Caleb died instantly. Benjamin died three days later. Today, the site is marked by a traffic light. After the accident, Ann Gainey, executive director of Choices Pregnancy Care Center, was one of the first people LiBasci called. The women had grown close over the years. LiBasci attended postabortion classes and volunteered at the center after having an abortion when she was 18 years old. She had already given birth to her first child, Wesli, at age 16. At age 22, LiBasci found herself in another crisis pregnancy with Caleb and considered having another abortion. A few months after his birth, LiBasci married Joey LiBasci and chose to become pregnant with Benjamin. The couple and their three children lived in Gainesville. And in one day, one accident changed their lives. At the boys funeral, LiBasci stood before nearly 1,000 people and told the story of how she had to make choices about her sons. “I talked about their lives, how I chose to keep Caleb and I didn’t doubt for a minute that it was only a test,” LiBasci said. “He was only mine for a short window of time. Benjamin was on life support for the weekend. We took him off life support because of head injuries. They both died of massive head injuries. I told the story of how I had to make that choice of life again. This time it was out of our hands, but we still had to turn the machines off.” LiBasci said she relied on her faith to see her through the tragedy. After her loss, she thought she was finished having children. A year later, LiBasci and her husband — who are now divorced — learned she was pregnant with her fourth child. As her due date inched closer, she and her midwife talked about how the recently remodeled labor and delivery rooms at Northeast Georgia Medical Center didn’t have rocking chairs for women to labor in. “I thought, you know, the one thing I could do to honor my kids is to give the girls who are bringing life into the world something to rock in,” LiBasci said. “That’s how we ended up investing in the rocking chair and donating it to the hospital.” A heart is carved along the top of the oak rocking chair. A small, bronze plaque engraved with Caleb’s and Benjamin’s names hangs on the back. LiBasci labored in the rocking chair for her daughter Lydia’s birth. Since then, she has had three more children. Her youngest is 4. In the years since she donated the rocking chair, LiBasci wondered about the whereabouts of the chair. Throughout the years, the hospital remodeled and redecorated its labor and delivery rooms; the rocking chair had become lost. LiBasci said she assumed the chair had been thrown away. It was worn from use even when she labored in it. This summer, Gainey toured the hospital’s warehouse that holds used and unneeded furniture and medical equipment. The hospital allows nonprofit organizations to select items it needs from the warehouse periodically. While Choices Pregnancy Care Center and hospital staff members sifted through the warehouse contents in search of equipment the center could use, Gainey broke away. “Like most warehouses, it was dimly lit,” Gainey said. “It’s kind of like a maze. ... I was walking in a

Sylina LiBasci relaxes in a rocking chair she donated to the Northeast Georgia Medical Center women’s center 20 years ago. Choices Pregnancy Center Director Ann Gainey discovered the chair in disrepair inside the hospital’s warehouse and had it restored.

Sylina LiBasci, right, chats with Ann Gainey while sitting in a rocking chair she donated to the medical center years ago in memory of her two boys. Gainey recently found the rocker, had it restored and returned it to LiBasci to use.

different direction. You know how you talk to yourself sometimes. I was thinking ‘Why did I go down this end to this cul-de-sac. I’ll just have to turn around and come back.’” In the dim light, Gainey caught sight of a slight, bronze-tinted glimmer and went over to investigate. She immediately recognized the

names engraved on the dull plaque on the back of a broken rocking chair. Gainey brought the wornout rocking chair to the center and started telling Jennifer McCullough, a volunteer client advocate, the story of the chair and how excited she was to find it and return

it to LiBasci. McCullough said her father, Steve Lamphear, a carpenter in Jefferson, would be happy to refinish the chair at no cost. “It was so neat,” Gainey said smiling. “I called her and I said ‘Sylina, I have a present for you, but I’m not going to tell you what it is. You have

to come to the care center because that’s where it is.’ I closed that door and she came in and it was just standing in the hall. I said ‘Sylina, do you remember you and Joey giving a chair to the hospital years ago.’ And she said ‘Yes, and I’ve always wondered what happened to it.’” LiBasci said she can’t help but cry when she thinks about the chair and everything it means to her. Gainey handed LiBasci a tissue to wipe away her tears. “It was like the closest, most intimate detail brought back to you from a life you can’t go back and get,” LiBasci said. “... The story in itself is just a treasure for me. The fact that I had the boys and they’re gone. The rocking chair was a monument to them, in memory of them. And it made its way back to me by way of people who care.” LiBasci said she’s cleared a space for the chair in her new home. She said she wants to take her children into her lap and rock them regardless of their age. She said she’ll certainly be rocking her 4-year-old son and 3-year-old granddaughter in the chair. LiBasci said she’ll never understand why life works out the way it does, but she appreciates the small things, like rocking her children in a gift from a friend. “This part of my life changed me forever. I’m not the same. I’ll never be the same. I try not to take days for granted. And things like this,” LiBasci said, taking a deep breath and running her hands along the chair’s rails. “You know, this is truth and proof that it’s not all about what I know.”


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Sunday, January 26, 2014

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Thank you Braselton for a Great 2013! Experience and Expertise Matter

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Braselton Office 5875 Thompson Mill Rd. Suite 310, Hoschton, GA

Braselton Endoscopy Center 5875 Thompson Mill Rd., Suite 320 Hoschton, GA

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