News Columns & Blogs

Joy, grief bookends for year that was 2011

The year began with the joyous arrival of a new life in Manatee County.

It ended sadly with a community grieving over the Christmas night accident that claimed the lives of two 18-year-olds.

They are the bookends for 2011, a memorable year for so many reasons.

A forgettable year for others.

Here, then, are the headlines for some of the events big and small that defined 2011 for us:

n Leah Marie Sheehan was the first baby born in 2011 in Manatee County. She brought in the New Year at 12:33 a.m. to Rachel and Aaron at Manatee Memorial Hospital.

n Lincoln Middle School agriculture teacher Kimberly Lough was named one of six recipients of National Association of Agriculture Educator Ideas Unlimited Award.

n Mark Souders, City of Bradenton fire chief for 14 years, died of a heart attack Jan. 5. He was 55. He was succeeded by Chuck Edwards.

n Pat Glass, a former county commissioner for 28 years and community leader for longer than that, was named 2011 Manatee County Distinguished Citizen, kicking off the 95th annual Manatee County Fair.

n The dismantling of the infamous Loral American Beryllium Plant, the source of so much heartache in Tallevast and a 200-acre plume of contaminated groundwater, is completed Feb. 8.

n Jane Lynch, Golden Globe winning star of “Glee,” donates $15,000 to Palmetto High School’s new rowing club. Three months later she emceed a $40,000 fundraiser for the program.

n Sister Nora Brick, Manatee County’s own Mother Teresa for her work in the migrant community, was attacked and beaten at her home on Valentine’s Day. Her accused assailant, Eliseo Ortiz, was arrested Aug. 4 in Tarpon Springs.

n Restaurateur Donna Eason passed on the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority’s controversial incentive package to relocate Ezra from West Bradenton to the SunTrust Building on Feb. 22. The DDA’s stealthy offer angered the city council, not to mention other restaurateurs.

n Tropicana announced construction of a $4 million facility to accommodate switching to clear plastic bottles.

n Fisherman Joe’s, a downtown Bradenton institution since 1992, announced it’s leaving Old Main Street, after the landlord declined to renew its lease.

n Missionary Daniel Pye was freed on St. Patrick’s Day after being falsely imprisoned in Haiti for five months. The Bradenton Christian School alum and wife LeAnn run a home for abandoned children.

n DiDi Boyd Hager is appointed ArtCenter Manatee’s executive director.

n Kenneth Ellis, a popular 61-year-old teacher and martial arts instructor at Manatee School for the Arts, was slain by an intruder at his North Port home on March 29. Katrelle D’Mario Johnson, 19, was arrested in October and charged with first-degree murder.

n The Anna Maria City Pier marked its 100th anniversary in mid-May.

n Palmetto High shortstop Granden Goetzman was a second-round selection by the Tampa Bay Rays in the annual June draft.

n Major Jamey Higginbotham retired in June as corrections bureau chief at Manatee County jail after 25 years with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. He and his family planned to buy a ranch in Oklahoma to raise 400 head of beef cattle. He was succeeded by Capt. Tony Ackles.

n Salvation Army Major Bob Parker and wife Capt. Kathy Parker left their Bradenton post to take over as area commander in Birmingham, Ala. Their successors were Major Ethan Frizzell and wife Capt. Sue Frizzell.

n The Bradenton Marauders, in only their second Florida State League season, hit the 56,000-fan attendance mark after 40 games, surpassing their total attendance the year before at McKechnie Field.

n Euphemia Haye sous chef Jamie Gregorich appeared on tumultuous Fox reality show, “Hell’s Kitchen,” in July and made it a month before being cut.

n Nearly 170 million gallons of toxically tainted water leaked over a month’s time from Piney Point’s old phosphate reservoir into neighboring waterways.

n John Acosta, 27, is freed July 17 having served more than eight years following his conviction of manslaughter for his role in the death of fellow Manatee High student James Brier during an after-school, off-campus fight Oct. 18, 2001.

n The State College of Florida, its enrollment down and tuition up, announced plans to buy a $71,000 Cadillac SUV for its top officials to use on business, but scuttled the idea in the face of public backlash.

n Army Spc. 4 Patrick Lay was killed by an IED Aug. 11 in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. The 2008 Braden River High graduate received a hero’s welcome when his body is returned to Bradenton Aug. 20.

n Sister Noelle Hart took over at Stillpoint House of Prayer, a 14th Street mission started by Sister Nora Brick, who retired after recovering from the Valentine’s Day attack.

n Jerry Koontz, 68, announced in on Aug. 31 he’s retiring after 19 years as the executive director of the United Way of Manatee County. Koontz wanted to devote himself to assisting his wife and their daughter, both severe diabetics.

n Trayon Goff, 25, and Gwenette Matthews, 38, were killed and 22 others were wounded in a mass shooting at Club Elite in Palmetto shortly after midnight Sept. 10 in one of the worst cases of violence in Manatee County history. No arrests have been made.

n The ambitious $6.2 million Bradenton Riverwalk project broke ground, another step in downtown’s revitalization blueprint.

n Jose’s Real Cuban Food, owned by Jose Baserva, appeared on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” with host Guy Fieri on Sept. 19.

n Braden River Middle’s Jim Haskins was named the county’s social studies teacher of the year.

n Norma Lloyd, beloved matriarch of Little League and softball in and around Bradenton, died Sept. 19. She was 79.

n Diana Shoemaker was named executive director of Manatee County Habitat for Humanity.

n On Oct. 20, Air & Energy plumber Jerry Laliberte found $20,000 wrapped in aluminum foil hidden in an air-conditioning duct at a Holmes Beach rental property where he was working. The money was returned to the family who inherited the house from a relative who stashed cash throughout the house.

n Manatee County commissioners approves a no-kill policy at its animal shelter, a move that inspired other counties to consider following suit.

n Dave Magley, who had 255 wins and four Final Four appearances as head boys basketball coach at Bradenton Christian, steps down Oct. 22 after 11 years at the helm.

n After the city council gave its blessing on Oct. 26, the Widewaters Group Inc., and Bradenton DDA agree on terms for a $15-20 million renovation of the historic Manatee River Hotel -- the “Pink Palace” -- that will turn it into a Hampton Inn & Suites and potentially an economic catalyst for downtown.

n Coach Dave Marino’s Palmetto Tigers beat host Southeast, 16-13, for the Class-5A District-10 championship, positioning themselves for a postseason run that ended as time ran out at Harllee Stadium in the state semifinal against Miami Norland, the eventual state champions.

n PETA suggested the Terra Ceia Village Improvement Association cancel its annual mullet toss on Nov. 12. The association told PETA to go jump in Terra Ceia Bay with a 98-0 vote and enjoyed a big turnout for its zany event.

n After years and years of waiting and more waiting, the $51.8 million Ware’s Creek dredging project officially began Nov. 14 -- though the real digging started Dec. 5.

n William Lee “Buck” Strickland, a 74-year-old Palmetto native and Parrish resident and successful grower, was named 2011 Agriculturalist of the Year during mid-November’s Farm City Week. And Cowgirl Hall of Fame trick rider Faye Blackstone was posthumously inducted into the Farm City Week Ag Hall of Fame.

n Kimora Samuel, a 5-year-old kindergartner, was killed in a hit-and-run on First Street while returning home on the evening of Dec. 5 with an aunt from an after-school program at Orange Ridge-Bullock. Kieron James, the 38-year-old driver, turned himself in two days later.

n Coach Joe Kinnan’s Manatee Hurricanes are state champs! They blow out Jacksonville First Coast, 40-0, at the Citrus Bowl on Dec. 16 and bring the school’s fifth state championship back to Bradenton.

n Found guilty Dec. 8, Delmer Smith III was sentenced to life in prison without parole last Wednesday for a March 2009 armed home invasion and kidnapping case in Sarasota. Smith awaits trial in July in Manatee County, where he is charged with murdering Kathleen Briles in August 2009 at her Terra Ceia home. He faces the death penalty.

n Brett Wagner and Joshua Rogers, Lakewood Ranch High School seniors and the best of friends from Myakka City, died two days apart after Josh’s pickup truck was struck on State Road 64 in East Manatee on Christmas. Wagner’s cousin, Terron Sanders, the only one wearing a seat belt, survived.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Please call Vin Mannix at 941-745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at Please include a phone number for verification purposes.