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Bamberg couple shot in heads

A man and woman whose bodies were found at Rivers Bridge State park were shot in their heads, according to Bamberg County Coroner Billy Duncan.

Janis Quintero Natos, 35 and Jamell Reggie Carter, 38, both of Bamberg, were victims of homicide, Duncan said Thursday afternoon.

They had not been seen since they left home on Dec. 12. On Jan. 4, someone discovered their bodies at Rivers Bridge State Park.

Duncan said it is believed that someone shot and killed the couple on the day they went missing.

The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the deaths.

“Our work into the matter continues. As the work is underway, it would be inappropriate to discuss any specific details,” SLED spokesman Thom Berry said.

Anyone with information on their deaths is asked to contact the Bamberg County Sheriff’s Office at 803-245-3000 or 803-245-3018, Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC or SLED’s Low Country Regional Office at 843-782-3822. Callers don’t have to provide their names.

Shutdown hits Orangeburg fish hatchery, other work continues

The National Fish Hatchery in Orangeburg is closed to the public, with a locked gate barring entry onto its premises as the partial federal government shutdown continues.

The shutdown has prompted the hatchery, which is overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to enact a shutdown contingency plan.

"We have seven employees," said Kurt Eversman, the hatchery's project leader. "At this time, four employees are in furlough status and three including me are in 'excepted' status, working intermittently to fulfill our responsibilities for raising and taking care of the fish we are raising here at the hatchery."

"This is the only work taking place during the lapse in appropriations," Eversman said.

The federally supported fish hatchery says its mission is to, “protect and enhance endangered and recreational fish species and their habitats.”

The facility occupies approximately 250 acres in Orangeburg County. It is one of two federally supported hatcheries in the state.

The hatchery has two units here. The main station is located on Lakeview Drive just outside the city limits while a substation is on Cannon Bridge Road south of Orangeburg.

It is part of a network of more than 70 federal fish hatcheries located across the country.

For other federal agencies and groups depending on them in Orangeburg, it is largely business as usual.

S.C. Department of Social Services spokesperson Marilyn M. Matheus said there will be no impact on services or benefits through February.

To protect SNAP participants’ access for February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working with states to issue February benefits earlier than usual.

Food stamp recipients will still receive food stamps through the month. Other programs focused on child nutrition, including school lunch and breakfast programs, will continue operating into March.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children has prior year funding which the USDA will begin to distribute to the state this week in order to provide February benefits.

Hours and staffing will remain unchanged at the Orangeburg DSS during the shutdown.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are also not affected by the shutdown, meaning Medicare and Medicaid benefits will remain in place.

That’s because Congress has already passed five of its major appropriations bills, funding about three-fourths of the federal government, including the Department of Health and Human Services. This funding is in place until September.

Social Security operations will not be affected because, “we received our full FY 2019 appropriation on Sept. 28, 2018," U.S. Social Security Administration spokesman Frank Viera said in a prepared statement.

"Social Security services and offices will remain fully operational, and Social Security benefits will be paid on time,” he said.

Orangeburg County Veterans Affairs Officer Kenisha Grimes said the shutdown has also not impacted any veterans’ services or benefits.

The U.S. Congress approved funding for veterans’ services in September of 2018. Veterans’ benefits are funded through September 2019.

Office hours and staff will not be reduced no matter how long the shutdown lasts, Grimes said.

"The government shutdown will not affect us no matter how long the shutdown runs," she said. "I am funded by the county."

While the office may remain open and provide services, veterans’ benefits are federally funded and could be in jeopardy if the shutdown lasts past September.

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Suspect has criminal history; Denmark man charged in shooting death appears in court

A 55-year-old Denmark man accused of murder has a criminal history dating back to 1989.

Stanley Lee Dixon of 5153 Carolina Highway has been charged in the death Louis D’mitri Patrone Wise, 40, of 1045 Locust Avenue, Denmark.

Wise’s body was found in the cemetery at Slab Landing Road and Avalon Court on Dec. 26. The Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office alleges that Dixon shot and killed him.

Dixon appeared before Orangeburg County Magistrate Don West on Thursday. He will remain at the Orangeburg County Detention Center until a circuit judge considers setting his bond on the murder charge.

Several of Wise’s family and friends attended Dixon’s hearing on Thursday afternoon.

West asked Dixon how long he’s been a resident of Denmark.

Dixon said he’s lived there since 2010 or so, but that he’s originally from St. Matthews.

He also told the court that he wasn’t employed regularly, but did odd jobs.

Dixon has a lengthy criminal record.

According to S.C. Law Enforcement Division records, Dixon had two convictions for shoplifting and simple assault in 1989.

In 1994, the Charleston Police Department charged Dixon with assault and battery with intent to kill. Two years later, Dixon pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.

A judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison, provided that after he served five years, the balance of the sentence was to be suspended to five years of probation. According to the Charleston County Public Index online, Dixon received credit for 83 days he served in a psychiatric ward.

Dixon also pleaded guilty that year to charges of disorderly conduct and shoplifting.

In 2009, Dixon pleaded guilty to first-offense possession of methamphetamine or cocaine base in Orangeburg County. He was originally charged with possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine near a school.

A judge sentenced him to prison for three years, but suspended the sentence to two years of probation.

Dixon pleaded guilty to littering over 500 pounds in 2015.

Dixon emptied the contents of a septic tank on private property on May 31, 2014, even though the property owner told him not to do it.

A judge sentenced him to one year in prison, but reduced it to six months of probation.

Lt. Lakesha Gillard is leading the ongoing investigation into Wise’s death.

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Bamberg County Council
Chairman: Federal government shutdown causing financial hardship for Bamberg County

BAMBERG -- Bamberg County is starting to feel the pinch of the federal government shutdown and wants its legislative representatives to know it.

Those concerns were expressed at Monday night's Bamberg County Council meeting.

Council Chairman Trent Kinard has written letters to lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, about the impact of the shutdown, which he advised them is "causing financial hardships on Bamberg County."

For example, the county applied for and received three new fire trucks through a federal grant/loan package from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which were to be delivered in March. Now, the county can't get that money, Kinard said.

In his letter, he wrote that "other applications through the USDA are to finance a new fire station and provide crucial health and safety upgrades to our county courthouse," but have come to a standstill under the ongoing shutdown.

"I'm sure you are aware of the difficulties this creates for our impoverished county and its budget, which is already considerably overwhelmed by other shortfalls and mandates at the state level," Kinard wrote the lawmakers, urging that "every effort" be made to end the shutdown.

County Administrator Joey Preston on Tuesday said, "We deal with the USDA, and the USDA has pretty much closed up shop. There's no one there to work with us or take our calls, process our loan applications, our grant. We got three fire trucks approved through them. We got three grants and a loan for the fire trucks.

"We can't get our money, and then we're waiting on approval for the fire department down right outside of Ehrhardt. Of course, they're not able to keep that moving, and then I can't submit the application for the courthouse (upgrades). So the government shutdown is affecting us there."

Preston added, "We wanted to notify our senators and House members formally to let them know how this is ridiculous now. They need to get the government back up and running again."

Also during the meeting, county Probate Judge Sarah Guess Noel swore in recently re-elected Council members Sharon Hammond, District 1; Larry Haynes, District 3 and Evert Comer Jr., District 6.

Council followed up the swearing-in by recognizing Rev. Isaiah Odom for his 40 years of service as a council member.

Also, Kinard was unanimously voted in as council chairman, and Hammond was elected council vice-chairperson.

In other business, Preston reported the county received another $300,000 grant from the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission for continued upgrades at the Bamberg County Airport.

Council members also heard from Bamberg County First Steps Executive Director Pauletta Plowden, who said the First Steps Children and Parents Sharing (CAPS) Program has been endorsed by the Parents as Teachers National Center as a Blue Ribbon affiliate.

The designation recognizes the program as one of the top performing home visiting affiliates within the international Parents and Teachers program network, she said.

"Sometimes parents don't need a handout but a hand up, and so we try to focus on those things. We ensure a variety of resources to assist their efforts outside of our basic two home visits a month," Plowden said.

Council also heard a presentation from Denmark Technical College President Dr. Christopher J. Hall, who said he was thankful for the funds that were provided to the college with the addition of one mill to the county's fiscal year 2019 budget.

"It's the first time in the history that any of the counties we serve have done that. So, for me, it was groundbreaking and it shows how committed they are to supporting the college," Hall said in an interview Tuesday.

Preston on Tuesday said that the amount of one mill totals "somewhere between $26,000 and $27,000" and that part of the requirements to receive the funds is that Denmark Tech can only use them for its physical plant and property.

"They've complied with everything. And then what we do is allocate to them the amount of the mill that we've collected to date ... . They'll be getting quarterly payments," the administrator said.

Hall also reported on the college's upcoming homecoming to be held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1-3. A Career Day and the Presidential Scholarship Gala, which raised approximately $35,000 last year, will be among Friday's activities, with an annual parade and two basketball games set for Saturday.

The Denmark Tech president said the college has also engaged a consultant to help craft a new strategic plan and wanted the council to be included as part of the process. 

"The college has a strategic plan that was created back in 2015 and was supposed to go through 2020. But I believe that the college situation has changed and we need a new strategic plan to really look at where we are and where we want to go," Hall said, noting that the college had approximately 50 dual-enrollment students from area high schools last semester.

Dual enrollment is a program allowing high school students to take college courses and receive credit for doing so.

"Denmark Tech was also selected for the ManuFirst SC grant. In partnership with the Department of Commerce, several technical colleges from around the state were awarded this grant ... to train individuals in Lean Manufacturing ... at no cost to the students," Hall said. Classes are set to begin on Jan. 15. 

Lean Manufacturing is a systematic method for waste minimization within a manufacturing system without sacrificing productivity.

Also during the meeting, the council:

  • Heard a report from SouthernCarolina Alliance Senior Project Manager Darrell P. Booker that the nine projects are currently actively considering locating in Bamberg County, with the county receiving a total of 10 site visits last year.
  • Reappointed to the Thoroughbred Country Tourism Advisory Committee: Jerry Halmon, with his term expiring January 2022, and Rena Riddle, with her term expiring January 2023.
  • Heard Bamberg County Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Bell report on upcoming events, including the RURAL STRONG Business Resource Expo for small business owners and farmers, which will be held from 8:30 a.m. to noon Thursday, Jan. 17, in Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College's Roquemore Auditorium.