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House fire claims life in Holly Hill; cousin calls victim a ‘fun-loving person’

HOLLY HILL -- A house fire claimed the life of 61-year-old Jeremiah “Jerry” Thomas on Sunday afternoon, said his first cousin Sylvia Brown-Green.

Smoke was reported at the single-story block home at 1202 Coach Road just after noon.

Holly Hill Fire Chief J.R. Bunch, the first firefighter to arrive at the scene, said he immediately noticed smoke at the front of the home, with heavier smoke at the home’s rear.

Most of the eaves were full of smoke, he said.

He opened the doors of the home to see if he could call out to anyone who may be inside, but didn’t see or hear anyone answer in reply.

Once additional firefighters arrived moments later, crews attempted to enter the home, but the intense heat pushed them back, Bunch said.

With water hoses extinguishing some of the fire, firefighters again attempted to search the home for anyone who remained inside.

Firefighters then conducted a second search of the home, finding Thomas’ body beside the bathroom, Bunch said.

No firefighters were injured during the ordeal, even as the home’s roof gave way.

In addition to the Holly Hill Fire Department, the Eutawville, Vance, Santee and Providence fire departments also responded, Bunch said.

The Orangeburg County Fire District and the S.C. Law Enforcement Division also responded.

Investigators worked into the night to try to determine what caused the fatal fire.

Brown-Green has many fond memories of growing up near the home. Their grandparents lived there years ago.

“All of us grew up right here,” she said.

“All of us played right here in the yard. Football. I was the only girl old enough to play with the boys,” she said.

“It was like seven or eight boys and I was the only girl, so I was out there playing football, climbing the trees with them and jumping the ditch,” she said.

She said her cousin Jerry was part of that group.

“He was a fun-loving person,” she said.

“He worked as a mechanic and was good at his job,” she said.

The fire remains under investigation.

Claflin has much to celebrate, Twiggs says

Claflin University’s artist-in-residence lauded the university for 150 years of accomplishments at its Founders’ Day convocation ceremony at Tullis Arena on Sunday.

Through a brief narration of the university’s history, acclaimed artist Dr. Leo F. Twiggs spoke about Claflin’s successes in art, music, architecture and leadership.

“Tingley Hall is the most distinguished building in Orangeburg,” Twiggs said when he talked about the work of the architect and Claflin alumnus William Cooke. Cooke designed the hall.

Twiggs also commended the president and first lady of Claflin, Dr. Henry N. Tisdale and Alice Carson Tisdale, for their work at the university for the past 25 years.

Twiggs said Henry Tisdale started working quickly to improve the university when his tenure began 25 years ago.

“Within the first month, he created the Center for Excellence in Science and Math,” Twiggs said. “Mrs. Tisdale revitalized the Honors College.”

Earlier this year in April, Henry Tisdale announced that he will be retiring on June 30, 2019. Alice Tisdale will be retiring with her husband.

Twiggs said the couple deserved the retirement because, “they poured their heart and soul into Claflin.”

“We weren’t just getting Dr. Tisdale, we were getting a dynamic duo,” Twiggs said, “a dynamic duo called Alice and Henry.”

After his address, Twiggs dedicated a painting of William Cooke to the university to be hung in Tingley Memorial Hall. Cooke earned a bachelor’s degree in art from Claflin University in 1956.

The theme of the sesquicentennial is “150 years: Celebrating Academic Excellence and Visionary Leadership,” Henry Tisdale said in his welcome speech.

He said the university will continue to strive to maintain its successes in financial discipline and academic achievements by faculty and students.

“Claflin has much to celebrate on this day and the days, weeks and months that will follow,” he said. “We owe it to this great institution to ensure that her legacy lives and spreads throughout the nation and the world.”

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Orangeburg lights up for Christmas

The Christmas season officially arrived in Orangeburg with the flip of a switch on Sunday night.

Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Orangeburg’s Memorial Plaza on Russell Street to usher in the holiday season.

James and Catherine Griffin had the honor of flipping the switches that illuminated the Christmas lights in the square, including the Christmas tree.

Prior to the lighting, many citizens gathered at Stevenson Auditorium for the Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association’s Christmas program.

Those in attendance were entertained by several performances, including appearances from the Edisto Elementary Sensational Singers, the singing of “Silent Night” by Alyssa Lentz and a ballet routine from “The Nutcracker” by Aniyah Green.

At the conclusion of the program, attendees exited the theater and walked into a winter wonderland as snow flurries -- made of soap – were falling from the sky.

Little Elliot Jones and his mother Taylor attended both events. Elliot said he was excited to see the lights.

When asked if he had a fun time, Elliot replied with a simple “yes.”

Elliot said his favorite parts of the night were the “choo-choo train” display and the Christmas tree.

Elliot is glad that Christmas is right around the corner and he has one big gift on his list. He is hoping to find a “Thomas and Friends Bike,” under the Christmas tree next month.

Taylor Jones said she enjoyed herself as much as her son did at the night’s events, noting that Elliot told her it was “the best night ever.”

“I really enjoyed the entire community coming together,” Jones said.

“I’m always looking for good, wholesome entertainment to take him to and for him to grow up remembering these things,” she said.

The lights at the square are not the only lights that were lit during the ceremony.

Light displays at the Edisto Memorial Gardens were also turned on as a part of the holiday season.

The lights will be shining from through Jan. 1. The Children’s Garden Christmas will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. daily and the Kids Walk will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. Traffic will be one way on Riverside Drive from the Lady Fountain on Russell Street to the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center daily.

Those who want a picture with Santa Claus himself will have the opportunity to do so at the gazebo located in the gardens. Santa will be at the gazebo from 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 23-24, Nov. 30, Dec. 1, Dec. 6-7, Dec. 13-14, and Dec. 18-22.

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Man lures teen via Instagram, gets prison; attempted murder charge dropped

An Orangeburg man pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and will serve prison time as a result.

Thomas Weslie Emery, 24, admitted in court earlier this month that he had sex with a 15-year-old girl on April 22, 2017.

Circuit Judge Ed Dickson sentenced him to nine years in prison, provided that after he serves five years in prison, the balance of the sentence will be suspended to five years of probation.

Emery must also register as a sex offender.

According to an Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office incident report, the teen told deputies that she and Emery began communicating on Instagram, a social media platform.

She said Emery messaged her and said she was pretty and that he wanted to see her photos on Instagram.

She then gave Emery her cellphone number and the two began texting each other. He began to ask her for photographs of herself.

They later met and he asked her to steal an item from her family, she said.

He allegedly told her, “If you don’t do what I want you to do, I will post your number, address and pictures on Facebook.”

She said that she and Emery met at 2 a.m. on April 22.

When she was inside of his vehicle, he asked her to engage in sex and that if she didn’t, then he would “post all of her information on the internet,” the report states.

She told deputies she had sex with him so he wouldn’t post her photos on the internet.

She also told deputies that Emery told her that she had until Friday of that week to come up with some money so that he wouldn’t go back to jail.

As part of Emery’s plea agreement, prosecutors dropped a 2015 charge of attempted murder.

Emery faced an attempted murder charge for allegedly firing a gun three times at his brother.

Prior to his attempted murder charge in 2015, he pleaded guilty to grand larceny and burglary.

At that time, Dickson sentenced him to five years in prison, suspended to two years of probation.

His probation was scheduled to end on July 22, 2020.

Emery’s burglary charge stems from an incident on Jan. 16, 2013.

His grand larceny charge is from an incident on Jan. 22, 2014, when he and three other men were arrested on charges related to the theft of golf carts from a Cordova man’s residence.