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Orangeburg man guilty of trying to kill officers

An Orangeburg man will spend 20 years in state prison for trying to kill two Cayce police officers. After that, he’ll spend an additional 10 years in federal prison.

Eugene Jonathon James, 23, pleaded guilty on Tuesday in the Lexington County Courthouse to two counts of attempted murder and one count each of failure to stop for blue lights, possession of a stolen pistol, possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a violent felony, possession of a stolen vehicle and speeding, according to the office of S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Circuit Judge Debra R. McCaslin sentenced James to a negotiated 20-year sentence, which will run consecutive to the 10-year federal sentence he received in April 2019 for unlawfully being in possession of a pistol.

Each of James’ charges stem from his May 27, 2017 encounter with two Cayce police officers.

At approximately 12:36 a.m., Sgt. Evan Antley and Officer Roy Barr attempted to make a traffic stop on a vehicle they saw speeding down Knox Abbott Drive in Cayce.

The vehicle fled and officers chased it across the Blossom Street Bridge and into Columbia.

Denmark man shot in leg

A man was shot in his leg on Poplar Street in Denmark around 11 p.m. Saturday, according to Denmark Police Chief Leroy Grimes.

At one point, the driver of the vehicle appeared to stop, but when officers approached, the vehicle took off again.

The vehicle stopped near the Riverwalk where James, the only occupant in the vehicle, disregarded officers’ commands for him to stop.

According to Wilson’s office, “James jumped out of the stolen car and ran down a footpath on the Riverwalk before jumping into the brush and waiting in the ditch for the officers to approach. Once James was spotted by the officers, he began firing at them with a stolen pistol. Both officers were able to return fire, but each received non-fatal gunshot wounds.”

James was arrested in a wooded area with a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson at his feet. James had also been shot, according to Wilson’s office.

Further investigation revealed the car James was driving was stolen during a carjacking in Orangeburg on May 14, 2017. The serial number of the firearm had been burned in an attempt to obliterate it, but it was determined that the gun had been stolen during the theft of a Jeep in Orangeburg on May 15, 2017.

A ballistics examination of the firearm matched it to the fired bullet recovered from an officer’s bulletproof vest and to a May 16, 2017, shooting incident in Orangeburg.

Federal law prohibits James from possessing firearms and ammunition based upon an April 2017 conviction in Orangeburg for third-degree burglary.

Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein sentenced James under the Youthful Offender Act not to exceed five years, suspended to two years of probation.

At the time of the Cayce incident, James was also out on bond for unrelated armed robbery and weapon charges stemming from a March 2017 incident in Richland County.

During the sentencing hearing on the federal charge, the court heard from one of the officers who was shot and from the officer’s wife.

His wife said, “As a law enforcement officer’s spouse, we know the risks our loved ones take when they strap on their body armor and kiss us on the way out of the door. We know that may be the last kiss. We pray for their safety and their safe return home.

“As a spouse, we dread phone calls in the middle of the night and knocks on the door – especially when our loved ones are working. My nightmare became reality with one simple phone call.”

U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs sentenced James to the statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison for the federal weapons charge. There is no parole in the federal system.

US life expectancy in 2020 saw biggest drop since WWII

NEW YORK — U.S. life expectancy fell by a year and a half in 2020, the largest one-year decline since World War II, public health officials said Wednesday. The decrease for both Black Americans and Hispanic Americans was even worse: three years.

The drop spelled out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is due mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, which health officials said is responsible for close to 74% of the overall life expectancy decline. More than 3.3 million Americans died last year, far more than any other year in U.S. history, with COVID-19 accounting for about 11% of those deaths.

Black life expectancy has not fallen so much in one year since the mid-1930s, during the Great Depression. Health officials have not tracked Hispanic life expectancy for nearly as long, but the 2020 decline was the largest recorded one-year drop.

The abrupt fall is “basically catastrophic,” said Mark Hayward, a University of Texas sociology professor who studies changes in U.S. mortality.

Killers other than COVID-19 played a role. Drug overdoses pushed life expectancy down, particularly for whites. And rising homicides were a small but significant reason for the decline for Black Americans, said Elizabeth Arias, the report's lead author.

Other problems affected Black and Hispanic people, including lack of access to quality health care, more crowded living conditions, and a greater share of the population in lower-paying jobs that required them to keep working when the pandemic was at its worst, experts said.

Life expectancy is an estimate of the average number of years a baby born in a given year might expect to live. It’s an important statistical snapshot of a country’s health that can be influenced both by sustained trends such as obesity as well as more temporary threats like pandemics or war that might not endanger those newborns in their lifetimes.

For decades, U.S. life expectancy was on the upswing. But that trend stalled in 2015, for several years, before hitting 78 years, 10 months in 2019. Last year, the CDC said, it dropped to about 77 years, 4 months.

Other findings in the new CDC report:

  • Hispanic Americans have longer life expectancy than white or Black Americans, but had the largest decline in 2020. The three-year drop was the largest since the CDC started tracking Hispanic life expectancy 15 years ago.
  • Black life expectancy dropped nearly three years, to 71 years, 10 months. It has not been that low since 2000.
  • White life expectancy fell by roughly 14 months to about 77 years, 7 months. That was the lowest the lowest life expectancy for that population since 2002.
  • COVID-19's role varied by race and ethnicity. The coronavirus was responsible for 90% of the decline in life expectancy among Hispanics, 68% among white people and 59% among Black Americans.
  • Life expectancy fell nearly two years for men, but about one year for women, widening a longstanding gap. The CDC estimated life expectancy of 74 years, 6 months for boys vs. 80 years, 2 months for girls.

More than 80% of last year's COVID deaths were people 65 and older, CDC data shows. That actually diminished the pandemic's toll on life expectancy at birth, which is swayed more by deaths of younger adults and children than those among seniors.

That's why last year's decline was just half as much as the three-year drop between 1942 and 1943, when young soldiers were dying in World War II. And it was just a fraction of the drop between 1917 and 1918, when World War I and a Spanish flu pandemic devastated younger generations.

Life expectancy bounced back after those drops, and experts believe it will this time, too. But some said it could take years.

Too many people have already died from COVID-19 this year, while variants of the coronavirus are spreading among unvaccinated Americans — many of them younger adults, some experts said.

"We can't. In 2021, we can't get back to pre-pandemic” life expectancy, said Noreen Goldman, a Princeton University researcher.

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Man with Orangeburg ties accepted to Julliard

When he was just 8 years old, Juwuan Hill stepped into the spotlight and never looked back.

"He was always different and animated," said his mother, Orangeburg native Dana Dash-Hill. "We moved to Virginia when Juwuan was in the third grade. We knew he loved singing in the choir, but his father, Jwanza Hill, and I were shocked when he wanted to try acting. We allowed him to audition for a local community theatre company. He fell in love with it.”

In ninth grade, the budding performer was accepted into the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. While there, he was exposed to various actors, directors and producers who visited the school regularly as guest speakers. Most memorable were famed entertainers Tyler Perry and Juilliard alumnus Corey Hawkins.

The Juilliard School is a world-renowned performing arts college in New York City.

SCSU mourns passing of retired theatre director

As South Carolina State University’s director of theatre more than three decades, Frank M. Mundy Jr. influenced scores of future professionals in the performing arts, as well as students in other disciplines.

"Ever since I learned that there was a Juilliard, it has been my dream to attend the school," Hill said.

As a sophomore, he transferred to Charles J. Colgan Center for the Fine and Performing Arts. And in 2019, Juwuan was awarded a scholarship to study abroad at the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England.

During his senior year at Charles J. Colgan, tragedy struck twice. COVID-19 ravaged the world and Juwuan’s maternal grandmother, Idella Crawford, was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.

"My mother traveled to Virginia to attend almost all of his plays since Juwuan began acting. She might have missed two. He was her baby. And she was his biggest supporter," Hill’s mother recounted.

Hill moved to Orangeburg to help care for his grandmother while working as a manager at Burger King and attending school virtually.

Although Juilliard was his first choice, Hill applied to and was accepted into several colleges and was awarded thousands of dollars in scholarship money. He considered accepting one of the offers. But his grandmother encouraged him to "follow his passion”. Each year, Juilliard accepts only 19 of the thousands of applicants. Hill thought his chances of being accepted were "slim to none.” But Crawford encouraged him to apply with her words and her wallet. She paid the application fee.

"You're gonna go. I believe in you." she would tell him. Unfortunately, during the audition process, Crawford succumbed to her battle with cancer.

Sixty days later, Hill was contacted by a representative from Juilliard stating that he had been accepted. He was offered a scholarship package that only covered about half of the total expenses of his first year. To raise money to cover the additional $35,000 for tuition and housing costs, Hill started a GoFundMe campaign. Through the magic of social media, the effort raised $15,000 in four days. Several news stations in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area featured the budding performer’s story and donations came pouring in.

"Random strangers have given. I can't explain the magnitude of people who say `’I don't know you, but here's $2 or $5.’”

Recently, Hill exceeded his fundraising goal and is planning to use the extra donations and scholarship monies for his sophomore year. His goal is to become a resident assistant in a couple of years to alleviate housing costs. According to his plans, Hill will complete his bachelor’s degree without accruing any student loan debt.

Hill credits his spiritual foundation for his success, deeming Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," as his favorite quote. The young actor hopes to make his mark on the world as a "versatile, well-rounded artist" similarly to South Carolina natives Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis, who is also a Juilliard alumnus.

"My ultimate goal is to become a professional actor. But I'm not just an actor. I sing. I want to produce. I want to step into the industry and break boundaries for the Black community,” he said.

Hill will move to New York and begin orientation at Juilliard in August.

“I didn’t think things like this were possible. Until it happened,” he said.

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South Carolina State University
South Carolina State University: Whitesides named to 1890 Foundation

Dr. Louis Whitesides, vice president and executive director of South Carolina State University’s 1890 programs, has been appointed to the 1890 Foundation board of directors.

The 1890 Foundation supports the core missions of teaching, research and extension across the 19 1890 land-grant universities in the United States, which are designated as historically Black colleges and universities.

The foundation works collectively with federal and private sector entities to manage resources and facilitate programs.

One of the key federal agencies that works with the foundation is the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which supports research, teaching and extension at the more than 100 land-grant universities across the nation.

With partners such as the USDA, the 1890 Foundation advocates for the collective priorities of 1890 land-grant universities, including increasing and raising awareness of emerging issues and opportunities.

“We are fortunate to have Dr. Whitesides joining our 1890 Foundation team. His proven track record of success in research and extension activities, federal funding, state and national political systems and more makes him an invaluable resource. We look forward to the experience and expertise that he will bring to our team,” said Dr. Makola Abdulla, president of Virginia State University, who also serves as chair of the 1890 Foundation.

The foundation is currently focused on establishing permanent scholarship funding for students pursing agriculture and agriculture-related degrees at the 1890 land grants, as well as gaining financial support from public and private sources for facility infrastructure enhancement, research and outreach expansion; advocating for debt relief for the nation’s Black farmers and working for the expansion of broadband in rural communities, among other priorities.

“I am honored to join the 1890 Foundation board of directors. Through this opportunity, I will work to help develop strategic programs and initiatives that seek to advance innovation in agriculture and expand our reach through public service at all 19 1890 Land Grant Universities,” Whitesides said.

In his role as vice president and executive director of S.C. State 1890, Whitesides has budgetary responsibility for over $18 million.

A federal- and state-supported program, 1890 Research & Extension conducts problem-solving research and provides quality, lifelong learning opportunities designed to help transform the lives of South Carolinians.

Whitesides is an Orangeburg native who earned a doctor of business administration in international business from the University of Sarasota, a master’s degree in business management from Southern Wesleyan University and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from South Carolina State University.

He has also completed post-doctoral training at Cornell, Harvard and Temple universities.

The 1890 Foundation was established in 2016 and operates exclusively as a non-profit organization.