South Mississippi Olympian among the year’s top newsmakers

By MICHAEL NEWSOM/THE SUN HERALD

GULFPORT — A South Mississippian who won Olympic gold, a former Hancock County official and his family caught up in a corruption scandal and a mother and daughter who pleaded guilty to bank robbery were among 2012′s biggest newsmakers.

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of those figures who made big news in South Mississippi this year:

n Brittney Reese. The Gulfport High School graduate and former Ole Miss track star became the first U.S. woman to long jump her way to Olympic gold since 1988. Reese, who had dedicated her medal to the people of Mississippi and the Gulf Coast still rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, said following her jump “I wanted to come out here and do that for them.”

n “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts. The TV personality announced in June she’d been diagnosed with a blood and bone marrow disease, which resulted from chemotherapy she received to fight breast cancer. Roberts sister, Sally-Ann Roberts, donated bone marrow, which Roberts received in a transplant in September.

n After almost 11 years leading the state port at Gulfport, Executive Director Don Allee resigned in October. Allee said the timing of his departure seemed right and he was considering a couple of other opportunities in the maritime transportation business.

n Gov. Phil Bryant. The first-term governor took office in January, and made news this year like many other Republican governors, for his opposition to “Obamacare” and also the expansion of Medicaid, which became optional for states following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year. He also made headlines in South Mississippi when he pushed for quicker action on issues stalling development at the Port of Gulfport. He expressed concerns about aspects of the plan, and also worried about the chance of losing $500 million in federal money if the plan didn’t move fast enough.

n Former Hancock County Road Manager Roger Ladner, his wife and two brothers pleaded guilty for their alleged roles in a post-Hurricane Katrina scheme involving nearly $1.3 million in kickbacks. Earlier this month, Roger Ladner was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to help make $1.1 million in restitution to FEMA. His wife, Sharon Ladner was sentenced to a two-year prison term and fined $15,000 for falsifying records in a federal

investigation.

Roger Ladner’s brother, Billy Wayne Ladner, received a three-year, three-month prison term and was ordered to help Roger Ladner repay $590,058. Donald Ray Ladner, the official’s other brother, was given six months in prison and ordered to help Roger Ladner repay $291,790.

n The mother and daughter tandem — Evie Mearlene Herrin and her daughter Amelia Darci Crew — made national news after a robbery at a Gulfport Regions Bank in March. They were arrested just a few minutes after the holdup, and in September, they notified court officials they intended to accept a plea agreement in the armed robbery. The two women, who were living in Cleveland, Texas, were accused of getting $12,000. The two are expected to be sentenced Jan. 7, and face up to 25 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000.

n Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Executive Director Bill Walker. Walker made headlines during the federal and state probes of his agency this year, which are ongoing. The Investigative Audit Division of the State Auditor’s Office is conducting a review and the Inspector General for the U.S. Interior Department is auditing the agency. Walker announced late this year he plans to retire by June, but Friday the Commission on Marine Resources indefinitely suspended him without pay, pending the outcome of the investigations.

n Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd. A July shooting at the Jackson County Narcotics Task Force’s Pascagoula office wounded an agent. Byrd didn’t release the information about the shooting at the time, but after the news broke, Byrd described it as accidental. Later, Sgt. Jackie Trussell, who was then head of the task force, was indicted on a misdemeanor charge of simple assault. Among other news, Byrd also garnered headlines in January for shooting out a tire during a pursuit which ended with the capture of a Texas fugitive bank robber, Steven Ray Milam, who was dubbed “the Handsome Guy Bandit.”

n U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo. The congressman was dogged by criticism from the TEA Party and other constituents that he hadn’t been accessible enough since being first elected in 2010. Palazzo took issue with those criticism saying he uses Facebook, Twitter and every other method available to reach his constituents. The congressman easily won re-election in November over his three opponents, who ran mostly low profile, cash-strapped campaigns.