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Looking back, 1998-2000

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By Shelagh Clancy

Editor’s note: This is the next installment in a year-long series reflecting on the history of The Brunswick Beacon, which turns 50 years old this year. Twice each month, we will bring readers a glimpse into the past.

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1998
•Shrimpers along the North Carolina coast flocked to Bolivia to protest a new ban on nighttime shrimp trawling between the Cape Fear River and the state line. The ban was requested by Brunswick County fisherman to “give the ocean bottom a rest” and replenish populations.
•Officials announced Brunswick Community Hospital would be sold to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, but in July the sale fell through.
•School Superintendent Marion Wise warned county commissioners of cuts to programs if the school budget didn’t increase. The district was projected to grow by 350 students.
Wise presented test results to the board of education showing substantial gains in reading and math proficiency in third through fifth grades.
•An ambulance racing a heart patient to the hospital was sideswiped by a drunk driver and ran off the road on Holden Beach Road. Three Coastline Rescue Squad members and a heart patient were slightly injured. Calvin Thompson of Supply, driving a Lincoln Continental, was arrested.
•Christopher Benino was charged with killing his parents three hours after his mother swore out a warrant for him on an assault charge. Anthony Benino was found in his home and the suspect led police to the body of Vicki Benino in a nearby creek.
•A grand jury returned murder indictments for two men accused of killing Amy Frink in 1994. John Counts was in the Brunswick County Detention Center and John Gamble awaited trial on other charges in a New Jersey jail.
•Ocean Isle Beach police investigated a woman’s claim she was abducted outside an Ocean Isle Beach gas station. After purchasing a can of beer, the woman alleged, she was forced into her car by a man with a handgun who drove to the Supply area, crashed and fled.
•The new Shallotte post office opened for business.
•Hurricane Bonnie swept in dropping 10 inches of rain and causing $35 million in damage. Brunswick Community Hospital was forced to close after heavy damage and moved patients to Horry County during the height of the storm. A possible tornado tore off the air conditioning system and a good part of the roof.
•The Calabash town board approved a plan to split assets if voters chose to split off from the retirement community Carolina Shores. A Sept. 15 referendum then split the town into two entities.
•An operator at 911 dispensed advice on childbirth after Michelle Pena called saying her friend was in labor at home—and 30 seconds later, that she had given birth. The operator directed Pena on first aid while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
•Brunswick County experienced an 11 percent increase in building permits for single-family homes in the first nine months of 1998.
•Stuart Ingram announced plans to build a planetarium.
•Walmart unveiled plans to double the size of its Shallotte store, creating a superstore.
•A Supply man picked up two hitchhikers who pulled a gun and demanded the driver’s money. He gave them $160 and they drove the car a mile down the road where it was later recovered. Christmas presents valued at $1,400 were missing. The driver, who had borrowed the car, did not initially report it because he didn’t have a valid driver’s license. The car’s owner said he wouldn’t press charges but he wanted the presents back.

1999
•The town of Sunset Beach prepared to take legal action against the N.C. Department of Transportation for delays in planning a new high-rise bridge.
•A naked shopper frightened a teenage clerk at a video rental shop in Holden Beach. Michael Breeden of Lockwood Folly was charged with indecent exposure after attempting to rent videos wearing only socks. He had tried to buy vodka at the ABC store on Holden Beach Road a few minutes earlier. The clerks looked up his name in the video store’s accounts and alerted police.
•Tanya Wooten filed a sex discrimination suit against the sheriff’s department, accusing her supervisor, coworkers and Sheriff Ronald Hewett with creating a hostile environment for her work as a drug enforcement agent.
•The U.S. Census Bureau confirmed Brunswick County grew by 34.2 percent in the previous decade, making it the second-fastest-growing county in the state. Pender County was first.
•Commercial fishermen landed 180 pounds of fish valued at $101 million in 1998, said the Division of Marine Fisheries. Hard crabs were the leading catch.
•The South Brunswick Water and Sewer Authority sued the world’s largest operator of golf courses for paying sewer fees with a rubber check. The authority sued American Golf Corp. for submitting two bad checks in the amount of $16,188 for storm water fees at Carolina Shores Golf and Country Club.
•Two women were arrested in Sunset Beach on charges of using stolen credit cards while on a crime spree across several states, including Hawaii. The pair allegedly used a stolen credit card to lease a Lear jet and then stole the pilot’s credit cards. They were also sought on charges of having caused $16,000 worth of damage to a hotel. The two were nabbed at Sea Trail with the stolen cards.
•Odell Williamson, Brunswick County’s largest individual landowner, was indicted on charges of profiting from his former seat on the N.C. Dept. of Transportation. The indictments said Williamson used his position to pave roads that served land he owned. The charges were dropped in December due to the 80-year-old Williamson’s failing health.
•Long Beach and Yaupon Beach merged to become the Town of Oak Island, and St. James was approved as the state’s newest municipality.
•Just in time for the first week of school, the Virginia Williamson Elementary School opened on Zion Hill Road.
•Two former South Carolina police officers and their brother were charged in four Calabash bank robberies and five more in Horry County, S.C., during a seven-year period.
•Brunswick Community Hospital spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to prepare for Y2K problems, CEO Paul Schultze announced, and staff felt every contingency was addressed.
•Five men charged with the murder of Shallotte teenager Amy Frink began proceedings with the guilty plea of John Paul Counts, sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role. Frink had been stabbed, beaten, raped and run over with her own car in 1994.
•Amid much controversy, the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission instated a 30-foot buffer between new construction and any waterway, including streams and marshes. Officials said the buffers would improve water quality and reduce flooding.

2000
•Shallotte police arrested Thomas Hook who had been in the county since Hurricane Floyd claiming to be an investigator for the Marine Corps. He wore a pistol on his belt and flashed a blue light on top of his car, but it turned out “Major Hook” had five prior convictions for impersonating a police officer. He later pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and was sentenced to five months in prison and ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
•The Museum of Coastal Carolina agreed to build its new planetarium in Sunset Beach on land donated by Sea Trail.
•Former Shallotte Police Chief J.B. Buell was sentenced to 47 months in prison for conspiracy. Buell, along with five other men, pleaded guilty to stealing 18 tractor-trailers and selling their contents worth $5 million at his auction house.
•Brunswick County unemployment for March 2000 was 3.9 percent.
•More than 80 drug cases were dismissed in Brunswick County court in the wake of a drug agent’s arrest on bribery charges.
•Shallotte Middle School was named a Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education.  
•Animal Services supervisor Greg Thomas, Southport’s animal control director Charles Drew and a local resident were all bitten by a rabid cat Drew brought to the animal shelter in Supply.
•Arnold Palmer visited Rivers Edge Golf Club, signing autographs and playing eight holes on the course he helped design.
•Federal funding for beach renourishment, including $3.8 million for a project at Ocean Isle Beach, passed the U.S. House and Senate votes.