One news bulletin that should have been a hoax

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

I had planned to write this week’s column about the greatest April Fool’s hoaxes of all time—whistling carrots, “Big Ben goes digital” and “Internet spring cleaning” among them.

Granted, it would have been belated—just after April Fool’s Day, something I just wasn’t thinking about for last week’s paper, March 27, the Beacon’s pre-April Fool’s edition.

Instead, that was the day the startling news broke about Sheriff Ronald E. Hewett’s suspension, accompanied by a petition bearing charges of intoxication, maladministration, misuse of employees and harassment, from too many sheriff’s department employees, and so on, and so on.

For many, the announcement was jaw-dropping and eye-popping. This was a Hewett they didn’t recognize. But there it was in black-and-white, multi-page documentation and tape-recorded audio.

Since then, I’ve talked with residents who still don’t believe; their adoration of their longtime sheriff runs that deep.

Some said he was set up. Others felt there were other people involved in misdeeds, too, so they started pointing fingers at him to cover themselves.

“Don’t mess with my sheriff!” one resident told me early last year, before news about a federal grand jury investigation of his administration broke four months later. Sheriffing in Brunswick County was a lot more corrupt before he cruised in to save the day, she said.

Just this week, she was pretty much talking the same talk.

“I think he’s a fine man,” she said in a phone interview, adding, “And that is not for print.”

At least, not in any attributable form.

It was a similar scenario with other residents who didn’t want to go on record and definitely didn’t want their mug shots taken to accompany their quotes, wishes that make a reporter’s Monday a lot more difficult.

People are afraid to speak out, one woman said. But others just flat-out said they don’t believe the sheriff could be capable of the things he’s been accused of. Don’t mess with their sheriff.

Media outlets even offered citizens a chance to comment about the mess on their assorted Internet Web sites. The postings have been few and far between.

After the news broke, the mood around the county has been a lot more somber, and nobody seems to be much in a mood for joking—not on April Fool’s Day, and not in a newspaper column, either.

After months of waiting for the outcome from federal grand jury proceedings, people are finally garnering more information from the local D.A. and a Brunswick County grand jury.

And, it seems, many would be a lot happier if it were all a bad prank.

Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.