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The Mayor of Christmas Town: Chester woman cherishes her Christmas village

Some people come into town to see the Christmas decorations. For Lisa Carter, the town, complete with Christmas decorations and snow, comes to her. You might say Lisa is the Mayor of Christmas Town, a miniature Christmas village that takes up space in her home.

Or, considering the miniature village looks more like a New England fishing village, we might call her miniature municipality “Christmas Harbor.”

The miniature village, comprised of many buildings, figures and other elements of a diorama that become an entire community, holds a special place in Lisa’s heart and the way she acquired it is little short of amazing.

She relates that when she was growing up, her mother had a print of “Paris Steet; Rainy Day” by Gustave Caillebotte over her kitchen table.

When her mother passed, her brother kept the painting until he passed away from cancer in 2018.

“That whole year of 2018 was terrible for our family. That fall, I wanted to buy a snow village for my grand-daughter, who was seven. I wanted to buy something with maybe 10 pieces so I was searching on Craigslist, and I saw this one Christmas village and I wrote to the lady and I told her I was in love with it, because it had a harbor, and I’d never seen a snow village with a harbor before. I’m from New England (she grew up in Connecticut), so I really loved it.

“She said, ‘You’re the person I’ve been waiting for.’ She lived past Hickory, North Carolina, so my husband Richard and I went up there and she has 16 dishwasher-sized boxes, so we really didn’t know what we had bought.

“She told me she had been collecting the village for 35 years. We didn’t know what any of the pieces were. Each piece was new to us; we had never seen any of it. The lady we bought the village from said some of the pieces were collectibles, and she was afraid of selling it out to someone who was going to sell it piece by piece, because she has spent 30 years collecting it. She said, ‘I knew you were the right one.’

As if that wasn’t enough of a sign, when the Carters started unpacking the village, one of the pieces was a fellow holding a painting. It was “Paris Street; Rainy Day” only in miniature.

“This was in a box at the bottom of everything,” Lisa Carter related. That’s when she knew the village was supposed to be hers.

Lisa’s husband Richard built display stands and helps with the wiring, but it’s the Mayor who decides where everything goes, as the village occupies displays in the dining room and winds its way into the front hall of their home. The Carter’s daughter Laryn confessed that it takes a while to set up (and after the holidays, take down) the minute metropolis.

Lisa hasn’t counted the number of buildings in the village nor has she taken a “census” of the many residents, but she figures there are about 200 small “citizens” in the town, including the ones who are inside some of the buildings.

There’s a lighthouse. There are two fishing boats in the harbor next to the bait & tackle shop. There’s a movie house, a tobacconist (complete with a cigar store Indian and leaves of tobacco curing on the front porch). Over “across the way” is a hunting lodge. Two hunters are in front talking, while unknown to them, a moose hides behind a sapling listening to them and making himself scarce. A hiker stands at the summit of a snow-covered mountain. Most of the buildings light up. So do the fishing boats. A biplane flies over the town and of course, as you might expect in a Christmas village, there’s a Santa Claus making his rounds. Just looking at the detail and the charming nature of the snowy harbor town is enough to put one in the Christmas spirit.

One of Lisa’s favorite pieces is a figure of a boy chasing a dog. Living up to the fishing village motif, the dog has a lobster clamped firmly on its fluffy tail.

“The village has a lot of interest, because each building is so different,” “Mayor” Lisa said of her town.

“We’ve had a lot of fun just playing with it and creating a place for it,” she said.

She puts most of the village down low so the little kids can see them. When they visit the village, one grandkid picks up a small cat figurine and gives the mini feline a tour of the buildings laid out before them.

“We are not a “do-not-touch” house,” Lisa says, “we are a “go ahead and touch, and if something breaks, tell someone,” house.”

Lisa wants people to get as much joy out of the village as she has.

Isn’t that what every Mayor of every town should want?

Neal is new Detention Center Director

The Chester County Sheriff’s Office has named a new Detention Center Director following the retirement of current Director Wayne Alley.

Assistant Director T Neal has been promoted to the position of Director effective Jan. 1, 2023.

Director Neal has served in the Chester County Detention Center since 2007 working in a variety of different roles. She knows the facility inside and out, and her experience at all levels makes her a perfect choice for the job. When asked about her promotion, Director Neal said, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to take the reigns. I’m confident in my ability to lead, and I look forward to using the skills I have gained to take on this challenge.”

Director Neal replaces Wayne Alley, who is retiring after 25 years of service, 19 of which he spent as Head of the Detention Center. Congratulations Director T Neal!

Hearing on McCree civil suit set for January

Three years after it was filed, aspects of the civil suit filed by the estate of Ariane McCree will finally be heard in court next month.

In November of 2019, McCree was shot and killed by the two officers in the parking lot of the Chester Walmart. McCree went to the store on the morning of Nov. 23 to get a door lock. He left without paying for the item, returned later and was going to be served with both a trespass notice and arrested on shoplifting charges. He was handcuffed and taken to a loss prevention office, where videos previously obtained by the News & Reporter showed him bull rush Nicholas Harris (an off-duty City of Chester police officer working security) and run out of the store.

He was chased through the parking lot and had a second encounter with Harris during which the officer said McCree headbutted him (it was difficult to discern form the video exactly what happened during that encounter). A witness said McCree managed to get to his car and retrieve a handgun, which he pointed at Harris. At that point, Harris did fire shots at McCree, but his gun jammed twice and he ran out of ammunition. Officer Justin Baker was en route to pick up McCree for the shoplifting charge and first heard over his radio that McCree had escaped and then heard calls of “shots fired.” He exited his car and encountered McCree, still handcuffed, who brandished his gun over his hip. After an order to drop the gun, Baker fired multiple shots, three of which struck McCree (in the arm, chest and hip). When McCree went down, Baker approached him, took the gun (which McCree had purchased in Rock Hill in 2016) from his hand and attempted to handcuff him, only to find he was already cuffed. He applied pressure to the chest wound until EMS arrived on the scene. McCree was pronounced dead a short time later.

The officers were ultimately cleared of wrongdoing by the office of State Attorney General Alan Wilson, whose office ruled the men acted in “self-defense and defense of others at the scene.”

The full report narrative said McCree had been “down” and “depressed” in the weeks leading up to the shooting. He was apparently disappointed that he had not had the opportunity to play football professionally (he was an all-conference player at Jackson State) and his usually upbeat demeanor was said to have changed after he was shot at and robbed while living in Tennessee. He had recently lost his job and was said to have been upset that he would not be able to buy his child Christmas presents. A friend of his had recently been killed and he was said to have become argumentative and was “talking out of his head.” He had trouble sleeping and may have been awake for up to a week at the time of the incident.

Vickie McCree (Ariane’s mother, listed as a personal representative of her son’s estate) brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against The City of Chester, Walmart, the two officers and the Chester Police Department (which was removed from the suit last year). The suit claimed use of excessive force and unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment and bystander liability. Further state law claims were filed for false arrest and false imprisonment, negligence, gross negligence and wrongful death. Additional claims of negligent hiring, supervision and retention were made against the City of Chester.

Federal Magistrate Paige Gossett wrote a recommendation in August siding with the officers and Walmart in their request for summary judgments in their favor. The City of Chester subsequently argued for summary judgments on the mostly the same grounds.

Harris argued he was entitled to summary judgment on the false arrest claim because he had probable cause to arrest McCree for shoplifting of petit larceny.

“The court agrees,” Gossett wrote. “To establish a…claim for false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the plaintiff must show the seizure of his person was unreasonable, i.e. he must show that he was arrested without probable cause.”

Gossett said that the McCree estate did not do so. At the time of the arrest, the information officers had indicated McCree took the lock to a cash register, told a cashier “put it on my tab” and left the store without paying. When he returned to the store, he admitted to having taken the lock without paying for it and offered to pay at that point.

“Plaintiff argues that probable cause was negated by the fact that McCree offered to pay for the door lock set when he returned to the store…However, before McCree returned, the officers already reasonably believed that McCree shoplifted the door lock set and Walmart had already decided to press charges,” Gossett wrote.

In fact, the officers could have taken McCree’s offer to pay for the lock upon returning as an admission of guilt, according to Gossett.

Both Harris and Baker argue that shooting McCree did not constitute excessive force and the court agreed with that assessment, saying courts must examine the totality of the circumstances in determining whether the force used was objectively reasonable. Other facts also gave the officers further reason to believe that McCree posed a threat according to Gossett. While handcuffed, he had already assaulted Harris inside the store and fled. He then retrieved a gun from his car and approached Harris. He pointed the gun at Harris and at that point, the officer “reasonably believed that McCree intended to shoot him because rather than fleeing the scene after assaulting Harris in the parking lot, McCree reengaged with a gun and pointed it at Harris.” The justification of the officers using deadly force never dissipated because McCree continued pointing his gun at them.

Baker was aware that shots had been fired and that Harris was out of ammunition. By the time he fired at McCree, McCree had not only refused to drop the gun when ordered by Baker, he pointed it at him.

“The law of this circuit simply does not require police officers to risk being shot when confronted with a violent, armed arrestee who is pointing a gun at them,” Gossett wrote.

The McCree estate argues that a reasonable jury could determine that McCree was never armed or that he never pointed his gun at the officers. Gossett notes, however, that the plaintiff arguments “suffer two fundamental flaws,” those being any affirmative evidence in the record to support their theory and that “any inconsistencies in the record upon which she relies are either not genuine or they are immaterial to the question of whether the officers used excessive force, or both.”

Gossett further said the plaintiff “merely assumes in her briefing that the witnesses are lying” and essentially asks the court to disregard all the undisputed evidence in the record. An argument is made that testimony from Harris is not credible because it is “self-serving.” They also seize on Harris’s testimony (from this case and his workers’ compensation claim) that injuries to his head from being headbutted by McCree have caused him to have “severe memory deficits.” The plaintiff points to instances of Harris either saying he could not remember key facts or gave inconsistent testimony.

“Plaintiff fails to point to any evidence that Harris’ memory issues have caused him to misremember the facts material to this case. Plaintiff’s insinuation that Harris is sometimes forgetful is not evidence that Harris misremembered the specific facts about this case,” Gossett wrote.

The court also agreed with Walmart’s claim that the plaintiff could not show an underlying Constitutional violation since “corporations can be held liable…if an official policy or custom of the corporation causes deprivation of federal rights by someone acting under color of state law…however, a policy or custom alone cannot sustain a claim against a corporation absent an underlying constitutional violation.” The plaintiff’s failed to show that McCree’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated by Walmart.

District Court Judge Joseph Anderson will make the determination whether to grant the summary judgment or order a jury trial. He will hear arguments on the matter in federal court on Jan. 10.

Citizens to Luck Stone: ‘Take your business and go home’

Welcome to South Carolina. Now take your business and go home.”

Sentiments such as that were in evidence as members of the community spoke in opposition to the 10 rezoning applications that Luck Companies, the parent company of Luck Stone, made to the Chester County Planning Commission in December.

As previously reported by The N&R the 10 rezoning applications encompass the Luck Companies economic development project, which includes retail and commercial space, walking trails, a restoration of Rocky Creek, a business park and a rock quarry.

There were some speakers who spoke in favor of the rezoning, but for the most part, the speakers who addressed the Chester County Planning Commission at their December meeting were opposed to the project. Presiding Planning Commissioner Nathan Smith gave speakers three minutes each to make their remarks and Luck Companies Director of Greenfield Development was given 10 minutes for rebuttal.

Here is a selection of those remarks:

Brandon Lindsey with Hoopaugh Grading Company voiced their support for Luck Companies and Chester County and the continued emphasis on responsible growth.

“Responsible growth calls for significant investment in infrastructure — roads, sidewalks, utilities, water, sewer, erosion control. All of that requires the use of materials…everything we do at Hoopaugh Grading requires the use of aggregates. Having a source for those materials is critical to being able to achieve the growth goals of the county, but having a local source is critical, given the cost of transportation and how difficult it is to find those materials.”

Jay Williams said he owns a cattle farm about a mile from the proposed location of the rock quarry.

“I am in favor of this quarry, very much so…you get up in the morning, and you set your feet on the floor, the foundation of that house is made of stone…your driveway that gets you to the road is made from a quarry…the roads you drive to work, to school and to the grocery store are made from stone from a quarry. Everything you touch in life, stone gets you there, in one way or another. People need to realize how valuable this is to Chester County.”

Craigbrow Circle resident Debbie Parsons reminded the Planning Commissioners they are “the keepers of the barn door, and once those horses get out, it’s awfully hard to round them back up and put them in their stable.

“We are asking you to deny the zoning requests being made by Luck Companies. You have previously heard our concerns regarding air quality, water levels, especially in neighborhoods like ours that have wells and septic systems, noise levels (which have been addressed in some part at this meeting), but we live where we do because we want to be in a quiet, peaceful neighborhood, where we can enjoy outdoor activities,” she said.

“We know there will also be increased traffic in our county (not necessarily on our secondary roads, but in our county). So all of those concerns we voiced previously (during the first rezoning application that Luck Stone made) still exist.”

Parsons pointed to the county is poised to take advantage of nature-based tourism. She said tourists don’t need to see or hear an unsightly quarry as they travel to destinations looking for clean air and water.

Joyce Aragon told the Commissioners she was under the impression they had denied the Luck Stone rezoning request previously (the Planning Commission recommended denial of the rezoning requests, but before Chester County Council could vote on the request for three readings, Luck withdrew the request).

“For the cost of 25 jobs (the estimated number of jobs the Luck Stone quarry project will bring in) (Luck Stone) is going to destroy hundreds of acres…I am worried about the water table. I know that was a big issue previously. My house is on a well and septic tank. I read in the newspaper if what Luck Stone was doing disturbs the water, and you lose water, they would find a way to get you some water. Where are they going to get the water from?” she asked.

Luck Stone is not going to bring “a big factory full of jobs” she said, “I don’t know why that is enough to destroy all of the property and upset all of the people in Chester over that.”

Luck Stone Kershaw and Fairfield operations plant manager Matt Pullen said he has worked with Luck Stone for over 12 years. He said the company’s mission is not centered around the product they produce, it’s on making an impact on people and not just the associates and the customers, “it’s the impact we make on our communities and our neighborhoods where we live and where we work.”

Clyde Roberts said he does not see where the quarry on land that is part of the subject of the rezoning request will do any good for anyone, not to mention how close the schools are to the project site.

He said the place for the proposed Luck Companies economic development project is at the gateway to the county, the place where any industry coming to the county is going to come down the road and see a rock quarry. If the blasting operations are above a certain level, residents will hear that as well.

Daniel Whightman, Pastor at Orrs Baptist Church said he has worked as an environmental monitor in Kentucky and Tennessee.

“I know what this dust does to people. My daughter, who is a high school runner, exercises right there where all the silica dust will coming, because it cannot be stopped in such a way as they may want to claim. The stone product might produce useful product, but it produced a by-product which is dangerous,” he said.

Addressing Luck’s Director of Greenfield Development, Whightman said, “You say you are a good-will company. If you are, I appreciate that. I’d like to tell you welcome to South Carolina. Now take your business and go home.”

Joanna Timms told the Commissioners that Luck’s own hydrogeological assessment suggests that the quarry will use 100,000 gallons of water a day. This threatens not only the hundreds of wells nearby, but also streams and lakes that support local wildlife and cattle. She said Chester Metropolitan and Chester Wastewater Recovery do not have any plans to expand the water and sewer to the Craigbrow community, and they are 100% dependent on their wells for clean water.

“There is no way that Luck Stone can guarantee there will be no contamination in the water table, since they have to use equipment into the water table to get to the granite that is below it. Water sustains life.

“I am publicly appealing to the Planning Commission to deny all of Luck’s requests…Chester County has nothing to gain for this, but much to lose.”

Joan Heid quoted several sources (including this newspaper) and said between the years 2013 and 2021 30 inspections were done on Luck Stone trucks in Virginia and there were 26 violations. She also stated according to the Loudon, Va. newspaper in the last two years Luck Stone in Virginia had four mine citations.

“The 400-500 foot deep quarry can never be filled. If Luck decided to leave town in five years or 10 years, that can’t be filled…Luck called citizens who opposed this plan “naysayers” and said some people had nothing to do but to attend meetings, and those were people who persisted with the opposition.

“If approved, they want this joint school program (for the land zoned agricultural) and they would donate 15.8 acres to Chester County. Vote not to recommend this to Chester County Council. This is for our health, our safety, the roads, everything. Quarry? No.”

Patrick Young told the Commission, “Luck Stone is not going to be a good fit for Chester. It is not worth the impact for 15-20 jobs for the impact it is going to have on our community and our neighborhood.”

Joanna Angle mentioned the Chester County Comprehensive Plan and talked about the uses for property zoned ID3, and why the parcels that Luck Stone is seeking to have rezoned to that classification don’t qualify. She said according to the county zoning ordinance “ID3 districts are intended for heavy industrial, manufacturing and processing uses, in areas isolated from residential, rural and agricultural districts. The area the wish to rezone to ID3 is in immediate proximity to more than 200 homes and three of the county’s most stable and desirable neighborhoods. They are less than one mile from one of the largest elementary school complexes in South Carolina, a public middle school, a private church school, the Chester campus of York Technical College, two churches, a public park, a golf course and a very large cattle farm. Those properties they wish to rezone are not isolated and they do not qualify for ID3.”

Landowner Trent Bagley said he started out opposed to the initial Luck Stone rezoning request. Because of his concerns over the project Bagley said he began researching ways that he could oppose and stop the requests.

“I went through the creek and I looked for evidence of endangered species, you name it, I did it. Ironically, it was that same research that now has me on their side. I’ve seen the way they make things look nice, I’ve seen their safety record when I went to the Kershaw plant, and I’ve seen their environmental and community approach, which has grown this time around.

“The truth of the matter is another company that comes may not offer these things, they may not have the same safety aspect. You’re not getting a list of qualifications from them, and they’re giving that to us. If you read through their qualifications and conditions, I believe they have addressed the possible issues head-on…I initially considered supporting Luck because I felt they were the lesser of two evils. That changed with the community outreach component they are including, such as the nature trail. If we can walk down the nature trail, and we’re not having any issues, that’s them putting confidence in their system and their operations,” Bagley said.

He said the qualifications that Luck is including with the permit are what they will have to legally abide by. County attorney Joanie Winters later reiterated this point, telling the Commissioners if they voted to recommend approval of the Luck rezoning requests, an approval also meant they were approving the requests with all of the stipulations, conditions and proffers included as part of the application.

Luck Greenfield Development Director Ben Thompson said many of the concerns expressed were addressed in the rezoning applications and some of the concerns were addresses in the studies that Luck had to complete (such as the hydrogeological study) as part of their permitting process for the DHEC permits they received.

He said as far as the appearance of the quarry, line-of-sight studies were conducted from adjoining properties and the only place where the quarry will be visible is on an overlook on the nature trail.

“Along the trail we have committed to build, there will be an overlook where people can see the quarry operations. Part of putting that trail in is so people can visibly see Rocky Creek…the creek is in pretty bad shape right now. It’s had a lot of cows in it for a lot of years…part of our plan is to make that a visible laboratory (we also do streambed restoration) so everyone in the community can see the change in the creek,” Thompson said.

He said for many of the concerns, Luck has placed the control and regulations not only in the hands of the state, but also local governments.

“The difference is the local body doesn’t have to look to DHEC (for enforcement), they can say ‘you have run afoul of your conditions, and therefore, we are pulling your permit.’

Thompson said Luck has been open to anyone to contact them, providing phone numbers and emails for anyone to contact them.

“That is something so there is visibility, and not just somebody standing at a podium professing something,” he said.

Addressing the water usage, at a question from a commissioner, Thompson responded that the water Luck uses would be recycled water, collected from pond that will be installed on the site.

“We will not be pulling water consistently from the ground,” Thompson said.

This process will be done in a manner similar to what commissioners saw at a visit to the quarry operations in Richmond, Virginia last year.

The Planning Commission voted 5-0 to recommend approval of the rezoning requests to Chester County Council.

Regarding the concerns addressed at the hearing Thompson said he believes “as part of our application, we have put our best foot forward; we’ve gone over and above what is legally required from a permit standpoint. That over and above is to hopefully address every concern that we hear. If we do hear a new concern, before, during or after (the rezoning process) we would be more than happy to engage and talk about how we can create an opportunity to address it,” he said.