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Cops: Unlocked vehicles an invitation to crime
 lhobbs  / 

It is a simple enough crime, really. And the rewards can be quite lucrative.

The thieves walk softly through quiet neighborhoods, under the cover of still, dark nights. They target vehicles parked outside of homes, and their success depends largely on us.

“They very rarely use forced entry into a vehicle,” said Capt. Tom Jump of the Glynn County Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Unit. “They will walk a neighborhood, just checking door handles; and they’re pretty successful at it. Some neighborhoods get hit pretty hard.”

Just ask the folks in the Clearwater community off of U.S. Highway 17 in southern Glynn County. A resident called police at 2:15 a.m. on Feb. 22 to report that a pair of culprits in dark clothing with backpacks were burglarizing a vehicle on Coral Cove. Officers responded quickly, but the thieves were long gone. However, in their search for the suspects police officers discovered the thieves had pilfered through at least seven other vehicles in the neighborhood.

Last October, a woman called police to report that thieves had rummaged through her vehicle overnight in the Deckhouse apartments, on Reef Road off of Golden Isles Parkway. Responding police discovered six other cars in the apartment complex’s parking lot also had been hit.

This is a common enough occurrence throughout Glynn County and Brunswick, from the western mainland neighborhoods to St. Simons Island. The pattern is familiar to police: Thieves in the night go prowling neighborhoods in search of unlocked vehicles. Typically, several vehicles are rummaged through on the same street, or in the same community. Not only are the vehicles unlocked, but the valuables left inside range from cash to electronics to jewelry and handguns, according to report.

One unfortunate fellow in a downtown Brunswick neighborhood recently left $500 cash in an unlocked vehicle. It turned out to be easy money for a larcenous night stalker.

“It’s crazy,” Brunswick Police Chief Kevin Jones said.

Auto burglary is the ultimate crime of opportunity, one that can be effectively combatted with a basic precaution.

“It’s obvious, just lock your vehicle’s doors,” Jump said. “If folks just checked their doors to make sure they are locked before they go to bed at night, it would help a lot. Most of them can just hit the key remote to make sure it’s locked before they go to bed. And that would help a lot.”

But it is plainly obvious that far too many people do not bother. County police confirmed 399 vehicle burglaries in 2018. Police arrested 17 adults and one juvenile in those 2018 cases. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 27 of this year, police have confirmed 51 auto burglaries, with one adult and four juveniles arrested.

Brunswick police report similar problems in the city. Police handled 107 auto burglaries in 2018, with the total value of stolen booty as a result totaling $69,523, department records show. The 11 auto burglaries reported this year have cost the victims an estimated $8,054 in losses. Brunswick police made seven arrests in those cases last year, and have arrested two suspects so far in 2019, records show.

The perpetrators are amateurs, at best. Sometimes it is just kids, juvenile delinquents, Jump said. More often than not, however, the crime of auto burglary is committed by drug addicts, Jump and Jones concur. From the $40 cash stolen late last year out of a pickup truck on Brentwood Circle to the Smith & Wesson .357 handgun stolen from a Jeep Wrangler in the Satilla Shores community in February, addicts often find what they need to get their next fix waiting inside unlocked vehicles, Jump said.

“Usually, the people out there doing this are drug addicts,” he said. “And, of course, they’re just going to go trade it on the street for drugs.”

And stolen guns that that are bartered for drugs almost always end up on the wrong side of the law, Jones said. Folks who keep guns in their vehicles are especially encouraged the lock up and keep valuables out of sight from prying eyes, he said. Such as the Smith & Wesson 9 mm handgun stolen last August from a GMC pickup truck on Pinehaven Circle. The victim told police the gun was valued at $400.

“The worst thing is the guns,” Jones said. “If they are stolen, guns can and will be used in crimes. Guns are the biggest commodity our there for gangs and drug dealers. That is their highest trade item for the drugs that addicts need. It is basically a higher commodity than cash.”

Sometime between midnight and dawn tomorrow, it is likely these thieves still strike again in a neighborhood near you — taking what we give them.

“I don’t know how they pick their spots, but it is random,” Jump said. “But a lot of this would go away if people would do one simple thing — lock the doors.”

Said Jones: “The majority of the entering autos can be prevented just by locking the doors and not leaving valuables in plain sight. We live in different times now.”

Local student named Boys & Girls Club's Youth of the Year for Georgia
 lmcdonald  / 

Damaria Gurley has not let the obstacles she’s faced define her.

The Brunswick High School senior has chosen instead to grow from life’s challenges. And since the age of 6, much of that personal growth has taken place at the local Boys & Girls Club.

Gurley’s years of hard work came to fruition Tuesday when she earned the Youth of the Year title for the state of Georgia. She is the first member of the Boys & Girls Club of Southeast Georgia to earn the honor, which is the highest accolade the Boys & Girls Club offers.

“Our organization has been around almost 60 years … and we’ve never had a Youth of the Year winner for the state,” said Dayton Austin, director of operations at the Elizabeth F. Correll Teen Center in Brunswick. “So Damaria is our first. It’s a huge deal. In the Boys & Girls Club world, this is it. She’s done something remarkable and accomplished something really, really cool.”

Gurley was still reeling a bit Wednesday and feeling starstruck after her win.

“Before this accomplishment, this accolade, I’d never really given myself the credit for all the work that I was putting in,” she said.

The state competition took place Sunday through Tuesday in Atlanta. The trip also included visits to the State Capitol, where she met Gov. Brian Kemp, as well as Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Atlanta City Hall.

The contest itself consisted of going through interviews and giving a speech she wrote.

“The speech was a combination of what the club meant to you, your personal brand and how to describe yourself,” Gurley said.

The Youth of the Year award recognizes students who work hard, invest in themselves and demonstrate leadership in their schools, clubs and communities.

Gurley first competed against her peers in the Boys & Girls Club of Southeast Georgia and won Youth of the Year locally.

She now moves on to the southeast regional competition, which will take place in June.

Gurley represents thousands of students in this community who’ve attended the local Boys & Girls Club, Austin said.

“We always we try to send the kid that we feel like is the best example of what we do,” he said.

Gurley stays busy outside of the club playing sports, attending church and working. After graduation, she plans to attend college and pursue a degree in criminology and to join the United States Navy.

She said she always thought her high school graduation would be her first great accomplishment.

Gurley grew up in what she described as a violent community. She lost many loved ones when she was young. She also contracted meningitis and was told by doctors that she’d never play sports, or possibly never walk, again.

“I’ve overcome so many people telling me that I wouldn’t be anything … ‘You’re going to go to jail, you’re going to be like your siblings, you’re not going to really amount to much,’” she said. “So I’ve been able to not only make them wrong but show myself it’s possible, because I always believed that it was.”

Her speech in the competition focused on the challenges she’s faced in her life.

“I was basically just speaking on how, when you’re young and you go through so much pain, you kind of get used to it … You’re so used to pain that you know it’s going to happen again,” she said. “That’s what you’re counting on. So I kind of grew up that way.”

Time spent at the Boys & Girls Club, though, gave Gurley the encouragement she needed to pursue her passions.

She joined the Terrell Thomas Center location at the age of 6, then moved to the Needwood Middle School location before becoming a member at the Correll Teen Center.

“It’s a place where you can be yourself, and while you’re being yourself, you have other people rooting for you,” she said. “The kids, the staff, everybody in here wants to see you do good. Everybody in here wants to see everybody achieve something.”

The Boys & Girls Club’s slogan is “Great futures start here,” Austin said, and Gurley is the epitome of that idea.

“You spend five minutes with Damaria, and you can totally see where this is the beginning of something really, really special for her and for her life,” he said.

Austin hopes the community will root for her win and for her bright future.

“Hopefully this community rallies behind her and takes pride in the fact that we have a representative from a really special community that’s being recognized at the state level,” he said.

Gurley has persisted through her struggles not only for herself, she said, but in memory of the loved ones she’s lost.

“I’ll say, they were my biggest motivation,” she said. “So this was like, I did it, but I also made them proud.”

That accomplishment — making them proud — was the first thought that ran through Gurley’s mind when the judge’s called out her name as the state Youth of the Year winner.

“I kind of felt that when they called my name,” she said. “… I didn’t cry, but I was about to. If they would have kept me up there a little longer, I probably would have cried.”

The Boys & Girl Club, she said, helped her find her voice.

“That’ s my biggest take out of this — a voice — and it helped mold my leadership skills and shape my passions,” she said.

Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News 

Walkers leave the starting line.

Annual AEI event draws Pence, Pompeo, Kushner
 wwolfe  / 

The American Enterprise Institute’s annual World Forum on Sea Island — a notoriously hush-hush affair in which it would likely take a reporter with the skills of James Bond to get past security — is underway this weekend, and it’s drawn three of the bigger names in the Trump administration this year.

According to Bloomberg News, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House adviser Jared Kushner are in attendance.

Kushner took part in a question-and-answer session Thursday, and Pence arrived Friday. He’s slated to give a speech and take part in his own Q-and-A today.

Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg reported Wednesday, “The vice president plans to highlight the administration’s economic policies, and will also touch on trade, immigration, border security and foreign affairs, according to a person familiar with his plans.”

Supposedly, the 2016 event included a pow-wow of top establishment conservatives trying to figure out how to stop Donald Trump from receiving the Republican presidential nomination. However, like the orientation of the Republican Party as a whole since Trump won the nomination and the presidency, those organizing and attending appear to have also embraced the president and his policy goals.

A cursory search on Twitter revealed other attendees this year included AOL co-founder Steve Case, Jean Case — National Geographic board chairwoman and Steve Case’s wife — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.

According to Politico, also expected to attend are U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., former Vice President Dick Cheney, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett, Colombia Vice President Marta Lucia, “Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), GOP Sens. Shelly Moore Capito (W.Va.), John Cornyn (Texas), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), Rob Portman (Ohio), Tim Scot (S.C.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Cory Gardner (Colo). ….”

From the U.S. House are Republican “Reps. Dan Crenshaw (Texas), Elise Stefnik (N.Y.), Fred Upton (Mich.) and Will Hurd (Texas).” Democratic representatives include “Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Jimmy Panetta (Calif.), Tom Suozzi (N.Y.) and Jim Himes (Conn.).”

ETAs take center stage
 ladkison  / 

Jacob Eder waited in the wings, holding his guitar and shuffling his feet. On the other side the thick curtain, Dan Barella’s impressive baritone rang out through the Ritz Theater, answered by the cheer of the audience.

“I’m going to sing an Irish lullaby, ‘Danny Boy,’” Barella told the audience in his thick New York accent, before launching into full on Elvis Presley mode.

After finishing his set, Barella slipped back through the curtain, passing a high five to Eder as he took his place in front of the massive crowd.

It was clear — the Georgia Elvis Festival was in full swing. The Elvis Tribute Artists who traveled to compete in the sixth annual contest heralded from around the country. Some even journeyed from around the world. As the flurry of excitement and travel settled, the performers began to find their groove.

Riley Jenkins, who also headlined Friday night’s Elvis: The Next Generation Show, was certainly excited about what the weekend would hold. The 16-year-old Tennessee native was in his element as he watched the show from backstage.

“It’s been a little bit of a blur flying in yesterday and getting here but it’s fantastic. The fans here are really excited ... it’s definitely one of my favorites,” he said.

Jenkins has a sentimental attachment to the Brunswick festival, since he found footing in his professional career in the city.

“It’s really special to me because it was one of the first places I competed. I think that was two years ago,” he said.

“The talent we have here this year is amazing. A lot of them are guys I’ve looked up to for a long time.”

Cote Deonath, fellow headliner and current Images of the King World Champion, agreed. A Brunswick fan favorite for a number of years, Deonath was eager to put on his blue suede shoes for his evening performance.

“I’m honestly a little antsy ... I’m watching all of these guys perform, and they’re all really talented. I’m ready for it to be 8 p.m. so I can go. I’m ready to get this show on the road,” he said with a smile.

Of course, being a headliner is a little different than participating in the competition. Deonath admits that there is much less pressure in performing rather than competing.

“It’s really nice to be able to relax and just watch them,” he said with a laugh. “There are a lot of new faces this year ... it’s a great competition and Sherry Managment does a great job putting it on. It’s really top notch.”

Festival-goers who traveled to the area to attend the festival also sung the praises of the talent and festival management. While the contest took a break, fans milled through the Ritz’s lobby, giving hugs and taking selfies with performers.

Trisha Kea of Swainsboro and her friend, Diane Merchant of Milan, stood amongst the crowd, chatting with familiar ETAs.

“We’ve been here every year,” Kea noted. “Brunswick is a really great place to have it.”

“But I think this is the best one yet,” Merchant added, holding her Elvis purse. “The young guns they have this year are all great ... and the headliners.”

Atlanta residents Jeanette and Michael Wheable were equally impressed.

“It’s our fourth time here. (Michael) found the ETAs ... we didn’t even know about them,” Jeanette said, clad in a Elvis shirt. “We’re groupies now.”

The two took time interacting with the artists during Friday’s festivities. But when the music stopped, they also enjoyed perusing downtown Brunswick.

“There is just so much history here in Brunswick. We’re going to stay a few extra days and go over to Jekyll Island too,” Jeanette noted.

Third public hearing for spaceport authority
 gjackson  / 

A third public hearing has been scheduled to discuss the creation of a spaceport authority in Camden County.

The new hearing was scheduled after people complained they weren’t given enough notice to attend two public hearings held in February. The notice for last month’s meetings was issued on a Friday for both public hearings the following Tuesday.

Notice for the upcoming meeting at 5:30 p.m. on March 12 in the County Commission meeting room in Woodbine was issued earlier this week in response to a request by the county’s state legislative representatives.

The state lawmakers — state Reps. Steven Sainz, R-Woodbine, and John Corbett, R-Lake Park, as well as state Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak — also asked for additional details about the role of the authority and asked for county officials to remove the power to seek bonds, which they agreed to do.

Sainz, in a previous interview with The News, said the request is to simply to establish a spaceport authority and nothing else.

But Steven Weinkle, a Camden County resident and critic of the creation of a spaceport, said he was opposed to the proposed legislation to establish a spaceport authority. He called the third public hearing “entirely superfluous” and questioned its purpose. He also asked if any of the state lawmakers would attend Tuesday’s public hearing.

“While stripping the spaceport authority of its ability to issue revenue bonds that would fall to the taxpayers of Camden County to repay is important, your willingness to tote the bill to Atlanta takes away Camden County taxpayers right to vote on whether they want a spaceport authority at all,” he wrote in an open letter to Sainz.

Concerned citizens have circulated a petition asking for a special election to repeal the county commission’s request for create a spaceport authority.

“This repeal effort has significant momentum and I have no doubt that citizens will be successful in getting this issue on the ballot in the very near future,” he said.

The decision to introduce legislation to create an authority stops the repeal effort and tells citizens who have signed the petitions “you don’t care about their concerns,” he wrote.

“The repeal campaign is the only remedy Camden County taxpayers have to put this issue on the ballot,” he said. “You are depriving your constituents of this constitutional remedy.”