The 5 biggest, most-read stories for DeKalb County in 2019

DeKalb County saw its fair share of weird news in 2019, from clouds of cash on I-285 to viral crime stories. There were also stories that warmed our hearts, or made us think critically about the history behind the places we call home.

With another year behind us, we took a look back at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s five most important and most-read stories from DeKalb County in 2019 (and one honorable mention).

21 Savage arrested

It was a hip-hop news story. It was a national immigration story. But it was also a DeKalb County-centric story. The rapper 21 Savage always called DeKalb home, but his legions of fans were shocked to learn he was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on charges that he was actually from the United Kingdom and overstayed a visa.

He was taken into custody after leaving a Stone Mountain venue in the early morning hours of Super Bowl Sunday, instantly becoming one of, if not the most high-profile ICE detainee. He was released from a South Georgia detention facility 10 days later, and his case is still pending.

The AJC story breaking the news of the rapper's arrest was the No. 1 story on AJC.com this year, being read more than 1.2 million times.

But the story didn't end there. The rapper, whose real name is She'yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, continued to make public appearances throughout the year, often to give back to the community and promote his charitable ventures. In March, he visited a local school and talked to students about the importance of financial literacy and saving money. He donated $25,000 to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And in August, he gave out thousands of free school supplies to DeKalb students at his annual back-to-school event.


Crash gone viral

It was the security video seen around the country. One moment, a 9-year-old girl plays with a friend in her front yard. Seconds later, a car barrels into her, going airborne as it rams into the house. Miraculously, 9-year-old LaDerihanna Holmes survived. Police searched for the person behind the wheel, and 28-year-old Gabriel Fordham turned himself in several days later. But Fordham said he was the victim of an armed carjacking before flying into the yard.

The harrowing video of the crash went viral online and made national news. Holmes suffered a fractured skull and crushed pelvic bone, but was able to get around with a walker within a month of the crash. Fordham's case is pending ahead of his trial, according to court records.


Perimeter payday

Many weird things have spilled onto Atlanta's roadways: Watermelons, frozen chicken, foam tomahawks. But money was a first in 2019. The Great I-285 Cash Storm hit Dunwoody around 8 p.m. on July 10, when the side door of an armored truck flew open, releasing cash all over the highway. Drivers stopped and began scooping up the money, which police estimated was upwards of $175,000. Following pleas from the police department, some residents began returning some of the cash, but more than $150,000 is still believed to be unaccounted for. We recommend reading Tyler Estep's narrative retelling of the whole saga.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News


Topsy-turvy year for ethics

This year saw DeKalb County operate for a full year without a functioning ethics board, which was put in place to investigate possible ethical violations among DeKalb’s employees and officials. The board has not been able to meet and take votes since the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the way same of its members were appointed was unconstitutional.

2019 started with the DeKalb delegation in the Capitol attempting to resolve that issue by passing legislation that fixed the appointment process. Several more revisions to the board were proposed, leading to a countywide ballot referendum in November.

Residents ended up voting down the referendum, meaning the ethics board remains effectively dormant. The year is ending with officials proposing fixes that would revive the ethics board. You can expect the issue to again be a hot topic during the legislative session, starting in January.


Development booms

Cranes and construction zones became a familiar sight in DeKalb this year, with redevelopment — or "revitalization" — projects sprouting up across the county. Many of the projects were "mixed-use," including some combination of residential, retail and office space. One of the largest developments, which welcomed its first company this year, was Assembly in Doraville, opening at the site of the old General Motors plant.

This trend should continue into the next decade. In Dunwoody this year, city leaders approved several new projects in the busy Perimeter Center area. Chamblee continued to show its affinity for mixed-use complexes near its town center. Stonecrest approved $700 million in bonds for a 300-acre project around the Mall at Stonecrest. In Brookhaven, Emory University announced plans for a $1 billion medical campus, which might feature a pedestrian bridge over I-85. And a story that garnered some of the strongest reader interest in 2019 surrounded plans to redevelop a well-known cylindrical tower near Spaghetti Junction.

One spot that didn't get in on the fun this year? North DeKalb Mall, where redevelopment plans continued to stall. The mall sits so empty that its vacant storefronts were used as film sets this year.

Credit: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM


Honorable mention: DeKalb reckons with its history

This year saw officials in the county acknowledge what the AJC called its "Hidden History" — acts of racial injustice that deserve our attention today. In January, the county approved a historical marker honoring the victims of lynching in Decatur Square. DeKalb also installed this year a contextual marker that officials say tells the real history of the Confederate monument in Decatur Square.

Stone Mountain — both the city and the park — was in the news a lot this year, beginning in February when a small group of white supremacists tried to hold a rally at the park. Stone Mountain ended up shutting down completely for a day to keep protesters away. Next door to the park, the city of Stone Mountain this year launched a concerted effort to show residents and visitors it has moved on from its negative history, and is now a more welcoming and inclusive place. They put that idea into practice in November, when the Stone Mountain City Council voted to rename "Venable Street," named after a family with well-documented ties to the KKK.

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