As we prepare to enter 2019, we at The Beacon thought it appropriate to take a look back at some of 2018’s most newsworthy events.
From new businesses to notable deaths, political surprises and more, it was certainly an eventful year for West Volusia.
Below is a selection of stories we covered this past year, for you to read and reflect back on.
Happy New Year!
The proposal for a super-sized, multistory collection of automobile dealerships at the boundary between DeLand and Lake Helen continued to engage officials of both cities, and to divide residents into pro-Automall and anti-Automall camps.
DeLand’s long-beloved Chinese restaurant Won Lee’s is sold to new owners, the Trilanda Group Inc. Owner Seamus Poon, who was born in Hong Kong, had opened the restaurant on Valentine’s Day 1978 in the restaurant building that formerly housed Jack Perkins’ Boulevard Restaurant.
Joe Rudolph retired from John Knox Village in Orange City, having planned and overseen capital growth at the retirement community since 1991.
The debate over the look of DeLand’s new Marriott hotel continued. After dark red stucco was added and made to look like brick, some residents complained that real brick had been promised.
A stray bullet, apparently fired by a New Year’s celebrant, shot through the window of Antioch Freewill Baptist Church in DeLand, frightening attendees at a Watch Night service and landing on the floor between Pastor Burt McBryde and his grandson. No one was injured.
Volusia County’s largest city opened The Center at Deltona, a $10 million, 30,000-square-foot space for meetings, weddings and other community events.
St. Peter Catholic Church in DeLand dedicated its 27,000-square-foot Family Life Center.
Walmart opened its newest Neighborhood Market on the south side of DeLand.
Luis Toledo was sentenced in a DeLand courtroom to life in prison for the murders of his wife, Yessenia Suarez, and her children, Thalia Otto, 9, and Michael Elijah Otto, 8. The crime occurred in Deltona in 2013. Toledo, a high-ranking gang member, still refused to reveal the location of the three bodies.
Halifax Health proposed to build an access road, at its expense, to make it easier for ambulances to reach the company’s new hospital on the northwest side of Deltona.
Orange City celebrated the completion of Mill Lake Park, a $3 million transformation of a retention pond on East Blue Springs Avenue.
The Me Strong 5K run through DeLand attracted 3,776 runners to help raise money for families and individuals affected by cancer.
Volusia County announced plans for Shell Harbor Park, to be built on Lake George in Northwest Volusia. The $1.1 million park on 9 acres was expected to open sometime in 2019.
Plans were announced for a Wawa convenience store at the intersection of Howland and Halifax Crossings boulevards in Deltona. Also, Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City announced it would add a birth center.
In the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre at a high school in Parkland, 12 Volusia County students were arrested between Feb. 15 and Feb. 28 in connection with making threats about bombs and guns.
The DeBary City Council voted to ask residents, via the Nov. 6 ballot, whether they want to build a $12 million community center on 6 acres near the SunRail station.
Dozens of residents attended a forum hosted by the City of Deltona to respond to numerous complaints about high water bills.
It was announced that DeLand’s Winn-Dixie store in the West Volusia Regional Shopping Center would be one of 94 the grocery chain was closing in seven states.
A wildfire near Daytona Park Estates on DeLand’s east side consumed 60 acres. No structures were damaged.
West Volusia’s first prescription-cannabis dispensary opened in Deltona. Tampa-based Surterra said the drugstore in Deltona Plaza was the company’s fifth store opened since an overwhelming majority of Florida voters amended the state constitution in 2016 to legalize the sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Mohamed Rashad, an Orlando resident who owns rental houses under the business name Big Bubba Investments LLC, became the new owner of the Hotel Putnam in DeLand, and said he will renovate the historic structure. Rashad put $200,000 down; the seller holds a two-year balloon mortgage for the remaining $800,000. About four weeks later, in the evening April 29, fire broke out in the old hotel. There were no injuries, but a portion of the structure was damaged despite the efforts of firefighters from several agencies. The blaze — one of four structure fires in DeLand between April 2 and May 1 — was ruled suspicious.
Christopher Alcantara resigned from the Deltona City Commission.
Shady Oak Restaurant on the St. Johns River west of DeLand reopened after an electrical fire in January 2017 gutted the eatery. Shady Oak was first established in 1954 by Otis and Myrtle Sloan.
Cici and Hyatt Brown, both longtime trustees of Stetson University, donated $18 million to the 135-year-old school to further science and health education and research.
Orange City shut down the popular Moose Market because of safety concerns with regard to traffic and illegal parking at the open-air market staged on Saturday mornings at the Moose Lodge.
The DeLand City Commission voted to authorize a legal challenge to Lake Helen’s plan to annex the 52-acre Automall development on Orange Camp Road at the boundary between the two cities.
A $600,000 makeover of West Georgia Avenue in Downtown DeLand was completed, including the installation of 130 pallets of brick pavers on the street, and new stormwater pipes under the road. Also, in April, the DeLand City Commission chose Persimmon Lane as the name for the alley that is home to the DeLand Wings.
Volusia County grappled with a serious shortage of 911 operators, attributed to low pay, odd hours and job stress.
A sinkhole formed at Gemini Springs Park in DeBary.
The DeLand Woman’s Club dissolved after 106 years of service to the community. Seventeen members celebrated with a luncheon at which the club distributed its remaining assets to local charities.
Volusia County and the City of DeLand announced they had reached agreement on a property-swap that would give DeLand ownership of the long-vacant jail at 130 W. New York Ave. in Downtown DeLand.
The State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection first announced it would not hire lifeguards to watch over the popular swimming area at DeLeon Springs State Park during the summer, but later reversed that decision.
During two weeks in May, West Volusia had between 8 and 9 inches of rainfall. A typical May would have just a bit more than 3 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
DeLand was chosen among 16 cities to host the 2018 National Collegiate Athletic Association’s regional baseball tournament.
DeLand was awash in baseball fans June 1-3, filling hotels and boosting the local economy, as the DeLand Regional Tournament of the 2018 NCAA Division 1 Baseball Championship was played on Melching Field.
Veterans celebrated the grand opening of an enlarged Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Deltona Plaza. The 10,000-square-foot facility is about double the size of the Orange City clinic it replaced.
Fieser’s Dairy in DeLeon Springs, the last dairy in Volusia County, closed.
The Volusia County Council voted to say goodbye to County Manager Jim Dinneen on June 22, not in January 2019 as Dinneen had outlined in his resignation letter. Dinneen’s net severance pay was set at $245,567.
DeLand announced plans for a possible recreation center to be built on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway, near Victoria Park.
Father Tom Connery announced he had been transferred by the Diocese of Orlando, and would leave St. Peter Catholic Church in DeLand, which he had pastored for 15 years.
DeLand City Commissioner Jeff Hunter was arrested on drug-related charges. Hunter said the charges were cooked up in retaliation by a woman he dated briefly.
The 2018 preliminary tax roll showed that the value of properties in Volusia County increased by 7.5 percent over 2017.
DeLand and Lake Helen came to terms over the Automall development. On July 2, the DeLand City Commission approved an agreement to end its lawsuit over Lake Helen’s annexation of the Automall site.
DeBary’s fireworks show was a dud, after recent heavy rainfall left soggy ground and the mortars prepared for the display got soaked.
Citizens frustrated by high water bills, expensive trash collection and what they called mishandling of public-record requests called for the ouster of Deltona City Manager Jane Shang.
Longtime Volusia County Clerk of Court Diane Matousek died unexpectedly July 24. She was 63, and had retired in 2017.
Thirteen people applied for appointment to the DeLand City Commission seat left vacant when Commissioner Jeff Hunter was suspended by Gov. Rick Scott because of criminal charges filed against Hunter. The other four commissioners chose former Commissioner Charles Paiva to serve in Hunter’s place.
Dixie Lodge, a former motel on South Woodland Boulevard that had long been a home to people with mental illnesses and other disabilities, abruptly shut down after the state did not renew the facility’s license, citing numerous violations.
The community mourned the sudden loss of DeLand business owner Brad Strickland. Strickland, owner of The Trophy Factory Plus Framing, died during a morning run. He was 43.
Duke Energy announced plans for a 75-megawatt solar farm on 350 acres along Highbanks Road in DeBary, to be complete in 2019.
The state fire marshal ruled the April fire at the Hotel Putnam in DeLand was intentionally set, but said there was insufficient evidence to determine who set it. No arrests were expected.
A total of 29.66 percent of Volusia County voters turned out to cast ballots in the Aug. 28 primary, determining a few wins and a large number of races that would proceed to the November general election. There were a few surprises, such as newcomer Markesha James besting one other candidate to advance to a runoff for DeLand City Commission Seat 5.
A sinkhole formed at the edge of U.S. Highway 17-92 in DeBary, closing the busy road’s northbound lanes.
The City of Lake Helen said goodbye to its administrator, Jason Yarborough, after Yarborough landed in hot water over a $56,000 water bill for the 200-home Lake Helen Villa community. Yarborough said the bill was the result of a billing snafu, but city commissioners said he had not been communicative enough about the problem. Yarborough agreed to resign only if the city commissioners agreed to give him a hefty severance package, which they did.
Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City announced plans for a $100 million expansion that would add 55 beds and 121,000 square feet upon completion in 2020.
The Volusia County School Board moved to approve a policy to allow students to consume prescribed medical marijuana while at school.
Collective, an alternative church started 10 years ago in DeLand and now boasting a membership of 220, was chartered by the United Methodist denomination independent of its parent church, First United Methodist of DeLand. Collective also purchased Amelia Plaza, a shopping plaza at 235 N. Amelia Ave., and announced plans to move its services there.
October opened in West Volusia with fire in the headlines. The state fire marshal’s report on the Hotel Putnam fire showed gasoline was found at the scene of the April blaze at the historic DeLand inn; the circa-1910 Grant Bly House on East New York Avenue in DeLand, which was undergoing renovation, was heavily damaged by a non-suspicious blaze that broke out during the night Oct. 1; 20 people were displaced when fire ravaged a DeLand apartment complex; and DeLand’s fire chief, on the job for only about five months, was in the hospital after suffering a cardiac emergency in late September. Fire Chief Daniel Hanes died Oct. 4.
Renovation of American Legion Orange Baker Post 187 in DeLand was completed after more than a decade of work, and assistance from several veterans organizations, along with the state government. The historically African-American post was formed in 1948.
As West Volusia geared up to vote on a long ballot Nov. 6, turmoil erupted in DeBary over how the city had handled campaigning for the ballot question about whether $12.5 million should be spent to build a community center. Meanwhile, voters questioned why three races for seats on the Soil and Water Conservation District board — typically under-the-radar elections — had attracted eight candidates, including one who self-funded his campaign with more than $40,000. A story about the Soil and Water races was The Beacon’s top online story during one week in October, as voters scrambled to learn more.
The Downtown DeLand Courtyard by Marriott hotel finally opened Oct. 17, nearly two years after original projections.
A 15-year-old DeBary boy was charged with the murder of his mother by strangulation. The Sheriff’s Office said he buried her body under the fire pit of a nearby church. Two of the boy’s friends were charged with conspiring after the fact to help cover up the crime.
A healthy 60.33 percent of voters turned out for the Nov. 6 election, putting in place a new mayor for Deltona, a new County Council member for District 1, and more. Several races were very close, and recounting the votes would continue for more than two weeks.
The City of DeLand announced attendance was up 10 percent in 2018 for its annual Sport Aviation Showcase, a 3-year-old event that’s helping put the DeLand Municipal Airport on the map as a go-to location to do business in sport aviation.
Christopher Blake, the founder of a West Volusia charity that was supposed to help veterans, was sentenced to two years on probation after being convicted of using the charity’s money for his own needs.
Working together to investigate an anonymous tip, the Lake Helen Police Department, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives safely defused a large stash of explosives found at a Lake Helen home. One resident of the house was arrested and faced multiple charges.
Orange City announced plans for a massive annexation designed to eliminate enclaves and improve emergency response near the city’s boundaries. The annexation would take in 242 acres, including 150 parcels.
Gus Gibbs announced he would retire and close his Gibbs for Men store in Downtown DeLand, ending a 40-year run and a two-generation presence of the Gibbs family as retailers in the city.
The Volusia County Council voted unanimously to raise impact fees, the fees developers pay on new residential and commercial construction. The new fees will take effect in March 2019, and in some cases are substantially higher than current impact fees. The County Council determined that the fees, which had not been increased since 2003, were not high enough to allow the county to keep up with infrastructure needs attributed to growth.
For the first time, the Wreaths Across America program to decorate veterans’ graves at Christmas laid wreaths at Suber Memorial Gardens, a historic African-American cemetery near Lake Helen. The cemetery was cut off from the town whose residents are buried there by construction of Interstate 4.
The DeLand Police Department announced it had made changes in policies and training, following the firing of an officer whose overly harsh treatment of a DeLand man came to light when the man’s attorney took action to sue the city.
Deltona City Manager Jane Shang was criticized for registering to vote using Deltona City Hall as her home address when she first moved to Volusia County in June 2015. Shang voted in the 2016 and 2018 elections using the wrong address, Elections Supervisor Lisa Lewis said. Critics called for Shang to be criminally charged, but the manager said she simply forgot to update her registration after finding a home.
The City of DeLand voted to negotiate with Deltran Operations USA on a contract for redevelopment of the site of the Old Jail at 130 W. New York Ave. in Downtown DeLand. Deltran was one of three companies to submit proposals for redeveloping the Old Jail, which the city got in a property-swap with Volusia County earlier in the year. Deltran’s proposal would put three new buildings on about 1.5 acres of city-owned land along West Georgia Avenue.
— Compiled by Barb Shepherd and The Beacon staff