2019 tornado damage

File / The Herald The Bibb Graves Bridge stands in the background of tornado damage in Wetumpka.

News from Wetumpka has been full of extremes in 2019. From a tragic tornado that ripped through Wetumpka on Jan. 19 to the city’s Dickens Christmas event held in December in downtown, which is experiencing a revival of businesses and a facelift to its streets and sidewalks, there was no shortage of news and events taking place in Wetumpka, often referred to as the city of natural beauty.

Here are 10 top stories, organized by date published, that made the front page of The Wetumpka Herald in 2019.

Editor’s Note: The following stories are news-related. The top sports stories from 2019 will be in the next edition of The Herald.

Tornado strikes Wetumpka 

A powerful EF-2 tornado struck Wetumpka on Jan. 19 causing major damage. 

The most significant damage was west of the Coosa River. 

First Presbyterian Church had its sanctuary destroyed. First Baptist Church, just across Bridge Street, saw its original historic sanctuary heavily damaged. The youth ministry building had to be razed because of the damage. The city has been working to rebuild throughout the year.

Editor’s Note: Look for a story on the city’s progress rebuilding after the tornado in an upcoming edition of The Herald.

River Region Medical Center breaks ground

The River Region Medical Center broke ground Mar. 1 on its new facility on U.S. Highway 231 in Wetumpka next to Lowe’s.

The center is a joint venture between Dr. Martin Lyons, Dr. Spencer Coleman and Ivy Creek Healthcare. 

It will offer patients in the Wetumpka area the ability to receive primary care facility on the ground floor and specialty services on the second and third floors.

County works on 2020 road, bridge plan

The Elmore County Commission is expected to tap in to $1.22 million in Rebuild Alabama funds in 2020.

The funding comes from a gasoline tax increase passed by the state legislature earlier this year.

Elmore County chief engineer Richie Beyer indicated the county intends to make older bridges safe, capacity being added to existing thoroughfares in the growing county and dirt roads getting paved with this funding.

Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce celebrates 30 years

Friends and members of the Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce filled the Wetumpka Civic Center Mar. 19 for the chamber’s annual dinner and awards ceremony celebrating 30 years of promoting the area.

The Wetumpka chamber is a working partnership of business and professional people who know the wisdom of coordinating their efforts under effective leadership for advancement and development of the area.

Today, the local chamber has 365 members. 

Also in 2019, then-director Jerry Purcell resigned in February. Now-director Shellie Whitfield was named in April.

Two arrested, one dies, one saved in chase that ends in river

Two were arrested, another died and a 2-year-old child was rescued after a car plunged into the Coosa River at Gold Sar Park in Wetumpka during a police chase in late March. 

Two men, Mason Kassian and Dustin Taylor, dove into the river to save a man, who was arrested, and 2-year-old boy from drowning. The man and the boy were in a car that slammed into the river after being pursued by Alabama Department of Corrections officers who said the adults in the sedan tried to smuggle drugs into Tutwiler Prison.

2 killed in boating accident; man pleads guilty

A Clanton man pleaded guilty to murder charges in early December in connection to a fatal Independence Day boating crash on Lake Jordan that killed two people.

Damion Bruno, 41, entered guilty pleas to two counts of reckless murder before Elmore County District Judge Glenn Goggans Dec. 18.

The state is recommending a 30-year sentence. 

Woman finds $11K in suitcase and helps it get returned to owner

Annalisa Vinson, staff member of Adullam House in Wetumpka, found $11,000 cash in a donated suitcase in July. Vinson’s honesty in returning it and an investigation by the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office led the money to being returned to its rightful owner.

Vinson felt the suitcase landed in her hands for a reason and she feels her relationship with Jesus Christ is the reason she was so compelled to find its owner.

Commission approves largest budget in county history

The Elmore County Commission unanimously approved its largest budget in county history Sept. 23.

The exact dollar amount was $33,947,885 and it began funding on Oct. 1.

Among the most noteworthy of items included in the budget was the infusion of approximately $1.1 million from Alabama’s recently passed gasoline tax increase for fiscal year 2020.

Downtown Wetumpka redevelopment nears completion

After several years of discussions, planning sessions and months of work done to the streets, sidewalks and buildings located in downtown Wetumpka, the redevelopment project is nearly complete. 

The project has included updated street lights, a redesigned alleyway, updated concrete sidewalks and more businesses setting up shop downtown including a pop-up shop made from a steel shipping container. 

In 2020, greenery is expected to be planted and streets should be paved.

A Dickens Christmas a successful first-year event

Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce director Shellie Whitfield had no idea how many people would attend the first Dickens Christmas event held Dec. 6-7 in downtown Wetumpka.

Whitfield had her answer within a few short hours the first night when the free cookies and hot cocoa ran out.

She estimated the event drew several thousand people over the two days.