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If you are accused of a crime, the only thing standing between your freedom and a verdict of "guilty" is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Thunderbolt, GA.

Those who have been arrested before know that life in the legal system is no laughing matter. Aside from the imminent ramifications of fines and jail time, any goals you have of bettering yourself and advancing your life could be compromised. Without a trusted attorney by your side, you could face a lifetime of embarrassment and poor employment prospects due to a tarnished criminal record.

The good news? Dennis O'Brien and his team of experienced lawyers in Thunderbolt are ready to clear your name. By retaining the help of a criminal defense attorney early in the legal process, you have a much better chance of securing your freedom and living a life as a productive member of society.

At O'Brien Law Firm PC, our practice was founded to fight for the rights of individuals accused of or charged with a crime. Our team of legal experts is well-equipped to take even the most difficult, contentious cases. From violent felonies to DUI, there is nothing we haven't seen and handled. As a former law enforcement officer, founding attorney Dennis O'Brien knows exactly how much a person can lose if convicted. That's why we work tirelessly to secure a verdict that is favorable for our clients.

Regardless of how serious or minor your case may be, know that we will fight fearlessly on your behalf. You deserve zealous representation - when you hire O'Brien Law Firm PC, you will receive nothing less.

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The O'Brien Law Firm PC Difference

Many of our clients are surprised to discover that founding lawyer Dennis O'Brien was a police officer prior to his criminal defense career. As a former Field Training Officer for the Memphis Police Department, he has over two decades of knowledge and experience in the criminal justice system. Dennis truly understands the nuance and complexities involved in a criminal defense case. This rare experience gives Dennis a clear edge in any criminal defense case and gives clients priceless peace of mind when they need it the most. Unlike some criminal defense attorneys in Thunderbolt, Dennis O'Brien and his team believe that every client deserves effective, empathetic legal assistance. While some Thunderbolt criminal defense firms will take weekends off or pass along cases to paralegals, Dennis personally reviews each of his cases. There is no case too small or big for O'Brien Law Firm PC. When you hire our firm, you can rest easy knowing that we will be by your side when the going gets tough.

 Federal Defense Attorney Thunderbolt, GA
Here are just a few reasons why O'Brien Law Firm PC is Thunderbolt's top choice in criminal defense:
  • Vigorous Representation
  • Fierce Dedication to Clients
  • Unmatched Experience
  • Face-to-Face Counsel
  • Prompt Response to Inquiries and Questions
  • Commitment to Defending Your Rights
  • Thorough, Effective Research and Investigation
  • Contact Us or Call: 912-704-5150
 Criminal Defense Law Firms Thunderbolt, GA
Our firm has represented hundreds of criminal defense clients in Thunderbolt and is highly qualified to take your case. Some of our specialties include:

Drug Cases in Thunderbolt, GA

When you are charged with a drug crime in Thunderbolt, it can change your life forever. Georgia imposes very strict punishments for drug offenses. The truth is, it's hard to get your life back on track with a drug charge on your record. Your freedom and way of life could be in the hands of your criminal defense attorney. As such, you need a competent lawyer with years of experience handling drug cases. Leaving your fate in the hands of an incompetent attorney could have long-lasting effects on your family and may result in a conviction.

 Criminal Defense Lawyers Thunderbolt, GA

Consequences for drug crimes in Thunderbolt often include:

  • Jail
  • Prison
  • Heavy fines
  • Community service
  • Court-ordered drug and alcohol counseling
  • Probation or parole
  • Permanent criminal record

While the consequences for a drug crime in Georgia are serious, there's reason to be hopeful: O'Brien Law Firm PC is here to fight for you. Remember - being charged with a drug crime is NOT the same thing as being convicted.

Our stellar team has represented many clients facing numerous drug-related charges. While each situation varies, one constant remains the same for clients facing drug charges: a fear of what lies ahead. At O'Brien Law Firm PC our job is to help you overcome the fear of the unknown. We do so by ensuring you understand your charges, the possible outcomes associated with those charges, and the options you need to consider from a criminal defense standpoint.

With more than a decade of experience as Thunderbolt drug crime attorneys, we have the experience and resources to defend you in court no matter what your charges may be, including:

  • Marijuana
  • Crack
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine
  • Ecstasy

No matter what charge you are facing, our team has the experience and resources to build a comprehensive defense strategy for your drug case in Thunderbolt, GA. Without a criminal defense attorney acting as your advocate, you could be facing very harsh penalties. Here are a few punishments you could be facing for drug crimes in Thunderbolt:

  • Schedule I or Schedule II Drug Possession
    Schedule I or Schedule II Drug Possession:

    Having less than a gram (or one milliliter for liquids) of this type of drug results in a prison term of one to three years. Having four grams or milliliter carries a term of one to eight years.

  • Schedule III, IV, or V Drug Possession
    Schedule III, IV, or V Drug Possession:

    Any substance on this list is punishable by a prison sentence of one to three years.

  • Non-Narcotic Schedule II Drug Possession
    Non-Narcotic Schedule II Drug Possession:

    If you have less than two grams or milliliters of this substance, punishments can be between one year and three years. Having up to four grams or milliliters results in a prison sentence of one to eight years.

  • Possession of Marijuana
    Possession of Marijuana:

    Those who are in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana are subject to a jail sentence of up to 12 months. Fines may be no more than $1,000. Possession of more than an ounce of marijuana can result in a prison term of one to 10 years.

To avoid these life-changing punishments, you must take action now. Contact O'Brien Law Firm today for a consultation about your case.

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 Defense Lawyers Thunderbolt, GA
 Criminal Defense Attorney Thunderbolt, GA

Violent Crime Cases in Thunderbolt, GA

Violent crime offenses in Thunderbolt typically involve some form of bodily harm to another individual, actions committed against an individual's will, or threatening someone with bodily harm. Aggravated violent offenses are more severe charges and often occur when a violent crime is made more serious due to circumstances like deadly weapons.

Much like serious drug cases, violent crimes create an added layer of negativity that follows the accused for the rest of their life. In these cases, even an accusation is enough to cause irreparable damage to a person's reputation. Those convicted of a violent crime face severe penalties that can include years in a correctional facility.

Common crimes of this nature include but are not limited to:
  • Murder
  • Assault with the intent to murder
  • Vehicular homicide
  • Domestic violence
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Carjacking

When you are accused of any of the above crimes, your freedom hangs in the balance. The outcome of your case will determine whether you leave the courtroom with your freedom intact or stripped away to serve time behind bars. Because the punishments for violent crimes are so extreme, you should be seeking legal counsel from a criminal defense attorney in Thunderbolt, GA, as soon as possible. As a former police officer with a long record of positive verdicts in violent crime cases, Dennis O'Brien is well equipped to represent you in court.

Having a criminal defense lawyer by your side is the best way to avoid the serious punishments associated with violent crimes. These punishments usually result in prison time if convicted and include:
Forced rape: 20 years
Armed robbery: Up to 20 years
Simple assault: Up to 12 months
Aggravated assault: 10 to 20 years
Aggravated battery: Up to 20 years
Involuntary manslaughter: One to 20 years
Vehicular homicide Up to 15 years
Murder: Life in prison or the death sentence
Zealous Representation Without Judgement

As a former police officer, Dennis O'Brien has seen the toll it takes on a person when charged with a crime. His time in law enforcement allows him to empathize with his clients who desperately need competent representation. Despite being innocent until proven guilty, accusations are scary, and conviction could be a reality. That is why you must work with a trustworthy criminal defense lawyer in Thunderbolt, GA who will work tirelessly to clear your name.

Clients choose O'Brien Law Firm because we believe in open communication, honesty, and hard work. It is not our job to act as judges for those who have been accused of crimes. Rather, our goal is to find the best defense that allows us to protect our clients' rights and freedoms.

DUI Cases in Thunderbolt, GA

Driving under the influence (DUI) is one of the most common crimes committed in Georgia. Punishments for such a crime can be severe, and for understandable reasons - when a person operates a vehicle while they are intoxicated, they're putting their life and the lives of others at risk.

While DUI is a serious crime that completely upend the accused's life, the earnest desire to end drunk driving can make police officers too eager to catch a person who they believe is under the influence.

 Criminal Defense Law Firm Thunderbolt, GA

The city of Thunderbolt, Georgia, has implemented severe punishments for DUI, even for first-time offenders. Individuals charged with DUI in Thunderbolt could face:

  • Very expensive fines and fees
  • Loss of license
  • Incarceration

Fortunately, if you or someone you love has been charged with DUI, there is hope. This is particularly true when the accused is administered a breath or blood test for DUI. In fact, cases that involve a breath and/or blood test are beaten daily. When you hire O'Brien Law Firm PC, we will dive deep into your DUI case in Thunderbolt and examine every angle possible for your case to be dismissed. Here are just a few questions our team will investigate:

  • Was the stop legal? If not, your case could be dismissed
  • Is there enough evidence or probable cause to arrest you? If not, Dennis O'Brien will file a pre-trial motion and will fight hard to have your case dismissed before trial.
  • Did the police read you your implied consent rights? If not, your case could be thrown out. Failure to read implied consent rights to the accused is one of the most common police errors.
  • Were your blood testing records and breathalyzer results maintained? Breath testing comes with inherent weaknesses that can create doubt in a juror's mind.

There are numerous ways to beat a DUI case in Georgia, from unreliable field sobriety tests to inaccurate state-administered breath tests. As a veteran criminal defense lawyer in Thunderbolt, GA, Dennis O'Brien has the knowledge and experience to expose the state's mistakes and fight for your rights. When you hire O'Brien Law Firm PC your chances of dismissal are greatly increased. When your case is dismissed, you can continue living life without the burden of a criminal record.

 Criminal Justice Attorney Thunderbolt, GA

If you or someone you love is accused of a crime in Thunderbolt, GA, don't leave fate up to the prosecution. Take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family before it's too late.

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Latest News in Thunderbolt, GA

WWII Pilot Named Grand Marshal For 2022 Wings Over North Georgia Air Show

A 98-year-old World War II pilot and aviation pioneer will lead the veteran’s recognition parade during WONG 2022, the 10th Annual Wings Over North Georgia Air Show on Oct. 15-16 in Rome, GA at the Richard Russel Regional Airport.Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Andonian now lives with his family in Canton, GA, following an amazingly accomplished career that spanned the end of the Second World War through the Cold War and included flying nearly...

A 98-year-old World War II pilot and aviation pioneer will lead the veteran’s recognition parade during WONG 2022, the 10th Annual Wings Over North Georgia Air Show on Oct. 15-16 in Rome, GA at the Richard Russel Regional Airport.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Andonian now lives with his family in Canton, GA, following an amazingly accomplished career that spanned the end of the Second World War through the Cold War and included flying nearly 300 different aircraft in combat and as a test pilot.

Andonian received his pilot’s wings in June 1944 at Williams Field, AZ. His first flying assignment was as a ferry pilot with the Air Transport Command (ATC), flying trainers, fighters, cargo planes, and bomber aircraft from manufacturing sites to various bases.

In 1945 he was assigned overseas, flying C-47s over “the Hump” in the China-Burma-India Theater of WWII. The Hump was the treacherous eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains, which had to be traversed to supply Chiang Kai-shek and his Chinese forces in opposing the Japanese Army.

After WWII, Andonian was reassigned to Germany where he flew C-54 transport aircraft in the Berlin Airlift from July to September 1948. The airlift was a successful effort to supply Berlin with necessities after it was cut off from the rest of Western Europe by the Soviet Union.

Andonian began his flight test career in 1950 with the Armament Test Center at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida; in 1955 he transferred to Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio where he flew B-26, B-29, B-47, B-50, B-52, B-57, and B-66 test aircraft. He graduated from the British Empire Test Pilot School in 1958 and was assigned to

the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB in California where he headed the Special Projects Operations Branch, U-2 Flight Test, from January 1959 to June 1966.

During the Vietnam War, Andonian added “fighter pilot” to his resume when he volunteered to serve as an F-4 squadron commander. He flew 204 combat missions out of Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam.

He was subsequently reassigned to Wright Patterson AFB to serve as chief of Flight Test Operations and vice wing commander for the 4950th Test Wing.

Andonian retired from the Air Force in 1971 and became chief test pilot for E-Systems, Inc. in Greenville, TX, where he completed the final flight testing of the single-engine turboprop L-450, which was the prototype for the USAF Compass Dwell Program. This work included first flight and subsequent flight test of the XQM-93A, including pressure suit flights to 50,000 feet in an unheated and unpressurized cockpit.

Following his retirement from E-Systems in 1988, Andonian continued to serve as an FAA-designated pilot examiner and flew his Beech Debonair about 200 hours per year. He continued to fly until may 2021, when he was 97 years old.

Andonian has been designated as the Grand Marshal of the Parade of Veterans at this year’s Wings Over North Georgia Air Show. The parade returns after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-related protocol. “We hosted our first Veteran’s Tribute Parade in 2014,” said John Cowman, president of JLC AirShow Management.

“Prior to the hiatus, more than 500 former and active-duty members across all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces marched in front of air show spectators. We make a special effort to honor and show our appreciation for those who sacrifice so much for our country and for our freedom. Having Col. Andonian as the marshal for this year’s event adds a special element to this parade honoring those who served.”

WONG 2022 will feature military and civilian air show acts at the Russell Regional Airport in Rome in addition to the inaugural AirShow Racing Series (ARS) event. The ARS was conceived by Cowman, a retired U.S. Air Force chief master sgt., who has produced WONG and other air show events for more than 10 years with his team of retired veterans and aviation enthusiasts.

First Ever Airshow Racing Series Takes Flight In Nearby Rome, Georgia

Air shows are not new; aerial racing is not new, either. But the two will come together in the same venue for the first time at the Wings Over North Georgia Air Show (WONG) on Oct. 15-16 in Rome, GA.WONG 2022 will feature the usual military and civilian air show acts at the Russell Regional Airport in Rome in addition to the launch of the inaugural AirShow Racing Series (ARS) event.The ARS is one of the newest innovations in the air...

Air shows are not new; aerial racing is not new, either. But the two will come together in the same venue for the first time at the Wings Over North Georgia Air Show (WONG) on Oct. 15-16 in Rome, GA.

WONG 2022 will feature the usual military and civilian air show acts at the Russell Regional Airport in Rome in addition to the launch of the inaugural AirShow Racing Series (ARS) event.

The ARS is one of the newest innovations in the air show industry. It has been sanctioned by the Federal Aviation Administration after more than four years of vetting, certification, and recertification.

Ticket holders will have the rare opportunity to witness the launch of the racing series as WONG hosts the first-time event in front of an air show audience.

Competitors will use two 500’ wide racing lanes marked with 10 inflatable pylons spaced approximately 600 feet apart for the dual, slalom-style competition. The course is a three-dimensional track for multiple heats of match-racing competition.

The winners of each heat will advance to the next round of competition with a final champion awarded at the end of the air show day.

Competitors in the first-of-its-kind ARS event include:

The ARS was conceived by John Cowman, President of JLC AirShow Management, who has produced WONG and other air show events for more than 10 years with his team of retired veterans, advisors, and aviation enthusiasts.

In addition to the ARS, WONG 2022 will showcase both military and civilian performances.

Maj. Haden “Gator” Fulham, a native of Rising Fawn, GA, and his team of 10-member crew will present the A-10 Thunderbolt II Demonstration. Based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, the Thunderbolt demo is one of the most unique and powerful in the air show industry. The versatile aircraft is capable of rapid roll rates, low- and high-speed maneuverability, and short takeoffs and landings. These attributes make it an invaluable asset during combat missions. The jet is designed for close-air support (CAS) of friendly ground troops, attacking armored vehicles and tanks, and providing quick-action support against enemy ground forces. It entered service in 1976 and is the only production-built aircraft to serve the U.S. Air Force designed solely for CAS.

The civilian QYON Aerosports Demonstration Team also will make a first-time appearance during the 10th anniversary WONG show. Led by pilot Scott Farnsworth, the team of two Marchetti S-211 jets including veteran pilot Jive Kerby will showcase the features of this military training aircraft. The Pratt & Whitney turbofan engine produces 2,500 pounds of thrust, a top speed of 414 knots, and a climb rate of 4,199 feet per minute. The jet has two cabins with identical cockpits in a tandem configuration. Only 60 of these aircraft were produced for use by the Republic of Singapore Air Force, Philippine Air Force, and Haitian Air Force.

A variety of ticket options will be offered for WONG 2022. Aviation enthusiasts can purchase advance-only premium patio club, box seating, and general admission tickets for traditional seating options. There also will be vehicle access to a drive-in, tailgate-style parking section with a limited number of premium front-row and second-row air show viewing locations. There are ticket options for every preference for seating.

Tickets for the Air Show are available at https://www.wingsovernorthgeorgia.com/guest-information/ticket-options. Tickets must be purchased online and in advance as no tickets will be sold on the day of the air show performances. For additional show information, follow the air show’s Facebook page or visit the Wings Over North Georgia website at https://www.WingsOverNorthGeorgia.com.

The Wings Over North Georgia airshow is a Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Defense, and International Council of Air Shows approved event. For a full list of performers, activities, and ticket options, airshow fans, exhibitors, vendors, and sponsors can visit the official Wings Over North Georgia air show website.

P-47N Thunderbolt Project Arrives at CAF Airbase Georgia

The Commemorative Air Force’s Airbase Georgia, formerly known as the Dixie Wing, has established an enviable reputation for its aircraft restoration prowess over the past few decades, breathing life back into a number of complex airframes, such as their SBD-5 Dauntless (BuNo.54532) and P-63A Kingcobra (42-68941), during that time. The group is currently in the advanced stages of another restoration, this being ...

The Commemorative Air Force’s Airbase Georgia, formerly known as the Dixie Wing, has established an enviable reputation for its aircraft restoration prowess over the past few decades, breathing life back into a number of complex airframes, such as their SBD-5 Dauntless (BuNo.54532) and P-63A Kingcobra (42-68941), during that time. The group is currently in the advanced stages of another restoration, this being Boeing N2S-2 Kaydet Bu.03531, more familiarly known as a ‘Stearman’ due to its design origins. However, this past week saw a significant new project crossing the threshold of Airbase Georgia’s hangar in Peachtree City, Georgia with the arrival of Republic P-47N Thunderbolt 44-89136.

As many readers will know, this aircraft has been with the CAF for more than half a century, although not without incident; the fighter incurred substantial damage following an inflight engine fire in March, 2002. The badly burned airframe sat for a number of years after this incident, awaiting a sponsor with deep pockets to begin its restoration.

After fits and starts, a rebuild began in earnest under the auspices of the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison, Texas during 2013. However, by 2016, the airframe was again awaiting reassignment to a new home. Put up for ‘adoption’ in 2018, the CAF’s SoCal Wing won the honor of completing the restoration. Fresh from their triumphant, decades-long resurrection of the world’s sole surviving PBJ-1J Mitchell, it seemed like the P-47 had arrived at the perfect location for her skyward-bound adventures to begin anew. But sometimes priorities change; for whatever reason, the SoCal Wing was not able to devote the necessary resources to their new prize, with little substantive work reportedly taking place during the aircraft’s tenure in Camarillo, California. And this brings us to March of this year, when the CAF announced that the P-47N would move again, this time to Airbase Georgia which, oddly enough, was one of the original sponsorship bidders back in 2018. And so the Thunderbolt made the long, cross-country journey by road to Peachtree City this past week, arriving over the weekend.

Looking nearly complete, structurally speaking at least, there is a lot of work remaining, especially with the aircraft’s systems, before the fighter can head aloft once more. Anyone wishing to support the project should click HERE to do so. We look forwards to bringing regular progress reports as her rebuild continues!

This P-47 arrived too late to see frontline service with the U.S. Army Air Forces, it did have a fairly colorful post-war history south of the border, which we reported on HERE back in 2016… it’s worth another look!

Legal battle over church property a sign of the times, experts say

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A Georgia church is battling in court for the right to sell its own property. Their opponent? Their own now-former larger church organization.Members of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Thunderbolt say they are devastated. The church, which has less than a dozen members, has been a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) for decades.But Reverend Steve Schulte tells WTOC as soon as the larger church organization found out they planned to sell their property and downsize, it kicked th...

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A Georgia church is battling in court for the right to sell its own property. Their opponent? Their own now-former larger church organization.

Members of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Thunderbolt say they are devastated. The church, which has less than a dozen members, has been a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) for decades.

But Reverend Steve Schulte tells WTOC as soon as the larger church organization found out they planned to sell their property and downsize, it kicked the congregation out of the denomination and sued them over the property, effectively blocking the sale.

Now, more than a year into this battle, Rev. Schulte says it’s become bigger than just their church.

“We are fighting for every small congregation that’s out there,” Schulte said. “A bishop can come in and close you, and take your property, and then you have nothing left.”

Schulte has led St. Luke’s for almost 30 years. Founded as a Lutheran church back in 1931, Schulte says the congregation joined the ELCA when it formed in 1988.

St. Luke’s had been a member of a different Lutheran organization, which merged to form the ELCA that year.

Like many other churches, St. Luke’s church body has shrunk over the years. They’re now down to just 8 members. The congregation has sold-off much of its former property over the year, including its old place of worship.

But now, Schulte says the congregation is too small for its current place of worship. So, when a neighbor offered to buy the property for $200,000, Schulte said they jumped at the opportunity.

“Out of courtesy we informed the bishop that we were going to sell the property. We have never had a bishop’s approval in the past, ever,” Schulte said.

The church owns the deed to its property, and its constitution states that it has the right to sell it. But Schulte says that wasn’t enough for Bishop Kevin Strickland, who oversees the ELCA’s Southeast region.

He says Strickland asked them to let the ELCA control the sale - and the money from it.

“And we said to him, no. We are not going to listen to you,” Schulte said. “And when he interfered with that transaction, the potential buyers backed out for fear of lawsuits.”

The suit, filed by the ELCA last June in Chatham County Superior Court, alleges that St. Luke’s has, “ceased to meaningfully exist.” It also says the ELCA is suing to, quote, “protect and preserve any undisposed assets in an orderly manner.”

Schulte thinks it’s all about the money.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if small churches closing is another way for big churches to make money.”

But not everyone sees it that way. Reverend Steven Martin, founder of The Lakelands Institute... a national consulting firm for churches... says he’s familiar with these kinds of disputes.

“I would question the narrative that the ELCA just kind of canceled and kicked out a church,” Martin said. “It’s always more complicated than that.”

Martin says he doesn’t think a major church like the ELCA would try to profit from church closures.

“It’s really a minefield for them. And selling church property, or redeveloping church property, is never ever a simple matter,” he added.

Schulte says, for his small church, it’s not about the money. It’s about staying true to their Christian principles.

“I have been a Lutheran my entire life,” Schulte said. “These people here have been Lutherans for a very long time. And for someone to come in and say, ‘you’re out of here!’ is just wrong.”

On Thursday, WTOC heard from the ELCA’s attorney, who represents Bishop Kevin Strickland.

Attorney Charles Bridgers said, quote... “I can confirm that a final written document has been executed by St. Luke’s and the Synod. St. Luke’s is no longer a congregation within the ELCA. Mr. Schulte is no longer on the of ELCA roster of pastors...”

WTOC pressed Bridgers, and he said that both sides have agreed not to share any more details about the agreement. We also reached out to St. Luke’s, but have not heard back.

This story is part of a trend of church property disputes. Just last month, the South Carolina Supreme Court returned 14 church properties to the Episcopal Church - but ruled that 15 other churches could keep their properties.

The state’s high court ruled that those 15 churches had not created a trust in favor of the national church... and therefore could keep their real estate.

The Lakelands Institute predicts as many as 100,000 churches could close across the U.S. over the next several years. They say the pandemic has accelerated that trend.

Copyright 2022 WTOC. All rights reserved.

Thunderbolt Mayor-Elect Dana Williams: 'We don't want to lose our sense of community'

Looking ahead to next year, Williams said he wants to focus on transparency, preserving Thunderbolt's history and infrastructure.Decades ago, the Town of Thunderbolt operated one of the busiest shrimping hubs on the east coast. In fact, so many shrimp boats lined the waterfront that one could walk to the middle of the Wilmington River on them, said Dana Williams, the town's new mayor-elect.“There were piers going out and buildings out that water from one end to the other,” said Williams, “This...

Looking ahead to next year, Williams said he wants to focus on transparency, preserving Thunderbolt's history and infrastructure.

Decades ago, the Town of Thunderbolt operated one of the busiest shrimping hubs on the east coast. In fact, so many shrimp boats lined the waterfront that one could walk to the middle of the Wilmington River on them, said Dana Williams, the town's new mayor-elect.

“There were piers going out and buildings out that water from one end to the other,” said Williams, “This river was what made Thunderbolt.”

Today, only remnants of that vibrant fishing industry and boastful fleet exist. The town of about 2,500 is home to the Thunderbolt Marina, which services some of the largest boats and yachts on the east coast, and a local shrimp shack, Thunderbolt Fisherman’s Seafood, continues to sell fresh shrimp by the river.

But time has eroded some of the town’s most impressive origins, histories that Williams said he wants to pay homage to in his term as mayor. In order to do so, establishing communication with residents and between residents is central, said Williams.

Communicating with residents

Prior to winning the mayoral seat against two-term incumbent Beth Goette, Williams served a term on council and on the ad hoc water committee. He credits his win to constant communication with the public, frequently posting on social media about council discussions and employing an on-the-ground approach to his campaign.

"I was knocking on doors and gave out my card with my personal cell phone number on it to everybody I talked to because I wanted people to know that I am available," said Williams, "I had so many people tell me that they had never had a Thunderbolt politician knock on their door."

But Williams is breaking the silence, and he said he's bringing that same energy to the top post in the city. In addition to making himself available, Williams and Town Administrator Bob Milie said they're working on modernizing Thunderbolt's approach to communication with the public by using social media.

"We're trying to be more open and more informative (by) establishing social media channels for all the departments for the town, utilizing the press more and giving our website a revamp," said Williams.

Additionally, Williams said he wants to reconvene the Thunderbolt Improvement Association, a neighborhood group formed over 50 years ago that became a major asset especially for the African American community, but had petered off in the age of COVID.

"It was a great way for the public to host their own meetings without any influence from council … and talk about what they want," he said, "and then the president of the association would bring all those concerns, ideas and whatnot to the council."

The neighborhood association along with the other initiatives are all key to one of the many priorities of the incoming mayor— reinvigorating a sense of community and reigniting Thunderbolt’s identity.

Bringing back community and identity

Michaele Yvonne Toomer-Reyes, a lifelong resident of Thunderbolt, said she remembers the town’s most anticipated event, The Blessing of the Fleet, a festival and religious ceremony borne out of the shrimping days.

The annual celebration consisted of “vendors, dancing, arts and crafts, lots of food, live shows, and a beauty pageant. And then the shrimp boats were blessed before the start of the shrimping season,” said Toomer-Reyes.

But the Blessing of the Fleet hasn’t been celebrated in decades as the shrimping industry declined, and, with it, the camaraderie between fishermen. Apartments and condominiums now hinder the views of the river on the bluff, said Toomer-Reyes.

“There used to be community events of all kinds when I was younger,” she said, “Then boat parades were canceled due to COVID (as well).”

Williams said he’s felt the residents’ collective yearning for kinship after years of a pandemic topped off decades of slipping identity.

“It was a big giant to-do and people miss that,” said Williams, “So we would like to bring that back in some form or fashion ... and really celebrate that waterfront heritage that we still have, even if we don’t have a fleet of shrimp boats anymore.”

Thunderbolt may be a small, unassuming town, but its history spans for more than a century and a half, and like its westward neighbor, Savannah, it's full of stories of progress and tension.

“This town is chock-full of history, it's amazing,” he said, “The Yacht Club started here, there was a casino, they used to have road races here, there was a major civil war battle right here on this bluff … and then you have the Native American tribes before all of us.”

It’s also home to Georgia’s first Historically Black College, Savannah State University.

The list goes on, and so do Williams' ideas to commemorate those historical happenings. Historical markers are part of the plan and, possibly, QR codes that visitors can scan on their phones and then watch or listen to oral histories told by Thunderbolt’s oldest residents on the Thunderbolt Museum website.

“The one thing we don’t ever want to lose is our sense of community and who we are,” said Williams, “If you don’t continue to tell the story, you lose it.”

Small town, big needs

On the other side of that effort, though, is the physical upkeep of Thunderbolt — the continuous need to preserve the city’s infrastructure and economy so that residents may keep living in it.

Unlike Chatham County’s westside municipalities, Thunderbolt isn’t facing issues of industrial and commercial growth that threaten residential life — at least not at the acute level of its neighbors. With Savannah on the east and the Wilmington River and unincorporated island communities on the west, the one-time fishing village is focused on existing physically.

Thunderbolt is the only city in the county to lose population over the course of a decade, according to 2020 census data. But there are plans to grow that with residential developments and businesses.

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A mixed-use residential development, Village on the Bluff, is slated for completion next fall. Council is also starting to draft regulations on short-term vacation rentals (STVRs), which bring tourism and business, but also decrease the number of permanent residents living in the city — that, in turn, affects population-based funding avenues like SPLOST.

Town administrator, Milie, said Thunderbolt is also working on local policies that will streamline the process for businesses setting up in Thunderbolt. The main commercial corridors for the town are along River Drive and Victory Drive.

"We want to attract people that say, 'that's a hip upcoming community where I can see raising a family and get my cup of coffee here and walk my dog at the park...'" said Milie.

Meanwhile, Williams said the council will continue to focus on the infrastructure issues they’ve been working on this past term, which include updating the city’s water pipes and roads.

“Some of these pipes have been down there since World War II,” said Williams, “We have worked feverishly the last 12 years to locate all these valves and pipes.”

According to Williams, the city just finished an approximately $1.6 million pipe replacement project. Additionally, the city submitted an application for a $5.5 million state grant to address a sewage force main, as well as a smaller grant of about $50,000 for road repairs.

To maximize the town’s revenue sources, Milie said they are applying for federal and state grants when they can.

“This is a very small town with a very small tax base and you have to pick and choose. Is it going to be some parks this year or are we able to try and give raises to our dedicated employees, or is it going to be streets?,” said Milie, “We're trying to streamline through the budget process a way to identify and prioritize everything, and not be as reliant on certain other funding sources like SPLOST…”

With a full plate before the start of his new term, Williams said he's looking forward to working with the new set of council members.

"I'm really looking forward to four years of positivity and cohesiveness," said Williams, "We'll continue to build our relationships with one another and the town and just try to remove all the red tape and things that slow government down. I want to try to make it easier and smoother for not only citizens but for us as well."

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at nguan@gannett.com or on Twitter @nancyguann.

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