Criminal Defense Attorney in Thunderbolt, GA.

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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.

 Drug Lawyer Thunderbolt, GA
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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

'It was a labor of love': For first time in 20 years, Thunderbolt revives Blessing of the Fleet

Anna Maria Thomas remembers dancing the night away on River Drive as brass bands played along the Wilmington River. It’s been decades since the Town of Thunderbolt hosted its Blessing of the Fleet festival, a three-day affair that paid homage to the city’s shrimping history.Shrimping and fishing boats would fill the marsh-lined river, waiting to be blessed by the Catholic bishop before heading out to sea.“Our help is in the name of the Lord,” were the priest’s first words before wish...

Anna Maria Thomas remembers dancing the night away on River Drive as brass bands played along the Wilmington River. It’s been decades since the Town of Thunderbolt hosted its Blessing of the Fleet festival, a three-day affair that paid homage to the city’s shrimping history.

Shrimping and fishing boats would fill the marsh-lined river, waiting to be blessed by the Catholic bishop before heading out to sea.

“Our help is in the name of the Lord,” were the priest’s first words before wishing the fisherman a bountiful catch. That’s according to the 1998 brochure of the last celebration that took place. Thomas keeps the paper pamphlet in her car.

Latest in Thunderbolt:Thunderbolt passes its first short-term vacation rental ordinance and hotel/motel tax

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

According to Thomas, the Blessing of the Fleet, which began in 1949, was "hard work, but a lot of fun." It was the culmination of the sweat and effort of a small group of dedicated Thunderbolt residents.

“It was just fantastic. Both sides of the River Drive block was filled, vendors were everywhere,” Thomas recalled.

For more than 20 years, the town, including Thomas who served as mayor in the early 2000s, had tried to bring some semblance of the ritual back, but it never quite gathered enough momentum. This year, after a two-month sprint of preparation and planning, Thunderbolt is reviving the Blessing of the Fleet.

The event will take place on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. along the original stomping grounds, River Drive. Live music, entertainment, a beer garden and vendors of all kinds will be present.

The parade, which will feature local businesses, nonprofits and public service groups, will kick off the celebration. The blessing by Bishop Parkes of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist will take place at 4 p.m.

“We’re paying homage to the people who paved the way for us to have the town that we have today," said Mayor Dana Williams, "And also to preserve and promote our history and our heritage of being tied to the water."

First City Progress:'Village on the Bluff' development to add retail, housing to Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt’s origins hearken back to the height of the local shrimping and fishing industry. The community grew along the Wilmington River’s banks. Traditional fishing cottages are still the dominant architectural style in its neighborhoods.

Williams acknowledged that the small town has lost that sense of community over the years. The population has gradually dwindled to its current 2,500. Once-active neighborhood associations have aged out or were stamped out by the pandemic.

But the decline had begun decades before, with the dissipation of the Blessing of the Fleet being one of its biggest indicators. A combination of an aging community; development along River Drive, where the festival was held; and an overall decline in the local shrimping industry had all contributed to the fading of tradition.

But Williams, as well as other city officials and residents, have been striving to thread the once close-knit community back together again.

Also:Black gill parasite causes fall harvest declines in Georgia White Shrimp

"It falls into what was my biggest platform, and council as well: getting out and meeting your neighbors, knowing them and being there for them when they need you," said Williams.

The other day, Williams said he witnessed several residents picking up scraps of trash off the streets. They were anticipating the return of the Blessing of the Fleet, he said, and wanted to help beautify the town.

Michael Smith, who had grown up in Thunderbolt from the ‘50s to ‘90s, helped organize the Blessing of the Fleet as part of the city's volunteer firefighter crew. He remembers setting up arts and crafts booths and standing in the river to help regulate the boat parade. Every year, they’d host different events such as foot races and dunking booths.

But just like Thomas, he cherished memories of dancing on the street during a summery Friday evening the most, and listening to the bands he helped pick out in the weeks before as an event organizer.

Smith describes the event as being a labor of love.

"It would take months to get everything organized, there was a lot of people involved in making it happened," said Smith.

Read more:Leigh Ebberwein finds the 'power' of words in first novel, 'Blessing of the Celtic Curse'

After 22 years, the Blessing of the Fleet’s celebrations will look different. The river won’t hold the 50 or so boats as it once had. There’s maybe half a dozen pontoons and other recreational vessels docked along the banks now. Anyone sailing in the river is welcome to receive their blessing, though, said Williams.

What’s important, Williams notes, is that the Thunderbolt is bringing back its most beloved tradition after decades of pleas from residents. The mayor credits city staff and Simply Savannah Marketing for the expedited preparations.

“We’re rekindling that sense of community,” said Williams. "This is just the start, this is the beginning.”

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

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.

More:Black gill parasite causes fall harvest declines in Georgia White Shrimp

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."

More:Thunderbolt election: New mayor to lead town as Williams defeats Goette soundly

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.

More:Bloomingdale's new mayor helped Pooler manage its early growth. Can he do the same again?

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.

More:First City Progress: 'Village on the Bluff' development to add retail, housing to Thunderbolt

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.”

More:City of Thunderbolt brings composting, conservation efforts to residents

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 or on Twitter @nancyguann.

Hometown Hero: Rusty Hunter

THUNDERBOLT, Ga. (WTOC) - Rusty Hunter wasn’t waiting for a car crash to take place outside his Thunderbolt home. But he knew what to do when one did.This is not exactly the picture of good fortune. But the driver of this car had no idea how lucky he was to hit this tree, on this road, in front of this Army veteran’s house.“I heard the car go by, I heard the screech, I heard the crash. I immediately stepped outside, I saw the car was burning, so I’m doing a scene survey as I was running down here. I knew...

THUNDERBOLT, Ga. (WTOC) - Rusty Hunter wasn’t waiting for a car crash to take place outside his Thunderbolt home. But he knew what to do when one did.

This is not exactly the picture of good fortune. But the driver of this car had no idea how lucky he was to hit this tree, on this road, in front of this Army veteran’s house.

“I heard the car go by, I heard the screech, I heard the crash. I immediately stepped outside, I saw the car was burning, so I’m doing a scene survey as I was running down here. I knew it was life threatening,” Hunter said.

It was the middle of the night when a car crashed outside Hunter’s Thunderbolt home. And the former Army medic who worked in emergency services after he left the military was not only awake, he was ready to respond.

“I ran out the back door with my shoes and my flashlight and I saw the car here burning, so I took off in a sprint,” he said. “I noticed that he couldn’t get out that side, so I started snatching on the door pretty hard. He was passed out completely, his head was slumped over. When I got the door open, I guess oxygen got in, smoke came out. He passed out. It was burning in the dashboard. So, yeah, we were lucky, both of us.”

Hunter pulled the driver out of the burning car and across the street to safety as the Thunderbolt Fire Department arrived on the scene.

“Remarkable for anybody to do, but for him to have the background that he had, he recognized the emergency, he knew exactly what to do,” Dallas Thompson said. “The driver is alive today because of what Rusty did.

Last week, the town of Thunderbolt honored Hunter for his actions with the Heroic Citizens Recognition - attention this WTOC Hometown Hero had been avoiding since the incident in October.

“They asked me a couple of times and I said no and then my wife snuck it in on me. But I just reacted. I hope somebody would do that for me,” Hunter said. “There was a reason I was awake. Maybe it was to help this guy. There was a reason I was awake.”

Copyright 2022 WTOC. All rights reserved.

Phillip Lynnwood Donaldson


Phillip Lynnwood Donaldson “Phil”, passed away Thursday, August 18, 2022. He was born September 5, 1933 in Savannah, Georgia, the eldest son of Kermit L. Donaldson and Maude Cowart Donaldson. He attended Savannah High School and the University of Georgia where he received a Bachelor degree in Business Administration. Upon graduation he entered the U. S. Air Force, acquiring his basic pilot training at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, and later B-47 jet aircraft training at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. He was stationed at Davis-Monthan, a Strategic Air Command base in Tucson, Arizona when he met his future wife, Yvonne Cunningham who was attending the University of Arizona.

Upon leaving the Air Force, he and Yvonne were married and returned to Savannah together where he joined the family businesses, Johnny Harris Restaurant and Johnny Harris Barbecue Sauce Company. Later, he began to satisfy his entrepreneurial spirit by building and operating the Steak Corral Restaurant in Savannah, and owning the River’s End Restaurant in Thunderbolt, Georgia. He was an owner- operator of Wendy’s Restaurants in Valdosta, Waycross, Vidalia, Lake Park, Adel and Perry, Georgia, being a franchisee for over 40 years. He was elected to The Wendy’s Hall of Fame and had served on the Wendy’s Franchise Association Board. His Bemis Road Wendy’s in Valdosta was named the Best Wendy’s in the World in 2007. He was an owner along with his daughter and son-in-law, of The Atlanta Bread Company restaurants in Savannah and Valdosta as well as the Houlihan’s Restaurant in Savannah.

Phil served for a number of years on the Boards of Bethesda Home for Boys, and the former Wachovia Bank. He was a member of the Oglethorpe Club, The Landings Club, and the Lake Toxaway Country Club in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina where he and his wife enjoyed a second home for many years. He was a former member of the Savannah Golf Club and a member of a number of hospitality industry associations.

Phil will be remembered for his outstanding business expertise and attention to detail. He was a role model to many who worked for him in the Wendy’s restaurant industry and he and his franchises were honored many times by Wendy’s International for outstanding performance and commitment to excellence. His employees took great pride in making sure their stores were run with the highest standards. He rewarded his managers frequently with praise and honored their loyalty and hard work by hosting cruises to the Caribbean. He recognized the potential in all and was instrumental in guiding young people who worked for him. His generosity was legendary.

Phil and Yvonne loved to travel and enjoyed exploring many parts of the world together. He was also an accomplished watercolor artist and loved to tease that his pieces were priceless, translating that none had ever sold. The loves of his life were his grandsons, Corbin (Christen), Brennan and Grayson and his granddaughter Peyton. He thrived on helping them discover their potential, offering help, guidance and advice whenever he could. He has most recently enjoyed the addition of his first great-grandchildren, Madeline, August and Phoebe Moon Parker.

He will be greatly missed by Yvonne, his wife of 63 years, daughter Julie Lowenthal, son-in-law B.J. Lowenthal, Jr, and his adored grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He also leaves a brother John K. Donaldson of New York City, and a sister Linda (Norman) Heidt of Savannah, several nieces, nephews and dear friends. His family is also so thankful to his team of loyal caregivers, especially Erica.

There will be a private graveside service. The family suggests that remembrances be made to The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption or mail to 4900 Tuttle Crossing Blvd, Dublin OH 43016

City of Thunderbolt brings composting, conservation efforts to residents

While the Saturday morning sun beat down on Savannah during one of its hottest weekends this summer, Maria Vaughan and her husband Michael Wedum chatted outside to Thunderbolt residents for hours about the benefits of recycling their food waste.The couple, co-founders of Savannah-based food waste composting program ...

While the Saturday morning sun beat down on Savannah during one of its hottest weekends this summer, Maria Vaughan and her husband Michael Wedum chatted outside to Thunderbolt residents for hours about the benefits of recycling their food waste.

The couple, co-founders of Savannah-based food waste composting program Code of Return (COR) Compost, kicked off a pilot program with Thunderbolt as part of the city's larger conservation effort in the works. After the weekend, Vaughan said they had eight resident sign-ups and at least three restaurants willing to participate in the 60-day composting pilot.

Not only is it an easy way to combat climate change, Vaughan explained, but it's also, ultimately, cost effective for the city.

Rising temperatures:Savannah goes from hot to hotter as climate warms

Edward Drohan, Thunderbolt council member, said he is in the early stages of formulating a conservation plan for the town of about 2,600 and cites slowly increasing water costs as one of the reasons for doing so.

"There's a dual purpose," said Drohan. "There's an overarching conservation goal, which has to do with being good to the earth. Whereas it relates to the water system, it is known that compostables that go down the drain are damaging to the system. Therefore, compostables that don't go down the drain actually help the system last longer and work better."

How does COR Compost work:Compost business looks to expand

Residents and restaurants jump on the composting wagon

"I never thought about composting because I only thought about it in the context of a garden," said Stephen Yost, a Thunderbolt resident. "Knowing that somebody is collecting stuff, it helped spark that idea that maybe we should be doing this."

Vaughan and Wedum laid out the process for households that want to participate: All it takes is throwing your food scraps into a different container instead of in the trash where it will be taken to methane-producing landfills or down the sink where it's bound to damage pipes.

COR Compost, which started its operations in 2019, has had over 600 resident sign-ups and 20 commercial accounts, most of which are downtown Savannah restaurants.

Residents who sign up receive a commercial food-grade bucket in which they can place their kitchen waste. They can either drop the contents off at the Forsyth Farmers' Market every Saturday at COR Compost's stand or at one of three self-serve stations across the city. Curbside pick-up is also available to residents for a fee.

How to sign up:Compost company wants your food waste

Those who use the newest self-serve station by Wesley Oak United Methodist Church in Thunderbolt can receive a free cup of coffee from Finches Sandwiches and Sundries, the restaurant across the street.

Those who would still like to sign up can do so online ( or at the Forsyth Farmers' Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"We had a lot of residents from the islands interested, but logistically it didn't make sense," said Vaughan.

Now, with a closer drop-off station in Thunderbolt, Chatham County residents on the east side can participate much easier.

Town restaurants, Finches, Chiriya's Thai Cuisine and Tubby's Tank House will be taking part in a free two-month composting trial, which is about how long it takes for food waste to fully decompose on COR Compost's farm. The usual process takes four to five months, but COR's solar-powered aeration system cuts that time in half, said Vaughan.

At the end of the trial, restaurants will get to see their previous food waste in composted form — a dark, nutrient-rich soil.

Depending on the results from this trial period, COR Compost and Atlantic Waste, which handles waste management for the city, could potentially coordinate and work with businesses in a more formal arrangement.

"They're pioneering this right now for the restaurants," said Finches co-owner Rebecca Matthews. "There's been nobody else who's approached us and said, 'hey there's a better way.'"

Matthews, who composts at home already, said she's excited to start incorporating it into her business, as well.

"For our millennial toast that we do, which is an avocado toast, we go through like a hundred avocados every couple of days, so that's a lot of waste," said Matthews.

Chiriya Moore, who runs Chiriya's Thai Cuisine, said she does her own composting in her garden behind the restaurant, but is participating in the pilot program because she believes the city needs to do more with recycling and composting.

"I don't throw anything away," she said as she crushed a bag of egg shells beneath her feet and gestured towards the dirt, which, along with the egg shells, is speckled with scraps of vegetables and banana leaves.

"If you don't do it now [recycling, composting], it's going to become a big problem," said Moore. "I do what I can now."

Saving dollars and the earth

According to the USDA, a person, on average, produces about a pound of food waste per day.

Using conservative estimates based on that statistic, the town of Thunderbolt produces about 91,000 pounds (or 45.5 tons) of food waste per year that goes down the drain, said Drohan.

Extrapolate that to the rest of the county, and that's a lot of food waste in the pipes.

A study from Georgia Southern University's Center for Business Analytics and Economic Research found that the city of Savannah produced about a total of 60,900 tons of compostable waste and, within that, 22,800 tons of food waste in 2016.

Right now, COR composts about 480 tons on their one acre farm.

"With the right support for this movement we could take away 10% of the city landfill's compostable material on just the first tier of becoming a commercially regulated facility," said Wedum.

Along with composting, the city is mapping out a plan to conserve water, a long-term effort that municipalities around Savannah are working on.

"For a water system, you've got to be thinking 50 years down the road," said Drohan, "you can't let it get to a point where, it doesn't matter how much money you have or how hard you work, you're going to have a crisis."

On a local level, Drohan said this will save Thunderbolt resident's tax dollars. Conserving water means drawing less from the City Savannah as well, which costs about 2.5 times as much as the city's main source of water.

"We're trying to avoid damage to the infrastructure, we're trying to stretch tax dollars and we're trying to do well for the earth," said Drohan.

Vaughan echoes that idea when it comes to composting. In addition to environmental benefits, it can be a fiscal advantage.

"There's actually a large revenue that we're missing out on by just throwing it in a landfill," said Vaughan. "We can literally take half of what our waste is and turn it into a product. This is the solution to reamend our soil and have something for the future."

COR Compost received a donation of 40 composting buckets. Those who would like to sign up for free can do so while supplies last by visiting To support the organization, go to

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


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