FEB. 24, 2017
Tifton, Georgia


In an 11-year-old case that baffled authorities and caught the nation's attention, a former Irwin County High student
 has been charged with the murder of teacher and former Miss Tifton Tara Grinstead, who disappeared without a trace in Ocilla in October 2005.

Ryan Alexander Duke, 33, who graduated from Irwin County High School in 2002 while Grinstead taught there,
is being held in the Irwin County Detention Center, authorities said Thursday.

Duke appeared in court Thursday and was formally charged with  burglary, aggravated assault, murder and concealing a death.

The warrants read in court 
claimed Duke broke into Grinstead's home and used "his hands in an offensive manner with the intent to do serious or bodily harm," caused Grinstead's death and "did knowingly, intentionally and willingly remove the deceased body of Tara Grinstead from her residence, with the intent to conceal her death for discovery."

At a press conference earlier Thursday in the Irwin County Courthouse, Special Agent J.T. Ricketson of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation declined to give specifics about Grinstead's death, her remains or the suspect's motive.

"I'm not allowed to answer that," Ricketson said. The GBI agent did say that Duke "never came up on
A photo from Irwin High's Class of 2002 Yearbook. Duke was a high school athlete.
our radar during the 

Ricketson said that "a few days ago, an individual came forward who had information about Tara's disappearance."

Following several interviews, authorities had "enough probable cause" to charge Duke, the agent said.

Duke was taken into custody on Wednesday afternoon, and a warrant was issued Thursday morning, Ricketson said.

"This investigation is still very active, and the GBI expects to conduct several more interviews and investigative acts in the next few weeks," according to a GBI press release. "The search for Grinstead's remains continues," the GBI press release
An undated photo of Duke released by authorities.

When she disappeared on Oct. 22, 2005Tara Grinstead was 30, a Hawkinsville native who lived in Ocilla. She was Miss Tifton in 1999 and had gone on to be a contestant in the Miss Georgia pageant. 

She lived by herself and had  taught at Irwin County High School for about eight years.

On that October day, a Saturday, Grinstead had helped at the Miss Georgia Sweet Potato Festival pageant in Fitzgerald. She  later went to a cookout at a friend's home.

She was reported missing after not showing up at school on Monday. The clothes she had worn to the Saturday cookout were found at her house. Her cellphone was charging in her bedroom, and her car was in her driveway.

Two years ago,  authorities acting on a tip, drained a pond in Fitzgerald but found nothing to crack the case.


Thirteen national and local/regional country music stars will take the stage Sunday in Tifton for "South
Georgia Strong," a concert to benefit survivors of the recent deadly tornadoes that devastated several 
areas in the region.

McAlpin Entertainment in Tifton has put together the concert, which includes John  Berry, T. Graham Brown, Cyndi Thomson, Buddy Jewell, Ray Scott, Ben Wells, Daniel Parrish, Faith Jackson, Landis Frier, Derrick Dove, Ryn Crider, TJ Mauldin and Anne Cline.

Berry, Brown and Thomson all have had No. 1 hits on the national country charts and all have local connections: Berry lived for awhile in Tifton in recent years before returning to Nashville Tenn.; Brown is a native of Arabi in
Crisp County; and Thomson is a Tifton native who grew up here and still has family in Tifton.

Austin McAlpin of McAlpin Entertainment  said all artists are donating their time to perform, and 100 percent of every ticket sold goes to benefit local storm victims.

Doors open at 5 p.m. Sunday at the UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center.

Tickets are $30 and may be purchased here.


Irwin County Hospital, which has been ranked as having the state's top  financial need, is reminding residents that state legislation passed last year helps rural hospitals by encouraging Georgians to contribute to rural health care services.

Under the new law, individual Georgia taxpayers who contribute to rural health care can apply for a state income tax credit for either 70 percent of the amount of the contribution or $2,500, whichever is less. Married couples filing jointly can get a tax credit for the lesser of 70 percent of the contribution or $5,000.

For businesses, the tax credit is either 70 percent of the amount they contribute or 75 percent of their state income tax liability, whichever is less.  The tax credits expire at the end of 2019.

Rural hospitals have struggled for years, largely because of a high percentage of uninsured and/or indigent patients. Some hospitals have gone bankrupt and forced to close their doors.

Irwin County Hospital has been ranked as the rural hospital with the top financial need in the state, according to the Ga. Department of Community Health. I n a ranking of financial need among rural hospitals in the Georgia HEART ("Helping Enhance Access to Rural Treatment") program, Irwin was ranked No. 1.

Other local hospitals ranked for financial need include Dorminy Medical Center in Fitzgerald at No. 6, Phoebe Worth Medical Center in Sylvester at No. 26, and Cook Medical Center in Adel at No. 40.

"Because donors will receive a state income tax credit for contributing to our hospital, the HEART tax credit program gives their contributions a 'booster shot' that exceeds the benefits of the usual charitable deduction," says Paige Wynn, chief operating officer of Irwin County Hospital.
For information about contributing for a rural hospital organization expense tax credit, visit the Georgia HEART website at or email at

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Post Office Box 1613
Tifton, Georgia 31794
229.339.3721 - Phone
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The Tifton Rotary Club and the Tift County Foundation for Educational Excellence honored 12 public school teachers with Excellence in Teaching Awards on Tuesday at the 26th annual awards banquet. The teachers were nominated by students, parents, peers and other school officials.

Pictured from left are: Colandra Copeland of Eighth Street Middle School; Kailan Fonsah, Northeast Campus; Chanon Collins, Tift County High; Patti Dean, Annie Belle Clark Primary; Stephanie Kimbrell, Len Lastinger Primary; Jeremy Moore, Tift County High; Molly Turner, Charles Spencer Elementary; Bryson Daniels, J.T. Reddick School; Lauren Duncan, Omega School; Tanesha Dotson, Omega School; Kisha Rowe, J.T. Reddick School; Sherrye Chambers, Northeast Campus.

The Tifton-Tift County Chamber of Commerce's youth leadership class -- "T.A.L:K," or "Tomorrow's Aspiring Leaders: Kids" -- visited the state Capitol on Tuesday in Atlanta.

The T.A.L:K class, comprised of 50 eighth graders from Eighth Street Middle School and Tiftarea Academy, met the governor and visited with local legislators.

With the students are, from left in the photo above: Principal Chad Stone of Eighth Street Middle School, Sen. Greg Kirk Gov. Nathan Deal and his wife Sandra, Rep. Clay Pirkle, Tift Chamber President Brian Marlowe and Tift Chamber Operations Manager Linda Floyde.

Sponsors of the youth program are Tift Regional Health System, Heatcraft, Colquitt EMC, First Community Bank of Tifton, Georgia Power and South Georgia Banking Co.


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Feb. 23

Miss Rita's School Mobile

This Summer, Take Only Six Weeks to a Better Grade! 
Private Tutoring - 401 N. Ridge Ave., Tifton

CALL OR TEXT   941-313-0614

JUNE 12 - JULY 21

Miss Rita will be in Tifton  during the week of March 13 
for you to meet her & pick up your student's materials
You Must be Registered and  Make an Appointment 
to see Miss Rita in March

Patience  *  Persistence

GA & FL Certified Reading Specialist

References available upon request

Pool party on June 24 
for registered students  & families  at Tift County Rec Pool!

Miss Rita's Tutor Room has been operating in Manatee and Sarasota Counties in Florida for the past 40-plus years. 

She brings to Tifton her teaching talents as Reading Specialist through Miss Rita's School Mobile, and is eager to build a strong foundation in the youths who are struggling readers. 

Other areas of expertise include math, language arts and violin.

Serving the Tiftarea since 2009
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Workers and volunteers plant trees along Tift Avenue.
The City of Tifton and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College recognized Arbor Day on Feb. 17 by planting trees.

City officials and members of the Tifton Tree Board gathered at the corner of Tift Avenue and Sixth Street
Tifton City Councilman Frank Sayles Jr., left, and Mayor Julie Smith, right, visit with Mary Nola McCrea, center, who once lived in a house that was located at the site on the corner of Sixth and Tift.
where Mayor
Julie Smith read a proclamation and young oak trees were planted along Tift Avenue to replace trees that had died or had become diseased.

Also that day, ABAC opened an arboretum with an initial donation of pine and hardwood seedlings from ArborGen

An arboretum is a place where trees or shrubs are cultivated for their scientific or educational interests.

Located in a former cattle pasture across Moore Highway from the Yow Forestry-Wildlife building, the ABAC arboretum will be used for classes in dendrology, silviculture, herbaceous plant communities and soils.

In the photo below, some of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College's
natural resources faculty along with members of the
Society of American Foresters student chapter at ABAC gather to plant the first tree in the
ABAC Arboretum. They planted a
live oak, which is the
state tree of

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The Tifton Housing Authority, in collaboration with the Tift County Foundation for Educational Excellence, kicked off the Housing Authority's Read Aloud program on Saturday, Feb. 18.

Approximately 50 children, parents and community leaders gathered to promote reading aloud to children as Tifton seeks to become the "Read Aloud Capital of the World."

The Tifton Housing Authority said it is dedicated to improving the lives of its children and families by helping create and sustain an environment of literacy and motivation for reading. 

"It is imperative that parents know the importance of reading to their children at an early age," the Housing Authority said.

"The Tifton Housing Authority encourages early literacy skills so children enter school prepared for success. We will provide books and encouragement for families to make reading aloud to their children a part of everyday life," the Housing Authority said in a written statement.

Cast members have been selected for "The Little Foxes," the Baldwin Players' upcoming spring production at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

Dr. Brian Ray, theatre troupe director, said "The Little Foxes" will be staged at the Peanut Museum at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture at 7 p.m. March 9-11Ray said the production contains strong language and may not be suitable for all ages.

The drama is about a wealthy, powerful family in southern Alabama in 1900. In a male-dominated society and culture of the time, a strong and determined woman works to assert herself into the world of business along with her brothers. The troubled family dynamics are drenched in issues of gender, money, power, love and hatred.

Cast members include Angela Ramos, Austin Clements, Chandler Kuck, Devun Pitts, Caroline Kirkland, Dylan Bennett, Mary Faith Jones, Ty Gore, Martin Silva and Maya Cody

For information, contact Ray at 229-391-4969 or at


Advantage Realty on Love Avenue hosted the Tifton-Tift County Chamber of Commerce's Sunset Tifton business after-hours on Thursday. The realty company is celebrating 10 years.

In the photo, Advantage's Melissa Brock, Randy Clements and Julie Smith are being interviewed by Hayward Fowler (behind the camera) of Your Local Tifton Channel.
. a Glance

  • Sweetheart Run 5k/1 mile, 9 a.m., Rehab Services of Tifton, Old Ocilla Road, Tifton
  • ABAC Fillies softball vs. South Georgia, 2 p.m., ABAC, Tifton
  • Bids for Kids television auction, 5 p.m., Channel 11, Tifton
  • Tift County Forestry & Pine Seedling Scholarship Pageant, 6 p.m., Tift Theatre for the Performing Arts, Tifton
  • Tiftarea Academy Open House, 2-5 p.m., U.S. Highway 41, Chula
  • "South Georgia Strong" benefit concert, 5 p.m., UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center, Tifton

In Memoriam
FEB. 16
David Wayne Tomberlin, 80, Nashville
Richard "Rickey" Johnson Vaughn, 77, Enigma
Darby Barrington Roberts, 88, Enigma
Mary Lou Register, 79, Adel

FEB. 17
Ralph Willis Jr., 71, Tifton
John Lee Boyer, 40, Tifton
Michael Lee Kirkland, 45, Carrollton, formerly of Tifton
Lois Evelyn Smith Hintermeier, 94, Tifton
Marcus Baker, 80, Omega
Ronald "Ronnie" Keith Skipper, 57, Nashville
Cory Greene, 29, Sparks

FEB. 18
Wendell Ray Turner, 68, Tifton
Karleen Vickers, 80, Hahira
Gerald Lee, 67, Moultrie

FEB. 19
John David Davis, 95, West Berrien Community
Clara Jones Tibbets, 94, Tifton
Jeanette Sumner Richartz, 88, Fitzgerald
Virginia Dixon Evans, 82, Perry
John Thomas Dailey Jr., 88, Morven

FEB. 20
Patricia Lucille Howell Vickers, 69, Tifton
Nell Rose Solomon Nugent, 75, Alapaha
Kim Farmer, 59, Ashburn
Betty Martin Hewett Nolan, 82, Adel
Gordon Lamar Burkhalter, 71, Dasher

FEB. 21
Charles Phillip Pearson, 62, Tifton
Sara Eugenia "Jennie" Adams Gay, 89, Irwin County

FEB. 22
Laura "Oleeta" Danner Britt, 82, Tifton
Wilma Inez "Patsy" Yarbrough, 90, Lands Crossing community
Virginia H. Nelson, 83, Ocilla
Troy "Gary" Swann, 49, Quitman
Janie Mack, Ashburn

FEB. 23
Mary W. "Bo" Goode, 79, Tifton
Mildred Arrington Davis, 91, West Berrien Community


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