Headlines – 4/22/2003

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 22, 2003

The Panolian Headlines: April 22, 2003

For complete stories, pick up the 4/22/03  issue of The Panolian

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Two Local Teens Die in Crash
The 1990 Buick in which Brandon Cox and Tommy Young were killed suffered heavy damage.

South Panola High School students returning after Easter break to school today were to have counselors and ministers available to help them cope with the death of one of their own.

SPHS football player Jay Brandon Cox, a 17-year-old sophomore, was killed Saturday night in an auto accident that also claimed the life of his passenger, Tommy Young, 16, also of Batesville.

Young recently completed his work-study program at the district’s alternative school, said its principal Sara McCulloch.

Cooley’s Mortuary in Batesville is in charge of services for both young men. Arrangements were incomplete at press time.

Tommy was the son of Tommy Strong and Rosephine Young, both of Batesville, and Brandon was the son of Edna Cox, a spokesman at Cooley’s said.

Brandon and Tommy were involved in a three-car accident at 9:46 p.m. on U.S. Highway 51 about one mile north of Batesville near the Tallahatchie River bridge, said Lt. Andy Shackelford of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

Details of the crash were not immediately available as Shackelford said the investigation is not complete.

Trooper Dennis Darby, who worked the scene, is being assisted in the investigation by Trooper Peter Clinton who is an accident reconstruction specialist, Shackelford told The Panolian.

The 1990 Buick in which Cox and Young were driving came to rest upside down in about seven feet of water in a bar ditch about 100 yards south of the bridge, said Batesville Fire Chief Tim Taylor.

One rear wheel and a portion of the bumper were visible when fire rescue personnel arrived on the scene, Taylor said.

One of the victims was pulled from the car while the auto was still submerged, Taylor said. The other victim was trapped and his body could not be freed until the car was pulled out of the ditch.

The drivers of the other vehicles were identified by Shackelford as Stanley Wilson (no age available) of Sardis, who was driving a 1986 Chevrolet, and Amber Jackson, 22, of Crowder, who was driving a 1986 Toyota.

Shackelford said those drivers were unhurt.

Del Phillips, SPHS principal, recalled Cox with fondness as he talked about the student.

"Brandon was a great kid," Phillips said. "I never saw Brandon in the office, he made good grades and I never saw him doing anything other than what he was supposed to do."

Phillips said he had talked with some of the school’s football players over the weekend who were mourning the loss of their friend.

Brandon was a sophomore starter on the team and was the kick-off man.

"We’re all hurting," Phillips said of the staff and students. "I always get really nervous this time of year and right after school starts.

"It’s not just here … these are times when the youngsters have so much energy and high spirits … they think they will live forever," he said.

Already set in place for such a time is a plan that will involve the setting up of a "safe haven" spot for the students to gather today to talk about Brandon and share their grief together.

"Students will want to know what happened," he said. "We’ll have counselors and some local ministers available for them to talk with."

He expects the students to "migrate to the people they know the best" for comfort.

"Brandon had a lot of friends … especially other members of the football team," Phillips said. "They are coming around and getting together."

Principal McCulloch also remembered Tommy as one of her better students.

"He was as sweet as he could be," she said. "He wasn’t a minute’s trouble. I don’t think I ever had any disciplinary dealings with him unless it was right after he first came and I asked him to tuck in the back of his shirt."

Before Tommy finished at the school about two months ago, McCulloch said he participated in the work-study program.

Because he didn’t have transportation to work in the community in the afternoon, she said he volunteered to stay at the school and work as a janitor.

She said Tommy had returned to Batesville after a stay in St. Louis where he had had some "run ins" there with gangs.

"He’d come in my office and we’d talk," she said. "He’d say, ‘Ms. McCulloch, I want to be straight. I have to wear [gang] colors to keep from being beaten up."

McCulloch said Tommy had been a beating victim here "three or four times."

While it is something many don’t want to admit, McCulloch said there are gangs in Batesville. Gangs, she said, that are affiliated with gangs in St. Louis and Chicago.

"There’s evidence of it here," she said. "We have gangs. I have boys coming in and crying about it in my office."

She said Tommy fought against the gang influence even to the point of "slipping me a note" to let her know about someone or something going on at school that wasn’t right.

"He had worked hard to turn his life around. He was a good kid … and I’ll never forget that smile he had."

‘Offensive’ Book Topic at Meeting

A book in the accelerated reading program has parents in the South Panola School District up in arms.

During a meeting of the South Panola School District Board of Trustees last week, Judy Smith spoke on behalf of the parents in attendance protesting the material found in the Judith Casely novel "Losing Louisa."

"We all know that if there is a problem in one school in the district, it affects them all," Smith said. "And this problem pertains to reading material not suitable for middle school children."

Smith said her daughter, a fifth grade student at Batesville Middle School, brought home "Losing Louisa" and other books in the accelerated reading program containing what she called "inappropriate language.

Calvary Baptist Building Total Loss
Lightning May Be Cause
Firefighters continued to hose down hot spots during the day Monday at Calvary Baptist Church.
Rev. Paul Middleton (r) spoke with church members and well-wishers who came to the Keating Road fire scene.

"When you know you are going to heaven when you die, things like this are nothing."

So said Rev. Paul Middleton Monday morning as he stood with church members near the remains of Calvary Baptist Church on Keating Road.

The church was a total loss after fire ravaged the large red brick building with white columns that was home to 550 members.

While investigators are under going the task of determining what caused the fire, Batesville Fire Chief Tim Taylor said "a strong suspicion is lightning."

Taylor said those investigating will include the Mississippi State Fire Marshal, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm agents and the Panola County Sheriff’s Department fire investigator.

Taylor said a bolt of lightning struck in the area of the church about 10 p.m. on Easter Sunday night.

"Lightning can strike and it can smolder for a long time before fire breaks out," the fire chief said.

And it was shortly before 4 a.m. Monday when Patrol Officer Brad Shackelford spotted the fire when he was on routine patrol, Middleton said.

Fire had broken through the roof and Taylor said firefighters could only take "a defensive posture" because it was "too dangerous" to send men inside the church to fight the fully-involved fire.

The church did not have an automatic fire alarm system and was not equipped with sprinklers, Taylor said.

The building is insured, Middleton said.

No one was allowed to enter the building which was still being cooled down Monday. Middleton said he had looked through some windows. Little is left standing inside but a few Sunday School classrooms.

On Easter morning the 459-seat sanctuary was overflowing with worshippers, so much so that about 40 additional chairs had to be set up, the minister said.

Middleton, who will have been at the helm of Calvary six years come June 1, said the church building opened in February of 1995.

Before that, member Christy Keeton said after the church sold its old building, "we met in an old theater and in people’s homes.

Member Etta Jones, her eyes wet with tears, looked at what was left of the building and said, "We built that one … we can build another one."

Although the fire was too far gone for firefighters to save the church, Middleton had praise for them and for Officer Shackelford who he said was, "so kind to me."

"There was just nothing they could really do," the minister said.

In all, 42 firefighters from Batesville, Courtland, Sardis and Mt. Olivet fought the blaze, Taylor said.

Just what’s next for the congregation, Middleton said that will come Wednesday night "… when we meet in this parking lot to pray."

After that, he said, "we’ll make some decisions.

"Our church is made up of great people of faith," he said. "This won’t phase them. This fire has not changed the nature of God. He is good. This is just a building."


Paddling Draws Gripe from Parent

A Batesville physician questioned the punishment of her daughter by a teacher of the South Panola School District.

During a recent meeting of the South Panola School District Board of Trustees, Dr. Rosa Loyola, took issue with the board for the district’s use of corporal punishment.

"I come to you as an advocate for children," she said. "The way my daughter was handled was inappropriate."

Loyola claims her daughter Charmagne was paddled by a male teacher while other students held her down.

"The way I understand it, Charmagne was talking to a classmate and the teacher decided to discipline her," she said.

At the first of school when the form was sent out for parents to decide whether or not paddling was a suitable form of punishment for their children, Loyola she did not agree to it.

"My husband and I never paid that much attention to a piece of paper," she said. "But we negated it. We believe there are other effective ways to discipline children."

Some of the ways Loyola suggested were having students do more homework, stay after class or write their name on the blackboard.

"We should channel the aggression into a more productive punishment that would both teach the student a lesson and correct the problems in behavior," she said.

"Though the laws of Mississippi allow corporal punishment of children, paddling and inflicting physical harm by spanking, kicking, pinching, etc., are barbaric and primitive ways to instill discipline in the classroom," she said. "Civilized states do not allow corporal punishment in their schools."

School board president Lygunnah Bean asked Loyola to allow the board time to look into the matter further.

"I beg you to give us time to address the situation," Bean said. "We will get to the bottom of it as soon as possible."