Headlines – 3/9/2004

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Panolian Headlines: March 9, 2004

For complete stories, pick up the 3/9/04  issue of The Panolian

223rd Soldiers Back in Arms of Loved One
    
Sergeant Leroy Matthews and his wife, Linda, of Crowder were all smiles at their reunion Friday as the Company C of the 223rd Engineering dismissed at the Charleston National Guard Armory.
   
By John Howell Sr.
For The Panolian

The Mississippi National Guard’s 223rd Engineering Battalion completed its final leg of its trip home from Iraq Thursday.

Well-wishers, many sitting atop pickups and cars and holding flags and hand-lettered signs, lined the rural roadsides of their buses’ passages through Mississippi to armories in places like Clarksdale, Charleston, Bruce and Calhoun City. At each armory, well-wishers were joined by anxious family members, elected officials and military officers.

The yellow ribbons tied to trees and mailboxes so many months ago had long since faded to pale and gray, but in their place brilliant yellow jonquils bloomed in abundance along roadsides of the homebound routes, as though having taken over the vigil in the anticipation of return.

Also vigilant that afternoon at each of those armories were family members and friends who were patient, yet impatient for their soldiers’ buses to appear. In Charleston, they waited for the 223rd’s Company C, which had originally been scheduled to arrive at 2 p.m. and which finally arrived around five.

And in the small Tallahatchie County city, the homecoming mood was tempered somewhat by the acknowledgement of a "homegoing." Trooper Rafael Davis of the Charleston unit had died Friday, December 2, 2003, when an improvised explosive device detonated under his vehicle, the 223rd’s only fatality.

His comrades of Company C formed ranks behind the armory, then marched smartly to its front, each soldiers’ eyes straight ahead as though he or she owed an extra debt of respect since Davis was one of their own. Wives, girlfriends, family and friends strained and then restrained themselves at the edge of the paved drive that had been temporarily designated as the boundary between civilian and military.

The ceremony was mercifully brief, with "Welcome Homes" by the appropriate dignitaries – the Charleston mayor and the Tallahatchie Board of Supervisors President and "Job Well Done" by Mississippi National Guard Troop 66 Commander Brigadier General Roger Shields and Company C Commander Officer Captain Stacy Johnson.

Then, the troops were dismissed and the hugs began. Poignantly, many of the soldiers first hugged their comrades – great bear hugs in desert-camoflauge-clad knots of two and four and six – before turning to spouses and children who were running into the rapidly disintegrating formation. And there they were, finally, to be touched and hugged and squeezed and kissed and held ever so closely again. And again.

Mobilized in January last year, they went first to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and by April 1 were deployed in Kuwait. From Kuwait they went north into Iraq where they were put to work in the volatile Sunni triangle of northern Iraq, around Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.

"During all their engineering operations, they had to be soldiers first in this hostile environment," General Shields said. As an engineering unit, their skills and equipment were in demand in every area of operations, and the soldiers of the 223rd found themselves rebuilding plumbing, water systems, wells, schools, hospitals, roads in a land where infrastructure had been devastated by years of neglect, war and then looting and vandalism.

"You are looking at some of the best soldiers in the U. S. Army, Captain Johnson told the crowd.

"You hate to send them off, but it has to be done," General Shields said, citing large percentage of National Guard troops which are now configured with the regular Army units to meet personnel and specialty requirements.
"My best job is to welcome them home," Shields added.
    


Hentz Back Behind Bars in Parchman
    
By Kate B. Dickson
Editor

Larry Hentz is back inside a Mississippi prison – deep inside.

Because he escaped, his living conditions there are the toughest possible – maximum security at Parchman.

That’s according to Suzanne Singletary, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, who said Hentz was returned Friday from California.

Meanwhile, the prisoner’s Panola County wife, Elizabeth Lacy Hentz, remains in California pending extradition to Sunflower County, Mississippi.

Lacy Hentz faces charges for her role in the escape of Hentz, who fled prison on Nov. 17, after cutting through cell bars and a barrier fence with tools she allegedly provided him during prison visits.

The couple then set out on a cross-country trip that Lacy Hentz described in a letter to a friend as "wonderful."

The daughter of Lacy Hentz, Donna Yawn, told The Panolian about the letter Monday.

"She said it was so wonderful," Yawn, who is estranged from her mother, said. "She said it was so exciting to show [Larry] things he hadn’t seen in 20 years."

Yawn said her mother’s comments show " … she still doesn’t have any remorse."

Yawn said the experience has been difficult for her and her family but said Panola Countians "have been so nice" to all of them.

She said she’s especially grateful for the kindness that "other children" have shown her youngsters.

"Children can be so cruel, you know," Yawn said. "But no one has been. It just shows you how people are raised here."

Hentz, who is serving life without parole, has convictions for several crimes including conspiracy to murder a Batesville businessman.
It was in the early 1980s that Hentz was involved in the slaying of James Williamson, Panola County Sheriff David Bryan said previously.

After the escape, the couple was featured on the Fox television show, "America’s Most Wanted."

As a result of tips received, the couple was caught in San Diego after Lacy Hentz checked into a motel using her Mississippi driver’s license for identification.

Before his escape, Hentz was in medium security where he had "some privileges" and was allowed to mingle outside his cell with other inmates, Singletary said.

Now that he’s in maximum security, she said, Hentz will have "no privileges," will remain locked inside his cell 23 hours a day and will have one-hour of solitary exercise allowed daily.

Hentz will be allowed to "correspond" and will be granted one visitor every 90 days, the MDOC spokesman said.

After the escape, MDOC Commissioner Christopher Epps ordered an investigation by the department’s Internal Audit Division.

The investigation, Singletary said, found numerous infractions of staff neglecting to carry out proper standard operating procedures and policies. Eleven employees faced disciplinary action following the investigation.

Additionally, she said, upgraded security equipment, including metal detectors, have been purchased to hinder the introduction of dangerous contraband into the institution during visitation.
    


   

Homecoming
    
Gerald Sledge of Batesville and his fiance, Angela Gleaton, spoke briefly with General Roger Shields following the short ceremony to welcome home the 223rd.

Sledge is a soldier with the unit who had returned home early. He is also a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and the 1994 occupation of Haiti and a former Panolian employee. See related story on Page 1.
   


Suit Possible
Over Failure to Make Note
     N.P Hospital building
   
by Jason C. Mattox
Senior Staff Writer

The "owners" of the North Panola Hospital Building could soon face a breach of contract suit after failing to make payments on the building.

"The owners (Assembly of God Church) have been tied up in a seizureship," City attorney Tommy Shuler explained last week to the Sardis Board of Aldermen.

Shuler said the city has a six-year statute of limitations to proceed with a court case against the owners.

The Assembly of God Church purchased the property from the City of Sardis and Panola County in December 2000 and the group said its intentions were to transform the building into an assisted living facility.

When the sale was initiated, the facility would serve as a way of housing elderly citizens who were not able to live on their own, but were not ready to enter a full nursing home environment, Shuler said.

Mayor Richard Darby said the issue has not been discussed recently because of the last supervisors election.

"You just had a new board of supervisors take office," he sad. "I felt like they needed to get in before we discussed the matter anymore."

"This is a matter between the city and the county that has lagged on for too long, and I think it is time that something gets done about it," Alderman Rusty Dye said.

Darby agreed saying he and Shuler would meet soon in an effort to resolve the matter.

Dye said he believed this is a matter the county should get involved in as well.

"The county is taking a loss on that property, too," Dye said. "Right now it is just sitting up there on top of the hill.

"I believe it is an injustice to the people of Sardis and the people of all of North Panola County that nothing has been done about this before now," he said.

Darby said given the situation with Tri-Lakes Medical Center that the supervisors are probably not ready to "dive back into this mess," but that he also thinks it is time to do something about the problems with ownership.

"I truthfully believe that now is the right time to wake this sleeping bear," Darby said.
    


Firm Skips Out Owing Money
    
By Jason C. Mattox
Senior Staff Writer

The City of Sardis plans to pursue legal action against a company that skipped out owing nearly $5,000 in unpaid bills and a $5,000 fine for various violations.

During a recent meeting, city leaders were informed that Environmental Services, a company that had been operating the Sardis Landfill, owed a substantial amount in unpaid bills to the city and voted unanimously to proceed with legal action against them.

"They owe the city just under $5,000 in unpaid invoices," Mayor Richard Darby said.

"That is in addition to the $5,000 fine the city had to pay because of environmental problems discovered at the landfill," he said.

The aldermen were shocked to learn of the total owed, thinking only the fine was owed to the city.

"I didn’t know they owed us money for unpaid invoices," Alderman Joseph "JoJo" Still said. "I thought they just owed us for the fine we had to pay.

"That was bad enough, and now we find out they owe us twice as much," he said. "We have to do something about it."

Still said he thought the board had already authorized attorney Tommy Shuler to pursue legal actions against the company.
    


Carlson Making Bid for Full Term on Court
    
By Jason C. Mattox
Senior Staff Writer

Supreme Court Justice and Batesville native was at the Panola County Courthouse to kick off his bid for a full eight-year term on the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Carlson, who was appointed to the Supreme Court as an associate justice in November 2001, made Batesville his first stop Monday on an eight-site campaign tour.

"It is a great honor for me to announce first to my home town that I have qualified with the Secretary of State’s office to seek a full term on the state Supreme Court," Carlson said.

"I know you and you know me," he said. "It has been my honor to serve the people of Mississippi and Panola County, and I plan to continue working hard for everyone."

The judge said he has been asked several times why he wants to serve on the state Supreme Court, and that his answer has always been the same.

"With the exception of the ministry, I feel there is no higher calling than public service," he said. "I am honored to have been allowed to serve as a state trial judge and now a state Supreme Court Justice.

"I wish to have the opportunity to continue my public service to the citizens of this great state so I can do my part to assure that we have a fair and independent judiciary," he said.

Carlson reminded supporters of three promises he made to them at the time of his appointment in 2001.

"First, I promised all of you that I would work hard," he said. "I have definitely done that.

"I was the second most productive justice on the Supreme Court," Carlson said.

Carlson handed down only two fewer opinions than the Chief Justice.

"I have done what I promised I would when I was sworn in," he said. "I have worked hard and put in the necessary hours to perform my duties and responsibilities as a justice on the state’s highest court."

Other promises Carlson made were:
– To not miss a South Panola football game.
–  To stay in Batesville.

"Out of 116 weekends since I was appointed, I have missed five weekends back here in Panola County," he said.