Headlines – 2/18/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 18, 2005

Panolian Headlines: February 18, 2005

  From the 2/18/05 issue of The Panolian :             


Pope man faces charge of murder conspiracy
By Billy Davis

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A Panola County man is free on $50,000 bond after being charged with conspiracy to commit capital murder.

Law enforcement officials say David Sewell, 40, sought to kill the ex-husband of his former girlfriend.

Panola County Sheriff’s Department investigator Mark Whitten said Sewell faces a maximum 20 years in state prison if convicted.

The state’s Public Safety Department described the alleged crime as a "murder-for-hire scheme" in a statement released earlier this week.

Whitten would neither confirm nor deny that Sewell planned to poison the ex-husband.

Whitten said Sewell’s ex-girlfriend and the ex-husband are from Coahoma County, where Sewell worked as a salesman for Delta Farm Press, an agriculture magazine.

Whitten said Sewell and the girlfriend had lived together in the past, but were not living together when the alleged crime was committed.

The ex-girlfriend is in her early 30s, he said.

The names of the former girlfriend and her ex-husband were not released by the sheriff’s department.

The capital charge against Sewell indicates a separate felony was committed in addition to murder conspiracy, but Whitten would not elaborate pending the ongoing investigation.

Whitten said Sewell did not resist arrest when sheriff’s deputies arrived with an arrest warrant Sunday evening, February 12 at his home, 1338 Pope Water Valley Road.

"There was a bowl of chili on the table. He was eating dinner when we arrived at his home," Whitten said.

Sewell has since talked to investigators, Whitten said, but he did not know if Sewell has hired an attorney.

A family member reached at Sewell’s home would not say whether the defendant has sought counsel.

Sewell is free on bond after making an initial appearance Tuesday in Panola County Justice Court.

Whitten said the investigation involved the Miss. Bureau of Investigations, the Panola County Sheriff’s Department, the Miss. Bureau of Narcotics, the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Department, and the investigative unit of the Miss. Department of Agriculture.

"The case initialized with the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Department," Whitten said.

Air ambulance possible after commission tables action
Air Evac: No flights over Wildwood
     Bob Barber (right) describes the reclassification process while Danny Walker looks on at the Monday, February 14 meeting of the Panola County Land Development Commission. Barber is a consultant for the commission. Walker is the chairman.
By Billy Davis

An air ambulance service that’s seeking a new base in Panola County learned it must adjust its plans if it hopes to come here.

In order to establish a base east of Batesville, Air Evac LifeTeam, Inc. must move farther south from Hwy. 6 and locate a half-mile west from an upscale subdivision, company representatives learned this week.

The Panola County Land Development Commission voted to table Air Evac’s request, leaving open the possibility that the company could come here if it adheres to the commission’s stipulations.

Commission members Donna Traywick and Ann Cobb voted against the motion, saying they disagreed with Air Evac’s site choice.

Commission members Jewel Titus and Robert Carter were absent. The 10-member board presently has one vacancy.

The commission’s decision is no guarantee that Air Evac will receive a special exception for its plans, however, since the decision isn’t a final ruling.

Air Evac will return in March to meet again with the commission.

An Air Evac base includes a heli-pad, crews’ quarters and hangar.

The company has 45 bases in 10 states.

Air Evac had selected two sites on hilly farmland, one a quarter-mile from Lawrence Bros. Road and the second a half-mile farther west.

The land is owned by Fred A. Womble of Batesville.
The Missouri-based company wanted the eastern-most site, saying it preferred the flat bean field over the hilltop to the west, which would require more site preparation.

In whispered discussion, commission members agreed that an Air Evac helicopter would be too noisy for residents of the Wildwood subdivision. The subdivision is located directly across from the bean field.

During a public hearing phase, Wildwood residents also spoke out against Air Evac’s choice for a base.
"We’re not saying they shouldn’t build here – but not there where they’ll be flying over our homes," said resident John Kyle.

William Sissell, who lives east of Wildwood, asked the commission members if they would want to be awakened by helicopter noise.

"You can hear National Guard helicopters five miles away before they’re even close," Sissell said.

Air Evac representative Harold Newton acknowledged that the helicopters make "racket" depending on wind direction and air speed.

"We try to be a good neighbor, but there are times when (the helicopter) makes some loud racket," Newton said.

Later in the hearing, Newton announced to the commission that any flight plan would exclude flying over Wildwood.

Still, Wildwood residents grew testy during the hearing, interrupting Newton with questions and verbal jabs as he talked to the commission.

At one point, one Wildwood resident ridiculed Newton after he said some of the company’s 45 bases are located near residential areas.

"There’s a difference between flying over trailer parks and flying over $300,000 homes," the young woman hollered out.

Regarding Air Evac’s plans to be visible from Hwy. 6, Newton said the locale is important for advertising and name recognition.

The company sells yearly memberships for its service, and visibility is part of the business plan, he said.

"If we’re stuck out at the (Panola County) airport, nobody will know we’re here – out of sight, out of mind," Newton said.

The sight of a helicopter right next to Hwy. 6 might be too much for some drivers, commission chairman Danny Walker told Newton half-jokingly.

"People like to gawk. You could have an accident right there in front of your business," Walker said.

In other commission business:

The commission denied Fred Womble’s plan to build a mini-storage business at Sardis Lower Lake.
     Numerous homeowners from the area were present for the meeting, and 10 spoke out against Womble’s plans.
     "We don’t need it nor do we want it," resident Ben Marberry said of the proposed business.
     The commission unanimously denied Womble’s request.
The commission denied Thomas Hall’s request to put a second mobile home on a once-acre lot where he presently lives in a double-wide home.
     The county’s land codes forbid more than one home on an acre of land, the commission told Hall.
The commission approved plans for elderly apartments near North Panola High School in Sardis.
     The apartment housing allows for residents 62 and older.
The commission heard from homeowner Opal Henderson, who wants to open a thrift store near her home on Hwy. 6 East.
     The commission members voted unanimously to require Henderson return with a design plan for the outbuilding she hopes to utilize.
Board votes 4-1 to resurface Square
     Ron Merville (standing) explains the complexities of resurfacing the streets of the Downtown Square as Alderman-at-Large Hudson Still looks on.
By Jason C. Mattox

For the third consecutive meeting, the Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen discussed the possibility of resurfacing the streets of the Downtown Square. This time city leaders voted 4-1, with Ward One Alderman Bill Dugger opposed, to proceed with the next phase.

Mayor Bobby Baker said he believes the project can be done for $125,000 or less.

"The city clerk and I have looked at the budget and we have found the money that we could use to overlay the square," he said.

Ron Merville of McBride Engineering said one thing that will have to be done during the resurfacing is building up certain areas to aid drainage.

"I will tell you on the front end that this will not be a high-tech project," he said. "But it is one that the city can do for somewhere around the $100,000 mark."

Merville said he spoke with Batesville Main Street Manager Colleen Clark about the project.

"Mrs. Clark has told us she wants the traffic flow changed, utilities placed underground and sidewalks repaved," he said. "If we were to take on all those aspects of the project, it would cost almost $500,000.

"Resurfacing the streets of the Downtown Square is a good project in itself," he said. "If you start looking at the other aspects, it could get out of our price range really quickly."

One of the board’s concerns was whether or not the project would be completed in time for SpringFest, the town’s annual festival.

"We don’t want to see the downtown torn to shreds and not redone when SpringFest gets here in May," Baker said. "Can you have the project completed in time?"

Merville said he could have the project completed in time for the festival that will take place May 13-14.

"We can either get started in time to be finished before SpringFest or you can wait until afterwards to start the project," he said. "That is entirely at the discretion of the board."

Merville said it would take three days to mill the existing pavement on the square down and another three days for the overlay portion of the project.

"Originally when I was asked about this it was to look at paving the square and the streets and parking at City Hall," he said. "I must admit that I have concentrated my efforts on the square. I haven’t even touched plans for City Hall."

Dugger said he would not support the resurfacing of the square unless other roads were included as well.

"As bad as I want to see the Downtown Square redone, I just don’t think I can support it when there are so many other streets needing work," he said.

Ward Two Alderman Rufus Manley, who voted for the downtown work, said he also wanted to see other streets worked on.

"It seems to me that we find the money to do projects that we want to do, but we never have the money when a project comes up that we need to do," he said. "There are other streets in far worse shape that the Downtown Square."

Mayor Baker said if the city could find the money other streets could be worked on.

"Show me where I can find the money and we will get some of the other streets finished," he said.
The aldermen voted to put the project out for bids.

Stevenson announces retirement from SPSD
By Rupert Howell

Superintendent Dr. C.L. Stevenson announced Tuesday that he will retire from the South Panola School District effective June 30.

Speaking to the district board of trustees, Stevenson said the decision comes "without any dissatisfaction or complaints. I could not have asked for a better place of employment, more supportive community, more outstanding staff, or a better board with which to work."

The retirement will end a 34-year career in education and according to Stevenson’s letter to the board, "I do not know what the future holds."

Stevenson said that he and his wife Ann, who will retire from many years with the Extension Service, plan to continue living in Batesville throughout their retirement years.

Stevenson has served South Panola as superintendent for the past nine years and last year was named Superintendent of the Year by the Mississippi Association of School Administrators.

School Board president Lygunnah Bean told Stevenson Tuesday night, "We have achieved our goals and made some more since we hired you."

Bean told board members that the search process to replace Stevenson would begin "tonight" and challenged board members to have a new superintendent in place by May 1.

Bean recommended an outside search committee to assist with finding and researching applicants to replace Stevenson. Board members agreed to a special meeting to discuss characteristics or traits for a new superintendent.

Bean later noted that during Stevenson’s tenure every school building had been renovated and Batesville Middle School was added. A multi-million dollar bond issue was passed and a new high school was built.

Bean also cited Stevenson as responsible for securing grant money and local money for current remodeling of the old brick two-story building on College Street and with obtaining financing for remodeling Batesville Junior High School with bids to be accepted soon.

During this time the school district has also obtained land at the new high school for additional growth.

In addition to infrastructure and improvements, Bean noted that one school has reached a level five status and two others have reached level four during Dr. Stevenson’s tenure.

Bean says Stevenson’s replacement not chosen
Amid rumors that a new school superintendent has already been chosen to replace Dr. C.L. Stevenson, board of trustee President Lygunnah Bean said, "Absolutely not."

Shortly after Stevenson submitted his resignation, Bean suggested to the trustees that they hire a search committee.

Bean asked other trustees to make a list of characteristics they would like to see in a new superintendent and challenged them to have a new superintendent in place a month before Stevenson’s retirement.

Bean also said that infrastructure in the school system was now in good shape and suggested board members find a superintendent that could take the school district to the next level academically.

Tire-ing battle
     Trusties from the Panola County Detention Center began trash pickup along county roads Wednesday, starting with Avant and Good Hope roads. The men found a variety of trash and debris, including a small auto tire with rim.
     Jail Administrator Hugh W. "Shot" Bright appealed to motorists for help by keeping trash inside autos until it can be placed in proper containers.




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