Headlines – 5/27/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 27, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – May 27, 2005

  From the 5/27/05 issue of The Panolian :             

Lunsford is first local casualty of Iraqi War
     Daron Lunsford, his wife, Vangi and McKaLyne, their daughter, before his most recent deployment.
     Lunsford (left) was a former U.S. Army soldier who re-enlisted in the Mississippi National Guard this January.
By Billy Davis

The war in Iraq claimed its first Panola County casualty this week, Miss. National Guard Cpl. Audrey Daron Lunsford.

Lunsford, 29, died Monday, May 23 near Baghdad when a bomb exploded near his Humvee, his family said.

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Three other Mississippi soldiers were also killed in the bomb explosion, which happened about 30 miles south of Baghdad in Haswa, according to press reports.

Lunsford’s mother, Martha "Susie" Lunsford, said three soldiers arrived at her home about 10 p.m. Monday night to deliver the news of her son’s death.

Cpl. Lunsford could be the first Panola County soldier to die in combat since Vietnam.

"I’m so proud of Daron. He was patriotic and loved his country, and he was proud to serve his country and his family," said Susie Lunsford.

Daron Lunsford, a former U.S. Army soldier, re-enlisted in the Miss. National Guard in January. He was a member of the HHC 2/198 Armor from Senatobia and was attached to the 155th Infantry from McComb.

Lunsford was married to the former Evangeline "Vangi" Cannon, daughter of minister Steve Cannon and Rita Cannon of Batesville.

Daron and Vangi Lunsford have one daughter, McKaLyne, who is nine months old.

"One reason Daron re-enlisted was because of his daughter. He wanted to provide a better future for his family," said David Lunsford, a brother of the soldier.

Daron Lunsford also leaves behind another brother, Danny, and a sister, Donna.

Daron Lunsford and his family lived near his mother on Central Academy Road near Sardis.

Vangi Lunsford and McKaLyne have been living with the Cannon family on Pettit Street while Daron was deployed overseas, family members also said.

He attended South Panola schools, later earning his G.E.D. and attending Northwest Community College. He served as a Sardis police officer about three years.

According to Steve Cannon, Daron’s marriage to Vangi and birth of McKaLyne changed a "wild" man into a loving father and husband.

"I baptized Daron about a year ago. He sang in the praise group and in the choir. He loved to sing," Cannon said. "He had changed his focus completely from the wild life. He had experienced a new life for the first time."

Cannon said Daron, who grew up without a father, had adopted him as "the only father he ever had."

The body of the fallen soldier will arrive in Panola County this weekend, the mother said. The funeral service could fall on Monday, which is Memorial Day, or later next week.

Wells Funeral Home will be in charge of arrangements.

Lunsford would have turned 30 on Tuesday, so the service will not be held that day, said his father-in-law.

"Vangi will not have his funeral on his birthday," Steve Cannon said.

Before Daron departed for Iraq, the minister said, he wrote letters to his wife and to McKaLyne in a notebook.

The family is unaware of those letters, Cannon said, but they will hear them next week when the Pentecostal preacher conducts the funeral of his son-in-law.

Four qualify to run for sheriff in November
By Jason C. Mattox
and Rupert Howell

Four candidates have tossed their hats in the ring to run for Panola County Sheriff to fill the unexpired term of the late David M. Bryan.

Two former candidates and two former Bryan appointees have qualified with more expected to file before the September 8 deadline.

Hugh Wayne "Shot" Bright and Craig Sheley were employees of Bryan’s and Steve Chancellor and Gary Thompson have previously sought election to the sheriff’s office.

Panola County Jail Administrator Bright has served in his current position since the new detention center was complete and held a similar position at the former county jail.

Bright was originally employed by the late sheriff as a jailer and has worked for the sheriff’s department over 20 years.

Chief Deputy Sheley has worked in law enforcement for 16 years and was named chief deputy by Bryan in January 2004. He previously worked for the Sardis Police Department and the Tate/Panola Narcotics Task Force before becoming a deputy with the sheriff’s department.

Chancellor faced Bryan in the general election in November 2003 where he received 3,294 votes or 31 percent, while running as a Republican.

Chancellor is currently in charge of the state’s cold case unit for the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and maintains an office at the Crime Lab in Batesville.

Chancellor has 31 years of law enforcement experience with 27 years of it coming during his time in the army.

He was one of the team leaders who helped investigate the Oklahoma City bombing.

Following his time in the army, the candidate started with the Batesville Crime Lab. Chancellor has also completed the FBI National Academy at Quantico.

Thompson has made two previous bids for the sheriff’s office, in 1995 and 1999.

Thompson’s law enforcement experience includes serving as constable of Panola County’s Second Judicial District, having won elections for that office three times before deciding to run for Panola County Sheriff in 1995.

In the 1995 four-man race for the Democratic Primary he received 3,402 or 33 percent of the votes to the incumbent Bryan’s 3,927 or 38 percent.

Bryan won in a run-off receiving 5,462 or 57 percent to Thompson’s 4,119 or 43 percent.

Thompson sought the office again in 1,999 and received 3,373 votes which represented 36.5 percent of the votes in a two man race against the incumbent Bryan in the Democratic primary.

(Vote totals and percentages used in this story were unofficial results reported immediately after each election.)



Body of missing girl found here, identified by Memphis forensics
     A pair of Memphis homicide detectives accompany Panola County Sheriff’s Department investigators Mark Whitten (far right) and Barry Thompson (second from left) on Barnacre Road Monday evening. With Chief Deputy Craig Sheley giving directions, Whitten and Thompson discovered the skeletal remains that were later identified as Corie Duckett.
By Billy Davis

When Panola County investigators discovered the remains of Memphian Corie Duckett Monday afternoon, they did so an hour after the suspect in her disappearance began describing the location.

Melissa Ferris, 27, had told authorities she and a boyfriend, Jeffery Opp, dumped the body of Duckett, 22, near Interstate 55 in North Mississippi.

The exact location was unknown until Monday when Ferris explained her route from Memphis through north Panola County in a Florida interview with Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Craig Sheley.

Duckett had been missing since March 17. Her body was identified Tuesday by the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s office.

On Monday, shortly after 1 p.m. EST, Ferris described Duckett’s location to Sheley at a jail in Jacksonville, Fla. Ferris is being held in Jacksonville after she allegedly shot and killed Opp during a police chase.

In the Monday interview, Sheley said, Ferris began with describing her exit off I-55 at Sardis. He then lead her through stop signs and past landmarks until he felt he knew the area she was describing.

Sheley then passed Ferris’s description to investigators Mark Whitten and Barry Thompson, who located the remains in a dump on Barnacre Road.

The location is an old gravel pit now used as a junk yard, Sheley later said.

"I told Mark to e-mail a photo of the location so (Ferris) could look at it. Mark said, ?No need, we found the remains,’" Sheley said. The remains had not been buried, he said.

Panola County coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge said the remains were taken Monday night to Memphis Forensic Center, Shelby County’s morgue. The remains were removed from the junk yard about 8 p.m..

Sheley said any charges made against Ferris will come from Memphis law enforcement officials.
"We’re helping them with their investigation," Sheley said.

At the scene on Barnacre Road Monday, Panola County authorities worked with Memphis authorities, including two homicide detectives and crime scene investigators.

Como election results overturned
By Jason C. Mattox

According to the latest results in the Como municipal election, incumbent mayor Azria "Bobby" Lewers edged out challenger Judy Sumner 310 to 302 in a recount held by the Democratic Executive Committee Tuesday.

Unofficial results reported earlier in this newspaper had Sumner unseating Lewers by a 302 to 298 vote count.

Lewers said he is happy with the outcome of the election, and feels the people of Como believe in his leadership.

"I feel really good about how all of this turned out," he said. "The people of Como know what I have to offer them as mayor, and I am honored that my time in office will continue.

"I am going to do my best during the next four years to try and give the people of Como what they want," Lewers added.

Sumner on the other hand said she wasn’t ready to concede the election yet.

The candidate claims it was ballots that were initially rejected that made the difference in the election.

"People are saying the election commission counted challenged ballots," she said. "That’s not the case.

"The election commission went back and counted rejected ballots when they certified the results," Sumner added.

While she is uncertain what her next step will be, Sumner said she is in the process of securing an attorney before deciding what action to take.

"I am going to do something," she said. "At this time, I am just not ready to say what that is going to be."

Sumner said the way the election was conducted has upset her, and she hopes things can be clarified soon.

"The vote counting makes me upset," she said. "It really makes me think that people don’t know the difference between right and wrong.

"Whatever actions I do decide to take, if the results are examined and it is determined that Mayor Lewers did win, I have no problem with it," Sumner said. "I just want the next count to be conducted properly."

As for the confusion with the vote count, election commissioner Etta Gale claims the rejected votes should have been counted the first time.

Twelve previously rejected votes apparently gave Lewers the current victory.

"Some of the ballots were mishandled by the poll workers," Gale said. "Those votes were legal and should have been counted. They never should have been rejected."

"If this had been done the right way the first time, we wouldn’t be having this problem now," she said. "All the election commission wanted was a fair election."

Members of the executive committee read aloud statutes that applied to the rejected votes. Arilla Kerney explained each procedure before counting was done last Tuesday.

Outbursts from some in attendance were reported during the meeting with Police Chief Cleve Gale escorting one woman out of the proceedings. Outside the building the woman reportedly passed out and an ambulance later took her to the hospital.
(Donna Taylor contributed to this story)

Contract goes back to bidder
By John Howell Sr.
and Billy Davis

In a negotiating game akin to a tennis match, the Panola County Board of Supervisors and the Batesville Board of Aldermen tossed the contract for Tri-Lakes Medical Center back to its highest bidder, Dr. Bob Corkern.

The city officials and county supervisors voted separately Monday, May 23, agreeing to give Corkern 10 days to respond to this newest version, made after the hospital administrator made changes to the original contract.

"This is a process of negotiation where we blend many opinions into one document," consultant J.C. Burns told those present at the meeting.

The joint county-city meeting was held in the supervisors board room at the county courthouse in Batesville.

The owners will meet again on Friday, June 2 at 2 p.m. Corkern is requested to deposit his $500,000 earnest money by 1 p.m. on that date.

The Batesville aldermen and Mayor Bobby Baker met at noon with county supervisors and County Administrator David Chandler after city officials first accepted the "counter-counter proposal" at a 10:30 a.m. meeting.

Corkern was not present for the joint meeting but was represented by Batesville attorney Collins Bailey.

Corkern can borrow $25.5 million for the purchase, Bailey said. He passed out copies of a letter from an Alabama-based financier, the Marshall Group, that showed Corkern’s ability to pay the $25.5 million. Corkern’s initial offer was $28 million for the public-owned hospital.

Burns said Corkern is still the highest bidder, however, since he has changed the assumption of liabilities to beef up his total bid offering.

Corkern’s bid for Tri-Lakes is still about $31 million, Burns said, a number that includes $25.5 million for the east campus, $3 million for the west campus, $7.8 million in assumed liabilities, $400,000 for tail coverage, and $300,000 to pay expenses incurred during the negotiations.

With 10 days to return the contract, Corkern and the owners will then have 60 to 90 days to complete the transaction, meaning the hospital sale could be finished by August.

Corkern had asked for six months to close the deal in his version of the contract.

At the Monday meeting, Burns’ associate Mike Chaffin flipped through the contract with the city and county leaders, pointing out changes made at the request of the owners.

Some of those changes:

Corkern’s counter-proposal "backs away from the medical care currently provided" at Tri-Lakes, Chaffin told the city and county.
      The doctor’s counter-proposal had not included as many medical specialties as he had originally proposed in his bid, Chaffin told city officials at the 10:30 meeting.
      Those changes by Corkern in the contract were denied in the document returned to him.
      The city and county rejected Corkern’s counter-proposal to keep liability insurance in force following the sale. The hospital owners require specific "tail" coverage instead.
      Tail coverage is insurance purchased with a one-time premium and which, from the time of purchase forward, covers the owners for incidents which arise from actions prior to the sale.
The owners voted to maintain the definition of "premises" in the contract as the east campus near Wal-Mart. In his version, Corkern had changed the term to mean both the west campus and east campus.
The owners tossed out language related to the $500,000 earnest payment on June 3. Corkern’s version would have permitted him to get his payment back should the hospital sale fall through, Chaffin said.
Corkern wanted to allow five years for Tri-Lakes to achieve hospital accreditation levels set forth by the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation.
      The owners allowed him only two years in their version.
Corkern requested an exemption on ad valorem taxes until 2008. That language was changed to require the taxes beginning January 1, 2006.
The owners refused Corkern’s request that the hospital give free health care to county jail inmates for only a three-month period. The county supervisors, in particular, want that medical care to be permanent.


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