|After desert duty, veteran seeks others to wear Guard uniform
| Sgt. Jimmy Baker of the Mississippi National Guard is the new Guard recruiter for Panola County. A former military policeman, he served in Iraq last year in a Mississippi Guard unit.
|By Billy Davis
If being a soldier in combat is a tough assignment, then recruiting civilians to be soldiers during a time of war could be even tougher.
To date, more than 1,700 American military personnel have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.
Some of those military personnel hail from the Mississippi Army National Guard, which lost another soldier, a 24-year-old sergeant from Macon, over the weekend.
Enter Sgt. Jimmy Baker, the Mississippi Guard’s new recruitment soldier for Panola County.
Baker, 36, is tasked with pitching the Guard to potential recruits, mostly young men who are 17, 18 and 19.
The Mississippi Guard has unbeatable benefits for college, including a new program that pays 100 percent of a soldier’s college tuition, and the Guard doles out a monthly check and enviable enlistment bonuses.
These days, being in a Guard uniform can also be a dangerous decision.
According to Baker, who served in Iraq with a Guard unit, he doesn’t paint a false picture when he pitches the Guard to a potential soldier.
"I don’t try to sugarcoat it," said Baker, whose engineer battalion endured a casualty and several wounded soldiers while in combat.
Baker said he served in Iraq as part of an engineering battalion headquartered in West Point. The unit was attached to the 4th Infantry Division, a Texas unit based at Ft. Hood.
As part of the 4th Infantry Division, the Guard engineers criss-crossed Iraq to supply running water to the troops, dodging bullets and roadside bombs to install showers, latrines and other necessities for troops in combat.
"We slept in the dirt and outside in the rain. We were a family," Baker said. "I would do anything for those guys, and they would do anything for me. That’s what this uniform is about."
Baker began his recruitment job July 1, taking a position left open by longtime Panola County recruiter Staff Sgt. John Ard.
Ard, 46, moved into a new role as Recruit Sustainment Program coordinator, which requires him to whip recruits into shape in preparation for basic training.
According to Ard, Baker’s toughest test as a recruiter will be soldiers’ parents and girlfriends.
"You’re dealing with ?Baby Boomers’ who are relying on the media for their information about Iraq," Ard said.
Baker enters his new job with a background in military service. He served five years in the U.S. Army, where he was a military policeman, and entered the Mississippi Army National Guard in 1999.
Panola Countians may remember Baker as a Batesville police officer. He joined the police department in 1999, remaining there for two years before attending Ole Miss to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Baker’s best tool for recruitment might be found on the right shoulder of his army fatigues. Above the American flag, a patch of the 4th Infantry Division identifies the Guard sergeant as a combat veteran.
"Sgt. Baker knows about patriotism, and he knows about sacrifice," Ard said. "When he talks to a young man, he knows of what he speaks."
| Supervisors mulling over insurance, vision plan for county employees
|By Billy Davis
Employees of Panola County government could continue with health insurance coverage from Humana and could also benefit from vision insurance paid for by the county.
At a recess meeting held last week, Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock recommended to supervisors that the county keep Humana and add a vision plan.
The Board of Supervisors took no action on Pitcock’s suggestions.
August 1 is the renewal date for the county’s insurance coverage for health, dental and other plans.
County supervisors dropped health insurance from Aetna last year in favor of Humana.
"Humana is going up about nine percent this year, but the market rate is 15 percent," County Administrator David Chandler told The Panolian.
Pitcock and Chandler have been reviewing the county’s insurance options in recent weeks.
In the Thursday, July 14 meeting with supervisors, Pitcock recommended a vision plan for county employees that included full coverage for in-network eye exams, various frames, and other procedures. The carrier is Superior Vision.
"So there’s no money out of pocket for staying in network?" asked Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins.
"Basically, that’s right," Pitcock replied.
"I didn’t know there was such a thing," Perkins said.
The vision plan would cost $6.52 a month for employee-only coverage, which would be paid for by the county.
County employees could choose a vision plan under Aetna last year, Chandler told supervisors, but the out-of-pocket expenses were so high that it "really wasn’t a true vision plan."
Pitcock and Chandler also recommended switching carriers for "gap" insurance, which would save the county about $30,000 a year.
Gap insurance, which the county pays, covers the cost of an employee’s $2,500 deductible for hospital stays.
The gap insurance switch would be from American Public to AmFirst Med-Bridge Plan, payroll clerk Malia Brewer told The Panolian.
Brewer said the county currently pays $54,569 a month for health insurance premiums on county employees.
Dental insurance through Guardian is $21.97 per employee and costs the county $3,384 a month, Brewer said.
The county intends to keep Guardian as a carrier, she said.
|Local Cold Case Unit helps solve
|By Madison Kilgore
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation’s Cold Case Unit, located in Batesville’s North Mississippi Crime Lab building, has been an instrumental part in linking a man and woman to a series of kidnap/ murders that ranged from Lafayette and Neshoba Counties to Yukon, Oklahoma.
The two-year-old case had been turned over to the MBI Cold Case Unit.
John Robert Williams, 28, and Rachel Cumberland, 35, are being held in the Lafayette County Detention Center after being arrested and charged with the kidnap and murder of Jennifer Hyman.
Williams pled guilty in Neshoba County to kidnapping and murder charges on July 5 and was sentenced to life plus 20 years. Cumberland, who pled guilty to manslaughter charges, was sentenced to 20 years.
Along with local Cold Case Unit Coordinator Steve Chancellor, MBI Cold Case Task Force Submission Officer Whitney Cantrell of Batesville and a number of interns, including Jodi Locklear, have been responsible for organizing the case.
While the arrests and charges were the combined efforts of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, the Neshoba and Lafayette County Sheriff’s Departments, District Attorneys Mark Duncan and Ben Creekmore, and the FBI, Batesville’s Cold Case Unit had a major role in providing important information to the case.
As a significant part of linking the cases, Cold Case submission officer Whitney Cantrell and intern Jodi Locklear have seen this and numerous other cases come through the crime lab.
The pair take unsolved homicides and reorganize relevant information into a standard format, known as a "smart book."
"This is basically the most condensed version of a case," Cantrell said, comparing the smart book to a study guide for a test.
Consisting of a timeline of events, evidence log, witness lists, an investigative plan and a list of people not interviewed, the smart book is handed back over to the agency looking to solve the homicide.
After reorganizing the case, Cantrell and Locklear meet with the agency to discuss what steps to take next and which parts of the case are important.
"We have a lot of fresh eyes around here," said Cantrell. "If something in the case sticks out, it’s highlighted in your mind."
Cantrell has been working for Cold Case Task Force since August 2004 after interning her senior year at Ole Miss.
Brandon native Locklear thoroughly enjoys the excitement of receiving new cases.
"It’s something new everyday. I’m working on two cases right now," Locklear said, noting that she creates case files under the supervision of Cantrell and Steve Chancellor.
A senior criminal justice major at Ole Miss, Locklear received the internship after taking a class taught by Chancellor at the university. She has been working for the Cold Case Unit since January.
"You really see how the process works. This is what the real side is," she said.
Cantrell maintains that every day is a learning experience, both for her and Locklear, explaining that working for the Cold Case Unit is "as close to real detective work as you can get."
| Federal Prison officials to meet with
Sardis officials about hospital
|By Jason C. Mattox
The City of Sardis could know more about the future of the North Panola Hospital building as soon as its next meeting, according to Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye. The mayor indicated that representatives from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, who had shown interest in using the former hospital building, are planning to meet soon with Sardis officials.
"I was told they want to be at the next city board meeting," Dye said. "That will let us know if they even intend to move forward with it."
"I think a lot of people are worried that we might be considering a situation that would put violent criminals in the building," he said.
The city and county are joint owners of the North Panola Hospital building that has been vacant since the Sardis Nursing Home completed a remodeling project that included installation of an air-conditioning unit and cafeteria in the early ?90s.
After the building had stood empty for nearly a decade, the city and county agreed to sell the facility to Partners in Action, a group who told officials it would become a state of the art assisted living facility.
Partners in Action made one payment and disappeared with no construction ever taking place.
Last year, the city and county hired Batesville attorney Richard T. Phillips to proceed with repossession procedures.
"At this point we haven’t heard anything back from Mr. Phillips, but we do know that the city and county should get ownership of the building again in the near future," Dye told The Panolian.
"All I know at this point is that I have plans for that big white elephant," he added.
Once ownership is returned to local hands, one plan might involve an investor that is already at the table.
During a meeting in April with the supervisors, former Mayor Richard Darby said he had been approached by the Federal Bureau of Prisons about a pilot program that would remove elderly prisoners from the population.
Mayor Dye said the way he understands it is that all prisoners the bureau intends to move are guilty of white collar offenses such as embezzlement.
| Gun show returns
|The Tri-Lake Production Gun and Knife Show will be held at the Batesville Civic Center, Saturday and Sunday, July 30 and 31.
The show allows the general public to bring their own guns to buy, sell or trade at the show.
According to sponsor Tri-Lake Productions, there are thousands of firearms and knives along with World War II Memorabilia.
Show hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $6.
For more information or to set up a table at the show, call (662) 934-9077.