| Katrina’s wrath spreads to North Mississippi
| Batesville firemen (from left) L. E. Garner, David Tarver and Joey Bridges loaded supplies that were taken to Gulfport for use following Hurricane Katrina’s destruction on Monday. Garner along with six other Batesville firemen will be assisting emergency officials in the Gulfport area.
|By Billy Davis
New Orleans resident Marva Trinity watched CNN Monday morning from a lobby sofa at Batesville’s Amerihost Inn, grateful for the comfortable seat and a whole lot more.
Trinity said she was also grateful to be in Batesville, where she was waiting for a hotel room after she and other family members slept in their cars Sunday night at a Wal-Mart parking lot in Grenada.
More than anything, though, Trinity said she was grateful she wasn’t in the path of Hurricane Katrina.
"This was my first time to leave for something like this, but I didn’t want to mess with Katrina," Trinity said.
A light rain tapped at the the lobby windows as the stranded New Orleander watched the weather reports, knowing that a lot more rain was pummeling her coastal home.
Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast Monday morning with 145-mile-per-hour winds, pushing inland along a northeasterly route that seemed to follow Interstate 55.
The hurricane was also moving east, however, meaning Panola County and northwest Mississippi could be spared the brunt of the storm as it rumbled across the state.
Early-morning reports to The Clarion-Ledger from Hattiesburg suggested a punishing storm that left behind fallen trees and electrical lines.
A curfew was in place in Meridian after 55 MPH winds knocked out electricity to most of the city, The Clarion-Ledger had reported by noon.
By 2 p.m. on Monday, the headline at read, "Katrina steamrolls into Mississippi," and reports from the coast told of enormous damage due to storm surges, flooding and wind.
A team of volunteers that included Batesville firefighters were set to report to Gulfport on Tuesday to begin "light" search and rescue work.
Fire Chief Tim Taylor said the work would probably mean going door-to-door to check on residents.
The crew of Batesville firefighters included Taylor, L. E. Garner, Daniel Cole, Brett Childs and John McCollum.
The crew also picked up firefighters Cris Olson and Joe Warren, who were in Jackson at the state Fire Academy when classes there were cancelled.
More than 100 Gulf Coast residents had taken refuge at Batesville’s First Baptist Church by noon on Monday, where the family life center was converted into a Red Cross shelter.
Red Cross volunteer Beverly Martindale said the First Baptist shelter opened at 1 p.m. Sunday and welcomed its first family at 5 p.m.
"After word got out that we were here, they kept coming," Martindale said
Radio announcements, interstate signage and rest stop fliers helped spread the word about the Batesville shelter, the Red Cross volunteer said.
At the family life center, some hurricane refugees slept on cots Sunday night while others slept on the gym floor in sleeping bags.
Civil Defense Director Son Hudson picked up more cots Monday in Senatobia, later delivering 30 cots to the shelter Monday afternoon.
In the church’s dining hall, stranded residents watched hurricane news on TV while First Baptist volunteers prepared a spaghetti lunch in the kitchen.
Moss Point resident Herbert Bennett said he had driven north for eight hours in a log jam of traffic when he told his wife, Karenda, that he had to pull over and find a place to stay.
"It was bumper to bumper, and I was worn out," Bennett said. "We tried to check on hotels, but they were all full, and then we heard on the radio about the shelter."
As the coast residents wait out the hurricane, the Batesville community is pouring its resources into the shelter, giving donations of food, clothing and other items, Martindale said.
First Baptist volunteers are manning the center around the clock, she said, and other area churches have volunteered their facilities if needed.
Sardis Lake Christian Camp donated sleeping bags and towels, Martindale said, and businesses have donated everything from chicken dinners and plates of catfish with all the fixings to whole Boston butts.
Veterinarians from the South Panola Veterinary Hospital had volunteered to house stranded residents’ pets, Martindale said.
The vets came repeatedly during the night to retrieve animals that belonged to stranded residents.
"It’s amazing to see the community coming together like this," Martindale said. "It makes you really proud."
"Everybody’s been real nice to us. These are some good Christian people," said Bennett.
| Court TV tapes trial in Batesville
|By Billy Davis
A three-man film crew from Court TV has been taping the Demetrius Smith murder trial this week for a future airing on the cable TV channel.
The crew includes a producer, an audio engineer and a camera man.
The circuit trial was held at the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville, where a jury found Smith guilty of kidnapping and killing Ole Miss student Carnesha Nelson.
In the trial, Smith was accused of kidnapping Nelson at knife-point at her Oxford apartment and taking her to Sardis Lake, where he drowned her in the upper lake and then fled.
Clay Vanderburg, Smith’s court-appointed attorney, produced Smith’s family members from Quitman County who provided an alibi for the defendant on the night of the murder.
When the four-day Smith trial airs, it will be shown in its entirety as part of the network’s daytime lineup, said Court TV spokesman Andie Silvers.
Court TV is headquartered in New York City.
A date for airing has not been set, Silvers said, though a trial typically airs a few months after it’s completed.
The Smith trial included over 50 prosecution exhibits, including a silver knife, a CD case that belonged to Nelson but was found in Smith’s car and a battered window screen from Nelson’s apartment.
Trial witnesses included Smith himself, FBI scientists, Panola County investigator Mark Whitten and Nelson’s father, Carmen Nelson.
Circuit Judge Ann Lamar presided over the murder trial.
Silvers said the pending trial caught the attention of Court TV’s trial tracking department, which researches upcoming trials across the country.
If the researchers consider an upcoming trial a worthwhile case, they recommend the proceedings to a committee meeting of upper-level executive and producers, Silvers said.
In the Batesville courtroom, Court TV camera man Joe Hoffman filmed witnesses during testimony, zoomed in on aerial photos that showed the apartment grounds and also showed Smith as he sat at the defense table, where he wore a shirt and tie.
The trial footage will presumably include a scene of investigator Whitten holding up the battered and bent window screen for jurors. The screen’s condition hinted at the brutality of the struggle between Smith and Nelson in her bedroom before her kidnapping.
The jury is not photographed during court proceedings.
Court TV audio engineer Marvin Strait sat behind Hoffman during the proceedings. Strait was tasked with stabilizing the sound quality in the cavernous courtroom.
Behind Hoffman and Strait sat producer Carl Libowitz, who used a Dell laptop to transcribe the witnesses’ testimony for future reference.
Libowitz also kept an eye on a floor monitor that showed him where Hoffman’s camera was trained.
In addition to filming the trial, the crew traveled to Sardis Lake and the Oxford apartments where Nelson lived, filming both locales for use in the TV program.
Although a Court TV crew came to Mississippi earlier this year for the Killen trial in Philadelphia, the three-man Panola crew was making its first trip into the state and the Deep South.
"Everybody says, ‘Hello’ and waves, and everybody says, ‘Y’all’ a lot," Strait observed. "I’ve never heard ‘y’all’ spoken so much."
"We know what Southern hospitality means because everybody’s been really nice to us," said Hoffman.
Reminded about the reputation Mississippi endures from the national media, Silvers said the Smith trial would focus on the brutal murder and the courtroom proceedings.
"This is a serious trial about the murder of a young woman," Silvers said. "We will cover it just as we would any other trial."
Silvers said she previously lived in Alabama and understood the concern about unflattering portrayals.
| ‘Back to School Bash’ is Wednesday
|Mississippi Blood Services will be holding its "Back to School Bash" blood drive at Wal-Mart in Batesville on Wednesday, August 31 from 2 – 6 p.m. Donors will receive a T-shirt and will be registered for a chance to win a Wal-Mart gift card.
"Mississippi Blood Services hopes everyone will want to roll up their sleeves and help us by donating blood at the beginning of this school year," said Heather Burnett, MBS marketing representative. "We hope everyone has had a safe summer and appreciate all those who are willing to help others in need of a blood transfusion."
All donors must be at least 17 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds. MBS offers a "mini physical" before each donation to ensure the donation process is safe for the donor and the recipient.
| Tri-Lakes sale postponed 30 days
amid ‘shocking’ change
|By Billy Davis
Tri-Lakes administrator Dr. Bob Corkern has apparently altered his plans for purchasing the public-owned Batesville hospital, seeking now to turn his future for-profit investment into a non-profit facility.
One problem with that plan, however, is that he failed to tell other parties involved in the hospital sale.
Those parties instead learned of the development from Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins, who disclosed the news at a joint meeting last Thursday of Batesville officials and the county board.
The Hospital is owned by the City of Batesville and Panola County.
The county board and board of aldermen both voted unanimously to allow a requested 30-day extension, which will move the closing date to October 3.
The owners met Thursday to decide whether to give Corkern the 30-day extension on the closing, a request made via letter by his financier, UPS Bank of Hartford, Connecticut.
Corkern is seeking to purchase Tri-Lakes through his for-profit corporation, Physicians and Surgeons, LLC, and is apparently seeking a 90-percent loan guarantee through the Rural Development agency.
Rural Development is a department of the United States Department of Agriculture.
The closing date for the $25 million sale of Tri-Lakes is September 2, which is this Friday, a date that follows the 90-day period the owners had given Corkern to organize his financing.
Following the vote for the extension, Perkins disclosed that Physicians and Surgeons is listed as a 501(C)(3), a non-profit, in its application for the loan guarantee.
"The company is set up – it’s still a for-profit company. Does anybody know any different from that?" Perkins asked rhetorically. "Well, that’s not what’s on the application at Rural Development."
After making that statement, Perkins then asked Tri-Lakes CFO Ray Shoemaker about the non-profit status. The CFO instead deferred questions to Corkern ally David Vance.
Rising to his feet in the audience, Vance acknowledged the change to non-profit status, explaining that Corkern wants the change because it’s a quicker route to finalize the loan and hence conclude the sale of Tri-Lakes.
Asked by Perkins to repeat his admittance of the non-profit filing, Vance instead said he was "shocked" that the government agency had leaked information about the filing.
"They fussed at me about giving out names and phone numbers. I got a tongue lashing," Vance told Perkins.
With the exception of Vance and Shoemaker, most of those who had gathered at the meeting – city and county lawyers, the city mayor and aldermen, and hospital sale consultant J.C. Burns – announced their surprise at Perkins’ revelation.
"I’m almost speechless. I had no earthly idea," Burns told the others.
Corkern’s attorney, Collins Bailey, told those gathered that he, too, was unaware that his client had filed paperwork as a non-profit company.
Neither Vance nor Shoemaker sought to explain why they had kept the owners in the dark about Corkern’s plans nor did they apologize for any lack of communication.
"We’re not trying to hold anything back," Vance told Perkins, adding that he and Shoemaker have prepared financial paperwork that compares Tri-Lakes as a non-profit facility versus a for-profit facility.
"We’re not talking about a lot of money (difference)," Vance added.
Board of supervisors attorney Bill McKenzie said one problem with the change is that the purchase and sale agreement was signed by Corkern, not his company, and was written as a contract for a for-profit facility.
District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant voiced frustration with Corkern’s decision, saying the doctor told supervisors in the past that his for-profit facility would be a better asset than non-profit bidders, such as Baptist Memorial Healthcare.
"Part of the reason we chose Dr. Corkern is because of the taxes," Avant told Vance and Shoemaker.
Burns agreed that the non-profit status would have changed the course of the hospital’s sale to Corkern.
"I’m not trying to throw a monkey wrench into anything, but part of the analysis of all of this was for-profit versus not-for-profit, and tax revenue," Burns said.
"All we want to do is protect the taxpayers," Perkins added.
According to a previous state Attorney General’s opinion, a county board of supervisors has the final say about who is exempt from ad valorem taxes, even non-profit hospitals.
Physicians and Surgeons is still listed as a for-profit corporation in its filing with the Business Services division of the state’s Secretary of State’s office.
Physicians and Surgeons was created May 17 and is one of eight corporations Corkern is currently involved in, a search on the state Web site showed.
| Pair facing meth charges after arrest
| By Billy Davis
A pair of Batesville men are facing meth-related charges two months after a suspected meth lab blew apart their home.
A Panola County sheriff’s deputy arrested Ross Tittle and Lloyd Turner Friday, August 26, according to the county jail log.
Both Tittle and Turner have since been released on bond, arrest information reported.
Tittle, 43, is charged with manufacturing meth, a felony, at the home he shares with Turner.
Turner, 46, is charged with conspiracy to manufacture meth, also a felony.
The one-story brick home is located at 111 Hillcrest in Westmoreland Heights, an upper-middle class area of south-central Batesville.
Chief Deputy Craig Sheley had not returned phone calls by press time regarding the arrests last week.
Westmoreland residents reported hearing the July 6 explosion at 111 Hillcrest, and Batesville firefighters found a hole ripped through the roof when they arrived at the scene.
Panola drug task force members later discovered a propane tank in the home’s roof. Such tanks are sometimes used to house anhydrous ammonia, a key ingredient in manufacturing meth.
Interviewed shortly after the incident, task force commander Jason Chrestman said the propane tank was modified to hold the meth ingredient.
Tittle was allegedly handling the tank when it exploded. He was treated for his injuries in the burn center at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville.
Turner initially was not charged with a crime after he gave a two-hour interview to investigators with his attorney, Adam Pittman, present.
Investigators concluded that Turner was not at home at the time of the explosion, though the conspiracy charge means he may have been aware of the illegal activity at the home.
At the time of Turner’s interview, both he and Tittle were facing meth-related charges for purchasing precursors at the Wal-Mart in Batesville.
| Two killed in recent accidents
| By Billy Davis
and Rita Howell
Car accidents have claimed the lives of two Panola Countians in the past three days.
A one-car wreck on Shiloh Road Monday morning killed Demoyne Rudd, 33, brother of pro football player Dwayne Rudd, and an early-morning interstate accident resulted in the death Saturday of Chassidy Paige Beavers, 17, of Batesville.
Rudd died of massive trauma to the head and chest, according to Panola County Coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge.
Apparently he lost control of the 1994 Chevrolet Impala he was driving as he entered rain-slick Shiloh Road from Ruby Road Monday morning around 10. The car struck a tree then rolled over into a deep ditch, according to Deputy Sheriff Otis Griffin Jr., who was called to the scene.
A passenger, Montra Towns, was apparently thrown from the vehicle. He was taken to a hospital and later released, Griffin said.
Funeral arrangements for Rudd were incomplete at press time Monday. Cooley’s Mortuary has charge.
He was the son of Leon Rudd of Batesville and Frances Rudd of Sardis.
Beavers was killed about 1 a.m. Saturday on I-55 south of Como, Grant-Gulledge confirmed Monday morning.
Funeral services for Beavers will be Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Dickins Funeral Home in Batesville.
Survivors listed include father James Beavers and step-mother Linda Rose Beavers.
Beavers was one of three passengers in a ?97 Mercury Marquis that left the interstate’s southbound lane, hit a tree, and overturned, said Miss. Highway Patrol spokesman Scott Swanson.
"The driver was in the left lane and over-corrected when the vehicle left the road, resulting in a skid across the right lane," Swanson said.
The driver of the vehicle, Leslie Barksdale, 20, was transported by ambulance to Tri-Lakes Medical Center, Swanson said.
The MHP spokesman said two other passengers, Veronica Youngblood and Allison Patterson, were transported by helicopter to The Med in Memphis. Both are 17 years old.
Neither the driver nor the passengers were wearing seat belts, Swanson also said.
For complete obituary information on Beavers, see page A2 in today’s Panolian.