Headlines – 11/1/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 1, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – November 1, 2005

  From the 11/1/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

     Mike Vaghela directs truck driver Jim Austin around the Holiday Inn construction site at Highway 6 east and Power Drive in Batesville. Austin was dropping dirt to fill in the area.
     Vaghela and his brother, Indu, are serving as general contractors for the construction of the full-service, 80-room hotel. Completion is scheduled for sometime in 2007 according to Vaghela.
Judge rules on Como election: do it all again
By Jason C. Mattox

A special election has been ordered for the Town of Como to fill the position of alderman-at-large after Dr. Forrester Ruhl, the loser in the June 7 general election, contested the outcome and questioned the legality of 38 absentee ballots. John Walton had been declared winner in the election by a vote of 250-242.

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A date for the election has not been set but must take place 30-45 days after the judgment was issued.

Dr. Ruhl had specifically questioned the legality of absentee ballots cast outside the city clerk’s office.

Circuit Judge Sharon Aycock issued a directed verdict, preempting a jury trial that was under way in Sardis last week. After jury members spent two days hearing testimony, Judge Aycock stopped the proceedings and issued a directed verdict.

"The 38 (absentee) votes that are in question are not legal," Aycock said. "The statute clearly states there must be a space on the back of the envelope for people providing voter assistance to sign.

"That provision is made to preserve the integrity of the ballot," the judge continued. "The statute was amended in 1999 stating that three certificates must be printed on the ballot.

"The facts are undisputed that the voter assistance certificate was not printed on the envelope for the absentee ballots."

Aycock explained that verdicts from the state Supreme Court and several verdicts from 1994-2005 stressed strict compliance with the state statute.

"Non-compliance with the state statute renders these votes illegal," she said. "A progression of cases from ?94-?05 speaks directly to the fact that there must be strict compliance when it comes to absentee ballots."

"If those 38 ballots in question are considered illegal, the outcome of the election would be 239-220 in favor of Dr. Ruhl," she said.

"The court is of the belief that the mistakes made in this case were unintentional, but they did violate state statute," she said. "There is no way of knowing who received voter assistance and who did not in this election.

"Given the facts of this case, the court feels there is a need to call for a special election with properly printed ballots," Aycock continued. "Doing so will help restore the faith in the election process."

Reached by phone on Monday, Ruhl said he and his attorney are pleased with the verdict delivered by the court.

"We are pleased with the directed verdict and the clarification that the law had been violated," he said. "She announced in open court that I had more legal votes that Mr. Walton.

"We would have preferred that the judge order the seat vacant and declare me the winner," he said. "That didn’t happen, but, hopefully, with the new election, everything will be handled properly and the best man will be declared with winner."

Drug dealing top topic at Sat. event
By Billy Davis

The sale and trafficking of illegal drugs in the Coles Point area highlighted a weekend debate among Panola County’s sheriff’s candidates.

In a Saturday appearance at the Coles Point fire station, area residents reportedly grilled the candidates about their plans for combating drugs in this Sardis Lake community.

"It got pretty heated. It was definitely the hottest topic," said Coles Point Fire Chief Chuck Tucker.

Six of the 11 sheriff’s candidates made an appearance at the fire station, their latest showing in a string of political events that combine the candidates’ stump speeches with questions from the general public.

The sheriff’s election is Tuesday, November 8.

A runoff is expected and will be held on Tuesday, November 22 if needed.

The ongoing problem of drug sales in Coles Point is common knowledge, Tucker said, and residents continue to deal with the stigma related to living in a drug-infested area.

Sardis Lake Drive winds through Coles Point as its main drag while a number of short roads, backroads and coves spin off of it like a spider web.
"If you get rid of the drugs this could be a nice retirement area," Tucker said. "The drug problem is a reason a lot of people leave the area."

Some of the residents’ frustration stems from the fact that two agents of the Panola County Drug Task Force live in Coles Point, Tucker also said.

Reached Monday morning, Sardis Lake Drive resident Richard Shelly said he spoke up about the task force agents living in a community infested with drugs.

"I brought that up and everybody sort of jumped on the bandwagon," said Shelly, who had to step away from the event to cool off.

The two agents were present at the political event and privately defended their work, Shelly also said.

"They told me they could show me places in the county where the problem is a lot worse," Shelly said. "All I said was they could do a little bit better job of controlling the problem right where they live."

Whoever wins the sheriff’s race, his main challenge will be the need for more manpower, Shelly believes.

"Coles Point has grown so large that it’s probably as big as Batesville, and there are only four (task force) agents for the whole county," Shelly said.

"Everything goes back to where it starts, and that’s the Panola County supervisors and whether they want to spend the money," Shelly said, referring to budget priorities when the county budget is set.

St. Nick will make first local visit at open house
By Jason C. Mattox

Businesses around Batesville will open the doors to their decked halls for the annual Holiday Open House Sunday, November 20, from 1-5 p.m.

"Over the years we have had tremendous response from our local businesses, and I expect this year to be the same," Batesville Main Street Manager Colleen Clark said.

The Main Street downtown revitalization program sponsors the event on the Sunday before Thanksgiving each year.

In addition to visiting businesses, the festive crowd of early bird shoppers will have the chance to enjoy carriage rides around the Downtown Square and live music.

"We will have several different musical acts present on the square," Clark said," one of which will be the Dickens Carollers from Northwest Mississippi Community College."

The Holiday Open House will also mark Santa’s first stop in Panola County this year as he will be present at The Eureka for pictures.

"There will be a lot of different things going on," Clark said. "This is a good time for people to come out with their whole families."

One-car wreck claims life of young mother
By Billy Davis

A funeral service was held Monday for a Batesville woman who was killed in a one-car wreck late last week.

Michelle Villella, 29, died early Friday morning, October 28, when her Ford Focus left the road and hit a tree.

Villella was traveling north on Hwy. 35 South with her infant son, Brennan Griffin, 3, also in the vehicle.

Villella was killed instantly in the crash, said Panola County Coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge.

The service for the mother was held Monday morning at Wells Funeral Home in Batesville. Her body will be buried by family in Georgia.

The son was injured in the wreck and transported from the scene to LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis.

The young boy’s aunt, Sissy Caine, said her nephew suffered a fractured skull and a broken left arm.

"He took a good lick to the head and he’s real sore," Caine said.

The toddler was transferred to an ICU unit over the weekend, where he was being treated for spinal meningitis and a high fever, the aunt said.

Batesville firefighters cut their way into the vehicle to rescue the child, who was thrown into the front passenger floorboard during the wreck.

Firefighters popped off the right front passenger’s door with the Jaws of Life device to pull the child out, said firefighter Banks Brassell.

"When we took off the door, we also used the Jaws of Life to raise the dashboard so we could get to the child," Brassell said.

Mississippi state trooper Dino Stutts said the accident occurred about 6 a.m. near Travis Road, northeast of the Courtland city limits.

"The vehicle left the road and hit a tree around the right front passenger’s door. It didn’t flip," Stutts said.

Villella was a nursing student at the Holmes Community College campus in Grenada.

Perfect pie throw
     Batesville Middle School Principal Willie Chapman (left) dodged a "pie" thrown by fourth grader Jatabius Keys during a break to reward Keys and 70 fellow fourth graders who scored high in statewide reading tests.
     The principal and her assistant had promised students who scored "perfect" the opportunity to throw a pie at them, and dutifully faced the delighted crowd last Friday.
Big top returns to Batesville Thursday
By Jason C. Mattox

In two days, a herd of elephants will begin raising the Carson and Barnes big top on the South Panola practice field on Highway 51 North.

Once the big top is raised, people will have the opportunity to view two performances by the circus on Thursday.

Show times are 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

The circus is a fund-raiser for the Batesville Kiwanis Club.

"All of us involved in the club are hoping for a really good turnout," Kiwanis member John Britt said. "This is always the club’s biggest fund-raiser."

The Batesville Kiwanis Club receives the money from advance ticket sales only.

Tickets purchased in advance are $12 for adults and $6 for children ages 2-11. If tickets are purchased the day of the show, costs are $16 for adults and $8 for children ages 2-11.

Tickets are available for purchase at First Security Bank, Renasant Bank, Batesville Quality Carpets, all three locations of Riteway Cleaners (Batesville, Sardis and Como), Medicap Pharmacy, Whitworth’s Food Court, Piggly Wiggly and Don’s Pharmacy in Marks.

Britt said the club wants to see the seats packed for both performances of the circus.

"We are really hoping for more than 5,000 people at both shows," he said. "That is a reasonable number for this kind of thing."

Money raised from the circus and other fund-raisers sponsored by the Kiwanis Club are used to help support the Answered Prayers Benefit and Sav-a-Life.

Two face four-count indictment on meth-related charges
By Billy Davis

Two Batesville men are facing a four-count indictment on charges related to manufacturing crystal meth.

Lloyd Alexander Turner and Howard Ross Tittle Jr. were indicted in September by a Panola County grand jury. A trial date has not been set.

The men are charged with possession of meth precursors with intent to manufacture, conspiracy to manufacture meth, attempt to manufacture meth, and possession of meth (less than two grams).

Turner, 46, and Tittle, 43, were served with the indictment last week.

The pair are out of jail on bond, said Panola Chief Deputy Craig Sheley.

The possession charge stems from the pair’s arrest in February at the Super Wal-Mart in Batesville, where they had purchased cold medicine and Coleman camp fuel.

The cold medicine contains meth ingredients pseudoephedrine, according to the two-page indictment. The fuel contains hexanes and heptanes.

"Batesville police made a traffic stop after they were alerted about the sale of possible precursors," said Jamie Tedford, a Batesville police officer assigned to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

Turner and Tittle had been observed buying the precursor ingredients several times a week and at odd hours of the night, Tedford also said.
The three remaining counts stem from a July 6 house fire at 111 Hillcrest, where the men live.

An explosion at the Westmoreland Heights home rocked the neighborhood, and Tittle was burned over much of his body following the explosion and house fire. He was later treated for burns at a Nashville hospital.

Panola drug task force investigators alleged the explosion started when a meth lab’s propane tank exploded in the attic of the brick, one-story home.

Turner originally walked away from any charges after investigators determined he was not at home at the time of the explosion and fire.

Coats collected for coast kids
American General Financial Services in Batesville is collecting coats to send to young victims of Hurricane Katrina, according to John Martin, manager of the local office.

The staff has "adopted" Reeves Elementary School in Long Beach, which serves children in grades K-5.

Coats will be accepted now through November 18.



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