Headlines – 12/2/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 2, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – December 2, 2005

  From the 12/2/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

Expansion marked with addition of top-line caskets
     Tracy Cruly and Tim Sullivan (left and right) buffed a high gloss onto a Marsellus by Batesville casket as the unit nears completion. Batesville Casket Company officials, including, from left (back) Chuck Grogan, director of manufacturing strategy, and Bill Mundroff, consolidation program manager, invited local civic and government representatives, including (continued from left) Mayor Jerry Autrey and Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons, for a tour of the facility as the first of the new units were being completed there.
By John Howell Sr.

Batesville Casket Company this week passed a milestone in moving its Nashua, New Hampshire wood casket manufacturing to the Panola plant.

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Mayor Jerry Autrey, Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons and others joined company officials to be on hand for completion of the first hand-crafted Marsellus by Batesville.

The Marsellus by Batesville series continues the product which originated with the Marsellus family in 1872. All are manufactured from premium, solid mahogany.

The activity level inside Batesville Casket Company’s Panola plant resembled the interior of an ant hill Wednesday during the tour to highlight completion of the first Marsellus casket. Throughout the building workers moved, shaped, and cut the wood pieces that are eventually joined and finished as caskets.

With the new Marsellus by Batesville that process is lengthy, almost three weeks. The hand assembly of mahogany components takes one week for each casket. Following assembly, equally-labor-intensive processes, including sanding by hand and a full day of rub time, give the casket a deep, rich glow.

"This is absolutely the top echelon of the caskets produced," said Craig Grogan, director of manufacturing strategy.

So many Marsellus caskets have been selected by dignitaries around the world that the line has been nicknamed "Casket of the Presidents." As company officials led guests through the office where the models are displayed, they pointed to one similar to the casket in which former President Ronald Reagan was buried, another model chosen for the recent funeral of Rosa Parks and another in which Rose Kennedy had been buried.

The Hillenbrand Industry, headquartered in Batesville, Indiana, built its Panola plant in 1987 in the W. M. Harmon Industrial Park to manufacture wooden caskets in a newly constructed facility using state-of-the-art wood manufacturing and finishing technology and equipment.

The facility began producing the company’s lower-cost wooden caskets in 1988.

Subsequent improvements in the wood craftmanship capabilities of the Panola plant and its workers contributed to the company’s 2004 decision to transfer manufacture of its high-end wooden caskets from Nashua to Mississippi. Plans for the move began last October and work to rearrange the Panola plant began last spring, coordination program manager Bill Mundroff said.

"In May we started a changeover that reworked 50 percent of the plant," Mundroff said.

From June until Thanksgiving, those involved in the changeover went almost non-stop.

"There were only one or two days when we didn’t work on Sundays," he said. "During this whole process, we only had to stop production for one week."

Former warehouse space in the plant was converted to manufacturing space. A warehouse area was relocated to the former Panola Mills building in Batesville.

"It’s been like adding a new industry," the Panola Partnership director said. "We want to keep what’s here and grow it," Simmons added.

Employment at Batesville Casket Company will approach 500, and a recent survey showed the manufacturer as paying the highest average hourly wage in the county, public relations director Joe Weigel said.

Fleet-footed suspect captured
By Billy Davis
and Jason C. Mattox

Here’s a tip for criminals: if you’re a wanted man with lots of warrants, don’t fall asleep in Batesville, Miss.

Gregory Lamar Brown, of Wilson, N.C., is in jail after allegedly stealing a car, running from police, and assaulting a Batesville delivery worker.

The state of North Carolina, meanwhile, has lots of charges, too.

Batesville police arrested Brown, 23, about 7:45 a.m. Thursday morning at Batesville Food Mart, where a 15-minute foot pursuit ended with the suspect in custody.

The Food Mart convenience store is located at Lakewood Drive and Hwy. 6 East, near Burger King.
Batesville police are charging Brown with attempted carjacking, two counts of grand larceny, felony evading arrest, aggravated assault and possession of stolen property.

"More charges could be coming," said Lt. Detective Paul Shivers, who said the BPD has 15 warrants in hand on Brown – all from North Carolina.

Deputy Chief Tony Jones said he was unsure of the nature of the North Carolina warrants.

No bond had been set for Brown by Thursday afternoon. He is in jail at the David M. Bryan Justice Center.

The search for Brown began Tuesday night at the Amerihost Inn in Batesville, where police responded to a complaint that a man was sleeping in a car in the parking lot.

The suspect fled after officers arrived on the scene, said Jones, and officers soon discovered that his four-wheel bed, a Mazda 626, had been reported stolen from North Carolina.

Now on foot, the suspect ran behind the Kroger grocery store, where he attempted to steal a pizza delivery truck making an early-morning run.

"The aggravated assault call came in at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning after the suspect had injured the truck’s driver with an unidentified object," the deputy chief said.

After fleeing that scene, the suspect again eluded capture from police. He was able to steal a white Toyota Camry that was warming up in a driveway on Faith Drive.

Now in the Camry, Brown then led police down Shamrock and onto Lakewood, where he zipped past the Post Office and outlet mall. Near the tight curve at Food Mart and Hwy. 6, two right side tires of the car apparently hit a curb and exploded.

With the car disabled, Brown again fled on foot. Surrounded by officers, he ran down the hill behind the Food Mart, which again put him at Kroger.

As officers moved in, Brown at one time leaped over the hood of Shivers’ unmarked cruiser, leaving a smashed windshield and a dent above the right front tire as a sign of his efforts.

Brown ran back up the hill toward the Food Mart, and officers tackled him behind the convenience store.

The driver of the delivery truck was treated for injuries, including a cut to his head, at Tri-Lakes Medical Center. He has since been released and has returned home, Jones said.

New sheriff: ‘only change is the work’

By Billy Davis
and John Howell Sr.

The Panola County Sheriff’s Department is functioning well and is hard at work, newly elected Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright said this week.

Bright led an introductory meeting with deputies Wednesday afternoon, November 23, just hours after he was sworn into office as the new sheriff.

The 2 p.m. meeting came after Bright and other candidates expressed concern during the campaign that deputies were slow to respond to calls.

Snagged for a brief interview this week at the county courthouse in Batesville, Bright said deputies’ manpower and shift schedules remain unchanged although sheriff’s cruisers are more visible around the county.

"We’ve got some good deputies, and they’re going to work. They’re doing their job," Bright said. "The only thing that’s changed is the work. They’re out moving."

A possible plan to divide up the county into patrol zones has yet to occur, Bright said, despite stated plans to do so last week.

"We’re still looking at it," he said.

Bright has made only one new hire for the department, he said, bringing on Chuck Henson as deputy to replace a deputy who has resigned.

The deputy’s resignation is the sole departure to date, the sheriff said.

Bright was employed as jail administrator before his election as sheriff, enjoying support from department jailers while most deputies backed his opponent, Chief Deputy Craig Sheley.

"Everything worked out good and everything’s fine," Bright said of the meeting. "I’m not running anybody off. Everybody’s staying."

During a subsequent interview this week, investigators Mark Whitten and Barry Thompson, who joined Bright at the sheriff’s invitation, cited a post-election synergy within the department.

As an example, Whitten cited the Tuesday robbery of Samuel’s Grocery in Curtis. Deputies responded to the scene within 12 minutes, he said.

"Everybody’s going in the same direction now instead of three directions," he added.

Whitten himself was one of the 11 candidates for sheriff as was Thompson’s father, Gary Thompson.

Deputy Sheriff Clint Robertson, who worked in Bright’s place while Bright was placed on administrative leave during the summer, is back in a patrol car, the sheriff also reported.

Bright said he is personally overseeing operation of the county jail until he hires a jail administrator.

Chief Deputy Otis Griffin is overseeing patrol after being promoted by Bright. The chief deputy post is the department’s number two position.

As sheriff, Bright oversees the jail, patrol and investigations, as well as the department’s $2.7 million budget, the largest in Panola County government.

"I don’t hunt and I don’t fish and I don’t like to travel, so I’m going to be here," Bright said.

Insurance company’s court filings offer insight into family’s suspicions
By Billy Davis

While Hugh "Shot" Bright is busily learning the office of Panola County Sheriff, The Clarion-Ledger newspaper has dropped an issue in his lap about an unsolved homicide.

In its Friday, November 25 edition, the Jackson newspaper claimed ex-convict Bobby Sanford is a suspect in the murder of Emanuel Morris.

Morris, 18, who lived in Batesville, was reported missing January 16 and was found dead three weeks later in a roadside ditch on Curtis Road.

Morris’ family members fingered Sanford, 48, early on in the ensuing investigation, telling The Panolian in repeated interviews that Sanford’s motive was an insurance policy.

Despite being a registered sex offender, Sanford won guardianship over Morris in Rankin County on February 13, 2004, the newspaper stated, citing court records.

According to the daily newspaper, Sanford bought a $100,000 insurance policy on Morris "a month before reportedly kicking him out of his house and five months before the 18-year-old turned up missing…"

Sanford, who lives in Florence, denied the charges made against him, the newspaper also stated.

The Panola County Sheriff’s Department had no comment about Sanford’s involvement, but reporter Jerry Mitchell apparently cited court papers filed by First Colony Life Insurance Co. to connect Sanford to Morris’ death.

First Colony has sued Sanford, saying it shouldn’t have to pay the man suspected in Morris’ death, Mitchell wrote. Sanford has since filed a $3 million counter-claim against First Colony, the newspaper also reported.

An autopsy of Morris concluded he died of a fresh-water drowning but the manner of death was never determined, Panola County Coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge reported at the time.

Asked this week about an investigation of Sanford, Panola sheriff’s investigator Mark Whitten said he has spoken with Sanford but has not held a formal interview.

"At this point I’m not admitting nor denying that Sanford is a suspect. He has not been arrested," Whitten said.

Morris last worked at Framed Pictures Enterprises in Batesville. He had dropped out of South Panola High School and enrolled in the district’s alternative school program, where he earned a GED and a scholarship to Northwest Community College.

Sanford was sentenced in 1977 to 50 years in prison for the robbery, rape and kidnapping of a Yalobusha County woman but won an early release on parole, The Clarion-Ledger reported. He became a preacher and operated a ministry but had later run-ins with the law.

Christmas parade Dec. 6
Those interested in participating in next Tuesday’s Batesville Christmas parade should call 563-4689 as soon as possible.

The parade will begin at 6:30 Tuesday evening on Watt Street and continue toward and through the Batesville Downtown Square on its usual route.

Marching, church, automobile civic groups and others are urged to participate.




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