Headlines – 12/13/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – December 13, 2005

  From the 12/13/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

Tragedy strikes community after Tiger victory
Two wrecks claim four early Sat.
     Pictured following the South Panola Tigers’ victory in the 5A State Championship game in Jackson Friday night were (back, l to r) Leslie Pitcock and Amber Garner; (front, l to r) Graham Carson, Camille Willis and Kelly Cosby.
By Rupert Howell

Three local Ole Miss students were killed early Saturday morning following an automobile accident on I-55 north of the Pope-Courtland exit as they returned from South Panola’s championship football game in Jackson.

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Lillian Graham Carson, 18, of Marks, Leslie Ross Pitcock, 19, of Pope and Nancy Camille Willis, 19, of Batesville died of injuries sustained in the accident.

State Highway Patrol Public Information Officer Scott Swanson said that the 2005 Jeep Cherokee driven by Joshua D. McDowell of Courtland was northbound at 1:32 a.m. and went into the median, re-entered the road and went off the right side, ejecting all three passengers.

McDowell, of Courtland, was treated and released later that day from Tri-Lakes Medical Center. He was the only one wearing a seat belt according to published reports.

Panola County Coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge said that Willis and Carson died immediately. Pitcock was airlifted to The Med where she died a few hours after her arrival.

The group was among several thousand local fans returning from South Panola’s almost perennial visit to the state championship game in Jackson.

Word of the accident spread quickly through cell phones as other homebound fans passed by the accident that occurred approximately 500 feet north of the Pope-Courtland exit on Hentz Road.

Swanson said a minor accident occurred near the earlier crash site when curious passersby came through and an additional trooper was summoned to the scene.

Investigating trooper Dino Stutts, who worked the Pope exit wreck, was later called to a one-car, one-person accident that took the life of Ethel L. Toliver, 28, of Mt. Levee Road, Sardis.

According to Swanson, Toliver’s 1995 Oldsmobile 88 left Highway 315 where she was eastbound approximately two miles west of Old Panola Road.

Swanson said that it appeared Toliver over-compensated and crossed the highway, hitting one tree and spinning around and hitting another on the passenger side of the vehicle.

Toliver, like the other fatalities in the I-55 wreck, was not thought to be wearing a seat belt.

(See additional obituary information on page A2 this section.)

Batesville officials weigh in on 2005,
    look toward ?06
Mayor: animal shelter, paving among plans
By Billy Davis

Twelve months into 2005, Panola voters have elected two new mayors and a new sheriff, watched a municipal election end up in court, and seen a shake-up among the Panola County Board of Supervisors.

In the city of Batesville, a hospital got sold, a plant got expanded, the new mayor’s salary went down – then back up – and Batesville police officers got a hoped-for raise.

In the city’s elections, Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey began a four-year term this summer after comfortable wins in the Democratic primary and general election.

Batesville voters also elected Teddy Morrow as alderman-at-large, the first change in that office in 20 years.

Elsewhere in the city, voters returned four incumbents to office: Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger, Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley, Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton, and Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders.

A year that began with incumbents and candidates jumping into municipal races is ending with one of them recovering from a stroke.

Alderman James Yelton, 78, suffered a stroke December 1 while at the Hardee’s restaurant in Batesville. He is now recovering and undergoing therapy.

Known for his penny-pinching oversight of taxpayers’ dollars, Yelton has served nearly two decades in office. Ward 3 voters returned him to his alderman’s seat again in May.

"James has a good mathematical mind and he’s a good businessman, so we’re missing him a lot," said Autrey.

Yelton was elected vice-mayor this year on a 3-2 vote by the board of aldermen, but city officials may have to vote on a new vice-mayor in the near future if his recovery is slow.

"We hope that’s an issue we don’t have to take up," the mayor said. "We hope he comes back soon."

"I don’t know about a timetable or anything but I sure hope he comes back soon," said Alderman Bill Dugger.

Calm waters
after a shaky start
Autrey is now five months into his first term as Batesville mayor. He came into office with a thin political resume – he had never held public office – but enjoyed overwhelming wins in the party primary and general election.

Before Autrey was sworn in as mayor, he toured the city with outgoing Mayor Bobby Baker.

Autrey had nearly swiped Baker’s long-held office four years earlier, and the relationship between the political newcomer and the veteran politician, as well as their defenders and detractors, had been icy ever since.

In fact, after Autrey’s election and prior to that tour around the city, aldermen Pounders, Yelton, Manley and then-Alderman-at-Large Hudson Still voted to set the mayor-elect’s annual salary at $19,500, slashing it from Baker’s final salary of $56,300.

After Autrey was sworn into office, however, the aldermen eventually voted to raise the mayor’s salary to $40,000 amid an uproar from the community. A similar vote had failed days earlier despite a motion from Morrow and a second from Dugger.

A vote to elect Yelton vice-mayor also occurred amid similar votes and icy conditions among the aldermen.

According to Autrey, the car ride with Baker’s helped build bridges with the outgoing mayor’s allies.

"Mr. Baker told me, ‘Come on, let’s go,’ and we rode over the entire city and he pointed things out and suggested things," Autrey recalled. "When we got out of the car, he threw me the keys and told me to call him if I ever have any questions."

Those first days of a new administration have changed for the better, city officials now say.

"It was kind of shaky because of the vote on the mayor’s salary and vice-mayor, but everything’s running smooth now," Morrow said.

"I feel like the new mayor is working real hard and has learned how city government works, and Teddy has jumped right in and is doing a good job, too," Pounders said.

Taking out the
Since taking office, Autrey said he is overseeing the city’s $3 million payroll and 160 employees like a careful, calculating businessman.

Autrey said he has also made progress on the city’s "overhead," which, of course, is taxpayers’ money.

"So far, by taking a close look at how the city operates, we’ve saved $30,000 to $50,000 a year in electricity and $5,000 to $7,000 in phone bills," the mayor said.

While Autrey’s boasting stopped short of specific examples, Alderman-at-large Teddy Morrow said the mayor personally oversaw improvements to the former Panola Mills building that eventually saved the city money in electrical costs.

The city owns the entire building but operates only a small office there.

"We were basically cooling half the building and using only the office," Morrow said. "The mayor took that on himself and got it straightened out."

Like Autrey, Morrow is also a newcomer to politics and municipal government. He won the alderman-at-large seat after defeating radio station owner
J. Boyd Ingram in a runoff and Ed Allen in the general election.

"I attend a lot of meetings and don’t say anything," said Morrow, who turned 36 last week. "I just listen because I’m still learning."

Morrow is also Batesville’s youngest city official, second behind Autrey, who is 57.

Morrow owns the Stubbs and Williams department stores on the Downtown Square, and recently opened an antique store as well.

With his livelihood tied into the success of downtown, Morrow said his toughest vote this year was a $10,000 budget cut to the Batesville Main Street Program, which exists to revitalize the downtown area.

"It was a tough vote for me because I didn’t want to do it," Morrow said, "but the budget was tight and we had to cut something."

A vote Morrow says he was proud to cast is the pay raises for Batesville police officers, which boosted their yearly salaries by $3,600.

City wishes for
the new year

In the coming year, Autrey said, Batesville residents will see work begin on street repair and paving, and progress being made on bringing an animal shelter to the city. (See story, page A7).

While Dugger and Pounders said they want street repairs in the coming year, both cautioned that the city’s budget will be tight in 2006.

"Sometimes things happen, like the repair of the parking lot at the civic center," Dugger said. "The money just doesn’t grow on trees."

Manley said the animal shelter is likely for the coming year while the street repairs are possible.

"I don’t know about the streets because that’s according to the money we have budgeted," Manley said. "It would be nice if we could (fix the streets) because every year we keep putting it off and putting it off."

Also in the new year, Morrow said he hopes the board of aldermen takes a long, hard look at the Batesville Civic Center and figures out a way to make the facility break even.

Dugger said he, too, hopes to see progress made on making the civic center an asset to the city.
"I was opposed to it at the beginning because I didn’t feel it was a necessity, but now I certainly want it to work," Dugger said. "If we look into the future, one day there’ll come a time when everybody’s grateful that we’ve got it and glad it was built."

"We basically don’t expect it to make any money for five to seven years," said Manley. "Until then, if it can just take care of itself, that would be good."

Tigers claim record-setting three-peat,
No. 45
     South Panola senior captains Josh Boren (left) and Germichael Sanford display the 2005 State Championship Trophy Friday night.
By Myra Bean

The South Panola Tigers did it! And in a big way, too.

The No. 7 USA Today nationally ranked Tigers claimed a third consecutive 5A state championship with a decisive 52-14 win over the Meridian Wildcats.

With the temperature hovering in the mid-30s and an occasional northerly breeze making it feel colder than that, the Tigers dominated from the opening kickoff and kept their 45-game win streak intact.

In a television interview, Tiger head coach Ricky Woods said he did not have to say anything to encourage the team to play hard.

"We made it this far," Woods said. "I didn’t have to say anything. We just did the prayer and walked out."

In the huddle after the game, Woods again recognized team captain Germichael "Rico" Sanford who was not able to play his senior season due to an injury received in a preseason scrimmage. Sanford tore his left lateral collateral ligament and his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

He underwent surgery and has been in rehab ever since. He was the captain for the first game against Olive Branch this season and the state championship game.

In a television interview Friday, Sanford spoke of how it hurt him to not play this year.

"But I told them they needed to go out and play hard," Sanford said.

"Play hard" is what the Tigers did.

The Tiger three-point attack with senior running back Ricky Sanford, juniors quarterback Leroy Diggs and fullback Jeramie Griffin scored the eight touchdowns on the night.

Diggs and Sanford were named players of the game by the crew of FOX 35 who televised the state championships.

Diggs scored four touchdowns with 152 rushing yards. He completed one pass for five yards. Diggs finished the season with 1,415 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 219 carries for the season.

Sanford scored three touchdowns on 209 yards. He finished the year with 1,791 yards and 27 touchdowns on 203 carries on the season.

Junior fullback Jeramie Griffin scored the Tigers’ other touchdown. He rushed for 30 yards on the night.

Though the younger members did not get to play in the North Half game against Olive Branch December 2, they got a chance to see what it was like to play in a state championship game.

In the fourth quarter, Woods rested the starters and relief players and let the B-team run the last minutes of the game.

Griffin finished the season with 1,116 rushing yards on 123 carries, six receptions for 255 yards and 14 touchdowns.

The Tigers had 406 rushing yards Friday. For the season the Tigers rushed for 5,363 yards on 715 carries and passed 960 yards on 88 receptions for a total offense of 6,323 yards on the year.

They scored 549 points and allowed 147.

Opponents had a total of 2,675 yards against the Tigers. The Tigers were penalized 96 times for 819 yards this season. Opponents were penalized 74 times for 500 yards.

The Tigers made 278 first downs and held opponents to 160 first downs.

Opponents rushed for 1,134 yards on 386 carries and passed 347 times for 1,534 yards.

Woods is 58-1 in four years at South Panola. He has coached the Tigers to four state championship games, setting a record of winning three in a row.

Information regarding the purchase of state championship rings will be provided as it becomes available.

Benson voted supervisors’ V.P. in 3-2 vote
By Billy Davis

Panola County supervisors elected Mack Benson vice president of the board during a shortened "second Monday" meeting in Batesville.

Benson, 75, represents District 3 in the county. He was elected in a 3-2 vote after a motion by District 1 Supervisor James Birge and a second by District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant.

Birge and Avant then voted for Benson, who voted for himself.

The opposing votes came from District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins and District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup.

Benson’s election fills a slot left open by Avant, who replaced Perkins as president last week at the supervisors’ "first Monday" meeting in Sardis.

Birge also lead the vote last week, saying afterward only that the board leadership needed a change.

Reached after the "second Monday" meeting, Perkins said he voted "no" because supervisors earlier had agreed that Waldrup would serve as vice president following Avant’s election as president.

Also reached Monday, Waldrup agreed that he had talked to Birge about serving as vice president.

"I expected to be nominated for vice president Monday after talking to Mr. Birge the prior week," Waldrup said.

According to Birge, however, he discussed the matter with Waldrup but didn’t pledge his support.
"I talked to him about it but, you know, we’ve got one now," Birge said, referring to Benson’s new position.

A veteran county supervisor, Benson is known for his off-handed comments during board meetings and "seconds" during board votes. He served as vice president of the board during the mid-1980s.

The "second Monday" meeting was kept short so supervisors could attend the 11 a.m. funeral service of Leslie Pitcock, daughter of Panola Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock and wife Linda.

The board voted to recess until 9 a.m. Friday morning, though supervisors were set to return Monday afternoon for a bid opening.

A scheduled 4 p.m. meeting with county engineer Larry Britt was reset for Friday morning as well.

Before the board dismissed, supervisors voted unanimously to approve the purchase of a coroner van at the request of coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge.

Providing a written cost and savings estimate, Gulledge told supervisors the van and equipment purchase of $19,651 would save the county about $13,500 a year.

The present cost comes from hauling bodies to Jackson for autopsies in a private vehicle, which is $405 per body, she said, compared to $120 per trip in a county-owned van.

Hey, it’s Santa!
     Presley Callihan, 5 1/2 months, is intrigued by the big man in the red suit during a visit Saturday at the Factory Outlet Stores of Batesville. Presley is the daughter of Heather McCullar and Dustin Callihan of Batesville.
     The Batesville Junior Woman’s League sponsored the visits with Santa.
MDOT meeting set for Batesville Civic Center
By Billy Davis

Two public hearings to discuss proposed widening of Highway 6 from Batesville to Clarksdale will be held Dec. 19 at the Marks Community Center and Dec. 20 at the Batesville Civic Center.

Citizens are invited to come and go during the hours of 4-7 p.m., view the alternatives and discuss issues with Mississippi Department of Transportation officials.

MDOT officials will also disclose their plans for a possible bypass south of Batesville.

MDOT representatives will be on hand to discuss design, right-of-way and environmental issues.  The public is encouraged to attend.




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