|Presley second Panola soldier to fall in Iraq
| Marine ‘was a joy from the day he was born’
|By Angie Ledbetter
The Panola County community is enduring its second casualty from the war in Iraq after U.S. Marine Cpl. Michael Brandon Presley died from injuries while in that combat zone.
Presley, 21, was riding in a Humvee when a roadside bomb detonated near the vehicle on Monday, December 12.
The incident occurred in the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
Presley is the second soldier from Panola County to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom following the May death of Audrey Daron Lunsford.
A corporal in the Mississippi Army National Guard, Lunsford died May 23 near Baghdad when a bomb exploded near his Humvee.
Services for Presley were incomplete at presstime but will be posted on The Panolian’s Web site, www.panolian.com, when complete.
Presley was a member of the Marine Motor Patrol Unit No. 73915 from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
According to his family, Presley was flown to a military hospital in Germany on Tuesday, December 13, where where he passed away the next day.
His mother, Pam Presley Cousar and her sister, Lisa Heafner, flew to Germany to see Brandon, learning there that his injuries were much more severe than what had been reported.
Mary Frances Woods, Presley’s grandmother, learned of the accident Monday when Cousar telephoned her.
"At that time, we were told that he had some injuries and that they were flying him to Germany," said Woods. "It wasn’t ever told to us that he was really bad until he got to Germany."
Later, doctors telephoned Cousar and told her to come to Germany as soon as possible because her Marine son was on life support.
"All of us were in shock. All that we could do was pray and that is what we did," the grandmother said. "When Pam got to Germany, she telephoned all of us and told us that Brandon was really bad."
He was taken off life support Wednesday, Woods said.
"It has been such a shock and such a tragedy," she said.
Presley graduated from North Delta School in 2002. He attended Northwest Community College before enlisting with the Marines in the spring of 2003.
Presley attended basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina. He graduated December 20, 2003.
The young Marine was stationed at Camp Lejeune before he was deployed to Iraq on September 23, 2005.
"He was a joy from the day he was born," recalled Mary Presley, Brandon’s maternal grandmother. "We were blessed to have had him in our lives."
Mary Presley recalled her other grandchildren accusing her of making Brandon her favorite grandchild.
"Of course, you know how it is with grandchildren; you love them all," she said. "He was a wonderful person and he was great fun to be around. He never met a stranger. He was always ready to have a good time. You couldn’t have asked for a better person."
Brandon Presley leaves behind his mother, Pam Presley Cousar of New Albany. His father, the late Michael Woods of Batesville, preceded him in death.
His grandparents are Mitchell and Mary Frances Woods of Batesville, Mary Presley of Pope, and the late Jackie Ray Presley of Red Banks, Mississippi. He also leaves his stepfather, Joe Cousar and a brother, Colin Hawkins of New Albany, Mississippi.
Brandon Presley also leaves two uncles , Rusty Woods of Batesville and Ray Presley, Jr. of Pope, and three aunts, Machael Sorrells and Lisa Heafner of Batesville and Melinda Ross of Pope.
He also leaves behind his longtime girlfriend, Cameron Belk, of Batesville.
(John Howell Sr. and Billy Davis contributed to this story).
| Friends remember Presley as faithful friend, caring soldier
Family and friends mourning the death of U.S. Marine Brandon Presley recall him as a warm-hearted person who also seemed eager to share a laugh.
"He never met a stranger. He was always ready to have a good time," said Mary Presley, his maternal grandmother. "You couldn’t have asked for a better person."
Presley, 21, died this week from injuries sustained from a roadside bomb in the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
Services for the young Marine were incomplete at presstime.
Presley graduated from North Delta School in 2002. He attended Northwest Community College before enlisting in the Marines in 2003.
As news of Presley’s death spread, North Delta schoolmates and others gathered at the home of his paternal grandparents, Mitchell and Mary Frances Woods, where they told fond memories of the young Marine.
Michael Harmon, who was named after Presley’s father, had a special bond with his friend and cousin.
"He was always willing to lend a helping hand. He would help you through anything regardless of what the situation was," Harmon said. "He would be there for you. He always made everyone feel good. He was an all-around great guy."
Friend Megan Dawkins called Brandon "one of my best friends.
"When I think of salt, I think of Brandon," Dawkins said. "He always loaded everything with salt."
"I have so much respect for Brandon for going into the Marines. He left all of us behind and he knew what was right," Dawkins added.
Dewayne Barmer, one of Presley’s friends, said he talked to the Marine Sunday morning, December 11.
"He had heard about the wreck that took the lives of three local girls last Saturday morning and he said that he was sorry about it," Barmer recalled. "He also said that you never know when you can lose a life like that. He said that he was ready to come home because it had gotten old for him."
Barmer said Presley always brought a smile to everyone around him.
"He was a really good guy. I am really going to miss him," Barmer said. "We had a bond."
Brooke Carmichael recalled seeing Presley last year during the Christmas holidays.
"He looked so happy. He said that he had much more respect for everyone now including his girlfriend, Cameron," Carmichael said. "His personality never changed."
In a commentary in today’s newspaper, North Delta School administrator John Howell Jr. remembered Presley as a "young man who embraced life, loved life, and was himself very loveable and full of smiles."
(John Howell Sr. contributed to this story)
| Commission approves plans for buildings for insurance company and body shop
| By Billy Davis
A body shop west of Batesville and an insurance office west of Sardis won approval this week from the Panola County Land Development Commission.
The land commission met Monday night in Sardis, where members assembled for an evening of light business in their last meeting of the year.
Commission members unanimously approved a special exception for a 3,200-square-foot metal building on Hwy. 315 that will house Southern Central Crop Insurance company.
A convenience store is also planned for part of the building, said members of the Mothershed family, who plan to construct the building on a 10-acre lot.
"We want to start ASAP," Keith Mothershed told the commission.
To comply with the commission, the business site must pave the parking lot, have a minimum 50-foot setback from the road, and forbid alcohol consumption on the premises.
The owners must provide a minimum of 11 parking spaces, a stipulation based on the building’s square footage, commission consultant Bob Barber told the Mothersheds.
Regarding plans for a store, the owners said they hope to lease part of the building for that purpose. On the matter of the body shop, the commission unanimously approved a reclassification request by Ricky Lee.
Lee told commission members he plans to turn a former junk yard into a body shop. The one-acre site is located about a quarter-mile from the Batesville city limits along Hwy. 6 East.
"It’s going to be a nice place, not something that’s thrown up," the owner told commission members.
Per county guidelines, Lee was instructed by the commission to pave the area in front of the building and build a privacy fence that hides any cars stored in the rear of the business.
After survey work is done, the acreage should be platted and recorded with the county, Barber told Lee.
At the conclusion of the meeting, commission chairman Danny Walker thanked the commission members for their "diligence" in meeting each month throughout the year.
The 10 commission members are appoint led by county supervisors and serve voluntarily. They meet the second Tuesday each month and also visit application sites on their own time.
| Guard soldiers returning home in trickle, some too late for Christmas
A framed photo of Staff Sgt. Darrell Reeder in Iraq adorns the office of his wife, Mary Reeder, at Renasant Bank in Batesville. The National Guard sergeant is pictured second at left along with other Guard soldiers from Batesville, (from left) Danny Brown, Tim "Sparky" Campbell and Sylvester Bolton. Reeder is set to depart Iraq December 19 to return home.
| By Billy Davis
Mississippi Army National Guard soldiers are trickling back to Panola County from the war zone in Iraq, returning home after serving a year overseas in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Many of the returning soldiers are members of the 155th Separate Armored Brigade, a 3,500-member unit based in Tupelo that has 49 units scattered throughout the state.
In Panola County, the 155th unit includes a tank company from Sardis and a platoon of scouts and a platoon of mortar soldiers from Batesville.
Some soldiers are already back in Panola County while others could return in time to celebrate Christmas with family. Many other soldiers, however, will arrive a few weeks after Christmas and New Year’s.
"We’re going to have Christmas when Danny gets home, whenever that is," said Judy Brown. Her husband, Master Sgt. Danny Brown, is now in Kuwait where he’s readying equipment for overseas transport.
The master sergeant is set to depart Kuwait January 13, his wife said, but his actual departure date is unknown.
"Weather is a big factor over there," Judy Brown said. "The guys who are home now should have been home a week earlier, but they were delayed because they couldn’t fly out."
Staff Sgt. Darrell Reeder may miss Christmas Day by only a few days, said his wife Mary Reeder.
Although Reeder is set to depart Kuwait December 19, his leave earlier this summer took eight days between his departure and arrival in the States.
"It doesn’t matter if he misses Christmas because, when he gets here, that will be my Christmas," Reeder said.
The 155th received its mobilization orders in June and began training at Camp Shelby in August. An advance party from the 155th left for Kuwait in early January, and the remainder of the unit departed in mid-January.
That meant departing soldiers were able to spend last Christmas with their families before shipping out to Iraq.
"It was a tough Christmas because we knew what was coming," Mary Reeder recalled. "This time, though, it’s going to be exciting because he’s finally coming home."
Although an armor unit, the 155th deployed to the Middle East as the 155th Brigade Combat Team, said Sgt. First Class John Ard of Batesville.
"They didn’t take their tanks with them because of the situation, which is an urban environment, so they took on the generic term as a BCT," Ard said.
Staff Sgt. Reeder is a full-time Mississippi Guardsman stationed at the armory in Senatobia. In Iraq, he sets up communications equipment.
While the staff sergeant awaits a return to the States, he communicates with his wife and their daughter Jessica by e-mail and phone.
The e-mails arrive from Iraq daily, Mary Reeder said, and the phone calls come every Saturday morning between 10 a.m. and noon.
Brown said her husband called this week following nearly two weeks of silence after phone lines went down.
"He called Thursday night to say he was in Kuwait trying to get equipment ready to load," the wife said.
The soldiers returning to Mississippi land at the Biloxi airport via commercial airliner and ride by bus to Camp Shelby, said Sgt. First Class Dan Stewart, who works with Reeder at the Senatobia armory.
When soldiers arrive at Shelby, Stewart said, they undergo a "demobilization" process over four to five days before being released to go home.
Plans to welcome home Panola County’s soldiers are in the works but must contend with their slow, trickle-like return.
A homecoming is planned for soldiers from the Sardis Guard unit, for example. That event is set for Saturday, February 4, at the facility.
"Some kind of homecoming is being planned for each armory, but it’s tricky to plan a certain date because of the soldiers coming home like they are," said Curtis Lauderdale, who leads the Family Readiness Group at the Sardis armory.
Lauderdale and his wife Evelyn are awaiting the return of their son, Specialist John Curtis Lauderdale. A Humvee driver, he is set to leave the Middle East December 21.
| Aldermen agree 5-0 to increase variance fees
|By Jason C. Mattox
After Batesville aldermen spent months discussing sign and setback variances, the city’s Code Enforcement Office finally presented proposed changes to its fees – and board members passed them unanimously.
The new fee schedule will be put into effect in February.
Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger, who has been most vocal on the subject of variances, explained to Code Enforcement Office Administrator Pam Comer that he was happy she had some suggestions.
"We need to do something about all the variances, either we change the ordinance and stick to it, or we just keep allowing them," he said.
Comer explained to the aldermen that builders might be initially upset by the fee increases her office is proposing.
"There have been cases where a developer or a business owner comes in and asks for a variance or construction permits, they laugh because they are so used to paying a lot more in areas like Oxford and DeSoto County," she said. "The proposals I have are more in line with the surrounding areas."
Cost for all variances, including signage, for both residential and commercial will increase a minimum of 100 percent.
Residential variance fees will be increased from $50 to $100, while commercial variance fees will increase from $100 to $500.
"We have not had an increase in fees since 1998, and even then they weren’t that substantial," Comer said.
Since that time, the Code Enforcement Office has added three full-time employees and two vehicles.
"The additional money generated will help us pay salaries rather than that coming out of tax dollars," she said.
| Department heads address sick leave, overtime issues
| By Jason C. Mattox
Overtime pay for city employees was briefly discussed Tuesday before the Batesville Board of Aldermen voted to address the matter at a later meeting so all department heads could be present to voice concerns.
"I really think we need to set another meeting to talk about this," Mayor Jerry Autrey said. "Some of the superintendents have a list of things they want to talk about."
Autrey said that list not only included overtime, but sick leave and several other items as well.
Two superintendents who were present for the meeting Tuesday were allowed to voice their concerns.
Police Chief Gerald Legge said his biggest issue is having sick time cause overtime.
"It doesn’t seem right that a person might work 34 hours and take eight hours of sick leave and that causes an overtime situation," he said. "That way, I am basically paying them overtime for the time off. They didn’t earn eight hours of overtime, they earned eight hours of regular time."
Batesville Civic Center Director Roy Hyde said he was having the same problems.
"I was told that’s what the city has done in the past, but it is not what I am used to," he said.
In the past, Hyde said overtime was only paid if it was worked hours and not sick time.
"A person’s paid time off shouldn’t cause overtime," he said.
In another issue of overtime brought up by Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley, board members discovered that some superintendents were being paid overtime while others are not.
"We have some of our superintendents who are being paid a salary plus overtime, while others just work for their salary," he said. "That doesn’t seem fair."
Autrey said he was not aware of that but would look into the matter.
"We do want to be fair to everyone," Manley said. "If the superintendent sees the overtime coming, he can call for his assistant. I don’t see a problem with an hourly employee getting the overtime if it is necessary." No action was taken.
In other board business, aldermen opened bids for administrative services on a CDBG grant. Bids were received from Burns Development Group, Jimmy Gouras Consulting and North Delta Planning and Development.
Following a grading process, the bids were taken under advisement.
| Burning down the house
| Old Panola Road resident Tim Holliday took a torch to an old family home Tuesday afternoon that had caught fire a month ago. While the fire was planned, he needed plenty of water to snuff flames that ate into the grass around the home.