Headlines – 12/30/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 30, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – December 30, 2005

  From the 12/30/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

2005: police chiefs, (lots of) politics,
     perfect season
Compiled by Jason C. Mattox

After a decade under the management of PTS, Inc. of Fort Payne, Ala., The Panolian newspaper returned to local hands when owners John and Rupert Howell resumed managing the day-to-day operations of the bi-weekly publication.
Long-time Batesville Police Department Chief Roger Vanlandingham announced he was retiring from the department effective April 16, 2005, following 15 years as the city’s top cop. Col. Gerald Legge was tapped by the Batesville Board of Aldermen to succeed Vanlandingham.
City workers began re-enforcing the Sand Creek Ditch in several areas around town. The project was paid for by a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the amount of $378,000.
Dale Copeland Jewelers celebrated its 25th anniversary. The store has been located on the Downtown Square since 1980 and is operated by Dale and Angie Copeland.
Renovations on the old two story red brick school building on the Batesville Elementary campus began. The project’s price tag was
$1.1 million. Upon completion the building will house the South Panola School District’s Child Development Center.
Newly-named Batesville Postmaster Lawrence Wills told of plans to improve the Batesville Post Office. Wells said he plans to make the Batesville Branch the best in its classification.
The body of Emmanuel Morris was identified by family members Friday, Feb. 11. Morris had been missing since January 16. His body was found in a ditch on Curtis Road on February 9. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be a fresh water drowning.
Batesville leaders voted 4-1, with Ward 1 alderman Bill Dugger being the lone naysayer, to proceed with collecting bids for the resurfacing of the Downtown Square. The project was completed in May.
Julius "Jeff" Crowell died Friday, Feb. 18, from injuries received when his tractor was hit by a car on Eureka Road. Crowell, a farmer and sawmill operator, was driving his tractor from his pasture on Liberty Hill Road to a hay storage area on Eureka Road.
Batesville Casket Company’s "Honoring Lives Tour" made its way to the Batesville facility. The tour showcased the company’s products and marketing innovations.
Tri-Lakes Medical Center was named in a lawsuit by Prime Care Nursing, Inc., a company that supplies staff for the local hospital. Prime Care’s suit alleges Tri-Lakes owes them approximately $700,000 for services.
Louise Land announced her retirement from First Security Bank after 36 years with the Batesville bank.
Sub-district lines for the South Panola School District were redrawn following complications with approval of an earlier plan submitted to the United States Justice Department.
Catie Ashburn was named as the new resource director for the Batesville Boys and Girls Club. Ashburn leads fund-raising efforts for the organization.
The Panola County Jail was renamed The David M. Bryan Justice Complex by the Panola County Board of Supervisors. The complex was dedicated during a special weekend ceremony Sunday, April 10.
Longtime local educator Robert Hyde passed away at the age of 74 on Sunday, April 17. Hyde was a former principal at the Patton Lane School and was a retired administrator from the South Panola School District.
Long-serving Panola County Sheriff David Bryan died Saturday, April 23, at the age of 65 following a long battle with cancer. Hundreds from throughout the county and state attended the visitation and funeral. Bryan’s wife, Ida, was named interim sheriff later that month and served in the office until a special election in November.
Democratic candidates for the mayor’s office in Batesville prepared for their final week of campaigning before the Democratic Primary on Tuesday, May 3.
The Panola County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to tear down the old jail that sat on two acres of land adjacent to the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville. The jail was constructed in 1955 but had been vacant for a number of years.
Jerry Autrey won the Democratic nomination for mayor of Batesville after defeating former long-time Alderman-at-Large Hudson Still. Autrey moved into the June 7 general election to face Republican Dr. Richard Corson and Independent Gary Kornegay.
J. Boyd Ingram and Teddy Morrow met in a run-off to determine the City of Batesville’s alderman-at-large seat. Ingram and Morrow each received 883 votes during the first primary election. Morrow won the election by 159 votes and moved into the June 7 general election to face Republican Ed Allen.
Dr. Keith Shaffer was named the new South Panola School District Superintendent following an extensive search and interview process. Shaffer had previously served as Superintendent of the Coahoma County School District and as the South Panola Personnel Director. Shaffer replaced retiring Dr. C. L. Stevenson.
Batesville Casket Company announced plans to consolidate its solid wood manufacturing operation from New Hampshire to the Batesville plant.
Friends and family turned out to pay their respects to Cpl. Daron Lunsford, 29, Panola County’s first war casualty since Vietnam. Lunsford was killed during an ambush while on patrol South of Baghdad.
Democratic candidate Jerry Autrey won the Batesville Mayor’s race June 7, when he defeated Republican Dr. Richard Corson and Independent Gary Kornegay. The totals were: Autrey, 1,122; Kornegay, 653, and Corson, 91. Autrey received 59 percent of the vote.
Batesville Aldermen slashed the salary of incoming Mayor Jerry Autrey to $19,500 (down from the previous mayor’s salary of $56,381) annually. During the same meeting, Gerald Legge was appointed Police Chief and Laura Herron was named City Clerk.
Dr. Gearl Loden was selected as the new principal for South Panola High School. Loden replaced Dr. Del Phillips who resigned to take a post in Missouri.
Two candidates in the Como Municipal election announced their intentions to challenge election results in court. Dr. Forster Ruhl, who was narrowly defeated by alderman-at-large incumbent John Walton, and Judy Sumner, who lost by eight votes to Azria "Bobby" Lewers in the mayor’s race, contested the results in circuit court.
Panola Partnership CEO Blair Jernigan announced he had accepted a position with the Delta Regional Authority. Jernigan had been with the partnership for 14 months. Leonard Morris was named as Jernigan’s replacement on an interim basis.
More than 70 concerned citizens were present at the first meeting of the new Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen to voice their opinions on the salary of Mayor Jerry Autrey. A motion to reset the salary at $40,000 was voted down 3-2 with James Yelton, Rufus Manley and Bobbie Jean Pounders voting nay. The salary was reset at the following meeting to $40,000 by a unanimous vote.
Mike Davis was selected as the new Sardis Police Chief by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. Davis was selected from a pool of 10 applicants and replaced the retiring Emmanuel "Sonny" Stepp.
 Sardis bail bondsman Johnny Green was arrested and charged with the murder of Rickey L. Taylor II. Green’s bond was initially set at $1 million before being lowered to $100,000 by Circuit Court Judge Andrew Baker.
The Panola Partnership named H.W. "Sonny" Simmons its new CEO. Simmons, former mayor of Winona, had worked with the Mississippi Development Authority. He replaced Blair Jernigan who resigned to accept a post with the Delta Regional Authority.
 Panola County Jail Administrator Hugh "Shot" Bright was placed on administrative leave pending the completion of an investigation by the Mississippi Department of Corrections and the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office into inmate labor practices.
A jury was seated in the trial of Demetrius Smith who was charged with the murder of Ole Miss student Carnesha Neslon. The jury found Smith guilty after several days of trial. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Batesville became temporary home to a large number of evacuees from the Mississippi Gulf Coast who escaped the wrath of Hurricane Katrina on August 29. Hotels around the county were at maximum capacity and the Batesville First Baptist Church served as a Red Cross shelter.
Both the North Panola and South Panola School Districts began accepting students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Prices at the gas pumps climbed past $2.79 per gallon in the wake of damage from Hurricane Katrina. Prices reached above $3 per gallon before they began to fall.
The South Panola Tigers traveled to the coast to play a rare Tuesday night game against rivals Moss Point. The game had been postponed following Hurricane Katrina.
Bettie Jean Upchurch was killed Wednesday morning, September 21, after her SUV hydroplaned on Hwy. 315 near the intersection with Hwy. 6 East. Upchurch worked as an executive secretary at First Security Bank in Batesville. She was 59.
North Panola School District Superintendent Robert Massey was placed on administrative leave by the district’s board of trustees pending an investigation into his administration.
Energy suppliers warned home heating customers that a cost increase was coming. Early estimates had costs increasing as much as 50 percent over the same time in 2004, an estimated figure that was later lowered.
A circuit court trial in Sardis was stopped and a directed verdict issued by Judge Sharon Aycock who ordered a new election to fill the alderman-at-large post in Como. Dr. Forster Ruhl had contested the June election results, questioning the legality of 38 absentee ballots. Judge Aycock ruled that the ballots were illegal. Incumbent John Walton and Ruhl will be on the ballot on January 3.
A one-car wreck killed Michelle Villella. Her son Brennan, 3, survived the accident. Villella was travelling south on Highway 35 at the time of the accident.
Bynum Fire Department’s Assistant Chief Jimmy Webb was killed in a wreck Saturday, Nov. 5, as he was on his way to a fire. Webb was honored with a large funeral featuring an honor guard from the Horn lake Fire Department.
After months of debate and research, Tri-Lakes Medical Center was sold. Physicians and Surgeons Group purchased the facility from former owners Panola County and the City of Batesville.
Steelmatic Wire began moving into the old Air Kontrol Building owned by the City of Sardis. Steelmatic will begin manufacturing zinc-coated wire in the spring and will employ approximately 15 skilled laborers.
Hugh "Shot" Bright was sworn in as the new Panola County Sheriff after defeating challenger Craig Sheley 4,229 to 3,844 in the run-off election on November 22. Bright and Sheley won their way to the run-off by defeating Noel Aldridge, Steve Chancellor, Antonio Daniels, John Hardy, Kelvin Taylor, Jamie Tedford, Gary Thompson and Mark Whitten. Bright named Otis Griffin as his chief deputy.
Batesville Casket Company began manufacturing the Marsellus line – "the casket of presidents" – at its Panola facility.
In a surprise move, the Panola County Board of Supervisors elected District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant as its new president. The move unseated District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins who had been serving in the post for approximately two years. District 3 Supervisor Mack Benson was named vice-president at a meeting later in the month.
The South Panola Tigers won their third straight 5A State Football Championship by defeating Meridian on December 9.
Three local Ole Miss students, Leslie Pitcock and Camille Willis, both of Batesville, and Graham Carson of Marks, were killed in an automobile accident near the Pope-Courtland exit of Interstate 55 as they were returning home from the state championship football game.
Panola County’s second casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom was Cpl. Michael Brandon Presley, 21. The Marine was injured by a roadside bomb while on patrol in his humvee near Fallujah and died December 14. He was given a full military funeral on December 22 in Batesville.
Two survive tractor trailer wreck
     Batesville firefighters and paramedics work to pull James Melton from his vehicle Wednesday morning, December 28, after a tractor trailer smashed into the passenger’s side of a four-door Cadillac he was driving. Melton and driver of the red Freightliner, Barbara McCray, hit at the intersection of Hwy. 6 and Hwy. 51. The cause of the accident remains under investigation by the Batesville Police Department.
By Billy Davis

A Sardis Lake man is in intensive care after a tractor trailer plowed into a car he was driving through the Hwy. 6 and 51 intersection in Batesville.
The two-vehicle accident occurred Wednesday morning when James H. Melton’s four-door Cadillac collided with an Ozark Motor Lines truck driven by Barbara McCray of Marks.

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The cause of the accident, including Melton’s direction of travel, is still under investigation, Deputy Chief Tony Jones said Thursday.

Both Melton and McCray were taken by ambulance to Tri-Lakes Medical Center, where McCray was later released, police said.

Melton, of Mallard Point Rd., was taken from Tri-Lakes to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford.

McCray was apparently westbound on Hwy. 6 when her Freightliner hit the older model Cadillac. The two vehicles came to a stop in the Hwy. 51 turning lane near Dale’s, leaving a trail of broken glass from the intersection.

The impact pushed part of the car through the dashboard into the front seat, missing Melton by inches.

Batesville police officer Billy Lambert said Melton was unconscious when officers arrived on the scene.

After Batesville police officers yanked open the driver’s door, Batesville firefighters and Tri-Lakes paramedics used a backboard to remove Melton from the Cadillac.

McCray, who appeared in shock, remained behind the wheel of the truck while paramedics removed Melton from his car. She was later removed from the truck also strapped to a backboard.

Supervisors in ’05:
     one hospital sold and much more
By Billy Davis

Like cars and trucks whizzing down a newly paved county road, Panola County government rumbled through 2005 fueled by political triumphs and personal tragedies.

In various interviews this week, Panola County supervisors described the board’s work in 2005 as typical business, with the obvious exception of the successful negotiation and sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

A big debt gone bye-bye

The City of Batesville and Panola County took a $22 million debt off the shoulders of taxpayers by putting public-owned Tri-Lakes into the private hands of hospital administrator Dr. Bob Corkern and his chief financial officer, Ray Shoemaker.

Shoemaker’s non-profit company, Physicians and Surgeons Hospital Group, paid $22.5 million for the main hospital and $3 million for the original hospital building on Keating Road.

"I would guess that’s one of the biggest deals ever done in Panola County," Supervisor Jerry Perkins said this week of the hospital sale.

Most of the $22 million paid to the owners will go toward paying off the hospital debt, leaving the owners with little "play money" to spend.

But Panola County is still left with $3 million after the sale of the west campus, and supervisors will decide in the coming year how to spend those funds (see related story, page A1).

Before negotiations put Tri-Lakes into private hands by the fall, the political wrangling began early during the bidding process.

In January, supervisors effectively booted the county-appointed hospital trustees, announcing that other bidders were complaining that the trustees were too cozy with Corkern.

City of Batesville aldermen also appointed new trustees to the hospital board, but city officials seemed to avoid the political tug-of-war between Corkern and the supervisors, led by Perkins, the board president.

After Perkins led the board in negotiations during the year, Avant will serve as president beginning January 1. A surprise board motion by Supervisor James Birge put Avant as board president in the coming year.

A later board vote put Supervisor Mack Benson as vice president.

2005: voting machines,
vision plans and a party barn
During 2005, the Panola County Board of Supervisors also:

Set the county’s millage rate at 54.91 for the 2005-2006 fiscal year, effectively holding taxes at the same rate set for the previous year.
"We’re doing everything we can to keep from raising taxes," said Birge regarding the budget process.
     The 2005-2006 budget for Panola County government is $12 million, with the sheriff’s department ($2.7 million) and the road department ($2.6 million) boasting the largest budgets.
 Purchased 99 Diebold brand voting machines at the recommendation of the secretary of state’s office. The federal Help America Vote Act mandated an upgrade to modern machine.
The county will pay for 40 of the machines at a cost of $2,850 each, or $116,850 total. The state will pay for the remaining 59 machines. 
Upheld the firing of longtime assistant road manager David Arnold by county road manager Lygunnah Bean. Arnold had alleged the county road department installed a county culvert on private property;
Replaced county engineer Pete Sullivan with Oxford-based Larry Britt of Elliot and Britt;
Voted to allow the county election commissioners to qualify for the county’s health insurance;
Backed the decision by the county land development commission to refuse a special exception permit for the "party barn" on Eureka Road;
Voted to join the City of Batesville in pursuing an animal shelter;
Switched the county’s garbage service to a four-day pickup schedule and began a $30 deposit requirement;
At the request of Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock, added a vision plan to the county’s health insurance coverage;
Voted to approve a three-percent raise for county employees;
Tore down the old county jail with plans to expand the courthouse in Batesville some time in the future.

Indecisions during the year included inaction on a 10-page county litter ordinance suggested by Sheriff’s Deputy Bobby Walton. He also serves as the solid waste enforcement officer.

After Walton presented the idea to supervisors in March, the board discussed the ordinance briefly in April, never acting on its provisions.

Supervisors also failed to address the lack of a county hiring process after a deputy assistant for the county’s civil defense office was hired.

The apparent job opening was budgeted for the new fiscal year but was not advertised to the public.

A lost ‘prince’
brings a change

After the political dust had settled following the November sheriff’s election, supervisors also voted to amend the sheriff’s department budget to allow for a new deputy hiring, two new vehicles, and a $29,000 increase to the county drug task force.

Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright had made the requests, which increased the department’s $2.7 million budget by $113,600.

Bright, 46, won office from a field of 11 sheriff’s candidates, emerging the winner after a November 22 runoff with Chief Deputy Craig Sheley.

Bright is finishing the term of the late Sheriff David Bryan, who passed away at his Batesville home Saturday morning, April 23. He was 65.

"A prince has died," former First Baptist Church pastor Dr. Robert Self told an overflow crowd of family, friends and law enforcement officers at Bryan’s memorial service.

The late sheriff was laid to rest in Orwood Cemetery, where his father, Joel Bryan, is also buried.

$3 million in bank means many ideas
By Billy Davis

After Panola County supervisors negotiated the sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center during the spring and summer of 2005, a benefit from that transaction will now unfold in 2006: how to spend $3 million dollars.

The $3 million payment for the hospital’s west campus is drawing interest in excess of $4,050 a month, according to Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock.

The money is in a CD in an escrow account at First Security Bank, the chancery clerk said.

According to supervisors, their ideas for spending the monies range from road work to adding on to the county courthouse in Batesville.

Still another decision is whether supervisors should spend the funds only where Panola taxpayers paid for the hospital, meaning the South Panola Hospital District.

In interviews this week, District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins solely suggested spending the $3 million in the South Panola district.

"I assume that money should be spent south of the river, just like North Panola taxpayers should spend their (hospital) money north of the river," Perkins said.

Supervisors James Birge, Robert Avant, Mack Benson and Bubba Waldrup disagreed, telling the newspaper they believe the funds should not be limited to a hospital district.

"Both hospital district monies should be spent all over the county," Avant said. "All money is county money if we’re still operating under the unit system."

"I say spend it all over the county," Benson said.

According to Waldrup, if the money is used to buy county road equipment, then that equipment should be used on roads throughout the county.

"I’m tired of the north-of-the-river and south-of-the-river talk," Waldrup said. "People need to get over that."

Without giving a date, Perkins suggested the funds should be spent on a courthouse expansion in the future.

Both Perkins and Waldrup suggested buying road equipment with at least some of the funds.

"We need some equipment for road maintenance," Waldrup said.

Birge also suggested courthouse work while he and Avant suggested using the funds for road work.

"We have a lot of roads that need to be blacktopped, and some roads need overlaying," said Birge.

Asked how supervisors should spend the $3 million, Benson suggested using the money for debt reduction, though he couldn’t name any specific debts that are burdening the county.

Avant also suggested using the funds to help poor Panola Countians pay for their healthcare.

For now, Perkins said, the board of supervisors should hold on to the funds until time and distance is gained from the sale of Tri-Lakes.

"We still don’t know who the vendors are and what they’re owed," said Perkins. "There’s a lot out there that hasn’t been cleared up."


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