Headlines – 1/13/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 13, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – January 13, 2006

  From the 1/13/06 issue of The Panolian       

Tractor driver discovers ‘Jane Doe’
     on Union Rd.
By Billy Davis

The Panola County Sheriff’s Department is investigating an unidentified body that was found Thursday in northeast Panola County.

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Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright confirmed late Thursday that a white female was discovered on Union Road near Pleasant Green M.B. Church.

Union Road is located east of Sardis and northwest of Upper Sardis Lake.

Someone driving a tractor spotted the body about 11:30 a.m., the sheriff said.

Investigators are unsure how long the female had been dead, Bright said, adding that the body had not begun to decompose.

Panola County coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge said Thursday that she was notified about noon that sheriff’s investigators were working on a case involving a "Jane Doe," an unidentified female.

Gulledge and sheriff’s investigators were set to examine the body at mid-afternoon on Thursday, she said.

"The body will be sent to Jackson Friday for autopsy," Gulledge said.

Attorney files post-Katrina lawsuit
   against State Farm
By John Howell Sr.

Batesville attorney Richard "Flip" Phillips last week filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Biloxi attorney Judy Guice and thousands of State Farm policy holders in Jackson, Harrison and Hancock counties whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

"Right now, State Farm says if damage was caused by both wind and water, they don’t have to pay anything on the wind damage," said Phillips.

"We believe the policy to say the exact opposite. If the damage was caused by both wind and water, State Farm should pay for all damages," Phillips said.

"This policy is an ‘all-risk’ policy advertised by State Farm to provide the broadest available coverage," said Phillips. "That’s why one in five homeowners on the Mississippi Gulf Coast purchased State Farm policies," he said.

"It’s like a second wave of trauma everybody’s undergoing," the Batesville attorney continued. "People are just now getting over the trauma from the initial shock of losing their homes and they run into a second wave of despair over insurance problems."

Phillips said that having the lawsuit certified as a class action is a key to getting policy holders a quick remedy to what he describes as a "mounting problem" for thousands of policy holders on the coast.

The class action "evens up the odds," Phillips added. "If litigation is done on an individual case, that’s not a fair fight. The company can spend ten times what the case is worth."

"It should not take thousands of individual lawsuits to make State Farm pay what they owe under the terms of their policies," the attorney added.

One purpose of the suit is to help policy holders who may participate in the mediation proceedings recently announced by Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale.

"We hope the court acts quickly on this so some sort of ground rules can be established before people go into this mediation," said Phillips. "State Farm needs to be told by the court what the language in its own policy actually means," he said.

The Guice home in Ocean Springs was completely destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. State Farm acknowledged that the house was damaged by both wind and water, but refused to pay under the State Farm Homeowners Policy, citing the "water damage exclusion" in the policy.

"State Farm agreed that my home was destroyed by both wind and water," said Guice. "Then they refused to pay me a dime on my homeowners policy citing their ‘water damage exclusion’ clause," she said.

"Under their policy, the water exclusion allows State Farm to deny claims only if wind didn’t cause any damage at all," said Guice. "You can’t look at a slab and say wind was not a factor," she said.

State Farm spokesman Susan Lamey said the company does not discuss litigation.

"There is no question Katrina caused horrific damage in Mississippi and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. We can’t comment on this litigation," Lamey said. "We handle each claim on its own merits and we pay what we owe based on our contract with the policy holder. Each of our claims are handled on a case-by-case situation."

Smith, Phillips, Mitchell and Scott is a nationally recognized litigation firm which has been successful in "vanishing premium" life insurance litigation, defective product and eminent domain lawsuits, individual and class action lawsuits.

Lake levels ‘where we’re supposed to be’
By John Howell Sr.

Lack of rainfall during 2005 has brought water in north Mississippi’s flood control reservoirs to low levels, but they are not "historically low," according to a Corps of Engineer official at Sardis Dam.

Engineering technician Dereck Redwine said that the conservation pool at Sardis Dam is at the "rule curve" that is the Corps’ goal for its winter operation.

"We’re at 235 (feet above mean sea level) this morning," Redwine said Wednesday. "That’s a low as we should go."

The low lake level has brought questions from callers who view the large areas of previously unexposed lake bottom, Redwine said.

"For the last four or five years, rain has not allowed us to draw down the lake level" to rule curve, he said.

"When we started drawing down in August, nothing stopped us," Redwine added.

The low water has not interfered with operations at the Sardis Lake Marina. The deep channel dredged by the Corps of Engineers prior to the marina’s construction allows all boat traffic easy access, a marina spokesman said.

Enid Dam Resource Manager Billy Samuels said that his personnel had recorded just over half of the rainfall during 2005 as was recorded in 2004. The 2004 figure was 71.14 inches while last year only 37.81 inches of rain was collected at the lake. Panola’s average annual rainfall is 65 inches.

"We’re right where we are supposed to be on the rule curve," Samuels said.

Enid recorded 0.53 inch of rain during the front that pass through the state Tuesday, bringing January’s total to 2.30 inches, Samuels added.

Martin Luther King Jr. birthday weekend commemorative activities
     Working on a banner to carry in Monday’s Dr. Martin Luther King Day March are these young members of New Bethlehem Church. Shown are (l. to r.) Cortez Campbell, Cortavious Campbell, Aerielle McDaniel, Carissa McDaniel and Marissa McDaniel. The march will begin at 10 a.m. and will proceed from Mt. Zion Church on Panola Avenue to Batesville Intermediate School for a commemor-ative service in the auditorium.
Friday, January 13
7 p.m. Basketball jamboree at Batesville Intermediate gym.
Saturday, January 14
6 p.m. African American-owned business recognition banquet at Patton Lane Community Center.
Sunday, January 15
6 p.m. Commemoration in music at Sardis District Association building.
Monday, January 16
7 a.m. Prayer breakfast at Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
9 a.m. Assembly for march at Mt. Zion Church.
10 a.m. March begins, proceeding to Batesville Intermediate auditorium for program.
BPD: this is ‘fair warning’ to teens,
     next come the arrests
By Rupert Howell

Those acting unruly in Batesville parking lots will be arrested according to Batesville Police Department Colonel Tony Jones.

Jones said complaints by parking lot owners as well as increasing problems at the business parking lots after hours are causing the step-up in policing at various sights along the Highways 6 and 51 business areas.

He cited instances of littering, property damage, fighting, and drinking as some of the various offenses going on the parking lots.

"If they are breaking the law, we will arrest them," he said while admitting, "We’re giving the readers of the newspaper a fair warning."

Asked what parking lots were the most problems, Jones would only say, "Most all of them."

Jones also said that parents often respond after parking lot crack downs saying, "Kids don’t have anything to do."

"They’re probably right, but that doesn’t give anybody the excuse to go to a parking lot and break the law," Jones said.

"We want parents to ask, ‘What are you doing out there anyway?’" Jones stated.

"It’s simply a matter of right and wrong," the police colonel said.

"Sadly enough there are some good kids out there behaving themselves. But when someone violates the law there isn’t much cooperation with the police department, so we have to act against everyone," Jones offered while stating that the problem has been going on for years.

Admitting that the police department had been concentrating more in other areas, Jones said that department was near full strength with numbers of officers and now better able to deal with problems that arise in parking lots and other areas.

Land commission to pursue court fines
By Billy Davis

The Panola County Land Development Commission is entering new territory with its announced plan to take a business owner to court.

Commission members voted unanimously Monday night to allow county permit clerk Diane Stewart to sign an affidavit against Stan Holcombe, owner of Stan’s Country Store.

If the charge proceeds, it would take place in Panola County Justice Court, the first time such a charge has been filed by the land commission.

Stewart said Thursday that Holcombe is being fined $100 a day from January 2, the date of a 30-day, last-chance deadline voted on by the commission in November.

In a certified December letter, land commission attorney Colmon Mitchell told Holcombe of the 30-day deadline approved by the commission. In the letter, Mitchell notes that Holcombe told the commission in an October 10 appearance that he would apply for a variance on the requirement.

The commission "concluded that you had not applied for the variance and ordered that you pave the parking lot and entrance at your aforesaid location, as required by Panola County regulations, within thirty (30) days of the date of this letter," Mitchell wrote.

A paved parking lot, including entrances and parking spaces, is a standard requirement for commercial properties that operate in the county.

The land development commission approved Holcombe’s business in August, 2004, granting him a special exception for a retail store operating in an area zoned agricultural.

Holcombe sells fresh cuts of meat and vegetables from the business, located at 24441 Highway 6 East.

To date, however, the store’s white rock parking lot includes a small paving area, approximately 15×30 feet, directly in front of his store.

Reached Thursday, Stewart said the fine comes only after she sent a letter to Holcombe in May and had "numerous phone calls" with him over the past year about his unpaved lot.

In the May letter, Stewart told Holcombe that his parking lot "has got to be done the way the board approved it to be."

After the ongoing tussle with Holcombe, Stewart said, the land commission has learned from the experience: business owners are now instructed to pave parking lots before they proceed with development.

Subdivision developments must also have paved roads, Stewart added, noting that the commission may pursue fines against a mobile home development, Old Panola Circle, if the roads are not paved in the near future.

Subdivision developer Nolan West, for example, was instructed by the land commission Monday night to pave the Sardis subdivision he is constructing before he begins selling lots.

"I think we failed with Stan, but the lesson has been learned," Stewart said.

At the Monday commission meeting, the 10-member board voted unanimously to pursue the fine against Holcombe.

The commission at first agreed to allow Stewart to pursue the fine, but commission member Danny Jones requested a vote that would clarify the commission’s support of Stewart.

"I don’t want Diane to be seen as the heavy in this," Jones told the commission.

At the commission meeting, Stewart suggested Holcombe could be fined $500 a day from January 2 but said Thursday the county’s land-use ordinance allows a maximum $100 fine each day until the land-use requirement is fulfilled.

"I looked it up and it’s $100, not $500," Stewart said.

Reached for comment about the commission’s action, Holcombe said he was unaware that the commission is pursuing a fine against his business.

Holcombe said he has postponed the variance request because he also plans to return to the commission to request a slaughter house on the property.

"Otherwise I’d have to put out two red signs and that would cost $100 each time," Holcombe said.

The signs announce a landowner’s request for a variance and announce the date of a public hearing.
Holcombe also defended the use of white rock in his parking lot.

"I just don’t think a country store would look right with a paved parking lot," Holcombe said. "I think I’ve got a nice-looking business."



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