| Investigators identify body, autopsy results reveal little
| By Billy Davis
An autopsy performed Friday on the body of a Memphis woman discovered last week in Panola County revealed no apparent injuries.
A state forensic pathologist examined the body of Christina Walker Friday night and found no trauma to the body, Panola County coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge said Monday.
A toxicology report is now pending and may offer clues to the cause of death, the coroner said.
A tractor driver spotted Walker’s body on Union Road Thursday morning, January 12.
Panola County sheriff’s investigators later identified the body as Walker, 30, of Memphis.
Gulledge commended investigators for quickly learning the name of the then-unknown woman, saying they methodically increased their search for missing persons in north Mississippi.
"They had her identified within 24 hours," Gulledge said.
Sheriff’s investigators were unavailable for comment due to the Monday holiday.
| Tri-Lakes leaders strategize over
‘Where are we?’
| By John Howell Sr.
Department heads, supervisory personnel and administrators from Tri-Lakes Medical Center took the week of January 9 through 14 for intense strategy sessions that included overviews of "where we were, where are we now and where we are going."
About 60 hospital employees heard consultants and hospital officials describe behavioral health, clinical services, financial services and human resources from the perspective of the local healthcare community and from an overview of the medical profession.
"Our focus is quality of patient care," hospital administrator Ray Shoemaker said. The strategy session brought employees together for the six-day week of 65 to 70 hours at Sam’s Town in Tunica last week, the administrator added, allowing employees to build better relationships and understanding among each other and the various departments and services.
The "Planning Retreat 2006" also allowed administrators to share with department heads the facility’s goals and outlooks and to focus on improved patient care and customer relationships.
"Tunica was ideal," hospital administrator Shoemaker said. "Far enough to feel like we were away from the hospital yet close enough in case of an emergency."
Aiding in the "where are we now and where we are going" sessions, a large state map on the meeting room wall indicated counties and cities where Tri-Lakes currently offers a service. The map helped to illustrate the vision of hospital leader Dr. Robert Corkern that Tri-Lakes will become the flagship for a system of medical and behavioral health care services throughout the state. Currently, Tri-Lakes Medical Center has affiliations in 20 counties for services that include hospice care, school behavioral counseling, lab services and medical clinics in addition to the Hartig Primary Care Clinic opened earlier this month in Sardis and the Grenada Doctors Clinic which is staffed by Tri-Lakes.
The affiliations also include links through the University of Mississippi’s Area Health Education (AHEC) program to rural communities where people live in rural and medically under-served areas.
Psychologist Ben Bloom of Affinity Healthcare, Inc. facilitated many of the sessions throughout the week. Bloom’s healthcare consulting firm operates throughout the southeast, providing operations management consulting, development and management of rural health networks and other services.
Hospital officials who appeared in the daily sessions to describe their departments’ roles in Tri-Lakes’ operation included chief operating officer Elaine Ellett, chief financial officer John Gregory, human resources vice president Sarah Dale Ball, chief of staff Dr. Robert Mayfield, business office manager Beth Brown and Bonnie Moore, who is the hospital’s vice president for behavioral health.
Consultants who took part in the sessions included Laura Frizzell, president and co-founder of the Kite Group, which specializes in psychiatric facilities; Dr. Peg Thorman Hartig, a family nurse practitioner whose work includes quality improvement research faculty evaluation activities. She also spoke to the group on "creating clinical excellence."
"When we first got here, the people from the west campus (Tri-Lakes Behavioral Care Center), were sitting together and the people from other departments were sitting together…today everybody is mixed together and they’re talking to each other," community education director Michelle Sanders said on Friday.
Bloom was again facilitator for a Friday goal-setting session which challenged participants to make a list of actions to be implemented immediately upon their return to the hospital. For the next hour, one employee after another made suggestions which Sanders recorded for hospital-wide implementation.
The suggestions ranged from adopting a "five-foot rule," whereby no hospital employee comes within five feet of a visitor without speaking and making eye contact, to medical-specific suggestions regarding patient care.
Corkern spoke several times during the suggestion session, asking the department heads what would be done to assure that the ideas agreed on by the management and supervisory personnel would be communicated to every employee affiliated with Tri-Lakes.
Shoemaker announced that the immediate program would be launched with a "roll-out" the following Friday.
"We’re just trying to improve everything," Edward Pipkin commented between Friday sessions.
Pipkin works in the hospital’s information and technology management systems.
Shoemaker’s and Corkern’s Physicians and Surgeon’s Group last month bought Tri-Lakes Medical Center and Tri-Lakes Behavioral Health Center from Panola County and the City of Batesville.
Voters in the South Panola Hospital District overwhelmingly supported selling the publically-owned facility in a 2004 referendum.
| Soldier welcomed home after year’s service in Iraq with 155th
| By Rita Howell
A banner across the front porch of Jerry and Trichia Key in the Sardis Lake Estates community extends a welcome to their son, Sgt. Rory Key, who arrived there Friday after a year in Iraq with the 155th Combat Brigade Team. He was with a unit from Amory.
He’d flown in to Gulfport a few days prior to that, and observed first-hand the destruction left by Hurricane Katrina.
"It’s a mess down there," he said.
But in his parents’ cozy den it’s warm and friendly, with several dogs eager to share in the welcome.
Key is a commercial/industrial electrician with Jesco Mechanical and Electrical construction company in Tupelo. After a brief vacation, he’ll go back to work there, he said.
His year in Iraq was spent in the southern area, and for the first eight months he was there, his unit worked to provide security. The last four months he spent helping train Iraqis in construction, teaching foundation work, concrete and electrical job skills.
Now that the 155th is home, who’s passing on trade skills to the Iraqis?
"The ones we trained are training other Iraqis now," Key explained.
Even though he spent a year in a war zone, the memories he has are of good will missions, such as passing out clothes and items sent by his parents for the Iraqi children he encountered.
"I never shot my gun, except in training, the whole time I was there," Key said. "Most of my work was in civil affairs."
| King remembered, honored with weekend of festivities
| Marchers honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. enter the Downtown Square Monday morning on their way to a commemoration service at Batesville Intermediate School. The service capped a weekend of events celebrating the civil rights leader.
| By Jason C. Mattox
A commemoration service at the Batesville Intermediate School auditorium on Monday morning capped off a weekend long celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
More than 300 people packed into the auditorium to participate in the celebration led by the Rev. Edward Thomas, the Rev. Louis Wilson, the Rev. Eric Wilson, the South Panola High School Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y Choirs, Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey, Batesville Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley, the Rev. C. Shelton Greer, Florence King, the Rev. Zannie Leland Jr., and keynote speaker Dr. Fred C. Lofton, pastor emeritus at Memphis’ Metropolitan Baptist Church.
The common theme among speakers was the future of youth.
"This is a generation that expects everything to be given to them," Rev. Edward Thomas said. "They know the price of Jordans and Sean Jean, but don’t know the value of hard work.
"Parents, you are committing a great injustice when you simply hand your children everything they ask for," he added.
Rev. Eric Wilson followed up Thomas’s comments saying, "I want the young people to know, I haven’t always been saved.
"All of us like to say that our youth are bad," he said. "Stop calling them bad. They are that way because of the older generation."
Mayor Jerry Autrey appealed to the audience to assist him in a fight against Batesville’s drug problem.
"I said I would always do what is right," he said. "What is right to be here with you.
"And I need your help with an important project," Autrey added. "We are going to do all we can to rid this city of drugs. If you see it, call a dispatcher or call me.
"We all need to work to make this town the best place it can be," Autrey added.
Following Autrey’s comments, Lofton took the podium.
He reminded the people of the greatness of Dr. King.
"In a short period of 39 years, Martin was a lightning rod for the Lord," he said.
The one observation Lofton made was a lack of diversity in the crowd.
"I wish there was a better mixture," he said. "Martin fought so America could truly become a land where the people could live with human dignity.
"Martin moved among us and inspired us," Lofton added.
"You are more than the culture says you are," he continued. "Carry on the task of Jesus and Martin by lifting up the young people.
"Martin told us to straighten up our backs," Lofton said. "So stand up straight and be who you are."
Other events taking place over the weekend and Monday included a basketball jamboree on Friday, Jan. 13, the African-American Business Banquet on Sat., Jan. 14 and a commemorative musical program on Sunday, Jan. 15. Monday included a ministers’ prayer breakfast, and the commemorative march from Mt. Zion Church to the BIS auditorium.
| Two sue, allege free speech breach
over summer firings
| By Billy Davis
A pair of fired Panola County employees are suing the county on the grounds that their terminations infringed on their free speech rights.
Former assistant road manager David Arnold and former receiving clerk Norman Hughes have filed separate lawsuits against the county in U.S. District Court in Oxford.
A trial date has not been set.
Both Arnold and Hughes are former road department employees, and both are represented in their lawsuits by Tupelo attorney Jim Waide.
Hughes is also suing David Chandler in his capacity as county administrator, alleging in the court complaint that Chandler fired him after he handed over information to the state Attorney General’s office.
According to Hughes’ complaint, the receiving clerk was visited by an attorney general investigator who was provided with evidence that a county-owned culvert had allegedly been installed on private property.
An August 12 termination letter sent from Chandler to Hughes mentions the visit, stating that Hughes "circumvented the system even if on your own time. There have been materials removed from the Sardis and Courtland shops that have entered into an investigation through the Attorney’s General’s office."
"I am your immediate supervisor," the letter continues, "and I feel like there has been insubordination on your part."
Asked last week about the pending lawsuit, Chandler said he is prepared to show the firing was lawful.
"When the trial starts, we’ll be ready to go," Chandler said.
The firings of Arnold and Hughes are apparently linked, court papers suggest, since the investigator was tracking down accusations made by Arnold to the Attorney General.
After his termination, Arnold complained to The Panolian that he was fired for being a "whistle blower" after complaining that the road department installed a culvert in the Wildwood subdivision east of Batesville.
Reacting to Arnold’s complaint, county road manager Lygunnah Bean said the culvert was placed on a public right-of-way that extended 75 feet beyond the roadside.
In Arnold’s complaint, the former county employee contends that he was fired for telling Supervisor James Birge about the culvert installation.
Birge is "known to be an honest supervisor… who opposes giving away public money for private purposes," the suit reads, while "certain supervisors" aid persons with "prestige and power" by performing private work with county funds.
Birge abstained when supervisors voted 4-0 in September to uphold Bean’s termination of Arnold.
The board of supervisors voted unanimously at that same meeting to fire Hughes, whose firing had been recommended by Chandler.
| City needs help in leaf department
| By Billy Davis
Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey is asking city residents to stop raking yard leaves into ditches and instead depend on the city for pickup.
Street department employees are battling the leaves as they try to keep ditches clean for proper drainage, Autrey said.
"When the rain starts, there’s going to be some trouble with flooding since the ditches are full," the mayor said.
Autrey said city trucks are "running the streets" everyday to pick up bagged leaves that are left at the curb.
Residents can also call city hall at 563-4576 to request a pickup.