Headlines – 3/10/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 10, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – March 10, 2006

  From the 3/10/06 issue of The Panolian       

Tornado touches down in Sardis
     Emergency vehicles in the distance block an entrance to Pearl Street in Sardis, where a tornado bounced through town, pushing over trees and damaging buildings and rooftops. No one was reported hurt in the destruction.
By Billy Davis

An apparent tornado touched down in Sardis Thursday afternoon, following a hit-and-miss pattern through the center of town but sparing lives.

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The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Panola County at 12:36, indicating that Doppler Radar showed a tornado 12 miles south of the Curtis community, 14 miles northwest of Charleston.

The storm swept through Panola at an estimated 60 miles per hour, moving east and pummeling the county with high winds, rain and hail.

In Sardis, residents said the rush of wind lasted fewer than 30 seconds.

"I heard it coming and closed the door, and started praying," said Frederick Street resident Nellie Jones, whose home was spared any damage.

"I never heard racket like that. It sure did make a racket," said R.W. Dees, whose home at 209 Pearl Street escaped damage though a towering pecan tree was toppled in his front yard.

Power was expected to be out in most of Sardis throughout the evening as Entergy worked on the downed powerlines, city officials said.

Straight-line winds often hit Panola County during violent thunderstorms, but Sardis Police Chief Mike Davis said Panola County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric "Buck" Harris spotted the tornado on the ground in the town.

"Buck saw it on the ground and said it was bouncing up and down like a ball," said Davis, who was helping set up an emergency command center at city hall by mid-afternoon Friday.

Davis said the tornado first hit the ground south of Sardis near the city limits, rumbling through the town in a northeast pattern through neighborhoods west of the railroad tracks.

Damage along streets such as Juanita, Frederick and Pearl included uprooted trees, broken fences, missing shingles, downed powerlines, and broken windows.

Winds ripped away the corner of an apartment roof on Frederick. Farther down the street, the long-standing First Security Bank sign that welcomes traffic into Sardis had landed in front of an apartment 100 yards away.

At Save-a-Lot Used Cars on Main Street, the tornado ripped away the facade of the building, spilling bricks and chunks of concrete onto vehicles.

Minutes before the tornado struck Sardis, storm spotters reported seeing a funnel cloud near the Crowder area in Quitman County. A truck driver also spotted a funnel cloud above him near the Pope/Courtland exit on Interstate 55, a Panola sheriff’s dispatcher reported over the radio.

An hour after the tornado had ripped through Sardis, a darkened Sardis City Hall was transforming into an emergency operations headquarters for law enforcement officers and firefighters from Batesville and Sardis.

Firefighters were planning a door-to-door search to check on residents, and police officers from both municipalities were readying for a night of patrolling in a now-dark town.

Deputy Civil Defense Director Daniel Cole, who had been in Sunflower County earlier Friday for a firefighter’s funeral, told Davis that resources were being assembled to help the city get back on its feet.

"We’re going to get you whatever you need," Cole told the police chief.

Aldermen approve variance for Air Evac crew housing
By John Howell Sr.

Batesville aldermen voted Tuesday to allow Air Evac Lifeteam a variance which would permit placement of a modular structure adjacent to Tri-Lakes Medical Center to house helicopter crews who operate the air ambulance service.

The 4-0 vote followed a public hearing which was originally scheduled to consider a variance to allow a mobile home to be placed at a site near the hospital to house Air Evac personnel.

"We decided to increase our investment in the community," Air Evac Lifeteam spokesman Harold Newton told city officials.

The proposed modular structure will serve as a regional facility for the company, he added.

"What’s the outside going to be?" Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders asked.

"Colored vinyl to match the hospital," Newton replied. The structure will be placed on a concrete foundation and meets international building standards, he added.

Aldermen also voted 4-0, following a second public hearing, to waive usual setback distances for a mobile home to be placed at 119 Patterson Street.

City officials also discussed contingency plans for absence of both the mayor and vice mayor.

Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton, who was elected vice mayor in July, suffered a stroke in December and has since been unable to attend meetings of the mayor and aldermen. He is currently undergoing treatment at the veteran’s home in Oxford.

City business that requires the signature of either the mayor or vice mayor currently cannot be conducted when Mayor Jerry Autrey is out of town. The signature of either the mayor or vice mayor is required on all city checks as is a second signature from either City Clerk Laura Herron or Assistant City Clerk Susan Berryhill, the mayor said Tuesday.

Assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell told aldermen that they could meet and authorize a second alderman to sign checks or other documents.

In other business:
Aldermen asked street superintendent Teddy Austin to relocate the Odom-Burris Bridge marker. The location of the marker at the intersections of Bates, Pamela and Creek Drive has become the yard of a home. Austin said he could relocate the marker to the other side of the street.
Aldermen and city engineer Blake Mendrop hemmed and hawed about whether a sinkhole near a Creek Drive residence should be repaired by city crews.
    "I can’t say ‘yes’ the bank stabilization caused that problem," Mendrop said. "Is it a possibility? … yes, I could say that," he added. "… it’s so minor you could spend more determining what caused it than it would take to fix the problem," Mendrop added.
     Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley made a motion for the hole to be repaired by city workers. Pounders made a second, but city attorney Mitchell cautioned about using city workers on private property.
     A vote was postponed when city code enforcement officer Thomas Burnett said that he recalled that the city had earlier been given an easement to the location.
City employees will begin receiving paychecks every other week starting June 1. Aldermen voted 4-0 to follow through on plans made last month for the change in pay periods. Currently, some employees are paid weekly, some twice-monthly and some monthly, City Clerk Laura Herron said.
     The ordinance also allowed city employees to select to have their payroll checks deposited directly into their bank accounts.
The city will seek bids on replacement of the roof at city hall. The decision followed a discussion about whether a bond might still be in effect on the building’s existing roof.
     "When we repaired the roof we went to all kinds of trouble and spent close to $50,000 close to 15 years ago," code enforcement officer Burnett said.
The mayor and aldermen also discussed maintenance needed at the city-owned post office building.
Aldermen rejected a request from Atmos Energy to sign a confidentiality agreement involving the city-owned natural gas distribution system. City attorney Mitchell said that the city had earlier agreed to furnish certain public information about the system to the privately-owned energy company.
     "It (the confidentiality agreement) creates the impression that y’all are contemplating a sale of the gas system," Mitchell said. "I can’t recommend that you sign it."

Photo Gallery
     Sardis Housing Authority employee Zachary Carr takes a phone call on Frederick Street, where a tornado ripped away the roof of the apartment building behind him when it touched down in the town.
     Amid a tangle of downed powerlines, an Entergy lineman readies for work on Pearl Street in Sardis. Electricity to the town was down after a tornado touched down Friday.
     Residents on Frederick Street in Sardis said the tornado that hit the town yanked up this First Security Bank sign, which ended up in their yard from its long-time location at Highway 51.
Lawyer bails on bondsman trial
By Billy Davis

The March 6 murder trial of Sardis bail bondsman Johnny Green has been rescheduled for April 25 after his defense attorney, Anthony Farese, withdrew from the case.

Farese filed a Motion to Withdraw in February, stating in court papers that his client had become "uncooperative" and the relationship between the defendant and his attorney has "broken down."

Farese also cited a likely conflict of interest because he had once defended a possible witness for the prosecution, Cassandra Daugherty, on charges of felony child abuse.

Daugherty, who is at Parchman Prison, was set to testify that Green had made death threats against her. She was once a client of the bondsman.

Green has since hired Grenada attorney Kevin Horan to defend him against a charge that he shot and killed Ricky Taylor Jr. last summer.

Green was indicted last October for gunning down Taylor just before dawn July 23 on Old Panola Road.

An autopsy showed Taylor was killed by a near-point black shot to the head. He was also shot in the left leg.

Green is free on $100,000 bond and is awaiting the start of the trial.

Farese defended Green August 2 in a preliminary hearing in justice court, where Judge James Appleton set Green’s bond at $1 million.

Farese later represented his now-former client September 9 in a hearing that resulted in Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker reducing the bond to $100,000.

Neither Farese nor Horan returned phone calls to The Panolian seeking comment about the case.

At the preliminary hearing, Farese laid out a possible defense for Green, building a conspiracy theory involving convicted drug dealer Ricky Nelson despite objections by Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly.

Then-Panola County Chief Deputy Craig Sheley acknowledged under cross examination from Farese that Green had fingered Nelson as the gunman during a jailhouse interview.

Nelson was a known drug dealer, Sheley acknowledged, and Taylor was a drug informant who was working with the sheriff’s department.

Nelson had asked Green to pick up Taylor at his home and meet Nelson on Old Panola Road, Green said in the first interview with Sheley.

After Green’s initial interview, however, the bail bondsman told Sheley another story: he and Taylor were arguing in Green’s truck and he shot Taylor in self defense.

"He made a move," Green told Sheley, the transcript shows.

Nelson was investigated by the sheriff’s department but had an alibi, Sheley said from the witness stand.

Nelson is now serving a 10-year prison sentence on two counts of sale of cocaine, court documents show.

Nelson told sheriff’s investigators he owed Green $1,250 in bond money and met the bail bondsman hours before Taylor was killed, a transcript of that interview shows.

"He came to your house?" an investigator asked.

"Yeah," Nelson replied.

"What’d he want?"

"Money," Nelson replied. "Every time he came he wanted money."

Court papers show the sheriff’s department received a 9-1-1 call at 6:19 a.m. from a passerby, Moses Dean, that a body was lying on Old Panola Road. Sheriff’s Deputy John Lantern arrived on the scene first at 6:23.

Lantern’s incident report states that Green showed up at the murder scene about 7:30 a.m. and was told to leave by the sheriff’s deputy.

After learning from Taylor’s parents that Green had picked up their son that morning, and from Lantern that Green had come to the murder scene, sheriff’s investigators located and arrested the bail bondsman about 10 a.m. near City Drug Store in Sardis.

Green acknowledged in an interview with Sheley that he had gone to the scene of Taylor’s murder while still in shock from the shooting.

"I was in a damn daze," he told the chief deputy.

Truck wreck, suicide claim two from Como
By Billy Davis

Funeral services will be held tomorrow for a Como man who died Friday, March 3 in a one-vehicle accident.

Kelvin Ware, 25, was killed on Highway 310 west of Como when the truck he was driving left the highway and veered down an embankment.

Ware was pronounced dead at the scene, said Panola County coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge.

Services for Ware will be at 1 p.m. at Cistern Hill M.B. Church. Burial will be at Braham Chapel.

He was a member of Pleasant Grove church in Crenshaw.

Felix Cauthen Funeral Home has charge of arrangements.

The Mississippi Highway Patrol is investigating the accident, Gulledge said.

Gulledge also reported that another Como man, James Pipkin, died March 3 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

A relative discovered Pipkin, 55, at his residence and alerted police, the coroner said. He had been suffering from an illness, she said.

"Mr. Pipkin had been dead at least 24 hours," Gulledge said.

Any funeral services for Pipkin had not been publicized to The Panolian by press time.

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