| Tornado ruled small on destruction scale
| By Billy Davis
The tornado that touched down in Sardis last week was likely an F-0 or a small F-1 in size and power, a National Weather Service official has said.
The tornado that dropped down near Highway 51 March 9 damaged 46 homes, two businesses and a church as it bounced between the highway and the city’s railroad tracks.
Deputy Civil Defense Director Daniel Cole announced the damage toll Friday afternoon of last week.
Though no one was reported hurt after the tornado blew through, one minor injury was later reported, Cole said. The high winds blew a driver and her pest control truck off the highway and into a shallow ditch.
The rating of the tornado came from National Weather Service representative Buzz Merchlewitz, who visited Sardis Friday to assess the damage, Cole also said.
The Fujita Tornado Damage Scale ranges from F-0 to F-5. F-0 causes the least damage while an F-5 causes devastating damage described on the scale as "incredible." An F-0 causes "light" damage while an F-1 causes "moderate" damage.
Winds from an F-0 begin at 72 MPH while winds from an F-1 range from 73 MPH to 112 MPH.
Regarding the minutes and hours immediately after the tornado passed through, Cole said first responders "gridded" the area hardest hit and began knocking on doors to check on the condition of Sardis residents.
"Within two and a half hours of the tornado touching down we had conducted a door-to-door search," Cole said. Four hours later, emergency personnel had knocked on every door in the city limits, he added.
Emergency personnel had perfected the gridding and door-to-door work after performing a similar task on the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, the deputy director said.
Sardis police officers and firefighters initially responded to the tornado-damage area, Cole said, and Panola County deputies and the Batesville Fire Department were also on the scene within minutes.
Additional manpower came from Tate County and DeSoto County Emergency Management personnel and the Senatobia Fire Department.
"We also received phone calls from Tallahatchie, Marshall, Lafayette and Marshall counties, all offering their assistance if we needed it," Cole said.
| One man’s junk is… county hears complaint over cars
| By Billy Davis
An Old Panola Road resident dropped a year-old subject ? the cleanup of trash and junk on private property ? in the laps of the county supervisors Monday morning.
Rev. Clifton Ward came to the supervisors’ "second Monday" meeting with photos of his neighbor’s property, saying he has looked at the supposed eyesore next door for a decade.
"There are six or seven junk cars sitting out there," Ward told supervisors. "This one van has been sitting there seven or eight years."
Responding to Ward, supervisors said they were at a legal impasse over the matter, though board attorney William McKenzie later reminded them that a county ordinance already forbids junk cars on private property.
Mid-way through Ward’s appearance, McKenzie noted that the county ordinance addressing junk cars has been in effect since January, 2001.
"The ordinance says no vehicles with no license plates can be parked," McKenzie told supervisors.
After the meeting, Avant said the ordinance mentioned by McKenzie is part of the land-use ordinance crafted by the Panola County Board of Supervisors more than five years ago.
"It’s never been enforced because we’ve never had complaints about junk cars," Avant told The Panolian.
The District 2 supervisor said he was unsure of the details of the ordinance, namely whether a maximum number of cars might be allowed on private property.
Ward’s appearance Monday was the board of supervisors’ latest brush with the ongoing problem of junk and trash, both on the roadsides and on private property.
Sheriff’s Deputy Bobby Walton introduced a comprehensive ? and presumably controversial ? ordinance last year at a March supervisors’ meeting. The deputy serves as a part-time enforcement officer for the county’s solid waste department.
One section of the ordinance would ban landowners from collecting unusable debris on their own property by declaring such trash an "unauthorized dump."
An "unauthorized dump" is defined by the ordinance as "any collection of solid waste either dumped on a property either public or private, whether or not regularly used."
Automobiles, large appliances and similar large items would constitute an "unauthorized dump," the statute reads, but not the "careless, scattered littering" of smaller items such as tires, bottles and beer cans.
Smaller trash is covered elsewhere in the ordinance, however, and would also be forbidden on private property if the ordinance is passed as-is.
The penalty for violating the ordinance is a $250 to $500 fine that would be paid through the county’s justice court system. Further violations could jump to $1,000.
Supervisors briefly discussed the proposed ordinance last year but never acted on Walton’s suggestion.
"I know that’s my neighbor’s property, but it’s our community," Ward told supervisors. "When it affects the whole community, then that’s a problem."
| SP District seeking children in need of special ed services
| The South Panola School District is participating in an ongoing statewide effort to identify, locate, and evaluate children birth through twenty-one years of age who reside in the South Panola School District and who are suspected of having a physical, mental, communicative and/or emotional disability.
Information gathered from contacts with parents and other agencies will be used to help determine present and future program needs as progress is made toward the goal of providing a free appropriate public education to all children with a disability.
If you know of any children who may have a disability, please contact Mary M. Bennett, Child-Find Coordinator for the South Panola School District, by calling (662) 563-9361.
The Child-Find Coordinator implements child identification, location and evaluation of children who have a disability, regardless of the severity of their disability, and who are in need of special education and/or related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The coordinator works with the local Headstart, Department of Human Resources, Health Department, and Mental Health agencies, as well as local education agencies, physicians, and other individuals to identify and locate children out of school and in school who may be in need of special education services.
The South Panola district currently has 42 special education classes which provide services to students who have a physical, mental, communicative and/or emotional disability.
| Services Wed. for revered lawman
| By Jason C. Mattox
The City of Sardis is mourning the death of Andrew George Emanuel "Sonny" Stepp, a two-time chief of police who died Monday morning at the age of 68 following a lengthy battle with cancer.
Stepp had served as chief of police for nine months in 2000. He returned to the position in July 2001 and retired in August, 2005.
Stepp also worked as a state trooper with the state of Mississippi, serving in that position from 1963 until 1997.
"Sonny was always there when the city needed him," former Mayor Richard Darby said. "We had a situation (in 2001) where our chief quit, and I went to him and asked him to fill in.
"After a few months, he looked like he was having fun and I asked him if he wanted to stay," he added. "I later told him the job was his as long as he wanted it."
Municipal Court Judge Jimmy McClure said the changes Stepp brought to the Sardis Police Department were evident everywhere from the streets to the courtroom.
"Chief Stepp was very dedicated to his job," he said. "He did everything in his power to improve the police department."
McClure said Stepp worked hard to bring in more professional officers and to make sure they were prepared for court.
"He was dedicated to his job and to his city," he said. "You couldn’t ask for a better man."
When reached out of town, Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said the city was thankful for the professionalism Stepp instilled in his officers and the work he did to improve the department.
"I think he did a wonderful job," he said. "All of us hated to lose him, but he was willing to aid us in the transition to Chief (Mike) Davis.
"Chief Stepp really did a good job of improving the department’s relationship with county and state law enforcement," Dye added. "Whatever the city asked of him, Stepp was glad to do it if he could."
Dye said upon Stepp’s retirement, the Board of Aldermen allowed him to keep his badge.
"That was the only thing he ever asked for from the city, and we were happy to give it to him," he said. "Stepp was a good chief, but he was also a really good man."
Visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. tonight at the First Baptist Church in Sardis, where Stepp served as a deacon. The funeral service will be held at the church Wednesday at 2 p.m.
Burial will be at Forrest Memorial Park. For a full obituary see below.
| Un-named developer eyes Sardis marina for project
| By Jason C. Mattox
Nearly five years after discussions with four developers for the hotel/conference center phase of the Sardis Lake Marina broke down, a new player has come to the table.
"We were in serious discussions with four developers when September 11 happened," Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said. "The hotel industry took a major hit at that point, and all new development was put on hold."
Dye said people have slowly begun traveling more and more and hotel owners are looking for new projects.
"We have progressed farther in our discussions with the new developer than we did with any of the other four in the past," he said. "He has signed a letter of commitment and is estimating that he will spend $110 million of private money."
Dye would not disclose the name of the developer.
The $110 million investment includes not only a hotel/conference center, but also an 18-hole golf course.
Once the golf course is completed, that would mean all three phases of the project are finished. Phase one was the 210 slip marina operated by Skipper Marine.
"This developer is basically committing to phases II and III of the project," Dye said.
The mayor said the city will have to find money to pay for roads and sewer for the next phases of the project.
"There is no doubt we will have to go out and find the money to pay for the infrastructure out there," he said. "But I feel pretty confident there will be some federal money to assist us with that.
"When the federal government sees an investor willing to put this kind of money into a project, they are more willing to help," Dye added.
Dye said the developer is planning to construct a 300-room hotel/conference center first.
"The hotel/conference center will look like it belongs out in the marina area at Sardis Lake," he said. "We want it to blend into the environment."
Dye said the hotel aspect of the marina will have the biggest impact on the project as a whole.
"This phase is going to bring a lot of jobs to the area," he said. "I don’t know exactly how many yet, but I would expect it to be 50 or more.
"The addition of a hotel/conference center will not only impact the city of Sardis, but it will have an economic impact on people in surrounding areas," Dye added. "This is a really big step in the right direction for us."
Dye said he was unsure when the development would begin, but said it would hopefully be in the near future.
"Everyone involved wants to see this get started as soon as possible," he said. "There are just some details with the lease on the property that need to be worked out."
| SP incoming freshmen to register
| The eighth graders at Batesville Junior High will be given ninth grade registration information on March 28.
Eighth graders at Pope School will be given ninth grade information for registration at South Panola High School. Registration for incoming freshmen at South Panola High School will be April 4, at 6 p.m. for last names beginning with A – L. Registration for incoming freshmen at SPHS will be April 6, at 6 p.m. for last names beginning with M – Z. For more information contact Rene Smith, ninth grade counselor at SPHS at 563-6098.