| First Baptist praying about possible move
| By Billy Davis
Batesville’s First Baptist Church is in a "praying stage" after a church member asked the congregation to consider relocating farther east, the church’s pastor confirmed this week.
First Baptist pastor Greg Johnston said the downtown church has been considering a relocation since a May 10 business meeting in which the subject was first discussed.
"We haven’t made any decisions," Johnston said. "We’ve just been praying and seeking God’s will."
The historic downtown church is located at 104 Panola Avenue, where the church sanctuary, a family life center and the old sanctuary, known as Lee Chapel, are spread across four acres.
First Baptist is likely the largest church in Panola County, boasting a membership of more than 900 and weekly attendance of about 400.
A move to east Batesville would correspond with the city’s slow but steady growth from the Downtown Square beyond Interstate 55, where the coming Tractor Supply store and the planned Covenant Crossing shopping center and residential development are the latest signs of growth.
First Baptist Church was organized as Panola Baptist Church in 1843 in the former town of Panola, located near the Tallahatchie River. As the town grew around the railroad, the church was moved on logs in 1873 to its current location, about one mile east of its former home, notes the county’s historical book, "Panola County History."
Across the state, most so-called first Baptist churches are located in older areas of towns where residential and commercial growth has stopped, and that slowdown affects the churches as well, said Courtney Selvy, missions director for the Panola County Baptist Association.
"Most of the first Baptist churches across the state have plateaued or are in decline because the downtowns have died, but the ones that move to growing areas show an upsurge in membership," Selvy said.
In Grenada, one church that relocated to a high-growth area saw an increase in membership while a second church that stayed is struggling to survive, the missions director said.
Since Batesville’s Downtown Square has enjoyed a comeback in recent years and seems to be thriving, First Baptist of Batesville seems to be an unusual exception, Selvy added.
Johnston said he is aware of statistics that show declining church memberships across the state, and he expects those numbers will become part of a coming discussion.
For now, however, the pastor said he hopes the church body will simply commit to prayer in the coming weeks and months.
"I’ve asked our people to come to the altar and pray, and that’s what they’re doing," Johnston said.
| Sheriff’s department warning public about sweepstakes scam
| By Billy Davis
A clever sweepstakes scam is preying on Panola Countians, and the Panola County Sheriff’s Department is hoping to warn the public.
The scam artists contact would-be victims by mail or by phone and promise a big sweepstakes payout if they send money, said sheriff’s investigator Mark Whitten.
About 10 victims have contacted the sheriff’s department about the scam, though many more have likely fallen prey, Whitten said.
"You would be surprised who falls victim to a scam like this," Whitten said. "It preys on our greed."
When the scam artists use the mail, the would-be victim receives a money order and a letter explaining the winnings. The phone call operates in a similar manner, often with at least two scam artists talking to one victim.
"The first person is polite and very smooth," Whitten said. "The second person is rude, really foul-mouthed."
After the first person builds trust, the job of the second scam artist is to intimidate, or "muscle," the victim if they don’t want to cooperate, the investigator said.
Both scams rely on the same technique: sending money to the "sweepstakes company," either to pay "fees" and "taxes" or because the amount awarded via the money order was too great.
At least one victim has deposited the fake money order for $985 and then sent $500 back to the company, the investigator said.
Whitten showed a copy of two money orders received by victims, pointing out that the money order looks legitimate but both boast the same number, 679983499.
Panola County Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright urged Panola Countians to be wary of promises of big winnings.
"Just remember you’re not going to get something for nothing," Bright said. "If it looks like you’re getting something for nothing, then something’s probably wrong."
| Speller goes far in Bee
| By Rita Howell
A composed Cherry Mathis was among the 29 spellers advancing to the televised rounds at the National Spelling Bee in Washington on Thursday, but the 12-year-old Batesville girl was among eight contestants who went to the "comfort room" during the difficult sixth round.
Cherry, who had prepared for a year for her moment before the microphone at the National Bee, mistakenly omitted an "l" in "solleret" and serenely stepped aside to leave the stage after she’d heard the pronouncer give the correct spelling.
She finished 22nd out of 274 spellers.
Her sister Meg, 15, had finished 37th at last year’s bee. She had also competed in 2004.
Both girls had won the Mid-South Spelling Bee, sponsored by The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, to advance to the National Bee.
The sisters attend school in Charleston where their mother, Keiko, teaches music. The family lives on North Street in Batesville.
The girls’ dad, John, works in Grenada.
Cherry successfully passed the written test that started the National Spelling Bee Wednesday morning, earning her way through successive rounds by spelling "rhea," "Worcestershire," "calvities," "sprachgefuhl," "nullipara," "erewhonian," and "persienne" before being eliminated with the word "solleret."
"Solleret" means "a steel shoe made of overlapping plates, forming a part of a medieval suit of armor."
By the time Cherry got to the sixth round, most of her rivals were veterans, some returning for the third time.
Cherry will be eligible to compete for two more years.
Although Cherry and Meg Mathis may be the first Panola siblings to compete in the National Spelling Bee, they are not the very first local contestants to make the trek to D.C.
That honor belongs to the late Mark Keating, who, in 1962, made the trip to match wits with some of our nation’s best spellers. The son of Boyce Keating and the late Betty Keating, Mark was 13 when he won the Mid-South Spelling Bee and advanced to the National Bee.
After correctly spelling such words as "periphrasis," "squeegee," and "hendiadys," he had worked his way up to 15th place. There he misspelled "stammel" by spelling it with only one " m."
Ben Floyd contributed to this story.
| Trailer fire claims life of immigrant worker
| By Billy Davis
An early-morning fire that swept through a mobile home west of Batesville killed a man over the Memorial Day weekend.
Margarito Marirez died when the single-wide trailer in which he was sleeping burned to the ground about 3:30 Sunday morning, May 28.
An autopsy performed over the weekend ruled that Marirez died of smoke inhalation, said Panola County coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge.
Family members listed Marirez’s age at 48, Gulledge said. His body was expected to be shipped back to his home in Mexico for burial.
Firefighters from Courtland, Pope and Curtis-Locke Station fire departments responded to the blaze, said Daniel Cole, deputy emergency management director for Panola County.
Cole said the trailer was "fully involved" when firefighters arrived on the scene and learned that one occupant of the home was injured while a second person was missing.
The injured occupant was a nephew of the victim, Cole said, who escaped from the home with minor injuries.
The trailer home is located on a sprawling compound operated by Lee Garner that includes a home health business and equestrian facilities. The property is located off Chapel Town Road at the end of Cutting Horse Lane.
The fire likely originated in the trailer’s kitchen or laundry room area, said Gerald White, arson investigator for the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.
White said Marirez and his nephew were dayworkers for the ranch.
| New trial date is August in child molestation case
| By Jason C. Mattox
An accused child molester is scheduled to stand trial August 28, in Panola County Circuit Court.
The trial of John Lytle "Cody" Pearson was originally scheduled to begin in November, 2005, but the matter has been continued twice upon request of his attorney, Ronald Lewis of Oxford.
Lewis replaced Batesville attorney David Walker who handled Pearson’s pre-trial hearing.
Pearson is scheduled to stand trial on a 10-count indictment stemming from alleged inappropriate sexual activity with four juveniles who were all 15 years of age.
The 47-year-old is accused of abusing one boy in 2002 and the others in 2004, according to a copy of the indictment.
The indictment states Pearson allegedly sexually assaulted the teenagers, abusing two of the boys four times each over the summer and fall.
The other two juveniles were allegedly abused once each by the accused.
Ages of the alleged victims were not directly stated in the indictment, though three of them apparently were 15 and one was under 14 when the alleged acts occurred.
Pearson could receive life in prison or 30 years in prison per count if the victims were under 14, said District Attorney John Champion.
Pearson remains incarcerated at the David M. Bryan Justice Complex where he has been since his arrest in early 2005.
| Snake bite felt like ‘foot in a fireplace’
| Poole in pain, using crutch
| By Billy Davis
and Rupert Howell
Snake bite victim Ray Poole is recovering slowly from the fanged wounds he received from a cottonmouth more than a week ago.
Poole, a Batesville insurance agent, was bitten on the right ankle Wednesday, May 24 at his farm as he pushed a boat into the water. He was released May 28 from Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford.
The bite victim is using a crutch to walk and is still doctoring a swollen ankle while he works a few hours each day, said his wife, Jenny Poole.
"Ray’s not in constant pain, but he’s in pain when he tries to move his leg," she said. "His ankle is swelling again, which we’re told is typical."
Reached at his office in Batesville, Poole said he will likely endure the pain and swelling for two to three more weeks.
The bite of the snake felt like a wasp sting, Poole said, but the pain he felt hours later "was like putting your foot in fireplace and keeping it there."
"They gave me morphine ? as much as they could ? and several more drugs, but nothing put a dent in it," Poole recalled. "The best thing for me was going out of consciousness."
Doctors at Baptist told Poole he was the third snake bite victim they have seen this year but the only victim so far in which the snake injected all of its venom.
It didn’t help that Poole, who said he weighs 260 pounds, was standing on the snake’s tail when it bit him.
"He put everything he had in me and waited to see who would give up first. I did," Poole said.
Cottonmouths are among the most aggressive poisonous snakes found in Mississippi.
Poole killed the snake with a boat paddle. It measured about two and a half feet long.
Asked if he killed the snake to identify it, Poole said he had another motive.
He was mad.
| Miss. home to six deadly snakes
| By Ben Floyd
Mississippi is home to six poisonous snakes that include the copperhead, cottonmouth, eastern diamondback, timber and pygmy rattlers, and the eastern coral.
The copperhead, the most common venomous snake found in the eastern U.S., is also known as a "Highland Moccasin." Copperheads, known for their copper colored head, account for the most bites but the bites are seldom fatal. Although found everywhere, copperheads prefer to be near streams and waterways.
Cottonmouths, also known as "water moccasins," are very large aquatic snakes, and their venom is stronger than that of copperheads. Cottonmouths are very aggressive and will stand their ground, unlike the copperhead. The name "cottonmouth" comes from the way the snake opens its mouth to reveal the white lining when it is frightened.
The Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake often stays in the shadows for hours at a time. When they are disturbed the rattle is loud and clear. The diamondback can accurately strike at least one third of its body length. This rattlesnake is the most poisonous snake in Mississippi.
Another very deadly snake is the Timber rattlesnake. This snake is usually found in forests and other rugged terrain. In summer, the females, when pregnant, prefer open rocky ledges where the temperatures are higher.
The Pygmy rattlesnake is, as the name suggests, a "smaller version" of an average rattlesnake. Despite their size, these snakes are still aggressive and are known to strike if bothered or disturbed. Luckily, the snake’s small venom glands do not inject large quantities of their very potent venom when they bite. Pygmy rattlesnakes usually live in forested regions.
Eastern coral snakes, relatives of the cobras, are burrowing snakes. Although they are highly venomous, they are not too aggressive, though they will strike if held or restrained. They occupy a habitat ranging from the swamps and wetlands, to the pine flatwoods and scrub areas. Although they have been seen in the open, it is very rare.
This report was compiled from data from the following Web-sites: Florida Museum of Natural History, South Carolina Reptiles and Amphibians, Savannah Ecology Laboratory Outreach, Central Florida Zoo, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and