Headlines – 9/19/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – September 19, 2006

  From the 9/19/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

‘Awful racket’ heard on highway was rolling bus
     Hospital workers, counselors, chaplains and law enforcement personnel gathered with families of victims of a Tunica band bus wreck that occurred Friday night on Highway 6 east of Batesville. The majority of the injured were transported to Tri-Lakes Medical Center for treatment. The most seriously injured were airlifted to Memphis while other victims were taken to Baptist North Mississippi in Oxford.
By Billy Davis
and Rupert Howell

Ronnie Runnels was outside his home on John Branch Road Friday evening when the sound of a tumbling school bus reached his ears.

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"It was the most awful racket you’ve ever heard," he recalled. "It was just really loud, like a tornado."

Runnels knew he had heard an automobile wreck on Highway 6 East, located about 200 yards behind his home.

After the loud rumble stopped, there was silence for a minute. Then he heard screaming and yelling.
Medical helicopters were buzzing overhead when Runnels reached the scene about 10 minutes later. In the highway median, lying on its side, was a Tunica County school bus.

The complete rear axle of the school bus had apparently flown off. It sat in the median about 35 yards away from the overturned vehicle.

Despite the rollover and number of injuries, first responders said no fatalities were reported on the scene of the wreck or in the days afterward.

The cause of the wreck was an SUV that slammed into the bus, reported Staff Sgt. Scott Swanson, a spokesman for the Miss. Highway Safety Patrol.

The driver of the SUV left the roadway, "overcompensated" from the mistake, then struck the side of the bus, Swanson told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper Monday.

"The SUV struck the right rear of the bus, and it overturned at least twice," Swanson later told The Panolian.

The driver of the SUV was Viola B. Joyner, who is from Tunica, the Jackson newspaper reported. The bus driver was Cora M. Johnson, also of Tunica.

Asked if alcohol played a factor in wreck, the spokesman said blood was drawn from the bus driver and SUV driver, and the results are pending.
"Right now all we can say is it’s still under investigation," Swanson said.

The school bus was carrying band members from Rosa Fort High School to a Lafayette High football game, said a Tunica schools spokesman, who spoke to The Panolian at the scene of the wreck.

Witnesses on the scene described a surreal scene, students and band instruments scattered across the grass, and a sea of school officials, law enforcement officers, passers-by, firefighters and paramedics treating and comforting the injured.

"There were kids and band instruments scattered out for 50 yards," said Arthur Biggers, fire chief for the Mt. Olivet Volunteer Fire Department.

The Mt. Olivet fire department was the first emergency responder on the scene, Biggers confirmed.

Several members of the Boyett family were traveling west along Highway 6 East when they arrived on the scene, likely a minute after the accident occurred and before any emergency responders had arrived.

"The kids were hurt. They were scratched up and bleeding," said Beverly Boyett, who is classified salesman for The Panolian.

"My husband and son helped a woman, an assistant teacher, whose hands were trapped underneath the bus," Boyett said. "They got some help from some football players, and they literally picked the bus up so she could get free."

Swanson told The Clarion-Ledger that 21 passengers were sent to Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville, six were sent to Baptist Hospital in Oxford, and four were sent to hospitals in Memphis.
Besides hospital staff at Tri-Lakes, the victims and later their families were met by the hospital’s chaplain corp, law enforcement officials and South Panola School officials who made alternate transportation available.

Dr. Courtney Selvy, with the Panola County Baptist Association, praised the hospital’s emergency operations.

He said that the emergency room drive-in area was full of ambulances when he arrived and described the scene as "tense" when those injured worst were being unloaded.

When approximately 14 or 15 "walking wounded" arrived on a school bus, Selvy said a triage process had been established.

"They did a super job taking care of them. It went real smoothly," Selvy said.

South Panola School officials were summoned to the scene from the football game, where they provided a nearby school bus to transport those with lesser injuries.

Counselors, administrators, maintenance and transportation personnel were on hand tending to needs of victims and families.

At the emergency room scene School Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer said, "If a bus breaks down anywhere in our jurisdiction, we assist. It’s an unwritten rule in the school business," he said.

Panola mag on stands
Panola Picture, a 2006-2007 Visitor Information Guide published by The Panolian, is available now, news editor Rita Howell said.

The full-color, 64-page magazine format publication, printed on glossy 60-pound book stock with 80-pound cover, will be available at The Panolian and in businesses and offices in Panola County where people seek information about the county, Howell said. It includes over 120 photos of Panola County.

"We try to anticipate what information people want to know about the county," Howell said. Content includes history, civic officials, data and features of community interest, church information and more.

"We want Panola Picture to be a tool in the hands of the Panola Partnership and anyone who wants to use it to help tell our county’s story," publisher John Howell said.

Proposed rubbish pit could be part of county’s waste management plan
By Billy Davis

Panola County land commission members waded through a weighty agenda Monday evening, September 11, that included reviewing state and county regulations for cemeteries and a rubbish pit.

New business on the agenda included an application from gravel pit owner Mike Evans for a rubbish pit at 1715 River Road near Sardis.

Evans told commission members he has been working for 10 months with the Miss. Department of Environmental Quality to ready a Class II pit that accepts building materials such as lumber and concrete, and brush piles cleared from construction sites.

During a discussion of old business, commission members revisited plans for a private family cemetery at 1338 Pope-Water Valley Road. Landowner Patricia Nash introduced her special exception request last month, but the commission tabled the matter until one of its members, Danny Jones, could view the site and report back.

Jones reported Monday that the site picked by Nash was well hidden from her neighbors’ view, a concern voiced by those neighbors last month.

Discussions about allowing the rubbish pit and the family cemetery led commission members on a search for instructions beyond the county’s land-use regulations, in part because both matters involve the authority of the Panola County supervisors. State law allows a board of supervisors to regulate where it will allow the placement of a private family cemetery, and the rubbish pit is part of county government’s coming waste management plan.

Land commission attorney Colmon Mitchell had researched law and regulations governing private cemeteries after District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant suggested last month that no laws exist to prohibit or regulate them.

Mitchell’s search led him to read aloud statute 41-43-1, which reads, "The board of supervisors of any county is authorized and empowered, upon petition and request to do so, to establish or designate the location of any private family cemetery to be located in the county."

According to Mitchell’s interpretation of the law, a board of supervisors must allow private family cemeteries but can designate where one is located on a parcel of the family’s property.

The attorney also cited an attorney general’s opinion that found similar findings after reviewing the law.

Citing the state law, the commission voted unanimously to approve the Nash family’s request.
Stipulations included adding vegetation around the family plot and, since the land is deeded to a minor in the Nash family, resolving that matter in chancery court because the cemetery affects the land’s value.

New business at the September meeting included discussion of still another cemetery, a church cemetery located at the intersection of Eureka and Hubbard roads.

The land commission voted unanimously to allow Bethany Baptist Church to move forward with its plans provided that the church follows state rules and regulations.

Bethany pastor Tim Ellis appeared on behalf of his congregation.

"You need to get some good legal advice because of this being a private cemetery," Mitchell told Ellis.
"This has turned out to be more complicated than we were told," Ellis replied in agreement.

Regarding the application for a rubbish pit, Evans told commission members that county government wants him to open the rubbish pit, which would be a step toward introducing a waste management plan.

"Panola County is one of the few (counties) without a waste management plan," Evans told the land commission.

Citing Panola County government’s involvement, commission members voted to hear from county supervisors about their wishes before taking any further action.

During the public hearing, commission chairman Danny Walker asked Evans three separate times about safeguards for ensuring contractors and other users did not sneak toxic chemicals such as paint into the rubbish pit.

"If they do, we’ll make them load it up and leave," Evans replied.

Commission members also heard from homeowners concerned about the water quality if the rubbish pit is allowed at the gravel pit.

"We have a low water table and are all using water wells," said homeowner Pascual Cruz, who also cited traffic and litter concerns.

Murder trial starts in Sardis
By Billy Davis

The murder trial of Sardis bail bondsman Johnny Green began Monday with testimony from the parents of murder victim Ricky Taylor Jr. testifying that they saw Green with their son hours before he was found dead on Old Panola Road.

Defense attorneys for Green began to unfold their case, however, by introducing the name "Ricky Nelson," a convicted drug dealer who Green fingered as Taylor’s killer to former Chief Deputy Craig Sheley – before naming himself as the trigger man.

Nelson is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence on two counts of sale of cocaine, court documents have shown.

Taylor, who had a history of drug-related arrests, was a confidential informant for the sheriff’s department whose work had helped prosecute Nelson.

Green is represented by brothers Kevin Horan and Brennan Horan, both of Grenada.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly is pursuing the state’s murder case against Green.

Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker is presiding over the case.

Put on the stand by Kelly, Ricky Taylor Sr. and Barbara Taylor put Green at their home at 136 Oak Grove Road, located near Sardis.

The father said Green and Taylor were talking outside the home when he went to bed about midnight.

According to Barbara Taylor, she was awake about 5:30 that morning when Green came back to the home and picked up her son.

Old Panola Road resident Jimmy Jenkins testified Monday that he heard three gunshots "around six a.m." and later heard that a body had been found nearby.

"I heard a pop then pop-pop," Jenkins told jurors.
Jurors also heard Monday from witness Moses Dean, another Old Panola Road resident, who spotted the body when he stopped at the intersection of Old Panola Road and Highway 315.

Dean testified that he advanced within eight feet of the body and soon thereafter dialed 9-1-1 from his home.

"I presumed it was somebody intoxicated or sick," Dean said from the witness stand.

The trial of Green comes a year after Nelson’s body was found on July 23, a Saturday morning. He had been shot twice, once in the leg and a fatal shot to the head.

Defense attorneys for Green used testimony from Panola County’s sheriff’s deputy John Lantern to introduce Nelson’s name to a jury composed of 10 women and two men.

During cross-examination by Kevin Horan, Lantern testified he was told to look for and arrest Nelson but said he never heard why he was wanted.

"His name came up a couple of times with the investigators," Lantern told jurors.

Sardis Police Chief Mike Davis later arrested Nelson at a traffic stop and handed him over to Lantern, who took him to the sheriff’s department.

"So why did Craig Sheley testify two weeks ago that he had no conversation with Nelson?" Kevin Horan asked, referring to a pre-trial hearing.

The question received an objection from Kelly. Baker sustained the objection.

Before the cross-examination, Lantern told jurors that he was he first deputy to arrive on the murder scene. He also said Green drove by the scene and asked if the body was Taylor – even though there was no way he could see the body lying in the road.
Panola Circuit Clerk Joe Reid said the jury was seated at 1:10 Monday afternoon.

Sheriff shoots down rumor, reports on task force
By Billy Davis

Despite reports to the contrary, the Panola County Drug Task Force is still in operation and has a list of pending court cases to show its efforts, Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright told The Panolian last week.

"We’re not shut down and they’re running hard," said Bright, responding to an apparent rumor that reported the shutdown.

In fact, the sheriff said, in recent months the task force has stacked up dozens of pending felony court cases related to drug busts in the county.

"Each man tries to pull 10 to 12 cases a month," the sheriff reported during a brief interview conducted at the David M. Bryan Justice Complex.

Bright’s update on the task force led to the following exchange about the task force and its efforts to combat illegal drugs in Panola County.

  Last year, the drug task force was "in the red." What is the financial situation now?
  They’re doing fine right now. The City of Batesville puts in $75,000. Panola County puts in $75,000. And they don’t ever go over that budget. We don’t have a lot of money to buy extra equipment like we need, but we get by. We borrow. It’s working well.
  What is the mission you’ve given the task force? What are your instructions?
  The mission of the task force is to get out and work. I want those men to get out and work against drugs in Panola County like there’s no tomorrow…I want the drugs off the streets. I’m just as mad as the former sheriff – he hated drugs and I hate them, too. They ruin good people.
  If you had to put a pulse on illegal drug activity in Panola County, how bad is the problem?
  I’m going to use a one to 10 scale and say it’s probably a six – a five or six. The drug dealers in your surrounding counties will tell you right quick, "I’m not coming into Panola County."
  You think the drug task force is that effective?
  It is because they stay on top of it. When you do 35 to 40 cases a month, you’re working on it.
  What type of illegal drugs does the task force target. Is there a priority for them?
  No, there’s no priority. Anything illegal – marijuana, crystal meth, whatever’s illegal.
  Do they go after the "big guys" and leave the "little guys" alone. Who do they target?
  We go after whoever. It doesn’t matter.
  Any and all bad guys in Panola County?
  Anybody’s a target.
  Does the task force have a particular method for catching dealers? How does it operate?
  We’re not doing any "buy busts," just buys.
  What is a "buy bust?"
  That’s when I buy dope from you and (snaps fingers) turn right around and arrest you
  What’s the difference?
  When we buy, we’re liable to buy from you and, two months down the road, you won’t know about it until we indict you.
  The newspaper sometimes gets calls from Panolians complaining about drugs being sold near their home. That’s a main reason for this interview – we hear the complaints.
  They should feel free to call me anytime. I want all the information I can get because that helps us get in that community. If we don’t have probable cause, we can’t get in there.
  So if somebody calls you from 101 Smith Street and says, "There’s a lot of traffic coming and going at my neighbor’s house," then you will do something?
  We’ll log it down. That helps us know something illegal is going on.
  Then what do you do?
  We watch it on different occasions. If they say it happens at six o’clock in the afternoon, then we’ll be there watching.
  Do you get phone calls from concerned citizens?
  I do. That helps a lot.
  What do you tell them?
  I tell them we will watch the area and we’ll check on it and see what we can come up with.
  Several months ago The Panolian featured a success story in north Panola County, where a retired Shelby County sheriff’s deputy helped bust drug dealers who lived next to him. He even wrote down their tag numbers. Do you encourage people to take the steps that he took?
  It’s a dangerous situation to do that, so I can’t encourage it. But if you don’t care about your safety and you want to stop it in your neighborhood, then that’s the way to stop it. He did a good job. He did a wonderful job. And it’s slowed down. We haven’t had any trouble in that area.
     Once the drug dealers understand that their neighbors won’t put up with it, then they’re going to move somewhere else.
     Coach Ronald "Runt" McMinn honors "The Star Spangled Banner" prior to the start of the "old timers" ball game Saturday at American Legion Park in Batesville. The well-attended event served as a fund-raiser for automobile accident victims Tyler Benson, Monroe Harrison, Brandon Taylor and Jonathan Ware.
     McMinn, who led off the game with a single to shallow left field, was also honored with a plaque for his many years of contributions to the community’s athletics programs.

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