Headlines – 9/22/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 22, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – September 22, 2006

  From the 9/22/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

Two train wrecks leave one dead, others injured
     The rear door window of a Tri-Lakes Medical Center ambulance frames the scene of a car/train wreck Thursday south of Pope at Nelson Spur Road, where first responders lifted an accident victim from a four-door car. The wreck was the second such wreck in two days. A wreck Wednesday killed a gravel truck driver, Thomas King.
By John Howell Sr.
and Billy Davis

Thomas Hurley King was killed Wednesday when he drove into the path of a southbound Canadian National freight train on River Road.

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King, driving a Panola County Road Department gravel truck, was westbound when his truck was struck by a train pulling approximately 83 cars. Batesville Police Captain Jimmy McCloud, who assisted Panola Deputy Sheriff Justin Maples with the investigation, said that the train’s engineer reported the accident at 9:37 a.m.

River Road is located between Sardis and the Tallahatchie River, where it connects Belmont Road and Highway 51 North.

King’s death was the first of two train-versus-vehicle wrecks in Panola County in two days. A four-door Mitsubishi Galant was struck Thursday afternoon at the Nelson Spur Road crossing south of Pope.

No fatalities were reported in the second wreck, but two of the four passengers in the automobile complained of injuries and were transported to Tri-Lakes Medical Center from the scene.

The train struck the right rear of the car, damage to the vehicle revealed.

The names of the driver and passengers were not available at press time.

The impact that killed King knocked his dump truck 85 to 90 feet from the point of impact, Panola County Coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge said. The truck’s engine was knocked loose from its chassis and rested about 45 feet further south.

The River Road crossing is marked by non-lighted cross buck warning signs. Debris from the truck was scattered on both sides of the track by the impact.

First responders from the Batesville Fire Department, Tri-Lakes Medical Center ambulances and city and county law enforcement personnel converged on the wreck site. Railroad investigators later joined local personnel, McCloud said.

King’s body underwent autopsy on Thursday, the coroner said. Results were expected to be complete today. His home was in the Coles Point community at 363 Robertson Lane, Batesville, Gulledge said.

Robbery suspects make first appearance in court
By Jason C. Mattox

Three suspects charged with this week’s armed robbery of Helmes Grocery received bond reductions in Batesville Municipal Court Wednesday morning.

Rico Strong Jr., Jermichael Strong and Anthony House are all accused of entering Helmes Grocery on Panola Ave. around 7 a.m. Monday with a pistol and taking an undetermined amount of cash from proprietor Billy Helmes.

House was wounded during the incident, but Batesville Police Department officials are not commenting on how he received the gun shot wound to his side.

"You’re the one who got shot, aren’t you?" Judge William McKenzie asked. "I hope you learned it’s not smart to go waving a gun around."

Before signing his waiver to a preliminary hearing, Jermichael Strong appeared before the judge in hopes of better understanding the process.

"This is a misdemeanor court," McKenzie said. "I can’t find you guilty or not guilty of a felony.

"This is just a preliminary hearing to make sure people don’t have to sit in jail just to have nobody look at the evidence and consider a bond reduction," the judge added.

All three suspects were originally held under $250,000 bonds for the charges, but McKenzie lowered the bonds to $50,000 each.

"I don’t know if that amount is something you can handle, but it seems like it should help you some," McKenzie 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.

Plus regular PANOLA PEOPLE features:
Green found guilty of Taylor murder
By Billy Davis

Despite delivering an elaborate, hour-long testimony Wednesday that accused a drug dealer of killing a drug informant, Sardis bail bondsman Johnny Green failed to convince a jury that he did not shoot and kill Ricky Taylor Jr.

The circuit court jury returned a guilty verdict against Green, 60, Thursday morning, concluding a four-day trial by finding that Green shot and killed Taylor, 23.

The trial was held in Sardis at the Panola County Courthouse.

A sentencing date has not been set.

The guilty verdict yesterday also concluded a lengthy legal journey for the murder victim’s family members that began with a 9-1-1 call from Old Panola Road resident Moses Dean on July 23, 2005. Driving to work that morning, Dean had spotted a body near the intersection of Old Panola and Highway 315. The body was later identified as Taylor.

"We really, truly believe justice has been served," Jimmy Little, the murder victim’s uncle, said of the verdict.

Before a jury was seated at noon on Monday, the past 14 months included several trial delays due to a backlog at the state crime lab, two bond hearings, and the withdrawal of high-profile defense attorney Anthony Farese from Green’s case.

Farese filed a Motion to Withdraw from Green’s case this February, stating in court papers that his client had become "uncooperative."

Green later hired defense attorneys Kevin Horan and Brennan Horan, who led their client through a recollection from the witness stand of a wrong turn on Old Panola and an ambush by drug dealer Ricky Nelson.

A teary-eyed, eyeglass-cleaning Green told jurors that he watched in horror as Taylor bolted from Green’s pickup truck only to be shot twice by Nelson, who is now behind bars for the sale of cocaine.

Taylor, too, had a history of drug-related arrests and had been turned into a confidential informant by the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.

The first shot fired by Nelson hit Taylor "below the waist," Green said. The second shot happened at point-blank range, he said, when Nelson "shot him like a dog."

"How close was the gun?" Brennan Horan asked his client.

"Close," Green said.

Autopsy results showed that Taylor was shot once in the leg and suffered a fatal, near point-blank shot to the head.

Green’s description of the next few hours included testimony that Nelson threatened to harm his family if Green didn’t keep his "damned mouth shut."

Green also said he tracked Nelson to his hangout, a convenience store located north of Como, where he told Nelson he should turn himself in and asked him to leave his family alone.

After a lunch break Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly attempted to pick apart the defendant’s detailed story, asking Green why he didn’t call his family members to warn them about the threat or stay at home to protect his wife, who was bed-ridden.

One subject left untouched during Kelly’s cross-examination was an explanation from Green explaining why he washed his clothes and cleaned his boots during the morning of Taylor’s murder.

Both Green and daughter Sherri Foshee told Brennan Horan that the practice wasn’t unusual since the family washed clothes almost continually throughout the day.

"There are no dirty clothes around the house because they’re washed immediately," Foshee told jurors.

Kelly also spent time dissecting Green’s varying statements to then-Chief Deputy Craig Sheley, asking Green which story was true: that he dropped off Taylor at Highway 51, or that Nelson shot Taylor, or that the shooting was self-defense, or that the shooting was an accident as Taylor played with a gun.

"Do you want to tell us another one?" Kelly asked, concluding the cross-examination of the defendant.
Jurors witnessed a combative cross-examination that at times launched into verbal punches from both the assistant DA and the defendant, with Green more than once asking questions directed at Kelly.

"How many times do I have to remind you that you don’t ask me questions?" Kelly finally asked.

"That’s the last time," Green replied, displaying a smirk.

A few minutes later, Kelly asked Green to read a document "if your glasses are clean enough to read," a jab that brought murmurings from Green family members seated in the courtroom.

Green also talked out of turn when Brennan Horan covered several topics during a so-called redirect, stopping only when his attorney raised his hand to ask his client to stop talking.

Starbucks purchases lot from city
By Jason C. Mattox

National coffee house chain Starbucks expects to be opened in east Batesville by May, 2007 after purchasing a one-acre lot.

On Tuesday, the Board of Aldermen unanimously approved the sale of one acre of land located near the Batesville Civic Center to Starbucks Coffee at a purchase price of $371,131.

Fred Hand, president of Hand Properties, was present to seal the deal for his client.

"This location has already been approved by all of the corporate people," he said. "They are ready to make this happen."

Hand said the finalization of the deal for the property was slated as part of Starbucks’ fiscal year 2007 plans.

"They want to get this deal done this month," he said. "Realistically, if we don’t get this finished up sometime this week, it probably won’t happen."

Hand said the company is projecting $1 million in sales for the new store.

"That would mean the city would make $47,157 total per year in sales tax and ad valorem tax," he said. "It would also mean somewhere between 7-10 jobs."

Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders originally told her colleagues she was ready to sell, then backed off after learning there was a third entity interested in the property.

"I know of two," she said. "When did the third come into the picture?"

City Attorney Colmon Mitchell advised Pounders that the new prospect was discussed during a budget meeting she was unable to attend.

"We don’t want to go into details about the other two, but they are out there," Mitchell said. "The ball is in your court now."

Hand acknowledged the additional prospects.

"Starbucks is aware that there are other companies looking at the property," he said. "That is one of the reasons the company was willing to go back up to $371,131, from their counter-offer of $350,000.

"I told them if they wanted to move on the deal we needed to get it in the works as quickly as possible, and it gained the approval that was needed," Hand added.

Pounders asked when construction of the store could begin.

"Once we get our permits and all pulled, we should be able to start construction by the first of the year," Hand replied. "Then you are looking at approximately 16 weeks to completion."
Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger asked if Hand believed there would be a need for any kind of variance for the location.

"The only problem I have seen with the site is a utility pole that would be moved at our expense," Hand responded. "We will not come back to you and ask for a variance. You can put that on the record.

"Keep in mind that we have our particulars in place, and this is going to happen," he continued. "You might have other buyers, but how long is it going to take for them to get started? We are ready."

With his nerves calmed by that sentiment, Dugger told his colleagues he was in favor of accepting the offer.

"I know we have some other options out there, but they have approval and there are no ?what-ifs,’ so we need to get the ball rolling so that can get started," he said.

Returned check creates problems for alderman
By Billy Davis
and John Howell Sr.

A Batesville alderman has avoided a felony false pretense charge by paying off a returned check, her attorney said.

An affidavit filed in Panola County Justice Court alleged that a check given to a food vendor by Bobbie Jean Pounders had been returned, acknowledged Batesville attorney Tom Womble.
Womble, Pounders’ attorney, spoke to The Panolian at her request.

"As soon as it was presented, arrangements were made to pay it in full; there was no court proceeding," Womble said. "The people who made out the complaint have dropped the charges, … simply because they wanted the check made good," he added.

The check, signed by Pounders, was written to food supplier Sysco in the amount of $3,337.30. It was dated May 19, 2006, and is repeatedly stamped "returned unpaid" and "funds insufficient."

In Mississippi, any bad check written for $100 or more is considered a felony, said District Attorney John Champion.

Womble said that he would appear in justice court on behalf of his client September 26. He expects the matter will be dismissed at that time.

Pounders operated Boonie Mae’s, a fine-dining restaurant in Batesville. The restaurant closed its doors in June.

An affidavit was signed against Pounders August 4 in Panola County Justice Court by a representative of Sysco, a copy of the affidavit shows.

A warrant for Pounders’ arrest was issued the same day and signed by Justice Court Judge Bill Joiner, a copy of the arrest warrant shows.

Contacted last week by The Panolian, Panola County Constable Raye Hawkins confirmed that he contacted Pounders by phone about the warrant and met her at the David M. Bryan Justice Complex.

Also contacted by The Panolian, Panola County Sheriff Hugh W. "Shot" Bright said that no arrest was made when Pounders arrived.


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