Headlines – 10/10/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – October 10, 2006

  From the 10/10/06 issue of The Panolian   –   


Sheriff gets school officer, new deputy
By Billy Davis

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Panola County Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright has added more manpower to his department after supervisors approved three hiring requests Monday.

Supervisors had to amend the sheriff’s $2 million-plus budget to add a full-time sheriff’s deputy and a school resource officer (SRO), and a third part-time employee to oversee trash pickup by state inmates.

"We’re just trying to build things up at the sheriff’s department," Bright told supervisors regarding the hirings.

The new hirings come after supervisors flexed their political muscles earlier this summer by trimming Bright’s proposed budget, including the hiring of a sheriff’s deputy, during Bright’s first budget request as sheriff.

Supervisors were visibly surprised Monday when Bright made the requests, peppering him with questions about salaries, hours and duties, but did not voice any opposition to his request.

A board vote passed 4-0 to amend the budget to allow for the hirings. District 3 Supervisor Mack Benson was absent.

Bright told supervisors he had conferred with County Administrator David Chandler about the budget requests. That comment led supervisors to ask Chandler about the new hirings.

"How much money are we talking?" asked Supervisor Jerry Perkins.

"About $30,000 a year," Chandler said, referring only to the new deputy.

Asked by District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant if he had "any names" for the hirings, Bright rattled off three names: jailer Edward Dixon will move to the SRO spot, former Batesville police officer Terry Smith will work in the new deputy slot, and former Crenshaw Mayor Oscar Barlow will work part-time with the clean-up crew.

District 1 Supervisor James Birge asked Bright if the new deputy hire could "hide in the bushes" at illegal dump sites to catch the illegal activity.

Bright said the deputy could be used for that purpose, adding that all deputies had been instructed to keep an eye out for illegal dumpers.

Regarding salaries, Bright told supervisors that the SRO position will be partially funded by the North Panola School District.

"The school system will pay 50 percent of the salary plus benefits," Bright said.

Smith will begin with a monthly salary of $2,100, the sheriff said, while Barlow will oversee a clean-up crew for $9 an hour and work no more than 20 hours per week.

Barlow’s hiring will create a third crew of inmates who pick up trash along roadsides in the county.

Crenshaw agrees to community Q and A
By John Howell Sr.

Crenshaw Mayor Sylvester Reed and town aldermen agreed Tuesday for a short question session at the end of the monthly meetings of the town board.

The mayor said that he and aldermen would seek about six questions each meeting from members of the public who attend. The city officials will provide answers for the questions at the following month’s meeting, he said.

Reed said that he had met with Crenshaw resident Cornelia Gates who made the suggestion about fielding the questions.

Gates also appeared at the October 3 meeting to ask town officials and town attorney Mary Brown about efforts to clean up abandoned lots and homes. Gates is among a number of Crenshaw citizens who have attended board meetings during the last five months to express concern about the town’s deteriorating appearance.

"It seems to me we’ve stalled on the issue," Gates said.

Brown replied that she was awaiting an inspection report to research the cost of determining ownership of one parcel of property.

Alderman Alberta Bradley said that an inspection report of several pieces of property would be available soon.

"Once I get an inspection report, then we’ll take steps," Brown said.

Mayor Reed also reported on the familiar subject of the town’s broken backhoe. The backhoe has been moved from the Clarksdale Case dealership to the Quitman County shop where it will be evaluated for repair feasibility.

The backhoe is the town’s main implement and has been out of commission since before the May board meeting.

"What are we going to do if we have a bad water break," asked former mayor Franklin Rayburn who was among about a dozen people who attended the meeting.

"Panola County and (the Town of) Sledge allow us to use a backhoe," Reed replied.

Another familiar subject is the lack of a certified water operator to monitor the town’s water supply. Former water operator Jimmy Frazier resigned in July.

"We have until March," to hire a new operator, the mayor said, referring to a six months window allowed by the state health department. "The water is still being read at present," he added

"Have we had any water samples pulled?" asked Alderman David Whitsell. The mayor replied that water samples have continued to be submitted each month as required by the health department.

Aldermen voted to approve the night’s agenda after Bradley commented that she was "not happy about getting the agenda after we get here; we need to have it in hand 24 hours before the meeting."

"Normally you do; normally you have your whole package at least before that," Reed replied.
"So, we’ll have it at least 24 hours before the meeting from now on?", Bradley asked.

"Yes," the mayor replied.

Bradley also raised a question about reports from town departments such as the police department and maintenance departments.

"I check the reports; … it’s only a report …," the mayor responded.

"I think the board needs to see the reports," Bradley replied.

An emergency plumbing repair during the weekend apparently created confusion over procedures when the mayor is not available. The incident generated an exchange between the mayor and Alderman Marvin Phipps. Mayor Reed said the the person who performed the work had asked him for payment when, "I had no knowledge of the work."

The mayor said he understood that the work had to be done but was critical of how the repair was handled. "I’m the administrator; it has to come through me… If he has done the work, did he submit a bill?" Reed said, referring to the plumber who had made the repair and then asked for payment.

"The issue is who has the authority to authorize work for the city," the attorney said to clarify a question from aldermen about the emergency procedures. "The mayor," she said.

The aldermen approved unanimously the minutes of the September 5 meeting after clarification by attorney Brown.

Several questions were raised during the review of claims for approval. Alderman Whitsell asked about the cost of feeding inmates who perform work for the city. Whitsell said that he had also fielded questions from constituents about a lack of supervision for the state trusties who work at city jobs.

"I make a motion that we cut that whole deal," Whitsell said.

"No, they are doing their work," the mayor responded.

"Actually, it’s cheaper than having to hire people," Alderman Shirley Morgan commented following further discussion of inmate labor utilized in Crenshaw.

After the mayor fielded further questions from Whitsell and Bradley about amounts paid to Sammy Harrell and the duties he performs for the town, aldermen voted 4 to 1 to approve payment of the claims. Whitsell voted against the motion.

Whitsell also raised a question about a camper trailer that had been parked on a privately-owned lot and provided with water and sewer service from the town.

Placement of trailers in Crenshaw has been a controversial subject that has been tied to the town’s deteriorating appearance.

The mayor said that the owner of the camper trailer, who lives in Indianola, used it as a work trailer. "He only asked that when he stops through, that the municipal services be provided," the mayor said.

November’s monthly meeting was moved from November 7 to Thursday, November 9, because the town’s meeting room will be in use as a voting precinct for the general election on the month’s first Tuesday.

Winning Streak
     Mississippi High School Activities Association director Dr. Ennis Proctor (left) presents South Panola head Coach Ricky Woods a football commemorating the Tigers’ amazing run to break the 23-year-old longest winning streak Friday night. South Panola has won 52 straight games since 2003. 
List shows dangerous crossings
By Billy Davis

A decision to close railroad crossing sites in Panola County may be coming, but for now city and county officials are huddling to discuss their options.

Returning to the subject after a September meeting, supervisors on Monday studied a list of accident crossings in the county after requesting the information from Panola County Emergency Management.

The list did not prompt any quick decisions, however, and the board asked EMA director Son Hudson and EMA deputy director Daniel Cole to meet and discuss the closings with city mayors and individual supervisors.

District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins suggested that Hudson and Cole contact the elected officials to discuss crossing sites.

Supervisors began discussing railroad safety at a September 25 recessed meeting after two automobile accidents occurred in the same week, one of them a fatal collision that killed road department employee Thomas King on River Road. The second accident occurred on Nelson Spur Road.

Discussion of the crossings led to a suggestion that some crossings be closed so Canadian Railroad will improve the safety of several others by installing signal devices, mostly at the company’s own expense.

Supervisors said Monday the only crossing arms in the county are located at James Street in Batesville, where three accidents have resulted in three injuries over the past three decades.

At the October 10 meeting, supervisors reviewed a list of accidents that have occurred since 1975 at Panola County’s railroad crossings. Some of the most dangerous crossings include:

  • River Road, nine accidents, four injuries and one fatality
  • Court Street crossing in downtown Batesville, five accidents and a fatality
  • The so-called Whiskey Chute crossing in Batesville, located at Lomax Street and Thomas Street, 10 accidents and six injuries
  • Eureka Street crossing in Batesville, six accidents and three injuries
  • West Lee Street in Sardis, six accidents and three injuries.

Asked by supervisors for any suggestions, Cole said "two to three" possible sites can be closed in Como.

Law enforcement officials would like to close the crossing at Compress Road, which is located near the Tate County line and serves as an escape route for drug buyers, Cole also said.

"If you go to (Canadian) with a number you’re willing to close, you’ll come back with some money to upgrade," Cole said, repeating a similar assurance he made at the September meeting.

Old hospital draws ghost hunters
Memphis couple looks for ‘George’
By Jason C. Mattox

Nine people, including Sardis Police Chief Mike Davis, were led through the old North Panola Hospital Saturday on a search for paranormal activity by Memphis ghost hunters Steve and Mary Oacus.

The husband and wife team operate Orb Hunters USA and the Web site .

Steve Oacus said he had been fascinated with the old building since before it went out of business in the early 1990s.

"I used to sell janitorial supplies out of Memphis in the ’80s," he said. "This hospital always creeped me out."

Oacus said he and his wife started Orb Hunters after purchasing an old house in the Memphis area.
"We bought the house, and it was about 60 years old," he said. "We started taking pictures of it, and there would be little balls of light in all of the pictures. Neither of us knew what it was."

Oacus said after some investigation, he determined that the spots of light might be orbs, or particles of energy.

Oacus said he and his wife decided to explore the long-closed Sardis hospital after hearing stories from a former employee, Faye Traywick, who went along on Saturday’s tour.

"There was a lot of stuff that would happen," she told the group. "More than once, people would get shoved into the supply closet. We used to be woken up by the sound of someone clearing their throat, and it wasn’t anyone that was in there with us."

Traywick said after countless encounters with the "spirit," employees at the hospital began calling it George.

"We would be in a room trying to get a little sleep when we could and we could hear the throat clearing noise," she said. "We would say ‘Stop it, George. We need to get some sleep.’"

Oacus asked if the request was granted every time.

"There were sometimes it would stop," she said. "But sometimes he would get loud and start acting out."

A nearly four-hour tour of the facility yielded several unexplained coincidences.

An old jar found in the first-floor infirmary was inscribed with the word "Help."

"This hospital has been locked up tight, and I am the only one who has a key," Davis said after speculation that someone had planted the evidence.
Room 333 captured Oacus’ interest.

"When you entered the room, it was like you completely lost your balance," he said. "It totally throws off your equilibrium."

In addition to the sense of dizziness, Oacus and the other visitors discovered a fresh set of handprints on a dusty mirror upon re-entering the room.

"They appeared to be two different sets of prints," he said. "One set was much larger than the other. It was almost like handprints of a mother and child."

Oacus said one way of knowing there is a "presence" in a room is an explained dramatic change in temperature, something he found on the third floor.

"In the prayer room on the third floor we discovered a faint odor and went in to have a look around," he said. "While we were in that room, the temperature went from 78 degrees to 88 degrees in a matter of seconds."

The ghost hunters had brought their own thermometer just in case such an event should occur.

Oacus said the team also discovered a stuck pressure valve in the boiler room reading 250 degrees.

"All of the other gauges were at zero and this one was at 250," he said. "The thing is, it didn’t appear to be broken. There shouldn’t have been any pressure."

Davis echoed that sentiment.

"Everything to this hospital has been cut off," he said. "There is no water and no electricity."

After concluding the tour, Oacus said he believed there was more than a ghost in the facility.

"With all of the evidence we have found in the facility, there is most definitely a presence in that building," he said.

The Orb Hunters said they plan to schedule a late evening visit to the facility.

Pancake Breakfast
    Batesville’s Exchange Club held its annual pancake breakfast fund-raiser on Saturday, and new member
John Thomas
got "initiated" in the kitchen, pouring up batter to feed the hungry folks who came to the Batesville Intermediate School cafeteria for the event.

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