Headlines – 3/20/2007

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Panolian: HEADLINES – March 20, 2007

  From the 03/20/07 issue of The Panolian   –   

     Running the electrical wires from the control box to the South Panola baseball and softball fields Friday were TVEPA employees (left to right) Dennis Britt, Anthony Atkinson and Bryan Roebuck.
Former BPD officer pleads guilty
By Billy Davis

A former Batesville police officer stood before Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker Monday morning and pleaded to a single count of statutory rape.

Michael Wayne Roberts Jr., 26, pleaded guilty to the charge before a courtroom in Batesville that was packed with potential jurors.

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Roberts was not sentenced and a sentencing date was not announced.

The maximum prison sentence is 30 years and a $10,000 fine, Baker told Roberts from the bench.

Roberts was working as a Batesville police detective when he was arrested last year on the statutory rape charge.

The girl involved in the incident was 14 years old, said Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly.

The defendant was represented by Oxford attorney Rhea Tannehill.

To speed the morning of plea hearings, Baker paired Roberts’ guilty plea with a DUI felony plea from Jeremiah Henderson, 30.

During the plea hearing, Kelly informed Baker that Henderson was pleading guilty as a habitual offender. He had two prior misdemeanor convictions for DUI and had also served time in prison for burglary.

A Panola sheriff’s deputy spotted Henderson’s vehicle weaving on Mt. Olivet Road, Kelly said.

’06 stats show firefighters came 1,692 times when called for help
By Billy Davis

A review of more than 1,000 fire calls in 2005 and 2006, assembled and assessed by Panola County’s Emergency Management Agency, shows what many firefighters already know: they have a very busy job.

Firefighters in Panola County responded to 1,692 fire calls in 2006, an average of more than four a day, figures show. A total of 423 of those calls were logged as one department coming to the aid of another.

The figures come from the state fire marshal’s office, which requires fire departments to submit monthly reports of their fire runs into a system called the National Fire Incident Reporting System.
Panola County EMA Deputy Director Daniel Cole took the figures to a recent meeting of the Panola County Board of Supervisors, hoping simply to show supervisors the demand for fire service in the county.

Cole also shared the figures with The Panolian, hoping to achieve the same goal with the general public.

"Our firefighters have a hard job," Cole said. "Most of them don’t get paid a thing to do what they do."

The figures show firefighters logged 7,223 man hours in 2006, more than three years’ worth of 40-hour work weeks.

In 2006, firefighters most often responded to grass, brush or woods fires – 240 – and emergency medial calls, of which 57 involved an automobile accident and 123 involved another emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke.

Firefighters responded to 56 building fires and 32 trailer home fires in 2006, figures also show.

Firefighters often rushed to the scene only to turn around and head back to their stations. A total of 94 dispatches were canceled en route, and 71 times an alarm system, smoke detector or sprinkler system malfunctioned.

Cole said he delivered the county-wide stats to fire chiefs at their monthly meeting in March, urging them to record every fire call that causes their trucks to roll out of the fire stations.

Cole said he hopes the chiefs will utilize the figures to help secure grant monies for their departments.

"I want Panola County to get its fair share of Homeland Security money," Cole said. "People who review the grants have access to these numbers."

John McCollum, fire chief for the Pope Volunteer Fire Department, said the figures are helpful to show the public that the fire departments are busy throughout the year.

"It shows that we’re not just hanging around the fire station – that the fund-raising money is going to something," said McCollum, whose department responded to 103 calls in 2006.

The 2006 figures also show the average response time. Firefighters’ response to building fires showed the longest time, 23.32 minutes. Other incidents included an average response time of 9.40 minutes for accident victims who were trapped and 11.36 minutes for non-vehicle related emergency medical calls.

Among fire departments in the county, the Batesville Fire Department, which boasts paid full-time firefighters, led the number of calls with 274 calls and 153 mutual aid responses.

Among the volunteer fire departments, the Sardis Fire Department boasted the top responses in 2006 with 186 fire calls and 52 mutual aid calls.

Outside the city limits, the Mt. Olivet Volunteer Fire Department led its sister rural fire stations with 147 fire calls and 33 mutual aid calls.

Sardis Lower Lake followed second with 95 calls and 28 mutual aid calls.

Verizon Wireless burglary nets phones, accessories
By Jason C. Mattox

The Batesville Police Department is looking for the suspect(s) responsible for burglarizing Verizon Wireless over the weekend, according to Deputy Chief Don Province.

Province said the department believes the burglary took place early Saturday morning, but it was not reported until Sunday.

"They do not have an alarm and are not open on the weekends," he said. "We have encouraged them to get an alarm system and hope they will do so."

Province said the incident was reported by a citizen who was walking through the shopping center, which is located near Wal-Mart.

"The suspects broke out the front door of the store to gain entry and left with 42 phone accessories and 23 phones," he said.

The total value of the items is estimated at $7,000.

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Batesville Police Department at 563-5653.

Dog fights not ‘big time’ but still a crime
(Editor’s note: this story is the third in a series).

By Billy Davis

If you’ve never heard of "in-line breeding" or seen a pit bull snarling at the "scratch line," then it’s unlikely you know very much about dog fighting.

And consider yourself lucky.

A pit bull terrier is the exclusive dog of backyard dog fights, but not all pit bulls are bred to fight, said Jeff Johnson*, a Batesville resident who described dog fighting to The Panolian for this story.

"A good fighting dog is small, fast and short," said Johnson, who claimed he has attended only one fight, a backyard brawl in the Curtis community.

Dog fights have been held east of Como and even within the city limits of Crenshaw, Johnson said, but the "big-time" fights that place $10,000 or more on dogs take place elsewhere.

"Those are held around Tunica and in Memphis," Johnson said. "I’ve never heard of a big-time fight in Panola County."

Whether those dog fights are big or small, in Mississippi it’s illegal and a felony to sponsor a dog fight, bet on the fight, and train or transport a dog to a fight. The minimum sentence is one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. The maximum sentence is three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Just attending a dog fight in Mississippi can result in a one-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.

Panola County is indeed home to dog fights, and most fights have moved away from rural neighborhoods into secluded wooded areas, said Panola Chief Deputy Otis Griffin.

"Most of them occur in north Panola County, and most are attended by young black males," Griffin said.

Although the fights are often held in rural communities, Panola Sheriff’s Deputy Earl Burdette said he witnessed a dog fight in Batesville last summer near Person Street in Batesville.

Burdette, who owns a lawn service, said he was mowing grass near the Colonial Bread warehouse when he spotted a crowd of 15 to 20 people surrounding a makeshift pen. He contacted police, and several people were arrested and three dogs were seized.

Griffin acknowledged that the sheriff’s department has not broken up many dog fights in recent years but noted also that the department has solved several dog thefts related to the illegal sport.

According to Johnson, a dog fight follows several rules. The handlers cannot touch the dogs during the fight, he said, but the dogs can be separated if one dog is "getting the best" of the other and is obviously winning.

Still another rule involves a dog that turns from a fight. Often the dogs are brought back to the "scratch line," which is the starting line, and allowed to charge for another round of fighting. A dog is declared the loser in the fight if it hesitates or cowers in fear.

Both Johnson and Griffin said the losing dog’s handler will often shoot the animal – sometimes during the fight – if it turns away from another dog.

A pit bull that wins three fights is known as a "grand champion," Johnson said.

Johnson said he personally raises pit bulls and believes their reputation as fighting dogs has hurt their image.

"A pit bull is aggressive by instinct, but it’s not vicious. It’s just a loyal guard dog," Johnson said.

In fact, most large and muscular pit bulls are never involved in a fight and instead are bred and raised as trophy dogs, Johnson said.

The fighting pit bulls, which Johnson said are smaller, are raised through the inbreeding of siblings, or "in-line breeding," resulting in a "crazy dog" that is indeed vicious.

"That crazy dog will go until it can’t breathe any more," Johnson said. "It won’t hurt a human, but it hates other dogs."

According to Griffin, he wants to raise awareness of dog fighting and hopes the public will be vigilant about watching and listening for them.

"Listen for the noise," Griffin said. "You’ll know it if you hear it."

"What we need is good intel on locating them," said Burdette. "Good intel is the key."

*Jeff Johnson is an alias for a person who wished to remain anonymous.

Supervisors open bids for new fire station
By Rupert Howell

Bids were opened and taken under advisement by the Panola County Board of Supervisors for the Longtown Multipurpose Facility Monday morning in Sardis with an apparent low bid of $171,116 and $208,466 with alternate bids. The next low base bid was $172,796 with alternate bids totaling $206,452.

The low base bid came from G & W Steel Buildings of Coffeeville while the lowest "total package" bid came from Goodwin Enterprises, Inc. of Grenada.

But there was an apparent issue with the $206,452 bid of Enterprise as a signed addendum and acknowledgement were not both included in the bid as required on the bidding instructions according to County Engineer Larry Britt.

Britt had mentioned twice that each of the four bidders should be sure they had signed the addendum before the bids were opened.

The total bid by Goodwin Enterprises, Inc. did not have proper paper work completed and may arguably be the low bid, depending on one’s perspective.

County Attorney Bill McKenzie said, "I think the only thing we can do is wait until the whole board is together and make a decision with Johnny Shell’s input… Johnny Shell will have ultimate say-so."

Shell is district director of the Rural Development Authority which is financing the multi-purpose facility that will also serve as fire station for the Longtown area.

With only two supervisors present at Monday’s bid opening, no formal action could be taken on the four bids received for the proposed facility.

Board President and District Two Supervisor Robert Avant, District One Supervisor Robert Birge were joined by board attorney Bill McKenzie, engineer Larry Britt, County Administrator David Chandler, Longtown Fire Department representatives and bidders for the Monday bid opening.

Other base bids were $214,147 and $332,000.

Both lowest bids fell within the engineer’s estimate of $256,000 and also allowed enough left over to finance two alternate bids.

The base bid covered a 3,200 ft. structure, while alternate bid one was for an extra 20×40 ft. bay and alternate two is for paving the area with the county supplying dirt work and gravel for the area.
Supervisors will meet again Friday morning at 9 a.m. in Batesville to discuss the Longtown bid, a bid on remodeling the courthouse in Sardis, and a county audit.


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