Headlines – 3/27/2007

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Panolian: HEADLINES – March 27, 2007

  From the 03/27/07 issue of The Panolian   –   

Burning banned as county cooks
     Mississippi Forestry employee Edward Rowland reads over his notes before radioing the details of a fire that swept through the five-acre pine plantation located beyond his windshield. The fire, which consumed another 15 acres of pastureland across the road, occurred Friday on Hammond Hill Road, which is located in extreme north Panola County. A burn ban has now been imposed because of the numerous grass fires.
By Billy Davis

Unincorporated Panola County has been operating under a county-wide burn ban since last Friday following a vote by county supervisors.

The county board voted 4-0 Friday morning – Supervisor Bubba Waldrup was absent – after Board President Robert Avant said he had been asked by firefighters to reinstate the ban.

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The Friday vote seemed timely since fire departments in north and south Panola County were beating back grass and brush fires throughout the day Friday and over the weekend.

The county is experiencing dry weather, which is atypical for March, as well as high winds, which are typical for early spring.

"There were 10 grass fires county-wide this weekend and probably that many last weekend," said Daniel Cole, deputy director of Panola County Emergency Management.

Cole said Panola fire departments responded to 54 grass and brush fires from March 1 through the weekend.

Reached after the Friday meeting, Avant said he was contacted by a Union firefighter regarding a burn ban and later heard a similar plea from a second firefighter.

"As I was signing the paperwork for the burn ban, there were four fires going on at the same time," Avant said.

Panola County last operated under a burn ban last August. The ban was allowed to expire in early September.

State law considers violation of a county burn ban a misdemeanor penalty with a minimum $100 fine and a maximum penalty of $500.

Davis named SPHS band director
By Myra Bean

Linda Davis of Starkville has been tapped as the new director of bands for South Panola High School following current director William McEwen’s earlier statements that he no longer wanted to serve in the director’s position.

Davis’s employment was approved at the March meeting of the school board following recommendations from principal Gearl Loden and Superintendent Keith Shaffer.

"I am extremely excited about moving to Batesville and joining the South Panola family," Davis said. "I feel that this will be a rewarding and positive experience for both myself and for my son Christopher, who will be a senior next year."

Davis was band director for Quitman County High School for a total of 12 years during two different time periods. She was also director at Oakhurst Jr. High in Clarksdale.

She served as adjunct professor at Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale for six years at the same time she was director of bands at Clarksdale High School.

She has served as director of bands at Starkville High School for the past two years.

Davis received her master of instrumental music education degree from the University of Florida in 1983. Her bachelor’s was attained at Mississippi Valley State in 1982.

"Actually, I’ve always wanted to work at South Panola High School," Davis said of why she is leaving Starkville. "It is funny that we moved all the way to Starkville before the possibility became a reality. I set very high standards and expectations for myself, as well as my students, so this will be a perfect match."

As director she was nominated for National Federation of Teachers’ Outstanding Music Educator in 2005. She currently serves as second vice president of the Mississippi Bandmasters Executive Board.

Her community activities include membership in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and she is a member of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.

"We wanted someone who would be a good fit for our kids," Loden said.

Her bands have consistently earned superior ratings in marching, concert and sight-reading. Her contract takes effect this summer.

As for her future plans for the band, Davis is being a little secretive.

"For now, I would just like to keep my plans secret," she said. "However, I can say that the students have a great deal to look forward to. The band is in excellent shape, we just need to take it to the next level."

All assistant band directors have been told they may keep their jobs, according to principal Dr. Gearl Loden. Whether McEwen will be retained is at the discretion of the new director of bands, Loden said. McEwen said he is available to continue in an assistant position elsewhere in the school district.

Education advocate will keynote banquet
By Rita Howell

Author, motivational speaker and education advocate Dr. Crystal Kuykendall of Washington, D.C. will give the keynote address at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northwest Mississippi fund-raiser Thursday night.

The annual Steak and Steak Banquet will be at the Batesville Civic Center at 6:30 p.m.

In addition to enjoying a steak dinner, guests will be entertained by Boys and Girls Club members who will sing during the program.

The local organization operates clubs in Batesville, Sardis and Crenshaw, with about 300 children enrolled for daily after school activities.

Dr. Kuykendall, a nationally-known speaker on education topics, is a former public school and college teacher. She holds a law degree from Georgetown University and has served on numerous boards, including the Advisory Board of the National Youth Leadership Conference.

Her 1992 national best-seller, "From Rage to Hope: Reclaiming Black and Hispanic Students," was followed up in 2004 with a second edition, "From Rage to Hope II."

Born in Chicago, Dr. Kuykendall graduated from Hyde Park High School with four scholarships at the age of 16. She received her B.A. from Southern Illinois University as a government major. Through an assistantship, she graduated from Montclair State University with a master of arts degree in sociology. She received her doctorate in educational administration from Atlanta University. Dr. Kuykendall received her law degree from Georgetown.

Tickets are $50. Call 578-7309.

Man survives meeting with train
By John Howell Sr.

A southbound Amtrak passenger train struck a car at Crenshaw’s north rail crossing Saturday, sending the vehicle careening down the side of the track.

"I saw the car flying down the railroad track; I heard the bump, the crash," said Wiley Clark, whose business, Crenshaw Financial and Tax Service, is located near the crossing. "I thought it was a big, white plastic bag," Clark added.

Clark and an employee, Daphne Rodgers, said they recognized the driver, Maurice White of Askew. "I saw Maurice staggering up the track," following the impact, Clark said. "I asked him why he tried to run over that train," Clark continued. "He said, ‘Mr. Wiley, that train tried to run over me.’"

Panola Deputy Sheriff Adam Willard, who investigated the crash, said that "Maurice went around the crossing arms; he stopped and looked," and did not see the passenger train approaching. "All the devices were working," the deputy said. The train was traveling at 79 miles per hour, he added.

A Canadian National worker at the scene also said that the signal and crossing arms were working properly. An Amtrak spokesman said that the engineer was blowing the locomotive’s air horn as required for the approach to the crossing.
A freight train had pulled onto a parallel siding to allow the passenger train to pass, Clark said.
White was transported to the Med by Air Evac helicopter, Willard said. His condition was not known at press time.

The accident occurred about 7:45 a.m. An Amtrak spokesman said that the train was delayed for three hours and 53 minutes while minor repairs were made to the engine.

‘Wal-Mart shooter’ sentenced
By Billy Davis

Marco T. Lamar, the so-called Wal-Mart shooter in a "drug deal gone bad," was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday for shooting and wounding Eramus Spears last summer in Batesville.

The 20-year sentence for aggravated assault was mandatory per state law, Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker told Lamar from the bench Friday morning at the county courthouse in Batesville.

Lamar also faced a single count of drug possession, which carries a minimum sentence of six years. Baker suspended the six-year sentence, which he instructed would run consecutively with the 20-year sentence.

Lamar was sentenced as a repeat offender after Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly presented court documents noting prior state and federal convictions for cocaine possession, sale of cocaine, and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Batesville police responded on June 30, 2006, to the scene of a possible shooting in the parking lot at Wal-Mart and shortly thereafter began piecing together a scenario that suggested a botched drug deal.

The biggest clue was found rather quickly at nearby Tri-Lakes Medical Center, where Spears sought medical care for a gunshot wound to his left knee and right arm from shots. The injuries came from a nine millimeter pistol.

At the hospital, Batesville police arrested Spears and two more men, Alton Kee and Demarquese Bledsoe, and began looking for Lamar.

With an attorney present, Lamar turned himself in to Batesville police on July 12 at the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.

Lamar’s sentencing came after his attorney, David Tisdell, sought a new trial for his client, claiming that the defendant’s trial attorney, Roy Smith, had done a poor job during the trial.

Tisdell is from Tunica. Smith is from Jackson.

Baker rejected Tisdell’s three suggestions: that Smith erred by not requesting a change of venue; erred by not identifying the name of a potential witness to the jury pool, and erred by not putting a potential defense witness, Walter Ware, on the stand.

"Mr. Ware made statements that would have contradicted the state’s theory of the case," Tisdell told Baker.

Ware, who had been subpoenaed for the hearing and was present Friday, was not called by Tisdell.
Kelly argued only against the change of venue, suggesting to Baker that the courts have wrestled with the subject numerous times and rarely found reason to overturn a jury verdict.

Kelly also noted that the supreme court only hours earlier had ruled against a change of venue argument in a trial that Baker had overseen.

Also prior to the sentencing, Baker heard testimony from Lamar’s pastor, Odell Draper Jr., and his mother, Bridget Lamar McFarlin.

McFarlin described her son as "dependable and mannerable."

"He is respectable to elderly people and people in general," she said.

In a brief statement, the pastor said Lamar had been attending church regularly and "wants to make a change."

"As pastors I think we’ve failed the community a lot," Draper said. "We don’t reach out to people enough."

"The pastor – he can forgive and forgive and forgive," Baker told Lamar. "But I must take into consideration your past criminal history."

Como ‘overdue’ for changes, says Ruhl
By Jason C. Mattox

With the 2005 alderman-at-large election in Como finally settled, Dr. Forster Ruhl, 49, is now awaiting his swearing-in ceremony.

The election of 2005 pitted Ruhl, who was declared the winner by the Mississippi State Supreme Court last Wednesday, against then-incumbent John Walton.

Walton was declared the winner of the June 2005 election with a certified vote tally of 300-270. Ruhl sued, contesting the legality of several votes, and circuit court judge Sharon Aycock ordered a new election for Jan. 3, 2006.

Walton was victorious in that election 311-275.

After the second election, Ruhl appealed to the State Supreme Court. That appeal was successful when justices ruled that 38 mail-in absentee ballots were illegal.

Justice Mike Randolph, writing for the Supreme Court, said the trial judge, Circuit Court Judge Sharon Aycock of Tupelo, erred in not declaring Ruhl the winner of the June 2005 election, according to published reports.

According to the same reports, the tabulation of legal votes favored Ruhl 239-220.

"After all is said and done, I hope to be sworn in within the next week," Ruhl said.

If the swearing in occurs in that time frame, it would mean Ruhl would be on the board in time for its monthly meeting April 3.

Ruhl, a physician and Como resident for 11 years, reached by telephone at his office in Senatobia, said he hopes to see some changes in board practices during the two years remaining on the term.

The biggest change, according to Ruhl, that needs to happen is providing balance sheets to city leaders at each board meeting.

"We need to get a better handle on the financial state of the town," he said. "We need a balance sheet so we know where we stand. Everyone on the board is entitled to know where the money is coming from and where it is going.

"That will help increase the level of trust between the board and the people of the town," Ruhl added. "The aldermen are asked to spend money without knowing what they have, and I believe the aldermen can be held liable for overspending.

"This town is long overdue to be run as the business that it is," he continued.

Ruhl also said he wanted to see improvements in the city government including on the board and in the Como Police Department.

In addition Ruhl said he wanted board meetings to be more open to the public.

"I just want to see some honesty and openness," he said. "I will not allow an executive session unless there are compelling or sensitive reasons that warrant using it," he said. "I want to see the board adhere fully to the Sunshine Laws."

After two elections and an appeal process, Ruhl said he does not expect any animosity among the board members or with his opponent.

"John Walton has always been gracious to me throughout this whole process," he said. "I believe he will step down gracefully.

"I just want everyone to know that I am not in this for the power or any other reason other than the betterment of the Town of Como," Ruhl added.

After a two-year fight for the seat, Ruhl said he still sees problems in the election process.

"I think the election process in Como is one-sided, but I have greater faith in our judicial system that wrongs can be made right," he said. "Thanks to them, I have two years to do what needs to be done and then consider re-election in 2009."


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