Batesville Retread

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 12, 2008

Don’t tread on us: frustrated business owners seek justice

By Billy Davis

At Batesville Retread Center, salesman Joey Black would normally be on the road, recruiting customers for the niche company, where worn commercial truck tires are restored for a new life on the road.

But when a reporter visited the company this week, Black was inspecting the improved tires, aided by company owner Lee Burks Sr., because nearly everybody else was in jail.

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“They steal us blind,” Burks said of some past employees.

“And we don’t cut them any slack,” added wife Bonnie Burks, pointing out that two former employees are now in prison for thievery.

The tire refurbishing business is located behind NexAir on Buckhorn Road, the frontage road that runs along Interstate 55 in north Batesville.

Brand-new commercial truck tires are pricey – more than $400 each – and Burks said some Batesville Retread employees have schemed with truck drivers to steal them. Other thievery has been more brazen: late-night break-ins in 2002 and 2004 that netted thieves 82 tires and 56 tires respectively.

Specially made metal parts and equipment disappear, too, destined for someone’s workshop or for the scrap yard.

Local authorities this week arrested two Batesville Retread employees, Seleno Pegues and Willie James Harris, for attempting to steal a single truck tire. Both defendants are charged with grand larceny.

Batesville police said this week that Pegues hid the tire in high grass and returned at night to pick it up. Police moved in when Pegues began loading the tire into a car.

A passenger in Pegues’ vehicle was not charged, but police are accusing Harris of being an accomplice in the theft.

“This is the fifth incident of stealing that we’ve dealt with out there,” said Detective Paul Shivers.

Shivers said one of the arrested employees admitted that he was “paid well and treated well” by his employer, and other employees have made similar comments, he said. 

Lee Burks said his family-run business often helps its employees, giving them numerous days off for family emergencies and loaning money to pay utility bills. When employees’ family members died, the Burks family has helped pay for funeral costs and sent food to the family.

Batesville police publicized the pair of arrests but credited Panola sheriff’s deputy Terry Smith for organizing the September 4 sting that nabbed the pair.

Lee Burks said he contacted Smith, a former Batesville police officer, after the police department botched a similar sting about four weeks ago.

Asked about the failed arrests, BPD Chief Tony Jones pointed out that the police department has “caught people in the past” on behalf of the company owner.

Still, the chief said he took responsibility for the incident and has apologized to Burks.

“We dropped the ball,” Jones said.

Burks railed against what he said is the tepid prosecution of some employees – “the ones with the right last names,” he said.

 “The prosecution isn’t up to us. It’s up to the courts what they do,” Jones replied to that suggestion.

Pegues appeared in Batesville Municipal Court Wednesday, where Judge Jay Westfaul referred him to a Panola County grand jury and reduced his bond from $15,000 to $2,500.