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April 25, 2002

highway workers and emergency responders watch as an Air Med helicopter lifts a Louisville woman, injured in a Tuesday morning traffic accident in Wrens, on her way to the Medical College of Georgia.

Air Med called in to aid in rescue

By Parish Howard

Three Jefferson County residents were treated for injuries and one was air lifted to the Medical College of Georgia after a two-vehicle accident on U.S. Highway One in North Wrens Monday morning.

Allison Unruh, 24, of Louisville, the driver of one of the vehicles was airlifted. Her 15-month-old daughter was taken to MCG by ambulance. Iben Ibraheem, 34, of Louisville, a passenger in Unruh's vehicle was also treated for wounds sustained in the accident.

Wrens fire fighter and emergency responder Greg McDonald was pumping gas at the Jet Food Store when he heard the crash.

"I heard it and turned around and they were already rolled up and going up on the curb," he said. "I ran over and tried the door, but I couldn't get it open."

McDonald called in the wreck at 8:58 a.m., according to the accident report, and emergency extrication crews were on the scene in minutes.

"That was some job," he said. "We cut off all the doors, pulled out the dashboard, cut off the roof and had her packaged and on the helicopter in about 30 minutes."

Unruh's car was struck on the driver's side by a Lark Builders, Inc. of Vidalia truck, hauling three portable storage buildings, driven by Alfreda McCleod of Vidalia, the police report said. The truck was traveling north and Unruh's vehicle was apparently turning south.

"It looks like she pulled out of the Ingles' parking lot and somehow ended up in the lane with the truck driver," Wrens police Sgt. Willie Nelson said. "You could see the tire marks. The truck driver tried to brake and blew his horn, but he couldn't avoid hitting her."

As of Tuesday afternoon, Unruh was still under care at MCG and listed in good condition.

Louisville Garden Club representatives Dana Tam, Ann H. Bryant, Mary Francis L. Pilcher, Giesla Williams and Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins pose with one of the historical markers which, until recently, was almost illegibly weathered and peeling.

Garden club refurbishes historical marker

52-year-old Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker honors those who died in WWII

By Parish Howard

In an effort to polish the shine on the county's attractiveness to history buffs, the Louisville Garden Club recently had the 52-year-old Blue Star Memorial marker on the courthouse lawn refurbished.

"It was so weathered and peeling that you could hardly read it," said Ann H. Bryant, president of the garden club.

The club had planned to also have the State Capital Marker and the Yazoo Land Fraud Marker refurbished, as they too were deteriorating into illegibility, but after contacting the Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites division, the agency agreed to repaint the markers at no cost to the club.

"They look so good now. The blue star on the Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker is a blue star again," Bryant said. "Our many thanks to the Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins, Mr. Murray Hadden and Mrs. Linda Moye for their help."

The marker, dedicated to Jefferson County veterans who lost their lives in World War II, was originally sponsored and erected by the garden club in April of 1950.

Earlier that same year the state garden clubs designated U.S. Highway One through Georgia as the Blue Star Memorial Highway.

"We will always think of the marker as one of our men doing eternal sentry duty at this spot and guiding traffic of our nation in the right direction," Mrs. J.P. Alexander, the 1950 president of the Louisville Garden Club told those gathered at its original unveiling.

Over the years the garden club has assisted with the appearance of the courthouse grounds by installing shrubbery, boxwoods and holly, an underground sprinkler system, planting five young oak trees and more Bryant said.

$26,000 stolen in lottery ticket scam at Louisville store

Owner said he will not stop trusting his employees

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Two Jefferson County women were charged last week with the theft of $26,000 in lottery tickets from the Louisville convenience store where one of the women was employed.

Ruby Hatcher, 45, of Louisville, turned herself in to authorities and was charged with felony theft by taking in the months-long incident, according to a Louisville Police Dept. incident report. Gloria Dorine Gibbons, 46, of Stapleton, was also charged with felony theft by taking. Gibbons was interviewed April 10 by Louisville police and agents of Georgia Bureau of Investigation and was subsequently arrested at the Richmond County Jail where she is employed in a clerical position.

Hatcher, an employee at Jones BP for one year, is alleged to have used the Georgia Lottery's on-line terminal at the store to print approximately $26,000 in lottery tickets during the period of January through April 10, according to store owner Reese Jones, Jr. Hatcher is alleged to have passed the tickets to Gibbons without receiving payment for them, apparently with the plan of sharing in whatever winnings may have resulted.

Jones said Monday that lottery sales at the store increased tremendously over the three and one-half month period, slowly at first then escalating rapidly. He considered Hatcher to be a good person and had no reason at the time to mistrust her, believing instead that the discrepancy rested with his lack of familiarity with a new software program installed at the business in late 2001.

"I thought I had made the mistake with the new software program," he said. "I thought I could trust her."

Jones remained philosophical through the experience. He said that neither the monetary loss nor the charges against a person in his employ will diminish his willingness to trust people.

"If you loose your willingness to trust you can become bitter and vindictive," said Jones. "And the world is already in bad enough shape as it is."

Both Hatcher and Gibbons are free on bond.

Jones said the lottery tickets range in price from $1-$24. All lottery sales are tracked statewide both at the point of sale and at the location, date and time a winning ticket is redeemed. Winning over $599 require identification to be redeemed.

Birt gets 30 years for shooting officer

Wrens man received 20 years for aggravated assault and 10 years for criminal damage to property

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Almost one full year after a Jefferson County jury determined that he was guilty of the June 30, 2000, shooting of a Wrens Police Officer, a judge has sentenced Demetrius Antwan Birt to 30 years in prison.

Birt, who is now 25-years-old, received the maximum sentence on two charges April 19 for the 2000 shooting of Wrens Police Officer Willie Nelson during a traffic stop.

Birt received 20 years for aggravated assault that left Nelson with 20 percent disability. He also received 10 consecutive years for first-degree criminal damage to property.

The second charge resulted when stray bullets from the shooting went through a second story window of a Green Meadows apartment, passed through a kitchen wall, scraped one living room wall and came to rest in another.

A psychological evaluation ordered by Judge Walter C. McMillan determined Birt to be fit to serve time.

Nelson said Monday he was glad the maximum sentence was ordered, though he believed Birt should have gotten more time.

He believed Birt should have been charged with additional aggravated assault charges relating to two residents inside the apartment building where shots entered as well as additional charges for possession of a firearm by a felon.

"But even with the sentence he got he will have a lot of time to think about what he did," Nelson said.

Sgt. Nelson, who is now back on duty with the city, said his current prognosis is 20 percent disability.

He is scheduled to undergo additional physical therapy for his left hand and right hip and continues to deal with pain on a daily basis.

After a trial in which Birt dismissed his legal counsel and elected to try to defend himself, a May 2001 Jefferson County jury took five minutes to reach unanimous agreement that Birt intended harm when he fired seven shots at Nelson.

Study focuses on county's econom

The project's primary focus was to define ways to expand the county's economic base and enrich the standard of living

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Researchers from Georgia Tech's Economic Development Institute (EDI) met April 18 with members of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and the Development Authority of Jefferson County (DAJC) to present the final version of a strategic assessment of the county's economic development positioning and potential.

Conducted in 2001, the study represents the culmination of extensive data collection, research, analysis and personal interviews designed to arrive at "Recommendations for a Strategic Economic Development Plan for Jefferson County."

EDI's Joy Wilkins explained that the project's mission was intended to provide information and recommendations compatible with the community's vision.

The primary focus of the assessment was to define actions that will help Jefferson County expand its economic base and improve the lives of citizens.

She said EDI's April 18 presentation of the executive summary represented only a small percentage of the volume of findings contained in the full report.

Wilkins and EDI's Larry Edens presented the summary in five sections, including a Local Economic Review, Survey of Community Leaders, Industrial Development Assessment, Community Economic Development Issues and Recommendations.

The Local Economic Review (Section 1) consisted of socioeconomic data gathered and analyzed for Jefferson and comparable counties in groupings that included the 14-county Central Savannah River Area (Region 7), the nine-county Labor Market Area, a four-county Peer Group with socioeconomic characteristics similar to Jefferson. Research findings showed that, when compared to the various groupings, Jefferson County fared better than most or all in manufacturing employment, teenage pregnancy rate, infant mortality rate, crime rate, high school dropout rate and average weekly wages in manufacturing.

Jefferson County fared worse than most or all groupings in population growth, per capita income, job growth unemployment rate, poverty rate, and food stamp participation rate.

Section 2 of the summary consisted of a Survey of Community Leaders. Researchers conducted confidential interviews with 24 local leaders with diverse perspectives on economic development issues. Interviews were designed to collect input on community growth potential, expectations and goals.

Community leaders said the county's greatest assets are quality of life, highways and railroads, while the greatest liabilities are a low-skilled workforce, the intra-county rivalry between Louisville, Wrens and Wadley and the lack of industrial infrastructure and buildings.

Leaders said the highest rated development opportunities were tourism development, new industrial operations and existing industry expansion. The greatest threats to economic growth were plant closings and layoffs, lack of community and industrial infrastructure and no-growth factions within the county.

Section 3, Industrial Development Assessment, concluded that the lack of DAJC's ownership of industrial property or buildings places the county at a disadvantage in dealing with prospects.

Community Economic Development Issues (Section 4) identified numerous strengths and weaknesses within the categories of Leadership and Community Vision, Community Diversity, Workforce Development and Training, Industry Base Diversification, Entrepreneurial Development, Industrial Properties, Community Competitiveness, City of Wadley, Overall Economic Development Program and Community Growth and Development.

Recommendations (Section 5) were based on the information, research, analysis and findings derived through a comprehensive strategic assessment process that may take as many as 10 years to implement. Recommendations were compiled into eight categories containing multiple suggestions.

Recommendations for Community Building and Betterment included publicizing accomplishments that reflect intra-county unity. Without these efforts the prevailing perception of intra-county rivalry issues may continue to exist despite any progress made, the report said.

One of the recommendations included in Expansion of Education and Training Systems included the formulation of a community workforce development program that utilizes existing industry to retrain displaced workers with new skills.

Existing Industry Support should include expanding career development programs for high school students through a collaborative effort between existing industry and the Sandersville Technical College satellite campus, opening adjacent to Jefferson County High School in the fall.

Entrepreneurial Development and Capacity Building could be bolstered by developing an "incubator without walls" concept through which management and technical assistance is readily available to new businesses. An urgently needed component of Industrial and Community Infrastructure is the DAJC's acquisition of competitive industrial property of 50-100 acres. Privately owned property at Louisville Industrial Park was recommended because of its central location and availability of utilities and other on-site improvements. Marketing and Recruitment would benefit from DAJC's development of a comprehensive information packet on Jefferson County. A priority recommendation for Strengthening the Economic Development Program was the establishment of consistent and stable funding for the DAJC based on a levy of 1.0 mils on the county tax digest.

A recommendation for the final category, Providing for Quality Living, included the need for ongoing countywide support to promote the vitality and attractiveness of the central business districts in the community.

EDI Regional Manager Todd Hurd said the sheer volume of data collection and assessment tools used and the variety of priorities and perspectives expressed by interview participants can easily result mixed opinions and outlooks within any community. He said the county's willingness to take on a study of this magnitude speaks to the potential already in place to position the community in sight of a viable future that is within its grasp.

"The fact that the community undertook the project and gave themselves the opportunity to move forward reflects great character and the leadership required to take the next step," said Hurd.

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Last modified: April 24, 2002