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July 25, 2002 Issue

Morris intends to purchase newspaper

Newspapers focus on the community will not change; staff remains in place

Special Report

Joyce Beverly, publisher of The News and Farmer / The Jefferson Reporter, announced Wednesday that Morris Communications Corporation has signed a letter of intent to purchase Fall Line Publishing, Inc., which owns the newspaper.

Morris Communications Corporation serves more than three-quarters of a million people from coast to coast with 36 newspapers, 27 dailies and nine non-dailies, including The Augusta Chronicle. The company is based in Augusta.

Beverly will remain with the newspaper and will continue to be responsible for its operation during a one-year transition period.

"This is the logical next step for our business and our community," Beverly said. "The advantages of partnering with an organization like Morris are tremendous. Our readers and advertisers will benefit from a continually improving newspaper whose focus is community service. At the same time, our employees will enjoy an immediate surge of support from an organization that knows newspapers, and the CSRA, better than any other in the country. We are excited about what we will learn from them."

Morris Communications President Will Morris said the newspaper will become part of the company's community newspaper group, which will allow it to take advantage of the resources and synergies of the larger entity.

"This is a marriage of resources that makes good business sense for both parties," Morris said. "Joyce Beverly and her staff have perfected a blend of community coverage, substantive news reporting and excellent service to their advertisers, and we hope to extend elements of their program to our other community papers."

The newspaper may eventually be printed on The Chronicle's presses, but its style, format and focus will not change.

"We are looking at seamless changes that will improve the product and improve the way we produce it," Beverly said. "This will be a positive thing for all the parties involved. We are very fortunate to become part of a newspaper corporation that has the ability to do so much.

Julian Miller, president of The Chronicle, said the quality of the Jefferson County newspaper and its staff will be valuable additions to the publications produced by the Augusta operation.

"We have been tremendously impressed with the quality of community journalism and the respect the Jefferson and Glascock county communities have for this publication," he said. "In both news coverage and advertising effectiveness, I feel this staff can bring a lot to our other publications. We look forward to having them on board."

Morris Communications is a privately held media company with diversified holdings that include newspaper and magazine publishing, outdoor advertising, radio broadcasting, book publishing and distribution, and computer services.

For more information, visit www.morris.com.

What does this mean?
Click here for Publisher Joyce Beverly's column

Department of Natural Resources Ranger Brooks Varnell works his search dog off-leash during the July 18 multi-agency search in south Jefferson County for a Virginia man who fled after being arrested earlier in Louisville.

Chase leads to manhunt

What should have been a low profile arrest turned into much more

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

What began as a low profile arrest July 18 in Louisville escalated quickly into a high-speed chase, a manhunt in south Jefferson County and the eventual incarceration of a Virginia man near the home of relatives outside Wadley.

Tommy Lee Watson, 41, of Danville, Va., was charged Monday with three counts of aggravated assault as well as escape, reckless driving, passing within 200 feet of oncoming traffic, passing in a no passing zone, driving on the wrong side of the road and no seat belt, according to a spokesman for the Sheriff's office.

The series of incidents began mid-morning at the state probation office on Broad Street in Louisville where Watson had gone to consult with officers on a matter relating to his probation. A Sheriff's investigator was called to the office to escort Watson to the county jail after he was informed that a warrant for his arrest had been issued regarding a probation violation, the spokesman said.

The investigator escorted Watson onto the street and allowed him to lock his car before going to jail. Watson locked the passenger's side door and slid into the driver's seat, where he quickly locked the door and rolled up the window. The officer told Watson he was under arrest and ordered him to leave the vehicle.

After Watson refused to comply and started the vehicle, the officer struck the driver's side window and then the front windshield, which shattered on impact, and attempted to gain access to Watson or the car key. The officer was struck, but not injured by the car as Watson backed out of the parking space and drove away.

Watson fled the city on SR 24 and began driving at high rates of speed, being pursued initially by the arresting officer and subsequently by other officers east of Louisville.

Watson turned the car around on several occasions on SR 24 and on Blackjack Road, each time heading in the opposite direction. Finally heading back toward Louisville, he ran a roadblock set up outside the city limits, nearly hitting an officer on the ground.

Watson entered Louisville and turned south on US Highway 1 and then onto Old Highway 1 with officers in pursuit. During the pursuit on Old Highway 1, when no other vehicles were in sight, one shot was fired toward the rear of Watson's vehicle in an unsuccessful attempt to flatten a rear tire. At times during the pursuit Watson's rate of speed often exceeded 100 miles per hour, investigators said.

Officers followed him to the vicinity of the residence of family members outside Wadley but were unable to follow close enough to determine exactly where he exited because the dust kicked up by Watson's vehicle on the unpaved road required that they drive slower due to limited visibility, according to Louisville aviator Pierre Smith.

Smith had noticed the chase on SR 24 from his crop duster and followed from the air. He assisted officers by circling and diving toward the house where Watson had exited the vehicle and fled on foot. Smith flew back to Louisville minutes later after running low on fuel.

"I thought I was going to see a bad wreck," Smith said Monday, describing Watson's driving during the incident. "He was endangering many lives, passing on double yellow lines and barely missing oncoming cars and semis."

Officers found Watson's abandoned vehicle minutes later and began searching the area.

Officers and enforcement personnel from multiple agencies already alerted to the incident converged in the area within a short time and established a search perimeter, not knowing the direction Watson had taken on foot after abandoning his car a few minutes earlier.

Officers soon determined that Watson was not inside the residence owned by his family members.

Small groups of officers searched the area around the sparsely placed residences in the immediate locale, some were stationed along the roads that crisscrossed the landscape northwest of Wadley, while others methodically searched the endless places in woods, thickets, old outbuildings and corn fields in the nearly four square-mile perimeter where he could have hidden.

Sheriff Gary Hutchins met with Watson's mother early afternoon at the residence to discuss her request to try to get her son to come out of hiding and her promise to call 911 if he did.

Hutchins said Tuesday that he determined that it was appropriate to take that route due to all the circumstances involved in the incident.

Within 30 minutes of ordering officers to pull back out of the immediate area, Watson's mother placed a call to 911 stating that her son was at the residence.

Officers responded and took Watson into custody within minutes.

Watson is being held in Jefferson County jail on $100,000 bond.

"We just don't need things like this happening in Jefferson County," Hutchins said later, referencing Watson's behavior through the series of events.

Participating agencies included Sheriff's deputies and investigators, Louisville Police Department, Department of Natural Resources K-9 unit, Wadley Police Department, Georgia State Patrol, state probation and parole personnel and Jefferson County Correctional Institute.

EPD issues order over Wadley spill

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The Georgia Environmental Protections Division (EPD) issued a proposed consent order last week after discovering that the city of Wadley had failed to make the required notifications of a May 24th overflow in the city's water system that caused untreated sewage water to spill into Williamson Swamp Creek.

City Administrator Carl Wagster said Monday that the physical requirements outlined in the order have been met and the numerous compliance issues addressed in a May 31 letter to the city have been remediated.

The only requirement not satisfied in the July 16 proposed consent order is the payment of a $5,000 penalty incurred because the spill occurred and due to the lack of proper notifications specified in the city's permit.

The spills resulted from a problem that began when an air compressor attached to a pump used by the city's water system became inoperative, Wagster said.

Though the exact reason for the mechanical failure is unknown, the result was the entry of approximately 165,000 gallons of clean water into the sewer system and, according to EPD, the eventual discharge of two spills containing untreated sewage into Williamson Swamp Creek.

The volume of the spills is not known.

EPD classified one event as a spill because, by definition, a quantity of untreated sewage entered the creek.

The other was considered a major spill because, again according to definition, it appears to have exceeded the threshold of 10,000 gallons.

Mayor Herman Baker said Monday that he and others in city hall responded to the incident when it occurred May 24.

He said he was not aware until days later that there was more than one spill and that it involved sewage.

"I was so concerned about getting the water stopped that I didn't take time to see what the current rules were," said Baker. "At the time I didn't realize it was a sewage spill."

Regulations state that when a spill of any quantity occurs the city would be responsible for immediately notifying EPD in Atlanta or the local health department, posting a notice as close as possible to where the spill occurred and where it entered a waterway, establishing a monitoring program of the affected waters and reporting the incident to the local media within 24 hours of becoming aware of the incident, submitting a written report of the spills to EPD within five days of a major spill and for not publishing a notice of the spills in the legal organ within seven days of a major spill.

The city was also cited because the instructions furnished by EPD on May 29 and 30 were not complied with by the June 12 site visit, according to the proposed consent order.

Wrens council votes to contract out sanitation service

Advanced Disposal should reinstitute the city's twice a week pickup

By Parish Howard

At its July council meeting the City of Wrens voted to proceed with negotiations to contract out its sanitation service for residents and businesses.

The council voted 3-2 at its July 9 meeting, with Councilmen Sydney McGahee, Dollye Ward and Erskine Lane suggesting the city sign a contract with Advanced Disposal, a regional waste disposal service that recently purchased the Wrens-based Lewis Disposal.

Mayor J.J. Rabun opposed the suggestion of the city using an outside disposal service but did not cast a vote in the matter.

"This really began in March when the city began a three-month trial going from twice-a-week to once-a-week pickups," said City Administrator Donna Scott Johnson. "The council was trying to see if it would help us save money and help pay for new trash compactors."

The city found the difference in cost from twice-a-week to once-a-week pickups to be negligible.

On Monday, July 22 the council met to discuss possible changes to the contract before signing with Advanced.

City Attorney John Pilcher suggested that the city make it "painfully clear" to the new service provider that according to state law, he will have to obtain permission from the Jefferson County Commission before transporting any waste across county lines for disposal.

"Residents will still be using the same carts, at least for a while, so I don't believe they are going to see any big changes," Johnson said. "Anyone using the residential size cart will still pay their bills at City Hall and if they have any questions or concerns about their service we will give them a number to call."

Rates for twice a week pick ups are expected to go from $9 per month with the city to $11.45 per container per month with the new provider.

Small businesses within the city who use the garbage bins like those used by residents will be treated as residents and pay their bills through the city. Customers like restaurants and schools who use larger dumpsters will deal directly with Advanced Disposal.

Johnson said that rates for these larger 8-yard containers are expected to rise from $12 per pickup for the city to $19 per pickup with the new provider.

The city intends to sign a three-year contract.

Other details regarding the contract were expected to be discussed later this week, but Johnson and the mayor said they did not expect the council to sign the contract before the city's August meeting.

The News and Farmer P.O. Box 487 Louisville, GA 30434
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Last modified: July 24, 2002