Falling temperatures over the weekend did nothing to dampen the Christmas spirit in Gibson and Stapleton. Nearly 150 Glascock County residents celebrated Sunday night in the Gibson Town Square while more than 100 residents of Stapleton were on hand for their festivities Saturday night.
Investigation into disappearance continues
• Officers still search for leads in Bill Farrer's disappearance
By Ben Nelms
Beyond Rocky Comfort's banks
The story has taken the form of a genuine mystery. Nearly three months have passed since 66 year-old Louisville resident Bill "Bo Peep" Farrer was discovered missing after his truck and boat were found abandoned at his favorite fishing spot on Rocky Comfort Creek.
Since his disappearance Sept. 12 the most massive search in Jefferson County history was undertaken and sheriff's investigators and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents have searched records and conducted interviews. Very few clues beyond the sparse collection of those present at the apparent site of his disappearance have offered family, friends and investigators any solace for their efforts.
Sheriff Gary Hutchins said his office and GBI investigators continue to explore any leads that develop. Investigators continue to be aware that, regardless of speculation and rumor, Farrer's disappearance can fall under only three major scenarios. He was either involved in an accident/injury/suicide incident or perhaps walked away from a staged accident or was the victim of foul play.
The investigation has produced numerous facts, but none that can currently account for Farrer's disappearance under the three scenarios surrounding his fate.
The history of the mystery
Investigators have interviewed approximately 20 family members, friends, neighbors, former employers and people who owed Farrer money and those from whom he had borrowed money. Though the potential for administering polygraphs remains an option under the foul play scenario, no apparent need for the examination exists at this time because no evidence has surfaced indicating that foul play was involved in the disappearance, a sheriff's investigator said.
A facet of Farrer's life that became a part of the investigation involved his finances. Investigators accessed bank statements from December 2001 through October 2002 and found nothing out of the ordinary. Farrer had no monthly mortgage or car payments because he owned his home and two vehicles. A check of his credit card showed that he maintained only a small balance and that no charges had been made on the account since his disappearance.
Investigators and family members alike were able to determine that Farrer has never received a monthly Social Security check even though he is eligible to do so. Also determined was that Farrer received no retirement from his former jobs. His only apparent source of income was the money received from inventories conducted at local businesses. Investigators said Farrer's living expenses appeared to be supplemented in past months through a $7,500 personal loan from a friend and a $5,000 bank loan, both acquired in early 2002. Another aspect of the financial life of the missing man were three personal loans made by Farrer to friends. These included loans for $9,800, $1,500 and $500. He was also known to have helped friends with living expenses and other needs, investigators said.
Speculation surrounding the walk-away scenario has placed Farrer in locations from North Carolina to Hawaii, with the island state being one of his favorite places to visit. Farrer's sister, Mary Baker, confirmed that her brother had visited Hawaii two or three times. She confirmed with Delta, the airline her brother customarily flew, that Farrer had not been on a Delta flight to Hawaii on either Sept. 13 or 14.
Another area examined by investigators was whether any local residents left the area at approximately the same time Farrer disappeared. A check of the area showed that no individuals are unaccounted for at this time.
Investigators said a check of Farrers' house indicated a neatly kept home where nothing appeared to have been disturbed. Though open to speculation by many in the community since his disappearance, investigators said they cannot reach definitive conclusions about the absence of bank statements, bills or junk mail or the presence of a set of dentures. Also found were several firearms owned by Farrer.
Hutchins said that investigators will return to the location where Farrer's boat and truck were found in coming weeks and will search a wider area than was covered in the initial search. Consistent cooler weather will allow some of the underbrush to have died down and will diminish the chance of searchers being snake bitten. He said hunting clubs using property in the area were notified prior to the beginning of hunting season to report anything found in the woods that might pertain to the case.
"The family needs closure and his friends need closure," said Hutchins. "This office also wants closure. We remain open to all of the three possibilities that would account for Farrer's disappearance and will continue to check out leads as they develop."
The search and investigation for Farrer began when his boat, fishing gear and truck were found on property bordering Rocky Comfort Creek where he frequently fished. The creek is accessible by a narrow dirt road approximately two miles off Clarks Mill Road near Louisville.
Friends initially responded in early afternoon Sept. 13 to what appeared to be an accident or injury that was thought to have resulted in a drowning. Farrer's fishing boat was found, front-end down, apparently having been pulled over a fallen tree positioned more than a foot above the water. Inside the boat friends found three fishing rods and other gear along with Farrer's hat lying upside down. They searched Farrer's abandoned truck and found the keys inside. Friends searched the immediate area of the creek, largely in the water but also along the banks. They found nothing.
Law enforcement personnel called in the Washington County dive team and before dark they were in the water searching. Divers' efforts were supplanted by those of nearly two dozen friends who once again walked and felt their way in water averaging four to six feet deep. On Saturday, the first full day of the search, more than 100 volunteers arrived, along with dive teams from Washington and McDuffie counties and cadaver dog Zena and handler Angie Batten from Dogs South Search and Rescue in Jesup. Approximately 35 local volunteers searched both sides of the creek bank in case Farrer had become somehow disoriented and wandered off into the swamp. They found nothing.
The search at Rocky Comfort Creek continued for 18 days. Eight dive teams from Georgia and Tennessee, two independent blackwater divers from Brunswick and Savannah and five cadaver dogs from Jesup to Nashville kept up the search. Also vital to the search were the 75 or more local residents who participated daily as well as the countless people, organizations, businesses and local governments working behind the scenes to help provide the food, drinks, supplies and equipment needed to keep the effort going.
The search culminated with the diversion of approximately one-third mile of the creek after permission was granted by Georgia Emergency Management Agency and Georgia Environmental Protection Division to dig a channel and drain the dammed area. Farmers, local and regional construction companies donated more than $3 million in equipment and labor for the project. Yet the diversion produced not one piece of evidence indicating that Farrer had been in the water or suffered any kind of accident or injury there. No glasses, no boots, no gun, no shred of clothing. Nothing.
What had originally looked to most as an accident or injury death gave way over time to other, more disturbing, scenarios. Farrer's body unable to be found at the site, his boat and tackle intact and the uncharacteristic manner in which his truck and its contents were found helped fuel speculation that he had either walked away or had become the victim of foul play. Central to that reason as a possibility for the disappearance was a report by Farrer in February that he had been attacked by two men with a stun gun at the entrance to the property on Clarks Mill Road where his truck and boat were found Sept. 13.
Nearly three months after his disappearance, some insist his disappearance is the result of foul play, others believe he walked away and yet others believe he will be found in the swamp, the victim of an accident, injury or suicide. Indisputable today is the fact that the mystery that began Sept. 12 has not ended. Many of Farrer's family and friends continue to ask questions and seek answers. And though time passes and other events take hold of community consciousness, there remains a steadfast group of people who seek closure to the mystery of the disappearance of the "man who never met a stranger."
Advanced hired to haul trash out of county
• County trash will be taken to the Richmond County landfill
By Ben Nelms
Jefferson County commissioners moved one step closer to solving the upcoming problem of disposing of much of the county's trash while the next cell of the Mennonite Church Road landfill undergoes construction.
By a unanimous vote, the board gave tentative approval Monday to Advanced Disposal Services to temporarily haul trash out of the county during the interim period.
The Advanced proposal was the most financially advantageous for the county, said Chairman Gardner Hobbs. Terms of the agreement call for the company to place two compactors at the landfill. Company representatives said each unit will hold 42 compacted yards or between seven and eleven tons, depending on the type of material deposited.
The cost to the county will be $200 for each compactor, a rate of $115 for each load hauled away and a $33 per ton disposal fee. County trash will be hauled to the Richmond County landfill. The county will continue to pick up trash in green boxes.
Advanced representatives agreed to a request by Commissioner Tommy New to haul trash picked up under contract in Wrens and Stapleton to Richmond County rather than bringing it to the Jefferson County landfill. The target date for Advanced to begin hauling trash to Richmond is Jan. 15.
Commissioners voted unanimously at a Nov. 25 called meeting to keep the landfill open and finish construction of the next cell.
Also unanimous was a vote to contract with Advanced Disposal Services to temporarily haul trash out of the county during the construction period.
Other companies providing bids were BFI, Waste Management and Sullivan Environmental.
The contract will be on the consent agenda and voted on at the commission's Dec. 10 regular session.
In a related matter, commissioners charged county auditor Walter Jones and county administrator James Rogers Nov. 25 with researching the issues involved in increasing the tipping fees and user fees at the landfill once the next cell is complete and the operation if fully functional.
Determining a way to generate additional, yet equitable, revenue to offset the growing financial drain at the landfill has been stated by Jones and others for more than three years.
Determining such a remedy would help bring to fruition the Sept. 2001 unanimous vote by the board to address the increasing dollar drain.
Click It or Ticket road checks lead to arrests
By Ben Nelms
Freezing temperatures Saturday night may have curtailed many outside activities, but the weather could not diminish the resolve of the multi-jurisdictional road check to promote safety along Jefferson County's highways.
The purpose of the road check was to increase seatbelt use and awareness and to try to save lives, said Wrens Police Chief and East Central Georgia Traffic Enforcement Network Regional Coordinator David Hannah.
"We looked at the importance of saving lives, especially children's lives," he said. "This is the kind of thing the governor's office promotes through the network. It is all about buckling up. When people buckle up, it saves lives."
More than 40 citations were issued during the seven-hour road check that covered the area of US Highway 1 from Wadley to Wrens. Most of the citations involved vehicle operation. These included seat belt and child restraint violations and those pertaining to vehicle insurance, tag expiration and driver and vehicle licensure. Other charges included driving under the influence, open container violations and possession of cocaine.
Sheriff Gary Hutchins said the freezing weather did not deter the reason or the results of the effort.
"I believe the road check was a success," said Hutchins. "We had a good response from law enforcement in the cities and the county and its good to have that visibility. But we were out there to encourage people to buckle up more than anything else. We encourage everybody to continue to buckle up."
A sampling of 80 vehicles passing through the road check showed that 22 drivers were not wearing seat belts. The same was true of 10 of the 29 vehicles carrying a front seat passenger.
Hannah and Hutchins said the focus of the road check was not to see how many tickets could be written. Periodic major road checks are important to reinforce the need for ongoing public awareness of the need for safer highways. Road checks will continue into 2003, they said.
Agencies participating in the multi-jurisdictional road check included Wadley Police, Wrens Police, state Department of Motor Vehicle Safety, state parole, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, Centerville Police, Pooler Police, and state Department of Highway Safety.
Instrumental in processing violators at the scene was the mobile enforcement unit of the Middle Georgia Traffic Enforcement Network. Outfitted by funds from grants and local businesses, the unit contains drug and alcohol analysis equipment, telephone access to state and federal crime databases, fingerprint equipment, laptop computer and two holding cells.
Also Saturday, a joint effort from noon until 2 p.m. between Louisville, Wrens and Wadley police departments, sheriff's office and St. Paul Baptist Church resulted in 15 residents receiving car seats for their young children at Ingles grocery store in Louisville.