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January 9, 2003 Issue


Housefire smothered...
Wrens firefighters climb and hack their way into an attic at 104 Center Street to douse flames. The department had two units respond to the call which came in at 4:44 p.m. Sunday afternoon and remained on the scene until about 7:30 p.m. Damage from the flames was mostly contained to one room in the attic. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.


20-year-old dies in holding cell

Screven County man hung himself less than two hours after arrest

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

A Screven County man died Jan. 3 after hanging himself with the draw-cord from his sweatshirt in a holding cell at Jefferson County jail.

He was pronounced dead at Louisville's Jefferson Hospital only hours after being arrested on burglary charges.

Christopher John Wayman, 20, of Newington, died at the hospital after attempts by paramedics to revive him at Jefferson County jail failed. Paramedics responded to the jail after being called at 5:50 p.m., according to Rural Metro Director and Deputy Coroner Mike Bennett.

Paramedics at the scene checked Wayman and placed him on a cardiac monitor. They began treatment by defibrillating the man three times and administered CPR and medication but with no results.

Wayman was transported to Jefferson Hospital at 6:28 p.m. and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

Bennett said Friday the autopsy determined that the cause of death was asphyxiation. The body and the cord from the sweatshirt were sent to the state crime lab.

Wayman was arrested at 3:54 p.m. at a Wadley residence. Wadley police, sheriff's investigators and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents sought Wayman as a suspect in a residential burglary committed shortly before noon, said Wadley Police Chief Ben Brown.

Officers arrived at the target location and spoke with Wayman after entering the residence with the permission of the owner.

After finding a .38 caliber handgun from the burglary in Wayman's pants pocket he showed officers the location of the two, 12-gauge shotguns and a laptop computer taken in the residential burglary.

Wayman was taken into custody and transported to Jefferson County jail.

After arriving at 4:04 p.m. he was placed alone in a holding cell until he could be processed and booked for burglary, according to Sheriff Gary Hutchins.

Wayman was checked by jailers on three occasions between the time he arrived at the jail and when he was discovered at 5:50 p.m., according to Hutchins.

Going to the cell for the fourth time, a jailer seeking additional information from Wayman found him with the draw-cord from his sweatshirt tied around his neck and the man suspended from the heavy metal grate that covers a recessed fluorescent light fixture in the holding cell. Jailers reportedly cut Wayman down and called paramedics immediately.

Hutchins said the GBI was notified of the incident and asked to conduct an investigation.

Wayman had been in Wadley visiting a relative for the past several weeks.

He was currently on probation in another county for first-degree criminal damage to property and criminal trespass.

He also had prior charges for simple battery, obstruction of an officer and driving under the influence.

Wadley police were initially alerted to the residential burglary after the alarm was tripped.

Officers discovered that a shot had been fired at the alarm, possibly in the belief that the unit contained a camera.

The noise from the gun is likely what caused the alarm to be tripped, said a spokesman for the sheriff's office.





County Extension coordinator retires

Tommy Cummings spent over 10 years helping Jefferson County farmers

By Parish Howard
Editor

Tommy Cummings has spent over 10 years in Jefferson County as an extension agent, but he has spent nearly his entire life in agriculture.

His roots are sunk deep in Georgia soil, in the business of growing things, in the business he loves.

It is no wonder the local farmers he has worked with respect him.

"Tommy is one of the best county ag agents we've ever had," said Jim Gay, a north Jefferson producer. "He has never worked on a time table. I mean, if you called him, he was willing to meet you in your field at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. or anytime you needed. Whenever you called, he would always come. Through the good times and the bad times, the high yield years and the drought, he was right there, helping out."

After 13 and 1/2 years with the Georgia Extension Service, Cummings is retiring and he and his wife, Nita, are preparing to say goodbye to East Central Georgia. The couple is moving to Greene County, where his wife grew up.

Cummings grew up in rural areas and his life was tied to agriculture from the start. He was born in a milling town where his father worked for a cotton mill.

His mother's people farmed mountainous land in east Alabama.

Cummings spent his youth in Heard County and he knew fairly early on that he wanted a career in agriculture.

After receiving a general ag science degree from Berry College, he went to work in sales for Purina farm products. Later he worked for Goldkist as a farm supply store manager. He spent 21 years with the company before going to work with McBride Gin and Farm Supply in Waynesboro.

In early 1966 he heard that there was an opening with the Georgia Extension Service.

"I'd been thinking about it for years," Cummings said. "At one point, while we were living in Florida, I'd even applied, and then Goldkist made me a district manager."

This time, he felt the time was right. He applied and was accepted.

"Now I wish I had gotten involved with extension earlier," Cummings said on his last day in the Louisville office, surrounded by boxes of books and mementos from his years serving local farmers. "I love the work."

In 1989 he began his career with the service. He spent one and a half years in Crawford County, then a year and a half in Sly County, before taking the Ag Agent and County Coordinator's position in Jefferson County in June of 1992.

"The first two places were small, and there wasn't an awful lot of agriculture, but it was a foot in the door," he said. "I was an agent."

When he heard about the opening in Jefferson County, so close to Waynesboro where his family had spent so much time with Goldkist, he was all over it.

"Jefferson County has been a good place for us," he said. "We've really enjoyed it here. It makes it a harder place to leave than some of the places we've lived."

In the decade he has spent here, he has a variety of people with a variety of problems.

"I get calls all the time about home gardens, lawns, ornamental plants, you name it," Cummings said. "We get a lot of calls about big yellow spots in people's yards, or dead spots in their shrubs. It's usually some insect problem. In some more metropolitan counties, 95 percent of their calls involve landscaping."

But here in Jefferson County, where agriculture and forestry is still the primary industry, the majority of his time has been spent with farmers.

Professional farmers call about all sorts of things, he said.

"When a farmer calls, it could be about anything," he said. "From weak spots in their field, nematodes, insects, fertility problems, catfish ponds."

He has helped plan grower meetings, need assessments, programs for citizen groups, put farmers in touch with specialists. He schedules half a dozen or so pesticide licensing training programs every year, not to mention farm tours and his giving ag updates at 8-10 local civic clubs.

In all, Cummings guesses he plans 30 or more programs and meetings every year.

"There are a lot of programs we wouldn't have if he hadn't been there helping to set them up," Gay said. "Tommy was instrumental in forming our Georgia Ag Committee which has given us access to legislators we never would have spoken to directly."

The committee is made up of farmers and agricultural producers from Jefferson and surrounding counties who take local input to the people who make decisions that effect growers all over the state and country.

Even though he is moving on, Cummings still has the subject on his mind.

"We still don't know what the new farm bill will do for our farmers," he said. "But I can tell you, there is a dire need for help.

"Although the county has had some rain this fall and winter, and some of the markets are a little stronger than they have been, still, the last time we had good growing conditions, before the drought started, was in 1996."

The county has been under drought conditions for the last six years.

A big issue he sees facing farmers everywhere is the spread between high production costs and low market values.

"In 2002 people are spending between 10 and 11 percent of their take home pay on food and 40 percent of that is for eating out," Cummings said. "Compare that to 1965 when food costs were about 15 percent of your take home pay and you never ate out."

He then compares those numbers to Soviet block countries where food costs take about 50 percent of a family's take home pay.

"Agriculture is important," Cummings said. "It's important that as a country we are always able to produce enough food for ourselves. If you look at countries across the world, one common denominator among the ones where you have truly poor political, economic or social situations, is that they have very poor food production. They can't feed all of their people.

"I think most farmers would agree that they would love to not need the government subsidies. But until the market improves, until they find away to level that playing field between production costs and market values, they are necessary to keep producers producing. And it's really not that much when you consider that only about half of 1 percent of the total federal budget goes into agriculture. Without the subsidies, we either wouldn't have anything to eat or it would cost us a whole lot more."

In his time he has witnessed the state's downsizing of the extension service agents by continual budget cuts. He has seen the number of agents drop from around 500 the year he started to around 320.

"I believe that the agent's role and need for them is as strong as it has ever been," Cummings said.

Counties like Jefferson, where agriculture is so very important to the local economy are in even greater need he feels.

Jefferson County in particular needs an agent's expertise and resources.

He explained that the area poses interesting obstacles to farmers in that it is on the line between the Piedmont area of the state and the coastal plains.

"That means, we have all types of soil," Cummings said. "You can find sand, clay, and everything in between in the same field. It can be a real challenge when you think about the trouble with insects and fertility."

He hopes the University of Georgia will be able to fill his position soon.

"If anyone is in need of an ag agent in the mean time, they can still call the office here in Louisville or come by," Cummings said. "We've set up a referral system with surrounding ag agents."





Local Sandersville Technical College campus opens

More than 70 students enroll in classes at local new campus

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The wait is over. Residents, business and industry in Jefferson County who have long been proponents of having a local campus of Sandersville Technical College had their dreams realized this week with the opening of the Jefferson County Center adjacent to Jefferson County High School.

"It's like a dream come true," said Sandersville Tech President Dr. Jack Sterrett. "The people of Jefferson County have needed a post-secondary center and we are happy to be a part of meeting that need. But this is only the beginning."

Weekday classes began Tuesday at the 18-acre campus.

With an enrollment of 70 students for winter quarter and an expected enrollment of 250 by fall quarter, the 10,000 square-foot building will provide space for students of all ages from Jefferson, Glascock, Washington and Burke counties, said Center Director Matt Hodges.

The curriculum emphasizes a dual role to meet the needs of the widest possible segment of the Jefferson County community and surrounding counties by featuring classes targeting the general public and students at Jefferson County High School.

Current classes available for adults of all ages include English, mathematics, psychology, welding, personal computer repair, Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) and commercial truck driving at the 15-acre CDL course less than two miles away on Mennonite Church Road.

The welding lab offers the most advanced welding equipment currently available in the state, said Hodges.

"The initial classes being offered should be very good for many of the working people who want to go back to school to acquire additional education in areas like nursing," he said.

Classes offered in conjunction with Jefferson County High School include courses and certificates in personal computer repair, welding, Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Certified Manufacturing Specialist (CMS). The approach is to complement both students and industry in helping to develop job opportunities.

"The intention behind the CMS certificate is to provide our young men and women with a certificate to get them into the industrial workforce along with their high school diploma," said Hodges. "Along with this we intend to work with any industry in the county and to be available to them in workforce development."

The relationship between the technical college and the high school is one that meets the workforce needs far beyond that of the old concept of a trade school. In today's world, a full 80 percent of jobs require some amount of technical skill, said Hodges.

"The marriage of the technical college and the high school benefits students because they are getting a step ahead by taking some of their college courses now," he said. "This provides a kind of seamless education. For example, a student can complete the CNA program while in high school, work in the field while obtaining an LPN here, then continue work in the medical field while completing a registered nursing program in Augusta or elsewhere."

The cost of attending should not pose a problem for most students, Hodges said. Anyone with a Georgia high school diploma, regardless of age, is eligible to have 100 percent of tuition and book charges covered by funding from the HOPE scholarship.

As the school's director, Hodges brings with him an MS in Education from Troy State University and three years at Augusta Technical College with experience in various areas of administration. Though new to the job in a new school, his goal for the Jefferson County Center encompasses all of Jefferson County.

"We're a part of this county," he said. "We are going to work not only with the schools, but with local industry and business to develop and build on the skills of the workforce. That includes working with companies large and small and family businesses."

Though the campus has been open less than one week, plans have already been submitted for the construction of the next building, said Sterrett.

Also underway are talks with Georgia Southern University to bring undergraduate and master's level courses to the Jefferson County Center.

The Jefferson County Center currently employs 20 faculty and staff. True to Sterrett's original plan several years ago, a majority of those employed would be local residents.

Fourteen of the 20 employed live in Jefferson County.





Georgia plans to fight terrorists' potential smallpox release

While there is no current threat of a smallpox release, public health officials prepare for the possibility

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The ongoing threat of terrorist activities across America and the potential for chemical, biological or radiological attacks on citizens has garnered a lot of attention from the White House on down in recent months.

The Dec. 13 announcement of the federal plan for countering the potential release of smallpox by terrorists led to a plan of action by the Georgia Division of Public Health and locally through the 13-county East Central Health District in Augusta. A Dec. 18 meeting attended by public health officials, healthcare and emergency medical staff to learn about the newly implemented Georgia smallpox plan was held at the district health office.

Mirroring the federal plan, the Georgia plan draws a distinction between pre-event and post-event vaccination, said state epidemiologist Cherrie Dreznek. Pre-event vaccination, a scenario in which smallpox virus has not been introduced into the population, will be implemented in three phases. Health officials gauged the phased approach to offer protection initially to individuals who would be most likely to become exposed to the virus if a release occurred. Georgia's initial Phase 1 implementation provides voluntary vaccination for smallpox healthcare teams and public health response teams, made up largely of medical staff in the state's 15 primary trauma centers and public health staff who would likely respond to a smallpox release. Phase 2 would provide voluntary vaccination for first responders such police, emergency medical technicians and firefighters. Voluntary vaccination will be made available to the general public in Phase 3.

Drenzek said the limitations built into Phase 1 vaccinations exist because there is no current threat of a smallpox release. Also involved is the precaution of balancing the benefits with the possible adverse reactions that may occur upon vaccination.

The other aspect of the Georgia plan, known as post-event vaccination, involves the scenario that would trigger mass voluntary vaccinations if smallpox were released into the general population.

The good news, said Drenzek, is that the existing stockpile of smallpox vaccine from the 1950s can be effectively diluted up to a ratio of 1:5, thus providing 150-200 million doses. The development of a new vaccine is currently under way that will provide another 200 million doses by 2004. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) holds the vaccine stockpile.

Though current data is limited, findings indicate that the vaccine is 100 percent effective against illness for up to 10 years, 80 percent effective against illness for 20 years and 90 percent effective in preventing death for 50 years, she said.

Physical reactions to smallpox vaccination are usually slight and may include soreness or redness in the area where the vaccine was administered.

Glands in the armpit near the site may become swollen and enlarged and may be accompanied by a low-grade fever. In rare cases, adverse reactions have been known to include infections that lead to the death of the individual.

Such cases occur in one or two people out of every one million people vaccinated, according to CDC.

The agency also recommended that the presence of certain diseases or conditions in an individual, or those people living with that person, make receiving the vaccine unadvisable.

These include pregnancy or the expectation of becoming pregnant with one month of vaccination, a weakened immune system due to cancer treatment, organ transplant, HIV or other conditions, various skin conditions including eczema or atopic dermatitis, women currently breast-feeding, children under 12 months of age and, generally, non-emergency vaccination of children under 18 years of age.

Smallpox is caused by the variola virus that is transmitted through face-to-face contact from the aerosolized droplets present when the infected person exhales.

The disease comes in several forms and is very contagious. It has an overall fatality rate of approximately 30 percent. Unlike many viruses, humans are the only known host for smallpox.

Smallpox is one of humanity's oldest and most feared scourges, reeking havoc among human populations since the dawn of recorded history.

In the 20th century alone, nearly 300 million deaths were attributed to smallpox. The last known case of the disease was recorded in Somalia in 1977 and was declared eradicated world wide in 1980 by the World Health Organization.

Recent concerns about the use of smallpox as a weapon of terror arose after reports that stockpiles of live virus held by the former Soviet Union at Aral Sea research sites in Uzbekistan might have been acquired, and possibly modified, by one of more of the 29 active international terrorist organizations.

The only other known stockpile of smallpox virus is held by CDC.

The current Georgia plan to address the potential threat of a smallpox release may pay dividends in other areas related to public health.

The effort has the potential of being utilized throughout the scope of the state health department's overall Emergency Support Function #8, a comprehensive plan that outlines a multi-agency response to any of a wide-ranging number of community health emergencies that might arise.

"Smallpox may seem like a huge shadow, but what is sustainable is that we can improve our plans for other emergencies and, under ESF #8, hopefully improve community health through these efforts," said Drenzek.

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