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Top Stories
March 13, 2003 Issue

Gotta' see it...
The Schoolhouse Players open their sixth season this month with their presentation of Pamela Parker's southern comedy Second Samuel. The play, which runs March 20-23, is set in a small southern city which was burned down by Sherman on his infamous March to the Sea. For more information, see story on page 14.

Two dead in Wrens area murder-suicide

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Tragedy struck north Jefferson County on the rain soaked night March 4 when two shots rang out in a murder-suicide that attracted family, friends and onlookers.

Killed at the scene off Kelly Quarter Road were 23 year-old victim Tomeka Brown, of Stapleton, and 24 year-old Wrens resident James Stone, whose body was found draped over Brown, according to sheriff's investigators. Officers said both had been shot in the head. Found at the scene was a .38 caliber revolver with two bullets fired.

The shootings occurred in the yard outside the residence of Earl Holiday, a friend of Brown.

Sheriff's investigators said Brown was believed to have arrived at Holiday's residence sometime prior to 8:30 p.m. but never made it inside, according to statements by Holiday.

How Brown and Stone arrived at Holiday's residence at the same time was unknown.

Holiday told investigators that he had not been expecting Brown at his residence and that he had only arrived a short time earlier.

Holiday told officers he heard arguing outside his house prior to shots being fired, at which time he called 911 and Brown's mother.

He said he did not leave the house until her mother arrived. Brown's mother told officers she found Stone draped over her daughter's body and rolled Stone's body off of her daughter.

Investigators said Stone and Brown had a four year-old son together and had split up approximately one year earlier. Brown had reportedly moved in with her parents and still lived there.

Investigators said Stone might have been hiding in the immediate vicinity prior to Brown's arrival.

It would be unlikely that Stone could have covered the distance from his car, found approximately 150 yards from Holiday's house, before Brown reached the door had he not been hiding in closer proximity, they said.

Statements from family members and information obtained from police reports suggest that Stone had been stalking Brown and had confrontations with her on several occasions during the past year, investigators said.

Jefferson County Sheriff's investigators and agents of Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) arrived shortly after the call was made to 911 dispatchers.

Sheriff's deputies, investigators and a GBI crime scene unit worked past midnight conducting interviews and processing the scene.

Stapleton man pleads guilty to murder

By Parish Howard

Harry Lynn Kitchens, 28, of Stapleton, was sentenced to life imprisonment Feb. 27 after pleading guilty to the 2002 murder of 66-year-old Thomas Sammons of Thomson.

Kitchens, who originally faced charges of felony murder, aggravated assault, robbery and theft, entered his guilty plea to a malice murder charge in exchange for the other charges being dropped.

He was originally charged in October after Sammon's body was discovered, apparently killed by a blow to the head with a 12-inch pipe wrench.

According to GBI investigators, Kitchens moved Sammons' body to a bedroom in the rear of the residence and took a shotgun and Sammons' wallet containing $63. Sammons was a former Glascock County resident who apparently knew Kitchens and had possibly hired him in the past to do odd jobs.

Kitchens claimed he was addicted to cocaine, felt remorse for his actions and did not want to put Sammons' family through a trial, a defense attorney said.

Man files second suit against county

Ben Benson asks county commissioners to follow state law and their own ordinances in second lawsuit in 12 months

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Jefferson County resident Ben Benson said he would have preferred to take a different course. But some of the ongoing actions by county commissioners put both he and the board on a collision course that may intersect in Jefferson County Superior Court.

A suit by Benson filed March 6 calls into question procedural and other actions made by commissioners and asks that they be found guilty of malfeasance in office, a misdemeanor offense that brings a maximum fine of $500. Also contained in the suit is a request to abolish the county marshal's department.

Benson, along with other county residents in recent years, has called into question the legality of some of the meetings, procedures and decisions made by commissioners. He said the lack of response by commissioners after he filed suit against them in September is what compelled him to continue with the effort.

"This approach, once again, is to get them to do what is right according to the law," said Benson. "It's the same thing they expect of us."

Benson maintains that a number of legal and procedural violations have occurred since August 2001. Papers filed with Jefferson County Superior Court cited numerous alleged infractions that violate either state law or the Jefferson County Code. Among these are claims that the board illegally adopted the 2002-2003 budget without appropriate public notification, failed for several years to provide required bi-annual notification of the county's financial condition and failed to pass a balanced budget. Meetings held without proper notification to the public resulted in meetings that were illegal meetings and actions that followed from them, the suit said.

Illegalities such as those should persuade the court to consider invalidating the county's 2002-2003 budget, the suit said.

The suit cites Benson's attempt to bring these and other items to commissioner's attention both individually and to the board in public meetings. "All attempts to correct these matters have fallen on deaf ears. Nothing has been done to correct the problems," the suit said. Benson said the evidence supporting his position is public information and can be viewed by anyone wishing to see it at the independent website, http://www.jc2.org, where all commission meetings are available. The suit asks the court to consider the board guilty of malfeasance as a result of their actions. Such actions carry a misdemeanor penalty of malfeasance and a fine of up to $500.

Also included in the suit is the contention that the board is in violation of state law and the Jefferson County Code pertaining to the manner in which monthly work sessions are conducted. Called into question are the purpose of the meetings, the individual charged with conducting it, the time and date of meetings, the location of work sessions and notification of the public. Those alleged infractions and the actions taken from them at the monthly regular meetings amount to ongoing violations of the Jefferson County code and Georgia law, the suit maintained.

A third feature of the suit involves the county marshal's department. Benson maintains that the initial position as in late 1997 had the effect of creating a county police force though the motion itself and the following vote called for the creation of a "Sanitation Marshal." The suit said the county marshal's department makes arrests, traffic stops, disposes of personal property and writes citations without proper authority. Benson has asked the court to abolish the department.

County Marshal Alan Wasden responded to the suit Tuesday, stating that his department operates within established law enforcement guidelines.

"The marshal's office works within the parameters of the law by which it was created and operates with the highest degree of professionalism providing lawful and impartial services," he said. "The Jefferson County Marshal's is a law enforcement agency recognized by the Georgia P.O.S.T. Council, the GBI and the FBI. I am disappointed that Jefferson County taxpayers will have to pay again to defend another frivolous lawsuit brought by Ben Benson."

Clerk of Superior Court Mickey Jones said Tuesday he anticipated that papers were being served. He said the procedure calls for a 30-day period for the commission to respond in writing once papers have been served.

At press time, The News and Farmer/Jefferson Reporter had received no comment from the county attorney pertaining to the suit.

Glascock County citizens develop medical plan for dealing with disasters

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Glascock County may be the least in east central Georgia in terms of size and population. But they are first in formalizing plans designed to protect the health and lives of their citizens when disaster strikes.

Glascock County's efforts in developing its local Health and Medical Services plan in response to a disaster, designated as Emergency Support Function (ESF) #8 under the county's overall Emergency Management Plan, was signed in a ceremony March 5 in Gibson. Glascock became the first in the 13-county Public Health District 6 to finalize the plan.

"Glascock County is now organized to address a disaster," District 6 Health Director Dr. Frank Rumph said after the signing. "They have a plan in place, a template, from which they can effectively address a disaster. This is important because if you don't have a plan, you certainly won't be able to respond to a disaster. So it's really like this. With no plan, more lives are lost. With a plan, more lives saved."

The ESF #8 plan addresses a wide variety of emergencies, whether they are naturally occurring such as a tornado, hurricane or flood or whether they are manmade, as in the case of a train wreck, airplane crash or even an act of terrorism. A group of Glascock residents, public health and safety officers and elected officials had their first meeting June 20 to begin development of the plan. At that meeting, District 6 Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Charles Reneau told the group that the plan's objective should be geared to having the community sustain itself for 72 hours or until regional, state or federal agencies can respond on the ground.

Having a plan in place helps insure that local response to any disaster can be more effective and efficient because all the participants have designated roles that have been worked out in advance of the disaster.

"With the plan in place the community can go into action to address the disaster," said Rumph. "The plan allows the participants in the response to understand what their role is. With this understanding, they can participate and trust the other people who have roles in the plan."

Glascock County Health Department Facility Administrator Nona Lord said individual and community response does not stop with the completion of the local plan. The efforts to protect the community in a time of disaster must stay fresh in people's minds, she said.

"We now have a plan in place that came about because so many people came together and worked so hard," said Lord. "I feel we need to continue to educate people on the need for even more volunteers and their training to prepare not only for a possible terrorist act but also for any natural disaster."

Rumph explained that such coordinated efforts provide a kind of synergistic effect that provides not only for response to disaster but one that intensifies the relationships on which a response depends.

"I think one of the best things that comes out of a community working together with a plan is that relationships are established between certain segments of the community that do not normally have such relationships," he said. "People naturally respond as a result of relationships, but if you have plan and a relationship you can definitely respond better."

ESF #8, a requirement for all Georgia counties as a part of the overall Emergency Management Plan, is comprised of eight categories. These include healthcare management and treatment, fatality management (mortuary affairs), laboratory process, mental health, shelter support, communications (reports and health alerts), epidemiological investigations and environmental surety.

SchoolTalk gets thousands of calls

For over five years, The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter and local advertisers have been helping parents stay on top of their children's assignments

By Elizabeth Howard

Students are often forgetful. Assignments get misplaced and homework is forgotten, but with SchoolTalk24 there is a solution.

SchoolTalk24 is a school information service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With SchoolTalk schools are able to connect with both students and parents through an easy to use message system, and homework assignments can be accessed with a telephone call. The News and Farmer/Jefferson Reporter has been providing this service to the community for over five years.

Teachers at each of the schools in Glascock and Jefferson counties are assigned extensions they can update with information for their students.

Students and parents can access this information by simply calling the hotline number and entering the four-digit extension for their teacher. After hearing a brief greeting from a local sponsor who helps fund the system, they are directed to their teacher's message.

There are also extensions that provide information about sports and other extra-curricular activities and events.

"We wanted to create SchoolTalk to improve the connection between schools and communities," said Bob Howe, co creator of SchoolTalk and president of Phoenix Marketing Group, Inc.

SchoolTalk receives thousands of calls a month.

Wrens Elementary School extensions consistently receive a large number of calls. Some teachers receive over 200 a month.

WES principal Sharon Dye is a huge advocate for the system and encourages her teachers to update their messages every day. She has someone make periodic checks to see that teachers are updating their messages. Teachers are very cooperative, she said.

Wrens Elementary School students also receive weekly newsletters that include the SchoolTalk extensions for their teachers.

Dye said she also uses the service with her own child.

"I have a son in first grade and that's the way we do homework every night," she said. "It helps me because sometimes children don't write things down correctly and it's an easier way for me to clarify what he's written down."

Dye also emphasized the strong communication link it provides between schools and parents.

"I don't know what we'd do without it," she said.

The number for SchoolTalk24 is (478) 625-1414 or (706) 547-6605, and extensions can be found in each week's edition of this newspaper.

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Last modified: March 12, 2003