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July 24, 2003 Issue

Seeking recruits...
Living history from the Civil War era is evident over the weekend at the Old Howard House in Wrens as members of the 17th New York Veterans and the 1st Independent Brigade re-enacted drills, weapons firing and camp life experienced by soldiers nearly 140 years ago. Brigade member and Wrens resident Alvey Lamb, Jr. said the purpose of the display was to enhance community education and obtain recruits for future re-enactments.

Man allegedly exposed self to children

• Children caught 53-year-old Jimmy Lane of Louisville on video

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

A Brown Terrace man was arrested July 16 and charged with indecent exposure and child molestation after being videoed by a child in his neighborhood earlier in the week.

Jimmy Lane, 53, was charged with five counts of misdemeanor indecent exposure and five counts of felony child molestation, according to a spokesman for the sheriff's office. Investigators said state statutes require that charges of child molestation accompany the charges of indecent exposure.

According to statute, lewd acts in the presence of a child under age 16 with the intent of sexually gratifying oneself or the child is considered child molestation, investigators said.

The arrests came July 16 after investigators viewed a video taped by one of the children in Lane's neighborhood on July 15 and 16.

Lane's actions were taped after the child's mother was told of his behavior and instructed her daughter to video the incident if it happened again, investigators said. The incident was videoed from inside the girl's home.

Investigators said Lane would be in his front yard, his back yard or in the street when he exposed himself. He would position himself in the direction of the children when he performed the actions, which included touching and fondling himself for several minutes, said investigators after interviewing a number of the children.

Lane's actions were allegedly directed towards various children in the immediate area of his home, including up to 10 females aged six to 17 and several underage males.

Some of the neighbors interviewed said Lane had engaged in that type of behavior in the past but had apparently ceased the actions. Neighbors said he began exposing himself again a couple of months ago, investigators said.

Investigators said they conferred with the district attorney prior to making the arrest.

Lane was released from Jefferson County jail on $100,000 bond.

The investigation into the charges in ongoing, investigators said.

Citizen claims county zoning laws flawed

• Tax Assessor says he is complying with the law

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Questions about the propriety and legality of actions regarding Jefferson County zoning issues came to a head at the commission's July regular session. County resident Ben Benson stated concerns over the handling of zoning issues by tax assessor George Rachels, requesting that commissioners investigate Rachels' actions and consider dismissing him as tax assessor.

Benson maintained that some property owners are being taxed inappropriately because the zoning never officially changed after rezoning was granted. He said the steps required to bring the changes by the Planning and Zoning Board into effect had not been followed as prescribed by existing county ordinances and state law, thus invalidating the zoning changes.

"He (Rachels) has usurped your authority," said Benson. "I request that you conduct an internal investigation and dismiss him from office."

Benson referenced Georgia law 36-66-4(a) which states that the local government must conduct a hearing on the zoning request and must advertise the request at a minimum of 15 days and a maximum of 45 days prior to the hearing.

Benson also cited the Appendix portion of the county ordinances, sections 7 and 10 as a further example of how the tax assessor's duties are handled. Benson insisted that the zoning map, unavailable to residents, is a requirement of county law.

Section 7 of the Appendix states that the zoning map is a part of the ordinance and that "as evidence of the authenticity of said maps, they shall be signed and dated by the chairman of the planning commission, the chairman of the board of commissioners and attested by the (county) clerk upon adoption of this ordinance."

Section 10 of the Appendix states that changes to the zoning map shall be made promptly after the amendment has been approved by the commission. The action is not considered effective until the approved changes are made to the map. The map is to be located in the tax assessor's office.

Benson said these requirements of law have not been followed. He said he had researched the past several years of the commission's Minute Book and found no amendments to the zoning map. He said Rachels made the changes without following the process laid out in the ordinance.

"Mr. Rachels, through the power of his office, has been approving these changes," Benson said.

The result is that those properties where zoning has been changed are paying at the new tax rate even though the changes were not made in accordance with the ordinance, said Benson.

Commissioners had no comment after Benson completed the presentation.

Referencing the concerns over zoning surfaced by Benson, county administrator Paul Bryan said Tuesday that the county is now working with a zoning attorney to address those and other land use issues applicable to county government. A public hearing on zoning related issues is anticipated in the next couple of months, he said.

Also at the meeting, Benson told commissioners that he had experienced significant problems in obtaining a copy of the zoning map.

"For the past 20 months I have attempted to obtain a zoning map of this county. What you have before you is the only map in this entire county that has anything to do with zoning, Benson said, referencing the copy he had laid on the commissioners' table."

Benson continued, telling commissioners that the map had been found recently by office personnel in a clothes closet in Rachels' office.

Benson said he had supplied several written notices requesting a copy of the map. Contacted Friday, Rachels disagreed, saying he had never seen a written request from Benson asking for a copy of the zoning map.

Regarding the issue of improper taxation, Rachels said that a change in zoning, from agricultural to commercial, for example, does not automatically result in the property being taxed at a higher rate. The change in the tax status and resulting higher tax rate is not triggered until improvements are made on the property, he said.

Rachels said his office is also complying with the mandated notification requirements. He said the property is posted and the notice of a hearing is advertised for two weeks.

"That's my understanding of the law," said Rachels. "And this is what the county does."

Louisville mother of five struck by car

• Diane Gilmore was killed when hit north of Wrens last week

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Louisville resident Diane Gilmore was killed July 15 north of Wrens after being struck by an oncoming vehicle as she was crossing the southbound lane of Highway 1 on foot.

The incident occurred at approximately 10:35 p.m. Gilmore, 25, died at the scene one mile north of Wrens at approximately 10:30 p.m.

She was struck by a vehicle driven by Ginger Partin, 20, of Wrens, according to Georgia State Patrol Trooper Denny Garner.

Gilmore had arrived at the Marsh Trailer Park after leaving Louisville between 8:30-9 p.m., said Garner.

She went to visit her boyfriend who was spending the night at the residence of his sister.

After arriving at the trailer park Gilmore had crossed the highway on foot and had apparently visited one or more residences at Meadowview Trailer Park. She was returning to Marsh Trailer Park on foot when she was struck in the outermost lane on the southbound side of US 1, Garner said.

Partin and two passengers were traveling southbound, returning from Beech Island when her vehicle struck Gilmore.

Partin said she saw something in front of her a fraction of a second before the impact but could not avoid contact.

She told the trooper she was initially unaware that she had struck a person.

The incident is under investigation. Results from blood tests from Gilmore and Partin have not been completed.

Gilmore was the mother of five girls, aged one, seven, nine and two five year-old twins.

Heavy storm strikes county

• County saw a total of 1,655 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes in a three-hour period

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Rain, wind, thunder and lightning are not unusual for this part of the world, now that the drought has faded. But somewhat unusual was the intensity of the lightning that struck central Jefferson County last week.

A check with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Peachtree City revealed that the cliché about lightning striking twice could not hold a candle to what happened in Jefferson County on the afternoon of July 17.

According to NWS records the three-hour period between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. saw a total of 1,655 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, the majority of which were in central Jefferson County. More striking was the activity in the 60-minute period between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. when 1,126 strikes were recorded.

The lightning activity was far greater than what would normally be produced from an average storm, meteorologists said.

While no fire calls went out in Wadley and Wrens, the situation in Louisville was anything but static. Firefighters stayed busy with house fires on Yazoo Street and Habersham Street, both hit by lightning.

Also temporarily taken out during the meteorological slugfest were the E-911 tower, electrical transformers around town and disruption or outages to most of the businesses and residences around town.

Through the unusual light show and torrential rain there were no injuries reported.

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