Flames consume Wrens sanctuary
By Parish Howard
Just a few hours after its Christmas Sunday service closed, members of the First Church of the Nazarene came running back after word spread of a fire in their Wrens sanctuary.
Wrens Fire Chief Larry Cheely said the fire was reported to 911 at 5:12 p.m. Dec. 25, and the department had firefighters and equipment on the scene within two minutes.
Pastor Bill Ansley said he was called to the fire and spent most of the afternoon there as firefighting units from Wrens, Matthews, Stapleton and a handful of Louisville firefighters worked to contain the blaze.
Tuesday afternoon he walked over the property with the church's insurance adjustor, surveying the blistered walls, melted pew cushions and other damage.
"The insurance adjustor just left," the Rev. Ansley said by phone. "We've been through everything and it seems a lot worse now than I thought it was Sunday. I guess it was dark and just hard to see before. Everything in the main sanctuary is totally destroyed."
The Sunday school wing, off the right of the sanctuary, has some fire, smoke and water damage, but the fellowship hall only seems to have suffered a little smoke damage, he said.
"It will take a good cleaning, but it should be OK," Ansley added. "The integrity of the structure itself seems to be in good shape. We're definitely going to rebuild."
Ansley said that he was still in shock over the incident and felt his congregation was as well.
"It was the quick action on the part of all of the fire departments that saved the structure from a total loss," Chief Cheely said. "When I arrived on the scene, smoke was pouring out of all four corners of the building and it looked like it was fully engaged."
Cheely said the doors of the church were locked and the firefighters had to force entry. Shortly after arriving on the scene, firefighters scaled the roof and used chainsaws to vent the attic, releasing heat and smoke so others could better fight the flames inside.
"Most smaller departments don't do that, you just don't have enough people, but we had a lot of people on the scene and everyone did a heck of a job," Cheely said.
The chief said that he heard of another Nazarene church fire in Aiken, S.C. the same day, and, curious about the similarities, called in a fire marshal to investigate the Wrens blaze. The investigation found no signs of foul play and no apparent connection between the two fires, Cheely said.
"It looks like it could have been started by an extension cord between the kneeling bench and piano at the corner of the pulpit," Cheely said. "The pastor said the piano had a heating wire that helps it keep in tune, and apparently that was plugged into an extension cord with a lamp. Nothing that creates heat should ever be plugged into an extension cord. Heating elements just draw too much electricity."
According to his records, the fire was controlled and the fire marshal contacted by 7:06 p.m., almost two hours after the fire was reported.
"I really do want to thank the Wrens Fire Department and the others who responded," the Rev. Ansley said. "They worked really hard to contain it and limit the damage."
As of Tuesday afternoon, Ansley said the congregation still had not decided where it would hold its next services, but that he had been contacted by at least one local church offering help.
SPLOST proposal approved for March
By Ben Roberts
Jefferson County voters will decide again this March whether to extend the current one-cent Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).
The Jefferson County Board of Education (BOE) voted 4-0 at their regular December meeting to approve a March 21, 2006, referendum to be put before voters. District 1 representative Donald Hatcher was absent from the meeting and did not vote.
If approved by voters, the current one-cent sales tax, which is expected to reach its $10 million ceiling later this year, would continue without interruption.
School officials estimate this next round of SPLOST could raise up $12.5 million over the next five years.
School Superintendent Carl Bethune explained that the first priority of SPLOST is to repay the obligation from the high school's bond issue with just over $2.3 million. Using SPLOST funds for this purpose allows the BOE to roll back ad valorem taxes by 1.9 mills.
The remaining $10.1 million would be designated for capital outlay projects such as building renovations and improvements, various equipment and technological purchases, heating and air conditioning systems and school buses.
Assistant Superintendent Donnie Hodges, who has spear-headed much of ground work for extending the tax, said it is important for Jefferson County voters to remember that these are vitally necessary expenses to keep school facilities safe and in good working order.
"This is a great opportunity to fund the maintenance and upkeep of our schools without burdening county tax payers. This is a sales tax paid by everyone, including those who may come to Jefferson County to shop or are simply passing through," Hodges said.
Earlier this year, a 22-member committee, made up primarily of parents from each of the schools, unanimously approved the school system's priority list of projects. Bethune said he was proud of such community support, and the committee's approval of the list showed the importance of the SPLOST funds to the system.
Bethune again cautioned that completion of the projects on that list would depend on the amount of funds received through the renewed sales tax.
Woman charged with feticide
By Ben Roberts
Four months after causing a head-on collision on U.S. Highway 1 that took the life of an unborn child, an Athens woman now faces three misdemeanor charges in that accident.
Rebecca Marie Boyett, 34, of 127 Pine Hill Drive, Athens, was charged by the Georgia State Patrol (GSP) on Dec. 12 with feticide by vehicle in the second degree, driving on the wrong side of the road and no insurance.
All three of the charges are punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and no more than 12 months in jail.
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According to GSP investigators, Boyett was traveling south on U.S. 1 just south of Wrens on Aug. 22 when she swerved to miss an animal, crossing the centerline. She then struck a vehicle headed north being driven by Angela Walker, 25, of Keysville.
Walker was 28-weeks pregnant at the time. She was flown by helicopter to the Medical College of Georgia where surgeons performed an emergency C-section, but the baby was lost.
Boyett turned herself into the Jefferson County Jail on Dec. 19. She was released on $4,000 bond.