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September 28, 2006 Issue

Suspected murderer arrested
Asbestos found in old state prison
Community discusses poverty
County emergency personnel receive training

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Suspected murderer arrested

• Johnny Hicks, 39, charged with the murder of his wife and mother-in-law

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Officers search Johnny Hicks, a suspect in the shooting of two Bartow women, before placing him in a cruiser for transport to the county jail. Jefferson County Sheriff's Office Cpl. Gary McCord retrieves items from the cruiser he used to force Hicks from the roadway Friday afternoon as the suspect attempted to enter Bartow.

Officers at the scene of the Noah Heggs Road home where Carole Ann Thomas and her daughter Lashonda Nichole Hicks were found dead start running for their cars when dispatch reports that the suspected shooter is approaching Bartow.

Johnny Hicks, 39, of Bartow, was denied bond Monday after being arrested Sept. 22 in connection with the murders of his wife and mother-in-law.

According to official accounts, the Jefferson County 911 Center received a call on Friday around 8:30 a.m. The caller requested assistance to an address on Noah Heggs Road in Bartow and said her husband had a gun and was threatening to kill the caller’s mother.


At that point, dispatchers heard what sounded like a gunshot and lost contact with the caller. Deputies arrived within minutes and discovered Carole Ann Thomas, 51, and her daughter Lashonda Nichole Hicks, 34, dead from gunshot wounds.

Witnesses told deputies the suspect had fled.

Lashonda Nichole Hicks was identified as the suspect’s wife; Thomas was his mother-in-law.

Later that morning, deputies located the suspect about 1 mile south of Bartow on Highway 319. After a short car chase, resulting in a minor collision between the suspect’s vehicle and a Jefferson County deputy’s vehicle, the suspect was arrested and taken to the Jefferson County Jail.

Johnny Hicks was charged with two counts of murder and two counts of possessing a firearm during the commission of certain crimes.

The motive for the shootings is still being investigated by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, the GBI and the Bartow Police Department.

According to a spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Johnny Hicks has no prior felonies on his record nor any previous domestic disputes. “He may have had some traffic violations or something like that,” the spokesman said.

Asbestos found in old state prison

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

The old state prison near U.S. Highway 1 north of Louisville across from the new prison camp has been an eyesore for years. Given that it was built in the early 1900s, County Administrator Paul Bryan said he was not surprised when a recent survey turned up several environmental problems at the site.

The building was emptied during the spring and the items stored there auctioned so the county could begin making plans to tear down the structure. Before that was possible, the county had to have a survey conducted of the 100-foot-by-40-foot building and the 30-foot-by-30-foot barn next to it.


The company that conducted the survey was Geotechnical and Environmental Consultants, who also surveyed the old shirt factory for the city of Louisville. The consultants determinted that the old prison contained asbestos and lead.

“We had the auction that emptied the building,” Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan said. “We knew that any old building has to be surveyed before it can be demolished. It is not surprising [finding asbestos]. Buildings were constructed that way for years.”

The survey of the old buildings was conducted at the end of August for $3,500. After submitting samples from the building to Analytical Environmental Services, Inc. of Atlanta, Geotechnical and Environmental Consultants submitted a report to the Jefferson County Commission last Tuesday.

The survey found that both friable and non-friable asbestos were discovered. In the report the county received, it was found that the friable asbestos was in the form of interior window glaze that has become friable (easily airborne) because of age, and exterior window glaze that has become friable because of weathering.

Nonfriable asbestos was found in 12x12 floor tile, 9x9 floor tile, black mastic, black exterior wall coating on the barn, grey cementitous pipes at the attic hot water heaters, gravel tar roofing and black and grey roof flashing caulk.

Geotechnical and Environmental Consultants explained in their report to the county that friable material is the most dangerous form of asbestos. Nonfriable materials are of minimal concern unless they become damaged or will be impacted by construction or demolition.

Inside of the prison building Geotechnical and Environmental Consultants collected multiple percentages of chrysotile asbestos and crocidolite asbestos and only chrysotile asbestos inside of the barn.

Chrysotile is a fibrous variety of asbestos, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It forms a metamorphic rock that has been altered by intense heat and pressure. It is a less dusty material and is more easily eliminated from the human body than amphiboles.

Crocidolite is a form of asbestos known to cause mesothelioma, according to the EPA. It is an amphibole. Its structure is similar to that of chrysotile, but the fibers are brittle.

Bryan said the county plans to hire a company to demolish the buildings and clean the area.

“The contractor we hire for the abatement will be responsible for demolition of the building,” he said. “It will remove an unsightly building as you enter the city.”

Bryan said that he has contacted several contractors and the county is waiting for bids for the price and scope of the work from the companies before they go ahead with the cleanup.

Money for the demolition of the buildings will come from the general fund, Bryan said.

Based on the samples collected from the lead-based waste stream sampling, Geotechnical and Environmental Consultants reported the lead content in the stream was less than the EPA definition of a hazardous waste for lead. The report they gave the county was that the debris is not hazardous with respect to lead and may be disposed of as general construction debris at a permitted disposal facility which accepts the waste.

The allowable limit for lead is less than 5 milligrams per liter.

Community discusses poverty

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

About 45 area residents attended a Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the University of Georgia Sept. 18. The meeting, the third of a planned 11, represents a new state program, Communities of Opportunity Initiative or CO-OP.

The meeting, held in Louisville’s Senior Citizen Center attracted several educators, including Jefferson County Board of Education Superintendent Carl Bethune; elected officials, including Wrens’ mayor Dollye Ward, and county commissioners William Rabun and Johnny Davis; county administrator Paul Bryan; other community leaders and average citizens.


Matt Bishop of The University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute facilitated the meeting.

Bishop said 91 counties in Georgia have experienced persistent poverty and have been in the worst 25 percent, economically, in surveys taken in 1980, 1990 and 2000. The studies excluded counties in Appalachia as well as those with metropolitan areas like Fulton County. A number of these counties are not only persistently among the poorest in the state, but are also among those that receive the most state funding.

“You cannot spend a community out of poverty,” said Paul Bryan, Jefferson County’s administrator.

The CSRA will serve as the pilot study for this program, according to Bishop who added Richmond and Columbia counties are not included in the study.

The two-hour discussion focused on participants’ ideas regarding the positives and negatives of the community and what could be done to improve the area’s economy.

One participant pointed out there are local agencies, like Family Connection that already address some of these issues.

Bishop agreed but said this initiative would want those agencies to take the county to the next level.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “There are problems in your community that cut across institutions.”

Bishop said the details of implementing such work have not been completed.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel and we don’t want to step on anybody’s toes,” he said. Bishop said the purpose of the initiative is to develop three priorities the county could address with the state’s help. He stressed the county needs to decide how to address these issues, partner with the state and the state would provide technical assistance.

For example, he said, “Consumer literacy is big. There are people out there who can’t balance a checkbook.”

Another town meeting is scheduled for Glascock County on Oct. 10. One in McDuffie County is scheduled for Oct. 16. The last meeting will be Nov. 2 in Jenkins County.

Bishop could not say how long it will take to evaluate all the information they are receiving.

“People are not poor because they want to be poor,” said Bill Easterlin, chairman of the county’s Development Authority.

County emergency personnel receive training

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

During the month of August, a total of 33 Jefferson County deputies and firefighters received training to improve their driving of county vehicles during emergency situations. They watched and discussed training videos, video from law enforcement vehicle cameras. After this was a simulated driving experience.

Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins was pleased with the course.


“It was good; getting the men refreshed and (giving them) a reality check as to what could happen,” Hutchins said. There were a lot of highlights on driving safety, which the sheriff said was good for the officers and the county.

“We have so many automobiles out on the road it’s good for our insurance.”

During a five-year survey, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reviewed information from 30 states and involving more than 50,000 officers. There were 1,641 deaths during this time frame, said Kevin Weigand. Weigand, a public safety driving instructor who works for Local Government Risk Management Services, Inc., the county’s vehicle insurance carrier.

Of these fatalities, Weigand said 18 or 1 percent were law enforcement officers; 1,058 or 65 percent were occupants of the violators’ vehicles; and the rest, 565 or 34 percent, were innocent third parties.

“We need to cut down the third party deaths,” he said.

This training is a means of addressing those risks to third parties, as well as improving overall driving skills, especially during emergency circumstances.

Robert Yonchak, the county’s safety coordinator, said this particular course is in high demand.

“This course is so well taken, we’ve been trying for over a year to get him to come here,” Yonchak said. He stated there is no cost to the county for this training.

“My talking with the instructor is that it went real well and that it was more in depth than what the officers thought. It really got their attention in what they knew in their driving habits,” he said.

Weigand pointed out that pursuits are highly stressful and demanding, require unique responsibilities and critical decision making skills, and is a necessary function of law enforcement. “Pursuit driving,” he said, “is not racing.

“Some folks need to be chased. They need to be stopped that night.”

Weigand told the participants the decisions to initiate and continue or discontinue a pursuit rest with the officer. Factors to consider include the population in the area, time of day, day of week and weather conditions. For example, he said, a low-speed pursuit in a sparsely populated area is not as dangerous as a high-speed chase in a neighborhood.

Weigand said when breaking off a pursuit, the officer should turn off the vehicle’s siren and emergency lights and turn the vehicle in another, if not the opposite, direction. Then there is no question that the officer is no longer in pursuit.

The risk to the public if the pursuit continues must be weighed against the risk to the public if the offender is not pursued, he said. People who attempt to elude law enforcement do not want to be caught, obviously, Weigand said. As a pursuit advances, typically the speed of the pursuit increases, he said, increasing the likelihood of an accident.

Weigand stressed the officers should think with the intellectual brain rather than the emotional brain. “When we think with our emotions, we make mistakes,” he said. “That’s when the crap’s going to happen – when you’re in the wrong.”

During a pursuit, the officer typically becomes so focused on the offender, a sort of tunnel vision develops, Weigand said, blocking out information from peripheral vision. A technique that helps open the visionary field is for the driver to focus on things other than the suspect, he said. The officer’s supervisor may even ask questions of the officer to help open this field.

Weigand also addressed the issue of Post Pursuit Syndrome. “What we recommend,” he said, “is the first person to become involved in the chase is the last person to lay hands on the bad guy.”

This syndrome, according to Weigand, is what can happen when an officer becomes involved in a chase to the exclusion of all else. The officer may not be able to adequately gauge whether to end a pursuit or when to do so. If the chase results in the capture of the suspect, the officer may overreact during the apprehension process.

Factors to consider in initiating, continuing or terminating a pursuit, according to the program, include agency policy, state law and case law, the likelihood of injury or death to an innocent person and the need for immediate arrest.

Weigand said factors that can add difficulty to making such a decision are the ego of the officer or officers involved, peer perception and self-perception.

“I have received tremendous positive feedback from the individuals completing this course,” said county administrator Paul Bryan. “It is a four-hour classroom course and after that, a driver simulation class.”

The course for non-emergency personnel is not as intense as the training for firefighters, law enforcement officers and ambulance drivers.

“Individuals have said there was a tremendous amount of information in the class. The simulation is life-like and intense. I was told it created the feeling of actual driving in real emergency situations. We’re sending everybody who drives or has the potential of driving county vehicles. I’m going.”

Sgt. Clay Neal, a deputy with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Bartow Police Chief said the training helped remind him to be more careful.

“It’s a good thing to do. The scenarios are in the city and are a little bit different than the kind of driving we do out here. We’ve been pretty lucky over the years.” Neal said the last accident that claimed the life of a deputy was in 2000.

Weigand said training such as this is important. “You react to your training,” he said.

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