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April 26, 2007 Issue

Bartow family loses home
Damage estimates over $2 million
Wrens native knew three Virginia Tech victims

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Bartow family loses home

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

A Bartow man escaped injury after he awoke to find his father’s home on fire Monday morning.

Though the fire is still under investigation, Bartow Fire Department Training Officer Dwayne Morris said that Aubrey Ledger Jr. was living in the house owned by Aubrey Ledger Sr.


“The guy had the fire going in his wood burning stove,” Morris said. “He didn’t have any power at the house. The power had been turned off. So he had the doors open on the stove. He said he put a piece of wood on there at about two in the morning.

“His dog licked him in the face and he woke up to see the house full of smoke. A piece of wood had fell out of the stove and caught the house on fire. He said he ran outside and got a bucket of water and put on the fire and he used a fire extinguisher. He thought he had put it out.”

Morris said Ledger Jr. then went across the street to see if the resident had a fire extinguisher.

“When he came back around the corner, the house was on fire.”

According to the incident report from the Louisville Fire Department, 911 was called at 9:44 a.m. and fire fighters arrived on the scene at 9:51 a.m.

The official said that when fire fighters arrived on the scene the fire was engulfing the home. The fire was controlled by 10:35 a.m.

“The house was completely destroyed,” Louisville Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Chester Johnson said Tuesday.

“Everything he told us checked out,” Morris added.

Responding to the fire were Bartow Fire Department, Wadley Fire Department, Louisville Fire Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Rural Metro.

Surveying the damage

Damage estimates over $2 million

By Parish Howard

UGA Agriculture Extension Agent Jim Crawford’s cell phone rang nearly every 15 minutes Thursday.

He said that was pretty typical of the last week as area farmers sought him to look at their wheat or their corn and seed sales reps called hoping he could help assess the amount of damage the late cold snap caused local crops.


“This cold snap couldn’t have come at a more critical time for our small grains and pecans,” Crawford said last Thursday from his pickup truck between calls.

“A week sooner and we would have had half the damage.

Another problem is that we haven’t had any real good growing conditions since then.

If the nights don’t warm up, nothing is going to grow.”

Even Thursday, 12 days out from the coldest of the nights, when the temperature dropped into the 20s across the county, Crawford and area farmers were still scratching their heads trying to decide what fields would pull through and what needed to be replanted.

“Including registered rye and wheat and ryegrass seed, oats, barley,grain wheat, pecans and corn, the freeze cost our county about $2.73 million,”

Crawford said, adding that that is about six percent of the county’s yearly ag income lost in one fell swoop.


One of Crawford’s first stops of the day was at a corn field of Billy Godowns just outside of Louisville. “See this,” he said, bending over and touching a row of bent green stalks held firmly to the ground by tough, dead growth. “We’re seeing this all over the county.” The cold killed the leaves and the following rain plastered it to the ground. “If it could just break loose so those leaves could spread out, I think we’d be OK,” Crawford said. On Thursday alone he saw the same thing on separate crops belonging to Wiley Evans, Mitch Smith as well as his father, Sid.

“The book said the corn should have pulled out of it by now,” Crawford said. “In a lot of fields it just hasn’t.

“Of course the book is assuming we would have four or five days of good growing weather after the freeze, and we aren’t getting that.”

“The older growth melted down in the freeze and those tough dry tops are just matted to the ground. The seed has done all it can do and it’s trying to turn it over to the leaves. But that old dead stuff is holding it down. The new leaves can’t break loose. With the seed’s energy spent, the plant needs those new leaves to spread out to photosynthesize.”

The freeze left a lot of county farmers faced with deciding between hoping for the best with a stunted crop or replanting and guaranteeing a smaller yield.

“In all we’re replanting about a third of our corn countywide,” Crawford said.

Several other Wadley farmers said the negatives associated with replanting, the cost, the loss of yield associated with a late start and having to resort to third or fourth pick corn seed have help them decide not to replant.

“It’s an every man for himself decision,” Crawford said with a shrug on the decision to start over. “That’s what makes farming, farming. Three or four days can make a difference in your yield, but you have to know your fields. Every farmer is different and every field is different.

The saddest is part is looking back after how the season began.

“When we started out this year dreams of 230 bushels at $4 were very obtainable,” Crawford said. “We have some good corn growers in our county.

“All year these farmers are going to have to go to work every day and burn diesel and pump water for fields where they know they are not going to make the yield they originally believed they were going to make.”

The high prices and all national ethanol push helped move many farmers into increasing the size of their corn crops this year.

“To our farmer’s credit, they didn’t jump into corn full barrel this year like so many south Georgia farmers did,” Crawford said. “They rotate their crops real well and they don’t want to mess up their rotation. While corn production was up, I don’t believe it was probably up more than about 20 percent over last year.”

Throughout the day Crawford talked with farmers beside the road, walking crops and over lunch who were comparing the varieties that took the worst hit, how the cold affected crops planted side by side days apart, and whether replanting was worth it.

“Whatever we’re going to do with corn, we have to be done with it by Monday,” Billy Godowns said. “As of Monday we’ll be going a whole different direction. Next week we have to start on cotton.”


Wheat and rye, some of the crops farthest along, took some serious damage.

“It got a lot colder than most people realized,” Crawford said. “I have some farmers who say it got as low as 22 degrees. It wasn’t frost so much as that hard, dry cold that hurt the wheat. Our rye crops were pretty much devastated.”

Crawford said he had been in some fields that were 85 percent lost.

Most probably really won’t know the full extent of the damage until they harvest.

Bill Godowns said that late in the evenings, when the sun is going down, he can look out across his wheat fields and see the dead white heads holding the ruined grain in his crop.

“It looks like Murray Gardner dodged a bullet,” Crawford said from his truck looking for bleached heads in the wheat off Highway 221 north of Bartow. But after walking into the field and slicing open the immature grains he shakes his head. “No. It was a lot harder freeze than anyone anticipated. Look here, there are living and dead grains on the same stalk. There’s definitely some damage here.”

There really won’t be anyway to tell how much until harvest, when the grain is weighed and inspected.

“Just three weeks ago we had $4 wheat and $4 corn, sunny skies and everyone was on top of the world,” Crawford said. “This is a significant loss that will be felt by every grower in one way or another.”

Pecans, trees and berries

With 1,200 acres in pecans, Crawford said Jefferson County easily lost three-fourths of a million dollars in this crop alone with the freeze.

“The Desirables and Stewarts are our main pecan varieties and they were absolutely fried,” Crawford said. “They were in their pollination phase and the cold ruined the nut terminals. They’ll make more leaves, but as far as nuts, it’s just not going to happen this year.”

Crawford based these losses on 100 percent, which he admits may be somewhat pessimistic, but even it a very small crop is produced, he feels it may cost too much to protect all season.

He said he had heard the cold snap has even hurt the crepe myrtles at one of the county’s ornamental nurseries, possibly setting them back as much as two years.

On a positive note, while the state’s Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irwin has been quoted saying that the state’s strawberry crop was wiped out by the freeze, Crawford said he had heard the Prescott’s farm north of Wrens came through fine.

“Farming is like a baseball game,” Crawford said late in the afternoon after inspecting his final field of the day. “Sometimes you get some great breaks and sometimes you get some bad calls.”

Either way, you have take what you receive and try to come out on top.

Wrens native knew three Virginia Tech victims

By Parish Howard

Patrick Washington was on his way to work at Virginia Tech Monday April 16 when a colleague called to inform him there had been a shooting on campus.

Over the next several hours Washington, who grew up in Jefferson County and graduated from Wrens High School in 1993, watched the drama unfold as the worst school shooting in the nation’s history took place.


“I work in a building that is right next door to the one where the majority of the shootings took place,” he said Friday.

“I walk by it every day.

It’s the weirdest feeling now looking at it.

”If he had not gotten the call that interrupted his routine, Washington said that he probably would have been walking by Norris Hall when the shooting there started.

“I tried to go on in to work, but officers stopped us and told us and turned us back,” Washington said.

“At this point we really didn’t know what was going on.

You know how it is; we thought the police were going a little overboard.

I didn’t realize it was more than one shooting.”

So, Washington said he tried a different entrance to campus.

“That’s when I saw this train of ambulances,” he said.

“There must have been six in the first group with more coming up behind them.

That’s when I realized something was definitely not right.”

Throughout the day he watched the news coverage as the event unfolded.

His family in Jefferson County called off and on all day to check on him.

“The numbers started to unfold,” he said.

“First it was 20, then 21, eventually there were 32 people killed.

“It was tough. We sort of assumed it was a student, but we didn’t know who the shooter was.

There are 26,000 of us here. He could easily have blended in with everyone.”

The next day Washington realized that he did indeed know some of the victims. Three names stood out to him: Matthew LaPorte, Reema Samaha and Nicole White. “There were all in a class I taught for a colleague of mine earlier this year,” he said. “I remember Matt and Nicole asking a lot of questions. I saw their names on the news and thought, ‘I know them.’” Washington said he had just walked across the drill field and commented on how strange it feels to walk across campus after the shootings. “I had been on campus, but this was the first time I’d walked through the heart of it since all this happened,” he said. “I took my camera and got some pictures of the buildings and saw some of the memorials. There are still reporters around asking questions.”

He admits that he and his friends have mixed feelings about the coverage the event received on the national news stations. “On one hand we understand the coverage is necessary. This is an unprecedented event,” he said. “But people here are really taking offense to the constant effort by the media to find fault. Right away they started asking what could have been done to prevent this.”

According to Washington, many of the reporters on the scene seemed to be looking to point fingers.

“They were looking for somebody to say that somebody had done something wrong and that’s why this happened,” he said. “This is a college campus; it is an open environment. Students hold the doors open for each other. You just can’t make the leap that that is a bad thing.”

Washington said the media were back in “full throttle” Monday when classes resumed. He watched some of the stations setting up around 7:15 a.m. on his way to the 8 a.m. class where he had met the three students he knew who were killed.

“It’s an early class and usually, if you can get students to attend at all, a lot of them will be late,” he said. “Almost everyone arrived by 7:30 or 7:40 a.m.

“It was quiet as a mouse at first. There were some students who were visibly crying. There were two counselors there and the department head stopped by. There’s no script for this sort of thing and it was tough at first. The teacher thanked everyone for being there and then there was a long pause. Then she asked if anyone had anything they wanted to say. Everything was quiet for a long time. Then a hand went up.”

The students started commenting on the events, on what happened that day and what had happened since then, how they felt and about the last time they had seen some of those who died April 16.

“It was quite therapeutic,” Washington said. “Once it started rolling people were less somber. Most were very stoic about what they felt.”

He said that the school’s administration is discussing closing Norris Hall where the shooter chained the doors closed and most of the shootings took place, for the rest of the year.

“Though the university community is stunned and deeply saddened by the tragedy, forgiveness has already begun for Cho (the shooter),” Washington said. “Surprisingly, the memorials around campus include one for him.”

Washington is in his third year at Virginia Tech where he is working on his doctoral degree in public administration and policy with a concentration in governmental accounting and financial management. He has just begun writing his dissertation.

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