Sheriff and chiefs organize
By Parish Howard
For the first time in any of their memories, Jefferson County’s Sheriff, mayors and police chiefs sat down together last week to discuss improving cooperation and communication between departments to ensure the best public safety for all the county’s residents.
“I believe a lot was accomplished today,” Sheriff Gary Hutchins said during the Dec. 4 luncheon following the meeting. “We’re all doing a good job, but it’s always good to sharpen the tools. There are always things we can do better. Our top priority is to respond to calls for help as quick as possible and provide the help needed.”
Sheriff Hutchins said the meeting originated from a desire to improve the communications between law enforcement departments throughout the county.
“We had 100 percent turnout and I think that says a lot,” Sheriff Hutchins added. “When we stand as a united front, there isn’t anything that can stand against us.”
During the earlier meeting the departments discussed getting the correct equipment in place to improve communications and the possibility of forming a task force of investigating departments from across the county that can focus on outbreaks of crime wherever they occur, bringing more resources to play in addressing the issue that surfaces.
“The deputies, chiefs and sheriff have all graduated from the same academy,” Hutchins said. “We’re all doing the same job. Now we need to come together, make sure we have the tools we need to do our job. Criminals today are getting as advanced as law enforcement. They go to the black market and have automatic and powerful weapons available to them.”
The sheriff went on to say that he believes the fastest growing group of criminals in our area are juveniles.
“A lot of these kids don’t have homes,” Hutchins said. “At 13 years old some of these kids are becoming the man of the house.”
He talked about the temptations of drugs and alcohol and the decisions these children face.
“The challenges out there now are greater than they were 20 years ago,” Hutchins said. “Now we have 8-and 9-year-olds throwing bricks through windows and going in to rob places. They are hard to catch.”
He added that with his office having only three deputies on shift at any one time, it is important for his office to work with the cities to make sure every corner of the county has the protection it needs.
Commission Chairman William Rabun spoke up along with several other elected officials pledging their support to law enforcement on both the city and county levels.
“We appreciate all our officers,” Louisville Mayor Rita Culvern said. “We appreciate your efforts as the chief law enforcement officer in the county to try to bring everyone together as a united force. I believe this show of unity will speak to the criminal element and to those juveniles you’ve mentioned and anybody out there who may be up to some mischief.
“It means a lot to our people that our law enforcement can put their egos aside and sit down and address the problems we have for the people of this county.”
“We have a safe county,” Hutchins added. “But we’re going to make it better.”
County loses businessman, leader and philanthropist
By Parish Howard
Last week citizens across Jefferson County mourned the sudden death of a prominent figure, a generous philanthropist and a gentleman dedicated to his community.
William Frank Easterlin, Jr. the 81-year-old husband of Lillian Abbot Easterlin and chairman of the board of Queensboro National Bank and Trust, died at home Wednesday, Dec. 5.
“He will be remembered as a successful businessman, a successful husband and father and a benchmark for citizen leadership,” said Ray Davis, chairman of the Jefferson County Hospital Authority. “It seemed like he was behind anything that supported the people of Jefferson County or promoted Louisville. I told Mrs. Lillian the other day, that for everything we know he supported, there must be 20 things we don’t know about.”
A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, after serving the U.S. Navy from 1948 until 1954, Easterlin returned to Louisville and joined First National Bank. He became president in 1964 and served in that role until 1997 when he became chairman of the board of First National Bank and Trust, now Queensboro Bank and Trust.
A dedicated community leader, he was a member and past president of the Louisville Kiwanis Club, Chamber of Commerce, Jefferson County Development Authority, Ogeechee Valley Country Club and Louisville Industrial Development Corporation. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Jefferson County Library.
“If it wasn’t for Frank I wouldn’t be where I am now,” said Tom Jordan, Jefferson County’s Economic Developer. “He was the one who told me I needed to think about applying for the job.
“He and his father did some things for this community that were practically unheard of at the time. They really did some visionary things for this county, for the benefit of the people of the county. He was a gentle giant to this community…very generous and always looking out for the best interest of everybody. He did so many things quietly. I guess, that’s what I admire most about him, that he did so many things without seeking any credit or recognition for doing them.”
Many who knew him professionally may not have known that he was an avid grower of daylilies and a member of the American Hemerocallis Society. His family said he took great delight in sharing his certified Hemerocallis garden with friends and the community.
“I remember the first time we were introduced,” Davis said.
He had seen the house where he lives today was for sale and someone set up an appointment for him to talk to Easterlin about a loan.
“He was in that office at the end of the hall in the main branch,” Davis said. “And I’ll never forget he reached down and pulled an envelope left over from that day’s mail out of the wastebasket and proceeded to calculate my loan on the back of it. I had never sat down before with a bank president and hadn’t expected that. I guess, what I’m trying to say is that he never was impressed with himself.”
Ted Johnson, an emeritus member of the board for First State Bank of Wrens, said he also considered Easterlin a close friend.
“He and Bill Leverette and I were roommates at LSU’s graduate banking school in Baton Rouge for three summers,” Johnson said. “He was involved when they first started looking at opening a new bank in Wrens and interviewed me and I guess he is partly responsible for me coming to Wrens.
“He was as fine a gentleman and as good a friend as I’ve ever known. He was both knowledgeable and influential, a real mentor to me.”
Services for Easterlin were held Saturday.
Suspect surrenders day after shooting
By Parish Howard
Wrens Police Chief David Hannah says his department, with the assistance of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, is looking into a series of gang-related incidents that involved a shooting and an arson Thursday evening.
Not long after 9 p.m. Dec. 6, Chief Hannah received a call from the county’s 911 center reporting a shooting on the corner of Highway 17 and Cemetery Street.
“From what we have been able to put together,” Chief Hannah said, “Thursday, the shooter (later identified as 31-year-old Derrick Lemont Wilcher of Wrens) was chasing two subjects down Cemetery Street when one fell at the corner of Highway 17.”
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Chief Hannah said Wilcher shot 21-year-old Matthew Steven Watkins, of Wrens, once in the chest at point blank range with a 9 mm handgun.
“The other subject, Watkins’ friend, helped him get up and the two of them fled on foot down Walker Street,” Chief Hannah said. “We found four spent shell casings and the friend was fired at but not hit.”
Watkins and his friend called 911 and Chief Hannah and Wrens K-9 Handler Robert Cowart met them on the side of Hadden’s IGA minutes later.
Watkins was airlifted to the Medical College of Georgia where he has undergone at least one surgery and Chief Hannah reports he is in stable condition.
Shortly before midnight, Chief Hannah said that his officers were called out again to respond to an act of retaliation.
Thomas Hannah, 23, of Wrens, has been charged with arson and possession and use of an incendiary device for throwing a lit beer can filled with gasoline at Wilcher’s Stevens Street home.
“It was in revenge for the shooting of Watkins,” Chief Hannah said. “Witnesses helped put out the fire before it reached the house or vehicles.”
Wilcher, the shooter, walked into the Wrens Police Department Friday morning, Dec. 7 and turned himself in to Chief Hannah’s custody. He is currently facing two counts of aggravated assault.
Chief Hannah said that he is working with the GBI and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office on these and related cases and expects more charges to be filed. Chief Hannah added, that while the details are not yet known, these incidents may have begun with a robbery at gunpoint two days before.