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April 10, 2008 Issue

Storm victims must file by May 19
Area truckers join gas strike
Death of former GCCS teacher ruled accidental

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Storm victims must file by May 19

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

After spending about two and a half weeks in Matthews and Wrens registering some 134 area residents through their mobile disaster recovery centers following the touchdown of the tornado, FEMA officials called a press conference last week to comment on the disaster’s response and the closing of the centers.

The disaster recovery centers at Mount Moriah Campground and Wrens Middle School gym were both closed before the weekend, but FEMA officials say representatives from their community relations team maintain a presence in the area.

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Statewide, 1,312 individuals have registered with FEMA for both individual and household programs to assist in the recovery of damaged and lost property in the tornadoes that ripped through the state in mid March.

According to FEMA, at total of $801,940.69 has been approved for these individuals. The Small Business Administration has received 608 applications for home repair loans and 171 for business repairs.

At the press conference held last Wednesday, Jefferson County officials reported that the damage assessment conducted by FEMA, GEMA, SBA and local government concluded that our area had 26 homes destroyed, 32 structures with major damage, 78 with minor damage, 140 other damages and one farm with 700 pecan trees (average age 80 years) leveled.

Some 327 truck loads of debris was transported by contractors to Pecan Place, the Wrens Landfill, Jefferson County Landfill and a burn site on Highway 17 outside Wrens. Jefferson County reports transporting some 518 truckloads of debris to these sites.

American Red Cross of Augusta reported opening a shelter for storm victims on March 15, within hours of the storm’s ripping through the community, and sheltering four individuals who were displaced. The organization reports its disaster mental health teams making 85 health contacts and 86 mental health contacts in the days after the storm.

The Red Cross provided 2,338 meals in partnership with Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief, 900 of which were provided to Matthews residents and responders.

The volunteer organization has provided $26,824 in direct financial assistance so far, officials said.

Officials with the Matthews Fire Department and community said they provided an additional 3,000 meals for its citizens and responders along with clothing, furniture, household items and housing.

“The response (to this disaster) has been tremendous,” said Libby Turner, the Federal Coordinating Officer for FEMA. “This should be a model for other parts of the country.”

Representatives from other state and local agencies spoke on their responses to the disaster.

“It does you good to see neighbors helping neighbors,” said Joe McKinney, Deputy State Coordinating Officer. “At the state level, we realize this is all about people. There are a lot of numbers and statistics. But you have to put faces with that.”

FEMA reps stressed the importance all residents who want to see if they qualify for assistance through FEMA or SBA to register before May 19, the application deadline.

Citizens can register by calling FEMA toll free between 8 a.m. and p.m. at (800) 621-3362.

According to FEMA spokesperson Art Navarro residents who had insurance at the time of the storm may qualify for assistance covering their deductibles.

“But everyone has to register with FEMA using the 800 number,” Navarro said. “We will review the cases on an individual basis to see if they qualify.”



Area truckers join gas strike

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

On Thursday, April 3, in a misty drizzling rain, truckers from across Jefferson County stood at the Shake Rag in Wadley with homemade signs protesting the cost of diesel.

“We are tired of these high, outrageous prices,” said Craig C. Strowbridge, an independent trucker from Wadley and the spokesman for the group. “(Fuel) cost effects other things.”

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Strowbridge and his group stood at the roadside waving signs with slogans like, “Diesel is too high,” “Drop the diesel” and “Get off the damn road.”

“We had a lot of people coming through traveling,” Strowbridge said. “They were blowing their horns, giving us thumbs up. I think we got the message out. Fuel is just ridiculous.”

The trucker said some people have been on strike since April 1.

“Some people are going to go back to work Monday (April 7). Some people, like the container haulers at the port in Savannah, are still going to be striking,” he said.

Strowbridge said he would like to talk with the president.

“I would really like to get a better understanding of why he won’t open up the United States oil reserves. We have oil that’s just sitting out there capped. Or cap the price,” he said.

Strowbridge said it is costing him between $500 and $600 to fill his tank.

“I have two tanks that hold 100 gallons each,” he said. “(Driving) from Savannah to Atlanta, you might make $400 to $500. But you’ve spent $600 to $800 in diesel.”

Strowbridge said he probably spent $60,000 last year in diesel.

“You pay for the diesel. You have to buy tires, make your truck payment, pay for repairs, upkeep, tags. You have to pay the heavy use road tax,” he said, adding that the heavy use road tax is $550 a year.

When his truck needs work, he said a good diesel mechanic charges about $75 to $100 an hour just for labor.

“It’s not like an old Chevrolet pick up where you can just get in the back yard and work on it,” he said.

The truckers striking last week in Wadley were from Wadley, Swainsboro, Canoochee, Wrens, Bartow and Louisville.

Although the truckers are not unionized, they do belong to the Truckers Association of America.

Jason Roberts of Bartow had been a trucker 13 years.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “Gas just went up 12 cents about two hours ago and the diesel went up five cents.”

The men said they don’t know what is next if they don’t get relief, pointing out they can’t continue driving when fuel costs more than they earn.

Other truckers striking that day were Jermaine Jackson from Canooche who’s been driving only about three months, George Farmer Jr. of Wrens who’s been driving seven years, Eric Jackson of Wadley who’s been driving nine years, Ken McCoy of Swainsboro who’s been driving 11 years, Izell Isiah Mason of Swainsboro who’s been driving 12 years, Andra “Bad Habit” Jackson of Canoochee who’s been driving 12 years, Hosea Strowbridge of Wadley who’s been driving 15 years and Roy Warthen who’s been driving 23 years.

The high cost of diesel is also affecting farmers, whose equipment runs on that type of fuel. Although farmers qualify for a cheaper rate, they are still seeing a sharp rise in cost. Farm diesel does not include a road tax that other users of diesel pay. Farm diesel can be used only for agricultural purposes. Farmers are required to go to the same gas stations as everyone else for personal use.

Jefferson County Extension Agent Jim Crawford said there are a lot of things to consider.

Farmers can buy their diesel in bulk, maybe 5,000 or 10,000 gallons at a time, allowing them to pay between $2.90 and $3.15 currently, according to Crawford.

“I don’t know if they’re getting it that good right now,” he said. “When it costs me $100 to fill up my pick up truck and that’s what I drive all the time, that really gets in your pocket, too. It’s not just your irrigations systems and tractors and combines and all their self propelled equipment.”

Crawford said he thinks independent truckers will soon be squeezed out by the conglomerates.

“This is just another step in the decline in the free market system,” he said. “The big trucking firms are going to control the industry.”

Crawford said it will take a massive, countrywide strike to get attention.

“But you can understand where these guys are coming from. That’s their truck; that’s their business,” he said. “It’s going to have rippling effects throughout the economy,” he said of the continuing increases in the price of fuel, adding farmers are becoming more conscious of making fewer trips across their fields, converting to electric and trying other ways of being conservative with their usage.

“It’s getting in their pockets,” he said. “You know, when you drop $100 at the fuel pump that gets your attention.”

The Jefferson County Board of Education is also dealing with the increased cost of fuel.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Curtis Hunter discussed fuel costs with the board during it's April 4 meeting.

Hunter told the board that during the same two-month period, January and February, this year’s cost was higher than last year.

“The cost was 52 percent more,” he said. “The usage was 2 percent less. Last year, we used a total of 21,565 gallons of diesel fuel (during that time). And this year, we used 21,083 gallons, which was 482 gallons less. That same fuel cost per gallon last year was $2.01 per gallon. This year, it cost $3.06 per gallon.”

Hunter said the school board buys a little more than 7,000 gallons at a time twice a month. “We use about 13,000 or 14,000 gallons per month,” he said.

In Bartow, Mayor John Mancin said the cost of fuel is hitting their budget as well.

“A town our size and the budget we have, it is very difficult,” he said. “We hope we do not have to go up on water or garbage collection but all that takes gas. It’s a problem. If you have a lot of industry in your town, where you have an industrial tax base, it would not hit you as hard. But the towns with a lot of industry would have to use more gas. A town with no industrial tax base, we have a problem.”

Louisville’s city administrator, Don Rhodes, said the city council increased their budget figures for fuel this year.

“Our budget ends Dec. 31,” he said. “We increased the budget figures for fuel about 20 percent to take care of anticipated fuel increases. It’s been sufficient so far, but if it goes up, I heard about 80 cents by Memorial Day, I would think we’re going to have to start cutting back. We won’t cut back on our services but we’re going to have to be more conservative (on use).”

Sallie Adams, city clerk of Wadley, said the city council addressed the expected rise of fuel by increasing their budget for those costs.

“I think we added an increase. We didn’t add that much but we did go up a little bit. We may have to amend that later on,” she said.

Officials with the city of Avera did not want to comment on the record; however, City Councilman Charles Padgett did say the prices are “taking its toll on everybody.”

Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins said his personnel are trying to be conservative in their fuel use. When the gas went up last time, he said the department put one person in the south end of the county, one in the north and one in the middle. Those officers were stationary until a call was received, limiting the driving across the county.

Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan said, “The increase in fuel prices over the last year has had a tremendous negative impact on the county’s operation. We have spent over $130,000 more than last year in the areas of food, gasoline and electricity. I am directing each department in our upcoming budget planning meetings to increase their departmental budgets by 20 percent in those areas.”

Meanwhile, Strowbridge said truckers are trying to organize another strike the first of the month and hope to have other drivers join them.

“With a combined effort, maybe somebody will listen to us,” he said.

An email sent to Congressman John Barrow asking for a comment on this matter had not received a response by press time Tuesday. Several bystanders on hand during the strike last week refused to make a comment about the strike or the cost of fuel.



Death of former GCCS teacher ruled accidental

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

A woman, whose death in November of last year sparked controversy, was found by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to have died accidentally, according to Special Agent in Charge Gary Nicholson of the GBI’s Thomson office.

The body of Mary Elizabeth “Beth” Newsome, 58, of Warrenton had been found Friday, Nov. 23, 2007, about 2 p.m. by two hunters. She was found in the woods off a four-wheeler trail on Highway 123 in Warren County, according to information from the Glascock County Sheriff’s Office.

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Newsome, who was reported missing by her husband, Gaynor Newsome, the day before, was a teacher at Thomson Middle School. Newsome had also been reported missing to McDuffie County dispatch by her son-in-law.

According to records from the sheriff’s office, the couple’s son said he saw his mother leave in her car around 9 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 21.

Her husband said he and his wife had had an argument prior to that about some money. Newsome had lived in Glascock County since 1979. She had taught in several counties in Georgia, including McDuffie and Glascock. She had been named a Star Teacher in both. She had received other recognition, including being Teacher of the Year for Thomson Middle School for 2006-2007.

At the time her body was discovered, Nicholson said there was no evidence of trauma having been committed on her or any type of injury.

“The autopsy itself did not show any type of injuries to her body,” Nicholson said at that time.

The toxicology report was completed in February, he said.

“The autopsy came back that she died from natural causes,” the agent said. “The report did show some drugs in her system but they were ones she had a prescription for. The medical examiner ruled the manner of death is accidental.”

The drugs in her system were alprazolam and trazodone, according to Nicholson.

“The combined toxic effects of those two drugs complicated hypertensive cardiovascular disease,” he said.




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