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 June 26, 2000


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OPINIONS
Ben Munro
Former Raiders in prime time

Well, let's see here: On one coast of our nation during this past week we had a former Raider out of the class of 1997 playing against the likes of Tiger Woods and Fred Couples in one of the most important golf...


SPORTS
Madison County's Jedd McLuen competes in U.S. Open but fails to make cut

The shots didn't quite fall as he might have planned and he didn't advance to the weekend rounds of play, but if you ask Colbert's Jedd McLuen...


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
Lula to be tough on water violators
Lula city water customers caught violating outdoor watering restrictions three times will face disconnection...


News from...
JACKSON COUNTY
$681,500 in construction permitted by Commerce in May
The city of Commerce issued nine building permits during May for construction valued at $681,500, according to a report...


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 Arrest made in brutal murder of Colbert man
An arrest has been made in the murder of a Colbert man, who was found Monday encased in cement in Oglethorpe County with a gunshot wound to the head and multiple stab wounds.
Tracy Lea Fortson, 35, Winterville, turned herself in Wednesday and was charged with the murder of 38-year-old Douglas Benton. She is scheduled for a bond hearing sometime Thursday in Madison County.
Fortson, a former Oglethrope County Sheriff's deputy, was Benton's girlfriend until the couple split nearly three weeks ago. A warrant was issued for her arrest after a search of Benton's John Sharp Road, Colbert, home turned up evidence Benton had been murdered there.

FRIDAY UPDATE...
Investigations continued Friday into the murder of Colbert's Douglas Benton, who was found Monday encased in a cement-filled water trough in Oglethorpe County.
Tracy Lea Fortson has been charged with the murder of her ex-boyfriend, but as of Friday afternoon no one else had been implicated as an accomplice.
Madison County Sheriff's Department Captain Bill Strickland said investigators know where the alleged murderer got the cement to encase Benton, though he would not say where. He said the source of the cement is one focus of investigators today.
Georgia Bureau of Investigations agent Bill Malueg said the GBI has not recovered a murder weapon. Fortson allegedly shot Benton in the head and stabbed him before encassing him in cement. The GBI searched Fortson's home this week, finding evidence connecting her to the crime, but Malueg would not specify what was found.
Malueg said Benton's truck was found at the home of Jerry Alexander in Lexington with a note reading, "Take care of my truck...I'll come back for it." Malueg said the note, which he described as "short and cryptic," has not been scientifically analyized, but it appears that it was not written by Benton.
"We suspect she (Fortson) wrote it," said Malueg, who added that Fortson's truck was being searched today.
Malueg said he did not know if Fortson was involved with anyone other than Benton.
He said Fortson was seen around the county in the time after Benton's disappearance.
Malueg said Rodney Sturdivant, who owns the property where the victim was found, is not a suspect in the case, though Strickland said "everyone is still" under investigation, including Sturdivant and Alexander.
Fortson, a former Oglethorpe County deputy, is being held in Jackson County jail. Madison County Magistrate Judge Harry Rice transferred her bond hearing to Superior Court Thursday.

According to Bill Malueg of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, investigators found blood in the residence and determined someone had made attempts to clean up the murder scene with kerosene. Fortson's home has also been searched, and Malueg said they planned to search her vehicle, a pick-up truck, Thursday.
No other arrests have been made in the case thus far, but more could be forthcoming. Malueg would not say what type of gun was used, but he did say that the weapon has not been recovered.
"We are working to determine if anyone else was involved," said Bill Malueg of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. "Some feel she's capable of doing it herself, but I don't think she could have."
Benton's body was found in a wooded area in Oglethorpe County's Stephens Community by a caretaker for the property. Benton had been last seen June 5.
Oglethorpe County sheriff Ray Sanders said Fortson was employed by his department for about 18 months, resigning in February of this year. He was reluctant to offer any more information about Fortson.
"She was a good employee and that's all I have to say," said Sanders.
Benton's home is located at 118 John Sharp Road, which is a narrow dirt path off Jack Sharp Road, located off Hwy. 72.
The victim's neighbor, Lisa Watson, called police June 17 to report the self employed welder missing. She said she became worried after he had been gone for about a week and no one had been by to check on his exotic birds. Watson said Benton recently began keeping exotic birds, such as Green Amazons and African Greys.
"I figured he had someone tending to his birds, but he didn't come home for the weekend and when I paged him, he didn't answer," said Watson, who said that 12 of Benton's 50 birds died in his absence.
Watson said Benton lived at his Colbert home for about four years. She and her two daughters, Ashleigh, 15, and Autumn, 13, said Benton was a kind man, willing to help others.
"He looked out for us and we looked out for him," said Mrs. Watson.
She said Benton would check on her daughters when they were left alone. And she said her husband, Larry, helped Benton build on a weightlifting room in his house.
Apart from his welding job, Benton enjoyed lifting weights, taking his boat out on a lake and riding motorcycles.
Ashleigh said her best memory of Benton is visiting with her neighbor and his son. Benton had three children.
"When his son was over there we'd go and talk and joke around," she said.
Autumn said she loved Benton "like a brother."
"Anytime I had a boyfriend over I'd say 'don't mess with me' or you'll have to deal with my brother (Benton)," said Autumn.
Autumn said Benton seemed different, more reserved, when Fortson was around.
"She tried to make him stop seeing all his friends," said Autumn. "She (Fortson) would say, 'Don't say hey to her" when Autumn passed by.
The Watsons said Benton appeared to have a clean lifestyle, not into drinking, smoking or drugs and never seeming violent.
"He never treated me any way but nice," Mrs. Watson said. "He was a good father, friend and neighbor. He will be greatly missed."

MURDER SCENE



WESTBROOK FANS

Thirty-three people made the trip to New York to support Jake Westbrook Saturday in his Major League debut as a pitcher for the New York Yankees. (Go to recent story.)

 
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School budget up 3 percent
Madison County school superintendent Dennis Moore says that no property tax increase is planned to support the Madison County school system's fiscal year 2000-2001 budget, which is up approximately three percent over last year's.
The Madison County Board of Education approved this year's budget of $27.48 million Tuesday night. Last year's budget was $26.66 million.
Like last year, the school system expects to draw in some $4.2 million in local taxes, with the bulk of revenues coming from the state, approximately $18.6 million, up from $16.9 million last year. Approximately $2 million in revenue will come from the federal government.
The largest school system expense is for instruction, up almost four percent to $16.5 million from $15.9 million last year.


School board confronted on pay for some employees
A full house greeted the Madison County Board of Education Tuesday night. Bus drivers, secretaries and school nurses confronted the board with questions about pay raises. And the board agreed to form a committee to address non-certified pay.
Bus drivers appeared for the second month in a row to discuss inequities in their pay scale. Sue Logins, speaking for the group, pointed out that the county's bus drivers are paid far less than those in surrounding counties. She suggested that the shortage of drivers is directly related to the pay scale. She and others in the audience reminded the board that they had increased the pay of substitute drivers at the last meeting so that they make more than the full-time drivers.
Board member Elaine Belfield addressed the board on behalf of the schools' secretaries. She noted the lack of credits for length of employment, arguing that an employee with 31 years experience should be receiving more than $10 above one with less than 20 years.
The school nurses also objected to receiving pay under that of surrounding counties. They agreed that uniform reporting needs to be developed.
Superintendent Dennis Moore responded that all uncertified employees of the BOE will receive a three percent increase plus a $300 raise in the new budget. School nurses will receive increases of three percent plus $500. He agreed that pay scales were not in line with other systems. He asked for patience, pointing out that he has only been on the job for two years and it takes time to address all the areas that have been neglected.Saying that there should be some uniformity, Belfield made a motion that two members of the board, a representative of each of the three groups and Superintendent Moore form a committee to address noncertified pay so that problems can be solved in a timely fashion. The committee is to complete its work prior to planning for the 2001-2002 budget. Belfield and chairman Jimmy Patton will represent the board.


Westbrook struggles against Red Sox
Madison County's Jake Westbrook made his second start for the New York Yankees Thursday night in Fenway Park, giving up four runs, six hits and two walks, while striking out one in two and two-thirds innings.
The Red Sox defeated the Yankees 4-2.
In his first start Saturday, Westbrook gave up six runs and seven hits in one and two-thirds innings versus the Chicago White Sox. He pitched two and one-third innings of scoreless relief against the White Sox Sunday.