News from Banks County...

August 22, 2001


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OPINION
Shar Porier
I've been slimed!

I was at the house subcommittee hearing on the house bill for farmers' rights recently. The room was filled with unknown "suits," company execs, subcommittee members, poultry farmers and the executive director of the Georgia Poultry Federation. Abit Massey was his name.

C. W. Crawford
Nothing finer than a tomato sandwich

I thought I was getting my fill of home-grown tomato sandwiches. My mouth was a little sore from the acidity and, you know, enough is enough.


SPORTS

Directions to Area Schools

Lady Leopards to open area play Tuesday
Banks downs East Hall in opener. With the season just getting under way, the Lady Leopards' slow-pitch softball team is about to head into area competition.



Neighborhood News...
JACKSON COUNTY
JCCI firemen's group shut down by state
BOC chairman calls for 'management review' of entire corrections facility
The state has shut down the inmate firefighter program at the Jackson County Correctional Institute.

Commerce Goes To College For Police Chief
North Georgia College & State University Public Safety Director Hired As New Chief
The current head of public safety at North Georgia College and State University has accepted a job as the new police chief of Commerce, city manager Clarence Bryant announced Monday.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
Lowe asks for boost in funding for sheriff's office, jail
Madison County sheriff Clayton Lowe asked county commissioners Monday to provide an additional $500,000 for sheriff's department and jail expenses in the 2002 budget.

BOE passes 12% budget increase
The Madison County Board of Education completed its financial arrangements for the current school year Tuesday night by adopting a budget and arranging a line of credit. The board expects to spend $28.5 million this school year, up 12 percent from the last budget.


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Williams family talks after hearing

After Friday's sentencing, members of the Williams family gathered to discuss the sentencing of admitted arsonist, Jay Scott Ballinger. Ballinger had set the fire at New Salem United Methodist Church which took the life of Kennon Loy Williams. Pictured are: Linda Williams, sister-in-law; Rodney LaCount, cousin; and Karen McCallister, cousin. Se this weeks Banks County News for additional coverage of the hearing.


Judge gives life sentence to church arsonist
Jay Scott Ballinger, the man who has described himself as a missionary of Lucifer, received a sentence of life in prison, plus 80 years, for a series of five church fires he set in rural Georgia from December 24, 1998, through January 1, 1999.
The five counts of arson included the fire at New Salem United Methodist Church that resulted in the death of volunteer firefighter Captain Kennon Loy Williams, Commerce. Four Banks County firefighters, Tim Smallwood, Chuck Bray, Perry Dalton and Chuck Bakanus, were injured in the New Year's Eve blaze.
Williams' family, dressed in T-shirts that said "In memory of Kennon Loy Williams" on the back and his number, 402, on the front, quietly moved into the courtroom Friday morning in Gainesville. Williams' mother Gertrude, eyes reddened with tears, glared at the man responsible for her son's death as federal marshals led him to the seat next to his attorney, Paul Kish.
Banks County firefighters Dalton, Bray and Smallwood were also present at the sentencing.
At the beginning of the sentencing hearing, defense attorney Kish objected to cross-referenced charges that linked murder with the arson.
"He (Ballinger) was targeting churches, not people," Kish said. "The cross-reference to murder would apply only if Mr. Williams had been targeted by Ballinger."
Kish added that Ballinger had planned his acts of arson at specific late night hours so that no people would be involved. He asked the judge to consider a lesser sentence.
District attorney Chris Wray said key language in the statute defines the death as murder when it happens during the committing of a felony crime.
"This is a felony murder," said Wray. "The frequency of the fires transforms his crimes into a wantonness for human life. He saw on the news that he had killed one man, and continued to set more fires."
Judge William C. O'Kelley overruled the defense objection and said the death of the fireman resulted directly from Ballinger's act of arson. He stated: "Some people spend the night at churches. Just because he thought no one was there is no reason to consider lowering the sentence in this case. Anyone would expect firefighters to be present to fight the fire. There is always the possibility of loss of life in any fire."
Before sentencing, Judge O'Kelley asked if there was anything Ballinger would like to say. Kish said Ballinger had written a statement and requested it be read to the judge. As Ballinger sat sobbing, tears streaming down his bearded face, Kish read: "To everyone I've harmed and left with crazy memories by my barbaric actions, I want you to know I'm sorry I regret what I did. Please accept my apology for losing control After getting to know so many people here in Georgia while in jail, it's caused me to accept a new way of living, no matter what sentence I receive today."
Family members of the fallen firefighter were also called upon to make their statements. Instead of addressing the judge, they directed their remarks to Ballinger and spoke face-to-face with the man who had cost them their loved one.
Williams' mother, Gertrude, trying helplessly to fight back tears and fury, said: "A good man died because of you. At 10:22 p.m. on December 31, 1999, you left a big empty hole in our hearts where once there was joy. Now there is just pain and anger. We know you don't care. Nothing would make me happier than to have you set on fire and watch you die like he did. At least I can say my son died with honor. I don't think anyone will be able to say that about you."
Dorleen Holland, Williams' cousin, looked at Ballinger and told him about the loss they lived with each day and the nightmares they lived with each night, especially Williams' young daughter, Savannah.
"A little 9-year-old girl lost her father that night," she said. "He won't be there for her, to see her graduate or walk her down the aisle. God showed you what was awaiting you in Hell when He set that fire back on you. Man's sentence will never be as hard on you as God's sentence."
Another cousin, Karen McCalister, said: "Serving Satan doesn't get you anywhere. You're going to have to change your heart. I hope that someday you know who God is and Jesus is."
Ballinger, nodding and with tears in his eyes, looked at her, said: "I know."
Alvin Jr., also a volunteer firefighter who had gone to the fire with his brother, said: "I lost more than a brother that night. Everybody lost a good person. He was a good man who helped everyone. If he had seen you (pointing to Ballinger) on the side of the road, he would have stopped and asked if you needed help."
He told Ballinger that though he had burned a 100-year-old church, he didn't hurt Christianity, he made it stronger, better.
"A church is replaceable," he said. "It will be built back bigger and better."
Judge O'Kelley then handed down the sentence of life in prison, plus 80 years. As a federal charge, the life sentence prevents any chance for parole. Ballinger was also ordered to pay restitution of over $558,000 to churches and two firefighters injured in the fire at New Salem United Methodist Church, Perry Dalton and Chuck Bray. Ballinger was also fined $10,000 to be paid after restitution is paid.
But, there is a catch, according to Wray. Ballinger admitted guilt to the fires only if he would be allowed to appeal the federal jurisdiction over the offenses. The appeal, which will come before the court in the spring, would not overturn any state and local rulings relating to the arson, he said. He feels confident, however, that the Court of Appeals will stand by O'Kelley's ruling and that the federal sentencing will be upheld.
Ballinger had also been sentenced to 42 years and seven months in Illinois for a series of church fires set in Indiana, Alabama, California, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Ohio.
Ballinger was caught in Ohio when he went for treatment of burns he sustained while setting a church fire there.
For the rest of this story see this weeks Banks County News.



Stop signs to slow Lula traffic
In an effort to slow speeders on neighborhood streets, the city council agreed Monday to install stop signs at certain trouble spots in the city. The council discussed placing three-way stop signs at the intersection of McCloud Street, Tombs Street and Maiden Lane. Residents of the area spoke in support of the signage to make the neighborhood safer for the children.
Nelson Smith said: "If it would save a child's life, I'd like to see something done."
The sentiment was echoed by the Rev. Darryl Womack of First Baptist Church of Lula, which is at one of the chosen sites. He told the council the church has plans to use the lot across the street as a place for walking trails. "We want you to anticipate that increase of foot traffic," he said.
The council decided to review the effectiveness of the signs before placing speed bumps on the roads.
In another case related to speed bumps, the council rejected the installation of them on Hemlock Springs Road. Letters asking the residents' approval/disapproval were mailed two months ago to residents in the Hemlock Springs Subdivision. Mayor Tim Allen said the city has received 10 disapprovals, eight approvals, and 11 letters were not returned. The council decided to count the non-returned letters as disapprovals and voted to drop the idea of the installation.
In other business, the council:
·discussed with Norfolk and Southern bridge department officials the repairs being made to the old bridge over the tracks in the heart of Lula. Norfolk and Southern would like to see the city take over the maintenance of the bridge and say it will not hold up long if it remains open to traffic.
·heard from Barry Wikle, who presented a plat showing the lot where the new well is located that will help provide the city with water. The first drilling for a well did not produce a sufficient amount of water. Wickle moved to another site and now has a well producing between 50- and 80-gallons per minute. He also agreed to put up $25,000 and deed to the city the lot where the well was drilled in order to get water to the subdivision.
·discussed the road work to be done and swapping of easements along Cobb Street running along property owned by Bobby Miller. It was determined that taped minute from July's meeting concerning the road placement need to be reviewed before making a final decision.
·considered a request from the Rev. Darryl Womack, First Baptist Church of Lula, for a proclamation declaring Sunday, Sept.23, 2001, as "Friends of Hirtop, Moldova Day." Womack's church has taken up missionary work in the small village in what was once a province of Romania. Womack said the current mayor, Hirtop, is the first official to recognize the Christian Church and has given land to be used for the building of a church. Womack felt it would be a special honor for the mayor of Lula to sign a friendship proclamation between the two cities. The congregation at First Baptist has donated funds to build a fence around the land and will be helping to build the church.
·heard a request from Jesse Cable to allow him to put a produce stand on city property at Athens Street and Hwy. 123. The council voted to turn down the request because it has turned down other offers on the land and are thinking of making the area into a park or parking lot, or both.
·held the first reading of the Wellhead Protection Ordinance. The measure restricts property uses within a 250-foot radius of the wellhead, identifies possible contaminants and their sources in the city, lists stringent permitted uses, lists prohibited uses and sets administration policies. A copy can be read at Lula City Hall during regular hours.
·discussed hiring a new clerk as Suzanne Martindale will be retiring at the end of the year.

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Families gather at school to pray for peaceful year
Members of congregations from six churches in Banks County gathered as night fell to pray for peace and protection in the coming school year on the grounds of Banks County High School last Wednesday.
Organized by the Rev. Vaughn Howington of Charity Baptist Church, nearly 100 people from Charity, Mt. Carmel Baptist, Damascus Baptist, Nails Creek Baptist, Gillsville Baptist and Ridgeway Baptist churches came to ask God to protect the students and teachers from harm.
"We, as God's people, are coming together for a common cause," Howington said. "I am inspired and encouraged by this gathering tonight. It is because of God we made it through this past school year safely. We must pray for vigilance and renewed love."
Diane Purcell said: "We're asking for holy protection in our schools, so that nothing violent happens like it did at Columbine and other schools."
Howington asked the assemblage to split into groups and go to the corners of the school to surround it with prayers of hope and peace. The prayer warriors took their positions and asked their Father and His Son to keep an eye on the children that would soon be walking the halls in all the schools in the county.
They gathered back at the front of the high school when they had finished their pleas and sang together, "On Holy Ground."
The group hopes to make the prayer gathering a yearly event.



Banks County Festival ahead
The 29th annual Banks County Festival will be held on the historic courthouse lawn in Homer on September 8-9.
Festivities begin on Saturday at 10 a.m. with the traditional parade. The parade is a special highlight of the festival. Entries are judged and trophies are awarded in the following categories: Best float, best antique auto, best classic auto, best truck, redneck award, best equestrian entry, most unique entry, yesteryear award, best children's entry, best buggy award, most unique tractor and oldest tractor award. Beginning this year, judges will highlight a special auto class. This year, judges will highlight Volkswagen entries with a special "Best Bug" award.
Entries wishing to be considered for these awards must be registered and set up by 8:30 a.m. No entries will be judged after 8:30 a.m. Registration forms may be picked up at the chamber office and turned in to parade officials on Sept. 8. There will be no four-wheelers, mini/dirt bikes or go-carts driven by minors or unlicensed individuals allowed to participate in the parade.
For further information, call the Banks County Chamber of Commerce at 677-2108.



Rep. Jamieson seeks session on video poker
In a letter sent to Gov. Roy Barnes, Rep. Jeanette Jamieson has requested that the subject of video poker be added to the agenda for the second part of a special session.
The session originally called to address reapportionment is expected to reconsider legislation previously passed which requires continuing education for cosmetologists.
Mrs. Jamieson cited concerns from her constituents that communities lying nearest to South Carolina will experience a tremendous expansion of video poker operations should the state refuse to address the matter.
Mrs. Jamieson states that she knows Gov. Barnes is greatly concerned about the influx of video poker into Georgia and expects him to grant the request to address the matter during the coming weeks of the special session.