News from Banks County...

JULY 30, 2003


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OPINIONS
Angela Gary
A special star
Last week, I spent an afternoon in an Atlanta area Wal-Mart. I was in the store for more than four hours which surely must be a record.

Rochelle Beckstine
Fish for your health
In a world where it seems “healthy” food changes from week to week, there is one litany that has stayed constant—fatty fish is good.


SPORTS

BCMS softball tryouts set Tues.
Banks County Middle School will hold tryouts and practice for the upcoming softball season on August 5 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the recreation department. The tryouts are for girls in the seventh and eighth grade, said coach Tiffani Thomas.


Neighboorhood News ..
JACKSON COUNTY
Judge seals recusal order in courthouse suit
Judge Overstreet from Augusta to hear case
Legal maneuvering in the high-profile lawsuit against the Jackson County Board of Commissioners over financing plans for a new courthouse heated up this week after the presiding judge sealed the local judges’ recusal order and

Planning Panel Turns Down Two Rezoning Requests
City Council To Make Final
Decision On R-3 Requests Aug. 11
Two developers hoping to annex land into Commerce for subdivisions totaling more than 400 houses left Monday night's meeting of the Commerce Planning Commission unhappy.

BJC Medical Center Now Under QHR


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
BOC shoots down subdivision plans
Albert Sanders got a unanimous vote from the zoning board earlier this month in favor of his planned 30-lot subdivision off Hwy. 98 near Danielsville. But county commissioners voted exactly the opposite way Monday.

Citizens, leaders talk about animal control
Twenty or so residents showed up at a county commission work session Tuesday night to hear their elected officials discuss what to do about the issue of animal control in Madison County.

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Back to School Fair

FACIAL ART Jessica Hames gets her face painted by Andrea Portman of the Department of Human Resources during a Family Connections back to school event in Homer Monday.

‘The drug of choice’
Methamphetamine use continues to climb in rural areas
Imagine ingesting a drug made of little more than cold medicine, battery acid, fertilizer and drain cleaner, manufactured in a drug dealer’s kitchen.
Imagine becoming addicted to a drug that can easily kill the user after only one experience.
And imagine being willing to steal, rob and even kill for enough money to get one more hit.
Such is the story of a person addicted to methamphetamine — the narcotic that has grown to be the drug of choice across Northeast Georgia and the entire country.
THE DRUG OF CHOICE
In the past few years, methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant made illegally in make-shift labs across the country, has become increasingly popular among drug users.
For Banks County, the increased popularity of the drug is no different.
“Over the past few years, methamphetamine has become increasingly the number one drug of choice among those who get on drugs,” Banks County Sheriff Charles Chapman said.
And Chapman should know. His jail is filled each week with those not only caught abusing the drug, but caught stealing in order to finance their drug habit.
“The crimes we experience, most of them are drug related,” Chapman said. “In burglaries where people are caught and charged, it’s usually drug related. They’re strung out on it. They live from day to day trying to find something to steal to get money to get their thing. That’s the kind of life they live.
“We’ve locked up a lot of people for theft and just about every one of them are on drugs, and most of the time it’s meth. It don’t matter if they steal a $200 item and can only sell it for $50. Just so they can get a fix.”
Not a day goes by, Chapman said, that he and his deputies don’t talk about problems surrounding drugs, especially meth. And fighting the influx of the drug into the local community has become a war for the office.
“It’s a constant war with this,” he said. “It seems like sometimes we’re not winning it. You find it everyday. But you do the best you can with it.”
Agencies like the Northeast Georgia Drug Task Force exist to help the Banks County Sheriff’s Office catch and prosecute drug offenders.
“Ninety percent of our cases involve methamphetamine,” drug task force agent Chance Oxner said.
The drug task force operates undercover “street level” investigations in Banks County to sniff out and catch dealers, users and suppliers.
Oxner pointed to several new laws that took effect this month to help in the enforcement of methamphetamine-related violations.
The laws make it illegally to possess certain quantities of chemicals used in the underground production of the drug.
“The laws are going to help,” Oxner said. “Before, someone could have 1,000 tablets of ephedrine (a common meth ingredient) and we couldn’t do anything about it.”
Chapman said his office has seen a high rate of use in recent years among younger drug users, between 20 and 30 years old.
Oxner said his experience in Banks and other surrounding counties have led him not to put a age group on users. But he did say the “drug of choice” has become more popular among people needing to stay up long periods of time, including truckers and mill workers.
The drug, Oxner said, has also been recently taken by young girls looking to lose weight.
Methamphetamine can be taken in many ways from oral ingestion to intravenous injection to smoking. The most common use in Banks County, Chapman said, has been the powdered form.
COOKING METH
Methamphetamine production has been known to kill and seriously injure those cooking the drug, those nearby and even the public safety officials sent in to investigate drug complaints.
“It’s extremely dangerous,” Oxner said. “In a meth lab, there’s a huge possibility of an explosion. If you mix the chemicals together, there’s a huge risk of an explosion.”
Meth production also gives off toxic fumes that have recently seriously burned one Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agent exposed to a lab.
But despite the dangers, people continue to cook the illegal drug in their home.
“It’s so easily manufactured that everybody and their brother is trying to cook it,” Oxner said.
Many of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process are found at any retail or hardware store. Others, including farm fertilizer anhydrous ammonia, are often stolen since possession of such substances is illegal. And the Internet provides easy access to meth recipes.
“It’s a drug which is easily made by those who know how to make it,” Chapman said. “But it’s dangerous to try to make it. A person that doesn’t know what he’s doing can get badly hurt if not killed.”
In Banks County, no active meth lab has been uncovered, meaning officials haven’t raided a home where methamphetamine was being cooked at that time.
But Chapman said raids and search warrants have yielded several labs in the county that included all the components for meth production and were recently used for such.
“Lots of people now are making it in small labs,” Chapman said, pointing to news stories he’s heard of people making the drug in trunks of cars.
Oxner said the short time needed to cook meth makes active labs hard to find.
“A dealer can set up and cook in less time that it takes us to draw up a search warrant,” he said. “In one and a half hours a dealer can make a large amount.”
STREET SALES
The speed and ease of manufacturing methamphetamine has rendered it a drug easily obtained on the streets.
And the ones who pay small dollars for the production chemicals can make a lot of money off raw sales of the drug.
Oxner said that only 1,000 ephedrine pills contain enough of the drug to make one pound of methamphetamine.
One pound, Chapman said, will sell on the street for anywhere between $14,000 and $17,000. Then it’s cut and sold to the individual user.
“For $20 to $50, people that use it can get enough to last a few days,” he said.
And as the availability of the drug increases, so does the negative impact on the user.
EXTREME PARANOIA
Though the drug has been known to cause many different side effects, paranoia emerges as a clear indicator of the drug’s impact.
“It causes a big paranoia reaction,” Oxner said.
Chapman added that he’s seen users who won’t “go to bed for a week at a time” and then “come down,” becoming irritable and paranoid.
“Their so paranoid you can’t stand to be around them and they can’t stand to be around you,” Chapman said.
The drug has also been known to cause a condition for the user known as “crank bugs.”
“You can usually tell a person is on it because they are scratching on their skin and biting on their lip,” Oxner said. “They call it ‘crank bugs’ because they feel as though their skin is crawling.”
Initiatives like DARE (drug abuse resistance education) have been put into schools to education kids on the problems associated with methamphetamine and all drugs.
But peer pressure all too often gets to kids, Chapman said, leaving the real preventive work up to parents.
“They should be taught first at home by their parents that drug use ain’t right,” he said.
But Chapman said too many kids are taught not to take drugs only to go home and witness their parents abusing illegal substances.
Yet, law enforcement officials continue to arrest and prosecute users and dealers in an effort to curb the many social problems caused by meth dependency.
“It’s absolutely ruined a lot of people’s lives and it continues to ruin lives everyday,” Chapman said.


Baldwin to consider new dump truck
One of Baldwin’s dump trucks has died and the other may be too big, according to one of Baldwin’s council members.
Mitchell Gailey told his fellow councilmembers during a meeting Monday that the city needs to look into purchasing a new dump truck for city work crews.
He said the town’s older truck has stopped working and will require costly repairs to get it running again. He suggested the city look at getting a new one and also consider trading in the one new truck it does have for a smaller version.
The council decided to table the matter until its August work session.
In other business during the brief public meeting Monday, the council:
•approved a personnel policy amendment establishing rehiring rights for city employees who leave on good standing and wish to return for employment.
•met behind closed doors to discuss personnel, potential litigation and real estate acquisition.


Prayer walk at BCHS set
A prayer walk at Banks County High School will be held Wednesday, Aug. 6, at 8 p.m., announced the Rev. Vaughn Howington, pastor of Charity Baptist Church.
All area churches are encouraged to participate in the event, church organizers stated. Charity Baptist is located at 1302 Hwy. 51 North.
For more information, call (706) 677-5253.



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Judge denies motion to throw out Cagle’s plea
Superior Court Judge Joe Booth denied the state’s motion last week to have Patrick Henry Cagle Jr.’s guilty plea in the murder death of Bobby Fain thrown out.
Cagle pled guilty in early June to conspiracy to commit felony murder, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, conspiracy to commit hijacking, theft by taking and possession of a firearm by a felon as part of a plea bargain.
In exchange for his testimony implementing Harold Thomas Pruitt as the triggerman in Fain’s death, Cagle accepted a negotiated sentence of 35 years, to serve 20 in confinement without the possibility of parole.
He testified against Pruitt in a trial early in June, a trial that ended with a hung jury.
Shortly thereafter, district attorney Tim Madison made it clear that he didn’t feel like Cagle testified fully and completely on the stand about the events surrounding Fain’s death. Madison therefore made a motion to have the plea set aside.
But Judge Booth ruled that Cagle’s testimony at the trial did not differ in truthfulness from his original statements to investigators.
“While the defendant (Cagle) may have attempted to minimize his own exposure during cross-examination at trial, he clearly and unequivocally implicated Pruitt, thus meeting the fundamental requirement of the plea agreement and meeting the reasonable expectations of the parties to the agreement,” Booth stated in his ruling.
Booth denied the motion to set aside the plea, ruling that the negotiated agreement would stand.
Since Pruitt’s trial ended in a mistrial, he will likely be retried in connection with Fain’s murder. That trial could happen as early as late this year.


Sheriff’s office, state pull out 248 pot plants
Officials with the Banks County Sheriff’s Office and several state agencies found 248 marijuana plants growing in county woods.
Banks County Sheriff Charles Chapman said the state brings a helicopter to the county once per year to fly over looking for marijuana plants.
Police in the air and on the ground located the 248 plants Thursday scattered over several acres on the Banks-Jackson County line.
The marijuana plants, ranging in size from six to eight feet tall, were well-maintained, Chapman said.
The sheriff added that the plants will be destroyed. He said they had a street value of $1,300 per plant, a total worth of $322,400.


BOC chair
Brady won’t seek re-election
Banks County Board of Commissioners chairman Kenneth Brady has announced that he will not be seeking re-election when his term expires in December 2004.
He said he found it difficult to work with commissioners Pat Westmoreland and Ricky Cain. He added he “wanted to leave with his good name intact.”


Teachers return to school Mon.
Teachers will return to work on Monday for pre-planning, while the first day of class for students will be on Friday, Aug. 8.
Some back to school supply lists and other information is listed in this week’s issue on page 10A.
A complete back to school edition will be included in next week’s issue of The Banks County News.