Originally created 12/25/96

Area news briefs

Coach charged with drug possession

A volunteer football coach at T.W. Josey High School was charged with drug possession early Tuesday. Police accuse him of having crack cocaine in a stolen car he was driving.

A Richmond County sheriff's deputy pulled over the 1994 Toyota Camry about 12:45 a.m. Tuesday because it had an improper tag displayed, a police incident report said. The driver ran from the car, them struggled with deputies, scratching one and sending another to the hospital with a wrist injury, the report said.

Officers found a plastic bag with two grams of suspected crack cocaine in the car, which had been reported stolen by Hertz Rent-A-Car Co. in Washington, the report said. The substance tested positive for cocaine, another report stated.

The man, identified as Rufus Hankerson, 32, of the 3500 block of Evangeline Drive, was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, theft by receiving a stolen car and obstruction.

A police booking report identified him as a coach at Josey, but Principal Richard Johnson said Mr. Hankerson was a volunteer, not a member of the staff. Mr. Hankerson helps coach the football team, Mr. Johnson said.

Charities will offer Christmas meals

Nobody has to go without a good, hearty Christmas dinner today, local charities promise.

The Salvation Army, 1384 Greene St., will serve turkey with dressing, green beans, yams and desserts when it opens its doors at 12:30 p.m. Hungry guests will have until 3:30 p.m. to enjoy their meal.

The Master's Table at 842 Fenwick St. will serve Christmas dinner between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

"Our regulars usually start coming around 9 a.m., or 8:30, because they want to be first in line," said Master's Table assistant manager Mary Saffron. "But we don't turn anybody away."

More than 230 people had free meals at the soup kitchen Tuesday, and there probably will be more today, she said.

"Especially toward the end of the month their numbers go up." she said. "We'll have a lot of families now that the kids are out of school."

The Master's Table, too, promises turkey to anyone who stops by.


State's first flu case confirmed

ATLANTA - Georgia's first case of the flu this winter has been confirmed in the town of Clayton in Rabun County.

Peter Lee, spokesman for the Department of Human Resources, said Monday that the case was reported Dec. 12.

Tests confirmed the case as Type A, but officials don't know yet whether it's the harsh Wuhan strain that has predominated in other states, Mr. Lee said.

Flu has been reported in 43 other states, according to the latest count by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fumes at church leave 35 ill

MOULTRIE - Carbon monoxide fumes from a faulty heater filled a Baptist church during its Sunday services, causing about 35 people to be taken to a hospital.

The parishioners became ill shortly after services began at Eastside Baptist Church when the church's natural gas-burning heater began emitting fumes into the sanctuary, said Moultrie Fire Chief Lamar Plymel.

"People started feeling weak and they got everybody out of the church," Chief Plymel said. "Some of them passed out."

None of the churchgoers was admitted to the hospital.

Independent to run for governor

ATLANTA - A Stone Mountain funeral home director is the fourth person to sign up for the 1998 governor's race.

Phillip L. Meeks, 41, has registered as an independent candidate and said he wants to "put biblical principles back in state government."

The other three declared candidates are all Democrats - Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard, state Rep. Roy Barnes of Mableton and state Labor Commissioner David Poythress.

No Republicans have filed for the race, but Attorney General Mike Bowers is considered the leading GOP contender.

Men unharmed after fiery crash

ATLANTA - Two people walked away from their crushed, flaming car with minor injuries after being dragged more than 1,000 feet by a tractor trailer on Interstate 85.

The 8,000-pound truck literally ran over the top of the subcompact Honda Civic until the car became stuck in the rig's back wheels. When the truck came to a stop, Jesus Morales and Teofilo de Los Santos crawled out of the Honda's passenger door.

"It's nothing short of a miracle," said Bill Myers, a battalion chief for Gwinnett County Fire Department.

Mr. Morales, who was uninjured, called it "un regalo de Dios" - a gift from God. Mr. de Los Santos suffered a minor injury to his left shoulder.

The wreck backed up northbound traffic on I-85 for several hours Monday morning.

Investigators said the rig's driver probably was changing lanes and ran over the Honda because he couldn't see it. No citations had been issued Monday.

Infant's body to be exhumed

ATLANTA - The body of an infant killed 25 years ago will be exhumed in hopes of finding evidence that further clears the baby's sister in the death and implicates its stepfather.

For years, Tracy Rhame took the blame for killing her 4-month-old brother by dropping him from his crib when she was only 2. But Ms. Rhame managed to get the case reopened and a grand jury indicted the dead infant's stepfather, Jan Barry Sandlin, on murder charges last week.

DeKalb County Medical Examiner Joe Burton said Monday he'll exhume the 25-year-old corpse of Matthew Golder after medical records showed damage to the baby's skull was too great to be caused by a fall from a crib.

"It's a slim chance as to what we would find, but we would be remiss if we didn't do it," said DeKalb County prosecutor J. Tom Morgan.

Mr. Sandlin, 46, will be extradited to Georgia from Florida, where he is in prison for armed robbery. He denies killing the child.


Retirees sue over health plan

CHARLESTON - A group of military retirees has sued the federal government, alleging that recent changes in health care benefits break a promise to provide unlimited, lifelong care to retirees and their families.

The Coalition of Retired Military Veterans was formed six months ago by former Sumter County Councilman Rudy Singleton, who said the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on Monday.

"Our suit is an affirmation of our faith in our country and our belief that it will live up to its word," Mr. Singleton said.

Tricare, which recently replaced Champus as the military's insurance provider, often pays for only 75 percent of veterans' medical bills. Some people buy supplemental insurance to pay for the rest, but many veterans do not qualify for additional insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

Lawmakers get strong message

COLUMBIA - Lawmakers readying to redraw state political district lines say their six public hearings brought a clear message: Don't change things too much.

"A practically unanimous voice of black voters said maintain black representation where it is because it took too long to get," state Rep. Bubba Cromer, a Columbia independent, said Monday. Other speakers urged legislators to change their districts as little as possible.

The House Election Laws subcommittee he chairs agreed to have their recommendations complete by Jan. 21. Senators are also redrawing political lines after federal judges ruled in September the General Assembly violated the Constitution by relying too heavily on race when it redrew lines after the 1990 census.

Six House districts and three state Senate districts must be redrawn, though other districts may be affected. Special elections will be held next year.

Lawmakers have until April 1 to come up with a Justice Department-approved plan or the court will redraw the districts in question.

Mr. Cromer said redistricting considerations include compactness, contiguity, communities of interest and race.

Man killed in shootout with police

GOOSE CREEK - A Goose Creek man has died after exchanging gunfire with Berkeley County sheriff's deputies outside an apartment.

David Mattox Sr., 63, had gone to the apartment of his estranged wife Sunday night, and deputies were then called, said Hugh Munn, a State Law Enforcement Division spokesman.

Mr. Mattox came outside with a gun and there was an exchange of gunfire, Mr. Munn said. The SLED spokesman would not say who fired the first shot, but Mr. Mattox was shot in the chest and died.

Neither of the deputies involved, nor the woman, Patricia Mattox, was hurt, Mr. Munn said.

Sheriff Wayne DeWitt placed deputies Bannon Crosby and Jerry Wright on administrative duty while the shooting is investigated by SLED.

Sanford may not support Gingrich

CHARLESTON - U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford is not sure he will be able to stick with his fellow South Carolina Republicans and support Rep. Newt Gingrich for a second term as House speaker.

Mr. Sanford is upset by the ethics charges pending against the Georgia lawmaker.

"In essence, he made his career on an ethics charge," Mr. Sanford said, referring to Mr. Gingrich's 1989 attack against former Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas. "He has to be held to the same standard."

Mr. Wright resigned in 1989 amid accusations of violating House rules governing gifts and speaking fees.

Mr. Gingrich faces charges that his tax-exempt organizations were used improperly as branches of his political action committee. He admitted providing inaccurate statements to the House Ethics Committee but said he did not intend to mislead the panel.

Mr. Sanford said he is waiting for a 25-page brief on the matter from the House GOP leadership and will decide after studying it.

The other Republicans in South Carolina's House delegation, Reps. Floyd Spence, Lindsey Graham and Bob Inglis, say they continue to support Mr. Gingrich.

- Compiled by Mike Hill


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