Originally created 04/27/97

Local and regional news briefs



Children's center carnival today

The sixth annual carnival to benefit the Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center is scheduled for today.

The event will be located at 808 Eisenhower Drive across the street from Augusta National Golf Course. It will last from 12:30 to 5 p.m.

The carnival will be sponsored by the Augusta-Richmond County Recreation and Parks Department, Accent on Hair Inc. and television station WRDW (Channel 12).

Joe Pearson, an area disc jockey, will furnish the music. Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department will arrive at 1 p.m. and bring Barney, Big Bird, Baby Bop, Batman and other characters.

The department will bring its mini fire truck. The Drug Awareness Resistance Education program will have a cart for children to ride. Twirling Tea Cups, Moonwalk and Ball Crawl and Simply Pets Petting Zoo will be on hand.

Refreshments will be available.

Ranger convicted in death

SAVANNAH - A former Army Ranger has been convicted of felony involuntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime in the 1993 shooting death of a paraplegic.

Former Staff Sgt. Joe Mendoza Casillas Jr., 26, was tried on murder charges for the same shooting in 1995, but jurors deadlocked and a mistrial was declared.

Mr. Casillas faces up to 15 years in prison for the manslaughter and firearm convictions. He's scheduled to be sentenced Monday.

The former staff sergeant was convicted for the shooting death of 28-year-old Martin Leonard Wright, whom he met at a nude dance club.

The shooting occurred at Mr. Casillas' apartment, where he, Mr. Wright and a third man had been drinking beer and talking about the military.

According to testimony, Mr. Casillas brought a pistol out of his bedroom and the men began playing with it. Mr. Casillas aimed the gun at Mr. Wright and pulled the trigger.

Mr. Casillas testified in 1995 that he didn't remember firing the gun. "Once the pistol went off, that's when I snapped out of my daze," he said.

College president to resign

MACON - Macon College President Aaron Hyatt is leaving the school to become chief executive officer of the civic organization Rotary International.

The 67-year-old Mr. Hyatt, who became president of the school in 1985 when it was called Macon Junior College, will step down Aug. 1. School officials said an interim president will probably be named while the Board of Regents searches for a permanent replacement.

Mr. Hyatt's departure comes just as the college goes through a major change. The school's first four-year degrees will be approved in June, and its name will change to Macon State College.

Mr. Hyatt will move to Evanston, Ill., to take over Rotary's $154 million operation. The organization has 650 full-time employees and more than 1.2 million volunteers in 155 countries.

Auto-theft ring investigated

DECATUR - Police are investigating an auto-theft ring that used what appeared to be legal Georgia license tags to hide the fact that cars the thieves sold nationwide were stolen.

Investigators say at least 200 mostly pricey cars were stolen, including one that was recovered in Belgium.

Dozens of people have been arrested, including four tag-office employees in DeKalb and Fulton counties who police say provided the bogus license plates.

Detective Brian Fitzpatrick of DeKalb's auto theft squad said the ring would steal luxury cars such as BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes and sport-utility vehicles such as Ford Explorers, usually from the lots of new-car dealerships. Contacts in the county tag offices would take the information and issue phony plates.

If a police officer ran the tag number through a computer check, it would not show. That is not necessarily suspicious because there often is a delay in new car registrations making the state database, said Detective Bruce Higgins of Gwinnett County.

Only officers who checked the cars' vehicle identification numbers were able to find out they were stolen, Detective Higgins said. But police don't normally run such checks unless a car doesn't have a tag.

"We're telling officers now to take that extra 30 seconds and check," he said.

The ring sold the cars for as little as $5,000 cash for a $60,000 vehicle, he said.

The scheme began to unravel after police ran across two luxury cars stolen from Athens dealerships, then narcotics officers making an arrest confiscated another car with a similarly suspicious license plate.

Condon seeks hike in reward

COLUMBIA - State Attorney General Charlie Condon wants to raise more money for a reward being offered for information about a newborn baby taken from a Florence home two weeks ago.

Mr. Condon said Friday his office would double the current reward to $6,000. He said he also would contact potential donors to increase that amount.

"We have many good corporations in South Carolina that are concerned about the welfare of children in this state." he said.

Melissa Sanders, 22, told police April 12 she had just brought her son, Malik Harkless, home from the hospital when a gunman stormed into the house and took the baby.

On Thursday, Florence Police Chief Ralph Porter asked anyone with information to call a kidnapping hot line at (800) 895-3888.

The State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI are assisting in the investigation.

Review of Lost Trust ordered

COLUMBIA - The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ordered yet another review of "Operation Lost Trust" - the 1990 Statehouse vote-buying sting - following a federal judge's February order.

U.S. District Judge Falcon Hawkins had thrown out charges against five former legislators, saying federal prosecutors violated the men's rights and they could never get a fair retrial.

The appeals court also Friday granted Dick Greer, a former governor's aide who was snared on cocaine charges in the cash-for-votes scandal, and former federal prosecutors the right to respond to questions raised by Judge Hawkins.

- Compiled by Kent Kimes