Originally created 02/08/98

Local and area briefs



Slaying suspect charged in arson

VALDOSTA -- A man already in custody on charges of killing a Valdosta teen-ager is accused of arson and burglary in a separate incident in south Georgia.

Russell Phillip Sharp, 31, of New York is charged with first-degree arson and burglary of a double-wide trailer in Echols County, near Valdosta, authorities said Friday.

The home, which belonged to Carroll Parker, was destroyed Jan. 26 after items were stolen.

Mr. Sharp was arrested last week on a murder charge in the death of Sylvester Scott III of Valdosta. The 18-year-old's body was found Jan. 29, almost two weeks after he disappeared.

Investigators said Mr. Sharp has denied both crimes.

Robber's note includes name

ATLANTA -- A man who robbed a Wachovia Bank may have left investigators an invaluable clue: his name and address.

The robber wrote his holdup note on an application for a duplicate Social Security card. On the front of the application was a name and address that police believe belongs to the robber.

"This guy is a candidate for the dumbest criminals show," said Detective Ed Christian of the Atlanta Police Department.

The robbery suspect's name was not released.

The suspect initially went to the bank at about 9 a.m. Friday to cash a check, then returned three hours later with the holdup note, said FBI spokeswoman Celestine Armstead.

"I believe FBI agents went to his home and found his mother," Ms. Armstead said. "Now they're looking for him."

Schools chief sets final agenda

COLUMBIA -- State Education Superintendent Barbara Nielsen will spend her final year in office pressing for alternative schools and smaller elementary classes.

Ms. Nielsen said Friday she wants no more than 15 students per classroom in kindergarten through third grade, an initiative that would cost the state about $156 million.

"We really feel the individual attention will get children off to a really good start," she said told education reporters from across the state.

State law now limits the student-teacher ratio to 22-1 for grades K-3, but Ms. Nielsen said those figures factor in counselors and physical education, art and music teachers. Some early elementary classrooms have as many as 30 students, she said.

Ms. Nielsen also favors starting more alternative schools for students who cannot function in a regular classroom for discipline or academic reasons. She did not give specifics, but acknowledged alternative schools often cost more.

"I don't want to hear, `We only have X dollars to spend.' That is not how we go about changing education," she said.

Ms. Nielsen announced last month that she would not pursue a third term as superintendent. Five candidates -- three Democrats and two Republicans -- have announced their candidacy for the position.

Marine dies in car accident

BEAUFORT -- A 21-year-old Marine from Washington drowned in a swamp after a one-car accident near Ravenel, the Charleston County deputy coroner said.

Pfc. Jeff Bales, a tractor-trailer driver with Marine Wing Support Squadron 273 based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, was headed to work Thursday when the accident happened.

"He got to an area north of Ravenel called Cawcaw Swamp, and for some reason -- and we haven't determined why -- he veered left, crossed the opposing lane of traffic and struck the bridge abutment that goes across the swamp," sheriff's spokesman Mitch Lucas said Friday.

"When the Camaro struck the bridge, the driver's door opened ... and he was ejected. He wasn't wearing a seat belt, and he ended up in the water," Mr. Lucas said.

The swamp normally has 6 inches of water, but it was several feet deep after this week's heavy rains. The road also was wet.

The Marine is survived by his father, Lindsay Bales of Omak, Wash., and his mother, Susan Pownall of Renton, Wash., according to a base spokesman.

Gulf pilot in good condition

COLUMBIA -- A Marine Corps pilot from Beaufort remains in good condition after he collided with another fighter jet over the Persian Gulf during a routine mission.

Maj. Cary D. Venden, 37, was involved in Friday's crash about 80 miles east of Kuwait City, the public affairs office of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command at 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain said.

Lt. Col. Henry G. Van Winkle, 41, of Kirkwood, N.Y., died when his F/A-18 collided with Maj. Venden's.

The Navy called Friday's crash an "apparent midair collision" but offered no further explanation for the accident.

It said the matter was under investigation.

Both pilots were members of Strike Fighter Squadron 251, based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort and had launched from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in the gulf.

The F/A-18, nicknamed the Hornet, is flown by both the Navy and Marine Corps. The planes that collided were C models, which are single-seat versions.

The F/A-18 can perform either air-to-air combat or ground attack missions.

It is made by McDonnell Douglas.

Ports lead nation in growth

CHARLESTON -- South Carolina's ports handled $12 billion in exports last year, leading the nation in trade growth.

Deep-water seaport terminals moved a record 12.6 million tons of international cargo, up 13 percent from 1996, the State Ports Authority said.

Charleston became the nation's fourth-largest port for containers, the 20- and 40-foot metal boxes that dominate international shipping.

Exports were up 12 percent, an increase of 700,000 tons from the previous year, the Ports Authority said.

"Despite recent growth in imports, our state's ports still handle significantly more exports than imports," said Bernard Groseclose Jr., the Ports Authority's president and chief executive officer.

Grant given to study gangs

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina will receive $162,381 in federal funds to study gang activity and related crimes, U.S. Sen. Ernest Hollings' office said.

The Justice Department grant will go to the state's Criminal Justice Statistical Analysis Center in Columbia.

The center will work with the University of South Carolina to determine the extent of youth gang activity across the state.

"The more we know about this problem, the better we can be at preventing it," said Mr. Hollings, D-S.C.