Originally created 06/04/98

Local and area briefs



Heat advisories issued for region

Georgians and South Carolinians sweltered through another day of scorching heat and sodden air Wednesday as the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory and the heat index -- a combination of temperature and humidity -- climbed to 111 at St. Simons Island, 108 in Augusta and 101 in Columbia.

Heat advisories are issued when the heat index is expected to reach 105 degrees, a level that causes extreme discomfort for humans and increases the risk of heat injuries.

By midafternoon Wednesday, Georgia's hot spots were St. Simons Island, with a temperature of 99 degrees; and Augusta, with a temperature of 98.

As people fled into air-conditioned spaces, South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. said it set a new electric-use record -- 2 1/2 weeks before the official arrival of summer. Usage peaked at 3,804 megawatts at 5 p.m. Wednesday, breaking the record of 3,734 megawatts set Aug. 18.

"People should take precautions to avoid exposure," said Teresa Murphy, a weather service meteorologist at Peachtree City, outside Atlanta. "They're more prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke."

The heat and high humidity are particularly tough on people in poor health and on extremely young and extremely old people, said Anita Dye, a weather service meteorologist. To reduce risk, people should remain inside in well-ventilated places, drink plenty of fluids and wear loose clothing.

Attorneys debate forfeitures

Attorneys jockeyed for position Wednesday in preparation for future hearings concerning the prosecutor's attempt to win forfeiture of computer and photographic equipment seized from a child psychologist accused of amassing a collection of child pornography.

At a Richmond County Superior Court hearing Wednesday, attorneys for Dr. Robert Bruce Craft and his wife squared off against District Attorney Danny Craig and his staff. Prosecutors contend the Martinez couple should have to relinquish more than $100,000 in computer and camera equipment, the couple's home and the doctor's Augusta office because, they allege, the property was used in creation, maintenance or transportation of child pornography.

Dr. Craft has been charged in Richmond and Columbia counties with child molestation and sexual exploitation of children, but he hasn't been convicted or indicted.

The next hearing hasn't been scheduled. Late Wednesday, a hearing scheduled for today in Columbia County was canceled. Mr. Craig said Wednesday he had just received a copy of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation report on the criminal investigation late Tuesday night.

Gas service to businesses cut

About a dozen south Augusta businesses were without gas service Wednesday after road crews digging post holes for guardrails severed a natural-gas line on Deans Bridge Road near the ramp onto Bobby Jones Expressway.

The leak did not pose a threat to people in the vicinity, said Battalion Chief Bryan McFeely of the Richmond County Fire Department. No evacuation was necessary, but officials blocked the road to reduce risk of a spark causing combustion.

"Natural gas is lighter than air, and we had a good wind blowing. So it dissipated pretty fast," he said.

Firefighters responded to the call about 10:50 a.m. By 12:10 p.m., Atlanta Gas Light crews had cut off gas to the severed line and begun repair work, said Augusta branch manager Bryan Batson. Repairs were completed and service restored by 4 p.m.

Donation benefits museums

Sara Lee Corp. revealed one of the largest corporate art bequests in U.S. history Wednesday, the donation of its collection of French Impressionist and early-modern works to at least 20 museums, including one in Columbia and another in Atlanta.

The museums -- including Columbia Museum of Art, High Museum of Art in Atlanta and others in the South -- will get many of the works, said John Bryan, Sara Lee chief executive. The specific donations will be announced during the coming six months.

Sara Lee's Chicago-based collection -- including works by Henri Matisse, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin and Camille Pissarro -- is considered one of the finest corporate collections in the country. Eventually, nearly 40 works will be distributed.

Most of the donated works were once in the personal collection of the late Nathan Cummings, a philanthropist and chairman of Consolidated Foods Corp., which eventually became Sara Lee.

Leader to pay for mayor's trip

STONE MOUNTAIN -- Stone Mountain's mayor pro tem says he'll foot the bill Mayor Chuck Burris spent at taxpayer expense on a family trip to Washington so the city council can get on with business.

"I agree to pay the money back and render this issue impotent. ... Let's move on," Billy Mitchell, a lawyer who is also running for the state Senate, said at a council meeting Tuesday night.

Some council members accused Mr. Burris of violating city ordinances in January when he spent $2,800 on a trip to Washington with his wife and daughter after President Clinton invited him to attend the State of the Union address. About half the cost was in dispute.

Mr. Burris initially said he thought the White House was paying. But when that turned out not to be the case, he said he would not repay the city -- causing some council members to consider legal action.

Child killer called innocent

ATLANTA -- Two men who investigated the Atlanta child murders in the early 1980s said again Tuesday that they believe convicted killer Wayne Williams is innocent.

Fulton County Police Chief Louis Graham and DeKalb County Sheriff Sidney Dorsey, both Atlanta police investigators at the time of the killings, told NBC's Dateline they never believed Mr. Williams was guilty.

Mr. Williams, then 23, was convicted in 1982 of killing two of 29 young blacks whose deaths were investigated by a special police task force. Police later closed 22 other cases, blaming them on him.

Mr. Williams, also interviewed for the NBC program aired Tuesday night, said he believes police, prosecutors and jurors were so eager to close the case that they ignored facts that would have exonerated him.

Church reverses funds decision

MARIETTA -- A Methodist church in Marietta, convinced that the North Georgia Conference will prohibit same-sex marriage ceremonies, has reversed a decision to withhold $224,041 from the conference.

"Homosexuality is blatantly condemned in the Bible," said the Rev. Randy Mickler, pastor of the 5,400-member Mount Bethel United Methodist Church.