Originally created 09/22/99

Area briefs: Cruise passengers return home today



Dozens of Augusta-area residents will return home today after being stranded two days aboard a disabled cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Carnival Cruise Lines ship Tropicale is scheduled to dock in Tampa, Fla., at noon, said Dick Frank of Dick Frank's Travel Connection, off Wrightsboro Road. Mr. Frank booked spots on the cruise ship for 92 area residents.

The Tropicale was stranded about 100 miles from Tampa on Sunday when a fire broke out in its engine room. Although the blaze was extinguished and no passengers were harmed, the fire knocked out the ship's engines for hours.

The Tropicale's return, first scheduled for Monday, was delayed further because of Tropical Storm Harvey, which closed Tampa's port, Mr. Frank said.

Passengers were treated to dinner and entertainment Monday. Carnival will refund the cost of the trip, Mr. Frank said.

SAVANNAH RIVER SITE

Drum spill causes evacuation

An afternoon drum spill at a Savannah River Site warehouse caused workers in the surrounding area to be evacuated for about an hour.

The SRS hazardous-materials team cleaned the 5-gallon spill, which posed no risk to employees or the public, in about an hour and lifted the evacuation, said Dean Campbell, spokesman for Westinghouse Savannah River Co.

The spill, a combination of low-level radioactive and hazardous waste, was discovered by an employee inspecting the warehouse at 3:30 p.m. The employee immediately notified supervisors. The precautionary evacuation and cleanup methods were taken as a procedural matter, Mr. Campbell said.

Investigators will try today to determine where the spill originated and what caused it, he said.

MCDUFFIE COUNTY

Two die in morning collision

THOMSON -- An early-morning collision Tuesday in McDuffie County killed two people and injured a third.

A Chevrolet pickup truck eastbound on Georgia Highway 124 crossed the middle line and struck a tractor-trailer head-on at 4:30 a.m. State troopers did not know why the pickup crossed the line. It was raining at the time, authorities said.

The two male occupants in the pickup were declared dead at the scene. The tractor-trailer driver was taken to McDuffie County Hospital. No one was charged by Tuesday night. Georgia State Patrol officials, citing a privacy law, did not release the victims' names.

RICHMOND COUNTY

Jury selection continues in trial

Jury selection continues this morning in Bryan Tyrone Williams' capital murder trial in Richmond County Superior Court.

Because prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, potential jurors must be questioned individually to determine whether they are free of bias in the case and can consider imposing a sentence of life in prison or death if Mr. Williams, 21, is convicted of murder.

Mr. Williams, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of the July 16, 1997, killing of Michael D. Stephenson, 29, a public safety officer with the Richmond County Board of Education.

At the end of Tuesday's session, 33 potential jurors had been selected for the jury pool. At least 44 residents must be available for the final jury selection process scheduled for Monday.

AUGUSTA

Bell to ring for rape victims

The bell at St. James United Methodist Church on Greene Street will ring 77 times today, representing the number of women raped every hour in the United States. September is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The ringing starts at 10 a.m. at the Augusta church, event organizers said. The Atlanta-based Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault, a state coalition of 25 rape and sexual assault agencies, is sponsoring the event statewide.

RICHMOND COUNTY

Ex-teacher's hearing postponed

Richmond County school officials have postponed a school board hearing for a former Hephzibah High math teacher accused of sexual misconduct involving a student.

The hearing for Alphonza Griffin, who also was Hephzibah High's boys track coach, was supposed to take place Friday. School district spokesman Donald Porter said Tuesday he didn't know when the hearing would be held.

Mr. Griffin has been on paid leave since April 2 based on allegations of sexual misconduct against a female student. The student graduated in June.

GEORGIA

Barnes taps DOT commissioner

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Department of Transportation on Tuesday got its second heir-apparent commissioner in less than a week.

Gov. Roy Barnes announced he is recommending Tom Coleman of Savannah, a member of the state Board of Regents and former state Senate Transportation Committee chairman, to succeed retiring Transportation Commissioner Wayne Shackelford. The move came after Deputy Commissioner Steve Parks, tapped Thursday by Mr. Barnes, said he does not want the job.

Mr. Coleman, 71, a Savannah native, has been in the construction-installation business in the city since 1954. His payroll has grown to more than 60. Besides his political posts, he also has headed the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce and the Savannah Economic Development Authority.

Mr. Parks, an engineer who has been with the department for 30 years, said in a letter to the DOT board that he long has been planning to retire when he becomes eligible in seven months. He said he wants to pursue opportunities outside state government.

GEORGIA

GBI investigates Abernathy jury

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into a jury's encounter with Coretta Scott King and other civil rights leaders during the theft trial of former state Sen. Ralph D. Abernathy III, which ended last week in a mistrial.

GBI spokesman John Bankhead confirmed Tuesday that the agency was asked by visiting Superior Court Judge L.C. McConnell to investigate allegations of jury tampering. Judge McConnell asked Fulton County sheriff's deputies to compile a report on the jurors' encounter with the civil rights leaders and forward it to the GBI.

Deputies told Judge McConnell that Mrs. King, her two sons and an entourage that included the Rev. Al Sharpton and state Rep. Tyrone Brooks deliberately intercepted jurors as they were en route to lunch. Mr. Abernathy's mother, Juanita, who also was with the group, said it was an accident.

The trial, in which Mr. Abernathy was accused of cheating the state out of about $13,000 in Senate expense money, ended two days later with a hung jury. Jury foreman Les Hankinson has said the encounter with Mrs. King's group had little bearing on the outcome of the case. Attorney General Thurbert Baker has said he intends to retry the case.