Originally created 01/25/00

Across the area



SOUTH CAROLINA

Woman ordered to have more tests

Rose Ellen Cushman was ordered by a Benton County, Ark., Circuit Court judge Monday to undergo more psychological tests before appearing in court again.

Ms. Cushman, 43, of Windsor, S.C., is charged with two counts of capital murder in the alleged South Carolina-Arkansas killings-for-hire of Joanne Kneece and her ex-husband, Floyd Suggs.

Judge David Clinger ordered Ms. Cushman to undergo preliminary psychological testing during a Dec. 16 arraignment hearing.

Those tests were done at the Ozarks Guidance Center in Springdale, Ark., where an initial evaluation prompted medical personnel at Ozarks to refer Ms. Cushman to State Hospital.

State Hospital authorities hope to determine if she understands her actions and what her mental state was at the time of the slayings.

Ms. Cushman and 42-year-old James Arnold Baughman of Trenton were allegedly paid $30,000 to $40,000 for the Oct. 30 slayings by Mrs. Kneece's estranged husband, 60-year-old Etheridge Kneece of Edgefield County.

Mr. Baughman entered a not guilty plea at his Dec. 16 arraignment. Mr. Kneece was extradited to Benton County on Jan. 14 and is awaiting arraignment.

RICHMOND COUNTY

Residents ask boaters to take care

Residents of a waterfront subdivision that sustained damages during last week's drawdown of the Savannah River are asking boaters to observe a voluntary no-wake zone around damaged shoreline structures.

"We're afraid we may lose a dock or ramp," said Carolyn Thompson, a homeowners' association board member at Goodale Landing, located about a half-mile upstream from Sandbar Ferry Road Bridge.

Residents are planning to assess and repair docks, but inclement weather has delayed efforts to stabilize those structures, she said. Boat wake can cause further erosion and movement of loosened structures.

Last week's drawdown was an experiment by the Army Corps of Engineers, which wants to decommission the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam because it is in disrepair, and because the commercial navigation it was built to serve no longer exists.

AIKEN COUNTY

Cause of death questioned

An autopsy was performed Monday on the body of a 76-year-old tractor trailer driver to determine whether he died from a heart attack or from injuries suffered in a deadly accident in Aiken County a week ago, Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend said.

Richard Ellis, of Savannah, died Friday while being treated at Medical College of Georgia Hospital.

Highway Patrol officials said it appeared Mr. Ellis caused a three-car accident Jan. 17 on South Carolina Highway 19 that killed Edgefield resident Mitchell Smith and his 3-month-old son, Dylan.

After the collision, Mr. Ellis walked out of his vehicle and was taken to MCG, where he was in fair condition Jan. 18. He remained there until his death.

"We want to answer the question -- Is the death natural, or was it related to the crash?" Mrs. Townsend said. "Plus, how bad a heart condition did he have?"

RICHMOND COUNTY

Labor office will extend hours

The Georgia Department of Labor office at 601 Green St. in Augusta will expand its office hours from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning Monday, said Gerald Carter, office manager.

The new hours will open the department 30 minutes earlier in the morning and will keep it open 30 minutes longer in the evening. Mr. Carter said he was able to adjust staff schedules to cover expanded hours without additional staff or overtime expenses.

"The expanded hours should help our customers and make it easier for them to come in during nontraditional hours," Mr. Carter said. "We feel like if we make this gradual change and if it is productive, then we'll expand our hours further."

Job applicants also have the option of accessing the department's Internet site at www.dol.state.ga.us, where they can find any job opening listed with Department of Labor offices throughout the state.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Aquarium opening scheduled

CHARLESTON -- It's official. The long-awaited South Carolina Aquarium is set to open May 19.

The $69 million project, first planned in 1983, will debut with a surrounding park, the city's newest parking garage and a makeover of eastern Calhoun Street.

"We are about to open a new stretch of Charleston waterfront that has never been open to the public," Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said.

The aquarium staff moved into the building a month ago.

The first fish and animals, including river otters and tropical plantings of the saltmarsh exhibit, will be placed inside next month.

The city first met with other groups about building an aquarium 17 years ago, according to newspaper accounts at the time.

GEORGIA

Gorilla's condition worsens

ATLANTA -- The gorilla Willie B. has taken a turn for the worse, with his recent bout with pneumonia causing significant heart disease, zoo officials said in a statement Monday.

A release said the 41-year-old star gorilla has been stressed, and he suffers from cardiomyopathy, which reduces the ability of the heart to contract strongly enough.

"We are guardedly optimistic that he will continue to improve, and that heart medications will be effective in eventually restoring him to normal activity levels," said Rita McManamon, senior veterinarian for Zoo Atlanta.

Both human doctors and veterinarians have been treating Willie B., who will require long-term heart medication. His condition is listed as stable, but until it improves, he will not be on view at the zoo and will remain inside.

GEORGIA

Sanctions against college lifted

MOUNT VERNON -- The Department of Education has lifted sanctions it imposed two years ago against Brewton-Parker College after the liberal arts school was accused of financial aid fraud.

Brewton-Parker, which is owned by the Georgia Baptist Convention, is now free to provide students with financial aid on an advanced payment basis. The end of the sanctions, which occurred 18 months before schedule, also allows the school to offer athletic programs.

"There's a marked feeling of celebration that we have accomplished something very important," President David Smith said. "We've come out of this much stronger than when we entered into our period of maladies."

In February 1997, the government accused Brewton-Parker officials of scheming to defraud the federal education department from 1992 to 1996 in 1,871 claims totaling $2.1 million.

Student aid was funneled illegally to athletes, international students and others, according to the government's lawsuit.

In May 1998, U.S. District Judge B. Avant Edenfield approved a $4 million settlement between the federal government and Brewton-Parker, which is in Mount Vernon, about 70 miles southeast of Macon.