Originally created 11/15/00

Across the area



COLUMBIA COUNTY
Gas pump blazes in worker mishap

A gas pump at Holiday Market gas station on the corner of Columbia and Belair roads caught fire Tuesday when construction workers attempted to remove the pump.

The fire, which was reported at 3:23 p.m., was contained within five minutes but could have been much more serious, said Honey Shore, Martinez Fire Department's public information officer.

"It had potential," Mrs. Shore said. "We were quite lucky."

Mrs. Shore said the construction crew was dismantling all of the station's pumps in preparation for a new business to take over the site. She said the crew was unaware that the pumps were still electrically connected and accidentally cut some wiring. That sent a spark, which ignited gas residue on the pump, she said.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Probationer arrested in shooting

BARNWELL - A Barnwell County man sentenced to probation two weeks ago was arrested Tuesday in connection with shooting a man in the leg in a domestic dispute, authorities said.

Timothy A. Wiggins, 29, of the 2800 block of Red Oak Road, was charged with assault with a concealed weapon, unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and refusal to leave on request.

Mr. Wiggins was given a second chance by a judge Oct. 30 after his conviction for criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature. The circuit judge agreed to place him on probation.

But witnesses identified him as the man who pulled out a gun Monday night and shot Michael Simmons after a shoving match on Red Oak Road, according to Investigator Rodney Pruitt of the Barnwell County Sheriff's Office.

When questioned, Mr. Wiggins said he accidentally shot the victim in the leg while showing him the gun, the investigator said. Mr. Simmons was treated at Barnwell County Hospital but refused to cooperate with investigators. Mr. Wiggins is being held in Barnwell County Detention Center.

AIKEN
Pupils charged in school fire

Two juveniles face charges after allegedly setting a fire Tuesday in the boy's bathroom at Aiken Middle School that forced an evacuation, authorities said.

Someone set a fire in a trash can at about 12:30 p.m. Fire officials were called to the school on Gator Lane after the smoke was spotted. School officials evacuated everyone for about a half-hour until the fire was out, Public Safety Inspector David Turno said.

During the investigation, a girl confessed to going into the boys' bathroom and setting the fire with a lighter. A boy also was charged because he knew about it, Mr. Turno said.

In a related matter, school officials found one of the pupils with a single-edge razor blade, filed additional charges and arrested another girl.

All three pupils, whose names were not released because of their age, were suspended for 10 days and recommended for expulsion. The charges, which will be heard in Family Court, range from arson to disturbing school to possession of a weapon on school campus.

AUGUSTA
Tree festival begins today

The Junior League of Augusta's Festival of Trees will be held today through Sunday at Augusta Museum of History, 560 Reynolds St.

The event, which features a wonderland of decorated Christmas trees, wreaths, tabletop designs and gingerbread creations, will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

A festival pass, good for the entire week, is $5 for adults and $3 for senior citizens and students; children under 12 will be admitted free.

For more information, call the Junior League of Augusta office at 736-0033.

GEORGIA
Ex-college worker sought in theft

ATHENS - Police were searching Tuesday for a University of Georgia employee accused of taking $21,674 from the housing department's petty-cash fund.

Arrest warrants charge Ron Atkins of Commerce with nine felony counts of theft by deception, University Police Chief Chuck Horton said.

Mr. Atkins, who was fired by University Housing after the theft was discovered, has been missing since Friday.

According to a police report, the money was stolen from the petty-cash fund between Feb. 23 and Nov. 6.

"Basically, the money is there for staff members to make purchases like supplies for maintenance," said Rick Gibson, associate director for residence halls. "When something like this happens, it's hard to detect because a little bit was taken here and there over a long period of time."

GEORGIA
Store owner found fatally stabbed

FORT OGLETHORPE - The stabbing death of a convenience store owner is Fort Oglethorpe's first slaying in more than five years, police said.

Amratlal I. Patel, 55, of Rossville, was found lying on the floor of the A&P Handy Shop at about 11 p.m. Sunday. He had multiple stab wounds in his chest, police Chief David Wyrick said.

The victim's son found the body and called police.

"He was concerned because the store closed at 10 p.m., and he was afraid his father's car may have broken down, so he went to the store looking for him and saw him lying on the floor," Chief Wyrick said.

The A&P Handy Shop is 500 feet from the intersection of U.S. Highway 27 and Georgia Highway 2 in northwest Georgia.

Chief Wyrick said no weapon has been recovered.

Fort Oglethorpe's last homicide was Feb. 17, 1995, Lt. Steve Blevins said.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Embattled teacher loses license

ANDERSON - A former teacher at Palmetto High School in Williamston who was accused of having sexual encounters with two 16-year-old students has relinquished his teaching license.

Jeffrey Pate Martin, 28, of Townville, entered an Alford plea last week to three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in incidents that occurred between November 1999 and January 2000. The plea means Mr. Martin did not admit guilt but acknowledged prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him.

Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson Jr. put Mr. Martin on three years of probation. Under the terms of the plea, Mr. Martin lost his license to teach in South Carolina and must undergo a mental health evaluation. He also is barred from any teaching, coaching or unsupervised contact with minors.

Prosecutor Wendy Hallford said Mr. Martin fondled the students in separate encounters in an empty classroom after school. One of them also had intercourse with Mr. Martin at his Oconee County home, she said.

Mr. Martin resigned from his teaching job and his positions as assistant football and baseball coach three weeks before he was charged.

AUGUSTA
Fire chief candidate undecided

Augusta's second choice for fire chief still hasn't given city officials an answer.

Interim City Administrator Walter Hornsby said late Tuesday that Bernard Mack of Philadelphia "was weighing his options." Officials expect an answer by the end of the week.

Mr. Mack is the city's second choice for the job. Last week, commissioners offered the position to Stephen Woltz, chief of the Columbus (Ohio) Division of Fire. Mr. Woltz turned them down saying the money wasn't enough.

Mr. Mack works for the Philadelphia Fire Department as a battalion chief - supervising 50 firefighters - and as acting deputy chief - responsible for 250 employees. He has a master's degree in public safety and 28 years of experience.