Originally created 07/26/01

Across the area



AUGUSTA
Murder verdict could come today

A Richmond County Superior Court jury could reach a decision today about the guilt or innocence of a 20-year-old man accused of murder.

Haskell Johnson has pleaded innocent in the slaying of 36-year-old Ritchard Lewis on March 4, 2000. Mr. Lewis was shot in the chest outside a Ninth Street house that the city later tore down, deeming it a crack house.

Investigators contend Mr. Lewis was shot when he tried to intervene in an attempted robbery of a drug buyer.

Murder charges also are pending against Derek L. Willingham and Franklin E. Frails, both 22.

All three men have pleaded innocent. They have been held without bond since their arrests in March 2000.

AUGUSTA
Inn robbed twice in 9 days

The West Bank Inn in the 2900 block of Washington Road was robbed at gunpoint Wednesday night - the second time the hotel has been robbed within nine days.

According to police, a man knocked on the glass door of the front office, which was locked, about 10:20 p.m.

A male clerk, assuming the man was a customer, let him in, and the man pulled out a black semiautomatic handgun. He demanded that the clerk unlock the cash register, and the robber took cash and fled, Sgt. Greg Smith said.

On July 16, the West Bank Inn was robbed when a man entered the office, brandished a pistol and demanded money. He also fled with cash.

The robber Wednesday's was described as black, 5 feet 10 inches tall and 170 pounds. He wore a black shirt and black pants.

Sgt. Smith said he will investigate whether the two robberies are connected.

COLUMBIA COUNTY
Police seek link in jewel robberies

Columbia County officers contacted investigators in Columbia on Wednesday, looking for a possible connection between two recent robberies of jewelry salesmen.

Police say it's too early to determine whether the incidents are related.

"We've already been in contact with law enforcement officers in Columbia in an effort to compare notes," said sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris.

The heist in Columbia County occurred at a rest area near the Appling Harlem Road exit of Interstate 20 about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The sheriff's office said a Florida jewelry salesman was approached by four Hispanic men and was ordered at gunpoint to hand over jewelry. The robbers drove west on I-20 in a light-green minivan.

On July 10, a salesman was robbed of $2.5 million in jewelry at gunpoint by two Hispanic men while he returned a rental car at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

SOUTH CAROLINA
State issues tax-check reminder

Gov. Jim Hodges ordered the South Carolina Department of Revenue this week to issue a reminder that federal rebate checks are exempt from state income tax.

The department did so Tuesday, cautioning residents that scam artists might be looking to take advantage of any confusion; taxes might apply in other states, the department said, but not South Carolina.

Elizabeth C. Duncan, spokeswoman for the state department, stressed there also is no fee required to obtain the rebates from the United States Treasurer's office.

COLUMBIA COUNTY
Drug awareness meeting set

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office will offer a drug awareness meeting for parents at 7 p.m. today in the Evans Government Center auditorium.

The meeting will include a question-and-answer session with officers.

AUGUSTA
County will hold voting drive

The Richmond County Board of Elections will hold a voter registration drive from 9:30 a.m to 2 p.m., Sunday at Beulah Grove Baptist Church, 1434 Poplar St.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Man faces bank robbery charge

COLUMBIA - Ronny Adams, 26, of Aiken, was charged in a one-count federal indictment with bank robbery this week.

Mr. Adams is charged with robbing the Palmetto Bank at 401 West Butler Road in Mauldin. The robbery occurred July 10.

Scott N. School, the U.S. attorney for South Carolina, stated the maximum penalty Mr. Adams could receive is a fine of $250,000 or imprisonment for 20 years.

GEORGIA
Ex-coach jailed in sex assaults

ALBANY - A former high school coach has been sentenced to three years in prison for sexually assaulting two students at private schools.

Shawn Cheek, 28, a former Byne Memorial Baptist School and Sherwood Christian Academy coach, resigned as manager of the minor league Albany Alligators baseball team shortly before being indicted in March. He also was sentenced Tuesday to seven years' probation following the prison term.

Mr. Cheek was indicted on one count of child molestation, two counts of sexual assault against a person in custody and one charge of public indecency.

The child molestation charge, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, was reduced to sexual assault against a person in custody, punishable by up to three years prison for each offense. Mr. Cheek was sentenced as a first offender, meaning his record could be cleared if he completes his sentence satisfactorily.

GEORGIA
Trophies barely miss trash can

ATLANTA - An overzealous cleanup crew at a suburban Atlanta high school tossed dozens of trophies into the trash while clearing a closet to make room for student records.

"It was just a terrible mistake," said Vicky Ferguson, assistant principal at Milton High School in Alpharetta. "We're not in the business of throwing away trophies. Those things are part of our heritage."

Ms. Ferguson would not say who trashed the trophies, which were later retrieved, but she chalked it up to "a miscommunication."

Someone saw the discarded trophies and alerted Alpharetta city officials, who sent two park workers to retrieve them. They are being stored in a City Hall annex until the school takes them back to repair and redisplay them.

The halls of the school are filled with reminders of athletic and academic competitions Milton students have won since the school opened in 1921, said Susan Barfoot, former co-president of the parent-student-teacher association.

"I bet you they could take a whole room and fill it with trophies," she said.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Women charged in mail theft

Joyce Ann Boylin, 29, and Brandy Charlene Puckett, 19 - both of Gaffney - were charged in a one-count federal indictment with stealing mail Wednesday.

The U.S. attorney's office in Greenville alleges theft from the mailbox of Price's Parts and Equipment, 3126 Battleground Road, Cowpens.

The maximum penalty each woman faces is imprisonment of five years and a fine of $250,000.