Originally created 07/27/01

Across the area



RICHMOND COUNTY
Motel reports armed robbery

Yet another motel off Washington Road reported an armed robbery Thursday.

The Quality Inn & Suites in the 1000 block of Claussen Road - near the intersection of Washington Road and Interstate 20 - reported a robbery about 10:45 p.m. Thursday.

Richmond County sheriff's deputies were looking for a man armed with a sawed-off shotgun or a long-barreled pistol and wearing a yellow sweat shirt with the hood pulled over his head.

The robber entered the lobby and pointed the gun and demanded money from the clerk, Investigator Greg Smith said. The robber took a money box from the cash drawer.

The robbery came a little more than 24 hours after the West Bank Inn in the 2900 block of Washington Road was robbed at gunpoint. In that case, a black man about 5 feet 10 inches tall, wearing a black shirt and black pants, brandished a pistol after persuading a clerk to open a locked office door, an investigator said. The motel had been robbed nine days earlier.

Investigator Smith said he is not sure whether the two motel robberies are connected or whether they are connected to a string of other recent motel robberies in the area.

He said in the most recent two robberies, descriptions of the robbers were vaguely similar but the weapons used were not.

Anyone with information about either robbery is asked to call investigators at 821-1020, or 821-1080 after hours.

COLUMBIA COUNTY
Officers address drug use

Columbia County narcotics officers answered the questions of several concerned parents Thursday night at a drug awareness meeting at the Evans Government Center.

The event - designed to enlighten parents about adolescent drug use - attracted about 40 people and covered topics ranging from how parents can detect illegal drug use among their children to the effects certain drugs have on the body.

Sheriff's Lt. Clay Smith told parents that the No. 1 drug used among teens is alcohol.

"Marijuana is a gateway drug, but in my opinion, this right here is a gateway drug to marijuana," he said, holding a beer can.

Lt. Smith also said Columbia County recently has seen a rise in juvenile arrests for possession of the drug MDMA - otherwise known as Ecstasy. He told parents one of the best ways to know whether their children are using drugs is to watch their cash flow. He added that parents should talk to their children about drugs before they are confronted with them in their teen-age years.

AUGUSTA
Plant reactivating unit that exploded

Augusta's BP Amoco Polymers plant expected to produce Amodel on Thursday night for the first time since an explosion in that unit killed three workers.

Plant spokeswoman Pam Barbara said a crew of engineers and operators was flushing water through the Amodel unit's system and checking for leaks. The start-up process has been going on since Monday, but Thursday night would be the first time the heat-resistant plastic would be produced since the blast March 13.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed," Mrs. Barbara said.

During the past four months, operators have been retrained and the system has been altered, she said. Knockout pots - large dump tanks that collect polymer waste - no longer will be used.

Victims in the explosion were trying to open a knockout pot before their deaths. The plant's internal investigation determined an unforeseen chemical reaction caused pressure to build up inside the drum, while foaming of the polymer kept a pressure gauge from giving an accurate reading. The cover blew as workers unbolted it.

Killed in the blast were Heinrich Kohl, 25, George Sanders, 42, and John Rowland, 35.

AUGUSTA
Wrecked tanker spills diesel

Richmond County authorities closed an access ramp to Interstate 20 for nearly three hours Thursday when a tanker carrying diesel fuel wrecked along River Watch Parkway and spilled diesel.Tanker driver Henry Stritlin, 34, of Doerun, Ga., was charged with failing to yield after crossing into the path of a van driven by Kendall House of Augusta, sheriff's Sgt. Mike Anchor said. Mr. Stritlin was not injured, but Ms. House was taken to Medical College of Georgia Hospital, where she was treated and released.

The two vehicles were traveling in opposite directions on River Watch Parkway about 10:30 a.m. when Mr. Stritlin turned onto the access ramp to I-20 without yielding to the van, Sgt. Anchor said. The wreck ruptured the tanker and spilled fuel on the road.

A private hazardous waste company contained the spill and cleaned up the gas that leaked, Sgt. Anchor said. Both vehicles were heavily damaged and were towed.

AUGUSTA
Murder case goes to jury

One of three men accused of murder could learn his fate today if a Richmond County Superior Court jury is able to reach a unanimous verdict.

Today, the jury is expected to begin deliberations in the case of Haskell Johnson, 20, who has pleaded innocent in the March 4, 2000, shooting death of 36-year-old Ritchard Lewis.

Mr. Johnson, Derek L. Willingham, 22, and Franklin E. Frails, 22, were charged with murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. Each has pleaded innocent. Mr. Willingham and Mr. Frails have not yet faced trial.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Thurmond proposes prison reform

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-South Carolina, has introduced legislation that could reform the federal prisoner work program, Federal Prison Industries.

The bill, the Federal Inmate Work Act of 2001, would eliminate the legal preference that FPI has to sell products to the federal government, while at the same time allowing private companies to partner with FPI.

FPI was created in 1934 and today employs more than 20,000 federal inmates throughout the country.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Jury gets jail corruption case

COLUMBIA - The first case involving specific misconduct by officials at the Department of Corrections has been referred to a state grand jury.

Attorney General Charlie Condon said the new grand jury, empaneled June 20, will investigate a public corruption case involving sex and drugs at Allendale Correctional Institution.

Mr. Condon's spokesman, Robb McBurney, would not comment on the specifics of the case.

"The state grand jury is the best investigative tool to get to the bottom of public corruption committed by Department of Corrections officials," Mr. Condon said.

Mr. Condon took over cases involving criminal wrongdoing by officials in the department in January this year. He and State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart agreed last December that the grand jury would investigate.

More than a dozen Corrections Department guards and employees have been charged with having sex with inmates or smuggling drugs since a SLED investigation began last year.

GEORGIA
Coaches indicted in sex case

ALBANY - A Dougherty County grand jury has indicted two Dougherty High School coaches of sexual assault against students.

Charlie Givens, head basketball coach, was charged with two counts of sexual assault against a person in custody. According to the indictment, Mr. Givens inappropriately touched two students between January and May.

In a separate case, Dougherty High School baseball coach Dan James was indicted on six counts of sexual misconduct involving five students at Dougherty Middle School, where he once taught.

Mr. James is charged with three counts of sexual assault against a person in custody, one count of simple battery, one count of attempted child molestation and one count of child molestation in the indictment.

The indictment alleges acts of inappropriate contact, hugging, kissing and fondling.

Both men's attorneys said their clients were innocent and had never touched any student inappropriately.

GEORGIA
Groups sue for species protection

ATLANTA - A coalition of environmental groups is suing the U.S. Forest Service for failing to protect plants and animals close to becoming endangered, they said Thursday.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the groups, said the government is not doing enough to prevent logging and road building in Southern national forests.

The lawsuit charges that Forest Service officials in five states - Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana - have watered down their own rules about monitoring imperiled species. The species include the Florida black bear, bog turtle and Venus flytrap.

The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

The Forest Service regional office in Atlanta did not immediately return a phone call for comment Thursday afternoon.