Originally created 11/30/03

After years of dealing with death, Sims wasn't afraid to go

"DEATH INVESTIGATION - it's all I've ever done."

Coroner Leroy Sims, who was one of the few remaining members of a group of Richmond County Democrats who called the shots in county politics for more than 30 years, will be buried Monday.

Not so long ago, he sat behind his desk at the coroner's office on Bay Street, smoking forbidden cigarettes and thumping the ashes into a Coca-Cola can.

"Yes, I was what y'all used to call the Southside Mafia with Charlie Webster, Mike Padgett and Mr. Bernard Miles," he said. "They were a grand old bunch of gentlemen. Every one of them. Roy Harris. Now that was a fine old gentleman and a Democrat. My father was a Democrat. My grandfather was a Democrat going back to the Roosevelt days."

He talked about his near-brush with death two months earlier from a massive heart attack.

"I have no fear of death," he said. "I've been around it so long, I just don't have any fear of it."

He claimed he could walk into "a scene of death, look around a little bit" and tell whether there had been foul play.

"It's just that old instinct," he said.

After almost three decades as beat cop, homicide detective and coroner, not much bothered him except crimes to babies and children.

"Then I get upset," he said. "Anybody that would harm a baby or a child and kill them should go to the electric chair."

He said he remembered when Ronnie Strength was "running barefoot on the street" and when James Brown shined shoes at a stand on Broad Street.

Mr. Sims certainly looked like a coroner with his imposing stature. It was hard to imagine him playing hymns on the organ for hours on end.

"When I start to play my organ, my little dog, she'll come sit down by me," he said. "And I'll play every hymn that's in the book, just about."

WELCOME TO WUNDERLAND: Augustan Robert Wunderlich has had his day in court - again.

Mr. Wunderlich filed a habeas corpus petition to object to the outcome of his 2000 trial, which placed him on five years' probation for making death threats against his neighbors and for writing inflammatory letters to public officials.

This time around, Mr. Wunderlich represented himself. Attorneys have told him his case is likely an "abuse of litigation" and a "waste of time."

The Nov. 25 habeas hearing saw him subpoena a slew of city officials as witnesses. Deputies, attorneys and Mayor Bob Young - who was served with a subpoena during a Saturday Republican Party breakfast - were called to testify.

Even George Bush got served - George D. Bush, a local attorney and the Historic Preservation Commission chairman, who represented Mr. Wunderlich at one time.

Augusta Judicial Circuit Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. said he planned to rule quickly.

How he'll rule is unclear, however. Partway through the hearing, Judge Fleming remarked: "I don't know what's taking place, quite frankly."

BAD NEWS BOB: When he ran for office, the mayor promised he'd make things happen in the city. Everyone assumed Mr. Young meant Augusta.

Maybe he meant some other city.

He went to New York City in July the day a city councilman was gunned down by another councilman. When he went back to the Big Apple in August, the lights went out. He managed to avoid the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome during his visit to China, but then he went to Los Angeles, just in time for the arrest of Michael Jackson.

"Lord knows what's going to happen when I show up somewhere else," he said.

Maybe he should just stay home. Then again, maybe not.

LITTLE-KNOWN FACTS: Richmond County Republican Party Chairman Dave Barbee is also the chairman of the county's Human Relations Commission.

MAX'S MONASTERY: When Augusta Commission members got their first glimpse of design plans for a utilities and public works complex on Richmond Hill Road, there were some puzzled looks.

To be candid, color renderings of the brick building look less like a government office facility and more like a church campus. Some city employees are already calling it "the chapel."

City Administrator George Kolb murmured his one-word appraisal: "Ugly."

Despite the absence of a steeple, it's not surprising that Utilities Director and Primitive Baptist preacher Max Hicks disagrees: "I think it looks beauteous."

GRAMMAR POLICE: Civil and Magistrate Court Judge William D. Jennings III doles out a lot of advice, counsel and sometimes grammar lessons along with justice.

A woman, angry that the maintenance man in her apartment complex hung garbage bags she had left in the breezeway on her front doorknob, put the trash back in the breezeway along with a nasty note.

"If anybody have a problem with the trash, bring the dump back around and don't put that (stuff) directly in my door," she penned.

After reading the note, Judge Jennings said, "If anybody has, not the plural have," then sentenced her to a year's probation and 80 hours of community service.

A man from Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in court on a disorderly conduct charge, admitted he'd been drinking when three officers arrested him in the stairwell of an Augusta motel.

When the judge asked him whether he'd been disorderly, the man said he was loud because he was hard of hearing.

"So am I," Judge Jennings said. "Why don't you get a hearing aid?"

The man said he couldn't afford one. Besides, he said, his father wore a hearing aid.

"It doesn't mean you're old," the judge said. "I'm going to put the case on the dead docket, but you really ought to get a hearing aid."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215.


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