Originally created 04/01/04

Across the area



Officers drop fraud charges

An Augusta woman whom authorities charged in an Internet fraud investigation last week has been cleared of charges by the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, officials said Wednesday.

Financial identity fraud charges against Florence Martin, who was charged by investigators in a fraud investigation involving accounts with the Amazon.com Web site, were dropped, said sheriff's Investigator Greg Newsome.

Investigator Newsome said the investigation has been forwarded to federal authorities.

Expert testimony will conclude murder trial

Two people could learn this afternoon whether they will be freed or imprisoned for life.

Oliver D. Nelson, 38, and Kindra D. Mathis, 21, have pleaded innocent to charges of murder in the Feb. 24, 2003, slaying of 27-year-old Willie Rhodes. Their joint Richmond County Superior Court trial began Tuesday.

Prosecutors expect to conclude their case by calling a firearms expert this morning. The self-confessed triggerman in Mr. Rhodes' slaying, Michael Smith, 44, and former murder co-defendant Valerie A. Leecongdon, 40, provided the only evidence connecting Mr. Nelson and Ms. Mathis to the killing.

Mr. Smith pleaded guilty to murder and is serving life in prison. Ms. Leecongdon pleaded guilty to hindering the apprehension of a criminal and received five years of probation.

Mr. Nelson and Ms. Mathis have been held without bond since their arrests.

New pet store owner passes inspection

A pet store at the center of animal cruelty allegations has changed hands and passed a state inspection, officials said Thursday.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said a new pet dealer license from his agency was approved for James Travis, of North Augusta, on Wednesday after the store passed a pre-licensing inspection by a department inspector.

He said the store was found to be clean and satisfied state requirements for the pet dealer license.

The store was under state investigation for animal abuse allegations lodged by a former employee while the store was owned by Larry Wendt. Mr. Wendt turned in his state license, the Agriculture Department reported this week, but he and two others in the store might face charges in Richmond County Superior Court.

Woman says she was dragged in purse theft

Richmond County sheriff's deputies are investigating an incident in which a 69-year-old Augusta woman said someone snatched her purse and dragged her to the ground Tuesday afternoon, a police report states.

Margaret K. Smith-Hewitt reported that she was walking toward her vehicle at the Food Lion on the 2100 block of Windsor Spring Road when a man driving an older-model car drove behind her.

She said the man reached out of his window and grabbed her purse, dragging her to the ground. The report states that Ms. Smith-Hewitt sought medical treatment at Doctors Hospital for scrapes to her knee and right elbow and shoulder pain.

SRS delays layoffs until week of April 12

The 300 expected layoffs at the Savannah River Site won't happen until the week of April 12, at the earliest, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The Department of Energy has approved the number of people Westinghouse Savannah River Co. wants to release, but continues to review what positions will be left vacant, said Will Callicott, a Westinghouse spokesman.

Company management alerted the site's 13,000 employees of the delay Wednesday.

"There are ongoing questions, and it is taking longer for us to address them than we thought," Mr. Callicott said. The layoffs were originally supposed to take place the week of March 22.

Baseball field dispute leads fathers to fight

North Augusta Department of Public Safety officers responded to a fight at a baseball field Tuesday night, a police report states.

At 7:20 p.m., officers responded to the baseball fields at Riverview Park, where they were told that, after two boys fought on the field, their fathers began to argue with each other.

Witnesses reported that one father approached the other, bumping him in the chest, then the other man retaliated by striking him in the face.

Once the first fight was over, officers found that the first man went looking for the second, found him by the bathroom area and tackled him, starting another brawl.

The report shows that no one was immediately charged in the incident, but the parties were advised on how to obtain a warrant from a judge.

Store owner reports theft of five knives

The owner of a Broad Street business told Richmond County sheriff's deputies Tuesday that several knives were missing from her store.

Brenda Jordan, the owner of Miss Placed Items on the 900 block of Broad Street, told deputies that five knives were missing. She said she checked her stock to make sure the knives hadn't been taken off her shelves.

Fire departments plan to hold safety clinic

North Columbia Fire & Rescue and Martinez Fire Department will hold a fire safety clinic tonight at 7 at Second Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Appling.

Fire officials will hand out safety information and free smoke detectors at the church, which is at the end of Rosemont Road off Washington Road.

Samuel "Wayne" Bussey was an associate pastor at the church. He and his two stepdaughters died March 23 when a fire broke out at their house, which did not have a smoke detector.

Firefighters also will take names tonight to order more free smoke detectors from the state Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner's Office.

School official retires after 33-year career

Gene Sullivan ended a 33-year career in education Wednesday, retiring as deputy superintendent of Richmond County Schools.

Mr. Sullivan said he might return for a few weeks in May to help close out the school year and help his replacement with the transition.

Mr. Sullivan, who turned 55 last week, began his career as a history teacher at Harlem High School, where he later served as vocational supervisor, assistant principal and principal. He served as principal of Evans High School and helped open Greenbrier High School in 1996 before taking the deputy superintendent job that fall.

Superintendent Charles Larke said he will recommend Mr. Sullivan's replacement at an April 15 board meeting.

Army seeks input on interest in wood

The U.S. Army wants to know if anyone wants the wood from the last of Fort Gordon's World War II-era buildings that have been replaced by new construction over the years, according to a news release from the post's public affairs office.

The government is gauging public interest in the wood, of which there are more than 30 old warehouses and shops that it wants to demolish.

The post will hold an open house Saturday. For more information about the program, call 791-2403.

Nominations sought for Best, Brightest

The Augusta Chronicle is seeking nominations for its Best and Brightest Awards recognizing outstanding high school seniors.

Academics, extracurricular activities, community service and character are among the criteria to be considered.

Twenty-five students will be selected for recognition in the newspaper's annual graduation section. They will also be honored at a banquet May 24.

The deadline for nominations is Friday, April 16. The two-page nomination form is available online at www.augusta chronicle.com/metro.

The original form posted did not include the second page of the entry form. Both pages, plus a letter of recommendation from someone who is not a relative of the student, are required. To request a mailed application, call 823-3646.

Man reports robbery, faces drug charges

A North Augusta man who said he was robbed at gunpoint while trying to deliver pizzas Tuesday night found himself charged with a drug offense, a police report states.

Abdul Akhir Muhammad, 24, was charged with simple possession of marijuana, the report from the North Augusta Department of Public Safety states.

Mr. Muhammad told officers that, while at the intersection of Hugh Street and Plank Road at 10:50 p.m., he stopped to use his cell phone to find an address, which was invalid.

He said two men approached him, threatened him with a handgun and demanded money. He said one grabbed $120 and another took his wallet, which contained about $110.

After officers tried to find the men, they noticed a smell of marijuana coming from Mr. Muhammad's vehicle, and saw a plastic bag of a green leafy substance in plain view in the vehicle's cupholder, the report states.