Originally created 05/12/05

Effort to retire torn flag halts

When Sgt. 1st Class Cesar Tricoche saw a tattered American flag hanging limply at half-staff outside a closed Augusta business Wednesday, his patriotism kicked into overdrive.

The gigantic flag, which had been left exposed to the elements for months, lies torn and dragging against the bushes surrounding its pole.

It needed to come down for proper disposal, decided Sgt. 1st Class Tricoche, a U.S. Army recruiter.

"When I saw it, I just thought about that it's more or less like an American symbol, like an American eagle," he said. "If you see an American eagle that's hurt, you'd probably do the same, like take care of it. It's more or less a symbol of America. And it was just touching the ground. It was actually torn up. It was messed up really bad."

For months now, the bedraggled flag has hung outside Augusta Video X-Mart, an adult bookstore on Gordon Highway that has been closed for more than a year while its owners battle city officials in court to reopen.

Determined to take down the damaged flag, which under U.S. military regulations should never touch the ground, Sgt. 1st Class Tricoche brought recruiter Staff Sgt. Tony Mitchell to assist him in the task.

The pair asked for help from a nearby Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department station, he said.

The firefighters were gladly assisting soldiers until a superior reminded them the flag was on private property and was not theirs to take down.

So, the tattered flag still hangs, although Sgt. 1st Class Tricoche said he will take the issue to a few veterans groups in hopes they can apply some pressure to the store's owner.

X-Mart has been involved in litigation with the city for more than two years, claiming that Augusta officials illegally changed local licensing laws to prevent the shop from opening along "gateway corridors" or highly visible parts of the city.

In March, U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. denied a preliminary injunction motion by X-Mart, forcing the shop to remain closed. Attorneys representing X-Mart are planning to take their case against Augusta to federal court.

When reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, X-Mart attorney Thomas Maddox Jr. said the shop's owner told him he was not aware of the banner's condition and that it would be taken down.

If Augusta officials hadn't forbidden X-Mart to conduct business, the flag never would have deteriorated to its present condition, Mr. Maddox said.

Reach Kate Lewis at (706) 823-3215 or kate.lewis@augustachronicle.com.


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