Originally created 05/12/05

Location of sex offenders is a concern



Armed with names and addresses, mothers in one Augusta subdivision are identifying the homes of convicted sex offenders and pressuring elected officials to find out how they can make the convicts move farther away.

Ginny Mullis, who publishes a newsletter for the Montclair Neighborhood Association, said it's hard for her community to stay calm when a convicted child molester lives on the same street as Warren Road Elementary School.

"There is a sex offender who is living on Warren Road, and if we knew a little more about why he was convicted as a sex offender, maybe we wouldn't be so uptight about it," she said. "There seems to be an epidemic against parents and children right now. Several parents have called and asked me to publish the addresses (of sex offenders)."

Mrs. Mullis did not print the names, but a listing in The Augusta Chronicle on March 27 led parents to call their commissioners and school board members. They wondered about all of the sex offenders living close to schools, parks and day-care centers.

At tonight's meeting of the Richmond County Board of Education, trustee Helen Minchew has asked for time to speak about the issue. She said she will ask school board attorney Pete Fletcher to clarify the law.

"Parents have called and expressed concern about the child molesters. So many are living so close to some of our schools, the playgrounds and parks," Mrs. Minchew said. "I'd like to know what the ordinance says."

Augusta Commissioner Tommy Boyles said he also plans to bring it up with the public safety committee next week and ask city attorney Stephen Shepard about the city's legal options.

"It may not be a single thing we can do, but at least we would know that," he said.

State law requires sex offenders to live at least 1,000 feet away from schools, day-care centers or any place where children congregate, according to sheriff's Investigator Ron Sylvester, who maintains the sex offender registry for the county.

"If they are within a thousand feet, they are told they have to find another place to live," he said. "Either I check it or probation checks it."

At least four registered sex offenders live within a mile of Warren Road Elementary. The nearest is convicted child molester Robert Allen Lane, who lives on Warren Road, a third of a mile from the school - far enough to meet the legal requirements, Investigator Sylvester said.

Mr. Lane, 51, spent nearly eight years in prison after being convicted in 1992 of child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes and sexual exploitation of a child, according to a Georgia Department of Corrections Web site.

He was released Aug. 20, 2000, and told police he served time for fondling a teenage boy. A DeKalb County Web site indicates that police seized a video camera and a vehicle from Mr. Lane during his 1992 arrest.

Mr. Lane's picture and address are on Richmond County's Web site - www.augustaga.gov/departments/sheriffs_office/home.asp - along with those of 156 other registered sex offenders living in the county.

Knowing where sex offenders live has received added attention in the wake of the kidnapping and killing of 9-year-old Florida girl Jessica Lunsford.

John Evander Couey, 46, a sex offender in Florida, was arrested in Augusta on St. Patrick's Day. While at the Richmond County jail, police say he confessed to kidnapping and killing Jessica.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he understands that parents are concerned about sex offenders living near them.

"We don't even have to hear. We know they are, especially with all of the things that have gone on in the country," he said.

He said he is not sure there is much that can be done to make sex offenders move farther away from schools and playgrounds.

"That is up to the courts and lawmakers," the sheriff said. "I don't know of any distance that would make me personally happy. But, they do have rights, whether we like it or not."

Sheriff Strength recommends that parents talk to their children about who they should and should not talk to, and let them know how to report problems.

"Education is very important to these kids," he said.

Mrs. Mullis, who has two young children, said she agrees with the mothers who have identified sex offenders.

"I'm to the point as a mother that my kids aren't going to get out of my sight."

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.

The topic is expected to be discussed at tonight's meeting of the Richmond County Board of Education and at next week's meeting of the public safety committee.