Out of all the news in the public safety realm, The Daily Tribune News ranked the year’s top stories in no particular order.
Tornado tears through Adairsville
In the middle of a Wednesday in January, an EF-2 tornado touched down in northern Bartow County, leaving one dead. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported the following weekend that 14 people were injured in addition to the fatality.
Centered in the area of the intersection of Highway 140 and U.S. Highway 41, the twister left a trail of homes and businesses partially or completely destroyed. Adairsville’s Collins Mountain water tank also was heavily damaged and had to be replaced.
In July the city reported all 114 tons of debris had been removed from the Jan. 30 disaster.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the recovery was the volunteer effort, especially the faith-based community movement.
David Franklin of the Bartow Baptist Association said in March more than 3,000 volunteers moved through in the first two months after the tornado. GEMA in 2014 will roll out an initiative based on the faith-based community’s response in Adairsville.
Synthetic marijuana banned in Bartow
It was reported last week that teen use of synthetic marijuana nationwide had dropped sharply over 2012, but Bartow County took steps in September to stop the trend altogether.
On Sept. 11 Commissioner Steve Taylor signed an ordinance, later adopted by municipalities across the county, to ban completely “unregulated marijuana substitutes” and “synthetic cannabinoids.”
Under state law only specific chemical compounds sprayed onto the materials are targeted. The county measure was one of the first of its kind in the state to outlaw all substances.
Saying his agency receives almost daily complaints stemming from synthetic products, Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force Commander Capt. Mark Mayton in September called the move a huge step in the struggle to remove unregulated substitutes from retail shelves.
“There were such voids in the state laws that the manufacturers were using to get around what the legislators were putting into law. This just fills that void until some solid state statute comes along that’s all-encompassing,” he said. “Now it gives us the ability to target the entire gamut of synthetic cannabinoids, all of it. They can’t get around the chemical composition. There’s basically a total ban in Bartow County of the synthetic marijuana, or cannabinoids.”
For Mayton, the measure offers agencies immediate enforcement and prosecution options.
“Right now, if we seize a substance we think to be synthetic marijuana, or cannabinoid, before we can make a charge on that substance, it has to go to the crime lab, have scientific analysis done there, be confirmed that there is an illegal substance on it and then we go back and charge,” he said. “Under this current ordinance, it gives not only us as the drug task force but even the uniform presence in the county the ability to charge on the spot. If you are in possession of it, if you’re distributing it, if you are manufacturing it, if you are selling it, it is illegal in this county to possess in any shape, form or fashion synthetic cannabinoids, including the bath salts.
“We have been handicapped, for the lack of a better word, for some time now because of the chemists working around the state law, so we have been fighting this battle for a long time. … Under this current ordinance we drafted, we are able to take enforcement actions immediately. That’s the real benefit; it’s another tool in the toolbox.”
High school athletes arrested in first-ever ‘molly’ seizure
In the first seizure of its kind in Bartow County, agents from the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force in July arrested five for possession of a “new” drug.
Following an investigation into drug activity in Cartersville, DTF agents stopped Christopher Lee Willingham for possession of marijuana and improper tag display.
During the execution of a subsequent search warrant, agents seized roughly 7 ounces of “molly,” short for molecular or molecule, the high purity powder form of MDMA, the main component in ecstasy.
Arrested at the time were six people, including three Cass High School athletes.
Brandon Shea Etheridge, 18, of 49 Benefield Circle, Cartersville; Dylan Cade Williams, 18, of 17 Crimson Hill Drive, Rydal; Samuel Lawrence Ayers, 18, of 411 Wilderness Camp Road, White; Dustin Bradley Bush, 18, of 226 Pine St., Atlanta; Timothy Glen Etheridge, 54, and Christi Lynn Etheridge, 49, both of 49 Benefield Circle, were charged in connection with the case, according to information released at that time.
Brandon Etheridge, Williams and Ayers played baseball for Cass, with Etheridge also playing quarterback for the Colonels. Williams had signed with Louisiana State University to play baseball.
On July 31, Etheridge, Williams, Ayers and Bush were granted $25,000 bond in Bartow County Superior Court.
The October term of the grand jury returned indictments in the case:
• Samuel Lawrence Ayers — two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act, possession of firearm or knife during commission of or attempt to commit certain felonies, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act.
• Dustin Bradley Bush — two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act, possession of firearm during commission of a felony, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act.
• Brandon Shea Etheridge — two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act, possession of firearm or knife during commission of or attempt to commit certain felonies, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act.
• Christi Lynn Etheridge — possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce.
• Timothy Glen Etheridge — possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce.
• Dylan Cade Williams — two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act, possession of firearm or knife during commission of or attempt to commit certain felonies, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act.
• Christopher Lee Willingham — sale of marijuana, two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act, possession of firearm or knife during commission of or attempt to commit certain felonies, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act, possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce VGCSA, window tint violation.
On Dec. 16 Williams was once again behind bars, this time on molestation charges.
Authorities said Williams allegedly had sexual contact with a non-related 14-year-old female in October. He was charged with statutory rape and three counts of child molestation.
BCSO brings H.E.A.T, new cars to Bartow
The Bartow County Sheriff’s Office this year placed 15 new Dodge Charger vehicles and three traffic enforcement units on county roads.
The Chargers took to the streets this fall as part of a replacement effort for the department’s aging fleet. Five of those sedans were designated for Criminal Investigations Division, with the remainder utilized in the Uniform Patrol Division.
Funding for the fleet came out of the 2014 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. In May the county closed on a $30 million general obligation sales tax bond in advance of the 2014 SPLOST, which provided the necessary money for certain projects such as the BCSO cars, Bartow County Chief Financial Officer Jo Taylor said. “It was one of those things, thanks to the citizens of Bartow County, former Commissioner [Clarence] Brown and Administrator [Steve] Bradley doing SPLOST for us, and then Commissioner [Steve] Taylor came in and he jumped on it with both feet and we are rocking and rolling,” Sheriff Clark Millsap said in November. “In the SPLOST project, there was $2 million dedicated over a six-year period to the sheriff’s office to replace our fleet. ... Commissioner Taylor and Administrator [Peter] Olson they figured out a way we could go ahead and start ordering cars and make it fall into place. Man, I can’t thank them enough for that.”
According to Taylor, five of the Chargers were purchased for $24,108 each and the remaining 10 cost $23,853 each. Millsap said the department has begun preparations for new vehicles in 2014.
BCSO also received a Governor’s Office of High Safety grant for a Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic unit.
Funding was provided for three vehicles and two officers — patrol division brass selected Sgt. Michael Burlison and deputies Christopher O’Bryant and Nathan Gifford through an application process. The $246,100 covers the cost of the unit for two years, with the county shouldering no financial responsibility.
“At the end of that two-year period, [there will be a] re-evaluation, and we could be receiving full funds again for the third and fourth year. … This is a way for us to make the roads here in Bartow County safer than they’ve ever been,” Millsap said.
Painted a smoky blue, the H.E.A.T. Dodge Chargers stand out from the routine patrol vehicles. Primarily, H.E.A.T focuses on reducing impaired driving crashes, excessive speeding, increasing seat belt usage and educating the public on traffic safety matters.
Boatner Avenue neighbor sends home up in blaze
A man with a checkered past — he served 14 years for voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault — intentionally set his Boatner Avenue neighbor’s home on fire.
Phillip Rodger Bennett in May became agitated over the neighbor’s grass, according to the resident.
Marty Corbitt was sitting in the living room watching cartoons with his 3-year-old daughter when Bennett came calling.
“As soon as I noticed he was there, I locked the door,” Corbitt said immediately after the incident. “… He was yelling at me, ‘Come outside. We need to talk.’ I told him if he needs to talk, I can hear him just fine through the door. And he starts kicking my door, threatening me, telling me he should have just killed me.
“I told [my daughter] … to run back to her room. … I call 911, and he’s like, ‘I’m giving you five seconds to step out.’”
While speaking with dispatch, Corbitt said Bennett left, but returned within minutes armed with gasoline and a lighter.
“I’m still on the phone with them, [Bennett] walks back up with two gas cans, walks right up to my kitchen door and smashes the window of the door with the gas can,” Corbitt said. “It only broke one pane, so he grabbed a brick and threw it through the window. … Then he stuck his gas can in the window and started pouring. I ran back, grabbed my daughter, and as soon as I grabbed her, I looked down the hallway and he’s lighting it as he’s still pouring it. The whole house just instantly [went up] in flames. I ran out the back door and cleared this [roughly 4-foot] fence in one leap.”
Bennett suffered extensive burns to the hands and arms. Following treatment at Grady Memorial Hospital, Bennett was arrested and charged with arson, two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of criminal damage to property, damaging public utilities, cruelty to children, second-degree burglary, reckless conduct, criminal trespass, terroristic threats and possession of tools in the commission of a crime.