2017
02.08

When you call for help in an emergency, you hope for – and expect to get – a professional response. Not just well-trained, dedicated first responders, but trustworthy and competent 911 dispatchers on the other end of the line.

But for some reason, Walker County was until recently paying a known fugitive from justice to answer phones at 911.

In December 2014, the Sheriff’s Office in El Paso County, Colorado, issued an arrest warrant for Alisha Ruth Hawk on suspicion of “crimes against an at-risk adult” and identity theft. Media in Colorado shared a security camera image of Hawk in what appears to be a bank drive-thru.

In August 2016, Hawk – living in Fort Oglethorpe – applied for a job with Walker County 911.

Alisha Hawk was given the standard background check, and that check picked up her outstanding warrant from Colorado. 911 director David Ashburn then broke the law by not notifying authorities in Colorado where she was located, and still hired her as a dispatcher anyway.

That put the identity theft suspect in a job with access to confidential, personal information of county employees and anyone in a law enforcement database.

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2017
02.07

Friday morning “skeletal remains” were found in a shallow grave near 157 and Nickajack Rd. on Lookout Mountain.

Officers from the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, GBI, TBI, and Chattanooga PD were all involved in the investigation. They told media the remains had been buried for four to six months and were thought to be connected to a Tennessee missing person’s case.

It’s unclear how the remains were discovered, although it’s been suggested an informant tipped Tennessee officers of the body and its location – which would also explain how they knew it was tied to a particular case long before the remains could be removed or identified.

Few details on the investigation – what officers suspect and what they actually know – have been released publicly, which is standard operating procedure this early into such a case.

We’ll all know way more about this than we want to know soon enough.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

An accident on GA 136 near the Walker/Gordon line Thursday has been blamed on drowsiness. Driver fell asleep at the wheel.

The Jeep was totaled, and the driver suffered injuries including (per family) a collapsed lung. No updates on his condition since Thursday.   Tiny Facebook

The victim from another accident weeks ago is on the road to recovery.

Walker State Prison fire chief Matthew Mann, injured in a Rock Spring wreck on January 19th, is finally done with surgeries and heading to rehab.   Tiny Facebook

LaFayette has redone a boat ramp at Queen City Lake, extending it up further onto the shore.

Now the city is installing a new dock at the same reservoir, using student labor and about $20,000 of leftover road funds.   Tiny Facebook

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2017
02.02

This afternoon multiple vehicles were involved in a “serious” crash on highway 151 near the Walker/Catoosa line.

At this is written, there are no firm details on who was involved or how they’re doing.

[Video from Northwest Georgia Scanner.]   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

Last week Senator Mullis didn’t just control a meeting that killed a government transparency bill, he made interested citizens who came to the meeting wait 45 minutes for no reason and refused to let them speak before the vote.

If you can’t access the linked AJC article, here’s the meat of it from the end:

    Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 01/26/17: “The concern expressed about the precious time recorded votes could cost over a 40-day session did not sit well with activists who waited 45 minutes for Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga. to arrive and convene the meeting. You could feel the indignation rising as the minutes ticked by.
    “‘These groups are such insular bodies, they don’t care what the public desires,’ said Steve Brown, a Fayette County commissioner and tea party activist. ‘They make us sit here for 45 minutes for their meeting and then complain they don’t have enough time to do anything. And the chairman is sitting behind the door the entire time. I saw him when I came in.’
    “..By the time Mullis loudly gaveled the meeting to order, many in the room were aching to speak. That’s probably why Mullis began by telling them they couldn’t. ‘Since this is a Senate Rules resolution, we’ll take testimony only from senators regarding the Senate rules,’ he said.
    “That’s part of what the debate is really about — the power of an established majority versus the shrill voice of a minorities from within and without seeking redress. Red meat Republican activists and Democrats both want to creep their ideas onto the public stage, but the GOP leadership sees no upside in that so the rule change went down in defeat.
    “For the rest of us, that means there will continue to be unrecorded votes with senators raising their hands just out of camera range. [Senator] McKoon said he was not surprised by the vote. These things take time, he said.
    “‘People out in the real world would never do business like we do business here,’ he said. ‘This isn’t just me that is concerned about this. The public needs to see how this process works.'”

Senate Resolution 24, a one-paragraph proposal which would have changed Georgia Senate rules requiring committee votes to be recorded instead of done in secret, was killed in Mullis’ committee by a vote done in secret.

But fortunately for us, this time someone in attendance snuck in cameras and videoed the thing so the people of Georgia can see how their elected officials actually behaved:

Besides killing expanded government transparency, what HAS Senator Mullis accomplished so far this year?

In a press release Mullis’ office could only highlight one specific piece of legislation he’s been involved with: A resolution honoring Miss Georgia 2017.

State government is broken, and led by this pathetic excuse of an elected legislator.   Tiny Facebook

Another break-in at the old high school, a facility essentially now abandoned by the school system. This time it was a homeless guy looking for a place to sleep.

    WQCH Radio, 02/01/17: “A LAFAYETTE MAN, WANTED FOR FINANCIAL CARD FRAUD, WAS ARRESTED BY POLICE INSIDE THE OLD LAFAYETTE HIGH SCHOOL BUILDING ON CHEROKEE STREET, SATURDAY NIGHT.
    “THERE WAS NO SIGN OF DAMAGE TO THE BUILDING, ACCORDING TO SCHOOL SYSTEM PERSONNEL. THE MAN SURRENDERED AND TOLD POLICE HE HAD NO PLACE TO STAY AND CAME INTO THE BUILDING FOR WARMTH.
    “AT THE COUNTY JAIL, THREE OUTSTANDING WARRANTS WERE SERVED ON 38 YEAR OLD JOSHUA DANIEL BERRYHILL, IN ADDITION TO A CRIMINAL TRESPASS CHARGE. ON HIS PERSON, POLICE FOUND A DEBIT CARD THAT MATCHED A WARRANT AGAINST BERRYHILL, FOR FINANCIAL CARD THEFT.”

Last spring a bunch of kids broke into the school and vandalized it.

Not the first bunch that has gone in there to break or take things, and not the last as long as the building sits empty.

LU has asked members of the school board if they have any intentions of ever doing anything with that property and hasn’t gotten any answers.

Looks like they plan to do with the buildings the same thing LaFayette did with the football field: let them deteriorate until they have an excuse to bulldoze everything.   Tiny Facebook

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2017
01.31

Since taking office four weeks ago, what’s new commissioner Shannon Whitfield been up to?

He’s hired and fired a few county employees, created two new positions inside his office, tried to move meetings to an illegal location, found the county’s got a lot of debt (dur), and took out a Bebe-esque loan backed by next year’s tax revenues.

Gone are ex-convict county attorney Don Oliver and his assistant (replaced with a $125-per-hour lawyer on call), 911 director David Ashburn (replaced by Blake Hodge), County Clerk Bridget Garrett (replaced by Becky Wooden) and a number of lower level county employees who left with Heiskell or retired and weren’t replaced.

Whitfield hired Goodwill retiree Sharleen Robinson for a new position handling human resources. That’s a good move, because Waker County is in a bad place with employee training, benefits, and pay. It’s going to take a real expert to sort that out, and Robinson may be the expert we need. It’s a high paying job that should save money in the long run.

Less clearly needed is a county Public Relations person. Whitfield appointed Channel 12 anchor Joe Legge to be his “PR” guy – basically a poop polisher, a new job to make the Commissioner look good in the media and communicate with the voters – something Shannon apparently has trouble with on his own.

Legge seems well qualified for that role, but what we’ll be paying him to write press releases and post on the county Web site would do a good bit of road work.

An early statement from Whitfield said he would be moving commissioner meetings to the Civic Center, making them easier for his supporters in North Walker to access (and a bit harder for those of us in LaFayette.)

Turns out that’s against state law, and he has to have commissioner meetings where they’ve always been: in the commissioner’s office.

    WQCH Radio, 01/23/17: “WALKER COUNTY COMMISSIONER SHANNON WHITFIELD SAID HE MADE A ‘ROOKIE MISTAKE’ IN SAYING EARLY-ON THAT HIS MEETINGS WOULD BE HELD AT THE WALKER COUNTY CIVIC CENTER IN ROCK SPRING. HE SINCE LEARNED THAT BY LAW, THE REGULAR BUSINESS MEETINGS OF COUNTY GOVERNMENT MUST BE HELD IN THE COUNTY SEAT: LAFAYETTE.”

Now the Commissioner is looking for a waiver to hold them in the LaFayette library where there’s more space, which seems like a better idea than the Civic Center.

As for moving meetings to the evening as promised during the campaign, Whitfield DID set his official schedule for Thursday evenings every-other week. But his first actual meeting was “special,” called on short notice and held on a Tuesday afternoon.

Whitfield defeated Bebe Heiskell’s apparent plan to create a job for herself at the Water & Sewer Authority by pushing John “Damn Fine Job” Culpepper off that board to make a seat for himself. (Turns out Culpepper would have been done in May anyway, but it’s a small victory.)

Whitfield also did something he and many others (including LU) have criticized his predecessor for: took out a loan to pay this year’s bills, which will be repaid with next year’s tax revenue.

To his defense, Heiskell already blew through most of this year’s money and didn’t leave many options other than another loan – but if she was still commissioner, he’d certainly be attacking her for doing the same thing.

At least this year’s loan will be a lower rate through the Bank of LaFayette, but the taxes we paid in December are gone and next December’s are mostly committed to paying back this loan – unless he raises taxes. Which he most certainly will have to do.

Whitfield can complain about the condition Bebe left the county in, but he’s got little room to talk considering how he backed her politically until mid-2015 and refused several opportunities to help bring sole commissioner government to an end.

He can point fingers but he bears much of the blame for this, as does anyone else who supported Heiskell beyond the point where reasonable people saw how terrible she was.   Tiny Facebook

Investigators have officially determined Candace Hankins was pregnant at the time of her death, so alleged killer David Ryan Walker now faces an additional charge of feticide.

As yet there are no theories about his motive in allegedly killing her (and his unborn child). Results of his drug tests, and drug tests performed on Hankins’ remains, won’t be back for months.

Walker has been behind bars since the murder occurred on January 15th.   Tiny Facebook

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2017
01.27

Friday morning Highway 27 in front of Saddle Ridge School was the scene of yet another accident. This one involved three cars and sent two people to the hospital.


[Photo credit Vickie Chastain.]

The January 19th accident makes at LEAST a dozen serious wrecks in that spot since Saddle Ridge opened in fall 2013. The combined elementary and middle school has the same heavy morning drop-off and afternoon pickup traffic most schools do, all through a single entrance/exit road that dumps out onto the county’s busiest highway – without a traffic signal.

To make it worse, the highway “school zone” has a 55 PMH speed limit – same as the rest of 27 away from the school – so there’s nothing to legally slow drivers down as they speed to work in Chattanooga, Fort Oglethorpe, or Shaw in Chickamauga.

Last year a parent-sponsored petition to GA Department of Transportation asking for a light in front of the school got a response from GDOT, but no light; The state agency placed some responsibility for a signal back on the school board. So after the accident, LU Facebook asked concerned citizens to call and e-mail Superintendent Raines and the school board about it.

Later the same day, Walker County Schools issued a vague statement about the accident in response to those concerns:

    Walker Co Schools Facebook, 01/19/17: “The Walker County Board of Education and Superintendent appreciate the many concerns expressed today after the accident during the arrival of students at Saddle Ridge Elementary/Middle School early this morning. We are thankful that the injuries sustained were minimal and not life threatening. We share the same concerns expressed concerning the need for some type of speed reduction in this particular school zone. The safety of our students, employees, and parents remains our primary concern and we continue to share this with the Department of Transportation.
    “As always, we appreciate the assistance from our local Sheriff’s Department and members of the State Highway Patrol and will continue to collaborate with them on solutions. Our plan is to continue to work with them as well as continuing our efforts to cooperate with the Department of Transportation to develop a plan to assure the safety of all involved.”

Maybe this time something will be done to keep kids and parents safe.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

Later the same day, about a mile south of the school, another wreck on 27 sent two more to the hospital.

A Honda Accord reportedly cut across the highway heading towards Turnipseed Road and slammed head-on into a minivan from Walker State Prison.

That van was being driven by prison fire chief Matthew Mann. The chief sustained internal injuries and multiple limb fractures. He has since then gone through multiple surgeries and taken dozens of units of blood, remaining in ICU through Wednesday. (You can follow his progress with the family’s page, Prayers For Matthew.)

The driver of the Honda was also badly injured and hospitalized; his or her name has not been released, nor have there been any updates on their condition. The driver of that vehicle is likely to face charges for causing the accident.

A prison inmate riding with Chief Mann sustained only minor injuries.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

Zaris Kyntrail Neal of LaFayette is suspected of shooting Justin Carroll in Lyerly on January 10th.

Carroll, who survived (and went to jail for drugs after release from the hospital) identified 22-year-old Neal as his shooter. Chattooga County issued a warrant for Neal’s arrest on January 13th, but he remained at large – whereabouts unknown.

On January 23rd, LU shared Neal’s prior mugshot and status as a wanted man on Facebook. Zaris responded to the post, cursing out the Underground and the Chattooga County news outlet that LU linked to. He then vowed to turn himself in.

The next day, before he managed to turn himself in, he was picked up by a Walker County deputy and transported to the Chattooga jail, facing two charges of aggravated assault – a pretty light charge considering he’s suspected of shooting somebody.

(Zaris Neal has one previous arrest reported here: An October 2015 charge for driving erratically in a “borrowed” car with a suspended license.)

AFTER being arrested by Walker County, Neal posted a photo of himself on Facebook sitting in the back of a patrol car, handcuffed, with his phone in hand and earbuds plugged in.

That photo made it to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, and raises a number of questions about the Sheriff’s Office: namely, why was Neal allowed to keep his phone after being taken into custody, and why do deputies regularly do that with other suspects?

Steve Wilson’s lack of standards for his department, even when handling a shooting suspect, will eventually get somebody killed.   Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook  Tiny Facebook

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