The top stories of the year

Published 12:22 pm Thursday, December 31, 2015

Photo by Julia Miller / Gabe Albritton, left, fell in a well on Labor Day. Fortunately, he was rescued unharmed. Zetus Volunteer Fire Department returned to reward Gabe with pizza and ride in the fire truck.

Photo by Julia Miller / Gabe Albritton, left, fell in a well on Labor Day. Fortunately, he was rescued unharmed. Zetus Volunteer Fire Department returned to reward Gabe with pizza and ride in the fire truck.

Boy, 4, rescued from well

On Sept. 7, a 4-year-old boy was rescued unharmed after being trapped in a dry well for hours.

Gabe Allbritton and his dog were trapped about 23 feet down a hole that had an 18-inch opening, according to Lincoln County Emergency Management Coordinator Clifford Galey. He fell into the hole at 2116 Gene Road at about 5 p.m. Crews removed the boy at about 8:05 p.m. The dog was pulled out minutes later.

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Rescuers cheered loudly when the boy was pulled out safely. He was immediately loaded into a waiting ambulance and taken to the hospital but was uninjured.

“I just can’t say enough about what everybody did to get this little boy out of that well safe,” Galey said.

Galey said the boy heard the dog barking while walking through the yard, turned around and then disappeared into the hole.

Rescuers were finally able to get ropes under his arms and pulled him straight out, Galey said. Rescuers used a snare to get the dog out.

“He’s cold, he’s dirty and he’s hungry,” Galey said after Allbritton was pulled out. “And we promised him a ride on a fire truck and we’re going to give that to him before we leave here tonight.”

Galey said the boy was OK and talking with rescuers throughout the ordeal. He wasn’t stuck on anything but rescue personnel had trouble reaching him, Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said. Crews sent water down to keep the child hydrated.

“The outcome of this one was great but it could’ve been much worse,” Galey said. “And I can’t thank enough all of the people that responded, the emergency services — I know I’d miss one so I can’t name them all — and plus the private contractors there to help, it was an awesome turnout.”

Acy pleads guilty: Man gets 30 years in jail for football players’ deaths

In a somber hearing on Nov. 24, Charles W. Acy III pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated DUI resulting in the deaths of Jevonta Dickey, 18, and Shaquan Richardson, 18.

Dickey and Richardson, both Brookhaven High students, were killed in a car accident in Brookhaven on Oct. 14, 2014, when the vehicle they were traveling in was struck by Acy’s 2003 Hummer. Acy, 19, had been in Lincoln County jail since the time of the incident.

Acy was sentenced to 25 years in prison with 15 years to serve followed by five years post-release supervision and five years suspended on each count. The sentences are to run consecutively, totaling 30 years to serve in prison followed by 10 years of post-release supervision, and 10 years suspended. Acy was also fined $10,000 for each count.

“I’d give anything to see my son walk through that door right now. Anything in this world,” said Richardson’s father, Keith Richardson, his voice stifled at times by emotion. “Because I miss him. I have to go to bed at night with his pictures surrounding my bed just to try to hold on to the memories of him. I don’t think anybody can imagine how hard this is for me. I just hope justice is served, and I hope my son’s death was not in vain.”

After his attorney read a prepared statement, Acy took the opportunity to make a statement.

“I just want everybody to know I’m so sorry for all this. I wish each and every day I could take it back,” he said, his voice cracking, visibly upset. “I pray every night for both families, and I just want everybody to know I didn’t do any of this on purpose — and I’m sorry.”

Area murder rate almost tripled in 2015

Over the past four years, Lincoln County, including Brookhaven, has seen a steady increase in homicides, but 2015’s number almost triples 2014’s.

In 2010, three murders were reported in the FBI’s crime statistics. The next two years would be relatively quiet as no murders were reported in 2011 and just one in 2012. The Daily Leader reported three murders for 2013 and four murders in 2014.

If the most recent deaths of Julian Gayten, 22, of 703 North Jackson St., and 17-year-old Jaquarius Jones are classified as murders, they would be the ninth and 10th in the city in 2015. Lincoln County recorded one murder, bringing the total to 11 homicides.

The murders, most of which have been the result of shootings, have spurred multiple prayer calls and an anti-violence rally with marchers chanting “Stop the violence” and “Enough is enough, not another one.”

One of the more violent and shocking incidences occurred on March 13 when a shooter opened fire on a family at their home. Jermaine Sims Sr., 31, and his daughter, Jamiyah, 9, died later that day. Sims’ wife, Victoria, and two other children, ages 14 and 6, were hospitalized. The couple also had a fourth child that was unharmed in the incident.

Police arrested Jimmy Lyons in connection with the case upon arriving at the scene. Lyons was living in the home with the Simses at the time. Lyons later died in jail. Police believe the shooting stemmed from an argument the day before.

Kimberly Brown Jones, of Monticello, died in January due to strangulation. Her body was found at 933 Crooked Lane, but police do not believe she was killed there. James Haines, of 28 Curtis Brown Lane, Monticello, was arrested for the crime. Haines was Jones’s boyfriend and was allegedly the last person to be seen with her. Jones was not indicted for the charge.

Timothy Green, 31, was shot on Spur Lane April 2. Fred Hill III, 24, of 1515 Spur Lane was arrested that same day. The sheriff’s department said the shooting appeared to have stemmed from a dispute between the two men.

Kelcay Humphrey, 25, died July 5 after being shot at Cloverdale apartments No. 73. Police estimated that he was shot between eight and 12 times. Claudis D. Montgomery, of 4208 Highway 550, was arrested July 7 for his alleged involvement in the crime. Montgomery was not indicted for the charge.

A shooting claimed the life of Bridget London Hall, who died July 6 at her home on Vivian Merritt Street. No arrests have been made in that case. Although Hall was in a relationship with Montgomery’s brother, Claude Montgomery, the police have neither confirmed nor denied they are related.

Glen Mack died after being shot July 23 in the Cloverdale area. Pierree Thomas was arrested July 24 for the crime.

Aquarius Nelson, 26, of 905 East Independence St., was shot multiple times and was pronounced dead at KDMC on Nov. 2, according to police. The fatal shooting is alleged to have taken place on Walnut Street.

At the beginning of December, police found 32-year-old Tara Ashley Hudson unresponsive at her home at 107 1/2 Cherry St. Hudson was found by police after responding to a call regarding a domestic violence situation. She was transported to KDMC where she was pronounced dead at 3:06 a.m. Jeremy Wayne Cupstid, 28, same address as the victim, was charged with murder in her death.

Anonymous donor gives 285 bikes to JA Wish Tree

A very special secret Santa ensured the Christmas joy of all children participating in the annual Junior Auxiliary Wish Tree project.

The Wish Tree project began Nov. 2 when pink and blue paper ornaments were hung on six Christmas trees located in designated spots around town. These ornaments represented 285 children from almost 150 families.

“In a story in The Daily Leader’s Brookhaven Magazine, I said we had 75 bikes donated last year and the goal this year was 100 bikes,” said Junior Auxiliary Wish Tree Co-Chairman Mendez Vaughan. “I got a call from a gentleman and he said “Well what if you had 285 bikes, how would you like that?'”

Vaughan said tears welled up in her eyes and she felt it was answer to prayer. Every child on each Wish Tree received a brand new bike and helmet.

“I was blown away,” Vaughan said. “Not only are bikes a childhood staple, but a healthy one at that. Having a bike as a child is one of the things that allows them to be active. I, like many others, have great childhood memories riding my bike. We wanted to provide that for every child, and now we actually will.”

“We were blown away just to even know that there was this kind of generosity in the community,” Vaughan said.

JA member Jasmine Wilson printed out tags for each bike that stated it was purchased by a gracious member of the community who wanted to remain anonymous.

Vaughan said the effort is a community-wide event that wouldn’t have been possible without every contribution — from monetary gifts to adopting a child on the tree, to the Brookhaven High School baseball team, coaches and parents who donated their practice time to transport the bikes. Wal-Mart Distribution Center donated two 18-wheelers and two drivers to make the transport possible.

“The community effort has been greatly needed and appreciated more than anybody could know,” Vaughan said.


Hours-long standoff results in death of shooter

The man who fired dozens of shots at officers during an hours-long standoff at Brookhaven Apartments Oct. 12 died barricaded in his apartment.

There were no serious injuries to officers during the incident. Two officers sustained minor injuries from debris.

Rudolph Smith, 31, had been making threats all day, Police Chief Bobby Bell said, reportedly after receiving eviction papers at the complex off Union Street Ext. Police responded to a call at 5:24 p.m. that the subject was threatening other tenants. When officers arrived on the scene to talk to the man, he discharged his weapon at them through his apartment door.

Smith had four guns — long guns and pistols — and a “good bit of ammo” in his apartment, Bell said.

Smith was the only person in the building he was living in during the standoff and gunshots only hit nearby cars and other buildings, Bell said.

Dozens of shots rang out throughout the standoff that last over six hours. SWAT arrived on the scene at approximately 8 p.m., joining the many other agencies there including the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Mississippi Highway Patrol, Mississippi Crime Lab, Southwest Narcotics and others.

Gunfire escalated about an hour before the suspect was confirmed to be dead. Bell said Smith did not shoot himself.

Smith was severely injured in a hit-and-run on I-55 in 2004. Smith and his girlfriend were injured when Smith’s truck was side-swiped by an 18-wheeler. Family members said then that Smith sustained severe head trauma, a concussion and broken vertebra in several places.

Initiative 42 struck down

Mississippi voters rejected any change to the state Constitution to bolster public school funding, defeating Initiative 42 in November.

The defeat ended years of work to support a plan to guarantee an “adequate and efficient system of public schools in Mississippi,” as voters sided with Republican leaders who opposed judicial oversight of legislative spending decisions.

The state Constitution does not allow for court appeals on legislative spending decisions. Since Mississippi’s current school funding formula was adopted, lawmakers have allotted the full amount it demands in only two election years. This year’s budget is $200 million short, adding to a shortfall that totals $1.7 billion since 2008.

Backers of the initiative spent more money than had ever been spent on a referendum in Mississippi before, raising more than $3 million. Those contributions were channeled through out-of-state charities, but ultimately most of the money came from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, former Secretary of State Dick Molpus and former FedEx executive Jim Barksdale.

Opponents raised only $300,000 through October. But the party and GOP officials lined up against the initiative, saying it could give a judge control over much of the state budget.

Even if voters had approved the initial question on amending the question, Republican lawmakers had placed an alternative question on the ballot that would have called for “effective” schools without the ability to appeal to court. That Alternative 42A created a confusing two-part ballot that required proponents of 42 or 42A to vote yes and then choose one of the options.

How Lincoln County Voted:


For Approval — 38.25 percent

Against Both — 61.75 percent


For Initiative 42 — 49.06 percent

For Initiative 42A — 50.94 percent

Officials break ground on new baseball complex

County and city officials gathered Aug. 16 for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the new Lincoln County baseball complex.

Despite some controversy early in the planning process, the complex near the Civic Center will help bring the community together, according to proponents.

Dustin Walker, who served on the feasibility committee for the project, said part of the study included looking at the current facilities the local league was using.

“I played on those fields 30 years ago, and my dad played on them 50 or 60 years ago,” he said about the aging facilities for baseball. “The time was far overdue for a new facility.”

“I don’t believe any community supports our children as much as Brookhaven and Lincoln County do,” Walker said.

Bobby Moak out of office

House minority leader Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, was defeated by Republican Vince Mangold  in District 53 on Nov. 3. Moak has been a representative for 32 years.

Mangold had 4,322 votes out of 7,406, putting him at about 56 percent of the vote.

“It looks like the Democrats have great pick-ups in House seats statewide,” Moak said in a written statement after the election.  “In my particular race with the affidavit ballots that have yet to be counted, I’m behind and don’t personally see a win for me, mathematically-speaking. If that becomes a fact, then I’m proud that we had these pick ups in the House. I would take the same legislative stands again even if it meant the same outcome for me as tonight.”

Mangold said the overall message he got from his campaign is that people want a change. His focus will be on education, he said.

“The Republicans had that on their mind already,” Mangold said. “They had funded it more than they ever have or it ever has been for the last several years, so I think that’s going to continue.”

Third-grade reading gate results mixed for BSD, LCSD

Approximately 70 students in the Lincoln County area failed the inaugural third-grade reading gate test in May, with Lincoln County School District faring better than Brookhaven School District.

The reading gate was established by legislators in 2014 in an effort to help improve literacy rates and therefore overall education efforts. Students who fail the tests can’t move on to fourth grade.

Opponents say it could cause harm by keeping students in third grade who are otherwise capable of advancing. Opponents also believe the state has not provided the funding needed to promote literacy efforts.

Enterprise Attendance Center was closest to the state average at 89 percent. Principal Shannon Eubanks said six students failed. He said two students will be retained based off grades anyway, another two qualify for exemptions and the last two had borderline grades.

“We confirmed what the teachers already were telling us,” Eubanks said. “All it tells us is we don’t trust teachers,” he said.

Eubanks said the test created a panic among students and teachers.

“We’ve created a tempest in a teapot,” he said.

Bogue Chitto Principal Mickey Myers disagreed saying he believes this is the right step toward creating better readers.

“Sometimes in education, we do things that are really injuring for children,” Myers said. “However, this test is one of the best things we’ve done in a long time.”

Multi-million dollar paving plan approved

The Brookhaven Board of Aldermen voted unanimously Aug. 24 to approve the city’s $2.9 million paving plan.

City Engineer Ryan Holmes presented the board with a finalized list of streets to have paving work done, the cost of which is approximately $2.9 million. The total cost is subject to change due to asphalt prices and contractor bids, which could lower the cost. Work began in the fall and will continue into 2016.

Holmes, whose firm was hired for the paving project, presented the board with data gathered from riding the roads and scoring them on quality. Factored in are the roads that will have sewer and water work done beneath them, and the appropriate materials to be used for each part of a road per the engineer’s recommendation.