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HOLLY SPRINGS – One man injured in a Saturday night shooting has now died.
Justin Bennett, 24, of Hickory Flat, died early Monday morning from a gunshot wound.
Bennett was one of three men shot around 8:53 p.m. Saturday. All three were transported to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, two by helicopter.
Surveillance video at the Martin Luther King Drive gas station where the shooting happened showed the shooter to be a black man wearing a mask, dark colored T-shirt and brown khaki shorts.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Marshall County Crime Stoppers at (800) 729-2169 or the Holly Springs Police Department at 252-2122.
By JB Clark
HOLLY SPRINGS – Graceland Too will be open for public tours Aug. 12 in an effort to memorialize the late Paul McLeod and raise money to go toward his funeral, burial and estate expenses, according to a release from McLeod attorney Phillip Knecht said in a news release that Graceland Too, in partnership with Holly Springs, will have a memorial celebration of McLeod’s life Aug. 12 during Elvis Presley week.
Tours, which will be led by McLeod’s family and some Graceland Too lifetime members, will be followed by a midnight candlelight vigil.
“Graceland Too is honored and touched by the outpouring of sympathy for Paul and the growing collection of soda cans at the doorsteps of Graceland Too,” Knecht said in a release. “We encourage Paul’s fans to continue to stop by and leave these cans in his memory.”
Admission to the Aug. 12 tour will, as always, be $5, but this time the fee will even apply to lifetime members to help with McLeod’s final expenses.
McLeod was found dead on his front porch with no signs of obvious trauma Thursday morning. His death came less than two days after he shot and killed what his attorney and police say was an intruder into his home-turned Elvis shrine.
Evidence from the July 15 shooting will be presented to the Marshall County Grand Jury in October.
HOLLY SPRINGS – Three men were shot in a Holly Springs parking lot Saturday night.
Police received a call at about 8:53 p.m. to find three men with gunshot wounds in the parking lot of a gas station on the 200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, according to a release from Lt. Dwight Harris.
Surveillance video at the gas station showed the shooter to be a black man wearing a mask, dark colored T-shirt and brown khaki shorts.
Marshall County Coroner Richard Anderson said two of the men were airlifted to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, and he hasn’t received a further report on their condition.
There are no suspects at this time.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Marshall County Crime Stoppers at (800) 729-2169 or the Holly Springs Police Department at 252-2122.
By JB Clark
TUPELO – When a Realtor in Northeast Mississippi found drug paraphernalia in a house he was trying to sell he called Certified Industrial Hygienist Joe Drapala of Hazclean to inspect the home for methamphetamine contamination.
Mississippi has seen a dramatic dip in the number of active and obvious meth labs in recent years but Drapala said that doesn’t mean the problem of meth-contaminated homes and vehicles has been eliminated.
Many states have passed laws requiring clandestine meth labs to be cleaned to a certain standard before the property can change hands or be inhabited and while Mississippi requires a disclosure when selling, no cleanup is mandated.
In 2008 the Mississippi Real Estate Commission began requiring anyone selling their home through a realtor to state on the property condition disclosure statement if the home has been the site of a meth-cooking operation.
The lack in cleaning regulations can be partly attributed to the fact that clandestine meth labs have given way to smaller and often-times mobile cooking methods that leave behind much less obvious toxic waste, and also due to the unfair burden cleanup costs could be to unsuspecting property owners or taxpayers.
Lt. Eddie Hawkins, methamphetamine coordinator for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, said many of the instances of meth labs they have seen are people in rural areas who sneak onto someone else’s property, like a camp house or old trailer, to cook the drug.
“I’ve had 21 incidents in the state this year and only two of those were active cooks,” Hawkins said. “Before, in 2009, we had 692 total incidents and 349 total labs.”
The incredible decrease in meth cooking, much due to the need to have a prescription for pseudoephedrine, is good news in Mississippi, but daily meth arrests show it is still being smoked and in many cases made by other methods.
Drapala said any amount of methamphetamine smoking or cooking, no matter the method, will leave residue on the surrounding surfaces and cause exposure to those around the surfaces.
“What they’re doing is reacting very volatile chemicals,” he said. “It’s not in a modern pharmaceutical lab or what you saw on ‘Breaking Bad.’ You’re looking at drug users making their own drugs and they’re not going to be safe. They’re going to be sloppy and they will spill ingredients.”
In Minnesota, a state with mandatory cleanup laws, the department of health warns chronic exposure to the chemicals used to cook meth can cause liver and kidney damage, neurological problems and increased cancer risk. Shorter exposures can cause dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, burns, chemical irritation and, as with any particularly toxic chemical, death.
Another reason law enforcement is seeing fewer home meth labs is because of a popular and often mobile production method – the shake-and-bake method – which can be done by combining ingredients in a two-liter soda bottle.
Hawkins said they see this method done often in vehicles while the vehicles are being driven down the road.
“We don’t have a way to test to see if the vehicle is clean,” he said. “If we seize one of those, what do we do? If we auction it off and someone gets sick we are liable. We can’t put an agent in it or sell it.”
Drapala also said studies at National Jewish Health in Denver have shown most nonporous surfaces can be mostly cleaned of meth residue with a thorough 409 scrubbing. Similarly, clothes sent through the washing machine can be mostly decontaminated of second-hand meth exposure.
The problem is when meth residue is absorbed into materials like Sheetrock or car seats.
“I just did a house near Tupelo and it was contaminated and we recommended to the people who were handling the home it would be best to remove and replace the interior walls,” Drapala said. “It wasn’t a cook house to my knowledge, it was just a situation where they wanted to know and we did a field test that came back positive.”
Hawkins said his department often ends up donating the possibly contaminated vehicles they seize to fire departments to practice putting out vehicle fires before then disposing of them as scrap.
To help cope with the problem of meth residue inside homes and other enclosures, many companies are producing home testing kits. The test kits are readily available online and work much like an at-home drug test, but for a house.
Another set of tools for property owners in states that don’t have mandatory meth lab remediation laws are the Environmental Protection Agency and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s voluntary cleanup guidelines. Those guide property owners and contractors on cleanup.
Signs of an area where meth is being used or made are dead vegetation around septic tank areas, used cold medicine packaging, lithium batteries that have been torn apart, empty chemical containers with puncture holes (like antifreeze, ether, freon, lye, drain openers, paint thinner) and plastic soda bottles with tubes or holes near the top. Since no one can be sure what was in a home before, Hawkins said anyone suspicious of their property or a property they plan to purchase should contact a company like Hazclean to have it tested.
“You can use soap and water and wash the house down but I don’t know if that renders it safe because we don’t know what was used before we got there,” he said.
By JB Clark
TUPELO – Thousands of students and parents filled The Mall at Barnes Crossing as they picked up free school supplies and learned about many back-to-school and family resources in the hours before stores opened Saturday.
Free backpacks stuffed with school supplies were given to 1,500 students also as a part of the United Way’s Back 2 School Resource Fair.
Jaden Boyd, 8, of Tupelo, got a brand-new orange backpack Saturday morning. Orange isn’t his favorite color but he picked it because it’s close to red, which is his favorite color.
“I’ve got paper, glue sticks, folders, pencils, crayons and markers,” said the Pierce Street student as he went through his backpack. “I’m excited to go back to school but I wish summer could be a little longer.”
United Way’s Robin Matkin said families were at the mall around 7:30 a.m. to make sure they were able to get a backpack in time.
“The turnout has been good,” Matkin said. “People are getting through fast and no one stood in line too long.”
In addition to free school supplies, many family- and student-oriented organizations like 4H, HealthWorks!, the Birthing Project, Healthy Tupelo Task Force, Catch Kids and the Boys & Girls Club met with students and families and handed out information.
Excel by Five had early childhood education teachers and care providers on hand to work with young children on the skills they need to be ready for school.
“The teachers have set up activities so the kids can work on the skills they need for kindergarten,” said Beverly Williams, Lee County’s Excel by Five certification manager. “We’re getting information out to parents about the things they can do at home to get their kids ready to show up for the first day of kindergarten.”
Students under age 5 also were able to get free books from Excel by Five to take home and practice reading and parents were given checklists to prepare their children for kindergarten.
Better Schools Better Jobs Mississippi representatives collected signatures on their petition to have the Mississippi Adequate Education Program fully funded this year.
The Families First Resource Center put on a skit, Giraffes Can’t Dance, to teach children about the dangers of bullying.
Representatives from the Walmart Vision Center were on hand to test distance and reading vision and let students know if they should be tested for glasses before beginning the school year.
In addition to the 1,500 backpacks given out in Tupelo, 350 were given out at the Itawamba Attendance Center in Fulton.
Five more Back 2 School Resource Fairs will be put on by the United Way of Northeast Mississippi in upcoming weeks:
Tishomingo County: Saturday, July 26, 9 a.m. –11 a.m. – Families First Resource Center at Tishomingo County High School
Chickasaw County: Saturday, July 26, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. – First Methodist Life Center in Houston
Pontotoc County: Saturday, July 26, 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. – West Heights Baptist Church in Pontotoc
Prentiss County: Saturday, Aug. 2, 9 a.m. – noon – Baptist Memorial Hospital Booneville
Union County: Saturday, Aug. 16, 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – Baptist Memorial Hospital New Albany
By JB Clark
CEDAR BLUFF – Two Clay County farmers are changing the way people think about livestock farming and in the process, they hope, changing the state’s regulations for the way small farmers sell their meat.
Ali Fratesi, 27, and Dustin Pinion, 28, raise chickens and pigs at Beaverdam Fresh Farms a few miles west of downtown West Point in Cedar Bluff. They also work with other small farmers to create buying clubs, an easy way to bring fresh and locally produced food to people around the region.
This year, agents from the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce brought to their attention a regulation that keeps them from selling their poultry in markets which has cut their sales almost in half.
Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s federal poultry standards, farmers can raise and slaughter up to 1,000 birds on their land and sell them in their state without mandatory inspections as long as they follow the safety guidelines.
Similarly, farmers can raise and slaughter up to 20,000 birds on their land and sell them in their state without mandatory inspections if they have a state-certified on-site processing facility.
The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce has an additional regulation requiring an inspector to be present during the slaughter of meat before the meat can be sold in a market (or anywhere that is not the farm the meat was raised and slaughtered on).
The demand for Beaverdam Fresh Farms chicken became so great that the two have had to begin raising money to build a state-approved slaughtering facility on their farm. The farm’s customers raised over $35,000 through Kickstarter to help with the facility, which will cost significantly more.
Now the customers have petitioned the Department of Agriculture and Commerce to rethink its poultry regulations so Pinon and Fratesi can continue to deliver their poultry and expand their buying clubs.
The customers collected more than 2,000 signatures in a week, and with the help of their attorney and the Farm to Consumer Defense Fund, a petition has been placed before the MDAC.
“Our biggest product was meat chickens, but now it’s pork,” Fratesi said. “Our chicken was half of our sales. It’s hurt us pretty bad.”
The farm is now selling about 10 percent of the amount of chicken they would normally sell in a season. The drop is because of their inability to deliver the chicken through their buying clubs.
“We’re 30 minutes from our closest market and two-and-a-half hours from our largest,” Pinion said. “And it’s not easy to get out here to the farm.”
A few customers still drive to the farm for their chicken but the paddocks that used to house meat chickens are now empty. The two are now relying on their eggs and pork to keep the buying club going until they get some resolution from the Department of Agriculture.
The petition has been received by the MDAC and is being considered and researched.
Julie McLemore, the director of the Bureau of Regulatory Services at MDAC, said they take their responsibility of regulating meat seriously and that is why they are consulting other states that have different policies as well as the Center for Disease Control and Mississippi Department of Health.
“In the two-and-a-half years I’ve been here we’ve not had to deal with a food-born illness instance that started at a farmer’s market,” she said. “We are trying to do our due diligence to consider the request.”
Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm to Consumer Defense Fund, said the regulation is hurting small farmers in Mississippi.
“There are plenty of other states that have adopted the 20,000 bird exemption and in most of those states you can sell those birds at a farmer’s market at the minimum while some allow sales in other places,” Kennedy said. “They’re really limiting the markets for small Mississippi poultry farmers.”
Pinion said he thinks the regulations are restrictive because small poultry farms aren’t common in Mississippi.
“We want to work with them and educate them on what we’re doing here,” he said. “We’re going to have them come inspect our facility when it’s built.”
Pinion said he also hopes a change in regulations will encourage young people to begin farming.
How they’re different
Fratesi and Pinion raise their livestock in a unique way and that is one of the reasons demand for their chicken is so great. The other reason is the ease with which they offer it to their customers.
Their chickens live on a grass-fed beef farm, High Hope Farm, and are in a moveable open-air pen. Cattle farmer Johnny Wray moves his cattle into a new pasture every day to provide the grazers with new grass while Pinion and Fratesi move their chickens into the most recently grazed cattle pasture.
“They have a symbiotic relationship,” Fratesi said. “The chickens scratch up the cow patties and allow the soil to metabolize the manure more quickly. They eat the fly larva out of the manure so we don’t have to worm our cows. It makes a healthier ecosystem for the cows and chickens and then the grass grows better because the soil is more fertile.”
The farming duo usually keeps 1,000 meat birds and 400 egg layers on the farm.
On another plot of dense trees and brush, they rotate their growing pig population in a similar manner. The 45 pigs rotate plots to help fertilize previously undesirable earth and cut down dense foliage. As the brush is trampled and digested by the pigs, Pinion and Fratesi get to choose which trees they will keep and nurture. Those trees are usually trees that will later nourish the pigs with the acorns and foliage.
The pigs are processed at an off-site facility but Pinion and Fratesi said one of the reasons they enjoy doing poultry is the manageability of raising and processing the birds on their own farm in a sustainable way.
“I can pick a whole chicken up and process it pretty easily by myself,” Fratesi said.
To make shopping for local and responsibly raised food easier on customers, Beaverdam Fresh Farms has buying clubs. Every two weeks customers are sent a shopping form to select from the farm’s chicken, pigs and eggs as well as other farms, like Native Son in Tupelo or a number of other vegetable and dairy farms.
“You get a week to do your shopping, you can do it in your pajamas while drinking coffee,” Pinion said. “And then we bring your products to your city. We have eggs, chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, aged cheeses, cheesecake – all kinds of dairy – and locally roasted coffee.” Their farm can be checked out at beaverdamfreshfarms.com.
Fratesi said they purchase products directly from other local farmers and run the buying club themselves to help the local economies and farms without adding extra work for other farmers.
Pinion said at this point they are holding out hope the Department of Agriculture and Commerce will see merit in their petition and until then he is encouraging Mississippians to continue to support and get to know their local farmers.
TUPELO – Natchez Trace Parkway officials are looking for a man who threatened two runners at gunpoint Wednesday night.
Chief Ranger Sarah Davis said two teenage girls were running the Blackland Prairie Trail, just north of the Chickasaw Village site, along the Natchez Trace around 8:25 p.m. when they saw a man.
The man, described as 5 feet, 10 inches tall and of medium build, pulled out a gun when the two females got to him.
The runners fled into the woods and were able to get away from the man.
Davis said one of the runners ran back toward the Trace where a woman in a red Mini Cooper stopped to assist.
“We would like to ask the woman in the red Mini Cooper a few questions if she could assist us,” Davis said. “Also, if anyone saw a medium-sized man that afternoon or evening wearing long black pants and a black hoodie, we would appreciate that information. It’s unusual to dress that way in the Mississippi summer.”
The man didn’t fire shots at the two runners.
Davis also said she wants people to remember the trails close at sunset for the safety of trail users.
“We will be adding increased patrols, including foot patrols, in those areas,” Davis said.
Anyone with information is encouraged to call (800) 300-PARK (7275).
By JB Clark
HOLLY SPRINGS – Less than two days after fatally shooting a man at his door, Graceland Too owner Paul McLeod was found dead Thursday on the front porch of his home.
No foul play is suspected.
There were no obvious signs of trauma, according to Marshall County Coroner Richard Anderson.
“There was no blood or anything. It appears to be natural, but it is a pending case until the autopsy is done.”
Anderson said McLeod, 70, was spotted by a driver around 7 a.m. on his front porch, slumped over a chair.
His death came less than two days after McLeod fatally shot a man, Dwight David Taylor Jr., 28.
Police said Taylor came to McLeod’s front door asking for money and tried to force the door back open after McLeod denied him. At that time, McLeod shot Taylor one time in the chest with a .45-caliber handgun.
Police said Taylor did not come to McLeod’s home for a tour.
McLeod’s attorney, Phillip K. Knecht, said in a statement that McLeod had been “battling ill health for some time.”
He added, “We can’t be sure of anything right now, but nothing points to suicide or foul play. We await an official autopsy, but his ill health, combined with the stress from (the shooting) tragedy, leads me to believe it was a very unfortunate natural occurrence.”
No charges had been filed against McLeod regarding Tuesday night’s shooting. McLeod was taken into custody by police and then released after questioning.
Graceland Too, located at 200 East Gholson St., a few blocks from downtown Holly Springs, is known as a 24/7 museum and Elvis Presley shrine.
The museum attracts Elvis fans from all over the world as well as late-night adventurers from surrounding college towns.
CORINTH – Alcorn County’s purchasing clerk was charged Thursday with hindering an investigation after representatives of the state auditor’s office allege he shared documents with an elected official who is being investigated for embezzlement.
During an unofficial information meeting before the Alcorn County Board of Supervisors, State Auditor Stacey Pickering said during the investigation, which has been ongoing since December, William Paul Rhodes, 54, went through investigation files, copied documents and shared them with Alcorn County District 2 Supervisor Jimmy Dal Nelms.
The affidavit charging Rhodes reveals the auditor’s office has been investigating Rhodes and Nelms, along with several Alcorn County vendors, for their alleged involvement in a conspiracy “designed to embezzle and/or convert money, equipment and property from Alcorn County,” since December.
The investigation followed a Dec. 12, 2013, complaint filed with the state auditor’s office.
Pickering said his agents were set up in the Alcorn County Board of Supervisors board room for a portion of their investigation and that is when Rhodes allegedly browsed and copied investigation documents.
The affidavit alleges Rhodes entered the room, opened the investigator’s notebooks and took photos. The photos were then allegedly sent to Nelms in an effort to help cover up the embezzlement.
Rhodes’ county-issued cellphone was seized and examined July 3, which is when the investigator alleged the photos and text messages to Nelms were discovered.
Pickering shared the investigation files that are public record.
Those documents show a large difference in spending between the county’s second district and the other districts on prisoner food and illegal dump site cleanup.
Prisoner food expenditures from Fiscal Year 2012 and January 2014 were between $4,000 and $6,500 for districts one, three, four and five but $12,945 in District 2.
During the same time period, District 2 spent more than $60,000 on illegal dump cleanups while the other districts spent between $0 and $17,785.
Pickering said they will not be commenting further on the investigation into Nelms but wanted to clear the air following the Thursday morning arrest of Rhodes.
After Rhodes was arrested and processed in Alcorn County, he was transported to the Lee County Justice Center where Circuit Court Judge Paul Funderburk set his bond at $10,000 and he was released on bond.
TUPELO – Cross country runners training along the Natchez Trace were threatened with a gun Wednesday evening.
Chief Natchez Trace Ranger Sarah Davis confirmed the incident is being investigated.
The runners were near the Chickasaw Village on the north Side of Tupelo when the incident happened.
Davis said she cannot release any details concerning the investigation but said there are no suspects at this time.
Tupelo Police Department officers have assisted in the investigation.