Thursday, December 07, 2006

Atempted robbery in Oxford Wal-mart lot

I have the day off Friday (going to the GA Aquarium) so this will be the last thing from me for a while. More on this on Monday.-aj


Someone tired unsuccessfully to rob 20-year-old Jacksonville man in the Oxford Wal-Mart parking lot.
According to Oxford police reports, someone with a handgun tried to the rob the victim in the lot around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday.
The report lists the incident at an attempted robbery and states that nothing was stolen and the 20-year-old was not injured.
The victim did not recognize his assailant but said the suspect vehicle is listed as a small maroon four-door.
Police said the incident was under investigation and more details could surface over the weekend.
-Andy Johns

"Lighted Christmas deer" stolen from Oxford home

Someone stripped an Oxford home of its Christmas cheer.
According to Oxford police reports, someone took a wreath and a “lighted Christmas deer” from a residence in the 400 block of Marsh Lane in Oxford.
Two Christmas ribbons were also damaged in the Grinch-like crime, which occurred sometime 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 1 and 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 2.
Police do not have any suspects, but think it is probably the work of juveniles.
-Andy Johns

Woman pleads guilty and is sentenced in killing of retired firefighter

By Andy Johns
Star Staff Writer

A Southside woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing a retired Anniston firefighter 11-years-ago.
According to assistant district attorney Brian McVeigh, Kathy Williams Boone, 44, of Southside, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 50 year in prison in the death of Herbert Willie Woods, her former employer.
On October 14, 1995 Woods body was discovered by his son at the Anniston New and Used Furniture shop, where the victim worked, McVeigh said.
Woods, a retired Anniston firefighter, suffered five gunshot wounds. Investigators said he was shot with his own gun. He was 67 when he died.
Though Boone had taken money out of Woods bank account before and after he was killed, she was considered a suspect, but was not charged in the crime in 1995.
Boone’s plea, which was entered in Circuit Court Judge Joel Laird’s court room, came from an investigation spear-headed by the Calhoun County District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Unit.
The case is the first “cold case” to go to court, McVeigh said.
“It’s a great outcome for all of the agencies involved,” McVeigh said. “I’m happy for the family. Maybe now they can move on.”
Retired ABI agent Greg Cole, who now works on the cold case unit as for the Calhoun County Sheriff’s office said that investigators began putting the puzzle together and by went to interview Boone on Oct. 25, 2005 in the Etowah County Jail where she was booked for unrelated non-violent charges.
“The more we looked at it, the more we realized she was a very strong suspect,” Cole said.
She confessed to the crime 10 years and 10 days after it occurred. Cole said he wasn’t sure why she confessed then, but had denied any involvement earlier.
“Maybe she felt bad about it and needed to clear her conscience” he said.
McVeigh said Boone expressed remorse for her actions as several of Woods’ family members looked on from the gallery.
Boone will be transferred to Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka to serve her sentence, McVeigh said.

Contact Andy Johns at ajohns@annistonstar.com or call 235-3545.

Fire safety tips

You all are going to be the safest bunch around if you read these two prevention stories. Notice I have sources from Cleburne County in both stories. One of my New Year's Resolutions is going to be to include more sources from Randolph, Cleburne and Talladega Counties. -aj

Info Box:
Holiday Fire Safety Tips
• Do not place your Christmas tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent.
• Never put Christmas tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
• Inspect holiday lights each year for damaged wires, and broken or cracked sockets.
• Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe.
• Do Not Leave Holiday Lights on Unattended
• Never Put Wrapping Paper in a Fireplace
• Make sure candles are in stable holders that are not easily knocked over.
• Never leave the house with candles burning.
• Do not go near a Christmas tree with an open flame - candles, lighters or matches.
-Source: U.S. Fire Administration

By Andy Johns
Star Staff Writer

Fire officials agree that candles, a Christmas tree and a roaring fire place are festive, but they want residents to remember to be careful when it comes to fire safety this season.
“We like to decorate with candles and it sets a beautiful mood,” said Heflin Fire Chief Rudy Rooks. “But if you put a candle in greenery, it can ignite the decorations.”
During the holiday season there are some added hazards such as space heaters, Christmas lights and thirsty Christmas tress to be aware of.
Rooks said the bottom line is simple: “Any open flame is a fire hazard.”
Anniston Fire Chief Bill Fincher said that while tree fires are relatively rare, dry live trees burn quickly, reducing escape time.
“There’s not a lot, but they’re very dangerous,” Fincher said.
The U.S. Fire Administration reports that Christmas trees account for 200 fires annually, resulting in 6 deaths, 25 injuries and more than $6 million in property damage.
Fire Administration tests indicate that a fire the starts with a dry Christmas tree can catch the entire contents of the room on fire in about 40 seconds, much faster than typical fires.
Some Christmas trees can catch fire from electrical shorts in the lights that adorn them.
Most safety organizations including the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Fire Administration urge decorators to inspect lights before hanging them up.
Rooks said Christmas lights stored in attics face extremely hot temperatures in the summer and cold temperatures in the winter, which can damage the insulation surrounding the wires.
Rooks and Fincher both suggested not plugging in more than three strands of lights into each outlet.
“Just because it’s got several little outlets on the end of that brown cord doesn’t mean you have to use them all,” Rooks said.
Fincher said that cooking is the number one cause of residential fires year-round, and December is no exception.
People preparing holiday meals for guests are often distracted while they are cooking the food, Fincher said, leading to careless mistakes in the oven or on the stove.
Fire places pose an even more obvious danger if sparks or flames escape.
Fincher said using seasoned, dry wood is the safest kind of wood to burn because sap from fresh wood can build up in the chimneys.
Fincher said his department has not had any reports of chimney fires yet, but there are typically a few chimney fires each year.
Another nearly-annual occurrence for Anniston firefighters is putting out a fire started by someone using later fluid or gas to start a fire in the fireplace.
“You’d be surprised how many people do it,” Fincher said.
Residue and drips from the fluid can leak onto carpets or furniture creating an open invitation for an out of control blaze.
Dan Hinkle, of Hinkle Chimney Sweep Service in Oxford, said chimneys are often neglected.
Squirrel and bird nests can often block the chimney, making it difficult to get a fire started.
“If you tried real hard (to start a fire) you could probably catch the nest on fire,” he said.
In older chimneys, without spark arrestors, smoldering bits of paper can float out of the chimney and catch leaves or pine straw on the roof on fire, Fincher said.
Most modern houses have the arrestors, according to Hinkle.
Home owners can usually see if they have an arrestor by looking on top of the chimney for a metal cover. It’s usually visible from the ground, Hinkle said.
Even with arrestors wrapping paper should not be burned, Rooks said.
Other methods of keeping warm aren’t much safer.
Fincher said portable heaters and heat sources need to have three feet of space in front, behind and above them.
People who use non-electric space heaters, fueled by propane or natural gas, also have to worry about ventilation, because the small fires produce carbon monoxide.
“Used properly, they’re all safe,” Fincher said. “The human tendencies to forget or be careless is where the problem is.”
Fincher urged gas-heater users to purchase carbon monoxide detectors in addition to smoke alarms.
With heaters, pets can often accidentally start fires by bumping into appliances.
“Anything that can be knocked over does not need to be around pets,” Fincher said.
The chief said many heater fires could be prevented by simply reading and following the manufacturer’s instructions
Electric heaters bring their own hazards.
Fincher recommended never plugging heaters into extension cords. The heaters draw a lot of electricity and can overload the cords, causing a dangerous situation.

Contact Andy Johns at ajohns@annistonstar.com or call 235-3545.

Burglary prevention tips

How to protect your home from holiday burglaries
• Lock all doors and windows when you leave the house including the garage door.
• Insert a board in the bottom of sliding patio doors to prevent the door from sliding open.
• Fasten air conditioner window units securely to the window sill or window frame.
• Use random timers that automatically change what time your lights go on and off each night.
• Ask a neighbor to park his or her car in your driveway.
• Keep expensive items out of view from the yard or the street.
• Make arrangements to have your mail and newspapers picked up by a neighbor or “stopped” at the post office. To temporarily stop The Star while you travel, call 235-9253.
• Ask your next-door neighbors to call the police if they notice any suspicious activity and leave a phone number where you can be reached in case of an emergency.
• Keep trees and shrubs around doorways, windows and porches trimmed.
-Source: AlliedBarton Security Services


By Andy Johns
Star Staff Writer

Christmas gifts are expensive and many burglars feel the need to give themselves a Christmas bonus.
Fortunately for them, hundreds of houses will be left unattended for days at a time, right when they need the money the most.
Residents should take a few extra steps towards preventing burglaries as they prepare for the holiday travel season, according to law enforcement officials
Making sure that all doors and windows are locked is the biggest single factor when it comes to preventing burglaries.
Calhoun County Chief Deputy Matthew Wade said simply closing the blinds or curtains to hide the valu-ables from peeping eyes can also help prevent a break-in.
Cleburne County Sheriff Joe Jacks agreed.
He said many of the thefts and burglaries in Cleburne County come when residents leave expensive items like four-wheelers out in plain view.
“That’s just advertising,” Jacks said.
Wade and Jacks both said that in many instances, burglars will do a little reconnaissance before striking, of-ten knocking on the front door and trying to figure out a resident’s schedule.
“They’ll come and knock on the door and say they are form the phone company or Sears,” Jacks said. “They’re always making up something to get you to come to the door.”
Wade and Jacks agreed that good descriptions of any suspicious people or vehicles are important. Often a tag number and vehicle description can link several burglaries together.
Wade suggested getting a home alarm system for all houses, but particular in secluded homes that are far from the road.
“It won’t stop somebody from coming in, but it will at least let law enforcement know and get them on the way over there,” Wade said.
The chief deputy also said that in contrast to violent criminals, burglars tend to shy away from any kind of attention and an extra car in the driveway or signs of life inside a house will often scare them off.
“Anybody who burglarizes a home is a coward,” Wade said. “Instead of working like a good citizen, they steal stuff.”
Christmas presents under the tree are easy targets for thieves, Wade said. In many instances, the burglars will sell the presents for money, but police suspect that some burglars give their loot as presents to their family.
Houses that are prime targets for burglaries should certainly consider an alarm, Wade said, though the qualifications for a typical target are blurring. Wade said the typical burglary target home will be off the main roads, be poorly lit and have plenty of hedges and trees for cover.
In the past, according to Jacks, thieves targeted secluded homes, but lately thieves have started hitting houses facing major roads like U.S. Highway 431.
He said the crooks’ speed allows them to avoid being noticed.
“They’ll go up, kick your door down, grab your stuff and be gone in a heart beat.”
The sheriff said Cleburne County residents who are traveling can call the Sheriff’s Office and request that deputies pass by their homes while they are out of town.

Contact Andy Johns at ajohns@annistonstar.com or call 235-3545.

Burglar hits home of circuit court judge

By Crystal Jarvis
Star Staff Writer
12-07-2006

A burglar broke into the Saks home of Circuit Court Judge Malcolm Street Jr. Tuesday afternoon, according to an Anniston police report.
The home on West 55th Street was broken into between 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., the report said.
Street said Wednesday that he doesn’t think the burglary was motivated by his position as a judge.
“It appears to me they were searching for money and jewels and anything else that they could convert into money,” he said.
Several rooms in the home were ransacked and presents were stolen from under the Christmas tree. The burglar made away with cameras, a handgun, a DVD player, a jar of coins and an unknown amount of jewelry.
Street said burglaries are known to increase around the holiday season.
“People need to be vigilant and also look out for their neighbor,” he said.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Updated and corrected conspiracy story

Thanks GW.

By Andy Johns
Star Staff Writer

A grand jury has added another felony charge to the list of crimes facing two men accused in the violent deaths in 2002 of an elderly Alexandria couple.
Assistant District Attorney Brian McVeigh said Tony Nicholas Brooks, 22, of Anniston, and Jeremy Lee Butler, 27, of Oxford, were indicted Tuesday by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy to commit murder.
The two men are accused of murdering Clara Eva Birmingham, 80, and Henry Owen Birmingham, her 85-year-old husband, in their Alexandria home on Oct. 29, 2002.
Authorities have said that the Birminghams were victims of a robbery gone bad. They died as a result of stab wounds and blunt-force trauma.
Clara Birmingham’s grandson, Ellis Louis Mashburn Jr., 28, of Jacksonville, already has been convicted and sentenced to death for the killings.
McVeigh said the date for the duo to appear in court has not yet been set.
Both men remained in the Calhoun County Jail Wednesday afternoon.
Contact Andy Johns at ajohns@annistonstar.com or call 235-3545.

Hardee's robbed

By Crystal Jarvis
Star Staff Writer

An unidentified man robbed the Hardee’s on Quintard Avenue in Anniston on Tuesday night and escaped with an undisclosed amount of cash.
According to Anniston police reports, the man held up the store using a black handgun at 8:30 p.m.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the police said they have no suspects in the case. No injuries were reported.

— Crystal Jarvis

Conspiracy charges brought against two in Alexandria murder

By Andy Johns
Star Staff Writer

An addition felony charge has been added to the stack facing two men accused in the violent deaths of two elderly Alexandria residents.
Assistant District Attorney Brian McVeigh said that a grand jury indicted Tony Nicholas Brooks, 19 of Anniston, and Jeremy Lee Butler, 24, of Oxford, were indicted by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy to commit murder on Tuesday.
The two stand accused of murdering Clara Eva Birmingham, 80, and Henry Owen Birmingham, her 85-year-old husband, in their Alexandria home on October 29, 2002.
Authorities have said that the couple were victims of a robbery gone bad and died as a result of stab wounds and blunt force trauma.
Clara Birmingham’s grandson, co-defendant Ellis Louis Mashburn Jr., 28, of Jacksonville, has already been convicted and sentenced to death for the killings.
McVeigh said the date for the duo to appear in court had not yet been set.
Both men were in the Calhoun County Jail Wednesday afternoon.

Contact Andy Johns at ajohns@annistonstar.com or call 235-3545.

Christmas trees burn fast

I'm still working on this holiday fire story when I stumbled accross this video.
If that link doesn't work on your machine try this one.

It is a video of just how fast a Christmas tree will burn. In 40 secs, the room is scorched.

-aj

AFD truck may come in next week

Talked to Fire Chief Bill Fincher this morning and he said the new fire truck may be in as early as next week. I'll do a short story on it if it does. It will be a new pumper truck and it will take until the beginning of the year before they can fit it with all the bells and whistles ... literally.
It will go into service in January.

As for me today, I am still chugging away on the homicide victim stories. Crystal Jarvis will be making police rounds today, so any police briefs will probably come from her tomorrow.

-aj

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Woman robbed in front of church on 6th Street

I hope this doesn't sound to skeptical. -aj

A woman was robbed in front of a church on 6th Street Saturday evening.
According to Anniston police reports, the 36-year-old woman was walking down the sidewalk neat the Glen Addie Baptist Church when a man approached her and demanded the woman’s purse.
Investigators said the woman’s accounts of the story have varied on most other details.
In some accounts her assailant had a weapon. In another, the victim fought the man. On the police report, the victim said she knew the man, then said she didn’t.
The incident happened around 7 p.m. on Saturday and was reported to police at 1:15 p.m. on Monday.
The man fled on foot, taking the woman’s purse, cash, ID cards and asthma medication.
Police said they did not have a suspect on Tuesday afternoon.

-Andy Johns

Burglar steals 30 grenades

A burglar did a bang up job at a house on McClellan Boulevard.
According to Anniston police reports, 30 inert hand grenades and five inert rocket propelled grenades were stolen from the residence of a National Guard ordinance technician.
A thief forced his way in through the door of the residence sometime between Sep. 1 and Dec. 1 and also took two handguns, a rifle, and a dryer.
A sliding glass door and several rear windows of the house were also damaged.
Police are investigating but have no suspects.
-Andy Johns

Abducted child found dead

Abducted child found dead
8:15 a.m.

A 5-year-old boy reported abducted from Albertville has been found dead, according to police.
Geontae Glass was taken from in front of a convenience store Monday morning when the car in which he was rid-ing was stolen. Initial reports from authorities indicated the boy had been left in the trunk of the Nissan Altima over-night, when temperatures dipped well below freezing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Help wanted

I am working on a huge story for the end of the year that will include mini-stories on all of the victim's of homicides in the county. If you know any of the victims and want to talk to me, or if you have phone numbers for any family members, please let me know.

If you aren't seeing as much crime news as normal, it's b/c I have been busting my tail working on this story for the end of the year. It should turn out good though.

-aj

Shots fired into McCoy Ave. home

Shots were fired into a house on McCoy Avenue Sunday morning, but the people inside fortunately avoided injury.
According to Anniston Police reports bullets damaged the houses siding and a bedroom window of the house when the shots were fired just before 5 a.m.
Investigators said at least five people were inside the house in the 1800 block of McCoy at the time the shots were fired, including the 46-year-old woman who filed the report.
She said that everyone inside was asleep when the incident occurred.
Bullets also damaged two vehicles in front of the house, police said.
Police are investigating, but did not have any suspects Monday afternoon.

-Andy Johns

Man robbed on Elm Friday

A 30-year-old Anniston man was robbed at gun point on Elm Street Friday.
According to Anniston Police reports, the man was at an apartment at 316 Elm Street around 5:30 p.m. Friday when a man wearing all black approached him with a black revolver.
The gunman demanded money and the victim gave him an undisclosed amount.
The man in black then ran west down Elm Street before the victim lost sight of him.
Though the gunman was not wearing a mask, police do not have a suspect.
If caught the man faces one count of felony first degree robbery.
-Andy Johns

Brown names assistant coroner

By Andy Johns
Star Staff Writer

Calhoun County Coroner-elect Patrick Brown has appointed his former primary opponent Lynn Forbus as assistant coroner.
Brown said that his decision to appoint Forbus was based on mutual respect, complimentary skills and the pair’s similar thoughts on the future of the office.
“Lynn and I shared a lot of the same thoughts,” Brown said.
Brown had been speaking with Forbus about the position for some time, and Forbus said he was happy that the appointment has been made official.
“Obviously I’m honored,” said Forbus, a Dearmanville resident. “Pat and I are both on the same wave lengths.”
Forbus, 44, said during the campaign that part of what draws him to the coroner’s office is the investigative or the “whodunnit” side of the job. He has years of experience in investigating deaths. Forbus is a certified death investigator, a certified medical investigator, a certified homicide investigator and sits on the board of directors of the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office Reserve.
Birmingham-born Forbus spent five years with the sheriff’s office as a part-time deputy.
Forbus, a police-academy trained law enforcement officer, received an associate’s degree from the Community College of the Air Force and performed eight years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force in Louisiana, Missouri and Korea.
Forbus’s law enforcement experience was pitted against Brown’s medical experience during the primaries but now both men feel that the two skill sets will compliment each other.
“As Lynn had said earlier in the primary, the citizens had two good choices,” Brown said.
Forbus said he has no hard feelings after being defeated in the primaries June.
“I think we became friends through the primary and developed a respect for each other,” Forbus said.
Brown said the staff for the unpaid death investigator positions will not be announced until he his sworn in to office in January.

Contact Andy Johns at ajohns@annistonstar.com or call 235-3545.

Alabama Amber Alert

South from Albertsville would put them in Gadsden or Boaz. That's not that far. Keep your eyes open. -aj



From Staff Reports

The state of Alabama has issued an Emergency Missing Child AMBER Alert.

The Alabama Department of Public Safety and the Albertville Police Department are asking for assistance in locating 5-year-old Geontae Glass, a black male, who was last seen Monday morning, December 4, 2006, at 601 Baltimore Avenue in Albertville, Alabama.

Geontae is 3 feet tall, 65 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair, and is considered to be in extreme danger. He was taken when the vehicle he occupied was stolen by an unknown black male described as approximately 5'9" - 5'11", 200 - 220 pounds. The vehicle is a light blue, 1994 Nissan Altima, with no tag on the vehicle, last seen traveling south on Alabama Highway 206. If you have any information regarding this missing child, please contact the Albertville Police Department at 256-878-1212; Alabama Department of Public Safety at 334-242-4128; or your local police department.

Cyberthieves lurking as holidays approach

By Eric Benderoff
Chicago Tribune
12-04-2006

CHICAGO — 'Tis the season to start receiving greeting cards, and a growing number of them, conveniently, will come via the Internet.

There's only one problem: Some of the e-mails saying that you have an e-greeting card from a friend or family member may instead be from a scam artist intent on obtaining your Social Security number, credit card data or even brokerage account information.

Full story

High court outlaws sweepstakes games

This kept the deputies busy Friday night. -aj

From staff, wire reports
12-02-2006

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Supreme Court ruled Friday that video sweepstakes games at a greyhound dog track in Birmingham are illegal gambling devices no different from slot machines.

The 8-0 decision reversed a ruling by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Scott Vowell, who said the operation known as “MegaSweeps” at the Birmingham Race Course was not a lottery and did not involve the use of slot machines or gambling devices.

People play by buying Internet time on a machine, called a reader, which automatically enters them into a sweepstakes and the machine then tells them if they won.

“It puts an end to any speculation about how the court feels about those machines,” said Calhoun County District Attorney Joe Hubbard. He issued a public notice around 4:30 p.m. Friday saying that the machines were considered by the courts to basically be slot machines and therefore illegal.

Hubbard said he went by a couple of sweepstakes buildings late Friday afternoon and saw that they'd closed. One had his notice taped to the door - with an addendum next to it that said if the sweepstakes in Calhoun County didn't open on Monday, there was another operation in Georgia still going.

Ann Crossley, who owns the “Hello Money” in Alexandria said deputies delivered a notice from Hubbard around 4:45 p.m. announcing the court's decision.

Hubbard's notice said the business had one hour to close and get the machines out or else the operators could be arrested and the machines confiscated.

“Joe Hubbard just likes to dictate what people can and can't do,” said Crossley, whose shop contained about 60 machines.

Oxford police said Friday that three businesses had voluntarily closed by 4 p.m.

Deputies were making rounds to see that the businesses complied. Police dispatchers at Jacksonville and Piedmont said there were no problems reported of businesses not complying voluntarily.

Crossley, too, said she closed before deputies arrived.

“There's not going to be anyone playing anymore,” she said. “We abided by the law and we shut it down before they got here.”

Members of the Elks Lodge, which runs bingo tournaments where proceeds go to college scholarship and cerebral palsy groups, feel as though the sweepstakes cut into their business.

“There's been some people that I think would come to bingo that have been going to the sweepstakes,” said Joshua Lane, president of the Elks Lodge Number 189 in Anniston.

Lane said he was glad to see the gambling venues go both as president of the group and as a citizen.

“They've messed with the odds a little bit,” he said. “It's just not good for you.”

“In the computer age, the fact that chance takes place at the point of sale, rather than at the readers themselves is simply inconsequential,” said the opinion, written by Justice Tom Woodall. “The readers are slot machines as to those who pay to play them.”

Birmingham Race Course owner Milton McGregor said the ruling could make any sweepstakes illegal, including those operated by banks and fast-food restaurants. Since the Jefferson County ruling, businesses offering similar sweepstakes machines have opened across Alabama.

“It appears that the Supreme Court concluded that our machines only had to resemble a slot machine in order to be a slot machine,” McGregor said. He said the ruling would mean the loss of “hundreds of jobs.”

Another concern Crossley said was the business license that she had recently renewed for about $600. She hopes that the city returns the money, but does not anticipate a refund.

Crossley said her patrons enjoyed an evening's worth of entertainment for about $20. While she admitted that some did abuse it and spend a lot of money, she said it was no different than other hobbies or entertainment, such as golf, football or hunting.

“I just can't say how hypocritical it is,” Crossley said. “I don't know what hobbies Joe Hubbard has, but I'm sure he spends some money on them.”

“There are people who abuse alcohol, but we have bars in this town,” she added.

Gov. Bob Riley had filed a brief with the Supreme Court, asking justices to outlaw sweepstakes games.

“These so-called sweepstakes machines are nothing more than dressed-up slot machines,” Riley said Friday. “It is time we rid Alabama of these illegal gambling operations, and I'm very pleased the Supreme Court agrees.”

Star Staff Writer Andy Johns contributed to this Associated Press article.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Anniston lets public meet new attorney

By Dan Whisenhunt
Star Staff Writer
12-04-2006

The City of Anniston on Friday introduced to the public its new environmental attorney, Rebecca Pritchett, who will assess the city's options for addressing contaminated soil in a local landfill.

City leaders have concerns about the landfill, near Monsanto Road, containing soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, commonly known as PCBs.

Residents living near the site are worried about their health because PCBs are suspected of causing cancer.

City attorney Polly Russell said she chose Pritchett to investigate the matter for the city because she has experience dealing with federal and state regulations and because she has no connection to any of the lawsuits related to PCB contamination.

Pritchett, who is based in Birmingham, studied environmental law at the University of Oregon and was the first female president of the Alabama Wildlife Federation. She practiced in San Francisco before moving back to Alabama in 1994.

“I'm a good old boy,” Pritchett said with a smirk.

The Monsanto company made PCBs from 1929 to 1971 at its plant in west Anniston. The compound is a heat-conducting fluid used in transformers and other industrial applications.

Solutia was spun off from Monsanto in 1997, and assumed the company's liability for the contamination. PCBs have been found in high levels in the blood and on the properties of many west Anniston residents. A 2003 partial consent decree requires the company remove contaminated soil from those properties.

The soil deposited at the site in question is contaminated at a level considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Mayor Chip Howell and Councilman Ben Little say the EPA and Solutia Inc., the company now responsible for cleaning up PCBs contamination, led the city to believe the site would be temporary. The site is used to contain soil contaminated with a low concentration of PCBs, according to EPA officials.

EPA remedial project manager Pam Scully said there was a temporary staging area near the permanent site, but said the EPA and Soultia were upfront about their intentions for a permanent management area.

“It was a year ago we had the public comment period (on the site),” Scully said. “We didn't decide to approve it for a very long time because we were working through some issues with Solutia.”

The questions the city has for Pritchett will be twofold:

If Solutia is in compliance with the law and with a decree requiring the company to clean up contamination, what are the city's options for dealing with the site?

And, if Solutia is not in compliance, what are the city's options?

Pritchett said it was too early to form opinions, but Little was confident she would help the city move forward in resolving residents' concerns about the site.

“I think it will improve the city overall,” he said.

Thomas Long, a minister and community activist, said he wants to stay involved as the city enters a new phase in addressing concerns over the site. He was optimistic about Pritchett's involvement.

“The city attorney, council and mayor seem to have high hopes she will be an asset to the community,” he said, “and I do too.”