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‘I WILL NEVER DO DRUGS BECAUSE OF ALL I HAVE LOST, AND I HOPE YOU WON’T EITHER’

Gabriel Benjamin of Tunnel Hill Elementary prompts emotional response from audience with his first-place DARE essay at 12th annual recognition program sponsored by Whitfield Sheriff’s Office, Kiwanis Club of Dalton

By MITCH TALLEY

Gabriel Benjamin brought the audience to its feet – and a tear to the eyes of his listeners – after reading his award-winning essay at the 12th annual DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) recognition program held May 15 at the Dalton Trade Center.

Gabriel Benjamin of Tunnel Hill Elementary receives a standing ovation after reading his first-place DARE essay during the annual recognition program. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

“I will never do drugs because of all I have lost, and I hope you won’t either,” the Tunnel Hill Elementary fifth-grader wrote in his essay. “I am lucky to have a father who chose me over drugs, but I know there are some children who are put into foster homes with strangers and will never see their real family ever again because of drugs, either because they can’t quit or they’re in jail for a very long time.”

Benjamin’s essay was  honored as the best out of the hundreds written by this year’s DARE graduates from 13 elementary schools in the county.

“Can you imagine the courage that it takes to write an essay like this when you’re 10 years old?” emcee Terry Phelps asked the audience after listening to Benjamin  read his essay. “Wow! Great job!”

Benjamin (who has since turned 11 in February) and the other school-level winners were recognized and treated to a buffet lunch by the Kiwanis Club of Dalton and the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office.

As first-place winner for the county, Benjamin received a wooden plaque and a $100 cash prize. Arianna

The Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office and the Kiwanis Club of Dalton honored these fifth graders for writing the top DARE essays in their schools during the 12th annual DARE recognition program May 15 at the Dalton Trade Center. Pictured are (from left, front row) Rylie Pinson, Pleasant Grove Elementary; Octavia Woodward, Valley Point; Tina Quintanilla, Cedar Ridge, third place; Sandra Ramirez, Varnell; Rachel Mason, Cohutta; Tristyn Sutton, New Hope; Gabriel Benjamin, Tunnel Hill, first place; Abby Stanley, Antioch; Danahi Reza, Dug Gap; Litzy Reyes, Dawnville; Shea Poe, Beaverdale; and Amaya Cruz, Eastside; (back row) DARE leader Lt. Wayne Mathis, Deputies Nathan Center and Ron Kirby, Sgt. Tammy Silvers, Sheriff Scott Chitwood, and Sgt. Darlene Crider. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

Garcia of Westside, second-place winner and recipient of a plaque and $50 cash, was not able to attend the program because she has transferred to a school in another county. Tina Quintanilla of Cedar Ridge received a plaque and $20 cash for her third-place essay.

Other school-level winners who were recognized during the program – with family, school officials, and Kiwanians looking on – included:

  • Rylie Pinson, Pleasant Grove
  • Octavia Woodward, Valley Point
  • Sandra Ramirez, Varnell
  • Rachel Mason, Cohutta
  • Tristyn Sutton, New Hope
  • Abby Stanley, Antioch
  • Danahi Reza, Dug Gap
  • Litzy Reyes, Dawnville
  • Shea Poe, Beaverdale
  • Amaya Cruz, Eastside

E’lan Watson, who won the DARE essay contest in 2010 while at Varnell Elementary, returned to talk about how DARE has continued to influence her life, even as she is slated to graduate from The Baylor School in June and head to Auburn University in the fall where she plans a double major in Spanish and Business Analytics.

“This time seven years ago I was sitting in this room about to read my DARE essay for the county competition,” Watson recalled. “When I won I was of course overwhelmed with feelings of pride and joy and excitement because I accomplished something that was so important to me. I wanted to win primarily because my older sister won two years before me.

E’lan Watson, who wrote the first-place DARE essay as a fifth grader from Varnell Elementary School in 2010 , returned to talk at this year’s recognition program about how DARE has continued to influence her life. She is slated to graduate in June from The Baylor School. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

“But now I realize that my DARE experience was much more than a contest,” she said. “DARE has been an extremely important part of my life. It’s more than a program about substance abuse; it teaches important life skills like decision-making. It has completely altered the way I make decisions and approach situations.”

Watson said she even used DARE to write her college essay.

“The essay question was similar for all applications: tell a story of an event that has changed your life and turned you into the person that you are today. I immediately thought of the DARE program. I remember making a promise to Officer Silvers and myself to remain completely drug and alcohol free, and I have no intentions of ever breaking my vital promise. I think the most important thing I’ve learned from this entire experience is that knowledge is power. There’s a quote that I love by Anton Chekhov that reads: ‘Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.’

“I think that’s important to keep in mind, especially for the fifth graders that are about to start this really exciting journey into middle school,” Watson said. “Remember what you learned and don’t be afraid to teach others the value of the DARE program. Also don’t be afraid to say no.”

Jarrod Wright, a student at Southeast Whitfield High School, spoke about his role as a state representative for the youth advisory board for the DARE program and offered words of encouragement to the fifth graders.

E’lan Watson, who wrote the first-place DARE essay as a fifth grader from Varnell Elementary School in 2010 (shown reading that essay seven years ago), returned to talk at this year’s recognition program about how DARE has continued to influence her life. She is slated to graduate in June from The Baylor School. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

“As you go through your life, things will get tough and you’ve got to make sure that just because you wrote an essay doesn’t mean that you’re automatically drug free,” Wright said. “You have to make that promise to yourself and keep going with it all the way through your whole life, really.”

Sheriff Scott Chitwood said that over the past 26 years, the DARE program has reached more than 26,000 youngsters. “As I said at graduation, are we making a difference? I think so because if we save one life, that was worth it,” he said.

The sheriff thanked County School Superintendent Dr. Judy Gilreath and the schools for allowing the DARE instructors to come onto their campuses and teach the DARE program. He praised the school-level winners, saying “these are products of the Whitfield County School System. These are outstanding young men and women, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

DARE instructor Sgt. Tammy Silvers said the program “is all about the kids, and them putting forth that effort and making that commitment to us that they’re going to stay drug free and they’re going to make good choices in their lives. That’s going to lead to a good track in life.

“If you want to be successful in life,” she said, “you have to follow through and think about the things you are doing in making good choices, choosing your friends wisely. That’s what this is all about is laying that foundation for these kids to make good choices in life.”

She called the essay winners “the cream of the crop,” but pointed out that their victory is just the beginning of their journey. “This is where you take your knowledge and you use it for the rest of your life,” she said, “and you start making those good choices and it’s an everyday thing. You have to do it for the rest of your life.”

Fellow instructor Sgt. Darlene Crider called the essay winners “the leaders” of their schools.

“You see where all these adults are sitting today?” she said. “You may be sitting in one of these places one day or even something else that is your dream. You follow your dreams, but in order to get there, you have to make good decisions and we said that over and over and over in class. You can make one bad decision in your life and it’ll follow you the rest of your life. We don’t want that to happen, so start here.

“You’re going to middle school and on to high school and college,” Crider said, “and do whatever it is that you want to do in life. So you have to start somewhere – you just started, you made a great decision, you wrote a good essay, and  you’ve promised everyone that was sitting in your classroom, your teachers, your principals, your officers, and  your friends, most of all yourself.

“I say this to my students: who is going to be with you for the rest of your lives? Not us. We will be supporting you, and we’ll be there if you need us. But you will be everywhere you are for the rest of your life, so it has to be your decision and if you make a bad one, you’ll stand accountable for that decision. So make good ones.”

 

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WHITFIELD AGENCIES JOIN FORCES TO CARRY TORCH FOR SPECIAL OLYMPICS

By MITCH TALLEY

Whitfield County Director of Communications

Participants in the annual Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Special Olympics Torch Run gathered on the steps of the new facility at the Training Center on Old Prater’s Mill Road. Runners from the Sheriff’s Office, Fire Department, and Department of Juvenile Justice took part in the fundraiser for State Special Olympics on May 10, including (from left, front row) Amber Hayes, Isabelle Beltran, and Allen Gallman; (second row) Brittany Martin, Susan Edgeworth, Jason Phillips, and Amy Phillips; (third row) Jewell Jackson, Sheila Caldwell, Ambur Gibson, and Tammy Silvers; (back row) Wayne Mathis, Lisa Hughey, John Jancewicz, Marcia Pfister, Chris West, Darlene Crider, Nathan Center, Albert Hill, and Ron Kirby. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

The annual Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Special Olympics Torch Run on May 10 featured some new twists this year, but the end goal remained the same.

“It’s all about the kids,” said Lt. Wayne Mathis, who is the only person in Georgia to have run in all 30 Torch Runs and even took part three times before that in a Special Olympics event sponsored by Sam’s Club in which senior citizens drove campers.

This year, Mathis joined 17 other men and women from the Sheriff’s Office, Whitfield County Fire Department, and Department of Juvenile Justice (District 1) in the Torch Run.

After departing from the old jail downtown for years, this time the runners left from the Whitfield County Training Center on Old Prater’s Mill Road, just outside the new building that was having sod and bushes installed on the morning of the run.

The new nine-mile route led the runners west on Old Prater’s Mill Road onto Cleveland Highway and then Ga. 2, where they made a left turn into Varnell Elementary School. Hundreds of youngsters and teachers lined both sides of the driveway into the school, exchanging cheers and high fives with the runners, who took a water break before heading back onto Ga. 2 on their way to more cheers at Beaverdale Elementary and ending the day at the Murray County line.

The mission of Special Olympics Georgia is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.

Special Olympics Georgia hosted its annual State Summer Games for almost 3,000 athletes, coaches, and unified partners on May 19-21 at Emory University. Athletes will compete in aquatics, athletics, flag football, gymnastics, soccer, table tennis, tennis, and volleyball, with medals awarded throughout the weekend.

Students and teachers cheer for the Special Olympics Torch Run participants as they pass through the driveway at Varnell Elementary School. (Photos by Mitch Talley).

Leading up to the games, law enforcement officers from agencies all over Georgia teamed up with SOGA in a 1,000-mile torch relay across the state. The “Flame of Hope” lit the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony to signify the opening of the games.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics, the largest grassroots fundraising program for the cause, began in 1981 when Wichita, Kan., Police Chief Richard LaMunyon saw an urgent need to raise funds for and increase awareness of Special Olympics.

The idea for the Torch Run was to provide local law enforcement officers with an opportunity to

volunteer with Special Olympics in the communities where the officers lived and worked. After three years of successful runs in Kansas, Chief LaMunyon presented his idea to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which endorsed Special Olympics as its official charity through the Torch Run. Today, all 50 states and more than 40 countries have their own versions of the Torch Run.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run is the largest annual fundraising event benefiting Special Olympics Georgia. This signature event plays a significant role in Special Olympics Georgia’s annual budget.

The Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office continues to offer Special Olympics Torch Run T-shirts and caps for sale. If you’d like to make a contribution or a purchase, contact Sgt. Tammy Silvers at the Sheriff’s Office at 706-279-1879.

Jewell Jackson of the Department of Juvenile Justice is all smiles as she runs past students at Varnell Elementary School during the Special Olympics Torch Run. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

Lt. Wayne Mathis of the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office (second from right) marked his 30th Special Olympics Torch Run this year, still the only person in Georgia to have participated in all 30. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

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WHITFIELD/MURRAY JUVENILE COURT JUDGE BLAYLOCK RETIRING MAY 31 AFTER 21 YEARS

By MITCH TALLEY

Whitfield County Director of Communications

Soon to be retired Juvenile Court Judge Connie Blaylock (left) looks over a file with deputy clerk Tina Curtis. The judge’s last day before retirement will be May 31. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

Nearly 21 years of serving as the only full-time juvenile court judge ever for Whitfield and Murray counties will come to a close for Judge Connie Blaylock on May 31.

Blaylock announced recently she will be retiring at the end of this month from the post to which she was appointed by Superior Court judges in 1996.

“I started part-time in July 1996 and went full-time in January 1997,” she said, sitting in her office on the lower floor of the Whitfield County Courthouse, “and I’ve been here ever since.”

Blaylock originally earned a master’s degree and worked as a sales rep for Phillip Morris for about 6½ years before deciding to go back to the University of Georgia to earn a law degree. After practicing as an attorney for another 6½ years doing real estate, domestic, and juvenile court-appointed work, she was named part-time associate juvenile court judge, which quickly morphed into a full-time job.

“What had been happening was that the Superior Court judges were taking a week a month and in addition to doing their Superior Court work, they were also covering Juvenile Court,” Blaylock explained. “But the caseload had gotten to the point by 1996 that it just wasn’t feasible for them to do that anymore.”

The caseload has grown so much that Blaylock says she now holds court four days a week every week, three days in Whitfield and one day in Murray.

She says that part of the duty for the local Juvenile Court  – which has a staff of 13 employees in Whitfield County and three in Murray County – is hearing all of the cases for anybody under age 17 accused of breaking the law, in what are known as delinquent cases.

“We also hear all of the cases for anybody under 18 who is now what we call a child in need of services,” Blaylock said. “They may be truant from school or they’re having problems out in the community that wouldn’t bring you or I before the court because of our age but they’re having some sort of school issue or parent authority issue or they need some sort of court intervention, typically for truancy. We also hear all of the traffic violation cases for anybody under 18.”

Ironically, the cases that make up the smallest percentage of the court’s workload take up most of the judge’s time – those involving abuse or neglect to children.

Blaylock described her work as juvenile court judge over the past 21 years as “very frustrating” yet “very rewarding” at times.

“It’s meaningful – I mean you feel like you’re making a difference,” she said. “You hear some really bad things, and it’s very frustrating because there are never enough resources. But it also can be very rewarding. I had an email today from a young lady I’d had before my court, and she told me she’s been in the military, married, got kids, out of the military now, getting her college degree.

“Those kind of stories,” Blaylock says, “are few and far between, unfortunately. We don’t always take people from A to Z; sometimes we’re happy getting them from point A to point F or G. You have to take your successes where you can get them. Sometimes not going to prison is a success. I ran into a young man outside the courthouse a few weeks ago, and he told me he wanted to thank me because I saved his life. I said, I don’t know about that but I’m glad we were able to help. He said he works for one of the mills here and has kept and maintained a steady job and has not been to prison, so that’s a success.”

How to gauge success is a point she stresses when she helps train volunteers with the CASA program (advocates for children) or the citizen’s panel (which reviews foster care cases).

“I always tell the volunteers you have to take your successes where they come,” she said. “You know, everybody’s not going to automatically straighten up and fly right just because they walk through our doors and everybody’s not going to live how we as middle-class Americans would prefer that they live.”

She doesn’t enjoy having to remove children from their homes because of abuse or neglect by their parents but says there is “a basic minimum” standard that society expects all parents to meet, with drug or alcohol abuse usually the culprit for parents failing to meet that minimum.

Those hearings related to parental neglect or abuse are now open to the public by virtue of a 2014 law, and Blaylock says that that public access allows other family members sometimes in the dark to get a more accurate picture of what has gone on to cause their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or others to be involved with the court and a more accurate picture of what Mom and Dad are – or are not – doing to get them back.

With retirement now just days away, Blaylock will soon be turning her caseload over to a new judge, who will be selected by the local Superior Court judges. Applicants must be a licensed attorney with at least six years of practicing law, a resident of the state, and live in the circuit once appointed.

Blaylock will be honored for her service to area children during a retirement party in the vending area on the main floor of the Whitfield County Courthouse on May 31 from 1 to 4 p.m. The public is invited.

While the judge says she is “excited” and “looking forward” to her retirement, she adds “I’ll miss it and I’ll miss the people, but I don’t think I’ll miss the stress.”

WHAT IS JUVENILE COURT?

The Whitfield County Juvenile Court is an independent juvenile court organized under Chapter 11 of Title 15 of the Official Code of Georgia. The Court is dedicated to serving the residents of Whitfield County and Murray County by hearing all cases involving allegations of dependency, unruly conduct and traffic violations of children under the age of 18 years, delinquency matters or concerning children under the age of 17 found within its jurisdiction. If, after adjudication, a child is found to be in need of treatment, rehabilitation or supervision to safely remain in the community, the court will provide access to appropriate treatment programs whenever feasible.

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Scholarship To Dalton Student, Success In Bilingual World

Hernandez’ Work In Community Leads To Help Getting To College

“Dalton Rotary Club member Rob Bradham presented Morris Innovative High School senior Marco Hernandez with the Dalton Rotary Club “Service Above All” Award earlier this month. Hernandez plans to attend Georgia Northwestern Technical College this fall.”

(Whitfield County, Georgia) When Morris Innovative High School senior Marco Hernandez walks across the graduation stage in Dalton, Georgia May 26, it’s not just a diploma he’ll be leaving high school with. A historic sense of pride will accompany Hernandez as he will become the first person in his family to graduate from high school.

Paving the way for his five brothers and sisters to succeed, organizations in the Dalton, Georgia area have decided to do the same for him. To help with collegiate expenses, the First Bank of Dalton, in partnership with the Roman Open Charities, has awarded Hernandez $500. He was also awarded the Roman Open Charities Scholarship for $1,000. Also, the Dalton Rotary Club awarded the soon-to-be 2017 high school graduate with their “Service Above Self” Award.

Hernandez, 19, plans to take his first classes at Georgia Northwestern Technical College later this year. The Dalton, Georgia resident plans to build a life helping others in need. “I really want to be a social worker with families and schools,” said Hernandez. “But, I really want to have a non-profit organization that would help the homeless and the children of new families that move into the area. Giving back to my community by doing social work is the best way I can think of to begin my life.”

Beyond his academics, Hernandez has actively worked with the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, the Northwest Georgia Healthcare Partnership, and the Dalton City Schools Central Office. “I want to work with people and help them see their potential,” said Hernandez.

One of Hernandez’ many passions is working with the Translation Academy at Morris Innovative High School. Hernandez, along with many other students, helps assist anyone who speaks Spanish fluently, but not English. The Academy helps train not only the importance of being bilingual, but also the importance of being an active part of the community around you. Nearly half of the residents in Dalton, Georgia are Hispanic. “I just want to be able to help the businesses and the people in the community, too,” said Hernandez.

The Translation Academy was launched five years ago by Paige Watts, a Spanish instructor with Dalton City Schools. “During their time in the Translation Academy, students realize their value to the community, the vast opportunities that are available to them, as well as how to pursue their future goals,” said Watts. The academy works with students and adults in the community, alike. More than 60-percent of the students in the Dalton City School system are Hispanic.

With the support of his parents, Joaquin and Marisol Hernandez, the future Georgia Northwestern freshman says it’s been a real team effort for him to get where he is today. “Just all of the teachers and staff at the school, as well as the organizations that I have got to work with, have really helped me decide to pursue this career,” said Hernandez. “I’m just thankful and plan to take full advantage of all of this.”  

Georgia Northwestern Technical College provides quality workforce education to the citizens of Northwest Georgia. Students have the opportunity to earn an associate degree, diploma, or a certificate in business, health, industrial, or public service career paths. This past year, 14,151 people benefited from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs. With an annual credit enrollment of 7,956 students, GNTC is the largest college in Northwest Georgia. GNTC has an additional enrollment of 6,195 people through adult education, continuing education, business and industry training, and Georgia Quick Start.  For more information about GNTC, visit us at GNTC.edu or contact a Student Help Center on any one of our six campus locations at 866-983-4682.  For information online, visit the college at GNTC.edu, as well as on GNTC’s Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, WordPress, and YouTube channels. GNTC is a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia and an Equal Opportunity Institution.

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LONG DAY, NIGHT FOR CROWE WHEN ACCIDENT CUTS OFF POWER AT JAIL

14-year maintenance veteran played a key role in repair efforts that lasted till 3 in the morning. For his efforts, he’s been named Whitfield County Employee of the Month for March.

 

By MITCH TALLEY

Whitfield County Director of Communications

 

Billy Crowe

Working in the maintenance department at the Whitfield County Jail isn’t a 9-to-5 job.

Billy Crowe knows that first hand, but he’s not complaining.

In fact, on March 29, a backhoe operator hit one of the main power lines at the jail while working on a drainage problem, causing all of the power to be lost at the correctional center except for what the backup generator could provide.

The accident happened at 1:10 p.m.

Crowe and his partner responded quickly to the scene and determined what would be needed to make the repairs and restore power.  A local industrial supply house agreed to stay open late to make sure all of the parts would be available, and a local electrical contractor was called in to use his expertise in this type of problem to oversee the repairs.

A local industrial supply house agreed to stay open late to make sure all of the parts would be available, and a local electrical contractor was called in to use his expertise in this type of problem to oversee the repairs.

The work began by having to cut the destroyed 225-amp circuit breaker out of the switch box and then pulling out the old wire and replacing it with new wire. This process took a considerable amount of time.

“Billy was on the end of the wire feeding it into the conduit,” said Lt. Emmit Tate of the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office. “This is the important end of the wire because whoever feeds it into the conduit has to insure that the wire does not get skinned as it goes in. Billy fed all 360 feet of this wire into the conduit by himself. An officer had an inmate work crew out feeding Billy the wire as Billy fed it into the conduit. This was a tedious,  hard, and very exhausting job, but it was done without complaint.”

In fact, it was very late before any of the maintenance personnel got anything to eat for an evening meal, according to Tate.

Their efforts paid off when power was restored at 3 a.m., nearly 14 hours after the accident.

“By approximately 3:30, tools had been put up, doors locked up, and the generator had shut itself down,” Tate said. “The maintenance crew was then back at the jail by 8 a.m. for the beginning of their work shift.”

Throughout the month of March, Crowe also replaced all of the vent fan motors in the housing areas of the jail and is now working on the same in the rest of the jail.

“Billy is also on call every other week, which is more often than most county employees,” Tate said. “Billy is very good natured and gets along well with his co-workers.”

For those efforts, Tate successfully nominated Crowe for Whitfield County Employee of the Month for March. To help local residents get to know him better, Crowe filled out the following fun questionnaire.

Name: Billy Crowe

Job title: Maintenance

Time with the county: 14 years

Where I went to high school: Cedar Valley

My role as a county employee: Maintenance tech at Whitfield County Correctional Center

What keeps my job interesting: The people I work with

What gives me a sense of accomplishment on the job: Knowing it’s all done

Where I grew up: Whitfield County

Family: Wife Sherry Crowe, son Brian Crowe

After work, I enjoy: Spending time with my family and working on lawn mowers.

Favorite TV show: Westerns/Lonesome Dove

Favorite meal: Steak and potato

Favorite Whitfield County restaurant: Longhorn

Favorite Whitfield County event: Parade

You can pick anyone from any time in history to have dinner with – who would you pick? Johnny Cash and John Wayne

I’m most proud of: My son, Brian

Cats or dogs? Dogs (we have eight)

Cake or pie? Cheesecake/pineapple upside down cake

Favorite car? ’55 Chevy

Early riser or sleep-in? Both

Favorite vacation ever? Pigeon Forge with family

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s: Work hard

Who has had the most impact on my life: Steve Adams, Granny and Grandpa

If I could have two wishes, they would be: Be rich and live forever

You’d be surprised to learn that I: Enjoy hiking.

The best advice I ever got: To work hard at all I do.

Anything else you’d like to say: I enjoy working for Whitfield County!

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GIVING THE OLD COLLEGE TRY

City, county team up to make improvements to College Drive/Walnut Avenue intersection

By MITCH TALLEY:

Whitfield County Director of Communications

 

Getting to college still requires the same dedication and determination as always.

Typical class dismissal traffic backup is shown at the south end of College Drive.

But leaving college – at least in a vehicle – will be much easier when students begin the fall semester at Dalton State College in August.

Anyone who has traveled south on College Drive knows how difficult it can sometimes be to make a left turn onto Walnut Avenue and head east, but construction is underway on a project that city and county officials believe will deliver much-awaited relief to those motorists.

When work is completed by August, College Drive will have been moved farther to the west by 240 feet, and Westbridge, the road that goes to Red Lobster, will also have been moved westward 50 feet. That way, the two streets will line up and a traffic signal can be installed to regulate traffic flow.

“If you’re familiar with College Drive, you know it comes out right beside the southbound exit ramp for I-75 and  there’s a stop sign for College Drive,” Whitfield County Engineer Kent Benson said. “The vast majority of people are turning left onto Walnut Avenue, either to go back into town or to get on the interstate.”

Once motorists have made that left turn, though, there’s room for just two or three cars in the storage lane on Walnut Avenue before they have to stop for the signal at the exit ramp. At peak times, that backs up traffic on College Drive well past Zaxby’s as vehicles have to wait to turn left.

“Then you’ve got people that get impatient and they’ll get in the right lane on College Drive, turn right onto Dug Gap Mountain Road, and then zigzag over into Westbridge and make a U-turn and get over in the right lane on Walnut,” Benson said. “That’s a dangerous situation.”

Concept drawing from which the College Drive project was designed.

Once completed, however, College Drive will have four lanes at the intersection – one for right turns up Dug Gap Mountain Road, one to go straight onto Westbridge, and two 170 feet long for left turns.

The new intersection should cut down on the number of T-bone crashes at College Drive,  according to Dalton Assistant Public Works Director Andrew Parker.

“We have a tremendous number of right-angle crashes there, which by nature are the most serious type of crashes that you can have,” he said. “Really at this moment, there’s just not any better way to deal with it than the striping configuration that we have. But this project will hopefully bring a final resolution to that and be a whole lot safer for folks.”

Dalton and Whitfield County have been working on a final resolution to the traffic problem there for years. In fact, the state offered to pay for a roundabout that would have included the southbound I-75 exit ramp, if the city and county paid up to $1.2 million for relocation of utilities.

“We essentially had a final design for the roundabout, but then the federal stormwater rules changed,” Dalton Assistant Public Works Director Andrew Parker said. “We got word from GDOT (Georgia Department of Transportation) that they were anticipating $2 million worth of redesign costs that wouldn’t have been finished until 2018, and then the construction estimate was another $5 million on top of that.”

A new, much less expensive option soon popped up, however, when the Chamber of Commerce moved downtown, allowing demolition of its old building on College Drive.

The city and county resumed control of the project, which will now cost $2.4 million, with $1.8 million coming from long-allotted funds in the 2007 T-SPLOST and the other $600,000 from the state.

“Our contract wound up being a little bit higher than what we had estimated because the retaining walls turned out to be more expensive to make sure the shoring was sufficient,” Parker said. “The good news is that Roger Williams, our representative on the state transportation board, helped secure an additional $600,000 from the state which helped offset a lot of that additional increase. So we can’t say thanks enough to Mr. Williams from the city and county for that because we would have been trying to hunt for some more money.”

Construction of the culvert that will divert water under the new section of College Drive continues.

Crews have been busy since Jan. 10 working on the first stage of construction, clearing the land and building a 150-foot-long, double-barrel culvert that will divert creek waters underneath the new section of College Drive. The next step will be to build four retaining walls – one along Bojangle’s frontage, one above the culvert outlet end, and two along Westbridge.

The contract with C.W. Mathews requires the contractor to have the new road open to traffic and the signal operational by the start of fall semester at Dalton State College in August.

“So we’re going to be able to deliver this project for significantly less money than the roundabout would have been,” Parker said.

Another part of the project is sidewalks along the new section of College Drive, Benson said, assuring residents who walk or jog along what’s known to locals as “the Loop” that it will still be a continuous circular route along Walnut, College, and Tibbs.

Since the work is being done outside of existing roadways, there shouldn’t be any major traffic delays caused by construction. When the new roads are tied in to the existing roads at the end of the project, the contract calls for that work to be done at night – and quickly, making inconvenience to daytime drivers as minimal as possible.

“We can build all the new parts of the roads outside of traffic, folks can continue to utilize the old roads just like they were, and then when we get ready to tie it in, we’ll do that at night and then motorists will come in the next couple of mornings and they’ll be able to utilize the new road,” Parker said.

Once the new roads are being used, final dressing, cleanup, and demolition of the old pavement will be done in September and October.

Parker said college officials are excited about the project.

“They had staff members at our pre-construction meeting,” Parker said, “and we’ve tried to keep them involved throughout the process because it’s kind of a joint community project. It’s in the city, but the county’s involved because it’s got the 2007 T-SPLOST money. And then we get the college involved because it’s impacting their students and faculty and visitors more than anybody.”

Parker admits it’s a challenging location. “Ideally we’d have more space in between those two intersections, but we’ve got the mountain that’s kind of trapping us in there. We can’t really go further west because the walls are already very expensive. Can you imagine if we went 20 feet or 100 feet further? It would get to the point where the cost benefit ratio for this project just wouldn’t be there. So what we’ve tried to do is create a balance between what’s a reasonable amount of money to realize the significant benefits like we’re hoping for, and we feel like we’ve reached it with this concept and design.”

The waterfall when it is flowing nicely.

One more benefit is that the project was able to save the waterfall that  was visible from the board room of the old Chamber building.

“One thing we’re really excited about is preserving that waterfall,” Parker said, “so if  you’re in the right turn lane coming out of College Drive, we think you’ll be able to see it from your car. But even if not, we  think we’ll be able to retain some parking area there so you can actually get out of your car and see it a lot better than you could before. Of course, people using the sidewalks will be able to see it, too.”

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MOCK PLANE COLLISION HELPS DALTON, WHITFIELD AGENCIES TRAIN FOR EMERGENCY

By MITCH TALLEY

Two Dalton firefighters take care of mock victims during a full scale exercise at the Dalton Municipal Airport as controller Lt. Kent Cochran (right) of the Whitfield County Fire Department looks on. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

Two Dalton firefighters take care of mock victims during a full scale exercise at the Dalton Municipal Airport as controller Lt. Kent Cochran (right) of the Whitfield County Fire Department looks on. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

What would happen if two airplanes collided at the Dalton Municipal Airport?

Hopefully, no one will ever have to find out the answer to that question, but just in case, several local emergency agencies responded to such a mock accident at the airport Thursday morning.

Taking part in the full scale exercise, which is held every two years under the guidance of the Local Emergency Planning Committee, were Whitfield Fire, Dalton Fire, Dalton Police, Whitfield 911, Whitfield EMA, Hamilton EMS, Dalton Airport, and Dalton High School.

“Hopefully, nothing like this will ever happen,” Whitfield EMA Director Claude Craig said while watching the exercise, “but you know, you never know. We’ve got to prepare ourselves accordingly and be prepared the best that we can.”

The culmination of a year’s worth of training and planning by local agencies, the exercise featured a scenario in which a plane being fueled by a truck is clipped by another plane.

Lt. Bobby Buhl of the Whitfield County Fire Department helps a mock victim climb out of an airplane. Observing the response is  evaluator Scott Radeker, director of Hamilton EMS. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

Lt. Bobby Buhl of the Whitfield County Fire Department helps a mock victim climb out of an airplane. Observing the response is evaluator Scott Radeker, director of Hamilton EMS. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

Firefighters had to wash away the spilled fuel on the pavement (portrayed by flour poured onto the ground), but not before they took care of three injured passengers lying on the pavement between the two planes and then removed four more passengers from inside one of the smoking planes. Students from Ken Wiggins’ class at Dalton High School, as they have done for several years, convincingly played the roles of the victims, thanks to makeup.

“We’re trying to establish and see where our weaknesses are,” Craig said of the goal of the activity. “One of the biggest things is always communication, whether it’s an exercise like this, an actual event, or a marriage … whatever. Communication is one of the biggest things we have to master.

“We’re also testing the equipment to see if we’re able to do what we would need to do in a real life event like this,” he added.

The response was being monitored by evaluators Bo Nicholson and Nathan Saylors of the Gordon County Fire Department and Scott Radeker, director of Hamilton EMS. Another 10 people served as controllers, who had helped design the exercise over the past several months and spent Thursday morning keeping a watchful eye on the activities to make sure all participants remained safe, especially the students.

Lt. Kent Cochran (right) of the Whitfield County Fire Department and Lt. Bo Nicholson of the Gordon County Fire Department (left) talk with two firefighters spraying off mock fuel (actually flour) during the exercise. Cochran was one of the 10 controllers on site who oversaw the activity to help keep participants safe, while Nicholson was one of three evaluators who looked on to assess the response of the agencies. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

Lt. Kent Cochran (right) of the Whitfield County Fire Department and Lt. Bo Nicholson of the Gordon County Fire Department (left) talk with two firefighters spraying off mock fuel (actually flour) during the exercise. Cochran was one of the 10 controllers on site who oversaw the activity to help keep participants safe, while Nicholson was one of three evaluators who looked on to assess the response of the agencies. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

“For a successful outcome, we’ve got to have collaboration from all agencies involved,” Craig said. “I’ve said many times when you have a serious incident, the patch comes off the sleeve, and all departments are working as one.”

Craig and Deputy EMA Director Jeff Ownby said the exercise went well, noting that participants gathered for a “hot wash” immediately afterwards while the event was still fresh on their minds to give a preliminary evaluation of what went right and what went wrong. A more formal “after action report” in the coming weeks will summarize the overall response to the event and offer suggestions on ways to make improvements.

Ownby said the exercise was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and training by local public safety workers, including a tabletop exercise in August to talk about the mock accident, then more recently three nights of class in an airport hangar learning things like the different kinds of aircraft there, what kind of fuel was on site, where the runways are, the whole airport property and the land around it, and the most likely locations of a hazardous material incident.

Craig and Ownby praised the staff at Dalton Airport for their cooperation in making the exercise possible.

A Dalton firefighter arrives on the scene of a mock collision between two airplanes at the Dalton Municipal Airport during the training exercise Thursday morning. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

A Dalton firefighter arrives on the scene of a mock collision between two airplanes at the Dalton Municipal Airport during the training exercise Thursday morning. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

“We came to them last year and told them what we wanted to do,” Craig said, “and they were very receptive. They said, yeah, we need to do that. Then they had a representative at all of our planning meetings and played the major part in getting us the airplanes and fuel truck and such as that. They did a great job.”

The exercise was the first such event held at the airport, he said. “We’d been wanting to do an exercise at the airport with simulated mass casualties because we want to be prepared,” Craig said. “Hopefully it won’t happen, but we need to be ready in case it ever does.”

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QUICK-ACTING WHITFIELD DEPUTY SAVES RESIDENT’S LIFE

Charles Meadors named Whitfield County’s Employee of the Month

By MITCH TALLEY

photo-1-meadors-for-plaque-eom-oct On a Saturday in October, Whitfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Meadors was in the right place at the right time to save a life.

That day, Melvin Boatwright and his wife, Debbie, were headed to Hamilton Medical Center to visit his sick mother when Melvin started having pain and then had a heart attack, forcing him to stop the car in the middle of the road.

Fortunately, Deputy Meadors pulled up behind the couple. Once Debbie explained what was happening, the deputy immediately began CPR on Melvin and gave Debbie, who doesn’t drive, instructions on how to move their car out of the road.

“The deputy saved his life,”  Melvin’s sister, Ida Murphy, later told The Daily Citizen, which subsequently honored Meadors as its Citizen of the Week.

“We’re so happy we didn’t lose Melvin,” Murphy said, noting that seven months earlier, another brother had died.

photo-2-meadors-eom-with-mr-boatwright“We think Deputy Meadors is our guardian angel,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for him, we would’ve lost another brother.”

After Whitfield EMS arrived on the scene, the patient was turned over to them. Melvin underwent surgery to have blockages removed and is recovering.

Now, for that life-saving effort and his overall dedication to his job each day, Meadors has been chosen as Whitfield County Employee of the Month for October after being nominated by his supervisor, Capt. Rick Swiney.

“The family was told by the doctor that Deputy Meadors’ quick response and performance of CPR helped to save Melvin’s life,” Swiney said on his nomination form. “The family invited Deputy Meadors to the hospital to meet them and thank him for helping Melvin. The family also sent a letter to Deputy Meadors.”

Meadors’ quick response in an emergency situation didn’t surprise Swiney.

“He’s a very hard worker,” Swiney said of Meadors, “and does an outstanding job for our department. Deputy Meadors is dedicated to his job and the citizens of Whitfield County. He strives to help citizens of the county to the best of his abilities.”

To let residents know more about himself, Meadors filled out the following fun survey:

Name: Charles R. Meadors

Job title: Deputy

Time with the county: 15½ years

Where I went to high school: Madison High School, Madison Heights, Mich./Ringgold High School, Ringgold, Ga.

My role as a county employee: Patrol Division

What keeps my job interesting: Every day it is something different.

What gives me a sense of accomplishment on the job: Knowing that I have helped someone in their time of need.

The most important thing I’ve done on the job: Helped save a person’s life.

Where I grew up: Michigan and Georgia

Family: Wife of 29¾ years, Anna; daughter and son-in-law, Christa and Cody Penson; son, Charles D. Meadors; granddaughters, Camdyn and Carolina Penson; brother, Sgt. Darrell Meadors; sisters, Lisa Ellis and Dee Sluder; father, Charles A. Meadors.

After work, I enjoy: Eating dinner and relaxing with the wife.

Community activities: Anything when I can help with our local kids.

Favorite TV show: Blue Bloods

Favorite sport/sport team: Atlanta Braves

Favorite meal: My mom’s biscuits and chocolate gravy

Favorite song: Wanted Dead or Alive,  by Bon Jovi

Favorite Whitfield County restaurant: Chick-fil-A

Favorite Whitfield County event: Relay for Life

You can pick four people to have dinner with (anyone from any time in history) – who are your four people and why? My mom, because I love her and miss her; Wyatt Earp, because, well,  he’s Wyatt Earp; Jesus Christ, because He is the King; and John Wayne, because he is the Duke, need I say more.

I’m most proud of:  My kids.

Cats or dogs? Dogs

Cake or pie? Cake

Favorite car? 1965 GTO

Host or be hosted? Hosted

Early riser or sleep-in: Early riser

Favorite vacation ever: First cruise with wife

Best teacher you ever had:  Christa Penson – thank you, Spud.

Pet peeve: Rude people

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s:   If you’re gonna be stupid, you gotta be tough….

Who has had the most impact on my life: My Mom

What’s left on my bucket list: Bow hunt white tail deer in Canada with my family, and to see my grandbabies grow up.

If I could have been in any profession of my choosing, I would have been a: professional hunter.

If I could have two wishes, they would be:  For my wife to win the big lottery, and for my kids to pick me a real nice retirement home.

You’d be surprised to learn that I: Was born in Roswell, N.M., maybe Area 51?

The best advice I ever got:   Wait for her, don’t move too fast … (wife)

Anything else you’d like to say:  It’s more than just a job, support the Blue :)    Many thanks to my Brothers and Sisters for their service.

 

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