Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Live in a Trailer? Mike House Has Some Words for You!

One of our regular readers contacted us about the Ponderosa Trailer Park rezoning issue. Yes, the issue was resolved, quite favorably in our opinion, some weeks ago; however, it seems we failed to comment on one of the project's proponents, Mike House.

During the debate over rezoning, local businessman House was quoted in the TimesDaily:

Some residents, however, welcome the development. Mike House, a retail business owner, lives within eyesight of the trailer park.

"(The development) would be better than trailers; we got some cruddy people jumping over the fence from the park," House said. "We would have a higher echelon of people over here as long as it's not Section 8."

We're not sure if Mr. House thinks all who live in trailer parks are "cruddy" (and we haven't heard that word since high school) and from the lower socio-economic stratum, but he apparently finds those who reside in the Ponderosa Park to be so.

While we haven't met any of the park's residents personally, we feel sure there are at least some who would not fit in House's neat little cubbyholes. Certainly many mobile home developments are well-planned and attract a wide variety of residents.
We're not aware of what local business Mike House owns, but if you're offended by his remarks, the simple solution is not to patronize his establishment. He might soon decide you're not so cruddy after all.

What's up with this: Florence attorney Janice Keeton has announced her candidacy for Lauderdale Circuit judge. Assuming appointed incumbent Gil Self plans to run, this could turn out to be one of the area's most interesting elections.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Anarchy at Alabama Shores

This country's flag is being flown upside down in Alabama Shores, a small lake front community in Colbert County, and readers of this blog are asking if it's illegal. Illegal? No. Idiotic? Definitely.

According to neighbors, one Alabama Shores resident flew the U.S. flag in this manner during the entire Bill Clinton administration and has again taken up his old habit since the inauguration of Barak Obama. The flag of any nation flown upside down signals distress--that's distress of a physical nature and not simpering unhappiness with the current political administration. Apparently, the Colbert Countian with the questionable taste has also added a Confederate battle flag since Obama's inauguration, an act that would seem self-explanatory.

Unfortunately, it's not just the flag protester's neighbors that are inflicted with this daily sight; Alabama Lake Shores is located on a finger of Lake Wilson and is visible to much of the Tennessee River traffic. While there have been reports of this type protest being prosecuted in other states as flag desecration, most if not all charges have been dropped. Even in the U.K where such a statute still exists, authorities no longer prosecute this particular crime.

The fact that this unpatriotic protest is growing in the U.S. does nothing to assuage the overall irritation of the Alabama Shores neighborhood. Perhaps a keen eye for overgrown grass or junk violations followed by a swift call to the proper authorities might best reform this miscreant. Until then, remember, you never know what to expect in Alabama the beautiful.

What's up with this: Two months after deregulation, land line phone rates are increasing. Be sure to thank Rep. Marcel Black the next time you visit the polls.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Det. Scotty Lowery Fails to Heed His Own Admonition

Russellville detective Scotty Lowery has recently made the news with his testimony in the Christie Bray Scott murder trial, during which defense attorney Robert Tuten implied Lowery was guilty of perjury concerning his role in the investigation. Lowery, pictured at right, is no stranger to TimesDaily news reports where he is frequently quoted concerning Russellville law and order.

In a TimesDaily article from October 2007, Det. Lowery made the following pronouncement:

Lowery said the Web sites are good ways to find background on suspects or on potential victims.

"Some people will put their entire life story on their profiles, so it's there to check," he said.

This certainly sounds like good advice; too bad Det. Lowery chose not to apply it to his own social networking site. Scotty Lowery's profile may be found on PoliceLink where he enumerates his must-have gear. Among these necessary items are a Glock, Taser, Oakley sunglasses, and Bud LIght in an aluminum bottle.

Aluminum bottle? Well, we certainly wouldn't want Det. Lowery to damage his unmarked Crown Victoria with broken glass, now would we?

What's up with this: Sources say Christie Bray Scott has already initiated a five million dollar lawsuit against the city of Russellville. Considering the town's track record in the case so far, she just might win.

Friday, June 26, 2009

TimesDaily Demonstrates Just How Skewed Our Values Are

No one could logically deny either the talent or iconic status of the late Michael Jackson. To say that the singer's demise is newsworthy would be a tremendous understatement; however, when self-proclaimed local news purveyor the TimesDaily affords more space to Jackson's passing than the London Daily Mail, the avatar of tabloid reporting, we should carefully consider the reasons.

Jackson's character should, at best, be described as flawed. His fans have long predicted the news media would cause the one-time child star to "self-destruct," and now that has apparently happened. Undoubtedly, his abusive father and less than ideal childhood are factors in the production of the pop star's unusual lifestyle. I hope that Jackson will be remembered for his musical accomplishments, rather than his overtly prurient interest in young boys.

Our only local daily newspaper has long stated its dedication to bringing the Shoals area local news, not cut and paste national items that are better suited to USA Today or the tabloids. So what does the front page of the TD say about the its new publishers? Are they just giving the public what it wants?

If the most important thing on the mind of Shoals' citizens today is the death of Michael Jackson, then we have truly become huddled masses of mindless mediocrity. Visions of Marshall McLuhan tut-tutting in the great beyond dance in my head.

What's up with this: Defense attorneys for accused child murderer Christie Bray Scott have introduced evidence that she was physically abused by a state fire marshal and local Russellville police. No matter her innocence or guilt, if this is true, every citizen in Franklin County and the State of Alabama should be outraged. This is not the first such allegation to be brought against Russellville police chief Chris Hargett.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Morris Lentz Day Rescheduled for Saturday

Be sure to visit Rogersville this Saturday for great food, fantastic music, and a chance to meet firefighter/hero Morris T. Lentz. A previous day set aside to honor and benefit Morris was postponed due to inclement weather. Organizers are hoping for sunny skies this Saturday. The day begins at 10:00 a.m. in Heritage park, just one block north of Highway 72 in downtown Rogersville.

This will be the second gala for Morris in as many weeks. Last Saturday the volunteer firefighter was honored at a formal dinner in Birmingham that also feted two of his fellow firefighters Tim Williams and Frankie Phillips.

Our schedules permitting, several of us who work for Shoalanda plan to attend. We hope to see you there.

What's up with this: Several readers have inquired as to how Franklin County law enforcement misplaced not one, but two, electrical outlets from Mason Scott's bedroom. We'd like to know that as well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Brad Holmes - A Name You Should Remember

A few weeks ago, Brad Holmes contacted us concerning his possible candidacy for the Alabama House of Representatives District I. This seat is currently held by Tammy Irons, who is seeking the State Senate seat being vacated by Bobby Denton. We were very pleased with Brad's take on campaigning and are extremely glad he has chosen to pursue this office. The following is Brad Holmes' official press release:


Shoals businessman Brad Holmes announces his candidacy for House seat in 2010 in order to provide “serious, consistent, and proactive representation” for all citizens of District 1.

Florence, AL (June 22, 2009) – Former Florence Police Sergeant turned businessman, Brad Holmes, has officially announced his candidacy for the Alabama House of Representatives, District 1, in the Republican primary scheduled for June 2010. Current Representative Tammy Irons has announced her intention to seek the State Senate seat which is being vacated by retiring long-time Senator Bobby Denton.

“I have decided to run because District 1 deserves serious, consistent, and proactive representation at the State level,” stated Holmes, a Florence native. “With many critical issues facing our community, I am concerned about the future of its citizens. I am committed to listening and understanding the needs of our citizens in order to provide the new and progressive leadership that will lead our community forward.”

While Holmes admits that many issues of the 2010 election cycle are still evolving, he has committed to addressing each issue “head-on and with the best interest of the community in mind.” Holmes stated that the core of his campaign will focus on education, economic development, and ethics reform. He added, “Regardless of what happens in our state and community over the next year, these issues will remain constant and must be at the root of all decisions.”

Holmes currently serves on the Shoals Economic Development Authority Board of Directors, Big Brothers Big Sisters Board of Directors, and as Vice-President of the University of North Alabama National Alumni Association. Holmes is also a member of the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Florence Business Association (DFU), Association of General Contractors-Shoals Chapter, and UNA Sportsman’s Club.

A 1997 graduate of Coffee High School, Holmes continued his education at the University of North Alabama where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. He has been married to his wife, Sara Nicholas Holmes, for five years. The Holmeses attend Highland Baptist Church in Florence.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Exclusive Interview with Cousin of Murder Victim Mason Scott

We recently sat down with Laura Nelson*, a Scott family cousin, and asked her opinion on the circumstances surrounding the death of six year-old Mason Scott and the subsequent arrest of his mother Christie Bray Scott.

SS: I understand you're a cousin to Christie Bray Scott?

LN: No, actually I'm a cousin to Jeremy and Patrick's mother.

SS. Patrick was Jeremy's older brother? How did he die?

LN: It happened about nine or ten years ago. He had just gotten into a truck with some boys just north of Russellville when the vehicle flipped and ejected Patrick. I think he was killed instantly. It was sad since I was always much closer to Patrick than Jeremy. Jeremy was always the remote one. He never seemed to change facial expressions, even before Patrick and Mason's death. Now I never see him smile.

SS: Do you think he may have Asperger's or something similar? I know it can be hereditary.

LN: I don't know. I've never really thought about it, but he's completely different from the rest of his family.

SS: How did Jeremy and Michelle meet? I've heard they were high school sweethearts, but I know Jeremy is from Russellville and Christie is from Haleyville.

LN: I really don't know about that either. Jeremy's parents, Nell and Dale, live in the Crooked Oak community. Nell teaches handicapped children at Phil Campbell, and Dale was a truck driver until about a year ago when he retired in bad health. I understand the Bray family has quite a bit more money than Jeremy's, so I'm not sure how they got together.

SS: Christie is an only child?

LN: Oh, no. She has a sister and a brother and a little sister that died when a car rolled over her. Someone, don't know who, left the car in gear and the child was killed.

SS: Do you think her sister's death affected Christie? I mean in a way that could have altered her perception of reality?

LN: I don't know about that, but she's never seemed just right to me. She's always been distant and like she was in her own little world.

SS: Where is Jeremy living now?

LN: Sometimes he and Noah Riley (his younger son) live with Nell and Dale; other times they live with the Brays. It seems he aligned himself with the Bray family. I've heard Don has had a stroke since all this started and he's determined to keep Noah Riley close. They bought houses in Hartselle and plan on moving there when this is all finished.

SS: Two houses?

LN: Yes, one for the Bray family and one for Jeremy and his family, whatever that turns out to be.

SS: Have you been to visit Christie?

LN: I haven't, but Jeremy and his father-in-law Don Bray take all the girls food. They have to do it that way. They can't take food just to Christie without taking it to the other female inmates as well. When Christie's grandmother died a little while ago, the Woodmen of the World took trays of food to the jail for Christie and the others after the funeral. I assume that's how she's kept her weight up. I know jail food is terrible.

SS: I understand you've been at the trial as much as possible. Do you have any opinions or other info you could share with us?

LN: Well, I think she may get off. They're not paying Tuten (Christie's defense attorney) $300,000.00 for nothing.

SS: You know for a fact that 300K is his fee?

LN: Not for a fact. It's just everyone has talked about how much money Don and Kathy are having to pay out to keep Christie out of prison. So, yes, I can see her walking.

SS: Will you be testifying?

LN: No, I couldn't be talking with you if I were to testify. Some of the other cousins are. Maybe that's why Jeremy doesn't act the same around any of us anymore. There were blisters on the bottom of Noah Riley's feet after the fire. Christie said they were from walking on gravel, but the ones in my family that saw them say they were definitely burn blisters. I don't think anyone had a doctor look at them, but I'm not sure.

SS: You say she might get off. Do you think she did it?

LN: Oh, yes. She's as guilty as hell.

* Name has been changed to ensure privacy (Photo by Matt McKean)

Tomorrow: Florence's Brad Holmes announces his candidacy for District I state representative.

Life is Short; Take Your Cheating Spouse to the Cleaners

Until last week we had never heard of the AshleyMadison Agency. The name certainly doesn't give away any information; Ashley is unisex, at least here in the States, and Madison seems to imply some degree of financial dependability. Even the word "Agency" lends a sense of legitimacy to the web-based business.

So, just what is the AshleyMadison Agency? Perhaps their slogan will give something away: "Life is short. Have an affair." If you're like us, you may immediately think of some urban myth based on an Onion article or long ago Saturday Night Live skit. Sorry, this web-based business is legitimate, or at least as legitimate as one can be based on adultery, swinging, and even the hint of bestiality.

Surely, something like this wouldn't attract any upstanding Shoals citizens? Think again. Here's the link to the AshleyMadison site:


Now, here's the fun part: Do you dare check for your wife or husband's profile? If your wife is a 30 year-old nurse from Florence (Night-Nurse) or your husband a 58 year-old businessman from Muscle Shoals (Charley725) or perhaps a 33 year-old Sagitarrius from Lexington (Hutley), then there's no need to check.

As we said, life is short; take your cheating spouse to the cleaners and find a mate that shares your values. We'll be happy to recommend an excellent divorce attorney.

Thought from an old country song: "What ya gonna do when the new wears off and the the old shines through? Then what?"

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What Kind of Father Are You?

Today is Father's Day. Sadly, while everyone has a male antecedent, not everyone has a real father. Nothing we write here will change that; unfortunately many men who father children never take the time to know them or offer them love and guidance. Perhaps others aren't sure where to start.

The important thing is to start. If you do nothing else today, tell your children that you love them and that you will always be there for them--no matter what. If you aren't sure how to be a father to your child, ask a man you admire, whether it be your own father or your boss or any other positive male role model in your life.

Being a real father also involves loving your child's mother and your own Creator. It doesn't make a man weak; it makes him stronger than he could ever have imagined. You'll never regret one moment you spent with your child, and he or she won't either.

Just in time for our Father's Day Column, we received a photo of our friend Morris Lentz with his father (and he adds his hero) Wayne. Morris was recently honored at a state banquet for firefighters, and we'll have more on that later.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tina Parker Opens Office in Muscle Shoals

Tina Miller Parker, as yet unannounced candidate for Colbert County District Judge, has opened a second law office. Parker, a Muscle Shoals resident, has been practicing law in Florence for several years, having an office on South Cedar Street in the legal district.

Parker's new office is located at 2602 South Wilson Dam Road in Muscle Shoals. A specialist in personal injury cases, Parker's practice has rapidly expanded the past few years, making the move into Colbert County a natural progression.

When can we expect Tina to officially announce her candidacy? We hear there's to be a huge shindig in Muscle Shoals' Gattman Park shortly after Independence Day. We'll bring you more details on that as the date nears--that is unless we decide to keep all the hotdogs to ourselves.

Reminder: Tina is a member of PAWS of the Shoals (383-0690) and wants to remind everyone to purchase a rubber duck for the Lucky Ducky Derby to be held June 29th.

Kelly Joiner to Head Allen Thornton Tech Center

Most of us have heard the jokes; you know, how many Lauderdale County teachers were indicted this month? While we've all laughed at the problems many educators in the Lauderdale system have recently faced, we've also speculated as to how these individuals arrived at their postilions of trust and power in the first place.

With the harassment conviction of Brooks' Allen Wilson, we hope such shenanigans are behind the rural system. The appointment of Kelly Joiner to replace Kenneth Angel as head of the Allen Thornton Career and Technical Center is certainly a step in the right direction.

Kelly is the wife of Will Joiner, current principal of Lexington School, and a career educator. Both Kelly's children are graduates of Lauderdale County schools; Hannah is currently attending Auburn, and son Fowler was the most recent valedictorian at Lexington. The Lauderdale Board of Education could not have made a better choice.

Congratulations, Kelly. We look forward to the positive changes your appointment will bring.

What's up with this: Randy Gist, owner and CEO of Good Samaritan Hospice is in the news again. Look for more developments to follow.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Reedtown Rapist: Rushing to Judgment

Joseph S. Rushing prosecuted the Hotskees rape case against Mark Anthony Hurley, winning a conviction; however, Rushing used what the Alabama Appeals Court later termed inadmissible evidence of yet another previous rape. While not appearing on official Alabama sex offender records, Hurley had committed a very similar sexual assault for which he was convicted in 2000. From court records:

She testified that she first met Hurley on April 7, 2000, at a friend's house. She testified that a group of her friends was at the house when she arrived. Hurley was there, but she did not know him. Hurley took part in the group's conversations and mentioned several times going to the Waffle House breakfast restaurant. After he asked several times, she eventually agreed to go, observing that the appellant appeared to be a "nice guy." She testified that she went alone with him to the Waffle House "[j]ust to go eat." Instead of taking her to the restaurant, however, Hurley took her to his apartment, explaining that he needed to make a telephone call before they went to the restaurant. Hurley asked her to come into his apartment while he made the call. When they entered the apartment, Hurley lit a candle and pretended to make a telephone call before asking her if she wanted to go to the Waffle House. When she replied that she no longer wanted to go and asked that he take her back to her friend's house, he agreed and proceeded toward the front door. She testified that he then closed the door and pushed her toward the living room into a chair. As she begged him to take her home, Hurley began trying to take off her clothes. He proceeded to pull her pants down; he did not remove her underwear or remove the tampon she had inserted earlier before forcibly raping her. After he finished, she asked him to take her home. Although Hurley initially blocked her at the doorway, he finally agreed and drove her back to her friend's house. She testified that no words were spoken on the return drive.

During Hurley's second trial for the Hotskee rape, Joey Rushing, now Franklin County District Attorney, was forbidden to introduce the above facts and otherwise failed to prove force in the Littleville incident. To the delight of Hurley's Reedtown family and friends, the self-proclaimed gang banger was found not guilty.

Hurley returned to Reedtown, but moved often, and in March 2008 was indicted for failing to comply with the sexual predator registration act. Receiving only probation for that crime, Hurley once again remained free.

Now the Reedtown rapist has been accused of a fourth illicit sex act, specifically the rape of a 17 year-old girl on June 7, 2009. His alleged victim stated she was beaten during the assault that took place at Hurley's Filmore Street residence. Hurley had disappeared by the time officers arrived at his home with the arrest warrant, and U.S. marshals joined the Russellville Police force in a massive man hunt. Six days later, acting on a tip, authorities found Hurley at the residence of Desmond Hamilton.

However, the public should not yet feel safe; Mark Anthony Hurley is again free. The Reedtown rapist posted a $75,000.00 property bond and has returned to his home to await trial. Let's hope Joey Rushing makes it stick this time.

Tomorrow: Inside the Christie Bray Scott murder trial.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Reedtown Rapist is Free Yet Again

The Franklin County community of Reedtown is an anachronism, a racially segregated town that sits at the southwest corner of Russellville. Known for its copious drug dealers, Reedtown is the home of Marcus Anthony Hurley, a self-proclaimed member of the Reedtown Crip and Folk Nation and a convicted sex offender with a laundry list of other lesser convictions.

Known as Mark Anthony, the 6'1" bearded Hurley was convicted in 2002 of 1st degree sexual torture, his victim a 17 year-old girl. Sentenced to prison on April 5, 2002, he was a free man by July 16, 2003.

On September 18, 2003, Hurley visited the Hotskees Lounge in nearby Littleville. The small Colbert county town borders Franklin County on the north and is the closest community to Russellville that legally sells alcohol. There Hurley met an exotic dancer whom he repeatedly raped. This is the account of the ordeal as presented in case records:

The victim testified that in the early morning hours on September 18, 2003, she was working her second night as a dancer at Hotskee's Lounge in Littleville. As part of her job, she was required to dance in a bikini or bra and panties for tips and to persuade patrons to buy her at least six non-alcoholic drinks. She would also perform lap dances for customers, one-on-one personal dances performed in a back room. She testified that her shift had begun on the evening of September 17, 2003, and that it was not a busy night at the lounge. She testified that Hurley entered the club at approximately 10:00 p.m. Following her dance on the stage, Hurley tipped her, bought her some drinks, and they talked for about an hour and a half. She asked Hurley if she could perform a lap dance for him, and he agreed. She testified that she performed for him for one four-or-five minute song. During this time, she said, Hurley was respectful and did nothing inappropriate. That dance was the last one of the night for the victim. She testified that she went into the dressing room, changed clothes, and prepared to go home. As she was leaving through the front door, Hurley was waiting for her and asked her if he could walk her to her car. Because he had been a "perfect gentlemen" throughout the night, she agreed to let him walk her to her car. As they were walking to her car, she assumed Hurley had stopped under a breezeway, because he was no longer walking next to her. She testified that she got in her car, buckled her seatbelt, and began lighting a cigarette, when the passenger door opened. Hurley got into the car, and told the victim to "shut up." She testified that Hurley hit her twice in the head and told her to "shut up and drive." Hurley directed her to drive and pull into "what looked like it used to be a driveway" leading to an abandoned house.

Hurley instructed the victim to turn off the car's ignition and lights. He then placed her head in a "headlock," exposed his genitals, and forced her to perform oral sex on him. He then ordered her to remove her pants and underwear, pulled her on top of him while he was in the passenger seat, and forced her to have sexual intercourse with him. Although the victim continued to tell him "no," and that she needed to go home to her baby, he held onto her to prevent her from leaving the car. Following the rape, Hurley smoked a cigarette and allowed the victim to do so as well. Before she finished her cigarette, however, Hurley again forced her to perform oral sex and to have sexual intercourse with him a second time. She testified that they engaged in conversation and smoked another cigarette and that Hurley stepped out of the vehicle with his back to the victim to "use the restroom." The victim testified that she was too scared to start her vehicle. Hurley turned around and told the victim that she could leave, but that she better not tell anyone about the incident, because he would be back at Hotskee's. The victim testified that she pulled onto the main highway and was speeding toward the Littleville Police Department, when she was pulled over by an officer of the Russellville Police Department. After she explained that she had been raped, the officer escorted her to the nearest hospital.

The victim identified Hurley from a photographic line up, as the perpetrator of the crimes against her. Evidence was presented indicating that shortly after the incident occurred, police found Hurley sleeping on the porch of the abandoned home where the rape and sodomy had taken place. When he saw the police, Hurley immediately rolled over and put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. He admitted that he had been at Hotskee's lounge that night. Evidence was also presented indicating that the DNA profile, taken from Hurley after his arrest, matched that taken from the vaginal swabs from the rape kit analysis performed on the victim on the night of the incident.

For his crimes, Franklin County Judge Sharon Hester sentenced habitual offender Hurley to life in prison. Two years later, he was free again.

Tomorrow: Technicalities

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lucky Ducky Derby Race

Feeling lucky? Then do we have a race for you. Again this year, the Tennessee Valley Art Association, in conjunction with the Helen Keller Festival, will conduct its annual Lucky Ducky Derby Race. Look for hundreds of ducks to participate Sunday, June 29th, at 3:00 p.m.

So, how do you adopt one of these lucky ducks? Various organizations adopt the ducks for $5.00 each; and we highly recommend adopting from PAWS (
256-383-0690) or Heart's Cry Thrift Store in Elgin.

Not only will you have the satisfaction of helping these worthwhile organizations, you may win one of scores of prizes including cash, carpeting, or decorating services. Not feeling lucky? That's all right too--the last place duck wins a prize as well!

Update: Bilhan Kiris, UNA student from Turkey, remains in serious condition at Huntsville Hospital STICU. Kiris was a passenger in the car of Jon Willingham, killed in Saturday morning's police chase in downtown Florence.

Monday, June 15, 2009

From Forums to Blogs to Twitter...

A recent TimesDaily interview with computer expert Jim Fisher of Florence touched on the possibility of blogs becoming passe' as new venues become available. Obviously, individuals who blog may well become tired of the effort or cease for many other reasons. We don't see this being the case with most political blogs.

No, not every word printed in every political blog is true, but these venues still bring information to the public that most commercial media refuse to publish. We get at least one request a week for an "investigation" into various local governments and similar entities. We check out every one, but some times there's just no more to the story than has already been published. Please feel free to offer suggestions for future blogs; we can't promise to use them, but we do our best to investigate the problem or situation.


Quote from TimesDaily concerning Russellville police chief Chris Hargett: My eight year old grandson uses better grammar than that.


Numbers? Since the inception of this column, we have used Blog Patrol as a visitor counter for our site. We have been aware that this system is down much of the time, and numbers shown do not reflect all visitors. While Blog Patrol has shown our average unique visitor count to be around 750-800 per week, our publisher had calculated the actual count at around 1,000.

Recently we added Stat Counter to double check figures and have been pleasantly surprised at the actual, verified count. Last week we charted 2,600 unique visitors. This may not reflect our numbers every week due to heavy traffic related to the death of Jon Willingham; however, for the next few weeks at least, you will see two counters on this blog while we compare their accuracy. Thanks for making us one of the top political blogs in the state.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Another Florence Police Chase & Jon Willingham is Dead

Jon Willingham had an infectious smile, a bright future, and a brother Josh who plays for the Washington Nationals baseball team. Now Jon Willingham is dead, killed early Saturday morning during a police chase.

Jon graduated from Mars Hill Bible School in 2000 and attended his brother's alma mater, the University of North Alabama, for two years. Nothing in his background would have suggested his life would be anything but successful, much less end in this manner.

The chase began when Florence police officers attempted to stop Jon for a noise violation; according to authorities, the pursuit never topped 50 miles an hour. Yet, Jon failed to make an acute turn and lost control of his car. In less than 10 minutes, 27 years of life was snuffed out, and we do have to ask why.

This is not the first Florence police chase in recent memory in which an individual lost his life. We've read both the pros and cons of such pursuits. Certainly no one is going to change his or her mind concerning the necessity of such chases because of what's written in one blog.

Alabama State Troopers will be investigating the death, since Florence Police are involved. The names of the two officers who instigated the chase have not been released.

Our sincerest sympathy to the Willingham Family. The family has requested that memorials be made to Mars Hill Bible School in Florence.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chad B. Coker - On Inside Track for Colbert District Judge?

Is Tuscumbia attorney Chad B. Coker destined to become the next Colbert County District Judge? Many think so, partially due to his association with current judge George Carpenter. Carpenter's son Andrew was law partner to Coker at the time of his death, and the elder Carpenter and Coker have remained close friends.

Like Polly Ruggles, Coker currently toils as a municipal judge. Officiating at both Russellville and Cherokee Municipal Courts, Coker also is prominent among Colbert County divorce attorneys and volunteers in the C.A.S.A. program. A graduate of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Coker is president of the Colbert County Alumni Association.

Many use municipal judgeships to boost their chances for county offices, but Coker may have lessened his via association with the small town of Cherokee. For many years Tuscumbia attorney Ben Gardner served as city judge for that rural Colbert town, only to be terminated by Mayor Mignon Willis, a friend of Coker who chose him to replace the popular Gardner.

We look forward to hearing Chad Coker's vision for Colbert County when he speaks at the Shoals Democratic Club Monday night.

What's up with this: Lauderdale County teacher Allen Wilson avoided an assault conviction Friday. Apparently it's all right for one teacher to strike another on school premises--just not so all right for a parent to do it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Why is Colbert District Judge George Carpenter Retiring?

With almost 11 months left to qualify in the Colbert County District Judge race, the list of announced candidates is rapidly growing. With this much interest in the office, several of our readers have asked why current District Judge George E. Carpenter is retiring.

There's probably no one answer to that question, but the accidental death of his son, Tuscumbia attorney Andrew Carpenter (pictured), two years ago is certainly a factor. Further, Carpenter will almost assuredly return to private practice to boost his retirement income. The salary for retired District Judges in Alabama is slightly less than for their counterparts in Circuit Court; it's calculated at the somewhat convoluted formula:

90% x 75% x Circuit Court Judge Salary at Date of Retirement x Years of Judicial Service ÷ Years Required at Retirement Age.

Democratic candidates who hope to succeed Judge Carpenter will be speaking at 6:30 p.m. on June 15th at the Steelworkers' Union Hall on Wilson Dam Road in Muscle Shoals. Since there is high probability a Democratic candidate will win the judgeship, everyone who is able is urged to attend this public function.

Tomorrow: Who is Chad Coker?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mary Napier - Two Years and $178,462.00 Later

Mary Napier, suspended principal of L. E. Willson Elementary School in Sheffield, Alabama, either epitomizes what is very right with education or what is very, very wrong. Our column yesterday on Wilson High School in Florence incorrectly identified Mrs. Napier as being suspended from that school. Several readers immediately notified us that Mrs. Napier was in fact principal of the Sheffield school until two years ago, at which time the board suspended her with pay. Since then, the citizens of Sheffield have continued to pay Napier over $178,000.00, and there is no end in sight.

Mary Napier was a 25-year veteran of elementary education when she became principal of L. E. Willson Elementary School in 1999. A short time later, the city imported Richard Gardner from Indiana to become the new Superintendent of Education for the small Colbert County town. Initially, Gardner had nothing but accolades for the elementary school principal, but by 2006, he was accusing her of misusing school funds. Napier's supporters retaliated that Gardner had a vendetta against Napier who didn't fit the image the superintendent hoped to cultivate for the Sheffield system.

No one could deny that Napier handled things her own way. After arriving at the school each morning, she personally spoke to the students over the public address system and led them in the Pledge of Allegiance. She also instituted the Principal's Club, an organization that honored the school's top scholars each month. Pictured above is Napier (far left) with students in a limousine, complete with bar.

Rather than live in Sheffield, Napier and her husband Anthony resided in the nearby town of Leighton. The founder of the Muscle Shoals Twirlers, the school principal once requested and received $2,500.00 from Oprah Winfrey to purchase uniforms for her baton twirling students.

Those who knew the principal indicated she relied heavily on her friend and assistant Lisa Berry; however, Berry routinely took extended leaves of absence due to family illnesses. Supporters feel such laxness led to the removal of both women from the Sheffield system.

When Richard Gardner received the routine financial audit for the period extending from October 2003 to September 2006, he discovered that $230.00 in checks and $7,555.00 in soft drink receipts were missing. After calling a board meeting, Gardner dismissed both Napier and Berry on April 14, 2007, turning the financial records over to Alabama Attorney General Troy King's office. Both women denied any wrong-doing, and Napier retained Tuscumbia attorney Tom Heflin, son of former U.S. Senator Howell Heflin, to represent her.

Ultimately, the information from the audit was presented to a Colbert County Grand Jury, who refused to indict either Napier or Berry. While the Sheffield Board officially terminated Lisa Berry, it is still in arbitration with Napier who remained on the payroll at the end of May.

During the two years of Mary Napier's suspension, L. E. Willson Elementary School has been led by two interim principals, and Sheffield Board member Donna Atkins has stated the school has undergone "positive changes and there has been a total turnaround with teachers and parents at the school."

At this point in a war of "he said, she said," only two things are certain: the citizens of cash-strapped Sheffield are paying the wages of two principals at L. E. Willson and the public deserves some answers.

Photo by Jim Hannon

What's up with this: Jury selection continues in the Christy Bray Scott murder trail, and Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing is allowing ADA Jim Evans to run the show so far. He's either very sure of his case or is saving himself for one terrific finale.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Alabama Proration and Cookie Dough

Google the word "proration" and you'll probably be presented with an article on the Alabama school system. It's no secret that schools have used fund raisers for years in order to meet their financial needs. A generation ago it was often magazines that local munchkins hawked door-to-door. Now, cookie dough is apparently a frequent choice for schools to foist upon unsuspecting parents and friends.

According to S. L. Perry of Florence, Wilson School has gone too far in its never ending search for funding. Perry's child was given a quota of six containers of cookie dough, but unfortunately sold only five. The child's punishment? He was not allowed to attend the school's Mega Party. We're not entirely sure what a Mega Party is, or even is young Mr. Perry will suffer future psychological damage as a result of being ostracized from the event.

We are sure that this is not the way to run a fund-raiser. Wilson, located just outside Florence city limits, has recently faced other problems with both funds and personnel. Just this month, the school suspended two basketball coaches, and former middle school principal Mary Napier is still on paid leave two years after being accused of misusing school revenue.

Perry does not plan to re-enroll his son at the school. At this point, we wonder why any parent would?

What's up with this: Certainly most people in the Franklin County area have made it no secret they believe accused child murderer Christie Bray Scott is guilty; even so, how long did TimesDaily photographer Matt McKean have to wait to catch Scott in a jocular pose? Well, it does sell papers.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mars Hill Grad Injured in Possible Bomb Explosion

Chandler Watkins, a 2009 Mars Hill Bible School graduate, escaped with minor injuries Saturday afternoon, after assisting in the fueling of the doomed 34-foot cruiser Spirit Lifter. Authorities are investigating the possibility that a planted devise was involved in the explosion.

Minutes before 6:30 p.m., paraplegic Eddie Staggs, accompanied by his girlfriend Stacy Higgins, pulled into Marina Mar near the Shoal Creek Bridge in Eastern Florence. The 18 year-old Watkins, a summer employee of the Marina, assisted the couple in refueling and was standing at the edge of the pier when the boat exploded. All three were hurled into the water and sustained what are listed as only minor injuries.

The force of the explosion was so great that it propelled Staggs' wheelchair onto the bridge where it hit a passing car. Shoal Creek Bridge was closed for several hours while crews cleared the debris from the explosion. Sources say there were no problems while fueling the cruiser and that threats had recently been made against Staggs. The Alabama Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is investigating the possibility of a bomb, but declined to speculate on what evidence has been or is expected to be found.

Chandler was well known for her athletic ability while at Mars Hill, starring on both the soccer and basketball teams. Friends characterize her as outgoing and of strong Christian faith. We wish the best for Chandler and will be reporting on her condition as we receive future updates.

Photo by Matt McKean

What's up with this: Kudos to Red Bay native Mac McAnally for donating song proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project; may we suggest he update his standard head shot to one that looks less like the Geico caveman?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Christie Bray Scott - Murderer or Misjudged? - Part III

As Christie Scott turned herself in, Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing and Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett held the obligatory news conference and photo op. The bearded Rushing reiterated the basic facts of the indictment--three alternative accounts of capital murder, after which the often beleaguered Hargett mumbled over the sadness of it all, failing to remember if Mason was in kindergarten or first grade.

In the nearby courtroom, Circuit Court Judge Terry Dempsey refused bond in the case, even though both Scott's father and husband, with whom she was now ostensibly reconciled, testified that the former Alfa representative was no flight risk. Adorned in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, Scott was returned to the Franklin County Jail where she has remained.

Don Bray, a successful Woodmen of the World insurance agent in Winston County and self-proclaimed world's greatest chef, arranged for Huntsville defense attorney Robert Barry Tuten to represent his daughter. Tuten, a
summa cum laude graduate of Jones School of Law, specializes in capital murder cases and has in the past represented such defendants as Natashay Ward, the Huntsville woman accused of starving her three children to death, as well as Andrew Pakhomov, the UAH physics professor tried for the murder of his wife.

Tuten also asked for a change of venue, another request denied by Judge Dempsey. Dempsey has stated the jury pool for Scott's trial will be increased by 300, bringing the total to 500 individuals in hopes of selecting a fair and open-minded jury. Tuten announced last week that the jury selection process, which begins today, may take as long as five days. He also refused to rule out a second request for a change in venue if he is unhappy with the final selection.

Franklin County is no stranger to murder cases in which a young child was the victim; however, this is the perhaps the first case involving someone of Christie Michelle Bray Scott's socio-economic standing in the community. Her family's money and position have bought her the best defense attorney; it remains to be seen if such factors will influence jurors from provincial Franklin County after they see the photos of Mason's charred body.

Photo of Franklin County Courthouse courtesy of Capitol Shots

A member of V.O.C.A.L. will be in the courtroom and provide us with periodic updates in this case.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Christie Bray Scott - Murderer or Misjudged? - Part II

Three days after the death of Mason Scott, pieces of the puzzle that surrounded his last minutes were already falling into place. Russellville Fire Marshal Bobby Malone had called in the Russellville Police Department, the Alabama Fire Marshal's office, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

State Fire Marshal Ed Paulk utilized an accelerant-sniffing dog to determine that the fire was not accidental in nature and that the blaze had originated under six-year old Mason's bed. Could the mildly autistic child have been playing with chemicals that some how ignited? Could an arsonist have known that Jeremy Scott was out of town and used that opportunity to settle some real or imaginary score? The third scenario seemed even more bizarre to authorities: Christie Michelle Bray Scott had herself started the blaze that claimed the life of her older son.

It had been less than three years since a fire had destroyed the family's former home at 35 Steel Frame Road in Russellville. There were no injuries in that fire, and Christie had blamed a Glade air-freshener plug-in for the blaze. While there had been no physical injuries related to the previous fire, the home had been insured, and both Christie and her father Don Bray were insurance agents.

The investigation into the previous fire had been perfunctory at best. Christie was a native of nearby Haleyville, the daughter of Don and Cathy Bray, both leading citizens in the small town. Her husband Jeremy S. Scott was an Information Technology specialist for CB&S, a locally owned bank that had been a Russellville institution for over 100 years. Yet the fire on Steel Frame Road had raised suspicions among many in the community--Christie had been involved in two fires at her family home in Haleyville. Now a fourth fire had claimed not only the young couple's new home, but their child.

Mason had started the first grade at Russellville's West Elementary School on August 4. Less than two weeks later he was dead. Now many who had observed Christie and Mason together characterized the mother as uncaring. Others in the community were surprised that Scott showed so little emotion during her son's funeral at Russellville's Calvary Baptist Church and in the days that followed.

Christie Scott returned to live with her parents in Haleyville, while her husband Jeremy took their younger son to his parents' home in Russellville. The young father also took out a protection from abuse order against his now estranged wife after Mason's autopsy showed large amounts of sedative in his system. On October 26, Franklin County Judge Terry Dempsey issued a warrant for Scott's arrest after her indictment by a grand jury. Information presented during the hearing indicated that Alfa Insurance agent Christie Scott had taken out an additional life insurance policy on her son the day before his death.

Tomorrow: The trial

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Christie Bray Scott - Murderer or Misjudged? - Part I

It was almost two-thirty on the morning of August 16, 2008, when screams accompanied by loud pounding awakened Jennifer Davidson. She rushed to the front door of her 216 Signore Drive home in Russellville to find her neighbor Christie Scott. Scott, who lived at 180 Signore Drive, held her four-year old son Noah, while screaming hysterically that her house was on fire.

Davidson immediately called 911; the call reached the switchboard at 2:31 a.m. Firetrucks arrived at the burning residence within ten minutes, but it was almost five minutes more before Scott, 31, informed the firefighters that her six year-old son Mason was still trapped inside.

Scott indicated the location of Mason's bedroom, an area that was already totally engulfed in flames. The responders looked at the flames already broaching the roof and windows and knew that little could be done to save the child from the inferno, yet they worked swiftly to quell the fire, and by 4:00 a.m. responders were able to enter the dwelling. Franklin County Coroner Elzie Malone pronounced Mason dead at the scene.

Christie Michelle Bray Scott was too upset to answer the investigators' questions coherently, but they did learn that Noah had been sleeping in the bed with her while her older son, a victim of Asperger's Syndrome, slept at the other end of the house. Scott's husband Jeremy, 32, an executive with CB&S Bank, was away on business.

Russellville Fire Marshal Bobby Malone surveyed the charred refuse that had been the Scott's home. It was normal protocol to inform the Alabama Department of Human Resources when a child under the age of 18 died. He also decided to call in the State Fire Marshal; Christie Scott had been involved in four fires within the past eight years.

Tomorrow: Motive

Friday, June 5, 2009

Where Does Polly Ruggles Send Her Child to School?

Colbert County resident Polly Ruggles has announced her candidacy for District Judge. She is among what is rumored to be a large field seeking to succeed retiring Judge George Carpenter.

Ruggles has worked as municipal judge in various Colbert County towns and is affiliated with the District Attorney's office. Married to Sheffield businessman David Ruggles, she is also a Sheffield school board member. Yet, where does Ruggles' child attend school? If you guessed her hometown of Sheffield, you would be sadly mistaken.

We received this e-mail today from a concerned resident of Colbert County:

I have no doubt that Polly Ruggles has enough experience serving in the many roles she was appointed to. She seems to have been covering all the areas she could in order to get to this point. Yet I feel that maybe her sitting in judgement of others in an official capacity has warped her ability to connect with her common citizens outside a courtroom. A judge's qualities not only include a broad knowledge of the law but someone who provides such with dignity and respect. I would assume that when one is a city judge and a school board member who believes they know what is best for this area, it seems almost hypocritical that candidate Ruggles would send her child to an elite boarding school in Birmingham. This tells the other parents that Sheffield is good enough for their kids but perhaps not so much for her own. Or perhaps Sheffield didn't offer as much potential for educational growth. Isn't that why she is Vice President of Sheffield's school board? To enact changes that would allow each child to maximize their educational growth potential? It seems as this candidate has given up on one area and aspect of Colbert County because it didn't suit her needs. Therefore how am I to believe that if her self interests aren't best served by this community that she will still act in a way that is best for the everyday citizens of Colbert County?

Should this disqualify Ruggles from running for the position of District Judge? Certainly not. What it does do is cast doubt upon her commitment to Colbert County and its citizens.

Kudos to Andy Betterton and the Florence City Council for voting to allow Eugene Sak's patio home project to move forward. Sak indicates that construction will start in approximately twelve months, so if you want any souvenir photos of the stately Ponderosa Trailer Park, now's the time to take them.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Duh " Award Goes to Florence's Barry Morris

Those who read our May 21st blog will recall the opposition of some North Florence residents to a proposed patio home development. Tuesday night, the Florence City Council approved the zoning change measure.

Council member Barry Morris, who toils by day as a professor of economics at UNA, cast one of the two dissenting votes. After the meeting, Morris made the following not so pedantic statement:

"I believe we're on the verge, gentlemen, of making a very bad precedent in the development of Florence," Morris said, where land adjacent to R-1 zones will become zoned at a higher R-2 density.

Mr. Morris, unless all of Florence is zoned R-1, there are already many R-1 districts adjacent to those regulated as R-2; you may even find some that connect to business districts if you look closely. You have displayed as much illogical reasoning as those who have opposed this project, a development that will replace a trailer park no less. For your district's sake, please think before you issue any more statements to the press.


In addition to Tina Parker, Polly Ruggles has announced her intentions to run for Colbert County District Judge. Ruggles is a cousin by marriage to Federal Attorney Alice Martin. Among her qualifications listed is "mother." Perhaps she also makes a fantastic apple pie?

Morris photo courtesy of UNA

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Who's Bob Hill?

Several Months ago, liberal blogger Matt Osborne of Florence asked, "Who's Bob Hill?" Certainly Mr. Osborne had his own ideas as to who Mr. Hill is and to his place in the local political pantheon. While we don't doubt that Osborne and others who replied to his question are correct in many of their statements, we prefer to publish here only what can be documented:

* 1956 graduate of the University of Alabama
* Practicing Florence attorney, specializing in "divorce, civil, and business law"
* Law partner of current District I representative Tammy Irons
* Divorced father of one adult daughter
* Author of Sunday sales referendum for Colbert County
* Lobbyist for University of North Alabama, Northwest-Shoals Community College, and SEDA
* Brother of Fitz Hill, partner in Hill and Janguard, Florence architects

It's the two latter relationships that have provoked the most speculation and criticism of Hill. Many feel that Hill's position of Government Relations Consultant for UNA, as well as his position at NWSCC, both state institutions, should preclude him from serving again as a state legislator.

Further, during the current administration of Florence Mayor Bobby Irons, a cousin to Hill's law partner, the firm of Hill and Janguard has received lucrative contracts from the city. According to former Florence Recreation Department Head Regina Gresham, these contracts are considered professional services and are not subject to state bid laws.

In other words, should Bob Hill Jr. be elected to succeed his law partner Tammy Irons, he would enter the legislature some 30 years after he left it, this time carrying considerably much more baggage. We believe the Shoals area can do better.

Notice: Florence attorney and Muscle Shoals resident Tina Parker has announced her candidacy for Colbert County District Judge. She will be facing some stiff competition from candidates with old money. We suggest you give her a good look.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bob Hill Jr. Knows Where the Bodies Are Buried

Alabama has long been a bastion of dirty tricks. Such machinations reached their apogee during the administrations of George Wallace; while we realize 100% honesty and accountability will never be present in any government, we have come to expect more in the years since Wallace left office.

Yes, things have changed...but perhaps not for everyone. Bob Hill Jr. served as District I representative from 1967 to 1979. Hill's successor, Nelson Starkey, served honorably for 24 years until his death. At that time, Lauderdale County voters elected Tammy Irons, Hill's law partner. Now after one term in the House, Irons has elected to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Bobby Denton.

As we mentioned yesterday, there's not a dearth of likely candidates to replace Irons. Among those who have uttered their possible intentions is Hill. Calling himself "an old race horse" in a May 25th TimesDaily article, Hill broached the possibility of a fourth term in the State House. When asked his current qualifications, Bob Hill responded, "I also know where all the bodies are buried."

Perhaps the 77 year-old Hill knew where the bodies were buried when he left office in 1979. If he should know where any are buried today, we hope he will not choose to exhume them. This is 2009, and Alabama has suffered enough quid pro quo politics to know that such antics will only negate any progress this state has achieved during the Riley administration.

Tomorrow: With apologies to Matt Osborne, who is Bob Hill?

What Do You Want from Your State Legislator?

So far, nine individuals have expressed interest in the District I House seat to be vacated by Tammy Irons. While it's not a given that each of these possible candidates will run, it's quite likely that others will enter the fray before the April 2010 deadline.

That's quite a covey of candidates from which to choose. Ideally, we would look at the field and choose the one who best personifies our interests and goals for state government. Sometimes that isn't possible, and we must choose by a process of elimination. In this particular election, we may have to settle for the latter.

Florence businessman Brad Holmes is one of those mulling the feasibility of joining the race for the District I seat. We will have more on Mr. Holmes in future columns, but today I will pose the question to our readers that Holmes set before us: What do you want from your State Legislator?

State Representatives often become State Senators, as Tammy Irons hopes to do. State Senators may become Governor, or perhaps a U.S. Senator. Therefore, it's important to choose wisely in House races. No office is small, but some offices are filled by small people. We don't need anymore small people in our state government; we need those with both probity and vision.

We urge you to make a list of what you think will improve this state, especially the Shoals area. We also ask that you e-mail your lists to us at shoalanda.speaks@gmail.com. During the coming months we'll be compiling these lists and researching the candidates' positions on each. Together, we can make a difference--a long overdue difference.

What's up with this: Apparently FloGas' Roger Lovelace isn't the only one who knows where the bodies are buried...stay tuned.