LaFayette hopes to purchase cruisers

Police Academy City CouncilBy Alton Mitchell

The members of the LaFayette city council gathered at City Hall on Monday evening to discuss the next proactive steps in the continued growth and stability of the city of LaFayette. Council members began their meeting as always with the tradition of calling the meeting to order and the invocation. Shortly after members in attendance made their presence known by answering for the member roll call.

The first item on council’s agenda for its Monday meeting would be the reading and adoption of the minutes from the previous meeting. City Council voted in a unanimous fashion on approval of the minutes from the July 13th meeting.

Included in the previous meetings minutes was the announcement of the award of $399,095.00 to be award to the city of LaFayette by Governor Robert Bentley for a Transportation Alternative Program Grant (TAP). That grant will be used to improve and refurbish areas of downtown to include new sidewalks, lighting, and other additions to the area around the courthouse square.

Also included in the previous meetings minutes would the motion to proclaim August 7, 2015 as a Day of Prayer in Chambers County. That motion was approved and carried.

At the conclusion of the approval of the minutes from the previous meeting LaFayette Police Chief Ben Hill took to the podium to update the Council on the conclusion and recent success of the city’s Youth Police Academy. Chief Hill announced that the program had concluded and had been a success for those who participated. He announced this year’s program included 31 recruits who got to see exactly what police officers do. The activities that the lucky participants go to endure included trips to areas such as the firing range, the Opelika Youth Detention Center, and the Chambers County Jail.

This past Thursday the recruits were able to enjoy a fun filled day that included activities such as a bounce house for the young recruits to enjoy. The Chief also announced that bigger plans lie ahead for the program next year and that it should have a successful return to the city.

The city council had the activities of the police department on their minds quite a bit during the meeting as the council voted to adopt resolution 2015-07-27-01. This resolution had been brought up at a previous meeting, but needed to be adopted by the city council. The resolution is for a grant from the USDA and will be in the amount of $50,000 for the purchase of two new police vehicles for the city of LaFayette.

Council was advised that the police vehicles the city hopes to obtain have already been selected and carry a price tag of slightly of $66,000. Council was also advised the remaining funds for those vehicles will have to be committed by the city. Council voted on the resolution and approved it noting if the grant is approved they will fit the bill for the remaining balance.

Councilwoman Tammie B. Williams also made special mention of a local officer in the department. That officer being Officer Lockhart who during his off time from the police department took time out to embrace and engage in a game of basketball with local youth at the gym. The Councilwoman noted that she had learned of his actions on the day of the meeting through a Facebook post she had seen. She praised his actions and said that it is important for the police to actually get out and know the community and the people which they serve.

City Council also heard the reasoning behind a notice of a claim against the city filed by Diane Sheriff. The filed claim stated that forestry which lies between private property owned by Sheriff and city property had caused damage to a chain link fence. City Attorney Joseph M. Tucker explained the reasoning behind the claim to council and mentioned the best suited actions with the circumstances surrounding the occurrence. After hearing the testimony and reasoning by Mr. Tucker the council voted to deny the claim.

The city council approved the paying of the outstanding bills the city has shortly before adjourning the meeting. Council also approved pay increases for several city workers shortly before the meeting was adjourned. Councilman David Ennis made the motion and the announcement of those employees who would qualify for the increases as well as their amounts as well as the positive reasoning behind those increases.

Shortly after that motion was approved the City Council adjourned the meeting. The LaFayette City Council holds their meetings on a bi-weekly basis every other Monday at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The next meeting will be on August 10th at 6 p.m.

Louisiana theater massacre just latest in mass shooting trend

By Alton Mitchell

Residents of Lafayette, Louisiana received a rude wakeup call last Thursday night as a gunmen sat quietly in a popular Lafayette movie theater before opening fire in the packed theater killing two and wounding nine others before taking his own life. The incident in Lafayette can best be described as a call to wake up for all, meaning that mass shootings can happen anywhere.

Residents describe Lafayette, La as anywhere U.S.A. nestled along Interstate 10 only 56 miles from Baton Rouge the city is home to 120,000 residents and has been described as the happiest city in America just last year. A community that is home to a major university and good old folks just doing what people do. However the peace and happiness came to an abrupt halt Thursday night as John Russell Houser a native of the Phenix City area began indiscriminately shooting in a packed Lafayette theater.

House was well-known in this area as a sometimes conservative radio guest, a want-a-be politician who was a candidate for political office and a lawyer. However he also had mental problems and an eccentric lifestyle.

The incident in Lafayette has just become the latest in what dictates the headlines of America in modern times and that is mass shootings. In the first 204 days of 2015 there have been 204 mass shootings in the United States many of those have not been heard about and many of those have happened in the region close to Chambers County.

On January 11th, 2015 five people were injured by gunfire at a party near Tuskegee University in Macon County, AL. All the victims survived and the suspect 22-year-old Rishod Shermaine Fields was arrested and charged in the case. In that same month just across the Chattahoochee River from Chambers County five people were fatally shot at a home in Troup County, Georgia on January 29th. The suspect Thomas Jesse Lee 26- years-old was arrested and charged.

Some mass shootings have occurred and the suspect was not identified examples include a March 10th shooting in Columbus, Ga in which a gunmen opened fire in a crowed Columbus strip club wounding five people. A Mobile, AL man was arrested and charged for a March 28th Spring Break shooting in Panama City Beach, Florida which injured seven including several Alabama A&M college students.

When the word mass shootings come across many think of incidents much like Columbine, Sandy Hook, the Aurora, Co Theater shooting, or Virginia Tech. However mass shootings as a whole just means an incident in which several individuals were shot in one incident. Many residents said the recent shooting of the theater in Lafayette hit close to home because the alleged gunmen was from a short drive down U.S. 431 to the south in Phenix City. Mass shootings are quite common as has been demonstrated in the wake of the latest theater shooting.

Some shootings in our region have even went on to make national headlines such as the April 2011 shooting on the campus of Opelika’s Southern Union State Community College in which one person was killed and four were injured including a 4-year-old boy and a 90-year-old woman who was shot in the neck. The motive in that incident was a domestic altercation gone out of control. A short drive down the road in Auburn in June of 2012 left 3 people wounded and 3 people dead including two former Auburn University Football players. The names Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips echoed from sporting networks to the major news networks as an altercation at a party spun out of control near the Auburn campus and marked the stain of a mass shooting on that cities image.

In March of 2008 the region was featured again in national headlines following a mass shooting at a hospital in Columbus, Ga. A former teacher Charles Johnson walked into Doctors Hospital seeking a male nurse whom he blamed on the death of his mother 4 years earlier. He found his victim and fatally shot him on the hospitals fifth floor. Moments later while fleeing Johnson shot a second hospital employee fatally. A third victim who was a patron to that hospital was fatally shot in the parking garage. The suspect in that case then began exchanging gunfire with police officers and was struck he did survive his injuries and was sent to prison for life.

The events in Lafayette, La are not isolated they are fairly common place for multiple individuals to be shot in a single incident. To sit and say that our area is immune to this type of senseless violence is a far stretch from the truth. Evidence has shown that from the rural areas of Troup County to the corridors of knowledge in Auburn or the urban lifestyle of downtown Columbus mass shootings can happen at a moments notice anywhere. While the latest mass shooter to make national headlines does have ties to East Central Alabama he most certainly will not be the last in this region of the state to injury many in a mass display of violence.

Gray faces death penalty in murder of Renee Eldridge

Stacey Demar Gray

Stacey Demar Gray

By Alton Mitchell

A recent murder case in Valley, which spans two States has taken a drastic turn as charges have been upgraded for the suspect in the case. The suspect in that case now faces capital charges in relation to the early July Valley homicide. On the morning of July 7th, 2015 investigators discovered the body of a woman in Osanippa Creek near the Alabama-Georgia state line in Valley. Investigators believed that body to belong to a missing Columbus, Georgia woman Renee Eldridge. The assumptions of investigators were correct and the body was confirmed to be that of Ms. Eldridge who had been reported missing 2 days earlier in Columbus. It was later discovered she had been a victim of a homicide caused by blunt force trauma.

Renee Nancy Eldridge

Renee Nancy Eldridge

The investigators on the case quickly named a suspect, that being Stacey Demar Gray. Authorities quickly began to seek out Gray for arrest. On the day when Ms. Eldridge’s body was being laid to rest in Georgia authorities were hot on Gray’s trail pursuing him for vast majority of a day in the woods of Macon County. Gray was taken into custody following a manhunt on that night. He has now become a resident of the Chambers County Detention Center.

As the case has developed charges for Gray have been upgraded to include capital murder, kidnapping, and capital murder rape. Members of the Chambers County District Attorney’s office have expressed they will be seeking the death penalty against Gray in the case.

LaFayette_Sun_07_29_15The addition of the capital murder charge gives the case a new footing. Under the Alabama code Title 13A of the criminal code Chapter 5: Punishments and sentences there are two main options in a capital murder case. Those two options include the sentence of death which is often carried out by lethal injection in Alabama or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Also defined under Alabama law is what constitutes a capital offense in homicides and deaths. Some of the actions which could include a capital murder offense include an offense being committed by a defendant during actions such as hijacking, kidnapping, robbery, arson, rape, sodomy, or sexual abuse. Some of these mentioned provisions run parallel to the upgraded charges now present against Mr. Gray.

As the case has developed the criminal history of Mr. Gray has also surfaced to include charges in Muscogee County, Georgia to include cruelty to children, multiple traffic citations, and simple battery. Local TV station WTVM reported that Gray was sent to prison in 1994 for felonious assault of two Youngstown, OH police officers. That incident stemmed from Gray shooting two Youngstown Police Officers. The officers were wounded, but did survive and Gray was sent to prison for nine years for that incident.

Evidence is still being gathered and additional charges may still lie ahead for the suspect being that multiple jurisdictions are involved in the case. Today however police have their suspect in custody and the Chambers County District Attorney’s office is pursuing the best solutions to the case.

Alleged shooter well known local activist

Hauser1By Alton Mitchell

Last Friday East Alabama was shunned into the national spotlight as the nation’s latest maniac had laid a bloody siege on a movie theater in Louisiana. Only days after a lone gunmen killed four servicemen at a military recruiting station in Chattanooga, Tennessee; a well-known political activist from the Phenix City-Columbus area opened fire at a movie theater in the city of Lafayette, La.

John Russell Houser is not remembered as a quiet or easy going individual. His personal life and views have been exploded into the national spotlight in recent days. Everything from his outspoken political views to criminal history has become public knowledge for anyone watching any major media outlet.

Hauser 2Houser has his roots in the Columbus, Georgia area having attended the cities prestigious Columbus High School and later earning a degree in accounting from Columbus State University. Shortly after Houser earned a degree in law from Faulkner University in Montgomery, AL. However while this may sound like the typical road to success for many. The life of Mr. Houser is one that was filled with bumps mainly due to his personal views of life.

Houser is remembered as a racist and an individual who was in strong opposition to the wording of the 19th amendment or anything that had to do with women’s rights. Houser also has been cited as being against taxes. That viewpoint has caused some to tie him to certain political organizations. Having been a business owner for some time including in the nearby city of Lagrange, GA. As a bar owner in Lagrange Houser’s establishment was cited for serving alcohol to minors and shut down. In response to the action Houser flew a Nazi flag above his property in protest shortly after the closing of his business.

Houser had a reputation with law enforcement in Columbus as well including allegations of arson on a law office in the city. It is alleged that Houser paid a co-conspirator a sum of money to burn down the law office of an attorney who represented a certain adult themed business in the city. He was also cited for removing campaign signs for an opposing candidate who was running against him when he took a dab in local politics in the footsteps of his father. More violent acts surfaced in Carroll County, Georgia where Houser had relatives and had threatened violence against those family members. In 2008, Houser went so far to threaten violence at his own 23-year-old daughter’s wedding.

Just last year Houser was evicted from a home in Phenix City, however he would not leave the property quietly. He left the new home owners a mess and death trap. The pipes and plumbing systems of the home had been filled with concrete. Purple paint had been smeared and splattered over the home. A make shift bomb had been left in the gas lines of the fireplace after being booby trapped by Houser. Even the pool at the home had been filled with gold fish rather than be cleaned.

Before walking into the Lafayette movie theater last Thursday night John “Rusty” Houser had left a long list of warning signs behind him to suggest that something was just not right. Sadly no one saw the warning signs of his diminished mental capacity in time and in the end it costed him his own life and the lives of two young Louisiana women with bright futures ahead of him. Mr. Houser had a evident path of having long standing problems and his legacy shows that now in the national spotlight.

Early morning fire destroys an East Alabama historical church

Church FireBy Alton Mitchell

An East Alabama structure which has endured and survived some of the toughest times in our nation’s history including the depression and the civil rights movement was destroyed early Monday morning by fire. St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church located on Beehive Road also known as Lee Road 10 near the Auburn Technology Park West was completely destroyed by flames.

Fire crews received a call around 7 a.m. Monday morning to report the church that sits nestled among homes and old farm land was on fire. The church was constructed in the late 1800’s and is believed to be 140 years old. Fire crews from the city of Auburn and the Southwest Lee Volunteer Fire Department responded to the blaze, but were unable to save the historic structure. First responders however were successful at saving the church van and a storage shed located near the church.

Members of the church know that the fire is a setback, yet staying strong in their faith is the key. The small congregation of a couple dozen members plan on holding service this coming Sunday in a wooded area in the shadows of the burned structure. Members will also be setting up an account at Auburn Bank for those who wish to donate to the church and its relief following this disaster.

Investigators spent the majority of the day on the scene of the blaze trying to gather clues to its cause. However the exact cause has not yet been determined. Members from the Alabama State Fire Marshal’s office have also been on the scene of the fire. That is standard procedure being that the office headquartered in downtown Montgomery is responsible for investigating church fires within the state of Alabama. As the sunset over the countryside near Auburn Monday evening the cause of the fire had still not been determined and investigators worked behind yellow fire tape to get to the bottom of what caused this historic structure to go up in flames.

Saddle Club hosted LaFayette show

Horse 1Rachael Abney

The Chambers County Saddle Club held a horse show Saturday July 27, 2015. Featured were Pleasure, Halter, Gaited and timed events. The open barrels and open poles held a jackpot. Highest point and participation awards are also available to youth members of the CCSC that participate in two of the three shows. All of the participants performed with great energy despite the heat. This was the last show of the three that were held in Lafayette.
Horse 2

Horse 3

Are you ready for football? Practice begins next week

FootballBy Donnell Suggs

Is it already that time again? Oh yes it is. Football season is rearing it’s pretty little head again with both Chambers County high schools starting football practice next week. The LaFayette High School Bulldogs will begin workouts at 3:30 p.m on Monday, August 3 while the Chambers Academy Rebels will be holding their first varsity football practice of the 2015 season at noon on Thursday, August 6.

Coming off of a rough 2014 season in which the Bulldogs started strong with a 35-0 opening week win over Class 1A opponent Loachapoka High School before embarking on a nine game losing streak to finish the season with a disappointing 1-9 record.

The Rebels did finish last season with a record over .500 but barely going 3-2 in the Class A Region 1 of the AISA and an overall record of 6-4. Both teams will be practicing in temperatures 90-91 degrees according to the national weather report. Coaching staffs are expected to have proper hydration systems available for the players and according to LaFayette High School head football coach and Athletic Director James Lucas the Bulldogs will have that issue covered.

“We have trainers and managers out there that keep water at every station,” Lucas said, “water for practice and both water and Gatorade for the games.”

LaFayette graduated 14 players from last years team and are looking to use practices to tighten up on fundamentals and find new roles for the rising juniors and seniors. “We’re trying to get ready for our first game against Beauregard [in a couple weeks] and we’re very young this year,” said Lucas. “We have a lot of 9th and 10th graders on the team and practice is for getting them ready to perform under the lights on Friday nights.”

The Bulldogs start their Class 2A Region 5 regular season schedule on the road at Beauregard High School in Opelika on Friday, August 21 at 7 p.m. The freshman and sophomores won’t be the only new additions to the team, opening week will also mark the debut of new offensive and defensive coordinators Michael Bratcher and Corey Thornton, respectively.

The Rebels will open their Alabama Independent School Association (AISA) regular season on the road at Cornerstone Christian in Columbiana on Friday, August 28 at 7 p.m. The Rebels will look to avenge last season’s 33-32 season opening loss to the Cornerstone Christian Chargers on August 29, 2015.

Both teams will be looking to rebound from tough finishes to last season; Chambers Academy from a lose in the first round of the AISA Class A playoffs to South Choctaw 68-28 and LaFayette in the last game of the regular season by a score of 63-6 to Class 4A opponent Saks High School. Both the Rebels and Bulldogs gave up a season high amount of points during those games. Starting with the first practice of the season the respective coaching staffs and their players will look to try and change that. Let the games, eh practices begin.

Blue Bell not in stores

By Paul Richardson

Have you scanned your grocery store’s ice cream coolers lately?

Perhaps you noticed the absence of the Blue Bell brand. All Blue Bell creameries ceased manufacturing recently when life threatening samples of Listeria was found in some of the product.

Our “local” (or closest) Blue Bell plant is located in Sylacauga, and contaminated samples were found there, as well as other sites.

The contamination resulted in a complete shutdown with more than 40 employees being laid off and another 180 being furloughed at the Sylacauga plant alone.

But during the last several weeks, the Sylacauga plant is showing some signs of renewed life as the company struggles to eliminate the problems and return the familiar ice cream cartons to local shelves.

No firm date has been announced for re-opening the plant has been announced, but a spokesman said the company “Wanted to be sure all was well so when the cartons did return to grocery stores, it would be for good.”

Tax free weekend coming

By Paul Richardson

The annual “tax-free weekend” is coming August 7 – 9 for the tenth consecutive year.

It is an opportunity for parents to purchase limited amounts of back-to-school items without paying sales tax. The weekend tax-free exemption covers clothes priced less than $100, up to $750 on computers and educational software, books, assorted school supplies, and more school related items.

Alabama Retail Association spokesperson Nancy Dennis said consumers are expected to spend more than one billion dollars statewide that weekend.

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