A grand jury Tuesday, Sept. 4, cleared Walker County Deputy John Chandler of any charges related to a New Year's Day fatal shooting prompted by a 911 call later deemed a false report.
The jury reviewed the evidence in the case and agreed with a January internal investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Sheriff's Department, which found Chandler did not commit any crimes or violate any department policies in the shooting. The jury said he did not act with criminal intent when he shot Mark Parkinson through a window during a call to Parkinson's Rossville home.
According to Parkinson's wife, Diane, her husband walked into the kitchen with a handgun after hearing a commotion outside and his dogs barking. Seeing the gun, Deputy Chandler shot three times through the window from the porch and killed him, as one bullet severed Parkinson's jugular vein.
"He meant to do me harm," Chandler said during the internal affairs investigation.
"We recognized it was a tragic, tragic situation," Sheriff Steve Wilson told the Chattanooga Times Free Press Wednesday, Sept. 5. "We still support the facts that the officer acted within policy and within the laws of the state."
Offices responded to a 911 call that a woman inside threatened to kill her children and herself. The call, by Dorothy Gass, mother-in-law of Parkinson's daughter, Amy Gass, was not legitimate, GBI agents later determined. It was part of a custody dispute.
Gass was originally charged by the GBI of intentionally filing a false report, was arrested and released pending her trial. Walker County State Court Judge Billy Mullinax dropped the false report charge on June 13 after a GBI agent did not show up on Gass' court date.
Agent Greg Ramey said his office wrote Mullinax a letter, asking him to push the court date back because the investigating agent was out of town that particular day. Ramey said his office didn't hear back from Mullinax and learned several weeks later that Mullinax had dropped the charge.
State Court Solicitor Chris Townley told the Chattanooga Times Free Press again Wednesday that the case is essentially dead because of a legal technicality. Townley, who took office Sept. 1, worked at the same law firm as an attorney representing Dorothy Gass' son in his divorce from Amy Gass.
Townley said, therefore, that he is not allowed to touch the case, although another prosecutor could re-open the case and Townley could recuse himself. However, he explained for the Times Free Press, since the charge against Gass of filing a false report was already dropped, even reopening her case would require action by him.
While residents have grown frustrated with the detours involved with construction on Three Notch Road, state officials say the work is more than halfway complete.
Construction on the replacement of Three Notch Road's bridge over Peavine Creek began in October of 2017 at a cost of $2,225,692.
The Georgia Department Transportation (GDOT) contracted C.W. Matthews Contracting to do the work, which has involved detours to Post Oak Road and Poplar Springs Road.
Mohamed Arafa, district communications officer of GDOT, says the work is progressing and still slated to be completed next summer.
"The GDOT contractor, C.W. Matthews, has already installed the bridge beams," Arafa said. "The contractor continues to work on the bridge superstructure. The project is currently about 55 percent complete."
Despite the lengthy timetable for the project, Arafa says there haven't really been any delays on the project's overall completion date.
"It is on schedule to be entirely completed by the end of July 2019," Arafa said. "In order to complete the new bridge construction, the contractor is allowed no more than 545 days of road closure and detouring traffic off this county road."
Although the work has caused some traffic headaches since last fall, the traffic woes have been highlighted now that Catoosa County Schools are back in session. The work has rerouted students and parents traveling to Heritage Middle and Heritage High School.
"We understand that the closure of Three Notch Road at this location is causing inconvenience and delays to the area residents, but it is necessary for replacing the old bridge that was built in 1965 and in poor condition," Arafa explained. "The good news is the project is on schedule and on budge."
Once complete, Arafa says the work will help traffic in the area for the foreseeable future. "Upon completion, this project will help improve the flow of traffic in the area, make it safer, and help the public get where they need to go in Catoosa County," he said.
Editor's note: The Catoosa County News erroneously reported in October 2017 that the project was slated to be finished by July 2017. We apologize for the error.
Two weeks after introducing her to the public, Catoosa County commissioners finalized the hire of Alisha Vaughn as new manager Tuesday night, Sept. 4.
Following a six-month-long search for a new county manager, commissioners named and introduced Vaughn as their top candidate during the Aug. 21 meeting. After making Vaughn's application and resume available as public record for a mandatory two-week period, the board members unanimously approved the hire on Sept. 4.
Vaughn, who has worked as chief financial officer (CFO) for Whitfield County for the past six years, has a degree in accounting from the University of Georgia, as well as a wealth of finance experience in government.
Vaughn will become the successor to Jim Walker, who abruptly resigned during the executive session portion of a February meeting.
Walker was paid a $54,000 settlement two weeks later.
That settlement was on Commissioner Bobby Winters' mind Tuesday night when County Attorney Chad Young discussed some of the terms in Vaughn's hiring contract.
"We aren't going to do a big contract or big buyout and all like we did with this last one are we?" Winters asked.
Young replied by explaining a severance stipulation in the employment contract.
"She (Vaughn) has requested a severance provision only if she's terminated without cause," Young said. "If she does nothing wrong and she comes to work one day and three commissioners decide we don't want you to be county manager anymore; under those circumstances, yes, she would be entitled to six months severance pay. If she's terminated for cause, which for cause is, she violates any provision of our personnel policy, violates any provision of the law, fails to do her job or is unable to do her job because of an illness or disability ... any of those things are for cause and she can be terminated without any severance. If she resigns, she's got to give you 30-days notice and she's not entitled to any severance."
Young stated that Vaughn requested the severance stipulation because she gave up a significant retirement package from her previous employer, Whitfield County, to take the job and will not be eligible for retirement during her first year employed.
"She requested a six-month severance 'if you send me home without cause,'" Young said.
Young added that the only real difference in this contract and the previous one with Walker is that Vaughn won't have a "take home" vehicle allowance.
"There is no vehicle allowance in this one," Young said. "She's able to use a county car while she's here for county business, but not to drive back and forth to home."
While Vaughn wasn't in attendance Tuesday night, Young said she's slated to start as the new county manager on Monday, Sept. 24.
If you're the bargain-hunting, auction-loving type, here's a great opportunity.
On Sept. 20, tune in to Night Talk with Judy on UCTV, 9-11 p.m. The Fort Oglethorpe Bark City Committee — the group that is raising funds to build a dog park in the city — will be auctioning off an exciting list of donated items.
"We have a really dedicated committee," says Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Jennifer Simpkins. "They've done a great job finding donations for the auction, and the donations are still coming in."
So what might you bid on? How about a $25 gift certificate to Farm to Fork in Ringgold or dinner for four at Armando's in East Ridge, Tennessee? Or two VIP seats at the James Rogers Home for the Holidays concert at The Colonnade in December or an overnight stay at Springhill Suites/Marriott in Ringgold? You can also bid on a $30 gift certificate to Nail Art, an LFO Swag Basket, a personalized dog portrait by Durinda Cheek or a one-hour photo shoot by Finding Fox Creative. Petsense, Tractor Supply and Petco are also donating auction items and the donations are still rolling in.
Simpkins says that if you're a business and would like to donate an item for the auction, your gift will be deeply appreciated. You can contact her at 423-680-0194.
Some donations are things that cannot be auctioned off. Simpkins says the largest donation the group has received thus far is $3,600 worth of surveying and engineering services by Philip Schofield of CTI to help minimize water on the site of the dog park.
Yet another fundraiser will be held on the patio of Buffalo Wild Wings in Fort Oglethorpe — Yappy Hours, from 3-7 p.m. on Sept. 29. And you can bring your dog! Anyone needing more information about this event can contact Sharon Klein at 706-264-2040.
Groundbreaking for the dog park is planned for Oct. 27 and will feature a fundraising concert by Confederate Railroad.
The Bark City Committee meets the third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at city hall in Fort Oglethorpe (unless otherwise specified). The next meeting is Sept. 18.