The Georgia State Patrol continues to investigate a fatal motorcycle wreck on Pocket Road, as Troopers await test results on blood samples taken from the victim, after a bottle of liquor was found in his possession.
According to Georgia State Patrol Trooper Jarrod Daniel:
Nathan Holt, 43, of Rome, died after losing control of his motorcycle on Pocket Road and colliding with a tree on the shoulder of the road on Tuesday around 2 p.m. Holt, who was riding on Pocket Road near the top of the mountain, was riding behind a friend (also on a motorcycle) when he lost control of his bike, crossed the center line and crashed into a tree.
Though the tree he collided with was 5 to 10 feet off the side of the road, it prevented Holt from falling down the rest of the mountain. Holt was estimated to have died upon impact with the tree.
Holt's riding companion told the GSP that the two of them had been driving at 55 mph, but after finding they were traveling too fast for the curve of the road, both of them slowed to 35 mph. Once they slowed down, Holt lost control due to driving too fast for conditions, Daniel said.
Deputies from both Floyd and Gordon counties were present at the scene, as well as Gordon EMS, Gordon Fire Department and GSP. Life-Force initially was called to respond to the wreck but first responders called them off upon realizing the victim had died.
Pulling letters penned by two children who had been sexually assaulted by a man put in a position of trust, a relative read to the court of how the two are still scarred by abuse.
"This man has taken a large part of my childhood from me," she wrote. "I don't ever want him to hurt anyone again."
Torn from a notebook, the pages were taken into the same courtroom where a Floyd County jury found 38-year-old Chadburn Dewayne Lawrence guilty of aggravated child molestation and child molestation charges earlier this week. And with the conclusion of the Floyd County case, Lawrence now faces similar charges in Gordon County.
Relatives of the two children told them they didn't have to be in court for his sentencing. They had already done the best that could be expected of them and testified against Lawrence during his trial — now it was time to return to their lives.
"My nana tells me I'm not a victim but a survivor," she wrote about how Lawrence's actions had made her distrust men and she knew that it had hurt her uncles when they went to console her but she shied away. But now, she wrote, she has a new father who loves and protects her and with family support is getting better.
Lawrence, who kept his eyes facing the front of the courtroom as the letters were read, only shook his head no when asked if he wished to speak.
"You deeply hurt them in a way they will never fully recover from," said Floyd County Superior Court Judge Kay Ann Wetherington before she sentenced him to 30 years in prison and a life term on supervised release.
He was originally arrested on the Floyd County charges in March 2018 and transported to Floyd County Jail from the Bay County Jail in Florida.
Floyd County Assistant District Attorney Morgan Bottger said Lawrence is also facing additional charges in Gordon County and Cherokee County.
According to Gordon County Sheriff's Office reports:
On March 12, a Gordon County detective received an investigation packet from Floyd County police concerning the alleged child molestation of two minors in Calhoun.
The lead investigator for Floyd County police set up an interview with the children at Harbor House in Rome, and then sent videos of the interview to the Gordon County Sheriff's Office detective.
After receiving the video interviews from Floyd County police, the Gordon County Sheriff's Office opened its own investigation which resulted in warrants being obtained for Lawrence's arrest.
In Gordon County, he is charged with two counts of child molestation, two counts of first-degree cruelty to children and one count of aggravated sodomy.
After the team has gathered in the automotive shop, the timer is set and tools are set in place. Then the race begins – each of the five high school students work together to take apart and put back together an engine in record time.
This routine is one that the Gordon Central engine team has been working on for only two weeks out of the 2018-2019 academic year, with each of the five members having a specific role in the take down and rebuilding of the engine. And for only two weeks of practice, their time ranges anywhere from 19-25 minutes.
The engine building team only practices one week before regional competitions, one of which will be hosted in Atlanta this weekend, in order to qualify for national competitions. This week, the team met everyday at the shop at the back of the Gordon Central campus before classes even started just to practice and improve their time.
On Wednesday morning at 7:30 a.m., while student athletes were working out in the gym and other students were still on their way to school, this team of young mechanics completed deconstructing and reconstructing an automotive engine with a time of 21:57. Their time has to be less than 33 minutes to qualify them for nationals.
"In the past years, we've had better (times)," said Hunter McNeese, a senior on the team. "But so far for this year, that's a pretty good time and we're getting a little bit faster."
In the four years that coach Tim Watkins has coached this team at Gordon Central, they've qualified for nationals each year.
The team will be traveling this weekend to participate in the Summit Racing Motorama at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where they will put their skills to the test as judges "hover over their shoulders," making sure rules are being followed.
"There are huge penalties if you drop things," Watkins said. "If you drop a certain part, you could add 10 minutes to your time in penalties, plus anything that's dropped has to go back to the table to be cleaned and oiled."
As a part of the process of building an engine practically from scratch, four students are working directly on the engine while one is at a work bench, keeping parts and tools organized for the others, who are running in between the two stations.
"I've been doing mechanics for my entire life," said senior Matt Campbell. "Once you get in, you can't get out."
Over the past few years, some team members have competed in both of the national competitions, and have even placed. One national competition is sponsored by Performance Racing Industry (PRI) and is held in Indianapolis in December; the other is the Special Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show held in Las Vegas at the beginning of November. Last year, Gordon Central's team placed 10th at PRI and 11th at SEMA.
The team and Watkins agreed their biggest challenge this weekend would be Forsyth Central High School, who has more than six teams that compete in the engine-building competition. Forsyth teams, who have access to more automotive resources being located in the Atlanta area, have the chance to incorporate engine classes into their class schedule, allowing them to practice their drill every day.
But despite the competition, Gordon Central's team is ready to compete, with each member prepared complete their individual tasks in order to get as fast of a time as possible.
Preparing for the future
The team members, some of which have been working in automotive mechanics for their entire lives, said being a part of this club has helped prepare them for their future. Of the three seniors on the team, two of them are going to technical schools and one is going into engineering, planning to continue automotive mechanics on the side.
And one of the perks of being on this team and having the chance to go to national competitions is the potential for scholarships.
"If they're an underclassman and qualify for nationals every year, they would get a minimum of $20,000 (in scholarships)," Watkins said. "And the higher they place nationally, the more scholarship money they get for specific schools."
Scholarships for national competitors may be applied to four major universities – University Technical Institute, Sam Tech: School of Automotive Machinists and Technology, University of Northwestern Ohio and Lincoln Tech – as well as other minor technical schools.
Campbell said he's already received $15,000 in scholarships just from competing at nationals, and is actually planning to go to UTI without having to pay anything out of pocket. Aaron Greeson, a graduating senior on the team, said he's also planning to go to UTI and will get a hefty amount of scholarships from being a part of this team and qualifying for nationals.
"It's teaching us to work together," Hunter McNeese said when asked how being a part of this team has been influential to him.
Hunter McNeese, along with his teammates, is not only participating in these competitions, but also on a number of other extracurriculars. Each team member has to balance time between jobs, internships, sports practices, as well as classes and preparing for life after high school.
Watkins said the team doesn't too bad of a job for only practicing a few weeks out of the year, especially with the scholarships the students have received.
Watkins, who has seen many students come through the doors of his automotive shop classrooms, said this team is not only well-prepared for this weekend's competition, but also for their future occupational goals.
Having spent eight years in the Army and time abroad as a private contractor, Watkins has seen the variety of doors that can be opened for automotive mechanics. He's had students from his classes and even previous members of the engine team go on to pursue careers in the automotive industry.
One student from a class he taught went on to work for Mohawk, and is now being paid to earn her associate's degree and continue toward a bachelor's degree in engineering. Another student joined the Army and now serves as an underwater welder, repairing bridges and ships.
And even though he was technically making more money as a contractor, he enjoys teaching students about the opportunities a future in mechanics could offer.
"It's really fulfilling," Watkins said. "I enjoy seeing students come back and hearing all the good things they're doing."
Watkins has both a small engine repair area and a full automotive shop as a part of his "office" at the school, where he teaches students to work on tires, wheels, brakes, suspension and basic car maintenance skills. And the vehicles students work on aren't scrap cars, but cars belonging to students, staff and even locals.
Currently, students are working on Page Remillard's Jeep, changing the oil, working on the brakes and belts, as well as performing basic checkups. While the program doesn't charge for labor, they do charge for parts, but more importantly, it provides students with the opportunity to learn more about mechanics, automotives and technical careers.
During this weekend's competition, teams from around the region will be competing for the chance to go to both PRI and SEMA national competitions. Gordon Central will bring their handmade tools, innovative skills and prior experience along with the team — which consists of Campbell, Greeson, Jacob Marshall, Cody McNeese and Hunter McNeese.
And since this team is helping students fund their future in mechanics and the automotive industry, it's a team with a purpose.
"By the time they graduate, they're ready to go out to the industry or to technical school," Watkins said, saying that his students have continued to incorporate what they learned in his class into their future goals.
He sees his current team members having successful careers in automotive mechanics, should they choose to follow that path. Being a part of the engine team, Watkins said, is just the tip of the iceberg, saying that this could be the first step into the rest of their lives.
"And before they know it, they're out in the world doing what they want to do."
Gordon Central High School Principal Doug Clark was placed on administrative leave during the middle of Thursday's school day, according to Gordon Board of Education Chairman Charlie Walraven.
The leave is effective immediately and there is no estimated time for when Clark will to return to his position, according to Walraven.
"I know of no timeline that's been announced," Walraven said. "But the board was not involved in this decision. We do not make personnel decisions."
Walraven said he couldn't comment on the decision made by Gordon County Schools Superintendent Susan Remillard since the board isn't allowed to publicly discuss personnel matters.
On Thursday evening, Clark commented on Remillard's decision, contributing what he knew even though he said he didn't really get much of an explanation from the superintendent.
Clark said he was called into Remillard's office before he took his lunch and was told by her that he was being placed on an indefinite administrative leave from the school system. Clark said he did not foresee this happening.
"We had been having some disagreements about scheduling, particularly students' scheduling," Clark said. "And I guess she thought I was doing things incorrectly."
Clark said his conversation with Remillard was very short and he hopes that this will be taken care of in a timely manner.
"I hope we can get this resolved quickly," Clark said. "It'll be OK once we get it worked out."
Remillard did not return requests for comment before Thursday's print deadline.
Jeff Shattuck and Marne Wilson, the current assistant principals at Gordon Central, will both cover the principal's responsibilities during Clark's leave.