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Man jailed after tow complaint
• He allegedly had a vehicle towed without authorization to Dan Smith Motor Co., and Rome police say there may be other cases.

Bradley Robinson

An employee at a local car lot was arrested on a felony theft charge after he reportedly spotted a woman's van, which he said he assumed was abandoned, and called a towing service to have it moved to the Dan Smith Motor Co. lot.

"They had no right. It's never been on your lot. We have no dealings with Dan Smith (Motor Co.) at all," said LaTonya Gibson, the van's owner. "They picked it up without any paperwork."

According to Rome police and Floyd County Jail reports:

Bradley Douglas Robinson, 66, of 14 McCord Drive, was jailed Tuesday and released on a $3,500 bond. When police went to arrest Robinson on Monday afternoon he entered a "distressed state" and was taken to Floyd Medical Center. He was treated and released the same day, according to hospital spokesman Dan Bevels.

Rome police have opened up an investigation and it is being led by detective Pete Sailors, according to Capt. Roy Willingham.

"It sounds like it may carry over into some other cases," he said.

Gibson said the 2007 Chrysler Town & Country, which had been completely paid for and was put in her possession following her mother's death from cancer on Sept. 25, had been at Rodriguez Auto Repair, 430 Decatur St., since early July. Around 3:30 p.m. Monday, she drove by the shop and noticed the van was gone.

Shop workers told Gibson the van had been taken away by Rome Automotive & Towing.

She went to the business and initially was told there was no paperwork on it being towed. However, she then found out it had been dropped off at Dan Smith Motor Co.

"Between me and my sisters we were angry and we were hurting," Gibson said.

Police were called to the business and began questioning Robinson, who initially said he called the wrecker out to pick up a vehicle matching the van's description and he had repo paperwork on it.

"Mr. Robinson was unable to provide any paperwork or repo order for the vehicle," the police report stated. "(He) continued to state that he believed there to be a mix up on the vehicle and the tow truck driver had mistakenly towed the wrong vehicle."

Robinson told police he kept the van at his lot "until they could figure out whose it was and what to do with it."

"It's kind of like God led us to go back there," said Gibson, referring to the happenstance of driving by Rodriguez Auto.

Gibson's mother's belongings, which "are all we have left of our mother," were still in the van.

"Had we not found this out, what would he have done with this vehicle?" she said. "I honestly believe they were watching this vehicle and thought it was abandoned and picked it up.


'I never wanted to meet Judith Ann Neelley'
• Her attorney speaks to forensic science students at the Floyd County Schools College and Career Academy.

"I've represented some evil ones," Alabama attorney Bob French told forensic science students at the Floyd County Schools College and Career Academy, where he spoke about his latest book and offered some advice to future investigators.

French was the defense attorney for convicted killer Judith Ann Neelley, who, along with her husband, Alvin Neelley, murdered 13-year-old Lisa Ann Millican in 1982. The Neelleys abducted the teenager from Riverbend Mall in Rome and took her to Alabama, where she was sexually assaulted during her captivity.

Judith Neelley injected Millican with liquid drain cleaner, which failed to kill her, and then shot her in the back and shoved her into Little River Canyon, outside Fort Payne, Alabama. She was granted a chance for parole in January when the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled she can go forward with a lawsuit challenging an Alabama law enacted in 2003 aimed at retroactively preventing her parole, according to a report by AL.com.

"I tried everything in the world to avoid it," French, an 84-year-old who still practices law, said of having to defend her at trial. "I never wanted to meet Judith Ann Neelley. I just wanted out of it. I could not find any way to cope with this."

French's book, "Beaten, Battered and Damned: The Drano Murder Trial," was compiled from his 1,645 pages of notes, along with court transcripts, and is dedicated to "criminal defense lawyers that have to represent shockingly evil clients." He said it took him 31 years to muster enough courage to write on the topic.

"It was a very painful experience," he said.

He read excerpts of the book to students and offered insights into that period of his life. The Neelley case was his 17th concerning murder or rape without fees or expenses, he said. Going into the trial, French said "we were flying blind." He told students to "just look at the reasonable things."

"You've got to learn to love the unlovable," French said, adding that for Judith Neelley this meant appreciating her youth and what she had gone through as a child being raised in a troubled home.

These were words that changed his life when he relayed them to a reporter during the case, he said, as the "conspiracy" of him being the father of her one of her children was spawned.

He hated her and she hated him, French said. Despite his reservations about her, he said, "You can't plead someone guilty to go to the electric chair." He had argued for a life sentence and the jury recommended life without parole, but the judge imposed a death sentence, which was commuted by Alabama Gov. Fob James on Jan. 15, 1999.


Halloween on parade

ACA waivers back on the table
• Sen. Chuck Hufstetler says the legislature is expected to take up several plans aimed at improving Georgians' health care.

A healthcare reform task force is expected to recommend that the Georgia General Assembly seek waivers next year to change some of the federal mandates under the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said they're looking at different types of proposals to help uninsured people keep their health issues from escalating into chronic or serious conditions. If approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the waiver programs could act as alternatives to Medicaid expansion — which the state has rejected.

Hufstetler said that, in hindsight, the requests should have gone in during the last 40-day session, which ended March 31.

"We may have made a mistake in thinking the ACA would be repealed," he said. "We said we have to wait and see what the federal government has done, but they haven't done anything."

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle formed Georgia's Health Care Reform Task Force at the end of the session to come up with a way to restructure how the state delivers healthcare services, to make it more efficient, effective and sustainable.

In addition to Hufstetler, its members are Republican Sens. Renee Unterman of Buford; Dean Burke of Bainbridge; Jack Hill of Reidsville; Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta and Ben Watson of Savannah; and Democrat Sen. Michael Rhett of Marietta.

At the group's final hearing, held at Berry College Monday, a number of speakers said costs spiral out of control because many people wait until they're sick enough to go to an emergency room.

"The overriding recommendation was preventative care," Hufstetler said. "You've heard that out of me for several years and the lieutenant governor, who I believe will be elected governor next year, believes that too."

During the four-hour session Monday, state and national experts presented challenges and potential solutions for the state. A central theme was that the overall health of Georgia residents is affected by their physical, mental and social conditions.

Monty Veazey, president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, showed a video of the lone physician working in Clay County, where the nearest small hospital is at least 20 miles away.

"All of rural Georgia has problems with poverty, transportation and access to good health care," Veazey said.

Telemedicine is not an option because Internet speeds aren't fast enough. However, several legislative committees are working on the issue, including the House Rural Development Council where Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, serves.

"We'll have several potential solutions in about a year," Hufstetler predicted, adding that AT&T has a project called AirGig that would use existing power lines.

Another study committee — the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Access in Government chaired by Hufstetler and Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome — is looking at ways to merge data collected by various state agencies to provide an analysis of the problems.

"The point is, we've got to treat the person as a whole," Hufstetler said. "We've got to have the data to treat them as a whole and we've got to have the access to broadband to treat them as a whole."

Along with the waivers, the healthcare task force expects to have specific legislative recommendations and a long-term plan by the time the new General Assembly starts in mid-January.

"I think there will be some big changes in Georgia," Hufstetler said. "It will be easier to get primary care in the future."


RACA seeking design for amphitheater
• Plans are due to the Rome Area Council for the Arts by Nov. 21.

When the Rome Area Council for the Arts and Floyd County Commission agreed on a deal to create an amphitheater on the grounds of the Rome-Floyd County Library, it set off a planning process that includes an open call for architectural designs.

Mandy Maloney, executive director for RACA, said the group has been seriously considering sites for much of the past year.

"We've been talking with the city and the county about flood plains and all that kind of stuff," Maloney said.

Laurie Hubbard has chaired the committee that has been working on plans for the project, which was funded by a gift from Dr. and Mrs. Charles Sennett as a memorial to their son, Chuck Sennett, a gifted photographer.

"Mrs. Sennett had been on the original library board and was the first to tell me that was part of the original library plans," Hubbard said. "How wonderful that we're able to facilitate that now, too."

The site is already a natural amphitheater and Maloney said she was excited to see what different designers might be able to come up with conceptually.

"I think there could be some terracing, but I don't think it's necessary," Maloney said. "We do think we want to have a stage area and a cover but we don't want it to feel out of place in the setting."

"I think we could put almost anything you can do outside there," Maloney said of the library site on Riverside Parkway overlooking the Oostanaula River. "It's an intimate enough setting that it would be great for not just artistic things but I could see weddings there, family reunions, birthday parties, picnics, definitely the library is going to use it for their summer reading program."

The walking trail from downtown out through Ridge Ferry Park to State Mutual Stadium looks over the natural bowl and separates it from the existing parking lot of the library, providing ample parking for special events.

"We know this will help the library and the arts and we want to work together some," Hubbard said.

Designs for the project should be submitted by Nov. 21 to RACA at info@romearts.org.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by Anyelin Clemente, a fourth-grader at Alto Park Elementary School.