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Fire destroys barn, outbuilding
• An afternoon fire on Radio Springs Road is believed to have started from a falling fuel tank.

A falling fuel tank is believed to have created a spark that started a blaze that destroyed a barn, an outbuilding and a pickup truck at a Radio Springs Road residence Thursday afternoon, according to information the homeowner told fire officials.

Barry and Suzan Casey had gotten home to their 1300 Radio Springs Road home around 4 p.m. Thursday. Barry had backed his Ford F-350 into the barn, with the back end of it inside, to do work on it, his wife said. Within about 10 minutes, the barn was up in flames, Suzan said.

Rome-Floyd County Fire Department Capt. Steve Bailey said Barry told him he had been trying to remove a fuel tank from the back of his truck when it fell and made a spark, lighting the fuel on fire. Barry was checked by Floyd Medical Center EMS personnel on scene after hair on his arms was singed — he also had experienced chest pains and difficulty breathing.

Firefighters got the call at 4:14 p.m. and arrived to find the barn, which already had a collapsed roof, and truck fully engulfed in flames, along with an adjacent outbuilding, Bailey said. The blaze started a fast-moving grass fire, which spread into woods behind the barn.

Bailey said the initial response was to stop the grass fire, to ensure it didn't continue to burn toward the two-story log cabin house.

Firefighters were aided in this effort by a neighbor who used his Bobcat skid-steer loader to plow a firebreak.

"I've never seen him shook up like he was awhile ago," Suzan said of her husband, who had attempted to get a hose to put out the fire. "It could have been a lot worse. That stuff can be replaced, my husband can't."

'Meth is still the state favorite'
• But the opioid epidemic is more dangerous, a GBI chemist tells Rome Rotarians.

Opioids aren't the most common drug the GBI is called to deal with, but they are the most concerning, the manager of the agency's chemical section said Thursday.

"Stimulants are still in the lead," Deneen Kilcrease said during a Rome Rotary Club lunch presentation that included charts, photos and examples of what they're finding on the street.

"Meth is still the state favorite, followed by cocaine ... but almost everything else is synthetic opioids," the Georgia Bureau of Investigation chemist noted.

Kilcrease said they're seeing significant increases each year in the illicit use of prescription pain medications — such as oxycodone, alprazolam, hydrocodone and fentanyl. And there are more related drugs that aren't approved for human use.

The effects are like heroin, which is also seeing a resurgence, but exponentially greater.

Fentanyl, which is up to 100 times stronger than morphine, is used in anesthesia and prescribed as a patch to treat chronic pain. It's now found in powdered and pill form along with the banned U-47700 and Carfentanil, which is 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

"It's transdermal (absorbed through the skin), and even a little flake can cause a reaction in a human being," Kilcrease said.

Bartow County's record seizure of 40 kilograms of powdered fentanyl in March 2016 led the GBI to revise its safety protocols for handling drugs. State laws and protocols got another update last year after a string of overdoses on counterfeit pills that started in Macon.

"You never know what you're going to get," she said.

Most of the counterfeit pills are bought over the Internet, from labs in China and Mexico. They're hard for states to regulate because underground chemists can modify the formulas to make analogues that aren't specifically outlawed.

Kilcrease said the GBI helped Georgia adopt a chemical definition last year that covers all but one analogue — "They're all Schedule I drugs now." The one that slipped through the cracks is slated to be added during this session of the Georgia General Assembly.

Alazopram is the most common ingredient the GBI finds in counterfeit pills, she said, but the No. 2 slot is held by a surprise contender.

"It's 'none.' No drug." she said. "But it's not really a surprise when you remember it's all about the money."

The latest threat is a substance called Gray Death, a blend that looks like concrete mixing powder and contains Carfentanil. Kilcrease said the name doesn't deter addicts that have worked their way up from pills to shooting heroin.

" At some point it doesn't matter what's in it; we've had them say it doesn't matter if they die," she told the Rotarians. "When you get to the point where you're putting a needle in your arm, you're at the point where you'll use Gray Death."

Book tasting


Coosa Middle student wins district bee
• Eighth-grader Taylor Wilson wins the Floyd County Schools Spelling Bee, advancing him on to the Region 1 bee.

With tears beginning to form, the parents of Coosa Middle School eighth-grader Taylor Wilson embraced their son after the applause that came with his winning the Floyd County Schools Spelling Bee had faded.

The annual spelling bee had the 11 school winners/alternates from each of the Floyd County elementary and middle schools challenge each other for the district crown Thursday at the Floyd County Schools central office.

In the final round, between Wilson and Armuchee Elementary fifth-grader Abbie Carson, Wilson correctly spelled "intimation" and "voluminous" to win. As the three judges — Sherry Childs, Allison Espy and Apryl Hawkins — pulled out their green sheets of paper to signify Wilson's correct spelling of the last word, the crowd started to clap.

"Oh wow, that was tough," said Kim Owens, the spelling bee coordinator.

With his victory, Wilson moves on to the Region 1 spelling bee, which will be held at the Georgia Highlands College Lakeview Building on Feb. 24. Carson will serve as an alternate.

Two extra rounds had to take place to decide the second finalist, after Carson was the only student out of five to correctly spell her word in the second round — Wilson was tripped up by "linoleum," trading the "e" for an "i." The first of these finalist-setting rounds knocked out one of the remaining four. Then Wilson emerged as the second finalist in the next round by being the only one to correctly spell their word.

Carson and Wilson went back and forth with misspellings of words like "vociferous," "generalissimo," "strenuous," "Sherpa" and "crematoria."

But Wilson then jumped on the opportunity with correct spellings of two straight words.

It wasn't Wilson's first spelling bee, he said, as he has participated in a few since fourth grade. And, in readying himself for the district bee, he told his mom, Lovietta Williams, he was not getting his hopes up that he would win, so that if he didn't, he wouldn't get mad.

Williams — who attended the bee with Wilson's father, Billy Wilson — said it was hard for her to breath as Barbara Neslin, an English and language arts specialist with the system, told her son the final word, adding that her hands were shaking.

In thinking about the next round, Wilson said he is nervous, knowing the competition is only going to get tougher. He was fine with enjoying this victory for now.

FMC to seek approval for heart surgery
• Stuenkel: "We need to position ourselves so that we can compete."

Kurt Stuenkel, Floyd Medical Center president and CEO

John Quinlivan, Redmond Regional Medical Center CEO

Competition between Rome's two hospitals heated up another notch when Floyd Medical Center revealed plans to submit a letter of intent to seek state approval to offer open heart surgical procedures at the public hospital.

Redmond Regional Medical Center, a private facility, has been the sole provider of open heart procedures in Rome since 1985. This comes after Redmond announced plans late last fall to seek approval to offer perinatal, birthing services, which has previously been the sole domain of Floyd Medical Center.

"It's a competitive market, there's no question about it, and we need to position ourselves so that we can compete," said FMC President and CEO Kurt Stuenkel. "We will be competitive and I think that will be better for the insurance companies, and obviously the patients as well."

Redmond Regional Medical Center CEO John Quinlivan declined to comment on the FMC proposal.

Open heart surgery involves a variety of procedures, the most common being heart bypass and valve repair or replacement.

FMC is proposing to spend $25 million to develop space and add on to one of its buildings in order to provide the highly specialized service.

Stuenkel said the letter of intent to file an application with the Department of Community health was submitted to the state Monday and that the actual application would be filed by the end of February.

"We've got a good cardiology program here that's been growing, and it's the next logical step in our development," Stuenkel said. "We'll explain the whole rationale in the certificate of need (application). We have significant volume share that when a Floyd patient is in need of open heart services we have to transfer them. We think it would be better to provide that care right here."

Stuenkel said the work would involve renovations of the ground floor surgical areas, the addition of operating rooms and post-operative rooms as well. Post-surgical space would be located on a new floor added to a building constructed about ten years ago.

Redmond is in the process of a $13 million expansion and modernization which will include a new open heart suite.

"We have continued to advance the technology and services available," Quinlivan said.

Rome currently has three cardiothoracic surgeons, Dr. Dan Goldfaden who started the Redmond program 33 years ago, Dr. Dhru Girard and Dr. Cyrus Parsa.

Redmond is still waiting on a decision from the Department of Community Health on its application to provide basic perinatal services, a program which would cost an estimated $21.8 million to start up. The DCH CON web page indicates a ruling on that application is expected by the end of March.

Stuenkel said the state had opened up a new cycle for applications, and he suspected there would be a number of hospitals across the state who would be making application to provide open heart services as well.