Two people have been arrested on charges they set a Feb. 10 fire which completely destroyed a large white-columned brick home on 11 Craton Road in what investigators described as one of the largest cases of arson in Floyd County.
Stanley Edward Stephens, 68, formerly of 11 Craton Road, was arrested in Florida near Daytona Beach on Wednesday night. Donald Eric Luallen, 59, of a Polk County address, was arrested in Oxford, Alabama, on Monday.
In a press conference Thursday, Fire Marshal Mary Catherine Chewning said she did not know the exact relationship between the two men and declined to identify a suspected motive in the case. They are both charged with first-degree arson.
According to tax records Stephens owned the home, sometimes in varying names, since 2000 until it was foreclosed upon. Regions Bank took ownership of the house in April 2018, according to Luallen's arrest warrant. At the time of the fire the home was owned by the bank.
The 5,900-square-foot home, valued at $500,000, was burned to the ground. Chewning said they found accelerant in the home in what appeared to be several places.
"We have reason to believe multiple fires were set within the structure," Chewning said.
"At this time we estimate approximately $2.5 million dollars are involved in this case," Chewning said. That figure includes the value of the home as well as expenses and man hours involved in this investigation.
Investigators in multiple agencies spent more than 300 hours and traveled approximately 1,000 miles in this investigation. She thanked the Floyd County Police Department, Floyd County Sheriff's Office, Floyd County District Attorney's Office, as well as multiple police departments and agencies in Alabama and Florida.
"Arson is a crime," Chewning said. "The Rome Fire Department is a proactive department taking new steps to combat this crime. I am the first mandated peace officer here at the fire department."
Chewning previously served in the Floyd County Police Department.
"This is one of the largest arson cases in Floyd County," she said. They're expecting more charges to be filed in the case, however she declined to speculate as to whether or not any additional suspects may have been involved.
"This is one of the largest arson cases in Floyd County.
Fire Marshal Mary Catherine Chewning
The PruittHealth-Rome facility adjacent to the Mount Berry Mall property is planning a major addition.
The Rome-Floyd Building Inspection office is reviewing drawings for the addition to the building at 2 Three Mile Road in advance of issuing permits for the project to get underway. Administrator Lemarr Gass said at this point even he has not seen the final drawings. He said a pre-construction meeting is slated to be held at the facility early next month and a complete timeline for the project should become available.
"I think it's going to be a great addition for the community," Gass said. "I know our residents really deserve it."
Documents filed with the building inspection office indicate the work will include a 22,300-square-foot addition, valued at approximately $8 million, which will allow for a redistribution of semi-private rooms to private rooms. Gass said at this time the facility only has four private rooms and the expansion would extend that number to approximately 40.
It also will include associated therapy, dining and rehabilitation facilities.
Pruitt is a skilled nursing care and rehabilitation center which, according to its website, has 100 beds. Gass said they could not exceed the 100-bed limit without going through the full Georgia certificate of need process.
Services include skilled nursing care and medication administration.
In-house rehabilitation services include physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. The facility provides a specialized care plan team approach that tailors the patient's services to his or her own specific needs. PruittHealth also offers a special fitness program to help patients rebuild their physical strength.
The facility offers a variety of both social and recreational programming to enhance the quality of life for residents.
Floyd County Special Olympics
Thursday morning student athletes from 25 different schools in Rome and Floyd County lined up around Jerry Sharp Field at Darlington School for the annual Floyd County Special Olympics.
The event is designed for all special-needs student athletes to come out and experience the excitement of sports, Tammy Bryant coordinator of the Special Olympics said. Each participant received a ribbon for each event. They displayed all their ribbons on their Olympic T-shirts, which were designed by Rome High School senior Quinton Johnson.
"They can do whatever we give them the opportunity to do," Bryant said.
The competition featured athletes as young as 5 years old and as old as 60. Although the number of student athletes made up the majority of the competitors, adults with special needs also had their chance to shine and participated in all the same events as their younger competitors.
Stations were set up along the track of Jerry Sharp Field where athletes raced, threw, kicked and jumped throughout the morning on a rotating schedule. Wheelchair races featured three to four students at a time from schools across the city and county. Another station let students like Mason Whatley, a third-grader from Anna K. Davie, try his hand at penalty kicks. Pepperell High School junior Noah Schaaf stretched before racing against other students and Model Elementary student Grant Minton competed in the standing long jump with ninth-grade student volunteer Ian Hankinson.
"This community has so much stuff for special needs people," said Florice Schneider, the former activities director for the now closed Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital.
According to Bryant the Floyd County Special Olympics has been around since the 1970s and she has been helping coordinate it for the past 34 years. She said the event is important because the student athletes get to experience success in sports they don't normally get to feel.
The support system for the Floyd County's social support system was recognized Thursday at the 2019 COVA Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon that drew about 150 people to Berry College's Krannert Center
The Council of Volunteer Administrators is an alliance of 15 local organizations dedicated to addressing community needs that fall through the cracks.
They provide extra help to a wide range of people — from abused children, sexual assault survivors and dying senior citizens to families struggling with mental illness, developmental disabilities and addictions.
COVA President Bonnie Jones said their volunteers are their backbone, giving over 28,360 hours in 2018 to make the county a better place.
Berry, which fields two volunteer programs, has sponsored the luncheon for the past seven years and the alliance continues to grow. Michael Zirkle of the Bonner Scholars Program led the effort this year, although he said they just helped.
"They did most of it," Jones cut in with a smile.
At tables decorated with bright and cheerful symbols of their work, the groups laughed and shared stories and a meal together. And they applauded their peers singled out for special recognition.
Presentations were announced by Rogena Walden of GeorgiaCares, part of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission's Area Agency on Aging. The organization helps over 100,000 people in the 15-county region with Medicare education and counseling.
Larry Walker, a strong advocate for the Rome Exchange Club Family Resource Center, was named Volunteer of the Year.
Walker chairs the Exchange Club's child abuse prevention committee, is a passionate public speaker in spreading word of the organization's successes and needs, encourages the staff, takes on any task and recruits other workers and donors as well.
Eight nominees from other organizations were also recognized:
• Christyn Griffin is a volunteer court-appointed special advocate with Floyd County CASA, dedicated to guiding the progress of children involved in family court cases.
• Jan Greene is a board member of Compassionate Paws who brings her pet partner to uplift people in nursing homes, hospices and other stressful situations.
• Pat Sweezy of DIGS works tirelessly with adults with developmental disabilities, directing their "Just As I Am" choir and working personally with each member.
• Nichole Varnell called her work for GeorgiaCares "a heart job." Her clients have called her a "bulldog" for them, spending weeks if necessary to give them peace of mind.
• Deborah McGuinness is key to the success of Habitat for Humanity Coosa Valley's Chattooga County outreach and is one of the organization's "pack rats" who collect items for the Habitat ReStore.
• Debra McCain serves on the Floyd County Juvenile Court's Citizen Review Panel, tasked with reviewing the cases of children in the custody of the Division of Family and Children Services.
• Gussie Bradfield leads family support group meetings for Living Proof Recovery Center, sponsors and mentors a number of women recovering from addiction, and offers financial support.
• Jamie Griffin is a peer facilitator and educator for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Rome. She makes presentations throughout Northwest Georgia, putting a personal face on the struggles and successes.
Other local organizations involved in COVA are:
Elevation House, with a mission to end social and economic isolation for people living with mental illness in Rome; Harbor House, dedicated to lessening the trauma of victims of child abuse; Heyman Hospice, which supports families and their loved ones with less than six months to live; the Sexual Assault Center of Northwest Georgia, offering crisis intervention and healing for survivors and their families; and the United Way of Rome & Floyd County, which works with groups across the board to strengthen direct-service programs.
Today's artwork is by Ayla Girardi, a fifth-grader at Model Elementary School.