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Mental health a focus for school security
• Georgia lawmakers will livestream testimony today.

Katie Dempsey

Eddie Lumsden

The Georgia House Study Committee on School Security will livestream today's hearings online, starting at 10 a.m.

Among the presentations is an overview of students and mental health by Melanie Dallas, CEO of Highland Rivers. A public safety net for Northwest Georgia communities, the agency provides treatment and support for residents affected by mental disorders, intellectual disabilities and addictions.

Spokesman Michael Mullet said Dallas is also a licensed professional counselor with experience as a child therapist.

"Her testimony will go into neurobiology, and the adolescent and the developing brain ... youth who are disconnected and disenfranchised," Mullet said. "I think it will be a really informative presentation."

The nine-member committee chaired by Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, is tasked with looking at ways to curb violence in schools and respond quickly when it occurs.

Floyd County Reps. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, and Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, are members of the panel. Lumsden said mental health is a crucial part of the equation.

"Securing the facility is only one aspect of the problem," the retired Georgia State Patrol trooper said. "Almost all (school shooters) have had mental health issues that were known but not acted on by authorities."

The committee, he said, also wants to focus on "becoming proactive, recognizing the signs and being able to have some

To watch the livestream go to:

kind of interdiction available."

The hearings are expected to run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a break for lunch. A link to the livestream is posted on the Georgia House main page,, under the broadcast schedule.

First up is a report from the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center. The agency researches various types of "targeted violence" and offers help with assessment and training to law enforcement, school personnel and other entities with public safety responsibilities.

The agenda is subject to change, but lawmakers also expect to hear a presentation from the Georgia State University Center for Research on School Safety, School Climate and Classroom Management.

Dallas is part of a contingent of experts connected with children and education, including the Georgia School Counselor Association.

The state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities also is slated to present, along with someone from the U.S. Department of Education's PBIS technical assistance center for positive behavioral interventions and supports.

Autopsy: Inmate died of overdose
• 'Complicated by police incident' according to autopsy.

The GBI is still investigating the death of a Floyd County Jail inmate who died at Floyd Medical Center shortly after his arrest in February.

The autopsy for 27-yearold Michael Wayne Thacker has his cause of death is listed as acute methamphetamine toxicity complicated by police incident, Floyd County Coroner Gene Proctor said.

The manner of death is listed as a homicide, which essentially means a person's actions led to Thacker's death. The GBI is currently investigating the events leading up to his demise.

Once the GBI finalizes their investigation they'll turn the file over to Floyd County District Attorney Leigh Patterson.

Sheriff Tim Burkhalter directed inquiries about the investigation to the county attorney.

According to reports from the sheriff's office and Floyd County Police Department, Thacker was arrested Feb. 18 at a church in Shannon where he was rambling about someone being after him.

He reportedly told members of the congregation that he was hiding from someone who had previously assaulted him.

Thacker was arrested on a warrant for parole violation but, at the jail, soon began exhibiting signs of distress. He was taken to Floyd Medical Center but died in the emergency room.

A father of two, Thacker attended Model schools where he played football, baseball, basketball and wrestled. He medaled in weightlifting in the Georgia Games.

In his obituary, his family decried the "family chain breaker of life called addiction" and asked the community to support others' loved ones who are struggling against it.

College Boot Camp kicks off school year
• Darlington School seniors look beyond their last year to where their next step will be.

Darlington School seniors started their final year of high school Monday morning with College Boot Camp.

Admissions officials from a number of colleges and universities in the South, from University of Georgia to Rhodes College, came to the Huffman Athletic Center to offer guidance and tips to students on their next big step. After a panel discussion on applying to college, students attended breakout sessions on a range of topics on postsecondary education.

Amanda Sale, the senior associate director of admissions for UGA, gave prospective bulldogs a look at the school and Athens, which has more "manbuns, beards and baristas" than any other campus in the U.S., she laughed. She spoke of the city's arts scene and downtown activity to supplement students' time studying and attending football games.

The Double Dogs program, which started just over a year ago, allows students to earn a master's degree in five years, Sale said, and has been a popular option.

Looking beyond UGA, Sale advised students that when choosing their college, look at freshman to sophomore retention rate, graduation rate and job and career outcomes of graduates.

Robert Barkley, assistant to associate vice president of enrollment at Clemson University, encouraged students that when on their official tours of campuses, go out on their own and explore. During campus tours, students will get the scripted message about a college, he said. He told students to go speak with their peers already at the school and ask them questions. Also, "be sure to check out the food," Barkley said.

Another tip Barkley gave Darlington seniors was for them to keep in mind how their behavior during an overnight visit to a campus could negatively impact their acceptance.

Darlington Athletic Director Eddie Guth shared his experience as a college football player at Rhodes College in Memphis to provide an example of a path to college athletics beyond Division I. He reminded students to be open with coaches about what they need to feel comfortable at their school.

At a big school most athletes are just another number, Guth said, but playing a smaller college affords more individual guidance and care from coaches and professors. The support received at smaller schools keeps students there, he said.


Today's artwork is by Caidee Carver, a student at Model Elemntary School.

Cave Spring tour spots filling up
• Guided visits in the historic town highlight the eerie for the Halloween season.

Golf cart tours of historic Cave Spring are set to start Aug. 31, but the first night is already sold out.

Tickets also are on sale for the Downtown Development Authority's popular Ghost Tours, set for the weekend before Halloween. Billy Wayne Abernathy, a DDA board member and vice president of the Cave Spring Historical Society, is involved with both.

"There's a lot going on here, and we're having fun with it," he said.

The riding tours are a personal venture Abernathy is launching with fellow Historical Society member Callie Hicks. They expect to ramp up the offerings after he retires in December. For now, they're offering an early taste on weekends and evenings.

"We're going to dress up as characters from different times of our history and tell the stories," Abernathy said. "People don't realize all these buildings go back to at least the Civil War, and each one has a story to tell."

They're taking groups of up to eight people at a time on golf cart tours that include exclusive entry to the namesake cave of the south Floyd County city, population 1,200.

Abernathy said there's a seasonal component to the tours — "Christmastime, we're probably going to dress up like elves" — and, currently, there are ghost stories in the mix. He's not sure if he believes them, but he noted that the ghost-hunting group Southern Paranormal Investigations has been through the buildings in the town and they're convinced.

"They were in the (1830s Vann Cherokee) Cabin. That's a good story," Abernathy said.

Their spooky tales, however, will be put on hold

until Oct. 26 and 27, while the DDA conducts Ghost Walking Tours hitting the eeriest locations in the historic downtown district. The tours are a perennial favorite for locals and visitors wanting to get into the Halloween spirit.

Tickets are $10 each for the DDA's walking tour and $20 each for the golf cart riding tour. They're available through the city's website,

For more information, call the Cave Spring Welcome Center at 706-777-0299. The center at 4 Rome St. is open from 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every other day but Sunday.