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Rome man pleads to manslaughter
• The 22-year-old is sentenced to serve 10 years in prison for shooting to death Scotty Dale Graham in January.

Michael David Yates

Billy Sparks, superior court judge

A 22-year-old Floyd County man pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Monday in a shooting death that all parties agreed was senseless.

"It was a ridiculous, tragic loss of life," Superior Court Judge Billy Sparks said before sentencing Michael David Yates to 20 years, with 10 to serve in prison.

Yates had been facing two counts of felony murder in the Jan. 13 death of Scotty Dale Graham during an early-morning fight at a house on East 19th Street.

Sparks presided over a hearing Thursday in which Yates' attorney, Robert Rutledge, contended his client shot Graham, 38, in self-defense. In his courtroom Monday, the judge accepted the plea deal worked out between Rutledge and Assistant District Attorney Kevin Salmon.

"You shouldn't have been out there with a gun. You shouldn't have been out there in a stolen car. You shouldn't have been out there using meth," Sparks told Yates, then pronounced the ADA's recommendation "reasonable." Yates also pleaded guilty and was sentenced on three other charges: five years each for theft by receiving stolen property and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and 12 months for reckless conduct.

The sentences will run at the same time as his imprisonment on the manslaughter charge.

Graham's mother spoke before the sentencing, tearfully announcing it was her birthday.

Kathy Graham described the incident as "all this stupidity" before saying she did not object to the deal.

"I will not forgive at this time ... I'm sure I will someday, but my son's not here to enjoy his grandbabies," she said, adding that her heart goes out to Yates' family, who were seated in the courtroom.

In the Thursday hearing, Rutledge said Yates shot Graham twice in the chest at around 6:40 a.m. after Graham had struck him in the head and took him to the ground. It was unclear from testimony why the young man went to the house — a hotspot for selling drugs — but a witness said people at the home didn't like him coming over because he often brought stolen items. After the shooting, Yates fled in the stolen truck he came in but abandoned it when he struck another vehicle down the road.

He was arrested the next evening in Adairsville following a tip that led police to issue a lookout in Gordon and Bartow counties. Rutledge, who had argued that Graham and two others had planned to rob Yates, said Monday that his client also feels "this whole thing was very senseless."

Sparks noted that there were conflicting accounts presented, but he said he was convinced Yates' parents had tried to help their son and could be a supportive influence while he serves his time. Yates also will have to get counseling and pay for Graham's funeral.

"There's nothing we can do in this courtroom that can bring Mr. Graham back, and that's the sad thing," the judge said.

Remembering elders at Christmas
• The Santa for Seniors program is still seeking sponsors to spread holiday cheer.

Santa for Seniors organizers need another 20 sponsors or so to bring cheer to everyone on their list.

"It's sort of like a yo-yo. You get all the sponsors and then you get more seniors," said Tammy Bryant, special populations coordinator for Rome- Floyd Parks and Recreation.

The RFPRD partners with the Floyd County Sheriff's Office to make sure that elderly people without family or friends nearby get a gift for Christmas. Jimmy Allred of the sheriff's office started the program 10 years ago, after he saw a woman at his grandmother's nursing home wait in vain for someone to visit on Christmas Day.

"So many different people do so much for the children, our youth, and that's so important," Bryant said. "But, at the same time, we don't want to forget about our seniors who are alone."

Last year the program served 101 seniors. This year, they've signed up 160. Bryant said sponsors are matched with a senior and typically spend $30 to $40 fulfilling their wish list.


Today's artwork is by Armuchee Elementary student Kileigh Barcomb.

A day for play

Pepperell Middle phase out to go before BOE
• A phase out of Pepperell Middle would put Floyd County Schools in a position to maximize state funding for building a new school, according to Superintendent John Jackson.

John Jackson

A resolution to phase out Pepperell Middle School, paving the way to maximizing state funding for building a new school, will go before the Floyd County Board of Education tonight.

The board will meet tonight at 6 p.m. in the boardroom at the central office, 600 Riverside Parkway. Board members will caucus in Superintendent John Jackson's office at 5 p.m.

With an extension of the 1-cent education local option sales tax secured, Jackson said the system can move forward with the phase out, knowing the funds for building a new Pepperell Middle at an estimated cost of $20 million will be there.

A phase out is essentially the school system telling the state Department of Education it plans to build a new school and will not ask for any state funds for the current school ever again. This sets the system up to receive more state capital outlay funding, which reimburses the system, for the new school.

Another piece to the system's aim of maximizing state funding is taking Pepperell Middle classrooms off the middle school classroom inventory. This drops the classroom numbers, which the state looks at for its funding calculation, to a deficient level, subsequently boosting the need for capital outlay funding, Director of Facilities David Van Hook previously said.

Van Hook said Monday it's still too early to tell exactly how much more the system will receive through this process.

A draft of a revised promotion and retention policy will also be presented to the board, but no action will be taken, as the system is still seeking further input. At the end of last school year, board members called for a more concrete policy — mainly applying to elementary and middle schools — to determine whether a student passes a grade or must repeat it, Jackson said.

This policy would establish criteria, such as Georgia Milestones scores, Lexile reading levels and benchmark assessments, that would be the basis for deciding promotion or retention, Jackson said. It would remove a degree of leeway principals and teachers have in making these decisions. The policy would take effect next school year at the earliest.

The board will also be presented with a resolution on the results the recent election when voters approved the ELOST extension. It is a necessary step to allow the system to move forward with taking bonds out to get started on their projects under ELOST 5, Jackson said.

"We plan to sell bonds and use the proceeds to get some of the projects out of the ground," he continued.

On first reading will be a revision to the school properties disposal procedures. The revised policy will have looser language to allow for the transfer of items from the system to a separate government entity.

Jackson said the system was approached by the Floyd County Coroner's Office about using the freezer at the closed Midway School for storing bodies.

The old policy required that property not used at a school be taken to the system's central warehouse to be stored or put into use at another school, Jackson said. Or, if it was a "big-ticket item," the board would have to declare it surplus and dispose of it by posting on or by auctioning it off, he continued. But when the coroner's office came to the system with their request, system officials realized the policy may have been too restrictive, he added.

Trekking across country for a cause
• David Chandler is running through Rome today as part of his 2,900-mile journey from California to North Carolina to raise money for kids with mental health and substance abuse issues to afford wilderness therapy.

Anyone spotting a man running while pushing a baby stroller through Rome today need not worry about his sanity — despite what some may have said — he is just finishing a trek he started over 2,000 miles west, on a pier etched into film history.

On Sept. 25, David Chandler, a native of North Carolina, began his 2,900-mile journey on the Santa Monica Pier in California. It's the same place where Forrest Gump, in a movie by that name, looks out over the Pacific Ocean for a moment before deciding to just keep running.

After spending seven months as a tour guide, traveling around the U.S., Chandler left his last group in Los Angeles, close to the pier. He had the idea of running back home. And he decided to do it for a specific purpose — to provide kids with mental health and substance abuse issues the opportunity for wilderness therapy.

Just before 5 p.m. Monday, Chandler reached the Alabama-Georgia line, snapping a selfie of him hanging from the welcome sign. He joked that he has never taken so many selfies and he is running out of ideas. The photos are uploaded to his Instagram page, where he documents his journey and has a link to his donation page.

He is aiming to make it to Cary, North Carolina, before Christmas to be able to relax with his family. He is averaging 32 miles a day, including his slow start and rest days, but he has been hitting 40-mile days and last week he ran 300 miles.

His stroller contains all of his belongings, from his tent and camping supplies to packages of freeze-dried food.

For the majority of the trip he has camped out wherever he finishes for the day, including a rest stop in Arizona where 15 cows, just feet away on the other side of a fence, made an impromptu visit. He had been roused from his tent wondering why he heard huffing and puffing and footsteps around him. But other times he has gotten a hotel, which strangers have paid for on occasion, or staying in other people's homes.

There is no better way to see the country, he said, seeing the beauty of the rising and setting sun each day — the shining stars in the desert sticks out to him. It certainly hasn't all been easy, but it has brought new experiences on after another.

"It's just the biggest ups and the biggest downs," he said.

The people he has met through the small towns and back roads across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama have thought its awesome what he's doing or are completely surprised. However, one Cabela's cashier in Texas had his favorite reaction.

Chandler had been staying with a friend and they went to the outdoor outfitter for more camp meals. His friend told this young cashier what Chandler was doing. The cashier went silent for 20 seconds or so before emphatically repeating "why" about 10 times, finishing it off with a "you're crazy."

"He couldn't believe it," Chandler said, adding that he burst out in laughter.

So far, Chandler has raised $5,500 on his Sky's the Limit Fund and has a goal of reaching $10,000 before he reaches the Atlantic shore at Wrightsville Beach in his home state. Sky's the Limit Fund will match what he raises. He said at least two kids will be able to take a wilderness trip if he meets his goal.

Previously he was a field staffer with SUWS of the Carolinas, a treatment program based right outside of Asheville that engages youth in immersive 40-to 60-day trips into nature for therapeutic purposes. These programs aren't cheap and aren't covered by health insurance, excluding kids from low-income families, Chandler said. But he knows the tremendous benefits it has on kids, taking them out their comfort zone and instilling wilderness skills and practicing selfsufficiency.

When he finishes his trip he plans to go back to work at SUWS, which will be the beneficiary of his cross-country fundraising efforts.

" That s definitely where my heart's at," he said.