Archive for February, 2010

Waveland Community Coalition

February 23, 2010

Waveland Community CoalitionWCC Beautification Award winners for February are: Ward 1–Johnson family at 216 Blue Heron Cove; Ward 2–Lafontaine family at 1538 Margie St; Ward 3–Raboteaux family at 806 Dicks St; Ward 4–Crabtree family at 615 Waveland Ave. The Business Award winner is “The Gathering Place.”

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The City’s Code Enforcement Officer, Robbie Pitre, will be holding a “workshop” for property maintainance issues in Waveland on Tuesday, March 2, 2010, at 6 PM in the Waveland Civic Center prior to the the Mayor and Board of Alderman Meeting. Many in the community have questions and this will be an opportunity to ask them.                                    ———————————————————————————————————————

There will be a community meeting of the Bay-Waveland “First Impressions Studies” conducted by the Mississippi State University Community Action Team this Wednesday, February 24, 2010, at 5:30 PM in the Waveland Civic Center. This meeting is sponsored by the Bay-Waveland Main Street Association and seeks input from our community.

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Local company wins bid to build new Waveland central fire station

February 23, 2010

Waveland

A local construction company has secured a $3.287 million bid for Waveland’s new central fire station, which will be built on Highway 90 across from KFC.

The contract was awarded Wednesday at the board of aldermen’s meeting and ground was broken on the project Friday morning.

“This is a huge milestone in the recovery process,” Mayor Tommy Longo said Friday. “We are excited to be able to give the firefighters a permanent home.”

Local builder GM&R was the low bidder out of 15 companies.
GM&R is the first local company to be awarded a major recovery project bid.

GM&R Representative Henry “Hank” Martinez said Thursday it’s a great honor to be able to build a major government project in his community.

“We’re very excited about this project,” Martinez said. “Companies from out of town have been getting all the work. It will mean a lot to the community to keep the money at home.”

Martinez said GM&R employs dozens of local workers and nearly all of its sub-contractors are from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“We have been bidding on projects and up until now there has not been a lot of consideration for the local builders,” he said. “It was nice to see the mayor and board of aldermen take the locals into consideration.”

The board of aldermen did not have to accept the bid from GM&R because of three errors in its bid, but the board waived the errors and accepted the bid anyway.

Assistant City Attorney Gary Yarborough said that 13 of the 15 bids had some type of “irregularities,” but if the errors did not affect the price of the bid or the competitiveness, the board could waive them.

Martinez told the board that the irregularities did not affect the price of his bid.

The GM&R bid was more than $1 million less than the $4.5 million which was budgeted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Yarborough said.

“The purpose of the bid law is to procure the lowest price for the taxpayers,” Yarborough said. “The city did reserve the right to waive any irregularities in the bid process.”

The new fire station will be an approximately 18,000 square-foot facility which will hold two companies of fire fighters.

The facility will also have a training center and administrative offices.

In December, the city purchased property located just east of Sonic on U.S. 90 at the site of the old Texan Motel for $500,000.

Fire Chief David Garcia said the biggest advantage of the new station will be its location.

The Hwy. 90 location will allow the fire department to better serve the annexed area and the Highway 90 commercial corridor, he said.

The city is currently rebuilding its fire station on Bourgeois Street as part of the city hall/government complex.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the city had two fire stations, but a lot less area to cover.

The north station was on Gulfside Street and the south station was on Bourgeois Street.

BY: Dwayne Bremer

The Sea Coast Echo

Kiln Murder Suspect Captured in Florida

February 23, 2010

The primary suspect in a Kiln woman’s murder was captured Wednesday in Florida and has reportedly confessed to the crime.

Officers of the U.S. Marshals Service – assisted by Columbia County, Fla., sheriff’s deputies – on Wednesday arrested Timothy Nelson Evans, 52, in connection with the murder of 70-year-old Wenda Lafern Holling, Hancock Sheriff Steve Garber said in a press conference Friday.

“We (had) issued a misdemeanor warrant for the arrest of Evans, and the U.S. Marshals Service, assisted by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department, was able to locate and arrest him within a week,” Garber said.

Hancock County Transport Officers Lt, Kevin Hume and Eddie Hursey left around 8 a.m. Thursday for Florida, picked up Evans and returned to Hancock County around 9 p.m. He was booked in and charged with murder, Hancock Investigator John Luther said.

Evans apparently confessed to Columbia County, Fla. detectives that he had killed Holling, Hancock investigators said.

Evans appeared Friday before Hancock County Justice Court Judge Jay Lagasse, who set a March 23rd preliminary hearing. Lagasse said Evans has been formally charged with Holling’s murder and set a bond of $1,000,000.

Officers say Evans – who had been renting living quarters from the victim – had been a suspect in her death virtually since she disappeared around January 3. Her body was found on the side of a road in Harrison County on Tuesday, January 26.

“Evans was a person of interest in the case as soon as Ms. Holling’s was reported as missing,” Luther said Friday.

Evans had initially told Holling’s family members that she had departed from her residence on the morning of Jan. 4 with “close friends,” bound for a vacation in Florida, Garber said.

For days following the missing person report, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department Special Operations Unit – under the direction of Major Matt Karl and made up of deputies, firefighters and trained civilian volunteers, along with Gulf Search & Rescue Unit – searched the rugged woods near the victim’s home. During the search, people on foot, four-wheelers and horseback combed the area.

Hancock investigators John Bunce and Brandon Norman conducted a sonar search of a burrow pit and a creek near the residence.

“Following the finding of the body, the investigation was a team effort and on-going, involving many agencies,” Garber said. “We have our investigative department; there is Harrison County Sheriff Melvin Brisolara’s investigators; Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove; the District Attorney’s Office; Mississippi Crime Lab; Mississippi Highway Patrol Investigative Unit; and Dr. Paul McGarry, forensic pathologist.”

“This case has really been a team effort between many agencies,” Hancock Chief Investigator Kenny Hurt said at the press conference Friday. “I feel the U.S. Marshal’s Service has done a great job in locating and apprehending Evans with assistance from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department.”

Hurt said Hancock investigators alone had spent more than 1,000 man hours on the case.

“When a case like this happens, the first three or four days, I assign the entire investigative team, and then will select a team of three,” Hurt said.

“Our team includes Assistant Chief Investigator Andre Fizer, Investigator John Luther, Investigator Ricky Fayard, Investigator Matt Carver, Investigator John Bunce, and Investigator Brandon Norman.

“In this case, I named Luther the lead investigator, assisted by Fayard and Norman, after the first few days.”

“We are also grateful for all the help from the citizens that were concerned for Ms. Holling. The public’s calls helped and allowed our investigators to focus on other components of the search,” Garber said.

Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove has not released the cause of death in the case, and will only say publicly that it was a homicide. Garber continued that stand on Friday, saying he did not want to jeopardize the case.

BY: Ellis C. Cuevas

The Sea Coast Echo

Murder trial is delayed again

February 23, 2010

Bay St. Louis

Michael Hudson Burks has been scheduled on numerous occasions to go on trial for allegedly shot-gunning another man to death in July 2007 in Bay St. Louis.

But this week, a broken-down pickup truck and unpaid legal fees cost Burks a lawyer to defend him against charges that he shot and killed Gary Clifford Joiner, 42, after Joiner had allegedly stolen items from Burks’ FEMA trailer on Nassau Street. The two men had known each other well.

Burks, 65, is a former bail bondsman who previously had bailed out Joiner’s wife on criminal charges. He was scheduled yet again to go on trial for murder on Wednesday, after repeated delays.

But the trial ended up being put off again when veteran defense lawyer Albert Necaise, of Gulfport, came into court Wednesday and washed his hands of Burks as a client.

Necaise told Circuit Judge John Gargiulo he wanted to withdraw from the case because Burks had been uncooperative in helping to prepare for his own defense, and had paid no legal fees since Necaise began representing him in 2007.

“It’s difficult to represent someone who won’t cooperate with you,” Necaise said. “We agreed on a fee, and he hasn’t paid the first dime in fees. I am asking the court to allow me to withdraw.”

Necaise also told Gargiulo: “Fortunately for me, I’ve got more than one client.”

Burks, dressed in a brown pullover shirt and slacks, was summoned from the courtroom audience to face the judge. He admitted not showing up for at least one appointment at Necaise’s office, but said his pickup truck had been broken down and he was unable to make the trip.

Burks added that he had telephoned and left a message for the attorney, but never received a return call. “I thought I had cooperated,” he said.

Burks also told the judge he would like for Necaise to give him another chance. “I would love for him to stay on the case, because he’s as good as they come,” he said of his attorney. Necaise remained unswayed by the compliment.

The lawyer said he originally agreed to represent Burks because the defendant’s late father had been a well-respected attorney in Pearl River County. Burks has been waiting for his father’s estate to be settled, Necaise added, and Burks has been quarreling with his siblings over the assets.

Gargiulo inquired whether the defense and prosecution could be ready for trial immediately, if the case were to proceed.

“With me in it?” Necaise said. “No, sir.”

Assistant District Attorney Chris Fisher objected to any further trial delays, saying the state had an obligation to hold a speedy trial, as well as a fair one. But Gargiulo noted that the prosecution had never objected to numerous previous continuances granted Burks.

“I am somewhat concerned that it has taken this long for the state to get to this point,” the judge said.

Concluding that Burks and Necaise had “irreconcilable differences,” Gargiulo granted Necaise’s withdrawal request and set yet another trial date for April 5. He also told Burks to find another lawyer, petition for a court-appointed attorney, or even represent himself.

“You’ve got until April 5,” the judge said, adding, “the one thing that’s going to happen is, on April 5, this case is going to trial.”

The record shows that Burks appears to have received leniency in the murder case from the beginning. After Joiner was killed, Burks was released from the Bay St. Louis Police Department within hours on $20,000 bond. He was never transported to the county holding facility for booking, as suspects routinely are on far less serious charges.

After being indicted in May 2008, Burks failed to show up in court for arraignment.

He was surrendered by his bail bondsman and jailed. But after a brief time behind bars, he was set free on another bond of $40,000. Since then, the numerous continuances have been granted for a trial date.

Necaise entered court Wednesday bearing his files on the Burks case. They included two thick, loose-leaf notebooks and a red folder. He told Gargiulo he was offering to turn the records over to Burks personally, and the judge agreed for those arrangements to be made.

“I’d like to give it to him today,” Necaise said. “It’s all cataloged out.”

The judge consented. Necaise walked over and put the case records on a table before Burks, and Gargiulo then dismissed the defendant.

Burks picked up the files and left the courtroom with a woman acquaintance, holding his future in his hands.

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

Man hurt in boat crash

February 23, 2010

A boating accident sent one man to the hospital Wednesday afternoon and later to jail. Department of Marine Resources spokesperson Lisa Jones said Wednesday that a boating accident was reported about 4:20 p.m. Wednesday near Highway 603 off Semeru Street.

When officers arrived, they discovered that a small fishing boat had run aground and two men, Robert Nations, 31, of Bay St. Louis and Shawn Murphy, 23, of Picayune, had been ejected from it, Jones said.

Motorists on Highway 603 stopped and assisted the men and called 911, Jones said.

One of the passengers was taken to the hospital with “non life-threatening” injuries and the other refused medical treatment, officials said.

The boat was apparently taking off from a slip along a small canal at the Four Dollar Bayou, which is a tributary of the Jourdan River.

The throttle apparently jammed as the men were taking off and the boat was launched across the marsh and onto the highway shoulder, officials said.

The boat landed about 50 feet from the highway and both men were thrown from it after the impact, officials said.

Jones said Nations has been charged with boating under the influence, and disorderly conduct.

He posted a $1,000 bond and was released from custody, jail records show.

DMR officers Bryce Gex and Mike Yonce investigated the crash because it took place over a waterway, Jones said.

The Bay St. Louis police and fire departments also responded to the scene.

BY: Dwayne Bremer

The Sea Coast Echo

Change orders increase prices of Bay projects

February 23, 2010

Bay St. Louis

The price went up on two major municipal projects this week when the Bay St. Louis City Council approved change orders requested for additional work on the downtown parking garage and the Depot District streetscape.

Council members approved an increase of more than $87,583 for the two projects combined. That brought change orders approved by the council between December and this week on various city projects to more than $1 million.

Change orders occur when a contractor determines that additional work is needed on a project that was not included in the original bid. Extra work approved on the Court Street parking garage, currently under construction, was for eight items ranging in individual costs from about $2,000 to nearly $14,500.

“There have been a number of structural changes thus far” on the project, architect Allison Anderson told the council. Most of the newest changes were for footings and structural steel, she said.

A breakdown on costs filed with the council shows the change order was for purposes including revising the garage elevation and parking ramp, waterproofing requirements, and adding rebar to a stairwell and to corner columns.

Other changes included adding steel to slabs and revising cable guardrail support systems. Broken out, the total additional cost is $37,583.68. More than $12,000 in previous change orders have already been approved on the parking garage, bringing its initial cost from more than $3.13 million to a new level of more than $3.18 million.

On the Depot District streetscape project, Anderson told council members the project was originally bid and awarded without a geo-technical report being received. When a report was later obtained, it showed the presence of contamination from old building materials in the soil at one end of the depot proper, which will be the site of a new fish pond.

To correct the problem, vinyl sheet-piling must be installed to contain the contamination, Anderson said. That will cost another $59,000 above the original $1.16 million, hiking the project cost to more than $1.21 million.

“Without this, we won’t have a pond,” Anderson said.

Such change orders have become as regular as rain as the city continues rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina. So far, the additional costs have been covered through federal funds.

In January, the council approved a $547,000 change order for additional road work. That was preceded by an extra $200,000 approved in December for a generator and protective structure at the new Main Street fire station, and another $172,000 approved on various other projects that same month.

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

Gasoline heading above $3 by this summer

February 23, 2010

NEW YORK

 Retail gas prices likely bottomed out last week, and they’re again headed to more than $3 a gallon this summer, experts said Monday.

Although pump prices typically rise this time of year as refineries switch to a more expensive grade of gas, the increase likely will frustrate many motorists. Prices are climbing even after millions of Americans received pink slips and kept their cars in the driveway.

“If you look at demand, it’s just abysmal,” said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director at Oil Price Information Service.

What’s pushing prices higher isn’t American consumption. It’s the crude oil that’s used to make motor fuel, Rozell said. Crude is an international commodity that’s become ever more expensive as demand grows in China. As crude increases, so does gas.

On Monday retail gas prices rose for the fifth straight day, adding less than a penny overnight to a new national average of $2.648 a gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and OPIS.

A gallon of regular unleaded is still cheaper than it was a month ago. It’s also 73.1 cents more expensive than the same time last year.

In the Biloxi-Gulfport-Pascagoula metro area Monday, a gallon of regular was $2.548, up from $2.495 a week ago and $1.781 a year ago, according to AAA.

Rozell said motorists shouldn’t expect a return of the price spikes of 2008, when gasoline jumped to more than $4 a gallon in some parts of the country. Americans simply aren’t burning enough fuel to push prices that high.

“I’ll be surprised if it got over $3.25,” he said.

Gasoline futures also jumped Monday to the highest price in more than a month as investors looked ahead to summer driving season.

Prices also were propped up by a festering refinery strike in France, where angry workers have shut down more than half of the country’s refining capacity.

Benchmark oil for March delivery added 35 cents Monday to settle at $80.16 a barrel on the contract’s final day of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Most of the trading volume already has shifted to the April contract, which added 25 cents to settle at $80.31 a barrel.

By CHRIS KAHN – The Associated Press

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CREDIT CARD REFORM

February 23, 2010

          PAUL SANCYA

/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS A Visa sticker is shown at a business in Detroit. Under the new credit card regulations that started Monday, banks now need to abide a spate of new rules on terms and disclosures.

NEW YORK

The new credit card law is finally here. As of Monday, banks need to abide by new regulations on terms and disclosures. The idea behind the landmark law was to prevent banks from using practices that often dug borrowers deeper into debt.

Here’s a look at how the credit card law affects key aspects of your account.

INTEREST RATES

THEN: Banks could raise the interest rate on an account at any time, including the rate on an existing balance, even if you weren’t late on payments.

NOW: The rate cannot be raised in the first year after an account is opened unless an introductory rate has come to an end. After that, cardholders must be notified 45 days in advance of any rate change.

For existing balances, rates can’t be raised unless the account is at least 60 days past due. If payments are made on time for six consecutive months, the original rate must be restored.

There’s still no cap on rates.

DISCLOSURES

THEN: The fine print on cardholder agreements was often difficult to understand. Rates, fees and penalties for other services such as cash advances, for example, could be hard to find. The impact of the interest rate on paying down a balance was hard to compute.

NOW: Cardholders will see how many months it will take to pay off a balance if only minimum payments are made. Statements will also indicate how much needs to be paid each month to pay off a balance within three years.

SERVICE FEES

THEN: Banks could charge as much as they wanted. They could assess annual fees, activation fees and other fees. This was mostly a problem for subprime cards marketed to those with poor credit scores. One popular card, for example, the Premier Bankcard, charged $256 in first-year fees for a $250 credit line.

NOW: Service fees, such as activation and annual fees, will be capped at 25 percent of the credit limit during the first year of use. After that, there is no cap.

GRACE PERIODS

THEN: Some card companies sent out statements not long before payments were due, and sometimes shifted payment due dates from month to month, meaning payments would not always have enough time to arrive and get processed before being deemed late. As a result, some cardholders ended up getting charged interest or late fees even when they thought they were sending in payments on time.

NOW: The law requires that due dates remain consistent. Statements must be sent out 21 days before the payment due date, and finance charges and fees cannot be applied before that period is up. In practice, about half of card issuers have extended grace periods to as long as 25 days.

OVER-THE-LIMIT FEES

THEN: Banks set credit limits, then routinely allowed charges to exceed those limits. When that happened, though, the customer was charged an over-the-limit fee as high as $39. These fees were often triggered by interest charges or late-payment fees that pushed a balance over the credit limit. What’s more, multiple over-the-limit fees could get charged in a single billing cycle if the balance was paid down and another charge pushed the balance back over the limit.

NOW: The cardholder must specifically agree to permit transactions that exceed the credit limit. Only then can over-the-limit fees be charged. But the fees can’t be triggered by other fees or interest charges. Only one over-the-limit fee may be imposed during a billing cycle. In practice, several of the largest card companies have dropped these fees. Some banks are using pop-up boxes on their Web sites or other methods to obtain consumer authorization.

UNIVERSAL DEFAULT

THEN: If you made a late payment on one credit card or loan, or even late payments for obligations such as utility bills, that could trigger interest rate hikes on other credit card accounts.

NOW: Card companies cannot raise interest rates on existing credit card balances. Interest rates can’t rise during the first year an account is open, unless the original agreement spelled out a promotional rate for a limited time.

Consumers with older accounts must be informed of any interest-rate increase on new charges at least 45 days in advance. They must also be given a chance to opt out of the hike by canceling the account and paying down the balance at the old interest rate. If an interest rate is increased, the card company must review the account once every six months to assess whether the rate should be reduced.

STUDENTS

THEN: Students arriving on college campuses often confronted a gantlet of credit card marketers handing out T-shirts, pizza and other gifts in exchange for filling out card applications. Credit cards were frequently handed out without checking the applicant’s income sources. In 2008, 84 percent of undergraduates had at least one credit card. Average balances topped $3,100.

NOW: Credit cards may no longer be issued to anyone under age 21, unless the applicant has a co-signer, or can show enough income. Colleges must disclose any marketing deals they make with credit card companies. Banks are not allowed to hand out gifts on or near campuses or at college-related events.

By CANDICE CHOI and EILEEN AJ CONNELLY – The Associated Press

Suspect accused of burglarizing downtown business

February 23, 2010

Jodie Smith

PASCAGOULA — Pascagoula police have arrested Jodi Smith, 37, on a charge of burglarizing the downtown Scranton’s restaurant last week, Lt. Davy Davis said.

Smith, police said, went in the business after it closed Wednesday and convinced someone there to serve him. While the meal was being prepared, Davis said Smith allegedly went into the business office and stole several items, including $255 in cash.

Police used video surveillance footage to identify Smith as the suspect. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department assisted police in their surveillance of Smith and a companion at a local motel before his arrest.

Smith, hometown unknown, is charged with burglary and jailed in Pascagoula pending a bond hearing.

Margaret Baker

Police investigate Moss Point shooting

February 23, 2010

MOSS POINT

Moss Point police are investigating a shooting Sunday that left a man injured, according to a release from the Moss Point Police Department.

Police got the initial report of the shooting around 2:30 p.m. Sunday, the release said, and were on their way there when officials at Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula called to say they already were treating the shooting victim, Andre Carter, no age or address given.

Police on Monday said a preliminary investigation indicates that the shooting occurred on Sherlawn Drive after Carter apparently got into some type of confrontation with the shooter. The suspect was not immediately identified because of the ongoing investigation.

The investigation was continuing Monday to determine what prompted the incident. No arrest had been made.

To report information, call the Moss Point Police Department at 475-1711.

By MARGARET BAKER – mbbaker@sunherald.com