UPDATED: Suicide at Union County Courthouse

News

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – Lt. Russell Walker with the Blairsville Police Department confirmed a suicide occurred outside of the Union County Courthouse sometime before 11:00 a.m. Monday, May 21.

Criminal Investigator Lt. Tom Mangifesta, of the Union County Sheriff’s Office, stated the victim was 59-year-old Elmore Martin Putney III, a Blairsville attorney who had been practicing law locally for over three years. Mangifesta reported Putney died from a single gunshot wound to the head. The lieutenant added the incident occurred sometime between when Putney was last seen on security cameras outside the courthouse at 8:55 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. when a call was received by the sheriff’s office from a passerby who reported seeing Putney lying on the ground outside the north lower parking lot entrance of the courthouse.  Mangifesta also stated Putney was scheduled to be at the courthouse for a court hearing later that day.

Following the revelation that a shooting had occurred, the courthouse was put into a state of lockdown. Mangifesta also said sounds of gunfire were never reported and stated a nearby berm and large transformers outside the courthouse entrance may have contributed to the inability of anyone in the near vicinity hearing the gunshot.

According to the Mangifesta, Putney had finalized his will Friday, May 18, and several other documents including notes were later discovered in the ensuing investigation that led investigators to believe the incident was premeditated by Putney. Mangifesta speculated Putney had been “suffering from mental health issues for a long time.”

Union County School Superintendent John Hill confirmed reports that all schools were also put on lockdown following the incident. Hill stated the school system received word at 10:54 a.m. from the Union County Sheriff’s Office of a shooting at the courthouse and the schools were immediately locked down as part of standard protocol for the schools. Hill added the lockdown was lifted at 11:15 a.m. after the school system received details as to the nature of the incident and it was determined there was no threat at the schools.

The incident is being investigated by the Union County Sheriff’s Office. FetchYourNews will have further details on this as they become available.

 

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Former Union General administrators arraigned in federal court

News

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – According to a release from the Northern District of Georgia U.S. Attorney’s Office, three former administrators of Union General Hospital were arraigned Monday, April 9, in federal court in Gainesville, Georgia.

John Michael Gowder, Dr. David Gowder, and Dr. James Heaton, all of Blairsville, Georgia, were all indicted on federal charges for illegally prescribing and obtaining thousands of doses of prescription pain medications outside the usual course of professional medical practice and for no legitimate medical purpose.

From 2011 to 2015, John Michael Gowder, 60, served as chief executive officer of Union General while Dr. David Gowder, 61, served as the hospital’s emergency room director and Dr. James Heaton operated a family practice clinic in Blairsville during that time, according to the release.

As part of an Operation SCOPE (Strategically Combatting Opioids through Prosecution and Enforcement) investigation conducted by the Northern District of Georgia U.S. Attorney’s Office the Gowders and Heaton were indicted for illegally prescribing and obtaining doses of oxycodone, hydrocodone and alprazolam. During their affiliations with Union General, the Gowders and Heaton, according to the release, personally filled illegal prescriptions at local pharmacies in Georgia and crossed state lines filling prescriptions at pharmacies in North Carolina and in Tennessee.

The release alleged the names of other physicians were forged in writing illegal prescriptions and the Gowders themselves abused their administrative roles at Union General to intimidate employees of Union General into concealing the unlawful acquisition of the controlled substances.

This case is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Union County Sheriff’s Office, the Cherokee County (North Carolina) Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency and the Zell Miller Mountain Parkway Drug Task Force.

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Conley property annexed, Sheriff Mason recognized at council meeting

News

BLAISVILLE, Ga. – Annexation of the Conley property off of Pat Haralson Memorial Drive was approved and Sheriff Mack Mason was recognized during the Blairsville City Council meeting Tuesday, April 3.

Last month, annexation was delayed when Daniel Davenport, owner of a 1.47-acre tract of land within the annexation route, requested access to city utilities before annexation of his property took place.

In this month’s meeting, City Attorney David Barrett explained Davenport had sold his tract of land to the developers of the Conley property clearing the way for annexation. Also falling in line with the annexation is Butternut Creek Golf Course. Mayor Jim Conley explained a 50-foot wide easement of land running through the golf course from the current city limits would connect the Conley property contiguously in the annexation process.

On hand for the meeting was the developer of the property, David Brown. When asked about the urgency of the annexation by Barrett, Brown stated, “We need to be annexed tonight.”

Brown also explained the development on the property is for approximately 70 proposed apartment units that will be marketed to seniors. The council approved the annexation unanimously.

The council also approved the purchase of a 4×2 Gator utility vehicle from Nelson Tractor in the amount of $5,525. The vehicle, according to Conley, will be used primarily by the Street and Maintenance department to carry gardening supplies and equipment. Funding for the purchase will come from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds.

Jody Cook, wastewater supervisor, told the council it has been determined a faulty tank valve at the Aviagen Hatchery located near the Colwell Detention Center was the main contributing factor leading to increased levels of chemical oxygen demand (COD) at the wastewater treatment plant. In February, Cook first reported pollutants running from the Aviagen facility into the sewer system were causing increased COD levels at the plant. Cook stated Aviagen was working to resolve the issue.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Conley took time to recognize Union County Sheriff Mack Mason for his department’s continued efforts as well as cooperation and assistance with the Blairsville City Police Department.

“I personally would just like to say I appreciate the cooperation that the police department and the sheriff’s office has,” Conley told Mason. “As you very well know, we’ve never had that in the past.”

Mason responded by describing the level of cooperation between the two agencies as a “unique deal … one that I don’t know of that exists anywhere in the state of Georgia.”

Mason continued to say the state, in recent years, has “regressed” both in the number of Georgia State Patrol troopers and in the number of Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agents, leaving more of a burden to the local law enforcement agencies.

“I’m not knocking the troopers,” Mason explained. “I’m knocking the legislators because they’ve let us get in this shape … It’s an undisputed fact that 95 percent of arrests in the state of Georgia are made by the city and county officers.”

Speaking of the working coordination between the Union County Sheriff’s Office and the Blairsville Police Department, in which several officers work full-time for one agency and part-time for the other, Mason said, “I appreciate the relationship that I’ve had with you all.”

Following this, Conley proposed a $1 per hour raise for all part-time officers in the Blairsville Police Department. The raise was approved unanimously by the council.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

City council talks annexation, purchases police equipment

News, Police & Government, Politics

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – Annexation of the Conley property on Pat Haralson Memorial Drive was discussed during the Blairsville City Council meeting Tuesday, March 6.

According to Mayor Jim Conley, a developer interested in the property has requested city annexation of the property before proceeding with a development project. From the city limits to the Conley property, a portion of Butternut Creek Golf Course, which is owned by the county, and a stretch of a 1.47-acre property owned by Daniel Davenport falls in line with the proposed annexation route.

While the county has agreed to an easement of the golf course property, Davenport, who was present at the meeting, requested of the city to bring water and sewer utilities through his property before allowing annexation of his property.

“I’m all about annexation if the city sewer and water would pass through the 1.5 acres, which to me is a legitimate path to take (to the Conley property),” Davenport told the council Tuesday. “If (the city is) going to annex my property, I’ll be paying city taxes, so I’ll, of course, want to be able to hook up to the sewer on my property.”

Davenport was told by City Attorney David Barrett if his property was annexed, he would have the right by law to attain water and sewer utilities from the city. However, Davenport explained that in his previous discussions with Barrett, the city attorney told him the city would not provide the infrastructure needed to connect to city water and sewer lines. Davenport further stated that, to his understanding, the city would be extending water and sewer lines all the way to the Conley property. To this, Mayor Conley replied, “No we’re not either … we’re not bringing the sewer to their property. They’re coming to our manhole.”

After further discussion, Councilman Tony Dyer made a motion to withdraw the annexation proposal followed by a second from Councilwoman Betty Easter. The motion failed 3 to 2, with nay votes coming from Councilmembers Rhonda Mahan, Robert Moore and Mary Ruth Cook.

On Friday, Mayor Conley stated Davenport had discussed the situation in the days following the meeting with the owners of Conley property and a possible agreement was in the works, which would clear the way for the annexation.

The council approved two equipment purchases for the Blairsville Police Department. Sergeant Shawn Dyer informed the council of a recent audit of the department conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) in which the GBI recommended the use of departmental phones for city officers as well as the addition of wi-fi hotspot devices within city patrol vehicles.

Dyer explained the phones would be used by full-time officers for official police business. Currently, officers use their personal cell phones for police business while on duty, and GBI, in the audit, claimed this presents a security risk and the possibility of a personal information breach for the officers.

Concerning the addition of the hotspot devices, Dyer stated the technology upgrade will ensure a safer and more effective environment for officers while conducting routine traffic stops. The hotspot devices will provide instant Internet access to the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) database and allow officers to access information of the vehicle and the recorded owner before initially approaching the vehicle.

“(The hotspot devices) could probably save somebody’s life,” Dyer explained, “because right now, if we stop a car, we call in the tag number to dispatch, we pull that car over, we go up and we talk to that driver not knowing anything (of the driver). We don’t get that information back until we sit back there in the (patrol) car after we’ve talked to them, got their driver’s license and all that.”

According to Dyer, six cell phones (iPhones) and eight hotspot devices will come from Verizon at a monthly cost of $564.57.

Dyer also told of the need for a large metal cabinet that can be locked to store evidence or guns in the squad room at the police department. The sergeant stated a large lockable cabinet in the squad room would allow all shifts the ability to store evidence if the evidence room of the department cannot be accessed. Dyer said he found a cabinet suitable for such a purpose for around $2,000.

Both expenditures were approved unanimously.

The council gave approval to proceed with RevoPay as an online electronic payment method for payments of all fees, permits and/or taxes to the city. Last month, the council discussed and approved an option for accepting credit or debit cards for water services payments.

Kaye McCann, city clerk, explained to the council the RevoPay system would allow customers to pay all bills to the city in a lump sum by credit or debit card or by electronic check either online or over the phone. Also, city hall would have access to RevoPay, so that any customers making payments in person would also be able to make payments via those options as well.

According to McCann, there is no charge or fee to the city to use this service; however, a percentage-based fee from RevoPay would be passed along to customers using the service. When asked about the percentage of the fee, McCann explained the fee would likely fall between 3 to 5 percent and that the percentage would be determined over time by the amount of customers using the service. McCann further explained customers using RevoPay would know before the transaction is complete exactly how much the fee is.

Jody Cook, wastewater supervisor, delivered an update of a wastewater issue involving the Aviagen Hatchery, a poultry hatchery facility located near Colwell Detention Center. Last month, Cook reported increases in the chemical oxygen demand (COD) at the treatment plant were discovered in January. At that meeting, he said it was determined pollutants stemming from outdoor wash downs of the hatchery’s delivery crates were the cause of the increase of COD. Cook also stated last month the issue does not pose a health risk to anyone, but rather puts a greater strain on the wasterwater treatment facility.

This month, Cook told the council the hatchery had changed its clean-up policies. “It has made a difference, but I think we’re going to have to do a little bit more there because our readings are still high,” Cook said.

Cook stated officials from Aviagen have been cooperating with the city in an effort to correct the issue and told Cook to inform the hatchery if the changes in their cleaning processes did not resolve the issue. To this, Cook told the board he wanted to do a few more tests before going back to Aviagen since recent rains have disallowed the possibility of accurate testing.

In other business, the council approved a change in the type of envelopes used to mail water bills to customers. The new envelopes will feature a clear window panel on the front of the envelope and, as Mayor Conley pointed out, are easier for mail sorting machines to process.

The council entered into a 12-month contract with Jeff Burks, of Total Geek Tek, for regular IT maintenance and upgrades for all city departments. Burks’ hourly rate will be $40 an hour, and he will service city computer systems two days a week for a total of 16 hours a month, according to the parameters of the contract.

Councilman Tony Dyer stressed the need to move forward with a paved public parking lot, public restroom facility and a greenspace on city property located behind city hall. Dyer stated he would like to see the space, when completed, dedicated to longtime state representative and Blairsville native Carlton Colwell.

Dyer also mentioned the idea of honoring Union County Sheriff Mack Mason at the next city council for the sheriff’s office ongoing cooperation with the city police department.

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Rayfield presents school security and safety update

News

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. – During the Union County Board of Education (BOE) work session Tuesday, Feb. 20, Dr. Fred Rayfield, superintendent for Union County Schools, delivered an update on school security and safety procedures in the wake of the recent school shooting in Florida.

Rayfield stated there are three non-negotiable duties for which all employees of Union County Schools are responsible: teach students, protect students and act ethically and professionally.

The superintendent clarified that all security and safety plans and protocols for Union County Schools have been approved by the state and Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), and Union County has been used as a model for other north Georgia school systems to follow.

Dr. Fred Rayfield, superintendent of Union County Schools, updates the Board of Education on school safety and security policies and measures Tuesday, Feb. 20.

“Every aspect is reviewed annually,” Rayfield said of the school system’s security and safety policies. “Safety enhancements and additions are an ongoing priority.”

Currently, according to Rayfield, Union County Schools employ three school resource officers (SROs) from the Union County Sheriff’s Office as well as two security officers and one security guard who mans the guard shack at Union County High School.

Additionally, other system-wide safety features include a required picture ID for all school system employees, security cameras inside and outside of facilities, security cameras on buses, thorough visitor sign-in processes, secure “buzz-through” main entry points at facilities, 24/7 monitoring of electronic threats and messages on social media and other online outlets, and on-site panic buttons.

Rayfield explained the school system has spent over $715,000 over the last five years on these and other safety enhancements for schools, which averages to $271 a student spent for safety and security measures.

“I can assure you,” Rayfield told the audience at the meeting, “that there are some things in place here that make me feel very good about where we’re at with security and that we’re making progress toward getting better … I believe that we do everything that we can to protect kids no matter what the situation, and I applaud the (BOE) for appropriating the resources over the last three to five years .”

Following Rayfield’s presentation, BOE member Janna Akins stated, “I think it’s hard to fathom that we’ve got kindergartners that we should be concerned about in these kind of situations, but that’s just the times that we live in now. This information was very helpful, and I appreciate the board and the school system’s approach of not just having a reactionary plan but an ongoing plan to make (safety) a priority.”

Also during the work session, Courtney Waller, school nutrition program director, presented a slight revision to the school system’s wellness policy. Waller explained the policy, according to federal mandates, must be reassessed every three years

According to Waller, the revision would change the wording from “all food and beverages made available on campus during the school day shall be consistent with the minimum requirements of federal law” to “all food and beverages available for purchase …”

Later, in the regular meeting, as the board was about to approve the revision, Rayfield explained this proposed revision must remain tabled for 30 days before final approval can be made to change the policy.

In the regular meeting, Superintendent Rayfield awarded two presentations with the first being an art student recognition awarded to second-grader Emma Taylor. Taylor’s design was selected for use on the Union County School System Christmas card in 2017. “Thank you for a beautiful piece of artwork,” Rayfield told Taylor.

Next, Rayfield presented representatives from Union General Hospital – Lewis Kelley, chief executive officer, Michael Gay, chief operating officer, and Leslie Daniel, administrative liason – with a Partner in Education award.

“They do a tremendous amount of work throughout the school system to provide lots of services for our students and employees,” Rayfield said of the hospital’s partnership with Union County Schools, “and we’re just absolutely excited to recognize Union General Hospital as our community partner for this month.”

In other business, the BOE unanimously approved, as submitted, all principals’ quarterly reports, the monthly financial reports, fiscal year 2018 budget amendments, and personnel recommendations.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Huge N. Georgia Methamphetamine Bust Leads to Lab in Suches, GA

News

Blairsville, GA – On Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, a traffic stop in Lumpkin County, GA resulted in the confiscation of 15 kilograms (kilos) of methamphetamine (meth). The bust was a joint effort by the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office, the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office and the FBI’s North Georgia Major Offender Squad. As a result of the ensuing investigation by Lumpkin County authorities and FBI Agents, a few grams of cocaine and $166,000 dollars in cash were found at 990 Flanders Road in Dahlonega, GA, the residence of Valentine Duarte-Vejar. Following subsequent leads, agents were lead to 843 Cooper Creek Road in Suches, GA, where a conversion lab was uncovered (a conversion lab is used to convert liquid methamphetamine to crystal form).

Agents discovered a handgun and 15 kilos of crystal methamphetamine at the lab, along with approximately 300 pounds of environmental waste, mostly containing methamphetamine oil. Agents estimated that the lab was capable of producing 25-50 kilos of crystal meth at a time. (a kilogram (kilo) weighs about 2.2 pounds).

The 30 kilos of crystal meth (15 kilos confiscated during the traffic stop and 15 kilos found at the conversion lab) have a street value of about $3,234,000.

The Union County Sheriff’s Office, EMS and union County Fire Department assisted with safely processing the conversion lab.

Angel Luis Rivera-Santiago, 42, of Norcross, Victor Rafael Aponte, 30, of Dahlonega and Valentine Duarte-Vajar, 25, of Dahlonega were charged with trafficking methamphetamine. Eleoncio Perez-Pineda, 29, of Dahlonega and Jose Mario Duarte-Vajar, 25, of Dahlonega were later arrested and charged with conspiracy to manufactory Methamphetamine. All five men were transported to Lumpkin County Detention Center. Additional charges are pending in Union County.

The immigration status of these men is still pending. The investigation continues.

GBI Press Release

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at www.FetchYourNews.com

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Escaped CPDC Inmate Has Been Apprehended

News

Blairsville, GA – On a tip from the Union County Sheriff’s Office, FetchYournews.com has learned that an inmate from the Colwell Probation Detention Center in Blairsville, GA, who was on a work detail in Towns County, stole a car and managed to escape from custody today. The car reportedly had .357 magnum hand gun in it. The inmate was spotted by a Union County Sheriff’s Deputy heading towards Fannin County on Hwy 515. A chase ensued from there that lead into Fannin County where Fannin County Sheriff’s Deputies assisted in apprehending the inmate after he ran several cars of the road and ended up crashing the stolen vehicle. It is not know at this time whether the inmate knew he had stolen a car with a handgun in it. The inmate was reportedly not injured in the crash and is now back in custody. The inmate reportedly only had nine days left to serve out his sentence.

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at www.FetchYourNews.com

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Another Huge turnout in Blairsville for Concealed Carry Class

Community, News

UCSO Deputy Billy Purcell

Blairsville, GA – About three hundred people attended the Blairsville Concealed Carry Class on Monday, July 10, 2017. It is put on by the Union County Sheriff’s Office. The class was held at the Pat Haralson Memorial Civic Center. The class lasted well over an hour and was taught by UCSO Deputy Billy Purcell. Union County Sheriff Mack Mason has been a proponent of these classes since he took office in January 2013.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

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