#1 Winona, Montgomery Schools consolidate
Despite ongoing state and federal lawsuits opposing the state legislature’s mandated consolidation, on July 1, 2018, Winona Separate School District and Montgomery County School District officially consolidated, creating the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District.
At the final meeting of the Winona Separate School District on June 26, 2018, Winona Superintendent of Education Dr. Teresa Jackson presented the board with a copy of a resolution passed by the Mississippi State Board of Education stating, “Pursuant to the statutory mandates in Miss. Code Ann. § 37-7-104.4, effective July 1, 2018, the Montgomery County School District is abolished and the new "countywide municipal separate school district" is designated as the "Winona Montgomery Consolidated School District which shall consist of the territory of the former Montgomery County School District and the Winona Municipal Separate School District," and the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District shall proceed with all action as outlined under law using the new boundaries.”
In April 2018, the Winona Montgomery Consolidated School Board voted to close Montgomery County High School and Montgomery County Elementary School in Kilmichael, and Montgomery County’s 242 students were to attend Winona High School and Winona Elementary School. Reasons for closing the schools were due primarily to the high per-student cost to continue operating the two schools with the small student population, as well as the added expense of offering the same educational and extracurricular activities at both schools, Jackson said.
As the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School Board prepared for the 2018-2019 school year, several open teaching and administrative positions, due to some retirements and resignations as well as additional staff needed due to the consolidation, were filled with 17 from the Montgomery County School District, 16 from the Winona Separate School District, and 23 came from various school districts in the area.
According to Jackson, who was tapped to lead the newly-consolidated district as superintendent in February 2018, the merger experienced some hiccups with student transportation but was primarily smooth.
As for the ongoing lawsuits, in December 2018, United States District Judge Neal B. Biggers, Jr., dismissed the consolidation’s opposition lawsuit, with Montgomery County School District among individual plaintiffs.
#2 Winona Walmart closes
On January 30, 2018, the Walmart store in Winona closed, leaving the store’s 85 associates either looking to transfer to a neighboring Walmart store or unemployed.
The store’s associates were told about the closure in early January 2018, with the community learning shortly after.
The closing of the Winona Walmart store on January 30, 2018, was met by outrage and disbelief from Montgomery County residents. Many citizens blamed local elected officials for the closure, but Tice White, director of public affairs for Walmart in Mississippi, said the decision to close Walmart came from the corporate office due to changes in business trends.
“This was a decision that was made by Walmart to follow consumer trends,” White said. “The city, county, and economic development office did everything they could to keep us here, but we are trying to right size our portfolio and continue being aggressive in our online presence.”
White said the current retail environment for Walmart and other large retailers is tough right now because many of these companies are moving away from brick and mortar businesses and growing their online business.
“We are trying to do what we can do to stay relevant,” White said.
White said of the 85 employees laid off by Walmart when the Winona store closed, 30 of those have found positions at the Grenada store.
Flowers said the loss of jobs for those 85 employees and sales tax revenue hurts the city the most.
Winona’s Walmart store opened in 1979, and according to Stidham, the store was number 215 of more than 11,000 across the globe, according to the Walmart website.
#3 Flowers trial witness recants
A key witness in the case against Curtis Giovanni Flowers recanted his claim that Flowers confessed to him while the two were inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
Odell “Cookie” Hallmon told reporters from America Public Media that his testimony claiming that Flowers confessed to killing four people at a Winona furniture store in 1996 was “all make believe on my part.”
Broadcast in June 2018 on the APM In the Dark podcast, two reporters spoke with Hallmon on a contraband cellphone from his prison cell in Parchman. Hallmon told the reporters that his testimony claiming that Flowers confessed to him was “fantasies, a bunch of lies.”
“As far as him telling me he killed some people, hell naw, he never told me that,” Hallmon said in the recorded interview. “That was a lie. It was all make believe on my part. Just a fantasy, that’s all.”
Hallmon is currently serving three life sentences plus 30 years for the murders of three people and the attempted murder of another in Montgomery County in 2016.
According to the Associated Press, American Public Media spokesman Kelly Reller said Hallmon recanted his story to APM reporters multiple times during October 2017 and January 2018.
Hallmon has testified as a prosecution witness in four of the six Flowers trials. Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 of murdering Bertha Tardy, Carmen Rigby, Robert Golden, and Derrick “BoBo” Stewart on July 16, 1996 at Tardy Furniture Store in Winona. The 2010 trial was Flowers’ sixth trial, with the first three trials overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court and the fourth and fifth trials ending with hung juries. The 2010 conviction is currently under appeal.
District Attorney Doug Evans said, “We made sure that the testimony [Hallmon] gave was truthful. It was only after he was put in the penitentiary on three life terms plus 30 years that he tried to change his story.”
#4 Two charged in Kilmichael shooting death
A Winona man was charged with first degree murder in connection with the shooting death of a Kilmichael man on April 27, 2018. A Kilmichael woman was also charged in connection with the shooting, charged with accessory after the fact, a felony charge.
According to Montgomery County Coroner Allan Pratt, the Montgomery County Emergency Operations Center received a call at 8:43 p.m. that Friday night reporting that a man was shot in the parking lot of the former Kilmichael One Stop, located at 502 Rutherford Avenue in Kilmichael.
When Pratt, who also serves as a Kilmichael police officer, and Kilmichael Chief of Police David Eldridge arrived at the scene, they found Joseph Purnell, 38, of Kilmichael lying in the parking lot. Pratt said Purnell was pronounced dead at the scene.
Pratt said he transported Purnell to the Mississippi Forensic Lab in Pearl for an autopsy.
Minutes after the first 911 call, the Montgomery County Emergency Operations Center received a call reporting that another subject was shot in the hand and was being taken to the emergency room at Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital by private vehicle.
David Maurice Johnson, 42, of Winona was treated at Tyler Holmes before taken into police custody and charged with murder.
A preliminary hearing for Johnson was held on May 22 in Montgomery County Justice Court, and bond was continued at $250,000.
At Johnson’ preliminary hearing, Bradley Edmondson, an investigator with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, testified that Johnson and girlfriend Monica Murry met Purnell in the parking lot of a laundromat in Kilmichael to make a custody exchange of Murry and Purnell’s two small children.
Edmondson stated that, based on witness statements, Murry and Purnell were allegedly in an ongoing feud and had gotten into physical altercations in the past.
Edmondson testified that the night of the shooting, Johnson accompanied Murry to meet Purnell, and once there, Murry and Purnell got into an altercation. It was during this time that a .38 revolver was taken from the glove compartment of Murry’s vehicle, and Purnell was shot in the chest.
Monica Murry, 25, was arrested and charged with accessory after the fact, a felony charge, shortly after the preliminary hearing of David Maurice Johnson, who stands accused of shooting Joseph Purnell, 38, of Kilmichael. Murry was in the court gallery on May 22 when she was taken into custody.
According to court documents, Murry was arrested and charged after Eva Purnell, mother of the murder victim, filed an affidavit with Montgomery County Justice Court.
#5 Winona teen charged with 16-year-old’s murder
A 16-year old boy was shot and killed July 5, and another teen has been charged with his murder.
According to Captain Dan Herod, chief investigator for the Winona Police Department, Ty-Quarrius Hardimon, 16, of Winona was shot and killed on Silver Street near the intersection of Highway 51.
Markevion Merritt, 16, of Winona was arrested and charged with murder a few days after the murder. Merritt is being charged as an adult.
According to Herod, law enforcement responded to reports of a shooting at 10:36 p.m. on Silver Street near Highway 51. The teenager was found shot in the street.
Hardimon was declared dead at the scene by Montgomery County Coroner Allan Pratt, and he was transported to the Mississippi Crime Lab in Pearl for an autopsy. Pratt said preliminary autopsy results showed that Hardimon died from a gunshot wound to the chest, and the crime lab ruled his death as a homicide.
Police identified Merritt as a suspect in the shooting early in the investigation. On Saturday, July 7 around 1 p.m., Merritt turned himself into the police at the Winona Police Department.
In Winona City Court on July 10, Merritt waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and the case was bound over to the action of a Montgomery County Grand Jury by Winona City Judge Alan D. Lancaster. Bond was reduced from $500,000 to $300,000.
#6 Local National Guardsmen deployed
On March 12, 2018, guardsmen from the Mississippi National Guard 2-114th Bravo Battery Field Artillery left the armories in Winona and Kosciusko for more than a year of overseas deployment.
Approximately 85 guardsmen from Winona and Kosciusko armories deployed, and their destination was disclosed.
Family and friends accompanied guardsmen to the armories before dawn on March 12 to take photos and say goodbye. The military caravan went down Highway 51 to Middleton Road and on to Highway 82 and Interstate 55. Supporters lined the streets with American flags and signs as the headed toward Camp Shelby in south Mississippi.
The troops will be escorted by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department and the Winona Police Department.
In Kosciusko, the convoy will leave the armory at 5:30 a.m. and will be escorted by the Kosciusko Police Department, the American Legion Riders Post 44 and the Patriot Guard Riders.
#7 Infrastructure bill will benefit local communities
In a five-day special session in August 2018, the Mississippi Legislature passed two bills which lawmakers hope will fund the state’s aging roads and bridges.
Lawmakers agreed to send 35 percent of internet sales tax (also known as use tax) to cities and counties for infrastructure improvements. In addition, the Legislature voted to create a lottery that will direct $80 million each year to the Mississippi Department of Transportation, with any additional revenue raised from the lottery going toward public education.
The distribution of the $50 million in internet sales tax will be split between all 82 counties based on a formula that takes into account population, the square miles of each county, and equal shares to each county. Representative Karl Oliver [R-Winona] said estimated projected for internet sales tax collections is $338 per year.
Montgomery County will receive $397,310 in the distribution, while Carroll County will receive $466,123.
The distribution to cities and towns are based on population, sales tax revenue, and equal shares. Locally, Winona will receive $147,813; Kilmichael $24,772; Duck Hill $24,206; Carrollton, $17,494; North Carrollton, $19,545; and Vaiden, $27,410.
Senate Bill 2002 allocates funds from the $1.5 billion settlement from BP PLC with the state of Mississippi to cover economic damages from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The bill mandates that 70 percent of funds from the settlement will go to the six southernmost counties in Mississippi – the ones most affected by the spill. The bill allocated the remaining funds to be shared with the other 76 counties, with more than $100 million earmarked for special infrastructure projects across the state.
In Carroll and Montgomery counties, money earmarked for special projects include $300,000 for street improvements in the City of Winona, $500,000 for Carroll County to repair a bridge on County Road 157, $200,000 for street improvements in the Town of Carrollton, $100,000 for resurfacing and street improvements in the Town of Vaiden, $100,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Marshall Elementary School Road, and $200,000 for Binford Street upgrades for the Town of Kilmichael.
According to the Associated Press, lawmakers predict the bills passed during the special session is an investment of $200 million a year into transportation on an ongoing basis. They also agreed to borrow $300 million, with $250 million going to an emergency bridge fund to reopen the 435 bridges still closed statewide as mandated by the federal government.
However, MDOT stated that is needs an additional $400 million a year to maintain Mississippi’s aging highway system, nowhere near the amount of revenue projected from the measures made during the special section.
#8 Montgomery County inmates moved from CMRCF
All 15 of Montgomery County’s inmates being held at the Carroll Montgomery Regional Correctional Facility were moved to other facilities on July 23, after the July 16 decision by the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors to rescind an order to enter into an interlocal agreement with the Vaiden jail to house the county’s prisoners for the next 10 years.
In a special-called meeting on July 23, the board entered into executive session, however, no action was taken, according to County Attorney Alan D. Lancaster.
According to Montgomery County Sheriff Bubba Nix, all of Montgomery inmates were transferred from the Carroll Montgomery Regional Correctional Facility Monday, with 10 going to the Webster County Jail and five going to the Grenada County Jail.
On July 16, the board rescinded the order entering into the interlocal agreement after its members were presented with a letter from the jail stating that jail personnel will no longer be restraining prisoners for transport. The board voted unanimously to rescind its previous vote on the matter behind a Supervisor Ron Wood motion and a Supervisor Keith McGee second.
The letter stated the reason for the change due to “the transporting officer’s safety and the fact that this service is not covered in the $25 cost per day per inmate fee.” The letter also said Montgomery County would not be able to use jail restraints for transport.
Nix said in the past, after his deputies alerted the jail that a prisoner needed to be picked up for a court appearance, CMRCF staff would have prisoners restrained and ready for transport. However, that practice changed with the June 7 letter.
Lancaster said having prisoners ready for transport is “customary.”
The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors voted to enter into the interlocal agreement on May 7, 2018, after its previous agreement expired in November 2017. However, the agreement had not yet been approved by the Mississippi Attorney General’s office. Without the attorney general’s approval, the agreement is not valid, Lancaster said.
The interlocal agreement between Montgomery County and Carroll County stated that Montgomery County will pay $25 per day to house prisoners at the Vaiden facility, the same rate paid by Carroll County. In addition, the contract required Montgomery County to exclusively use the Carroll Montgomery Regional Correctional Facility to house all county prisoners, except female prisoners unless the facility becomes equipped to house female inmates.
The agreement also specifies that Montgomery County is responsible for all transportation of inmates to and from the facility and must pay for all physical, mental, or emergency healthcare needed for its inmates while in custody at the jail.
Annually, Montgomery County budgets $121,000 to house inmates.
Carroll County Sheriff Clint Walker said the jail’s new policy is 100 percent about officer safety and community safety, and it is not uncommon at other Mississippi correctional facilities.
“Once an officer takes custody of an inmate, that inmate is under the responsibility and liability of that law enforcement agency,” Carroll County Sheriff Clint Walker said in a release. “It is imperative that the transporting officer have confidence that he/she has secured the inmate in such a way that best guarantees the safety of the officer and the community.”
In mid-August, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors entered into an agreement with Grenada County Jail to set the rate per night for a Montgomery County prisoner at $30. Prior to the agreement the county was paying approximately $39 per night at the Grenada County Jail. The agreement, that lasts until the end of the current board of supervisors’ term on December 2019, has no exclusivity clause and the Grenada County Jail does not have to guarantee beds for Montgomery County’s prisoners.
#9 Astronaut Donald Peterson dies
Astronaut Donald H. Peterson, a native of Winona, died May 27, 2018, at his home in El Lago, Texas.
Peterson, who was 84 at the time of his death, served as a mission specialist on the inaugural voyage of the Challenger shuttle in 1983.
Currently, efforts are underway to construct a statue of Peterson in Winona to celebrate his many accomplishments.
According to Winona Mayor Jerry Flowers, a group of volunteers are currently raising funds to construct a memorial to honor Peterson, as well as Ensign William Devote Billingsley, the first naval aviator to die in the line of duty, and Chief Master Sergeant Calvin ‘Cal’ Hobbs, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen.
According to Flowers, the memorial will cost $150,000 to complete, and volunteers are hoping it can be constructed on the southwestern corner of Middleton Road and Highway 51.
For five days and 23 minutes, Peterson traveled at 18,000 miles an hour, orbiting the earth. The mission of the voyage was to launch tracking and data relay satellites which provide communications between objects in orbit and those on the ground. In the process, he got to do a spacewalk to test the team’s ability to repair the shuttle while it orbited 170 miles above the earth.
In a 2011 interview with The Winona Times, Peterson said he never experienced problems in working in zero gravity.
“We worked in space suits so we could work outside the spacecraft in a vacuum,” Peterson said. “The suits have to be pressurized because most people live at sea level. If you suddenly take that pressure away, the nitrogen in the body would literally explode.”
According to a 2002 interview for a Nasa Oral History, Peterson and Mission Specialist Story Musgrave were able to work outside the shuttle for four hours without being tethered to the vehicle. The two wore special backpacks that allowed them more mobility than in past spacewalks.
Peterson was born in Winona on October 22, 1933, to Pete and Mabel Peterson and was raised in a house on Summit Street.
He graduated from Winona High School, and upon graduation, he was selected by then-Congressman Joe Abernathy to take the entrance exam to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Peterson said he did so well on the exam, Abernathy “wrangled me” an appointment to West Point.
After completing the military academy, Peterson joined the U.S. Air Force and was accepted to the Air Force Institute of Technology to work on a program developing nuclear automobiles. After the program was canceled, Peterson volunteered to go to the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base.
“I wanted to get back into test flying and airplane development,” Peterson said in 2011.
After he graduated from the Aerospace Research Pilot School, he was assigned to the Mann Orbiting Laboratory, a program that was trying to develop spacecraft to fly over countries to take pictures, however, the program was eventually canceled.
In 1970, Peterson was reassigned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), where he worked in Guidance, Navigation, and Control in the development and construction of the space shuttle. In 1981, the shuttle Columbia took flight, and from then, NASA launched several other successful flights.
Peterson said, “There was an expectation that everyone in the astronaut office would get a flight. I waited a long time. I was 52 years old when I flew.”
Peterson resigned from NASA in 1984 and began a consulting business.
Peterson was preceded in death by his wife, Bonnie, of nearly 60 years.
He is survived by brother; Gil Peterson; children Donald Peterson, Jr., daughters, Jean Stone and Shari Peterson; four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held today at 11 a.m. at Crowder Funeral Home in Webster, Texas.
To make a donation to the Aviators Memorial, contact Winona City Hall at 662-283-1232.
#10 County elects two school board members
In the first election of school board members for the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District, Brandye Brannon and Jill Greenlee White were elected in November to represent Montgomery County outside the municipal city limits of Winona.
According to the results, In School Board District 1, which covers Duck Hill and the northern portion of the county, Brannon led Kolandty Williams, 759 to 332. In District 2, which covers Kilmichael, Poplar Creek, Stewart and the southern portion of the county, Greenlee led Loretta Hopkins 702 to 337.
As part of the consolidation of the Winona Separate School District, which had appointed board members, and Montgomery County, which had elected members, the board will have three appointees from Winona and two elected members from Montgomery County.
Brannon, 40, is employed with the United States Postal Service, currently serving as the clerk at the Kilmichael Post Office.
White, 49, is a retired educator who taught for 24 years for the Montgomery County School District. Following her retirement, White continued serving the students of Montgomery County as a tutor at Montgomery County Elementary School.