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County police dept.'s DUI expert arrested for DUI
 lhobbs  / 

A Glynn County Police officer who is recognized statewide as an expert on impaired driving was arrested Monday for DUI, according to Sgt. 1st Class Chad Gray, commander of Georgia State Patrol’s Brunswick Post.

Glynn County police officer Kevin Yarborough was arrested by a state patrol trooper following a traffic stop on Cate Road at 4:42 p.m., during which he allegedly twice swerved out of the vehicle’s lane of traffic, Gray said. Yarborough, 38, was booked into the Glynn County Detention Center at 5:03 p.m., charged with DUI/driver less safe and failure to maintain a lane, according to jail records.

Yarborough was recognized as the 2016 State of Georgia Drug Recognition Expert of the Year by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and MADD Georgia. He is one of three members of the county police department’s HEAT (Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic) team, and is considered an expert on detecting drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Yarborough was released later Monday on a total of $1,690 bond, jail records show.

State troopers say Yarborough was driving a 2015 Dodge Charger north on Golden Isles Parkway when the vehicle allegedly breached the turn lane’s white line while he was preparing to make a left turn onto Cate Road, according to the arrest report of state patrol trooper K. McCrary. Yarborough then allegedly crossed the double yellow line on Cate Road during the turn, after which McCrary stopped him, the report said.

McCrary said he detected the smell of alcohol by the time he approached the rear of Yarborough’s vehicle, the report said.

When Yarborough stepped out of the vehicle at McCrary’s direction, the trooper again smelled alcohol, according to the report. “As I spoke with the driver outside the vehicle, I could smell the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from the driver’s breath,” McCrary wrote in the report.

Yarborough allegedly showed signs of intoxication during several roadside sobriety tests, including those testing eye movement, standing and balance, the report said. Yarborough allegedly registered .116 in a blood/alcohol breath test at the scene, the report said. The legal limit in Georgia is .08.

“I asked the driver how much he had to drink and he stated that he took a shot of pineapple vodka before he left his house,” McCrary wrote in the report.

Yarborough later submitted to have blood drawn for a test of alcohol content, results of which are not yet complete.

The Glynn County Police Department has started an internal investigation of Yarborough’s arrest, said Brian Scott, department chief of staff. Yarborough has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of that investigation, he said.

Glynn County Police Chief John Powell said the department’s officers are expected to obey the laws they are entrusted to enforce.

“I commend the Georgia State Patrol for their efforts in combatting drunk driving in our community,” Powell said. “If officer Yarborough was indeed driving under the influence, he will be dealt with accordingly.”

Business owners take "panes" to cater to customers
 gjackson  / 

The owners of A Pane in the Glass on St. Simons Island are preparing to celebrate an anniversary on March 15 they never expected to see when they opened the business 41 years ago.

The business was created after one of the owners, Fred Marrs, was tired of working as the manager of the Crab Trap. He believed a glass shop could fill a niche in the business community.

“We didn’t want to work at night anymore,” he said.

He rented a room in a building less than a block away and continued to work at the restaurant several more years until he bought the building lease.

The store began as a gift shop, selling stained glass items, vanity mirrors and sun catchers. But Marrs started getting requests to repair broken windows and learned that service could also generate revenue for the store.

“We just kept adding on to what to do,” he said.

Marrs, a lifelong St. Simons Island resident, said he depended on word-of-mouth to spread the word about the services provided and products sold at the business.

“I never had to do any advertising,” he said. “Being a native really helped out.”

Another reason for the success is it’s a good place for the nine employees to work. One employee has been with the store since it opened in 1978 and another has been working there the past 35 years, he said.

“Most people don’t leave us because we take care of them,” he said.

Mina Marrs, another owner, said it didn’t take long after the store opened for it to start doing custom work at residential homes and commercial businesses.

As the store began making its own stained glass products and decorative mirrors, more custom orders came in for sun catchers, jewelry and other items hand-crafted at the store.

“It’s a labor-intensive job,” she said of some of the custom work.

A recent job shows the creativity needed to satisfy a customer who came into the story with a broken glass lamp shade that was a family heirloom.

Mina Marrs showed the finished product, a framed collage with wine glasses, shakers and other items mounted in a frame with a portion of the glass lamp shade. She said it took about three days to complete the one-of-a-kind item.

The biggest sellers in the gift shop are the jewelry and stained glass items costing $50 or less purchased by tourists.

“Jewelry is a pretty good seller for the space it takes,” she said.

Working with glass can be dangerous, but workers said they are careful cutting glass. The worst injuries are typically small nicks and cuts.

The business has diversified into residential and commercial work since it opened selling stained glass, but the goal to be one of the best gift shops in the Golden Isles remains.

“We’re a gift shop, definitely,” Mina Marrs said. “We respect the glass, definitely.”

Water-cooler talk led to revelation about cop’s alleged conduct
 wwolfe  / 

Brunswick Police Department Investigator Meredith Tolley said she was transcribing an interview of a suspect in a narcotics case when she realized what the suspect said about an officer behaving inappropriately matched up with what two of her colleagues discussed several months earlier. That led to a report and a subsequent investigation into former Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team member James Cassada.

Tolley testified during a hearing on the case of Gary Allen Whittle, who is accused of two counts of sale of a controlled substance. She said a shooting at an apartment complex in February 2018 led to her investigation of Misty McDaniel, and McDaniel’s alleged possession of drugs and paraphernalia at the apartment in question.

During the interview of McDaniel, which was recorded at the Glynn County Police Department headquarters, Tolley said McDaniel was upset she was being charged at all.

Tolley said that while McDaniel was left alone in the room, she said, essentially, that if the GCPD was going to work her over like this, she was going to work them over and send to The News video evidence of an officer in a compromising position involving drugs and sex, and she appeared to authorize such a release while talking to someone on the phone. Tolley said that earlier in the interview, McDaniel told her the phone’s battery was dead.

Tolley explained that several months later, GCPD Investigator Dustin Davis said Cassada’s wife, Hope, was calling the wives of him and other men who were on GBNET, saying that she suspected Cassada of cheating on her with confidential informants and suggesting that their husbands might be doing so as well. Tolley said Davis said, at the time, Hope said she found Cassada’s car at a local motel and saw him exit a room with McDaniel.

When Tolley was transcribing the McDaniel interview in January of this year, McDaniel’s comments set off a recognition of what Davis said. At that point, she, Davis and Mikey Davis of the Brunswick Police — all of whom worked on GBNET — took their concerns to Assistant District Attorney Liberty Stewart, considering that if what McDaniel said was true, it would jeopardize all of the cases Cassada was on and GBNET’s efforts as a whole during his time there.

Tolley said Stewart told them to instead make their report to GCPD Investigator Jeremiah Bergquist, which they did.

Bergquist testified that Dustin Davis confirmed that Hope Cassada called his wife with the complaints about infidelity that Tolley described, and that Dustin Davis said he informed GCPD Capt. David Hessler, who was head of GBNET at the time. Bergquist said he made his report to GCPD Capt. Tom Jump, which eventually led to the investigation of Cassada and the issues in Whittle’s case.

GCPD Capt. Eugene Smith testified that he heard that Cassada might be sleeping with his confidential informants, and told that to Hessler. He also corroborated that members of GBNET were not pleased that Hope Cassada was calling their wives and accusing those investigators of sexual activity with their informants.

Hassler, who testified before Bergquist, Tolley and Smith, said he was never told Cassada was having an inappropriate relationship with a confidential informant. He said Hope called him once late at night “ranting and raving” about Cassada’s alleged extramarital behavior and alcohol abuse, but that she texted him the next day and apologized.

District Attorney Jackie Johnson told The News in February that Cassada’s alleged conduct could affect 75 or more cases. After around two and a half hours of the Tuesday hearing, Johnson requested and received a recess so that the DA’s office and Whittle’s attorneys can develop a timeline for the inspection of records pertaining to the case. The next court date has yet to be determined.

Scarlett Williams court ruling to result in higher taxes for some
 tcooper  / 

As many as 5,000 Glynn County residents with homestead property tax exemptions may be negatively impacted by a court ruling that the county had been misapplying those exemptions.

For those who qualify, the Scarlett Williams homestead exemption will lock property values for taxation purposes at the value of a base year. The county held that the year a person applied for the exemption was the base year until an August court decision, which ruled the base year should be the year prior to filing the application.

“As this thing kind of unfolded and (the ruling) said ‘You’re going to use the prior year,’ it was interesting how you would think that would be positive for everybody, but it’s not,” said Tax Commissioner Jeff Chapman. “Some people’s prior year was higher than what they locked in at. It looked to be at, of 17,000 (properties with homestead exemptions), 5,000 were going to be higher because of that court ruling.”

Three lawsuits were filed against the county in 2012, 2013 and 2014 — with all three certified as a class action in 2015 — alleging the county was incorrectly applying the Scarlett Williams homestead exemption and, as a result, overcharged citizens on their property taxes.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge G. Grant Brantley ruled in favor of the county in January, but the Georgia Court of Appeals partially overturned his ruling in March.

The appeals court ruled that the county was improperly applying the exemption, but upheld another part of Brantley’s ruling: that the class members could only seek refunds on taxes paid in the last three years — a stipulation of state law.

The Georgia Supreme Court declined to hear the case in August, making final the appeals court’s ruling.

As a consequence of the decision, the base year for 17,142 homestead exemptions must be set to the year prior. To make sure the 2019 tax digest is accurate, the appraiser’s office took on the job of establishing the prior year value for all homesteads in Glynn County.

“This actual work of determining the prior year value, that’s what they’re doing in the Board of Assessors’ (Office) now,” Chapman said.

In addition, some with homestead exemptions had their base year “re-frozen” Chapman said. If a person’s property taxes dropped below the value of its base year, the owner could reset their base year to the lower value year. The county will be ignoring such “re-freezes” going forward.

“Some, I’m sure, will be impacted because they froze at a lower rate, and the court order is ignoring that,” Chapman said.

Chief Appraiser Ron Glisson encouraged residents to closely examine their assessment notices when they go out in May.

Glisson said the office is ahead of schedule on preparing the 2019 tax digest, on which tax bills that go out in October are based. The tax commissioner’s office has been a great help in the process, he added.

“They’ve helped, and we’ve had a lot of discussion between the two offices. They work really well with us, anything we’ve needed they’ve opened their doors. Anything we’ve needed they’ve been really good,” Glisson said. “Jeff, you can quote me on that, he’s very helpful.”

Determining the value of each property’s new base year is a complicated process, according to tax specialists Phyllis Jackson and Lisa Bunkley, and some who had exemptions in the past may no longer qualify.

“It’s an honor system and if you don’t work it, don’t watch it, that’s going to change whether or not you’re eligible for a homestead exemption,” Chapman said.

If someone no longer qualifies but has continued to benefit from an exemption, they may be required to cover the difference.

“If some lose their eligibility, they may have to pay back the difference between what they paid in property taxes and what they should have paid without the exemption,” Bunkley said.

Glynn County Commissioners approved $85,000 to pay for personnel and supplies for the task. So far, the appraiser’s office has worked through roughly 6,500 of about 17,142 properties with homestead exemptions, Glisson explained.

Shore protection bill passes, objections aired about spit
 wwolfe  / 

The state House of Representatives added a bill to its platter midway through the day Tuesday that brings about significant reforms to the Shore Protection Act, including a provision removing the Sea Island spit from the act’s jurisdiction. It passed with a vote of 113-54, but not before a rare split among the St. Simons Island Republicans representing Glynn County in the chamber.

“I’ve lived on St. Simons, right near the ocean — one block from the ocean — and I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years, and I’m very adamant about this bill addressing the shore protection,” said state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, who is the bill’s lead sponsor. “House Bill 445 amends the Shore Protection Act, passed in 1979, to protect the sand-sharing system of Georgia’s barrier islands.

“In doing so, it protects upland property and important habitat, and provides recreation. The last time anything was done with the Shore Protection Act was in 1979 by Rep. Reid Harris, from Brunswick and St. Simons.”

Hogan said the only difference between this bill and one passed by the House last year is the specification regarding Sea Island.

State Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, said it’s a rare thing when coastal representatives have disagreements about what’s best for the coast, but this is one of those times. Jones said he doubted that in today’s political climate, the legislature could pass the Shore Protection Act like was done 40 years ago.

He suggested that if Georgia didn’t have the SPA in those years, that the coast likely would look like Florida, because the Florida state government didn’t have the foresight to protect their marshes and natural barriers, and instead opened up the beachfront to development on a large scale.

“So, today, I stand in opposition to House Bill 445,” Jones said. “Again, it kind of pains me to do that — my preface leading up to that statement, I hope you understand that any time we open up that Shore Protection Act we need to be very, very careful that what we do is done in the best interests of the longterm value and importance of nature’s protection of our coast.

“There are some areas in that bill that carves out some areas for special interests that I disagree with, but I understand — the groin has been approved. Sand renourishment is going on along Sea Island. I’ve toured that area and I applaud Sea Island for making the effort, spending the money, to bolster their seashores. The issue, however, is that there is that one section in this bill that does specifically carve out an exception for Sea Island, and, fundamentally, I find a problem with that.”

Jones said what’s good for the coast in total should be good for its constituent parts — that Sea Island should be regulated like the rest of the shore.

Mary Frances Williams, D-Marietta, presented the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee’s minority report on the bill, decrying the elimination of local governments’ ability to form their own SPA permitting boards.

“It is true that these local committees do not currently exist, but does this body truly want to eliminate forever local governments’ ability to apply local authority that helps them make local decisions?” Williams said.

She also said the state shouldn’t give the state Department of Natural Resources commissioner the right to OK minor activities under the SPA without local input — calling patios, decks and dune crossovers “not-so-minor” activities — and that the Sea Island carve-out basically runs counter to the entire purpose of the SPA.

“Allowing Sea Island to secede from the sand-sharing system effectively robs St. Simons Island sand that has accumulated off East Beach for decades,” Williams said. “It will be washed into the Brunswick shipping channel.”

Over in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, the chamber approved Senate Bill 9, put forward by state Sen. Harold Jones II, D-Augusta, that criminalizes what’s been called sextortion.

“This bill is designed to try to fix a hole in the law that currently exists,” Jones said. “As you know, one of the things that we do is, we have what’s called the revenge porn statute, which means if a person receives compromising photos of someone, and they actually post those photos, that is covered, currently, by the law.

“What is not covered is, what if someone receives compromising photos or information — whatever it may be — and they threaten that person, and say, ‘If you do not send me sexually explicit photos of yourself, I will then post what I have,’ whatever that may be — it could be pictures of sex, it could be things dealing with your economics.”

He said this problem is new, emerging and growing, and now’s the time to act. The bill passed 55-0.