Brunswick police received a call Wednesday afternoon from the Georgia State Patrol, which was seeking assistance after a routine traffic stop on U.S. Highway 341 turned out to be anything but.
“It’s never routine out there,” said state patrol Cpl. Richard Sikes.
The stop led to the arrest of two men and two women, who allegedly were found in possession of dozens of likely fraudulent identification cards and credit cards, according to Brunswick Police Capt. Angela Smith. In support of the state patrol, Brunswick police arrested Kenson Hunte, 33, of Canton; Monique Salene Laing, 20, of McDonough; Colby Taylor Hart, 24, of Vidalia; and Sheryl Lyn Henderson, 36, of Norcross.
All four remained Thursday in the Glynn County Detention Center, each held on $122,292 bond, a jail spokeswoman said. Each is charged with 44 counts of second degree forgery and four counts of financial transaction fraud, Smith said.
The incident began when Sikes encountered a vehicle traveling 85 mph on U.S. 341 near Georgia Highway 99, where the speed limit is 55 mph, Sikes said. It was a rental car out of Atlanta, and the woman driving said they were headed to Jacksonville, Sikes said. Sikes also said he smelled pot inside the car.
The woman acted nervously and could not initially provide police with an identification. She could only identify one other passenger, and then only by a nickname, Sikes said. “She didn’t know his actual name, and she didn’t know the other occupants of the vehicle,” he said. “Nobody had an ID at first. There was a lot of movement inside the vehicle. Basically all four of them were nervous.”
Sikes’ state patrol backup, trooper Keldon McCrary, witnessed a man inside the vehicle hand something to a woman inside the car. That is when Sikes called Brunswick police, seeking a K9 team to search the car for drugs and a female officer to search the two women, he said.
Smith responded, as well as Brunswick police investigator Meredith Tolley and Sgt. Matthew Wilson and his partner, Rico. Additionally, county sheriff’s deputy Stephanie Britt assisted, Smith said.
“One female had several driver’s licenses,” Sikes said. “Another large quantity of IDs also was located. A small amount of pot was located in the trunk as well.”
The driver’s licenses and identification cards came from as far away as California, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, Capt. Smith said. Some of the credit cards seized matched the driver’s licenses, meaning the suspects might have used the IDs to apply for some of the credit cards, Sikes said. “And they did have a substantial amount of cash with them as well,” he said.
FBI agents were contacted and could become involved in the investigation, Sikes said. The Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team also was contacted.
“No traffic stop is ever normal or routine, for any agency,” Smith said. “And we’re here to assist other agencies at any time. People who are breaking the law don’t have jurisdictional boundaries, so we’re always ready to lend a hand to another agency.”
The Glynn County Board of Education discussed Thursday during a work session the modifications that have been made to the site plan for the new Altama Elementary School.
The previous plan included a bus loop that went around the entire perimeter of the site, located at 6045 Altama Avenue.
“We’ve condensed that to a turn-around at the back of the school, eliminating the road that went around the perimeter of the site,” said Al Boudreau, executive director of operations for Glynn County Schools. “... The main idea here was to separate the bus traffic from the car traffic. The original plan, they kind of co-mingled, and it kind of looked like it was going to be a mess.”
A 50-foot buffer has also been included in the site plans between the school facilities and the neighboring property, a retirement community.
The school architects also met with Glynn County officials last week to discuss the possibility of moving the traffic signal currently in front of the school, located at 5505 Altama Ave., to the new school entrance.
“They advised us that a traffic study was necessary, per regulation, in order to relocate a traffic signal,” said John Tuten, Glynn County Schools architect. “So we are in the process of developing proposals for a traffic analysis on the new site.”
The school buses will come in from the north on Altama Ave, then will turn around at the school and head south down Altama Ave.
“Now, they all exit in a southerly direction, so it’s not a big change,” Tuten said.
None of these plans are set in stone.
“A traffic study and county regulations could change some of that, so this isn’t final,” Tuten said.
Construction of the new Altama Elementary School is set to be completed before the 2021-2022 school year.
The school board will vote March 12 at its next regular meeting to approve a bid proposal for the clearing of the site, one of the first projects to begin work on the new school. The recommended bid came from Poppell-Eller, Inc., a Brunswick-based contractor.
The school board also discussed during the work session the results of this year’s winter end-of-course tests and received an update on the most recent attendance/safety committee meeting, which includes a multitude of community representatives, including court officials, law enforcement and school administration and staff.
Elvis is officially in the building. The annual Georgia Elvis Festival kicked off Thursday and will continue throughout the weekend.
The sixth incarnation of the event, held in and around downtown Brunswick, began with a opening night celebration for ticket holders only at The Blue Door, 1706 2nd St., Brunswick, on Thursday. Today will bring the competition, where Elvis Tribute Artists from around the world square off through song and dance, beginning at 11 a.m. at the Ritz Theatre downtown. Tickets to each day’s competition are $29 each.
At 4:30 p.m. today, ETAs will take to the city’s pocket parks to perform free shows for the public. That evening, at 8 p.m., performers will stage “Elvis: The Next Generation” at the Ritz. It will showcase young, professional ETAs offering their own take on the King’s music. Admission is $50 or included as part of the weekend pass. An after party will follow at Coastal Kitchen on St. Simons Island.
The king-themed fun will continue with competition at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Ritz, followed by 4:30 p.m. performances in the squares downtown. At 8 p.m. that evening, ETAs will share “A Night with Elvis,” featuring Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Jay Dupuis and Dwight Icenhower. Tickets are $50 per person or included in the weekend pass and will be followed by an after party at The Blue Door.
The final day of competition will begin at 9:30 a.m. Sunday with the Elvis Gospel Event at the Ritz Theater. Tickets are $29. This year’s gospel show will also feature a familiar local face — Dana Meyers, who will perform with the ETAs. A special collection will also be taken for the Special Olympics.
That show will be followed by final day of competition, beginning at 1 p.m., with the 2019 king being crowned that afternoon. Tickets and weekend passes are available at www.georgiaelvisfestival.com.
Terri Futreal expects this year to be another success, both for the performers, attendees and the city as a whole. The public relations representative for Sherry Management, which produces the competition, said the shows draw a number of visitors to the city who always look forward to the weekend’s festivities.
“Brunswick is very much a part of our series and kicks off our festival season. Over 80 percent of our guest are from out of town, who look forward to the artsy, small coastal town,” Futreal said. “It will be an amazing, fun-filled weekend for all with some of the most talented entertainers in the business performing.”
Thursday marked the last chance for the majority of legislation in the General Assembly to stay alive this year, and a controversial proposal — that cut across party lines — to approve a new hates crimes law passed the House just before 9 p.m.
House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Chairman Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula and House Bill 426’s lead sponsor, made an impassioned speech from the House well supporting the bill.
“In 2017, the Douglas County district attorney, a Republican, talked about he desired to charge a criminal offense as a hate crime,” Efstration said. “That’s where 15 individuals were taunting African Americans who were in a park at a child’s birthday party. And as a result of that interaction, a man pointed a shotgun at the party and yelled racial epithets. And the Republican district attorney of Douglas County had to pursue prosecution under the gang statute, because there was no hate crimes statute at the time.”
He pointed to other incidents last year, including swastika graffiti at Centennial High School in Roswell, and mentioned that Gwinnett law enforcement stated there was an increase in “brutal attacks and armed robberies targeted at immigrants.” Efstration recalled one particularly heinous incident involving three men who allegedly attacked Latinos that resulted in one person suffering severe injuries and other — a resident of his district — dying.
“I submit to you that if you honestly search your heart, and you conclude that someone may be more vulnerable to a crime because of being in one of the protected classes where this person could be targeted for an attack, then this bill is needed in Georgia,” Efstration said. “If you honestly search your heart and conclude that hate can be used as a tool for evil in order to undermine the law and order that we take for granted many times in our society, then this bill is absolutely needed.
“If you search your heart and honestly conclude that you want your children and your grandchildren to grow in a society where overt acts of hate are not tolerated, then this bill is needed.”
State Rep. Sheri Gilligan, R-Cumming, spoke against the bill, saying hate crimes laws aren’t enforced the way they’re written, and moreover are suspect because of the people who support them.
“Since 1997, when Bill Clinton, Eric Holder and Clinton’s legal advisor Elena Kagan led the fight to empower these unelected activists to decide what is and is not hate, the biggest stumbling block for them and the entire hate crimes industry has always been women,” Gilligan said. “The internal memos and Congressional debate about hate crime and the hate crime laws in the 1990s were obsessed with ways of keeping women from being counted as victims of hate, because if you counted women, the approximate 10,000 stranger rapes and stranger rape-murders per year would comprise the largest body of hate crimes.”
She added that Georgia residents are lucky to have statutes where all crime victims are equal under the law.
State Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, opened his comments by saying he gave the middle name Johannes to his son because it was the name of his great-grandfather, “who was a tugboat captain in Denmark, in Copenhagen. And he, during World War II, smuggled Jews from Copenhagen to Sweden. When I think of this bill, I think of him and I think of those innocent souls that he saved and those that he did not. And I think he would want me to vote for this, and I think my son would want me to vote for this.”
Dean of the House Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, said at the outset he enjoyed working with Efstration, crafting the legislation. He also called attention to the speech of former state Rep. Dan Ponder, who made a memorable address in service of the state’s first hate crimes law. The state Supreme Court later found it too broad, and therefore unconstitutional.
“I just think about this — 45 states, 45 states have hate crimes statutes,” Smyre said. “Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, Wyoming and Utah (do not). Yesterday, Utah passed it in the Senate, and now it’s in the Utah House. So, I come and ask you very, very strongly to pass House Bill 426.”
State Rep. David Stover, R-Newnan, made a motion to table the bill, but that failed 115-47. H.B. 426 subsequently passed with a vote of 92-64 and heads over to the Senate.
Another bill that made the deadline was Senate Bill 222, which reauthorizes the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, coming more than eight months since the last council lapsed out of existence.
State Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, lauded the work done by Georgians in recent years in helping the state become a national leader on criminal justice reform, but he said there remains a substantial need to stay on task.
“We have a high rate of incarceration — recidivism is still a major problem,” Stone said. “This legislation will address that by extending the council for another six years, by expanding the list of members of the council — all of whom are appointed by the governor — but recognizing the important role that state agencies play in implementing the process.”
Stone brought along with the bill an amendment — Amendment 1 — that adds the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to the agencies that are involved with the council.
State Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, spoke on Amendment 2, which he said was necessary because of a mistake made in legislation by the state House.
“All this does is give the officer discretion, once again, for either a misdemeanor or a local ordinance violation, to issue a citation, as opposed to arrest them on the site,” Albers said. “As an example, if they were driving a car, they would them impound their car and immediately arrest them. This allows us to go back and have that discretion. It fits the exact mold we’re trying to accomplish with this.”
The Senate approved both amendments and passed the bill 55-0.
In the House, members gave approval by a vote of 169-1 to H.B. 382, which provides for who can apply for and receive money generated by the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act.
Those that can receive funds from the new law include local governments, state agencies and nongovernmental entities like environmental nonprofits. The bill also authorizes DNR to use up to 5 percent of the money collected in the Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund for administrative purposes.
The House also passed H.B. 424, which is a companion bull to Efstration’s sex trafficking bill that cleared the chamber Monday. It adds offenses of sex trafficking, keeping a place of prostitution, and pimping and pandering to the state gang crimes law, among other tweaks. The bill passed 171-0.
House legislation providing Georgia residents a way to sue their government also remains active this session, as the chamber passed H.B. 311 by a vote of 168-4.
“We are opening up the courthouse doors for our citizens to come back in and sue, if they need to, for when they believe a statute or an official action by an individual of government at the state or local level is in contravention to our state or federal constitutions, or state law, or rule or regulation if it’s a local government,” said Welch, the lead sponsor. “The (state) Supreme Court ruled in Lathrop v. Deal, and I’ll read from Justice (Keith) Blackwell’s statement, ‘Simply put, the constitutional doctrine of sovereign immunity forbids our courts to entertain a lawsuit against the state without its consent.’
“We are the consenting body. As a General Assembly, we will determine what suits come forward to the courts — in other words, each one of us holds the keys to the courthouse when it comes to challenging government action. And you all represent who — you represent the citizens of this state. Remember, our democracy is based upon the governed giving authority to us to represent them here. It doesn’t work the other way around.”
Glynn County Commission passed a resolution opposing House Bill 302 which would, among other things, prohibit localities from regulating building design elements on one- and two-family houses.
The Georgia House of Representatives’ Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee passed the bill twice, but it never reached the house floor.
The bill would, among other things, “prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances or regulations relating to or regulating building design elements as applied to one or two-family dwellings.”
“By limiting the ability of local governments to enforce building design standards in single or double family dwellings, H.B. 302 would negatively impact quality-of-life issues, including economic growth and the safety and welfare of the citizens of Georgia and in particular of Glynn County,” the resolution stated.
County commissioners made a number of points in the resolution, including that the bill could undermine citizens’ self-determination, local officials are elected to make decisions about the “look and feel of their communities,” and that design standards neither encourage or discourage construction of affordable housing — a defense of the bill — among other things.
“Local governments should be empowered to enforce building design standards to make today’s thriving county areas tomorrow’s historic districts,” the resolution stated.
While the house was in session, the bill was not on a list of those to be considered at press time on crossover day, the last day for such bills to be considered in the house.
In other business, the commission voted to defer an agreement with Coastal Outreach Soccer for the use of Paulk Park.
The program currently uses Howard Coffin Park without paying a rental fee, instead maintaining facilities it uses and providing community service volunteer work. The county initially considered offering the same deal for Paulk Park but decided to charge the rental fee as it would to any other group.
Shawn Williams, the program’s executive director, withdrew from the program in February after members of the county’s finance committee raised concerns they had heard from other soccer programs in the area. He said he didn’t want to put the county commission in an awkward position or make it seem like Coastal Outreach Soccer was getting anything for free.
Since then, discussions of an agreement have resumed.
“We’re going in a positive direction. We received a lot of community support for his program,” Booker said Thursday.
In other business, the commission approved $52,730 in additional spending on a Frederica Road special-purpose, local-option sales tax repaving project, reallocating $4,358 from a completed SPLOST project on Old Jesup Road to the Pier Village drainage project and recognized youth members of the 4-H program for their achievements at the South-east District Competition, among other things.
The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for March 21.