In the words of one local emergency worker, Columbia County now has its own urban legend.
Last weekend, the story spread that a handful of Arab-looking men were surveying the Clarks Hill Dam, taking pictures and generally looking suspicious.
There were several versions of the tale: In the most detailed, two men were scuba-diving at the base of the dam, while another used a little radio-controlled boat to practice bombing runs at the dams base. When surprised by police, the men jumped in a red car and sped away.
Great story. The reality? Three tourists from India were just doing what tourists do: taking pictures at a picturesque spot. Unfortunately for them, they forgot that it now is illegal for foreign-looking people to be seen in public.
OK, it isnt illegal. But the three tourists still had to undergo a grilling by the Federal Bureau of Investigation before they could go on their merry way. And you can bet these visitors, here on work visas, wont be recommending any pleasure travel to our neck of the world.
So tourism will take a hit. As far as possible terrorism goes, theres a little ego thing going on here. Sure, our area has the Savannah River Site, Fort Gordon, nuclear Plant Vogtle and the Clarks Hill Dam. But get real: If there were a terrorism priority list, we wouldnt rank in the top 100.
It all goes back to Gen. William T. Sherman in the War Between the States. Augusta wasnt important enough to burn back then; it simply isnt critical enough for terrorists to attack today.
We have to be vigilant. Even so, those Indian tourists are about as bad as our brush with terrorism is going to get.
Child-killer still guilty
Speaking of bad, in case you skipped the Montel Williams Show this past Wednesday - and I hope you did - you missed seeing Meredith Laney continue to proclaim the innocence of her boyfriend, Jason Kennedy, convicted in February of the 1996 killing of 19-month-old Caitlyn Caw-thon, Laneys daughter.
In this tragic case, successive Columbia County juries deadlocked three times before the fourth settled quickly on a guilty verdict.
The key to that conviction, says District Attorney Danny Craig, was the impassioned testimony of Dr. Gary Billingsley. The Martinez pediatrician calmly withstood grilling from defense attorneys as he proved Caitlyns death was the result of homicide - not some accidental fall, as Kennedy and Laney claim, or from meningitis, as Laney tried to sell to Montel.
Kennedy is now serving a life term in prison while Laney shops his innocence to tabloid TV, offering that the only crime committed against Caitlyn was by the prosecution.
What baloney. Hooray for Craig for declining Montels invitation to appear on the show.
If there is an award for patience, it should go to the kind ladies behind the counter at Probate Court in Appling.
I spent about an hour the other day in the back-room vault searching for a historical needle in a haystack of papers. I didnt find what I was looking for, but I certainly got an education.
I learned that we have some incredibly calm, indulgent county employees. And we have some amazingly thick-headed citizens.
Two of the latter boneheads stand out. One motorist came in to complain about a ticket for failing to show proof of insurance, launching a tirade about the sheriffs office and the courts rules when she didnt get the ticket ripped up. The employees patiently listened until the sourpuss stormed out.
Another man groused about a ticket for barreling through a school zone. Hed pay the ticket, he said, but didnt want it on his record. And he didnt want to go to court to plead his case because he didnt trust that old battle-axe Pat Hardaway, the probate judge.
Now, keep in mind Hardaway has been called the hugging judge for good reason: Shes the exact opposite of a battle-axe. The employees calmly tolerated this long-winded jerk until he finally muttered his way out the door.
Their reward for these ladies patience must be in knowing the size of the fine such loudmouths will eventually have to pay.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)
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