The woman on the phone was calm, if a little exasperated. I know where the Mus-tang is that was stolen, she said. What should I do?
Uh, call the police? I answered in my best trying-not-to-say-Duh! voice.
I tried that, she replied. They sent a car out here and rode around, then just left. Its getting dark, and I think theyre going to strip it.
The car, she said, was partially hidden behind a home on a dead-end street in a Richmond County neighborhood. The car could be seen from a nearby vantage point (but obiously not by deputies cruising past on the street).
She wouldnt tell me her name or give me her phone number, so I gave her the Columbia Coun-ty sheriffs number in Appling.
Maj. Rick Whitaker sent deputies to look, and with Rich-mond County deputies, they found the missing car.
The vehicle, as most of us know, had been borrowed from Augusta Lincoln-Mercury and driven by a Recreation Department employee during the Co-lumbia County Merchants Association Parade Dec. 1. The driver, Vernon Lee Harris, didnt return the car after the parade. He was later arrested in Augusta, and now is enjoying the hospitality of other county employees in Applings Detention Center.
County officials are going through the motions of reviewing Harris employment, but its a pretty safe bet his county career is over.
Meanwhile, the passenger in the car during the parade, County Commission Chair-man Jim Whitehead, has gotten lots of ribbing. Wheres your Mustang? people have been asking him. Hah.
Its too bad one county employee took a bad turn. Columbia County has a lot of very good workers - several of whom volunteered their time this past weekend to help with the Second Annual Christmas in America lighting of the countys tree at the Justice Center in Evans.
People like Charlie Beale, Lois Maddox, Beth Rober-son and Steve Jones from the Recreation Department, and Tony Temples from Con-struction and Maintenance, and Bill Probus and Rick Whitaker from the Sheriffs Office, and the deputies who directed traffic around the site, all helped make the tree-lighting the best yet.
Others helped, too: Retir-ed Lt. Col. Calvin Garner, the Pearl Harbor survivor who honored us by lighting the tree; WJBF-TVs Jennie Montgomery; Reese LeRoy and the Vineyard Church; Community and Leisure Ser-vices Director Frank Neal; singer Jamie Steele of Evans High and the Evans Debate Team; the Rev. Roscoe Perry; the Greenbrier High JROTC and Jazz Ensemble.
Also, Steve Patteson and the Columbia County Choral Society; South Columbias Niki Morse and Blue Ridges Margaret Wig-gins, who led the Columbia Coun-ty Elementary Schools Mass Chorus; my newspaper cohort Jason Smith; Nettie Engels, who got all the school kids lined up for the event; and the Martinez Fire Department and Gold Cross EMS.
Thanks, too, to the donors who helped make the event possible, including Tom Werner at Pierwood Con-struction and Dr. Steven Powell, whose greatly appreciated checks came in too late to make it into the events program.
And, of course, Jim Whitehead, who drove his own car to the tree-lighting.
Thanks, to everybody, for a great event and for being a real credit to the citizens of Columbia County.
If you werent able to at-tend the ceremony Sat-urday, drive by the Just-ice Center in Evans and take a look at the tree. Its a live one, planted thanks to County Commission Chair-man-elect Ron Cross and Four Seasons Landscaping.
Because its a live tree, it will just keep getting bigger every year - just like the ceremony in which we light it.
Merry Christmas, Colum-bia County.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ augustachronicle.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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