Addressing disconnects following Light Up Ellijay

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Crowds flood Downtown Ellijay for Light Up event

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The downtown area of Ellijay was rocked by an historic crowd for its Light Up Ellijay festivities, which echoed throughout the county.

Citizens have responded in various ways and have voiced opinions as to the success or detriment of the Return to Whoville themed event. However, they are not the only ones responding to what some merchants called “Who-mageddon,” a jovial moniker made possible by a lack of major incidents during the event. Indeed, with additional responses from not just Ellijay’s police force, but county fire and rescue personnel as well, the event had only one reported incident, which involved a missing child. According to officials, the child was found within 15 minutes of searching.

This was an outcome Ellijay City Police Chief Edward Lacey said the town was very lucky to have accomplished. While acknowledging the unanticipated crowd, Lacey said his officers performed “admirably,” going so far as to say they gave “150 percent.” Lacey also confirmed with FYN that despite their efforts, the event would have been a lot worse had they not received backup from firefighters helping out with crowd control.

According to the permit issued by the city of Ellijay to the Downtown Ellijay Business and Community Association (DEBACA), the organization expected a maximum of 5,000 people at the event. While no one could confirm details, reports have varied as to the cause of the dramatic increase.

From a few viral videos to a radio station picking up the story in Florida, rumors continue to swirl with no real specific answers. However, DEBACA reported they noticed over 70,000 clicks for Light Up Ellijay in the week leading to the event. After the night was done, license plates were seen from over nine states, according to officials on scene.

Ellijay Mayor Al Hoyle declined to comment about the meetings and processes involved since Light Up Ellijay, but he did speak about the people who attended saying, “That paints a very positive picture of Ellijay. The name ‘Ellijay’ is known, obviously, and it drew that big of a crowd, and that’s great.” He went on to comment that with the quality, he sees future events growing as well.

People already began spilling into the street as earlier as 4:30 p.m. an hour before the tree lighting.

People already began spilling into the street as earlier as 4:30 p.m. an hour before the tree lighting.

Speaking with DEBACA Chairman Steve Cortes, he echoed the sentiment that attracting the crowd was a success on its own. This is the first time the association has hosted the event after transferring the event from the Downtown Development Authority.

Stepping beyond the event itself to identifying the effects a week later, Lacey stated about back-up received, “I think it showed that we were able to admit that we were overwhelmed … A lot of times, agencies that are not willing to ask for help are the ones that get in a lot of trouble … We were able to admit that we needed help and actually request it.”

In fact, not only did the Ellijay Police receive help during the event but also invited members from the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office, Gilmer Fire and Rescue, the Gilmer Chamber, DEBACA, East Ellijay Police, Ellijay Fire, and others to an after action meeting that is usually only held with Public Safety. Lasting more than three hours, the meeting saw members from each entity delving into the event separating out things that did happen versus things that should have happened during the event. Specifying the disconnection between those two ideas led to discussion and thoughts on future events.

A few specific issues came to light in the meeting regarding logistics for things like the addition of vendors for the event, the opening of bathrooms for the event and parking and traffic due to the crowd. Chief Lacey told FYN that the meeting and input from all involved will be considered as he creates his report and in moving towards future events.

Cortes also commented with FYN saying another issue with the crowd comes with future events. Not knowing if they should prepare for a similar crowd to this year or preparing for something lower is part of the stresses of planning. Cortes suggested they would be looking at the upcoming events throughout the year, such as St. PETrick’s Day and Independence Day, to gauge the response they might see at Light Up Ellijay.

One of the bigger points in the meeting  addressed a lack of communication and response from parties involved. Addressing understandings of the permit process and amending it paired with controlling and coordinating the multiple entities became a larger focus. Suggestions on dealing with these issues led towards future events seeing use of Instant Command Structures (ICS) and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

EOC is a fusion center of resources that officials say are used to manage and communicate across the different entities of public safety. Fully activated EOC’s could also include members from all sorts of other entities; in Ellijay, this could include mayors, council members, DEBACA members, or more. As explained in the meeting, this would allow instant access to cross-force resources.

The EOC concept also answered issues with traffic. A crowd of the size seen downtown not only gridlocked traffic after 5 p.m., but also clogged emergency access through the area. One hypothetical example of the EOC given at the meeting suggested an issue arising on Hwy. 282. The EOC could coordinate a nearby sheriff’s deputy to the location faster than any other. A more immediate response from a sheriff’s deputy in the area means far lower response times in the face of gridlocked traffic for citizens.

Somebody tracking and directing all requests would streamline services and resources in that instance to better control and guide arising issues, whether they be safety-focused or logistically focused through those involved.

In addition to the EOC, pre-made ICS would be available to handle situations where pre-planned events escalate to any sort of emergency, for example if a driver had grown so frustrated with the crowd that he or she ran people down.

Crowd size sends one child up the clock downtown in an attempt to see the nights events.

Crowd size sends one child up the clock downtown in an attempt to see the nights events.

While this may seem extreme, Lacey told FYN  these are the issues that police deal with everyday. They must prepare for the potential issues that could grow out of events with crowds like we witnessed this year. An approach that imitates an old saying, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” is one that the city police face daily in protecting and preparing for situations despite a common thought that such instances would not happen in our town.

In fact, part of Lacey’s research into parades garnered 56 total headlines in newspapers, with 55 of those occurring since July 2001, involving parade incidents and injuries. Crowds like the one at this year’s Light Up Ellijay further intensify the possibility of incidents.

While the entire week was spent identifying issues and areas for improvement, Chief Lacey declined to comment further on the entities involved saying, “It’s enough to say that there was a disconnect, and that we’re going to fix that.”

Cortes echoed approval of the cooperation and coordination found through the meetings held in the week after the event. Noting an increase in involvement as DEBACA continues to grow, Cortes tells FYN that he would love to see representatives from the Chamber, the cities and police forces at their meetings and events. He went on to comment on the meeting saying it answered questions: “What can we do if a big event comes to Ellijay? How can we handle that?” He went on to say, “There’s no finger pointing, everybody knows that a lot could have been done better, and a lot needs to be done if we’re going to work together in the future.”

Though Light Up Ellijay is firmly in the city’s rear view, progress and meetings continue as the response and preparation for next year continue. Continuing in growth and popularity, citizens and officials alike will be closely watching downtown over the coming year in anticipation of another night like Nov. 24.

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Health and roads dominate Ellijay’s November council

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ELLIJAY, Ga – Prior to the Ellijay City Council’s November Meeting, they heard a proposal from Russel Brown, local paramedic, for a community welfare program similar to programs in other counties like Floyd County.

According to Brown, patients statistically do better recovering at home. This program would encourage and supervise home health. Different from home healthcare programs, Brown said much of the welfare program is focused on prevention of readmission to hospitals and emergency rooms. They would focus on aspects like vital signs and communication for paperwork. If the program moves forward, it would start out within the Ellijay City Limits.

Funding and grants are available, Brown said, and much of the expense would come from strips for glucometers to measure blood glucose. While he hopes one day it could grow into a community paramedic program, he wished to start at community welfare. Those providing the service would be limited in care, and Brown stated that EMS would still be called for necessary situations.

Specific details for the proposal will come possibly as early as the December City Council meeting as the council requested Brown to return with an official written proposal to detail more things like cost and liability among others.

Signs of Interest is proposing this sign change on behalf of the Gilmer Nursing Home and SunLink Health Systems.

Signs of Interest is proposing this sign change on behalf of the Gilmer Nursing Home and SunLink Health Systems.

Another healthcare entity presented a variance request to change the sign for Gilmer Nursing Home on 1362 South Main St.  While the variance request was submitted to exceed the three-foot sign regulation of the city, it would in fact be lower than the current sign. Standing at 21 feet now, the request states the new sign will only reach 12 feet in height. A representative from Signs of Interest, Andy Lawson, told FYN the sign change was partially to clean up the facilities appearance and simplify the extras to a lower “nicer looking sign.”

Officially approved by the council, the sign will include a small message board to be utilized by the nursing home. Lawson provided FYN with a drawing of what the sign is expected to look like. Though the sign change is indicative of a name change as part of a remodeling project, Lawson told the council that SunLink Health Systems still owns the nursing home.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is planning to abandon part of Highway 382 to rebuild it as a direct line to Highway 515.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is planning to abandon part of Highway 382 to rebuild it as a direct line to Highway 515.

Following the same road further south, Highway 382’s changes came to Ellijay with a formal notification by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) that they will abandon the section of Highway 382 that currently extends from the intersection of 382 and Old Highway 5 to the connection at Highway 515. As seen in the picture, GDOT will be constructing a new connector straight across to Highway 515 with a roundabout at the intersection.

The notification comes with the city of Ellijay needing to accept the abandoned portion of 382 into its responsibility for paving and maintenance. However, a motion was made at the meeting to table the item. Citizens can expect the council to revisit the issue in December.

Along with their discussion of roads, an official petition has reached the council to add speed bumps to Gilmer Street near the Senior Center. The petition garnered 20 names and roused discussion from the council about returning the street to a one-way street as well as discussion on purchasing speed bumps for the street. Continued complaints about the speed of vehicles on the street led to suggestions to officially request the change via petition. Discussion took a turn as Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey informed the council that the street was, at one time, a one-way street.

Gilmer Street is a more narrow street and discussion arose  as, if the city returned it to one way, they were unsure of which way to direct the traffic. The council tabled the item and requested an official recommendation from Lacey, on how to return it to a one-way street, to discuss along with the speed bumps option. Again, citizens should look for the council to revisit the item in December.

 

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‘Donut Boy’ Sweetens Fourth of July Weekend in Ellijay

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ELLIJAY, GA – A special visitor made his way to Ellijay today as he continues a cross country trip to thank Police Officers for their service.

This time, 9-year-old Tyler Carach, the ‘Donut Boy’ as Police Departments and people across America have begun calling him, began traveling from Florida on June 26, and will continue all the way to New Hampshire before continuing his return trip home. Tyler began his project one day, according to his mother Sheena Carach, in Douglasville when they were in a gas station. Tyler noticed four deputies and decided to buy them mini doughnuts.

Tyler receives a patch for the "Donut Police" after visiting Ellijay.

Tyler receives a patch for the “Donut Police” after visiting Ellijay.

Sheena tells FYN that he couldn’t understand why the officers were making such a big deal out of the snacks. After explaining the atmosphere involving police in the nation today and telling him you cannot judge everyone by a few, Tyler promptly announced that he was going to buy every officer in America doughnuts to say thank you.

“I’ve always taught them that if you believe it, you can achieve it. You are the only person in this life that can limit yourself,” said Sheena who helped Tyler by traveling to “local” departments in Florida, some three hours away. However, she very soon began receiving calls from all over the country including Oregon requesting Tyler to stop by. Tyler isn’t just receiving support from community and citizens in his quest, Sheena also praised her husband who travels for work, putting in long hours to support the family as well as Tyler’s dream.

Tyler Carach, the 'Donut Boy' stopped into Ellijay just in time for July 4th to thank Ellijay's Police Officers for their service and commitment.

Tyler Carach, the ‘Donut Boy’ stopped into Ellijay just in time for July 4th to thank Ellijay’s Police Officers for their service and commitment.

ALTAI, a company who sells Police Department approved boots, has offered a 2% donation of their profits to support Tyler as well as doughnut stores across America who donate and discount their products for Tyler and local officers. Ellijay’s Dunkin Donuts on 515 helped Tyler today by donating two dozen and discounting a third.

Having already begun the paperwork, Sheena tells FYN that she hopes to turn the whole thing into a 501c3 (non-profit) organization so that companies like ALTAI and anyone else can continue to support Tyler and his movement for Police everywhere.

Police Chief Edward Lacey stops for a comical moment during the 'Donut Boy's' visit.

Police Chief Edward Lacey stops for a comical moment during the ‘Donut Boy’s’ visit.

The “I DONUT Need a Reason to Thank a Cop” campaign, and Tyler specifically, has been highlighted and noted numerous times across America, and was even invited to speak at National Police Week, the Georgia Chief of Police Conference, and even the Steve Harvey Show.

The family decided to add Ellijay to their trip because a friend visited and spoke so highly of the town. Being in town since Friday, Sheena says she and Tyler have fallen in love with it as they have yet to meet anyone who wasn’t “just as friendly as can be.” Unfortunately, Tyler may not be in town much longer as “duty calls.” He will continue on to Augusta and  then to Pigeon Forge in the next few days.

Though leaving to continue his journey, Tyler has left a lasting impression on America and Ellijay as Police Chief Edward Lacey commented about the visit saying, “He’s a great kid, I love him.”

A donated picture from Tyler's Family of him trying on police gear.

A donated picture from Tyler’s Family of him trying on police gear.

 

It’s not just a trip for Tyler, though. He wants to follow through to become a Police Officer one day. Although originally wanting to join SWAT, Tyler got a chance to try on the gear once and told his mother the gear was too heavy. Since then, he has switched to wanting to become a K-9 Officer instead.

His visits exchange far more than doughnuts, however, Sheena tells FYN that Tyler has amassed a noteworthy collection of Police Department patches, hats, coins, and other various items from the Departments he visits. He also secretly leaves something more than doughnuts at the Departments, hiding painted rocks as a part of the connections to Pensacola Rocks, Ellijay Rocks, and numerous other communities he visits.

 

Make sure to follow more with Tyler’s trip through his Facebook Page.

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City of Ellijay and Police Officer Sued in Excessive Force Complaint

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ELLIJAY, GA – A lawsuit has been filed against the City of Ellijay claiming excessive force by a City Police Officer.

According to the filing by Terry Cantrell, the police attempted to stop his vehicle on June 16, 2015 as he was driving in Ellijay, Ga. As the filing states, he left his vehicle, proceeding on foot. With the officers in pursuit, Cantrell’s lawsuit claims he suddenly threw his hands up to surrender and was tackled to the ground, at which point his head struck the pavement.

Quoting the lawsuit filed, Cantrell claims, “As a direct result of Defendants’ unlawful conduct, Plaintiff has suffered actual physical and emotional injuries, and other damages and losses…”

Cantrell filed his lawsuit against the City of Ellijay, Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey, III, and Officer Trevor McClure. Cantrell claims that as he fled police and was tackled, he was unconscious on the ground and was later put on life-flight to Atlanta Medical Center where he claims he was in a coma for 12 days and under medical supervision for 22 days.

Complaints against the City and Officers include “Excessive Force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Deliberately Indifferent Policies, Practices, Customs, Training, and Supervision in violation of the Fourth, Fourteenth, and First Amendments, Failure to Render Aid, Breach of Fiduciary Duties, Battery, and Negligence, among others.

Cantrell also claims this is not the first time the Officer has used excessive force in his career.

The lawsuit holds claims for both Punitive Damages and Attorney’s Fees for Cantrell. In a notice to the City of Ellijay, Cantrell’s Lawyer George Weaver, of the Law Office of George W. Weaver, claims the medical expenses amounted over $350,000 and continue to accrue daily. The notice did offer a settlement to the City of Ellijay in the amount of $1,100,000.

 

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Police Report on Incident in Lawsuit

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After combing through the Lawsuit filed by Terry Cantrell, FYN takes a closer look at the Police Report and Dash Cam Footage of the involved incident.

The Incident Report filed with the Police states that Officer Brady Dover was patrolling down River Street when he noticed a dark in color pickup truck fail to maintain its lane by crossing over the fog line and partially into a parking lot. As he followed the vehicle, he initiated a traffic stop, activating his blue lights.

According to the report, after the driver failed to stop, he followed him onto North Avenue in Downtown Ellijay, and then onto McCutchen Street in front of the Ellijay Elementary School and Ellijay Primary School. At this point the driver dramatically increased his speed to a point where Officer Dover had to increase to 55 mph to avoid losing the suspect.

One can see in the dash-cam footage, as the suspect came off the bridge on McCutchen Street, the suspect nearly ran head-on into another vehicle exiting Harrison Park before traveling through the field and crashing into a small creek on the east side of the park.

An Accident Report also indicates he struck two wooden posts that blocked vehicles from entering the field.

The incident report states the suspect exited his vehicle on foot, at which point Officer Dover pursued the suspect, yelling at him to stop.

Pursuing the suspect through the wooded area, a field, and back onto McCutchen Street, Officer Dover once pulled his firearm after noticing “a large knife on his side.” Yelling at him again to stop, the suspect continued fleeing. Continuing his pursuit, the report states Officer Dover heard a second officer, Sergeant Brian Troglin, “give a loud verbal command.”

Sgt. Troglin’s report states that he noticed “a knife approximately 6″ in length on his right hip in a case,”  emerged from his vehicle, and yelled, “hold up” at the suspect.

The report also states Sgt. Troglin saw Officer Trevor McClure tackle the suspect with a shoulder tackle.

Officer McClure’s report stated:

AS I QUICKLY CLOSED DISTANCE BETWEEN MYSELF AND MR. CANTRELL, I HEARD SGT. TROGLIN YELL, “WATCH OUT FOR THAT KNIFE,” AND OBSERVED THE KNIFE ON MR. CANTRELL’S RIGHT HIP. I SLOWED DOWN, SLIGHTLY, AND REACHED FOR MY SERVICE WEAPON. AT THIS TIME I WAS APPROXIMATELY FIVE TO SIX FEET FROM MR. CANTRELL’S LOCATION. AS HE TURNED TO FACE ME, I REALIZED THAT I WAS TOO CLOSE TO ATTEMPT TO STOP AND DRAW MY WEAPON. IN ORDER TO PREVENT MR. CANTRELL FROM CONTINUING TO FLEE OR ATTEMPTING TO DRAW HIS KNIFE, I DELIVERED A SHOULDER TACKLE, WRAPPING MY ARMS AROUND MR. CANTRELL’S BACK, AND TOOK HIM TO THE GROUND. I IMMEDIATELY TURNED MR. CANTRELL INTO THE PRONE AND BEGAN HANDCUFFING HIM. AS I TURNED HIM, I NOTICED THAT HIS BODY WAS LIMP AND THAT HE WAS BLEEDING FROM THE BACK OF HIS HEAD. AFTER HANDCUFFING MR. CANTRELL, I SECURED THE KNIFE FROM IT’S SHEATH ON HIS BELT AND HANDED IT TO SGT. TROGLIN.

A second dash-cam footage shows the officer tackling the suspect to the ground, who was then identified as Terry Cantrell.

Sgt. Troglin’s Report states he noticed Cantrell’s head bleeding, called for an ambulance, and instructed Officer McClure to “get the male off his back, put him on his side, and secure his neck.”

According to photographs of the scene, Cantrell had beer cans in the vehicle. He also registered a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.139 according to GBI Crime Lab results by Gas Chromatography.

FYN also noted seven citations from the incident including Striking a fixed object, Reckless driving, Driving while License was Suspended/Revoked, DUI, Failure to stop at a Stop/Yield sign, Failure to Maintain Lane, and Fleeing/Attempting to elude Police.

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