WARNER ROBINS -- A hit-and-run accident in May has depleted about half the fund Houston County uses for vouchers to help people buy weather radios.
Last week, the board of commissioners approved taking up to $31,964 from the Code Red fund to repair a damaged weather siren at Bonaire Middle School. The siren was destroyed May 23 when a truck backed into the pole that holds the siren, jarring it loose and causing it to fall. There were no witnesses, and the driver has not been found.
The Code Red fund is money left over from the implementation of the 33-siren weather system in Houston County. The fund is now used to do maintenance on the sirens and buy vouchers for weather radios.
Before approving the funds for the repairs, the board voted to take $5,000 from the fund to buy more $15 radio vouchers. The county gets the vouchers from Kroger at a discount, and the coupons can be used to buy Midland weather radios, priced at $29.95 at any of the Kroger locations in Houston County.
People only have to show that they live in Houston County to get a voucher. Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker indicated that if people want a voucher, they might not want to wait.
We may not be able to do coupons much longer because, obviously, we are going to have some repairs in the future, Stalnaker said.
Stalnaker said the fund had been at about $68,500, but the money for the siren repair and the vouchers dropped that to about $31,500.
Houston County Emergency Management Director Jimmy Williams is particularly bothered by the incident because the repairs are cutting into the funds to help people get the radios. The devices are needed, he said, because the sirens are designed to warn those who are outdoors. Those on the inside might not hear the sirens or understand the voice instructions that may come over the warning system.
The damaged pole is at the edge of the Bonaire Middle School property near the football field. Williams said tracks at the scene indicate a truck with dual wheels, most likely a utility or work truck, backed into the pole. It was hit with such force that caused a whiplash effect, Williams said, and thats what made the siren come crashing down.
He said most likely a truck was working in the area, and someone trying to turn around did not see the pole. White paint was found on the pole.
While the pole is intact, Williams said it has a crack and may have to be replaced. A full inspection will be done with a bucket truck to determine whether the pole should be replaced.
Houston County Sheriffs Office investigators checked with utility companies and couldnt find anything to tie a vehicle to the accident. They also checked with the adjacent farm, and there was no truck being used that matched the tracks left.
Sheriffs Lt. Ronnie Harlow said there are no new leads in the case. He asked that anyone with information call the traffic division at 542-2080, or online tips can be sent by going to www.houstoncountyga.com, then clicking on online services and then crime tips.
Stalnaker said he remains hopeful the culprit can be found and the money recovered through the vehicles insurance.
Its disturbing to me that someone would cause that kind of damage and then just leave, he said.
The county used a half mill property tax over one year to pay for the siren system, as well as the Code Red telephone warning system. Williams said to date about 10,000 phones are registered, which he said represents only about 10 percent of the phones in the county.
The county has thus far given out 1,300 vouchers for weather radios.
Anyone who would like to apply for a voucher or register for Code Red warnings can go to www.houstoncountyga.com and click on the Code Red icon.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.