Eyewitness News at 6, 9-25-12

10:49 PM, Sep 25, 2012   |    comments
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Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us.

I'm Frank Malloy.

And I'm Leah Johnson.

This is Eyewitness News at Six.

Some tenants at a Macon apartment complex have complaints about the conditions they live in.


It turns out that public money pays most of the rent at the Macon Garden Apartments...

and a federal agency admits they haven't followed up on problems there.

Judy Le went out to take a look ---

Jennifer Willis lives in this apartment, where the air conditioning is broken.

<sot jw - It's just a shame that we have to live out here and let people know yeah we live in Macon Garden and it just don't feel like home. I hate coming home>

This is the Macon Garden Apartments in west Macon. We visited several units where mold grows on carpets...the walls have holes...(nat jw) and windows are boarded-up.

And your tax dollars help pay the rent.

<sot jw - I wouldn't wish this on anyone... not even the poor. Maybe the poor is living better than us>

Several other tenants...had the same complaints. Shavonaree Lundy often visits her daughter at Macon Garden...a HUD Section 8 subsidized housing complex for low-income tenants.

<sot sl - Shatandra's been here for 7 years and her units been out for 5 years>

Lundy and Willis say they contacted the office several times but only received evasive answers

<sot sl - She says there's nothing they can do because they have to wait for funds. It's always like we have to wait until we get funds, we gotta wait till we have funds and nothing ever changes>

And look at the difference between the apartments facing the street and the ones in back...hidden from view. To get there...follow the cars maneuvering around the potholes.

Lundy says these obstacles plagued the apartments for years.

<sot jw - If you can have money to fix some of the apartments in the front, why you can't help fix the ones in the back>

Tenants pay up to 30-percent of their income toward rent...and the U.S. department of housing and urban development pays the rest.

<sot sl - It's a waste of time going to them. Nothing going to get did>

The complex Is owned by Macon Properties LTD...which has an address in Atlanta. And they hire a Valdosta company...Ambling Management Company... to actually manage the place. Thats who residents talk to.

I've called Macon Properties several times and left messages on their voice mail. They haven't called back. The spokesman for Ambling...Corky Gatewood...sent us an email responding to the air conditioning complaints.... saying quote -- We did find a total of three AC requests that needed immediate attention --

If air conditioners stop working...the procedure is to use a window unit.

<sot sl - She had to buy window units, replace her toilet, refrigerator, hot water heater...carpet

<sot jw - Me and my daughter, we're sharing a unit and fans>

It's money they shelled out themselves...and will never see again.

Judy Le...13WMAZ...eyewitness news.

HUD spokesman Joseph Phillips couldn't tell us exactly how much they've paid the Macon Garden's owners.

But he shared numbers with us that showed HUD...and the tenants...

pay more than a million dollars a year combined in rent and utilities for the 131 apartments.

But HUD is also supposed to make sure that the subsidized housing is safe..and in good condition.

And by email....Phillips admitted that hasn't happened.

Back in May 2011...he wrote....federal inspectors gave the complex a score of 35. That's out of 100.

Now after that inspection... HUD says the owners are supposed to re-inspect the property themselves...fix the problems...and certify to HUD that their apartments are OK.

They say the owners did....but the federal agency never followed up.

Philllips wrote.... that because that score was so low, they should've reinspected the apartments within a year to make sure the owners made improvements.

But he says... they never did.

Because we started asking questions about the complex...Phillips says they'll schedule a new inspection to make sure the Macon Garden Apartments are in liveable condition

In an email to Judy Le...he wrote...".HUD takes these matters seriously...and appreciates you bringing this information to our attention."

For the second time in two years... superior court Judge Howard Simms had a brush with the law over alleged drinking and driving.

This time... officers allegedly smelled alcohol on Simms' breath on a road check on Lamar Road Saturday night. The field sobriety tested him at point 08... which according to state law usually means a D-U-I.

The Bibb County sheriff's department says Simms was allowed to drive himself home.

Two years ago...a Macon Police officer drove him to his son's little league baseball game after smelling alcohol on his breath when she stopped him.

Bibb Sheriff Jerry Modena says his internal affairs unit is investigating the latest incident... to see if his deputies handled the situation properly.


<sheriff Modena: It showed positive but at the same time it wasn't high enough to go ahead and just take him downtown.

Randall: What was it?

Sheriff: .08, it's alright .08

Randall: .08, what's legal?

Sheriff: Sir

Randall: Where is the illegal mark?

Sheriff: That's what we're investigating that's why we're not saying any more than that now we're looking at that same thing, we got the man in the field now.


Meanwhile Simms issued a news release saying that he's entering in-patient alcohol treatment.

He said quote...

"I want to apologize for the hurt and embarrassment I have caused my family, friends and supporters. Drinking and driving is a serious issue and it is not acceptable conduct for anyone, much less a superior court judge.

Alcohol addiction is something that i have struggled with for many years and have tried to deal with on my own but I have come to the realization that i need professional help."

Modena stopped short of saying Simms was driving under the influence...but says internal investigation should be completed by next week. He says they'll determine what to do after that.

Former Warner Robins city council member Tom Simms Jr. was found dead in his Gawin Drive home around noon today.

He was 56.

Houston County coroner Danny Galpin says Simms apparently died of natural causes, and foul play is not suspected.

An autopsy will be performed tomorrow morning.

Simms left the council last year after serving one term.

A fugitive... sentenced for murder in Mississippi... saw his run from the law come to an end last night in Macon.

48 year old Michael Dowda escaped from the Mississippi state penitentiary Saturday, with a stolen truck and two guns.

Agents with the Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force got information around midnight last night that Dowda was at the Quality Inn off Arkwright Road.

Deputy U.S. Marshal W.S. Robertson says this truck was backed into the bushes and he had to get a flashlight to check the plates - Dowda had apparently spray-painted the truck black.

That's when Robertson noticed Dowda was sleeping in the back seat of the truck!

They blocked Dowda from leaving the parking lot and took him into custody without incident.

Dowda was serving a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend in 1996 - he would have been eligible for parole after he turned 65.

But now... he's in the Bibb County Jail awaiting transport.

One Warner Robins council man says he's concerned about people getting hit by cars at one busy intersection.

Daron Lee wants the city put a traffic light and crosswalk at North Davis and Tabor Drive.

That's on the northside of town Near Highway 247.

Lorra Lynch Jones talked to police and neighbors about the possibility.

The flow of pedestrian traffic along North Davis Drive almost keeps up with that of car traffic.

McClendon Blue watches it all from his mailbox.

<all them people shop right up there at the center there and everything.>

He says they walk from nearby apartment complexes to convenience stores. Sometimes it's the walkers and bikers not paying attention. Other times it's the drivers.

<you always find some idiots that like to come down through here wide open. That's the only problem.>

And according to police.. In the past year... Cars hit four pedestrians. All were seriously injured... Including a child struck in July... who's still in the hospital.

<young lady hit right up there.>

Blue says a crosswalk with flashing lights and a traffic signal might help... Then again, it may not.

<warner Robins police say crosswalks are great in theory, if people use them. But that's just the problem. They often don't.>

Take Mario Jackson for example. He walks the area daily.

<do you use the crosswalk?


Why not?

I don't see no reason to. I'm a grown man.>

He too has watched people get hit.

<what about the cars? What if they are not paying attention?

He's not alone in that thinking. We watched several people cross wherever... Apparently in no hurry to reach the other side.

Blue says it's a daily occurrance.

<I don't have small kids, so I don't worry about it>

As for adults.. he not sure lights and crosswalks will change their habits.

In Warner Robins, Lorra Lynch Jones, 13WMAZ, Eyewitness News.

City engineers gave council an initial estimate for the installation of a crosswalk and traffic light at 75-thousand dollars.

They're working to lower the cost... And plan to bring that back to council.

Daron Lee is hosting a community meeting for his district tonight at Sewell Circle Park.

It starts at 6-30.

He says they plan to talk about this issue.. Crime... and voter registration.

It's Great Hang Up day at 13WMAZ!

There are many tools to teach drivers about the dangers of texting while on the road.

Katelyn Heck spoke with some central Georgia teens about which ones they think will put the brakes on distracted driving.

This Southwest Senior had just stepped out of a texting and driving simulator... Just one tool used to teach teens about sending messages behind the wheel.

<they don't know, not concentrating. if you've never been in an accident, you don't realize how bad it is until you are.>

<you can kill somebody if youre not paying attention, if youre not paying attention, you can kill yourself, and plus you can wreck a car and all that stuff and it's too much money, it's not even worth it.>

Billboards... Online pledges... and Videos... Also try to drive home the same message... Yet each year over 10,000 drivers in the US are injured or die due to distracted driving according to the National Safety Council.

So I asked a few teens, what will it take to keep people's attention on the road?

<for them to get into an accident or either they get a ticket, that's what's going to teach them a lesson.>

<cause they're going to go what they want to do, and if somebody's mind is determined to text somebody back once they've texted them, they're going to want to text that person back.>

But they also say some of the texting and driving campaigns have made a difference for them and many of their classmates.

<do not, do not text and drive, because this right here, it aint nothing to play with.>

Some of the teens suggested more school programs on distracted driving and using interactive tools like the simulator.

Katelyn Heck 13WMAZ Eyewitness News

If you want to take a stand against distracted driving... join the 'Great Hang Up'.

Just look for the link under the features tab or the banner on our homepage.

You'll find the link to sign the pledge on the right side of the page.

And once you sign the pledge... let us hear from you about why you joined.

Just email the-great-hang-up at 13wmaz dot com.

The faithful in the Jewish community are preparing for a special observance tonight.

This marks the beginning of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar - (yohm Key-poor) Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Larry Schlesinger spent today preparing for tonight's service at Temple Beth Israel.

Schlesinger says the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a period of seeking forgiveness.

<Rabbi Larry Schlesinger: "It's kind of a demonstration to God that we are serious about improving our characters and our behaviors.">

Yom Kippur begins at sundown tonight...and ends Wednesday night.

Rabbi Scheslinger says Central Georgia has an active Jewish community...with about 250 families in 2 congregations.


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