Sheriff Concedes Loss In Battle To Shut Beach
STATENVILLE, Ga. (AP) _ The sheriff, who makes up half his department and doesn’t mind using force or driving fast to do his job, concedes he’s lost a battle to shut down 100 yards of beach that triggered complaints of drugs, drinking, nudity and profanity.
″It’s not going to worry me,″ drawled Echols County Sheriff Charles E. Carter, 47. ″If we have a death up there, I can look back and tell them what I did to try to prevent it.″
The bucolic stretch along the Alapaha River features moss-draped trees and placid waters that eventually feed into the Suwannee River in Florida.
After a grand jury responding to citizen complaints recommended in April that Mayday Beach be closed, Carter dug a ditch across the road leading to the sandy shore.
But some of the county’s 2,300 residents complained, so the county commission had the ditch filled in. Carter dug a second ditch.
Superior Court Judge Marcus Calhoun this month ended the dispute by ruling that the commissioners have ultimate authority over the beach.
The three-term sheriff had been trying to close the beach for years and once raided it singlehandedly, confiscating rifles, pistols and knives from some of the 32 people he arrested, he said.
″Some of them went to jail and some of them went to the hospital,″ said Carter, a gaunt six-footer whose leathery face is a consequence of farming for 30 years in the harsh south Georgia sun.
″You use whatever force is necessary to make an arrest, if it’s with a flashlight or whatever,″ he recalled. ″I didn’t go up there to get whipped.″
Mayday Beach used to be a pleasant family recreation area, but in recent years has ″gotten so bad that a man who has any respect for his family won’t take them there,″ said Carter, who blames roughnecks from adjoining counties for the problem. ″I’m not saying we’ve got all angels in Echols County, but we can handle them,″ said the sheriff, saying there have been no murders, reported rapes or armed robberies since he took over in 1977.
Carter and Deputy Mike Courson, 37, patrol 275 miles of highway in the state’s most sparsely populated county, which grows timber and tobacco and sits on the Florida line in southeastern Georgia. The sheriff’s wife, Marie, types up all his reports.
″I want to keep it (his department) just as small as I can because I’m a taxpayer myself. I don’t believe in throwing away money,″ Carter said in a recent interview.
With the sheriff’s office in the courthouse in Statenville, on the county’s western edge, Carter and Courson must travel up to 45 miles to get to the southeast corner.
But the sheriff promises to be on the scene within 15 minutes of receiving a report.
″If a man calls you, he needs you. He doesn’t want you in the morning,″ he noted. ″If I’m not there in 15 minutes, you better send someone after me because I’m going to be wrecked.″
The county’s residents help hold the crime rate down by reporting supicious acts, but drugs are a serious problem in the east end of the county where ″you’ve got nothing but pine trees and highway,″ said Carter. ″We’ve got as fine a location for drug planes to me as any in the state of Georgia.″