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FRONT PAGE - AUGUST 18, 1999 - JEFFERSON, GA

COMMUNITY

Friends remember Chi Kim Thi as 'sweet, loving' woman
BY ANGELA GARY
Chi Kim Thi came to America five years ago from Vietnam in search of a better life. As the daughter of an American serviceman and Vietnamese woman, young Kim was scorned by a society that looked down upon Amerasian children, many of whom, like Kim, were the result of brief wartime unions. She wasn't, for example, allowed to attend the local schools with other Vietnamese children.
So when she got the chance to come to America with her husband, Thoung Dahn, and three small children, it must have been a dream come true - a chance to see the homeland of the father she never knew and to help make a better life for her family.


KIM THI, DI THI


The family settled in the Atlanta area for a year, during which time their fourth child, Di Thi, was born. Then, four years ago, they moved to Arcade and Mr. Dahn took a job at Gold Kist. He later began working closer to home at Buhler Yarns as a technician and Kim worked at night as a custodian at Jefferson Elementary School.
But last Friday, the idyllic path of this family's American Dream was shattered in a freak wreck on a main thoroughfare in Jefferson. Kim and 5-year-old Di Thi were killed after a large landscaping rock fell off a truck and into the windshield of their car. A number of local rescue, ambulance and police workers responded to the scene of the wreck, but even a life-flight helicopter for little Di to an Atlanta hospital wasn't enough to save her. Kim died later at Athens Regional Medical Center.
In the days since the tragedy, Mr. Dahn's co-workers at Buhler have become an extended family, helping him with funeral arrangements and being with him last week as his daughter died at Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta. The couple has no family members in the United States.
"All of the employees here at Buhler have tried to act as his family," said Shelly Casper, an employee at Buhler. "We've all offered love and support."
Kim was to start a new job Friday in the lunchroom at South Jackson Elementary School where her children go to school and where she had been a substitute lunchroom worker in the past. Di was to have started kindergarten at the school this year. In addition to Di, there are two other girls, Huy Thi, 11, and O Thi, 7, and a boy, Do Dahn, 9.
Mr. Dahn recalled this week that he was too shy to talk with Kim when he first saw her.
"She was so pretty..I wanted to marry her," he said. "I didn't talk to her, I talked to my mom and my mom talked to her mom and her grandparents. They arranged for us to get together."
Mr. Dahn said that he sat outside her house all night before the wedding, a Vietnamize tradition. Despite such ties to the past and last week's tragedy, Mr. Dahn said he could never return to Vietnam.
"I don't have nothing over there. I have everything here. My wife is here...I can't leave her."
Mr. Dahn described his wife as being "very smart" and said she kept up with all the family finances. Kim enjoyed working in the family's garden and grew most of their food, he said.
Jefferson librarian Donna Butler recalled having enjoyed little Di at library programs she did for the SJES pre-K group.
"She was a really sweet and outgoing little girl - one of those little lights," she said.
Wes Whitlock, Mr. Dahn's supervisor at Buhler, said he is a very conscientious worker who puts in more than 50 hours a week at the plant, often coming back at night to check on the machines and his work.
"They are a sweet, loving family," Whitlock said.

GOVERNMENT

County offers to buy sewage plant
Water Wise balks at first offer, but talks set again Thurs.
Talks between county officials and representatives of Water Wise, Inc. are set to continue Thursday over a controversial waste water facility, but a pending court action may begin next week if the negotiations break off.
In a series of chess-like events, county leaders last week temporarily dropped a condemnation lawsuit filed against the old Texfi waste water facility that was purchased in early July by Water Wise. The suit was dropped Thursday as officials from both sides met to discuss the possibility of a negotiated settlement. Lawyers representing the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority and the City of Jefferson told Water Wise officials that the suit had been dropped so the two sides could hold an unfettered negotiation without the suit hanging over the talks.
But after Water Wise officials balked at an offer of $1.5 million for the facility, the county reinstated the condemnation action the following day, a move designed to keep Water Wise from transferring the title to the City of Pendergrass. That town is a would-be partner with the private firm in the waste water business. Despite that, both sides agreed to meet again this Thursday to further discuss the county's offer. If that fails, a hearing on the condemnation move will be held Tuesday.
Jerry Wickliffe, owner of Water Wise, told county officials last week that he had $3.6 million invested in the facility and that the $1.5 million offer wasn't enough. County officials asked Wickliffe to document his expenditures for the plant, an action Wickliffe agreed to do before this week's meeting. Court records show that Water Wise paid $1.3 million for the old Texfi plant and county officials believe most, if not all of that amount was an in-kind transaction for Water Wise to treat Texfi's waste free for 20 years.
Meanwhile, county officials said they have begun an engineering study to see if it would be possible for the county to do a joint venture with a local town to provide sewage service to the Mulberry Plantation development on Hwy. 124. Mulberry developers had planned to use Water Wise to treat its sewage and return "gray" water for irrigation to the community's golf course. But the county's condemnation action has put a halt to the Mulberry project since no homes can be built in the development until sewerage is available. County officials said they didn't want to hold up the Mulberry project if some way could be found for the project to get sewage service from another provider.
PENDERGRASS
In a related action, the Pendergrass City Council held an emergency called meeting Monday morning to agree to participate in the negotiations between the BOC, water authority and City of Jefferson and Water Wise. Pendergrass had signed a trust indenture for Water Wise agreeing to take over the old Texfi plant if Water Wise goes out of business.
Mayor Mark Tolbert called the meeting to order but then stepped down due to what he called a possible conflict of interest due to his wife working for a division of Water Wise. His father, Melvin Tolbert, who serves as the council's mayor pro tem, presided during the brief discussion.
If negotiations fall through, the council agreed for Harvey to file a motion joining in the condemnation lawsuit. While Harvey called for the city to join in the condemnation proceedings, he said it is his "legal opinion" that the city already owns the property. He said the trust indenture places the legal title of the property with the city.
"Jackson County has no legal right to condemn the property nor does the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority nor does the City of Jefferson," he said. "It is property that is already dedicated for public purposes."
Also at the meeting, council member Harold Beck discussed the July 20 vote by the council to allow Water Wise to locate a sewage plant in Pendergrass.
"We voted on letting this guy put sewage in Pendergrass," Beck said. "That is really basically what we voted on. To get it, we had to take this place in Jefferson, right?"
Harvey answered, "Right."
Beck said, "I knew it was mentioned, but I didn't know that we were going to end up with that...When I voted on this, that's what I wanted--sewage in Pendergrass...We just didn't understand why we had to take this. It was explained to us why we had to and I agree that whatever we have to do is fine. I don't want to put a small town into something that we can't afford. I think everyone should be up front with everything... The way we understood it is that it wouldn't cost Pendergrass nothing....We wouldn't be liable for anything. The picture looked good."
Harvey responded: "From everything I know about it legally and contractually, I believe that is true. I haven't seen anything to indicate otherwise. I've heard a lot of talk, but you have to consider the source. A lot of people have their own motives for not wanting you to do it."
The condemnation action and ensuing controversy came after county officials learned that if Water Wise had the facility and a waste water permit from the state, the firm could take advantage of a loophole in state law that would allow it to have unregulated condemnation powers. Wickliffe told county leaders that he wouldn't run sewer lines where local governments didn't want them, but the county maintains that no private sewer firm should decide the location of sewer lines. Access to sewage service is a key need for industrial and commercial development as well as high-density residential projects. The county maintains that such decision are best left to local governments and not a for-profit private company.
INFRASTRUCTURE

Back to the books Fri. for county students
Students across Jackson County will return to class Friday as another school year gets underway. A record enrollment of some 5,100 students are expected at the county's four schools.
New programs, new faculty members and other changes are in store for students Friday. For an in-depth look at what's new this year at Jackson County schools, see pages 6-9B. A calendar, meal prices and other stories are also included in this special four-page feature.


BOC may set tentative budget Fri.
BY ANGELA GARY
There's likely to be a lot of sharp pencils around the county's administrative offices later this week as officials begin setting a tentative budget for the year 2000.
Some $5 million in new spending has been requested by county departments, but the Jackson County Board of Commissioners is looking to cut that in order to keep tax rates the same as last year.
A called meeting has been set for 10 a.m. Friday and final action is expected to be taken on the preliminary budget. The final budget won't be set until later this year after officials know the size of the county's taxable digest.
Last year, the millage rate was 7.57 and officials expect a projected growth in the tax digest will cover the yearly salary increases in the proposed budget. But many other requests may or may not get funded.
"I want to make sure we're down to the needs," commissioner Pat Bell said.
One of the largest requests came from the road department where several pieces of new equipment are needed. The county is working with road superintendent Sam McClure to auction off current equipment and use the proceeds for the new equipment.
PUBLIC DEFENDER'S OFFICE
A proposed court order from the judges in the Piedmont Judicial Circuit for a $200,000 public defender's office was also discussed last week. BOC chairman Jerry Waddell said it "galls" him that the three Superior Court judges sent such an order to the county.
"If they want to order us to do this, I will," he said. "But I want the public to know."
The action was a "consent" order, meaning the county would have to agree before it would go into effect.
The board discussed allocating $100,000 for a public defender's office for the county. The BOC also discussed a possibility of refusing to accept $20,000 in state funds for the office from the indigent council fund. By doing that, the county won't have to meet state case load guidelines.
TAX OFFICE
Tax commissioner Don Elrod once again appealed to the BOC to fund a new position for his office. He said the office already has problems with long lines and that would continue as more houses come to the county.
Other departments requesting more help were clerk of courts, recreation, probate judge, planning and development, sheriff's department and ambulance service.
CUB-JC REQUESTS FUNDS
A new request that was not discussed at earlier budget hearings came from Citizens United for a Better Jackson County which is asking for $25,000 to help pay legal fees to fight a private landfill in Arcade. Hilton Bik, a leader in the citizen's group, said Clarke County had already given $150,000 toward the cause. Jackson County also earlier gave $25,000 to the case.
But Waddell said county attorney Lane Fitzpatrick told him it would be illegal for county government to give money to a private organization. But commissioner Bell appeared more open to the idea.
"If there is any legal way to do so, I feel like we're obligated to do so," Bell said.
Waddell asked Bik to have his attorney forward the county a letter outlining how the BOC could legally provide funding to the citizen's group.
Peace Place, a group formed to locate a battered shelter in the county, has also requested some $10,000 in county funding.


Officials continue wreck probe
The Jefferson Police Department continued its investigation this week into a fatal wreck last Friday on Hwy. 129 north of town. Charged in the wreck was Johnny Sherwood Edmonson, 31, Monroe. Edmonson was charged with homicide by vehicle.
According to police reports, several large landscaping rocks fell off a flatbed tractor trailer traveling south on Hwy. 129 near Bell's Shopping Center. One of the rocks went through the windshield of a small north-bound station wagon and struck the driver, Kim Thi, before hitting her 5-year-old daughter Di Thi, who was riding in the backseat. Another child in the vehicle was uninjured.
A Phoenix Aircare medical helicopter flew the 5-year-old girl to Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta, where she later died. Kim Thi was transported by ambulance to Athens Regional Medical Center where she died earlier this week.
The truck that caused the accident, a 1995 Freightliner with a 48-foot flatbed trailer, had been loaded in Tennessee and was traveling to Watkinsville, where it was later found. The driver was apparently unaware of the wreck as he continued from Jefferson toward Watkinsville. While stopped in Jefferson at a red light just minutes after the wreck, one man motioned to Edmonson that some loose rocks were about to fall off the trailer of the truck. He pulled over a short time later to fix the loose rocks before continuing on to Watkinsville.


The Jackson Herald - Jefferson, Georgia
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