JONESBORO, Ga.: New sheriff cleans house

In November, voters in this rural county near Atlanta elected former state representative and police officer Victor Hill, 39, as sheriff. Hill is the first African American to lead the 345-employee department.

Hill, a lifelong resident of Clayton County, was sworn in Jan. 3 and immediately called in 27 of the department’s supervisory personnel, took their guns and badges and had them escorted out under armed guard. At least one of those fired is African American.

In a statement, Hill referred to the murder in 2000 of Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown, the first African American sheriff in nearby DeKalb County. Former Sheriff Sidney Dorsey shot Brown three days before he was to take office. Dorsey was convicted and is serving a life sentence.

Hill painted a picture of blatant sabotage of the Jonesboro sheriff’s office. Computers were infected with viruses and files were destroyed or missing, Hill told reporters.

The former employees went to court and Judge Stephen Boswell restored their jobs for at least 30 days. Hill placed all 27 on administrative leave until the full case is heard at the end of the month.

Harlan Miller, lawyer for the 27, filed suit against the University of Georgia in 2000, which resulted in the courts eliminating the school’s affirmative action program.

GREENSBORO, N.C.: Bush ally calls for troop withdrawal

Veteran member of the U.S. House Howard Coble, a Republican who has represented North Carolina’s 6th District since 1984, told his hometown newspaper Jan. 10 that he is “fed up” with reading that “we’ve lost another five or 10 young men and women in Iraq.” Coble joins Republican James Leech of Iowa and Democrat Dennis Kucinich of Ohio in calling for President Bush to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Coble chairs the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security and said that he plans to put troop withdrawal before that committee.

Although Coble, a long-time ally of Bush, firmly supported the invasion of Iraq, his enthusiasm waned when he discovered that the administration lacked a post-invasion strategy.

PITTSBURGH: Tugboat workers killed

Workers who master the complex and dangerous currents on Pittsburgh’s three rivers are invisible to many, but their work delivering coal helps keep the lights on, computers blinking and coffee brewing.

The Ohio River was rushing at about 15 mph — 12 mph faster than usual — and was swollen from heavy rains Jan. 9, when a tugboat, the Elizabeth M, maneuvering six coal barges through the Montgomery lock, suddenly plunged over the dam. Lock workers tossed life preservers into the swirling water but the raging river kept volunteer firefighters, from the nearby town of Industry, from rescuing the tugboat crew members.

“The worst thing was, you could see two people in the boat screaming for help,” said Chuck Ward, Industry’s assistant fire chief.

Crews on nearby boats rescued Toby Zappone, Jacob Wilds and John Thomas. No one could reach Ed Crevda, 22, Tom Fisher, 25, and Scott Stewart, 36, whose bodies have been recovered. Rich Conklin, 40, is missing and presumed dead.

The Coast Guard has begun an investigation. They report “scant” cooperation from the owner of the Elizabeth M, Campbell Transportation.

GRANITEVILLE, S.C.: Toxic train wreck kills 9

Six textile workers died at their machines inside the Avondale Mills plant when a Norfolk and Southern train carrying chlorine gas slammed into railroad cars parked beside the facility. Charles Shealey, John Laird, Fred Rushton III, Allen Frazier and Steven Bagby were working the night of Jan. 6 and did not return to their families in the morning. A sixth unidentified worker was found in the plant. Outside the mill, chlorine gas killed a truck driver, Joseph Stone, as well as the train’s engineer, Christopher Seeling, and a town resident, Tony DeLoach.

The chlorine release forced the evacuation of 5,500 residents. Area hospitals treated 234 people and admitted 58, about a dozen in serious condition.

Pressurized railroad cars carrying toxic chemicals like chlorine through communities has worried government safety officials for months. However, the Bush-appointed officials at the Federal Railroad Administration don’t question the railroad corporations, who claim that they are doing everything possible to improve safety.

Last summer, three Texans died when a train derailment spewed chlorine gas on the town of Macdona. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Graniteville wreck.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards ( Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s clips.