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Deep South News Digest

March 13, 2020 - 7:42 pm

Good evening! Here’s a look at how AP’s news coverage is shaping up today in the Deep South. Questions about today's coverage plans are welcome and should be directed to:

The Atlanta AP Bureau at 404-522-8971 or apatlanta@ap.org

The Columbia AP Bureau at 803-799-5510 or apcolumbia@ap.org

The Montgomery AP Bureau at 334-262-5947 or apalabama@ap.org

The New Orleans AP Bureau at 504-523-3931 or nrle@ap.org

The Jackson AP Bureau at 601-948-5897 or jkme@ap.org

For up-to-the minute information on AP's coverage, visit Coverage Plan at newsroom.ap.org.

Deep South Editor Jim Van Anglen can be reached at 1-800-821-3737 or jvananglen@ap.org. Administrative Correspondent Rebecca Santana can be reached at 504-523-3931 or rsantana@ap.org. A reminder: this information is not for publication or broadcast, and these coverage plans are subject to change. Expected stories may not develop, or late-breaking and more newsworthy events may take precedence. Advisories and digests will keep you up to date.

Some TV and radio stations will receive broadcast versions of the stories below, along with all updates.

GEORGIA (All times Eastern)

AP is moving election test reports for the March 24 Georgia presidential preference primary beginning Monday, March 9 (revised from March 5). These tests are NOT for publication, broadcast or use online. Additional information is available in the election testing advisory sent Mondays and Thursdays, found in advisory queues: AP—Georgia Presidential Primary Election Testing Advisory.



ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Friday that he would declare a public health emergency for the state on Saturday morning, as one of the state's marquee events joined the ever-growing list of canceled events and schools told 1.2 million children to stay home next week. Kemp said in a statement that the declaration would allow resources to be marshaled for treatment and mitigation of the virus. The announcement came hours after Augusta National golf club said it would postpone the Masters tournament until a future date. Kemp also announced that the state is building temporary housing units for 40 people to house quarantined patients who have nowhere else to go at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, northwest of Macon. By Jeff Martin and Jeff Amy. SENT: 1070 words, photos.


SAVANNAH, Ga. — A company seeking to mine minerals near the vast wildlife refuge in the Okefenokee Swamp has a new plan that would substantially shrink the mine's initial footprint. Twin Pines Minerals of Alabama submitted a new permit application to the Army Corps of Engineers for the project near the Georgia-Florida state line. It proposes mining on 898 acres during the initial phase, compared to the company's prior proposal of 1,450 acres. Twin Pines withdrew its previous permit application last month. Federal wildlife officials told the Army Corps in October they fear the mining project could cause substantial and irreversible environmental damage to the nearby Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The company's own study concluded impacts would be negligible. By Russ Bynum. SENT: 475 words.


SAVANNAH, Ga. — Georgia's highest court says a man serving a life sentence for a 1976 slaying deserves a new trial after recent DNA tests cast doubt on his guilt. The Georgia Supreme Court sided with a lower court Friday in ordering a new trial for 64-year-old Johnny Lee Gates. He was convicted of murder in the 1976 shooting of 19-year-old Katharina Wright in Columbus. Last year, a judge ordered Gates a new trial after DNA tests showed a belt and neckties used to bind the victim didn't show traces of Gates' DNA. State attorneys appealed. But the state Supreme Court agreed the DNA evidence likely would have produced a different verdict. By Russ Bynum. SENT: 662 words.


ATLANTA — An attorney says Georgia’s top elections official followed state law when he canceled a May election to the state Supreme Court in order to allow the governor to appoint a replacement for a sitting justice who won't leave office until November. Attorney Russ Willard said in court Friday that Georgia law says a vacancy is created as soon as the governor accepts a resignation. Two former lawmakers sued after they tried to qualify to run for the seat of Justice Keith Blackwell on the Georgia Supreme Court last week but were told the election was canceled. SENT: 376 words.


ATLANTA — The Georgia House has passed a bill that aims to strengthen the state’s anti-gang laws, over the objection of Democrats who said the bill was mostly posturing. House Bill 994 passed by a vote of 93-65 late Thursday. Backed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, it would expand the offenses that fall under the definition of criminal gang activity. Republican Rep. Bert Reeves said the bill refines the state’s gang laws based on actual cases that have come up in Georgia. Democratic Rep. Josh McLaurin said the bill isn’t needed and is just posturing to make supporters look tough on crime. SENT: 232 words.


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Elections officials in the four states holding presidential primaries next week say they have no plans to postpone voting amid widespread disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. They say they are confident voters will be able to safely cast their ballots on Tuesday. Louisiana did postpone its primary, which was scheduled for early April. Early voting for Georgia's upcoming primary continued Friday, as state election officials weighed their options, including whether to postpone. By Christina A. Cassidy and Julie Carr Smyth. SENT: 990 words.


Delta Air Lines will cut passenger-carrying capacity by 40% to deal with a nosedive in travel demand, and it is talking to the White House and Congress about assistance to get through the downturn. The cut in flying is the largest in Delta's history, even larger than after the September 2001 terror attacks. CEO Ed Bastian said Friday the downturn in demand is unlike anything the company has ever seen. He says he's optimistic about getting help from the White House and Congress. But he says Delta can't wait for Washington to act, so it is preserving cash and cutting costs. By David Koenig. SENT: 700 words, photos.


ATLANTA — Atlanta police have charged, but are still searching for, a suspect accused of fatally shooting a man outside an upscale Atlanta mall after an argument over a parking space. SENT: 240 words.


ORLANDO, Fla. —The U.S. Census Bureau said it has reached its goal of recruiting more than 2.6 million applicants for the once-a-decade head count that launched for most of America this week — but it has been a bumpy road getting there. The nation's abundance of jobs has complicated the effort, and some rural areas — particularly in New England, Appalachia and some Rocky Mountain states — are falling behind recruitment goals as the agency works to hire up to a half-million temporary workers before May. Georgia recruited more than double its goal. By Mike Schneider and Angeliki Kastanis. SENT: 1070 words. With photos.



As it became apparent the NCAA basketball tournaments could not be held during their usual three-week window because of concerns about the coronavirus, organizers scrambled to devise a plan for a 16-team event to salvage the postseason in one long weekend. NCAA vice president of men's basketball Dan Gavitt told AP on Friday that he started to consider ways of condensing the tournament Wednesday night after the NBA announced one of its players tested positive for the virus and the league suspended its season. But the reality set in that even a shortened tournament could not be pulled off without putting people at risk, and the NCAA's biggest event of the year was canceled Thursday afternoon. By Ralph D. Russo. SENT: 1220 words, photos.


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA. — For the last 75 years, the golf landscape never changed. March brought anticipation of azaleas and Amen Corner, of the drive down Magnolia Lane and the chase for a green jacket. The annual road to the Masters took a major detour Friday — but not a dead end, like other tournaments — when Augusta National said the Masters would be postponed because of increasing risks with the new coronavirus. It was expected, but no less jarring, even as the Masters joined other big sporting events that were suspended (NBA), delayed (Major League Baseball) or canceled (NCAA basketball tournament). By Doug Ferguson. SENT: 880 words, photos.


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The annual rite of spring for golf won't happen this year. The Masters has been postponed until a later date. Augusta National did not indicate when the Masters would be played. That means there will be no golf at least for the next month. The Masters began in 1934 and only World War II has kept it from being played. This was the biggest shoe to drop for golf. The PGA Tour already canceled the next three events leading up to the Masters. Tiger Woods was to be going after his sixth green jacket. By Golf Writer Doug Ferguson. Sent: 750 words, photos


NASCAR and IndyCar have postponed their weekend schedules at Atlanta Motor Speedway and St. Petersburg, Florida, due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. NASCAR also postponed next week's race near Miami and IndyCar suspended the season through the end of April. The decision came less than 24 hours after both series said they would run this weekend without fans. The plan had been to restrict access to competitors, crews, officials and other necessary personnel. There are no major sports scheduled anywhere in North America. By Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer. SENT: 325 words, photos

SOUTH CAROLINA (All times Eastern)



FLORENCE, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster prepared to declare a state of emergency Friday in two counties where coronavirus has been shown to have spread from person to person, and implement restrictions on visitation at nursing homes and correctional facilities. McMaster said he would also direct that schools in Kershaw and Lancaster counties be closed for two weeks. An executive order would also suspend visitation at state and local correctional institutions in all of South Carolina's 46 counties and direct state health officials to restrict visitation to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. By Meg Kinnard. SENT: 400 words, photos.


KINGS MOUNTAIN, N.C. — The South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation has received permission from the federal government to build a casino and resort on land over the border in North Carolina. The U.S. Interior Department approved in writing the tribe's request to use acreage near Interstate 85 in Kings Mountain. Catawba leaders say the project will create thousands of jobs and give members the same kind of prosperity the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has thanks to its two western North Carolina casinos. The Eastern Band plans to fight the decision in court, calling the casino's area its own historical territory. SENT: 650 words.


— BOOSTER CLUB VOLUNTEER INDICTED — A volunteer for a South Carolina high school sports booster club is accused of using the group's debit card to pay her personal and family bills.




MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency Friday and closed public schools for two-and-a-half weeks as the state reported its first cases of coronavirus. Ivey said all K-12 public schools will close after March 18 for a two-and-a-half-week break. Some schools were on spring break during part of this time. State Health Officer Scott Harris said the state now has at least two cases of coronavirus. He said there are preliminary reports of three additional cases in the state, which would bring the confirmed state total to five. By Kim Chandler. SENT: 800 words, photos.


More people have tested positive for coronavirus in Mississippi. The Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Basketball Classic was to be played Friday, but only immediate family and coaches would be admitted, the Mississippi Association of Coaches said. By Janet McConnaughey and Jeff Amy. SENT: 920 words, photos.


—FATAL SHOOTING-CAPITAL MURDER — An Alabama man has been indicted for capital murder in the death of a 78-year-old man inside his home.




BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana's governor Friday postponed the state's presidential primaries due to fears of the coronavirus, making it the first state to push back its election because of the outbreak. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order delaying the April 4 primary until June 20, according to his spokeswoman Christina Stephens. In a statement, he described the step as “necessary to protect the health and safety of the people of Louisiana from the risk of COVID-19,” the disease caused by the coronavirus. Edwards also barred gatherings of more than 250 people, prompting two of New Orleans' most popular attractions to close. By Melinda Deslatte. SENT: 650 words, PHOTOS.


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Elections officials in the four states holding presidential primaries next week say they have no plans to postpone voting amid widespread disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. They say they are confident voters will be able to safely cast their ballots on Tuesday. Louisiana did postpone its primary, which was scheduled for early April. Early voting for Georgia's upcoming primary continued Friday, as state election officials weighed their options, including whether to postpone. By Christina A. Cassidy and Julie Carr Smyth. SENT: 990 words.


BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana's governor on Friday closed K-12 public schools across the state for roughly a month, postponed the presidential primary until June and banned gatherings of more than 250 people, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Democratic governor ordered public schools shuttered until April 13 and barred all large public gatherings of more than 250 people until the same date, with no exemptions for church services. He also loosened deadlines for renewing driver's licenses and conducting other state business, to cut down on face-to-face interactions at state buildings. The ban on large gatherings closed the National WWII Museum and the Audubon Zoo and several related attractions. By Melinda Deslatte. SENT: 820 words.


NEW ORLEANS — A civil rights group says a two-year analysis of thousands of jail records shows Louisiana leads the nation in the percentage of people held behind bars before they're tried for a crime. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana's report was released Friday. It shows that for every 100,000 Louisiana residents ages 15 to 64, there are 502 people jailed while awaiting trial. The organization is calling for multiple reforms to reduce the pre-trial lockup rate, including bail reform. The report says excessive bail is at the root of what it calls “pretrial injustice.” By Kevin McGill. SENT: 350 words.


LAKE CHARLES, La. — A Louisiana man says he was beaten and robbed, then dragged by a taxi he had hailed to get home from a casino. The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office says the man told his taxi driver he won $15,000 at a casino Wednesday. The victim then fell asleep on the taxi ride home. He woke up to another man dragging him out of the vehicle. The victim says that man appeared to have a gun. The victim was beaten and robbed of his money and two cellphones. He tried to get back into the taxi but was dragged by the driver. Both the driver and the suspected robber have been arrested. SENT: 200 words.


—FATAL DOMESTIC DISPUTE-WIFE — A Louisiana woman was arrested and accused of fatally shooting her husband during a domestic dispute, authorities said.

MISSISSIPPI (All times Central)



Five more people have tested positive for coronavirus in Mississippi, including two in the Hattiesburg area, where the state's initial case lives, and two whose home counties aren't yet being released, the Mississippi State Department of Health said Friday. Gov. Tate Reeves, who has been in Spain with his family for a daughter's soccer tournament, is returning Friday, news outlets reported. Asked whether the governor will quarantine himself in light of the thousands of cases in Spain, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer, said, “We are meeting with him. We don't want to scoop what the governor has to say.” The news that Mississippi now has six cases of the respiratory illness called COVID-19 came as school and college closures, began to spread across Mississippi and numerous public events were postponed or cancelled. It's all part of a push to stem new cases of the illness caused by the virus.. By Janet McConnaughey and Jeff Amy. SENT: 920 words, photos.


GULFPORT, Miss. — A Mississippi hospital owner cheated Medicare out of $10.8 million, and his wife and the former chief financial officer of another company are liable for slightly less, a federal jury hearing a whistleblower lawsuit has found. Jurors returned their verdicts Thursday evening against Ted and Julie Cain, Tommy Kuluz, Stone County Hospital and Corporate Management Inc., for which Kuluz worked, the Sun Herald of Biloxi reported. The verdicts are not the end of the eight-week trial. Judge Henry Wingate will hear arguments March 26 in Gulfport about whether to triple the damages under the federal whistleblower law. SENT: 480 words.


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Friday halted all non-essential business travel for state employees, banned visitors and tours from the state Capitol and heavily discouraged groups of 250 or more from gathering. The guidance is the latest development in Tennessee's handling of the spread of the new coronavirus. By Kimberlee Kruesi. SENT: 930 words, photo.


—FATAL ALTERCATION-HOUSE FIRE — A man wounded his brother and then killed himself while barricaded from police inside a Mississippi house that was destroyed by a fire, authorities said.

— INMATE DEATHS-MISSISSIPPI — An inmate at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman has been pronounced dead


If you have stories of regional or statewide interest, please email them them to:

The Atlanta AP Bureau: apatlanta@ap.org

The Columbia AP Bureau: apcolumbia@ap.org

The Montgomery AP Bureau: apalabama@ap.org

The New Orleans AP Bureau: nrle@ap.org

The Jackson AP Bureau: jkme@ap.org

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