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Jackson County
Update: 18-year-old dead after vehicle collides with Amtrak train south of De Soto

An 18-year-old is dead after a vehicle collided with an Amtrak train north of Carbondale Wednesday.

According to a news release from Jackson County Sheriff's Office, Cody L. Robertson, 18, of Marion, died after he drove westbound through the railroad crossing near the intersection of U.S. 51 North and Helm Road, and his vehicle was struck by a southbound Amtrak train.

Deputies responded to the crash around 11:52 a.m. Wednesday at the railroad crossing, about two miles south of De Soto. 

Robertson was pronounced dead on the scene.

The release states the Amtrak train sustained some damage, but no injuries were reported by the train's passengers or crew.

There is a yield sign at the crossing, but no crossing arms.

The sheriff's office continues to investigate.

More public outcry over Harrisburg Police chief's social media conduct expected at tonight's Council meeting

HARRISBURG — Emotions are still high in Harrisburg nearly two weeks after Police Chief David Morris posted what many considered to be a racist meme — a photograph with words used on social media — to another city police officer’s Facebook page. These emotions could show themselves Thursday during the regularly scheduled City Council meeting.

Last month, Morris, who is white, posted an image of a Chicago Police cruiser with the text, “BREAKING NEWS: The Chicago Police Dept has replaced all sirens with the National Anthem, to force suspects to stop running and take a knee.” This was in response to fellow officer Nathan Moore’s post showing two officers, faces screwed, eyebrows high, with the text “The face cops make when their arrestee threatens to whip their asses.”

Screengrab from Facebook 

A post made by Harrisburg Chief of Police David Morris.

Public outcry followed the post, with members of the community raising concern at the city’s last regularly scheduled meeting.

Harrisburg Mayor John McPeek said in an interview last week that he wanted to apologize on behalf of the city of Harrisburg. He also said he requested the post be removed, citing that he knew it could be controversial and said he did think Morris broke some sort of rule by posting the meme. However, he said he was not sure if the post broke the 2015 city ordinance governing city employee use of social media.

Morris flatly said it did not break the ordinance, saying that he thought the rule was too broad to be enforced. He also denied that the post was racist in an interview with The Southern.

“It had nothing to do with race,” Morris said, adding that “there’s not a racial bone in my body.” He went on to defend his stance on the issue of the NFL protest referenced in the post, saying that to him it was about defending the flag and the national anthem. He likened taking a knee to burning the flag.

Mike Hodge, a black citizen of Harrisburg as well as a member of law enforcement, though not affiliated with the Harrisburg Police Department, spoke out at that initial City Council meeting and plans to do so again Thursday on behalf of the Saline County Black Caucus, of which he is chartering member.

Hodge said when he read the article published in The Southern last week, he felt like it was more inflammatory than the action that prompted the report.

“His statements again appear to be more divisive to the news than his post was,” Hodge said.

Hodge said he has worked in law enforcement with Morris and said in that capacity, he never detected bias.

“I backed David Morris on calls, he backed me up on calls,” Hodge said. “I had never witnessed or knew David Morris to be racist or (a) bigot. My views of David come from the law enforcement perspective.” However, he said he saw a different side come out in the comments Morris made to The Southern, and he said he was not the only one.

He said those he has spoken to want action from the city.

“Several members of this group and the community (are) wanting to see him disciplined or demoted,” Hodge said.

Watching the events unfold, Hodge said many just wanted Morris to own his actions without also trying to justify them.

“When you mess up, fess up and move on and really that’s all we wanted at the beginning of this,” Hodge said.

As to what he expects from city officials Thursday, Hodge said he has checked expectations.

“I think they want this Morris issue to go away,” he said, explaining that he does not expect action at this point. “I’d be hard-pressed to believe that they are going to do a 360 now and do something about it."

Beth Montfort, the Harrisburg city commissioner responsible for the police and fire departments, said she had not heard of any disciplinary action being taken, however she said there was an unexplained personnel issue under McPeek’s portion of Thursday's agenda.

Multiple attempts to reach McPeek for comment were unsuccessful.

Montfort said she, along with her officers, will be taking a diversity class — soon-to-be-required by the state — as what she hopes will be a first step in opening up a more honest channel of communication and respect between her departments and the community.

“I think this will be a good start,” she said.

Hodge said the entire episode has left him feeling like there is still a lot of work to do in building stronger race relations in the Harrisburg community. He said his 13-year-old son wants to follow in his footsteps and become a member of law enforcement. However, he said he is having to teach some hard lessons about what he sees as the realities of of the job — how to deal with the views of those he may serve with.

“I also got to try to teach him how to navigate these types of people,” Hodge said.

The Harrisburg City Council will convene its regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

Saline County
Saline County Board tells county clerk they will not cover overspending

HARRISBURG — Saline County Board had a special meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The only item under new business on the agenda taped to Saline County Courthouse door was “office holder’s budget.”

The agenda item refers to the budget of the County Clerk’s office.

According to Saline County Treasurer Jeff Murrie and the County Coard, the total appropriations for County Clerk Kim Buchanan’s office is $234,601. Fine print on the pages of the county budget say the total is the amount to be appropriated by the board.

However, Buchanan said there was a typo on the budget. The total salary expense is listed at $118,660, other expenses at $36,541, and total elections is listed at $129,400. Those numbers add up to $284,601.

Murrie said the board anticipated a tight year and cut the budget for some county offices, including the county clerk’s office, by $50,000.

One problem is the county has spent more than 93 percent of its annual appropriations, but the fiscal year runs through November 30. Murrie said the county should have spent just over 91 percent of its annual budget at this point in the year.

The treasurer’s report through Oct. 31 shows expenditures for each county office. Buchanan’s office has spent 111.13 percent of its 2017 budget. The circuit clerk’s office has spent 101.4 percent of its annual budget. The sheriff’s office has spent 97.08 percent of its budget, and the supervisor of assessments has spent 95.18 percent of its annual budget.

On Tuesday, Buchanan received a letter dated Monday from Joe Jackson, chairman of Saline County Budget Committee. The letter informs the county clerk that she is over budget for the year, and that the county board does not have authority to bail the office out.

The letter further states that all claims submitted by the county clerk’s office will be held, including, but not limited to, payroll claims.

“All of us know these issues could have been avoided with some cooperation,” Saline County Commissioner David Phelps said.

Phelps said he doesn’t want this to become a trend, or to have disagreements at every board meeting. He added that he has served at various levels in government and never has seen the kind of issues they have in Saline County.

Saline County State’s Attorney Jayson Clark said the county can appropriate “emergency” funds, according to the law. It takes a two-thirds vote to pass and the law does not define what constitutes an emergency.

“The only other option is for the clerk to find the funds,” County Commissioner Stephen Karnes said.

Buchanan assured the board that her employees would be paid. The county clerk’s office has six full-time employees and one part-time employee.

“We are very concerned. We want our members paid. This is not a game anymore,” said Judy Simpson, field representative for Laborer’s Local 773, the union to which Saline County employees belong. “This is a serious issue for the citizens as well as employees.”

Employees also are concerned about their medical insurance. One employee of the county clerk’s office is scheduled for surgery on Friday. Karnes assured them their coverage will continue, saying it is paid out of a different fund.

“Ladies, we will get this worked out,” Karnes said.

Saline County Board’s next scheduled meeting is at 7 p.m. Nov. 28 in Saline County Courthouse.