Petitioners Request Signs Be Moved From Pat Drive Property
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COFFEEVILLE – A petition signed by 26 people in the Boat Landing community requesting the county to clean up private property at 12 Pat Drive was presented to the Yalobusha County Board of Supervisors at Monday’s meeting in the Coffeeville courthouse.
Rhonda Wilbourn addressed supervisors, explaining the petitioners would like to see two large signs removed from the property. The signs were erected on the property following the Dec. 26, 2020, death of Kristina Michelle Jones and the June 13, 2021, death of Ashley Henley.
Wilbourn acknowledged that the burned mobile home on the property likely cannot be moved due to the ongoing investigation.
“But the signs that are out front of it that says ‘I was murdered’ and another sign that says ‘Justice for Ashley.’ I understand wholeheartedly about a memorial. But these kids in our neighborhood going through there and seeing this, it is scaring them,” she told supervisors.
She said her granddaughter has asked who was murdered after seeing the signs.
“How do you explain that to a little kid? The only thing I am asking for is to have the signs removed or smaller or something,” Wilbourn told supervisors.
Board Attorney Shannon Crow provided legal insight into the issue, advising that the county does not have legal authority to remove the signs. He added that for supervisors to clean up private property, a condition must present a threat to public safety such as a an abandoned home that could be dangerous for small kids.
“I get it, and I am with you. But the signs are not a threat to public safety. We would open ourselves up to a can of worms trying to remove something like that from private property,” Crow said.
Crow said one option for the petitioners is to file suit in Chancery Court, a nuisance-type claim that could be based on the detriment of property values due to the signs.
“How good that claim is, I don’t know,” Crow added about filing a potential civil lawsuit.
The attorney also said another option is reaching out to the property owner at Pat Drive directly.
“The purpose of where it was put was for a specific person,” Wilbourn told supervisors about the location of the signs. She said that specific person no longer lives in the neighborhood.
Sheriff Jerimaine Gooch, who was at Monday’s meeting, said the signs do not interfere with the ongoing investigations.
The cases remain under investigation by the sheriff’s department and multiple state agencies. No arrests have been made in connection with the deaths of Jones or Henley. A neighbor who lived directly across from the burned house, Billy Brooks, has been indicted for arson for the Dec. 26, 2020 fire that damaged the mobile home. Jones’ body was discovered inside the mobile home after the fire was extinguished.
“I think the lawyer has answered our question for us,” Board President Cayce Washington added. “I agree with everything that you are trying to do, I think everyone here does. I understand the sensitivity of it. I understand raising children, and the children asking those hard questions. I would love to go out there and pull those signs out.”
Washington cautioned that if supervisors single out one property owner for cleanliness, the argument could made that they are picking on one property owner and not another.
“I don’t agree with the signage because it is an impediment on that community. But you could go around within a half-square mile of that (property) and argue that there are four or five other properties that need attention,” the supervisor explained.
“We would love to help you, but I’m afraid we can’t” District Five Supervisor Gaylon Gray added.