Warren County coroner killed in crash|[7/23/06]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 23, 2006

Warren County Coroner John A. Thomason III was killed Saturday night in a wreck while enroute to pick up the remains of another wreck victim, authorities said.

The wreck occurred at about 9:30 on U.S. 61 South near its intersection with Belva Drive when Thomason’s Suburban hit a curb, flipped and hit a natural gas line before bursting into flames.

Vicksburg Police officer Leonce Young said the 48-year-old Thomason was working as a funeral director when he was headed to the scene of a wreck on Glass Road, off U.S. 61 South, where a man had been killed at 8:30. A limb had fallen on the Honda Accord in which Fermin Rodriguez, 39, 68 Gastrell Lane, was a passenger.

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The falling limb was blamed on strong thunderstorms that came through the area between about 5 and 7 p.m., pouring up to 4 inches of rain, causing evacuations along the city’s bayous, downing trees and causing less serious wrecks.

Warren County Sheriff’s Department investigator Anthony Walker said the driver of the car on Glass Road, Manuel Medina, 38, who had the same address as Rodriguez, fled the scene on foot and was picked up at his home several hundred yards away. Walker said Medina was taken to River Region Medical Center, where his status was unknown Saturday night. No charges were filed Saturday night.

In the city, water flooded several areas along Stouts and Glass bayous, trapping some residents on porches and forcing others out of homes as waters rose.

The National Weather Service said a quarter of an inch was recorded officially, but forecaster Mark McAllister in Jackson said some areas received 3 to 4 inches in about two hours, from about 5 until about 7. The weather service issued a flood advisory for until 9:15 p.m., McAllister said.

Rescue officials and police placed barricades at roads along the bayous across the city, Glass in the north and Stouts through the central part of the city.

No water was reported entering homes, but at least seven were evacuated on Lane Street in Marcus Bottom, on Wabash Avenue near Sky Farm Avenue and on Hudson Street in Kings in north Vicksburg.

&#8220I wouldn’t say they were forced to evacuate, but they got scared and needed help getting out,” said county Emergency Management Director Geoffrey Greetham.

Flash flooding was also reported on Fillmore Street off Clay, where a river of water poured through the street, on Paxton Road in the county, on Spring Street near Clay and at Jones Body Shop at 1110 Vanderbilt St., also near Clay.

&#8220It’s got up to the second steps before, but never this bad,” said Henrietta Martin from her nearly submerged front porch at 1415 Lane St. after the rain as a yellow pale fell over the sky. Martin was awakened by neighbors who waded through several feet of water surrounding the house to check on her.

In addition to the fatal accident on Glass Road, the downpour was being blamed for wrecks on Interstate 20, Tiffintown Road, Wisconsin Avenue, U.S. 61 South, Wisteria Drive and South Frontage Road, Greetham said.

On I-20, where Vicksburg Police Lt. Davey Barnette had stopped to help a stalled vehicle in the middle of the downpour around 7 p.m., his police cruiser was smashed by an 18-wheeler in the eastbound lane. There were no injuries in the crash.

A fire reported on Boy Scout Road, which damaged a trailer but did not result in any injuries, said Culkin Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Trey Smith. It was not known if the fire was related to the storm. Smith said no injuries were reported.

For today, the National Weather Service was forecasting partly cloudy skies with a chance of showers early and clearing in the afternoon.

The fatal wrecks were the seventh and eighth in Warren County this year.

The ruptured pipeline Thomason hit runs from the Vicksburg Harbor to Port Gibson. It was believed operated by Mississippi River Gas.

Ken Coffia, of Lawrenceville, Ga., said he was northbound on U.S. 61 when the wreck occurred.

He said he saw the vehicle hit the median and flip before coming to rest upside down on the west side of the highway, just past the vacant Penco Products building.

&#8220I saw it happen, and there was nothing I could do,” Coffia said.

Entergy trucks were called out, as power outages had been reported along the east side of U.S. 61 South in the subdivisions of Warrenton Heights, Fox Run and Cottonwood. Also, residents on parts of Redbone Road were without electricity, Young said.

Traffic on the four-lane highway was being detoured from Belva Drive to Redbone Road.

Thomason was elected coroner in a special election in 2000 to complete a term for the office left vacant when L.W. Callaway resigned to take another position. Thomason was elected to a four-year term in 2003, and that term is set to expire in 2007.

&#8220He was a good man and a great boss,” said Billy Dumas, an employee of Frank J. Fisher Funeral Home, where Thomason had been manager for about 11 years.

Warren County Supervisor David McDonald said early this morning that he hated to hear the news about Thomason. &#8220He was a great guy, doing a great job for us.”

McDonald said the five-member board of supervisors will appoint an interim coroner and probably include an election for the post on the Nov. 7 ballot for judicial races.