Poplarville Fire Chief guilty of disorderly conduct

Published 1:00 pm Friday, October 26, 2012

Poplarville Fire Chief Michael White, was found guilty of disorderly conduct in a Justice Court hearing on Thursday.

Witnesses in the hearing ranged from the commanding officer on scene, Cpl. Joe Garcia with the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department, to White. In the end, Justice Court Judge John Mark Mitchell found White guilty of the charge Garcia placed against him.

The incident began just before 6 p.m. on July 15 near the intersection of Sunny Davis Road and Mississippi Highway 26 when a one vehicle accident called in by Craig Schmidt brought emergency responders to the scene.

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Schmidt said he was cleaning up some vehicles in his back yard that evening when he heard a loud noise that sounded like an accident. Schmidt testified that when he checked on the source of the noise, he found a vehicle flipped over in the middle of the road, and the three occupants were outside of the vehicle.

After Schmidt called 911, emergency responders from AAA Ambulance service, Sheriff’s Department, volunteer fire departments and Poplarville’s Fire Department arrived on scene. Every department on scene had a right to be there, Garcia testified.

Garcia was the responding officer for the Sheriff’s Department, and after speaking with the occupants of the vehicle, determined they didn’t have the money to call for a professional wrecker service.

Schmidt said he knew the driver of the vehicle through a complex series of relations and acquaintances, so offered to flip the vehicle using his personal Jeep, which is equipped with a winch on the front.

White arrived on scene sometime after the accident and expressed concern with letting a civilian  flip the vehicle back on its wheels.  

A difference of opinion ensued during the incident where White insisted Garcia call out a wrecker service in lieu of letting Schmidt do the work. White said his concern was based on the fact that gas and other possibly flammable liquids had leaked out of the vehicle onto the road, posing a fire hazard.

Testimony from volunteer firefighter Billy Creel showed a wrecker service is required to test their cables for weight loads, but also said a wrecker service would have used the same procedures Schmidt did to put the vehicle back on its wheels.

Garcia also testified that a wrecker service would do the exact same job Schmidt did, and told White to step back from the scene a number of times.

“The economy’s bad, and if we can help someone, I’m going to help them,” Garcia testified.

At one point the difference of opinion escalated to the point that White got in the way of the vehicle being flipped upright, even saying that Garcia would have to arrest him to get him out of the area, Garcia said. White’s actions and demeanor caused Garcia to place White in custody for disorderly conduct failure to comply, he testified.

“I begged him to leave, I didn’t want to arrest him,” Garcia said.

Other fire department personnel, including Creel and volunteer firefighter Josh Stockstill, testified that they could smell gas on scene. However, none of the fire personnel pulled out a hose to have it charged and ready should a fire break out. Stockstill said the hose would have been pulled out if a tow truck was on its way.

After the car was flipped back over without incident, Garcia asked the remaining fire personnel to spray the accident debris from the road, Garcia said.

White testified that the entire process was not safe. He said a person helping to flip the vehicle was in between the flipped vehicle and Schmidt’s Jeep, and also that a number of witnesses were too close to the scene while the overturned vehicle was being righted. Garcia said he didn’t have a chance to even notice the hazards White described because he was too busy trying to physically restrain White to get him clear of the scene so the overturned vehicle could be righted.

White’s defense attorney Keith Miller, said he intends to appeal the decision in Circuit Court. White also said he is looking forward to the appeal process, but declined to make any additional statements.

As part of the guilty verdict White will face court fines and fees totaling $423.75.

Sheriff David Allison said he intends to do everything in his power to have a successful working relationship with the Poplarville Fire department.

“I hope we can continue to work well with the Poplarville Fire Department and Chief Michael White,” Allison said.