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Poplarville officials share city’s side of complaint

The Poplarville community was outraged after hearing the situation that occurred between a Poplarville deputy fire chief and Wiggins resident Tasha Johnson on Aug. 31.

“But they don’t know what was going on behind the scenes,” said Board of Aldermen member Anna Gendusa Smith.

The concern was that traffic had backed up along the off ramps off of Interstate 59 leading off onto exit 27  located on Highway 53 near the Chevron.

Anne Smith said that situation could have resulted in an accident if someone approached the off ramp too fast.

“We were very limited in our resources in officers because we were still assessing the damage in the city,” said Mayor Louise Smith.

Officers were stationed in various locations in

Poplarville, either controlling traffic at gas stations or helping with damage from Hurricane Ida.

“Every officer was worked to their max,” said Anne Smith.

The city was still under a state of emergency and the city had called Mississippi Highway Patrol to assist with managing the traffic.

Anne Smith said that at one time, only one officer could be at the interstate entrance where the encounter between Tasha Johnson and the deputy fire chief occurred. The deputy fire chief was relieved from his duty at another site in the city, but later saw traffic backing up at the interstate.

“He stood up there and went into emergency management mode because we had to get our residents back into the city after they evacuated from the hurricane,” said Anne Smith.

The traffic consisted of semi trucks, Poplarville residents trying to return home and those who wanted to get gas.

“It was a dangerous situation and we didn’t expect so many people at one time,” said Smith.

The large number of vehicles prevented drivers from turning left or right into the city. When Tasha Johnson arrived in town to get her child to an appointment for therapy on time, the deputy fire chief approached the situation knowing he had been tied up with handling traffic and waiting for a police officer to arrive and assist.

The deputy fire chief was attempting to tell drivers to go to exit 19 and come back to town through Millard or loop around and come through another way. His main priority was to get drivers off the interstate ramps and stop traffic from build up, Anne Smith said.

When Johnson got out of her vehicle she to talk to the deputy fire chief, she put herself in danger, Anne Smith said.

“She was in a dangerous position and the firefighter didn’t want her to get killed or hit when leaving her vehicle. But she would not move,” said Anne Smith.

“Back up did not get there yet so he had to flag citizens back on the interstate so they would not be killed on that ramp,” said Anne Smith.

The city’s officials were trying their best to get as many people in the city as safely possible.

“People didn’t realize and took offense, it was an emergency situation and we were having to get people redirected to alleviate the traffic and save lives. It was a life or death situation and our deputy fire chief realized that,” said Smith.

“It was never our intention to turn anyone away, we simply tried to redirect the traffic, we would never want to turn anyone away from our city,” said Mayor Louise Smith.