By Chris Davis
As of March 16th, Joseph Crouch Jr. is no longer a fugitive. Thanks to a pair of America's Most Wanted episodes, Crouch was identified by friends he'd made on the karaoke circuit and apprehended by police in Daytona Beach, Florida.
In June 2001, Crouch, a failed mortgage specialist and karaoke enthusiast from Southeast Memphis, allegedly murdered Betsy Crouch, his wife of 40 years. He then packed up his golf clubs and, leaving his own battered car behind, disappeared in her brand-new Mercury Sable. Letters to family all but confessing his crime were postmarked from New Orleans, which led authorities to believe Crouch was living along the Gulf Coast. There he would have easy access to his three biggest habits: gambling, golfing, and karaoke.
"The [Florida] SWAT team used flash-bang grenades," said Lt. Mickey Williams of the Memphis Police Department's violent-crime division. "They rushed in, caught him by surprise, and he gave up without a fight."
Police found three guns in Crouch's Beach Club condo, including a .25-caliber pistol believed to be the murder weapon. Crouch claims to have supported himself as a gambler during his two years as a fugitive. Papers discovered in his condo naming various locations in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida, as well as dollar amounts, may prove otherwise.
"We think he's been on a crime spree," said Williams. "Of course, we don't know right now if he was actually robbing people or if he was committing fraud."
"This has been the case from hell," Williams said. "Finding this guy has been a bear [but Crouch] is going to be in jail for the rest of his life. The minimum sentence for first-degree murder is life with the possibility of parole. Before you can be paroled you've got to serve 51 years. Joseph Crouch is going to die in jail."
"Unfortunately, this does not bring any closure for me," said Crouch's daughter, Teresa Wampler. "We now have to face a trial, and [I] will eventually have to face him. There is nothing he could say to me that would bring me closure or peace. Bringing him to justice does not bring me peace. I only wish it did. I'm not sure what would, really." n
By Bianca Phillips
Although it seems that many Memphis drivers set their own interstate speed limits, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will soon be officially increasing those limits on certain areas of I-40, I-55, and I-240. TDOT had not performed a speed assessment in the urban Memphis area since the 1970s, when Congress lowered speed limits nationwide from 75 mph to 55 mph. According to Luanne Grandinetti in TDOT's public affairs office, the new changes should be posted in the next few weeks.
On I-40, the limit will be increased to 70 mph from the Fayette County line to U.S. Highway 64. It will slow down to 65 mph from Highway 64 to the ramps at State Route 300 west of North Watkins, and will remain 55 mph from there to the Arkansas state line.
On I-55, the limit will be increased to 65 mph from the Mississippi state line to Highway 51. It will remain 55 mph to the Arkansas state line.
On I-240, the limit will be increased to 65 mph from the I-40 interchange to Highway 51, where it will remain 55 mph. Changes for this stretch will not be posted until construction in the area is completed.
"We look at how fast folks are traveling," said Grandinetti. "If the average motorist is going 65-70 mph with all other factors considered, then a lot of thought is given to the fact that the speed limit should be changed." n
By Janel Davis
More than 166,000 TennCare enrollees who lost coverage during last year's reverification process will get a second chance to reapply for services through the Department of Human Services (DHS).
The extended grace period runs until March 31, 2004, and applies to enrollees who failed to respond to the agency regarding their eligibility status. The grace period follows criticism that the reverification process confused some enrollees.
Last Monday, during his budget address, Governor Phil Bredesen pledged to revise the state's health-care system for its poor and uninsured citizens. In a statement from DHS, Bredesen described the TennCare program as "complex" and "facing serious challenges."
"Bringing costs under control will require major change. But it is only fair that people have every opportunity to prove they are eligible before they are permanently removed from the program," he said.
According to TennCare spokesperson Lola Potter, only 6,000 of the initial 126,000 dropped enrollees appealed the judgment. In a survey of 200 enrollees who failed to appeal the judgment, "I don't know" was the main response given for their failure to take action. n
By Mary Cashiola
Federal Judge Jon McCalla ruled Friday that he will review a brief filed by the Shelby County jail officers' union before approving a new staffing plan that cuts 326 officers.
Shelby County sheriff Mark Luttrell presented his jail-staffing plan last week to McCalla and a courtroom filled with correctional officers and union officials. Luttrell has said the cuts could save the county about $19 million, but because of a federal court order stemming from a 1996 inmate rape case, the plan must be approved by McCalla to be implemented.
Court-appointed jail monitor Chuck Fisher told the assembly he thought the jail is overstaffed under the current plan. "The prior staffing analysis had one relief officer for every three on posts. Each one gets two 15-minute breaks and 30 minutes for lunch," he said. "The one relief officer had to relieve them for three hours then had three hours with no specific duties and one hour for himself."
Added to a decline in sick leave and a reduction in the jail population, that means the overall number of officers needed to staff the jail for a year has decreased as well.
Luttrell thinks the system can actually work better with fewer employees. "Fisher's report talks about deficiencies in the system -- all are system weaknesses that need to be corrected," Luttrell said. "They're not in the area of staffing. The staff we have adds to the deficiencies."
To prove his point, Luttrell said the jail has been running with the proposed number of officers since the beginning of March. "We have been training staff members on a daily basis," said Luttrell. "My predecessor had a different management philosophy than I do. I think it was a grave mistake to increase the workforce by 500. The idea that if we put enough staff into the jail, if we put enough money in the jail, we'll solve all the problems ... I have a difference of opinion on that."
Of the county's $3.70 tax base, almost a dollar of it now goes to the sheriff's department.
At the hearing, uniformed and non-uniformed officers filled one courtroom and spilled into another, connected via a closed-circuit television. The officers were predominantly African American and a majority of them were female. One brought a sign that read, simply: "I need my job."
For the court, however, the only issue is one of inmate and officer safety. Both Luttrell and Fisher said the jail would be safer once operations were streamlined.
Byron T. Williams, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 1733, disagreed. "How can you predict the psychology of an inmate?" he said after the hearing. "That's what they're asking us to do."
One corrections officer, who has been on the job about two years and didn't want to be named, said previous sheriff A.C. Gilless had more support among the officers than Luttrell now does. Williams seconded that morale was low in the department, even in the patrol division.
The attorneys for Shelby County and the inmates' representatives objected to McCalla reviewing the union's brief, and Williams was offended by their complaint. "This is more about politics than about the issues of the people," he said.
The staff inmate ratio is less than 1 to 2 -- one of the highest in the country -- and will remain less than 1 to 2 if the cuts are approved. The Direct Response Team, which responds to emergency situations in the jail, will not lose any members, and the number of jail counselors under the plan actually increases.