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Board wary of sheriff's request

Laura Beaton
Staff Writer
The sheriff’s plan to excavate an old Meadow Valley well to search for possible human remains has been put on hold.
County supervisors said last week they were having a hard time justifying the cost of the operation – nearly $100,000 – while the county is facing a multi-million-dollar budget deficit.

They decided to delay a decision on the sheriff’s funding request.
Sheriff Greg Hagwood said he wants to dig up the well to see if suspected human remains are those of a Meadow Valley teenager Mark Wilson who disappeared in 1967.
Hagwood presented a detailed cost estimation to excavate the well during the supervisors’ August 5 meeting.
“It’s not cheap,” Hagwood said about the proposed excavation. He said that a number of different requirements have revealed themselves, bringing the estimated tab to $96,474.37.
“The day when you got a buddy with a backhoe and a bunch of guys with shovels are long gone.” Hagwood said. He added that the excavation has to be done in an appropriate manner that complies with OSHA and other agency requirements.
“It’s not an easy decision when looking at the expense. But looking on a personal level, it takes on a significance beyond dollars and cents,” he said.
Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said she understood the family’s desire to excavate the well, and that she would want the same thing if it were her child in question.
“But in looking at a huge (budget) shortfall, $97,000 … that’s two deputies, rather than solving a 46-year-old case,” she said. “Have you thought about selling the TV rights?”
Hagwood said he was open to any board direction, that he appreciates the sentiment and wants the board and the public to understand.
“I didn’t go looking for this,” Hagwood said. “It’s a set of circumstances that landed in my lap. We’ve done a triple-blind test (three independent cadaver dogs identified the site). I see two deputies as well — I also see a mother, brothers.”
In response to questions about how deep the well might be, Hagwood said it depends on the month. He said there was water in February, March and April and that historical records showed the well to be about 30 feet deep. However, “debris has been either accidentally or intentionally placed in the well,” he said.
Hagwood said he brought the request to the board in the spirit of honesty and transparency. “It’s a perfect dilemma — with an emotional aspect as well as financial. I come with cold, hard facts, and will follow the direction of the board.”
Supervisor Jon Kennedy questioned whether Hagwood had a legal obligation to come to the board. Hagwood said that, given the circumstances, the decision to move forward needs to be discussed.
“I am duty bound to help people get answers and bring answers to bear,” he said. And as for the legality, Hagwood said it could be argued that he is not mandated to pursue the case.
Thrall said that the case has been going on for 47 years and she would like to put the decision off. She said she wants to hear the newspaper and constituents weigh in, and made a motion to continue the discussion in future meetings. The board agreed to delay the decision.

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