Turner sentenced in 1997 arson case

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 8, 1999

VIDALIA, La. — One of four men who allegedly set fire to Ferriday Junior High was sentenced to four years of hard labor Wednesday in Seventh Judicial District Court.

Henry Turner Jr., of 156 Sunset Drive in Alexandria, pleaded guilty to simple arson, according to the Concordia Parish District Attorney’s Office.

An arson conviction carries with it up to 15 years and a $15,000 fine.

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On June 29, 1997, the school on Martin Luther King Drive in Ferriday was gutted by fire.

Within one week, four were charged with arson in connection with the incident, including Turner and Ferriday residents Marcus Leonard, Demarcus Mitchell and Dan Tyler Jr.

Tyler pleaded no contest to arson and was sentenced July 21, 1998, to seven years in prison.

Leonard was found guilty of arson May 20, 1997. He was scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday, but sentencing was delayed until Friday so his attorney could be present.

Mitchell’s trial will be held in May.

Much of the school was damaged in the fire, but school officials still believe the facility will be rebuilt by late June at a cost of almost $1.58 million, which will be covered by insurance.

At the same time, work will also be done on the school’s cafeteria.

Based on how much similar projects have cost in the past, school officials originally assumed the cafeteria project would only cost about $100,000.

However, when the school district got cost estimates for the cafeteria work last month, they found that it would cost $200,000 just to rework the existing cafeteria to bring it up to building and fire codes.

That would include installing air conditioning, a new heating system, a new ventilator hood for the kitchen and a new roof to replace one that sustained water damage when the fire was put out, said Tom O’Neil, director of business affairs for the district.

And expanding the cafeteria to accommodate more students at the same time would cost $476,000, O’Neil added.

&uot;We’ll go over any way we can cut costs to see if we can still go on with the expansion,&uot;&160;he said.

Of the need for such an expansion, O’Neil said &uot;that’s the second-smallest cafeteria in the system. It takes three feedings out there to feed everyone, which creates some scheduling problems.&uot;

So on Wednesday, school board members and other district officials met with project architects and contractor Wilmar Construction of Vidalia at the construction site.

Their objective: to discuss where costs could be cut without affecting the quality of construction.

The board will probably call a special meeting to discuss approval of revised plans for the cafeteria work, board President Mike Grantham said Wednesday.

&uot;I&160;would hope we would meet within the next two weeks, at least,&uot;&160;Grantham said.

And in Tuesday’s regular meeting, the school board opened bids for furniture and library materials for the school. The bids were taken under advisement.