By crisis or by choice, the stories behind Athens’ homelessness

It’s quiet under the Athens Loop exit ramp toward South Milledge Avenue. Members of society driving west past College Station Road take Exit 6 toward the South Milledge Avenue and Macon Highway traffic light, unknowing they’re driving above the remnants of someone’s shelter.

It’s like most other homeless camps — mere yards away from society, yet far removed from it.

The camp is the size of a two-car garage and is littered with abandoned items: dirt-covered teddy bears, dirt-covered metal spoons and ceramic plates holding dirt. Dirt-covered linens such as socks, jackets, bed sheets and rugs are tossed into a pile, practically forming a bed.

The bridge’s support beams act as shelves holding more belongings such as a clay-covered VTech phone that’s resting in its charging dock — no outlet to charge from, no service to call with. A plastic baby doll with chubby cheeks, green eyes, long eyelashes and a face peppered with dirt is tangled in a dead bush, an empty Canadian Mist whiskey bottle resting on its stomach.

Quotes scribbled in white chalk line the bridge’s support beams. “Life is not that bad” reads one, a peace sign drawn just below it. “Because we forgot who we were” reads another.

On the adjacent beam: “I was a person at one time.”

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A face behind the numbers

Mike Wuthrich said he was also a person at one time. Until he had enough with society.

“I lost it. I wigged out,” the 47-year-old said. “I couldn’t take life no more. So I ended up going to the hospital and telling them that I just want to end up killing myself. I wanted to get it done with.” Continue reading “By crisis or by choice, the stories behind Athens’ homelessness”


O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how to recycle thy branches?

Christmas trees have a similar lifespan to the wrapping paper on presents: They’re decorative during the holidays, but once Christmas Day passes, they’re more of a chore to clean up than a spectacle to enjoy.

Unlike the wrapping paper on Christmas presents, you shouldn’t just throw your Christmas tree away once the holidays pass.

Christmas trees

Credit: LloydTheVoid from Pixabay

Christmas trees can be reused in two ways after the holidays: Either recycled to help the environment or repurposed for your personal use.

“Rather than discarding [a Christmas tree] into a landfill and taking up landfill space, we can turn it back to the environment, back to nature, and use it to its full benefit,” said Stacee Farrell, executive director of Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful. Continue reading “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how to recycle thy branches?”

Fire engulfs Oconee house on election morning

A fire broke out around 5 a.m. this morning and engulfed an Oconee County house, collapsing the roof.

Oconee house fire

Credit: Joe Reisigl
Oconee County Fire Rescue puts out a house fire on
Garnet Trail on election morning, Nov. 8, 2016.

The owner of the Garnet Trail home, 39-year-old Daniel Smelter, said his wife noticed a fire on the back porch of the house as she was about to leave for work.

Smelter said he attempted to put the fire out with a fire extinguisher, but the fire spread too fast and soon the house was filled with smoke. Smelter said he and his wife were able to grab a laptop and a safe before running out.

According to Oconee County Fire Rescue Chief Bruce Thaxton, minutes after firefighters arrived, the house’s roof collapsed. Three fire engines and roughly 25 volunteers were able to put out the flames in one hour.

Smelter said he and his wife weren’t injured, but weren’t able to grab many belongings before leaving. Clothed lightly with a bath robe and shoes that didn’t fit, Smelter said they were unable to grab car keys or clothes before escaping.

He said the next thing he wanted to do was “Find a pair of shoes that fit.”

Thaxton said the house was destroyed with no belongings being salvageable.

“Everything,” Thaxton said. “It’s just a total lost. Gutted completely.”

No one was injured.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

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Joseph Reisigl

15 things you’ll only see in Atlanta

Atlanta isn’t called the capital of the South for nothing. Even with more than 400,000 residents, there’s still hundreds of attractions that can keep a local entertained for a lifetime.

Here are 15 of those things to do that you’ll only get to see in Atlanta.


The Big Chicken

The Big Chicken

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Whether it’s something to be proud about or not, the Big Chicken is known as an Atlanta landmark. Yes, we’re talking about that red, 56-foot googly-eyed thing that sits atop the KFC at Cobb Parkway and Roswell Road.

The steel chicken was originally designed by a Georgia Tech student to advertise a local restaurant before it was handed over to KFC. The structure was almost torn down in 1993 after it suffered wind damage, but public complaints led to its repair instead.


Spaghetti Junction

No, this isn’t a menu item you’d find at Olive Garden. Locals know Spaghetti Junction as a colossal traffic jam more than anything else.

Spaghetti Junction

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Named for its layers of weaving exit and entrance ramps, the interchange, officially named the Tom Moreland Interchange, marks the intersection of I-85 and I-285. A recent study by the American Transport Research Institute ranked the interchange as the worst freight bottleneck in the country — with average rush hour speeds dropping as low as 20 miles per hour.


The Walking Dead

Continue reading “15 things you’ll only see in Atlanta”

Thinking outside the room: Urban Enigmas brings escape rooms to Athens

You start the game in jail — locked in handcuffs, surrounded by brick walls covered in grime and caged in by black iron bars. The story goes that you were framed and wrongly thrown in jail for a $10 million diamond heist.

Your goal: Escape your cell and prove your innocence within 60 minutes by using clues and solving puzzles spread out in three separate rooms.

Urban Enigmas jail

Credit: Joe Reisigl
This is the first room of Urban Enigmas’ “Innocence” game. Players start handcuffed in a jail cell and have to break their way out while also using practical evidence and documentation to prove their innocence.

That’s the immersive fun behind escape rooms, which is exactly what Urban Enigmas brings to Athens.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said AJ Kooti, owner of Urban Enigmas. “It’s fun to see how the mind works in different people.”

The key behind escape rooms is the challenge of looking at the environment from a different perspective. As Kooti says, “Things aren’t always how they seem.”

When each game starts, players are left in a seemingly normal room where they have to piece clues together to attain their goal. However, each clue tends to play a mind game on the player.

Sometimes basic objects in a room — a stopped clock or a poster — could be clues to Continue reading “Thinking outside the room: Urban Enigmas brings escape rooms to Athens”

9 things that show how amazing fall is in metro Atlanta

Fall in Atlanta

Credit: Erik Larson from FlickrAs fall sweeps through Atlanta, the metro area foliage undergoes the dazzling change of starting to shine their reds, yellows, oranges and browns. The most breathtaking views come from natural heavens such as the lush Tallulah Gorge and 9,000-acre F.D. Roosevelt State Park. Known for its great leaf-watching and close proximity to downtown Atlanta is Sweetwater Creek, a peaceful park filled with streams, wilderness and trails that carry visitors through forests and fields.

1. Fall thrills all of our senses in its own way — leaves pop with color and the crisp air is thick with the potent smells of festive restaurants serving cinnamon apple, roasted pecans and pumpkin pie. A local restaurant, Marlow’s Tavern, celebrates with its signature Ribs and Whiskey menu. It features its signature St. Louis-style ribs with Jack Daniel’s glaze or chipotle barbeque sauces or its fan-favorite bourbon bread pudding.

2. Coinciding with the beauties of fall comes the horrors of Halloween. Celebrating its 20th anniversary of using blood-thirsty beasts to create terror-induced screams is the Norcross-based Netherworld Haunted House, which will frighten its victims starting Sept. 23. Other festivities include Atlanta’s signature Halloween festival, Little Five Points Halloween Parade, which, starting Oct. 15, will see thousands dress up in costume to drink and listen to live entertainment from famous artists.

Little Five Points

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

3. Part of the magic of fall is family gatherings. Atlanta Streets Alive provides the perfect venue for families to get together and socialize. Starting on Oct. 23, the event will cut off a 2.7-mile stretch of Peachtree Street from all motor traffic, allowing for people to play, bike, shop at local vendors and keep Atlanta’s culture vibrant during the fall season. Continue reading “9 things that show how amazing fall is in metro Atlanta”

Piedmont Athens Regional to use Samsung tablets to help breast cancer patients

In perfect timing with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center is rolling out its newest tech program for breast cancer patients.

Starting in mid-October, the hospital’s Breast Health Center will begin offering Samsung tablets to newly-diagnosed patients. The tablets will run a program designed by Breezie — a company that redesigns tablet user interfaces for the elderly — to help breast cancer patients receive accurate information relating to their diagnosis, track their symptoms and communicate with the right Piedmont Athens Regional professionals.

Connie Phelps

Credit: Joe Reisigl
Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center’s Breast Health Center is launching a tech program where breast cancer patients can use a Samsung tablet to receive accurate information about their diagnosis.

The purpose of the six-month program, according to the Director of Breast Health at Piedmont Athens Regional, Connie Phelps, is to properly educate patients on what to expect with breast cancer and to make them feel more comfortable “as they go through the journey of a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.” The tablets will also help avoid any misinformation surrounding the patient’s diagnosis.

“I like to tell patients ‘Don’t go doctor Google,’ because you can Google for information and not always get accurate information,” said Phelps, who helped found the Breast Health Center in 2004 and has worked on the tablet program since the idea started more than two years ago.

The program will provide multiple features for patients, including a calendar for their appointments, links to information and other content from the American Cancer Society regarding their diagnosis, educational videos from the Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support explaining what to expect before and after surgery and contact information for Piedmont Athens Regional professionals and facilities.

The main feature is Continue reading “Piedmont Athens Regional to use Samsung tablets to help breast cancer patients”