Water woes again plague sheriff#039;s office

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2005

"It wasn't as bad as what we first thought."

That was the way Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton described an equipment foul-up that kept courthouse maintenance employees, city workers and members of his staff busy for much of the day Thursday.

That equipment malfunction could have required taking inmates out of the jail here and sending them to other counties - an expensive proposition.

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In the end, it wasn't necessary.

Thursday morning, workers noticed continuously flowing water in a manhole outside the jail and immediately suspected yet another water line break. The city of Ironton has suffered a half a dozen such breaks in the last week. One break occurred Wednesday night directly in front of the jail.

After a few hours of investigation, workers determined the source of the flowing water was not another break, it was the result of valve malfunctions.

"See this airhole here?" Lawrence County Courthouse maintenance employee Ernie Sizemore said, pointing to a tiny opening in a toilet valve in his hand. "When the water was shut off because the lines broke, sediment got in the valves and didn't allow the toilets to work properly, since they have automatic shut off."

At first it was feared that a water line break had occurred in a line that ran under the jail itself. This would have meant taking a jackhammer to the concrete floor and tearing out the faulty line - and trying to operate a government agency and a jail without water and sanitation.

Sexton said he began contacting sheriffs in other counties, asking if they would house prisoners for him. The brotherhood that is commonplace among law enforcement officials provoked a sympathetic response to Sexton's request for help.

"I sent out faxes and 15 of them, at the least, said they were willing to come. It was a great response. One sheriff from Western Ohio said he was willing to bring a transport bus and take prisoners and he had several beds available. Of course, it would have cost the county to house them. We did get more than one offer. People were willing to help us any way they could," Sexton said. "Pepsi and Sam's and Wal-Mart donated bottled water. I really appreciate this. They helped us in our time of need. I'm very grateful."

Sexton said the local judges helped also by allowing for the early release of some non-violent offenders who had served all but a few days of their sentence.

Courthouse workers, city workers and sheriff's office staff pitched in to alleviate a bad situation, Sexton said.

County commissioners gave Sizemore permission to purchase needed supplies to repair or replace valves.

The water in the jail was flowing again - correctly - by mid afternoon Thursday and Ironton officials lifted a boil-water advisory by then as well.

Sexton said he is pleased that a bad situation was made better because people were willing to help.

"Everyone we called helped us," Sexton said. "And that's the key: Cooperation."