Lucedale mayor: Billey Joe Johnson's death not a racial issue

Lucedale Mayor Dayton Whites
Lucedale Mayor Dayton Whites

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

LUCEDALE, MS (WLOX) - The mayor of Lucedale says he's hopeful his community can move forward and accept the grand jury's conclusion, that the death of football star Billey Joe Johnson Junior was accidental.

Mayor Dayton Whites also says race relations in George County are "very favorable"despite the fact some might argue otherwise.

Dr. Dayton Whites is a two term mayor of Lucedale who's gearing up to run again. He was a family doctor for 40 years and during that time helped shepherd his community through the integration of both the school system and the hospital.

Mayor Whites is a little frustrated by those who seek to label Billey Joe Johnson Junior's tragic death, purely a racial issue.

"And the track of the wound in his head and the forensic evidence on his left hand conclusively proves no other individuals were involved in the shooting of Billey Joe Johnson Junior," said the grand jury foreperson Thursday afternoon.

The grand jury announced its "findings of fact" in a nine page report Thursday.

A day later, as rain threatened the makeshift memorial to Billey Joe Johnson Jr. along Highway 26, morning talk radio was still deliberating the cause of death.

But the mayor of Lucedale was hoping people will accept the grand jury conclusions.

"I try to put myself in that situation and I think it's normal for it to be tough at this point in time to accept the fact that he was accidentally killed," said Mayor Dayton Whites.

Lucedale's two term mayor has read the grand jury report. He told me he's really heard very little talk about it around town over the past 24 hours. As for those who say there's a dark cloud of racial tension hanging over George County because of all this, the mayor would respectfully disagree.

"I can say, having been a family physician, we love each other. And race does not enter into our feeling for our citizens on both sides of the aisle. And I hate to even say in 2008 that there is both sides. I really don't feel like there's both sides in George County. We are united with a good relationship," said the mayor.

Mayor Whites told me he hopes and prays the community he loves can move forward together and get beyond the painful tragedy. Yet he also understands the story has generated national attention already and may continue to receive it.

"I think we're moving forward and putting this thing behind us, realizing that we lost an excellent young man. And it hurts all of us. Not because it's a racial thing, but because it was a kid who had a promising career who lost his life," said Mayor Whites.