Former sheriff recalls run in with old Possum Jones
Former Monroe County sheriff Pat Patterson admits George Jones was always one of his favorite country music singers, but he didn’t like him enough cut him any slack in March 1982 when Jones wrecked his Lincoln Town Car in a red clay bank on Grubb Springs Road outside of Hamilton.
The country music star, known for reckless antics and alcoholism, died at age 81 on Friday, April 26, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. He was hospitalized with fever and irregular blood pressure. His distinctive voice put him at the top of the charts beginning in 1959 and on stages around the globe for years leading up to his death. That unexpected stop in Monroe County was part of the Jones’ unpredictable ride of fame.
“I remember [deputy] Pete Shook went to the wreck and radioed in and asked who Possum 1 was since it was on the personalized tag. Being a fan of old Possum Jones, I said that’s going to be George Jones,” Patterson said.
According to James Smith, owner of Smith’s Body Shop, Jones rolled his 1982 model Lincoln two or three times, damaging pretty much every panel on it. The body shop bought the car and repaired it and Smith’s family drove it for four or 5 years before selling it to a man from Ripley.
“We got a pretty good deal on the car. That was probably one of the biggest things to ever happen in our part of the country, but he just messed up when he got to our part of the country,” Smith said.
Transported by ambulance to Aberdeen-Monroe Hospital, now Pioneer Community Hospital, Jones was soon admitted to the emergency room for a checkup.
“You’ve heard of drunk and you’ve heard of slobbering drunk. He was so slobbering drunk, he wouldn’t have known if he was Roy Acuff or Jesus Christ,” Patterson said.
At the ER, Patterson talked with Jones’ agent at the time and then fiance, Nancy Sepulvado, who he remained married to for the rest of his life, who had her daughter with her.
“She said they’d been in South Mississippi doing a concert and he had been drinking cherry Vodka. That bottle was evidence, but it became memorabilia.
“She said she was behind the steering wheel, but he slid toward the middle of the seat and put his foot all the way down on the accelerator. She was able to stop the car around the curve around Kerr McGee [now Tronox] and get out of the car with her daughter,” Patterson said.
Jones then drove his car north on Highway 45 before taking Lackey Road to Grubb Springs Road where he had his wreck.
“His agent knew he was in serious trouble and asked if I could help. He said everybody else would just pat him on the back and let him go. I told him I believe the man’s about to get some help,” Patterson said.
Patterson ordered Jones be taken via ambulance to an alcohol treatment center in Birmingham, Ala., following his incident. An article from the Florence Times – Tri Cities Daily reported in its March 31, 1982 edition that Jones was stopped in Jackson the day before his Hamilton wreck and charged with public drunkenness and possession of cocaine.
“At some point, a check was written for his DUI charge. I was told he didn’t spend as much time in detox as he should have and he put a stop payment on the check and fired his agent when he got out. I put out the word in Nashville that if he ever came back to Mississippi, me or one of my sheriff friends would arrest him. I was responsible for his DUI ticket out of my own pocket and even though I was a big fan, I wasn’t that big of a fan,” Patterson said.
Patterson said a Nashville nightclub owner came and paid off Jones’ DUI debt.
For 24 to 48 hours after the incident, Patterson said he didn’t get any sleep because of radio and TV stations from across the United States and other countries calling him.
Since the 1981 incident, Patterson saw Jones in concert twice, including his 2011 show at Itawamba Community College.
“I didn’t try to go backstage either time, but I talked to his wife in Fulton and after I told her who I was, she remembered that day well. She mentioned I may have saved his life,” Patterson said.
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About Ray Van DusenI've been with the Monroe Journal since Aug. 2009 as a staff writer, but took the role as news editor in late 2012. I'm always looking for interesting story ideas from around Monroe County. You can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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