DNA test results sought in manure case

Friday, September 11, 2009

The attorney for a Bedford County hog farmer, who's charged with polluting four water wells, is asking the state for results of chemical tests, according to court records filed Wednesday.

"I'm told that there was DNA testing and that it was inconclusive," Fayetteville-based attorney Ray Fraley said on behalf of his client, Charles Edward "Charlie" Haskins, 61, of Haskins Chapel Road near Sutten Creek.

Haskins was indicted Aug. 19 on charges of reckless endangerment, vandalism and pollution, alleging that he allowed more than half a million gallons of manure to flow from his farm. Bedford County Deputy Kevin Holton was arrested Haskins on Aug. 22 when he was booked and released on a $5,000 bond in 31 minutes.

"What were the bacteria in the wells?" Fraley asked after Haskins was arraigned in Marshall County Circuit Court by Judge Robert Crigler who noted Haskins' plea of not guilty.

Complicating scientific inquiry is what happens to hog manure when it seeps into the ground and enters the aquifer, Fraley said. Manure may have been a nutrient for bacteria in the ground, he said of information he wants from the state.

"They are maintaining that Charlie didn't have a license ... to spread manure" during the most recent spreading, the lawyer said. "Even if he did have a license, they're saying that he spread more than the license would have allowed."

Further complicating Haskins' case are rules about what's allowed after a manure spreading permit expires, Fraley said. A few days after his arrest, Haskins said he had hired a "reputable" individual to spread the manure for him.

Tanks on vehicles used to spread manure have gauges and Fraley said, "I'm curious how much was spread in a localized area that would cause so much of a mess."

Several months ago, officials from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation brought information to District Attorney Chuck Crawford about Haskins' hog farm that's in the vicinity of Duck River Speedway. Haskins had as many as 3,500 hogs, but he's sold more than half.

Crawford took the case directly to the Marshall County Grand Jury, bypassing General Sessions Court. Crawford anticipated assistance from the state Attorney General's Office.

Haskins has said the distance between where manure was spread and the wells is 1.8 miles.

"What other wells may have been affected or contaminated?" Fraley asked. "It's my understanding that wells between the two were tested and the tests came back negative."

"Mr. Haskins is certainly not a hardened criminal," Fraley said. "He would not have done something like this intentionally."

Prosecuting Haskins in Marshall County Circuit Court is Assistant Attorney General Troy McPeek who, according to Fraley, "has been very cooperative in sharing information."

"We'll get to the bottom of this," the defense attorney said.

A Marshall County Circuit Court officer said Haskins' case is to be called again on Oct. 7.