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Local officials and law enforcement hope new billboard will save lives

On Thursday (3/23/2023), a new billboard was officially dedicated on Memorial Blvd in Picayune with the hope that its message will deter the use of illegal drugs and save lives.

The billboard was put in place by Mississippi Coast Crime Stoppers, with a grant from Coast Electric’s Operation Round Up program, and in partnership with Lamar Advertising. The hope is to bring awareness to the overdose issue in Pearl River County by featuring a billboard showing individuals from the community who have recently passed away from illegal drug overdoses.

From October 2021 to October 2022, the CDC reports almost 700 fatal overdose deaths in the state of Mississippi. Over the five years from 2017 to 2021, Pearl River County has experienced a 119% increase among fatal overdose deaths (Source: CDC Wonder database)

The victims "whose photos appear on the billboard are Keirsten Fisher, Doliana 'Lana' Craft, Juanita Mitchell, and Willie Darnell Smith.

Representatives from Coast Electric, the families of the victims, the Picayune Police Department, the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Office, the Poplarville Police Department, as well as state and local officials, gathered and shared their thoughts on the current situation in the county.

Picayune Police Chief Joe Quave thanked Crime Stoppers and the families who were willing to have photos of their deceased relatives displayed on the billboard due to its relevance.

"It takes a lot of guts to do that, and a lot giving of yourself to make that happen. I’m a numbers guy. When people pass by here and see the faces up there of someone they know, that a had direct relationship to the community, hopefully it will bring an extra awareness.”

Capt. Rhonda Johnson and Lori Massey explain how it came about

Pearl River County Sheriff David Allison echoed Quave’s statement and thanked the families again. He also shared his thoughts on the current situation in county.

“We deal with drugs on a daily basis. We see the hurt the drugs cause to the families. We just have to bond together and pray to God for help with this problem. We have a serious drug problem in our county. The District Attorney’s office works five counties and forty-five percent of drug case load comes out of this one county. We all work hard and it seems like when we arrest one for drugs, another two pop up. It beats all I’ve ever seen. We have to keep on fighting and not give up. “

Christine Collier, with Resurrection Life Worship Center, stated that she works in numerous recovery programs in the county and has witnessed many great stories of individuals overcoming addiction that are now living productive lives.

“There are many programs in this area to help those who need it. There is hope. Speak hope over your loved ones.”

Pearl River County Coroner Derek Turnage put the entire effort into perspective.

“We have been interacting with every family that’s affected by death by drug overdoses. If this billboard prevents one death; if one person rides by this billboard, and by seeing it makes a positive choice, it was worth every penny, every minute, every hour that was spent on it.”


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