The fight against drug abuse and the crimes linked to that societal issue took a leap back to a focus on the younger generation in Panola County in recent days.

While Panola County Sheriff Cutter Clinton said his officers will continue to battle illegal drug use and abuse in an aggressive manner, he is strongly in support of education and prevention efforts starting with students in Panola County schools.

That spawned the desire to see a D.A.R.E. program (drug abuse resistance program) started in the county. That effort got jump started with a $5,000 donation from Pct. 1 and 4 Justice of the Peace Denise Gray-Blissett.

Clinton said she facilitated that donation from the Austin Gray Memorial Scholarship Fund. The fund was established in memory of her teenage son, Austin, who was killed in a crash caused by another driver, who was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of 2018 crash.

The driver of the vehicle, Michael Wayne Brady, of Marshall was later sentenced to 10-years in prison. Clinton said it is goal of the new program to steer youth away from drugs.

“It is a beautiful gesture that Austin’s legacy will hopefully impact students to not fall prey to the addictions of illicit controlled substances,” Clinton said.

In order to help make the DARE program a success, Clinton is allocating the time of one of the officers in the department to the program and in fighting drug abuse in the county. Deputy Torey McLemore will be taking on the ownership of the county’s program, Clinton said.

“I am very proud and grateful that Deputy Torey McLemore is taking on the role of building a D.A.R.E. program at the Panola County Sheriff’s Office,” he said. Clinton said he has known McLemore for a long time and feels strongly his deputy is the right person for the job.

“It is our hope that we are able to help positively influence the youth of our community to avoid illicit narcotics and reckless decisions,” Clinton said.

McLemore will be attending specialized training in the most effective ways to implement and sustain the new program. Clinton said helping to initially kickoff DARE in the county is a joint effort with officials at Gary ISD.

“We want to thank Superintendent Todd Greer and Gary ISD for becoming partners in the program,” Clinton said. While Gary ISD is the initial partner in establishing the program in the county, he said it can and hopefully will be expanded to other campuses in the future.