Who’s Gonna Fill His Shoes?
George Jones Flipped Lincoln in Monroe County in March of 1982
BY RON WILLIAMS
With the news that country singing legend George Jones had passed away last Friday came the recollection of the night that Jones had flipped his 1982 Lincoln Town Car in a curve on Grubb Springs Road near the Hamilton/Lackey communities in Monroe County. I was singing in a band at the 45 Club at the time (in 1982). I remember hearing the stories that weekend at the Half-a-Ninety. It was the talk of the town in 1982, especially the Monroe County towns of Hamilton, Lackey, Aberdeen and Amory. It was a huge, huge deal.
To give you an idea just how huge it was, Jerry Smith, who now runs the body shop (Smith’s Body Shop) just off of Highway 45 in Lackey that his dad, James, started years earlier, described it best.
“When George wrecked that night, we got the call to go and pick up the wrecked Lincoln,” Smith said. “He had been drinking and flipped the car in a curve on Grubb Springs Road. (Jones was charged with Driving while intoxicated, no license, etc) When the word got out that it was George Jones who had wrecked, I’d never seen so many women in my life. They had surrounded the Lincoln after we had picked it up. Reaching in and actually picking up shattered glass as a keepsake just because it was George Jones’ car. Craziest thing I’d ever seen!”
Current Monroe County Coroner Alan Gurley was a part time police officer at the time of Jones’ wreck. “My daddy got word that there had been a wreck in one of his soybean fields on land he rented,” Gurley said. “He got there and they told him that George Jones was in the car. My daddy, not thinking about the singer, asked, ‘who the hell is George Jones?’ I was working in Aberdeen at the time at Tisdale-Lann Funeral Home. Amazing even without the social media of today the word was already back in ‘town’ that a famous person was around and was being transported to the hospital. Being a part time police officer, I had a handheld scanner. I remember me and one of my co-workers going outside and listening to Jimmy Oliver, who was the medic on the ambulance, give the report to the ER on his patient. Ol’ George was not feeling any pain. Jimmy couldn’t keep from laughing and George was singing. Jimmy pretty much left the mic keyed-up for everyone in scanner world to enjoy. Of course the best part of it was George writing then-Sheriff Pat Patterson a bad check to get out of jail. It was a memorable day in Monroe County!”
Only 24 hours earlier, Jones had been stopped on speeding charges near Jackson. (Actually, his now-wife, Nancy, was driving at the time). Authorities said that the Lincoln had been clocked at 91 mph. Narcotic agents searched the car and said they found traces of white powder that they claimed was cocaine. Jones was charged and held 48 hours before being released on his own recognizance. Traveling up Hwy 45 and through Monroe County, Jones was on his way back to Muscle Shoals at the time of his wreck. Nancy, who he later married, and her daughter was with him but had gotten out of the vehicle only minutes before the wreck.
The “bad check” that Gurley was talking about turned out to be a check for $737.50 that Jones wrote to then-Sheriff Pat Patterson. Current Monroe County Sheriff Cecil Cantrell was a Justice of the Peace at the time. Patterson, contacted Tuesday, recalled that then-Monroe County Chancery Clerk Howard Moon informed him that the check had bounced.
“(Moon said), ‘Sheriff, I hate to tell you this, but you’re gonna have to make that check good. I said, ‘Dang, Howard —I thought me and you were friends”, Patterson laughed. “I thought to myself, I really like George Jones, but I don’t know if I like him that much! That was a lot of money back in 1982.”
Patterson ended up making the check good. Jones eventually fired the agent that wrote the bad check, said Pat. A short time later, Patterson said a little fella that ran a nightclub up in Memphis that Jones’ had patronized came down and reimbursed Patterson for the full amount. “I remember that he was a little guy with cowboy boots that they called ‘Pee Wee’.”
Patterson said that he and his wife, Sylvia (who is currently running for the at-large board of aldermen spot in Amory), went to the concert that Jones’ performed at on the campus of Itawamba Community College a year or so back. Pat and Sylvia got to speak with Jones’ wife, Nancy. They asked her if they remembered the incident. Sylvia said that Nancy told Pat that she remembered it well. “You probably helped save his life”, Sylvia recalled Nancy saying. Jones had been transported to a rehab center in Birmingham after his brief stay at Aberdeen Hospital following the wreck.
That brief stay at Aberdeen Hospital caused quite a stir, according to Jerry Smith. Smith’s wife, Linda, was working at the hospital at the time. They recall that it was hard to get near the hospital after word got out that George Jones had been admitted. “You couldn’t get within two blocks of the place”, said Jerry.
At the wreck site on Grubb Springs Road, Patterson said it was the late deputy Pete Shook that arrested Jones. Shook called the sheriff and said, “Sheriff, the tag on that Lincoln says ‘Possum 1.’ Who the hell is Possum 1?” (George Jones fans know that he’s known as ‘The Possum!’) Patterson said that he told Shook, “Pete, I think you’ve got ol’ George Jones, there.”
Dan Sibley, who for years ran ‘Sibley’s Customs’ locally, said that another tag or sticker on the vehicle read: “My Two Best Friends Are Charlie & Jack Daniels!” Sibley said he tried to buy the Lincoln Town Car after Smith’s Body Shop had repaired it, but didn’t have enough money at the time. Jerry Smith said that they fixed the wrecked vehicle up and drove it, “for four or five years. A man from Ripley eventually bought it for $20,000. He said he just had to have it.”
Jones went on to live another 31 years (He was 50 at the time of the wreck). Many feel had it not been for his wife, Nancy, and maybe even Pat Patterson and others he came in contact with along the way, that he would have left us long ago because of the lifestyle he was leading at the time.
He certainly left an impression on millions during his legendary run at the top of the country music world. No one in Monroe County or anywhere else will argue that fact. The stir he caused with the wreck has long been legendary. There are still many people alive today that recall that eventful evening in 1982. Jones made a hit out of a song called ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes’, where he talks about the many greats of country and rockabilly music who had left us over the years.
And now, the question is — Who’s gonna fill HIS shoes?
I believe those shoes will forever remain unfilled.
(George Jones’ wreck in Monroe County was one of the most exciting things that happened when I was a child. As a country music fan since birth, I was a huge fan of Jones’. Although my mama hated his music, My dad and I loved the sounds of the Ol’ Possum. As Alan Gurley pointed out in Ron’s account, the news of the wreck spread like wildfire, without even the slightest onset of social media. As new traveled, the stories became more and more wild .
My dad drove me out to James L. Smith’s body shop to see the wrecked Lincoln. Although I was told I had met Conway Twitty at a state fair at an early age, seeing Jones’ wrecked Lincoln was like seeing an actual celebrity.
When I heard about Jones’ death, it immediately brought me back to my childhood. As I’ve grown older, I really started to appreciate Jone’s voice — he is one of my favorite singers. I heard Elvis Costello say the same thing about his affection for Jones in an interview.
The news of the death also reminded me of my dad and how much I miss him. Lee Rollison, a friend of my father’s, was the X-ray technician working the night of Jones’ wreck. He used to tell me stories about Jones and how intoxicated he was. It also reminded me of Aberdeen resident JW Benson. JW used to tell everyone he was going to have the Jones classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today” played at his funeral for his wife, Mott. Well, Ms. Mott left us before JW had the opportunity, but the sentiment remains.
Ol George Jones death was a sad milestone in my life. I wanted badly to see him when he performed in Fulton, but I thought I would get another chance. They don’t make them like Daddy, George Jones and JW Benson anymore.0