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Elderly victims condition is improving
This sign is hanging on the front of the Pembroke Dollar General.

Pembroke resident Wilhelmina "Audrey" Tuten, 72, showed improvement Friday, according to a family member.

Tuten was hospitalized Monday after allegedly being beaten by her son, Craig Neesmith, while driving to a Pembroke convenience store.

Surgery to remove a blood clot from her brain was successful Tuesday and she may be moved to a regular room in the days to come, the family member said.

Tuten reached a near-death state after the assault, which reportedly took place after she refused to give him beer money. Neesmith remained in Bryan County Jail Friday, facing multiple charges.

Meanwhile, community members have offered help. The Pembroke American Legion Auxiliary has started up a fund at Heritage Bank in her name. Also, Pembroke Pizza has arranged a fundraiser to help Tuten with her medical bills.

"The Auxiliary was created to help people and this needed to be done," Auxiliary Vice President Cindy Malloy said. "Wilhelmina is a fixture in Pembroke. Everybody knows her as the kind lady who works at the Dollar General. Whenever someone walks into the store, she would always be helpful and greet you with a great big smile. She is just a really nice person."

Malloy said anyone can donate money to the "Wilhelmina Tuten Fund" inside any of the Heritage Bank branches in Pembroke, Richmond Hill, Hinesville or Midway.

Pembroke Pizza owner Jennifer Abbuhl has set up a fundraiser for Aug. 5, also the night of National Night Out, when 100 percent of her pizza sales will be deposited into the fund.

"National Night Out is about fighting crime, so I just thought it was really appropriate," Abbuhl said.

Abbuhl used to work with Tuten at the Dollar General, where the two became close.

"Everybody loves Wilhelmina," she said. "That incident shocked a lot of people in this community. I’m just glad I’m in a position now where I could do something to help."

Linda Carlson, manager of the Pembroke Dollar General, said the support for Tuten has been overwhelming and she has received over 100 phone calls from residents asking about Tuten’s well being. Carlson said, between Dollar General and Bill’s Dollar Store, Tuten has been serving customers in Pembroke for over 30 years.

"Wilhelmina is an icon in this town," Carlson said. "Whether you’re old or young, black or white – she goes out of her way for everybody, and everybody here knows and loves her."

Carlson said Tuten has been injured before and wonders if Neesmith was responsible.

"Personally, I hope the law and justice system makes it where he can never get to her again because she doesn’t have the heart to turn him away," she said. "There are so many people in this town that care about her, so I think there are enough people to protect her from this happening again if the law doesn’t. I know how that sounds, but that’s how people are voicing their opinion."

Tuten's other son, Rusty Neesmith, said his brother has always had a violent temper, but the family is shocked that he would commit such an act against his own mother.

"He must’ve just snapped," Rusty Neesmith said. "He just lost his job, his truck tore up and he just started drinking again. He’s been on pills (prescription painkillers) for a while, and I know his doctor just cut him off. It’s still no excuse for what he did. I still can’t imagine him doing what he did."

Neesmith said his brother had a tendency to "holler and cuss" at his mother, but this is the first time he knows of that he laid a hand on her.

"If he goes to prison, he’ll probably end up killing himself or someone else," he said. "He needs to be in a mental hospital."

Carlson said Tuten picked up her son in Statesboro prior to the alleged assault and he had come into the Dollar General earlier in the day "barefoot and dirty."

Bond amounts totaling $3,200 have been set for five out of the seven charges Neesmith is facing, including battery, shoplifting, driving under the influence, driving without a license and refusing to sign a citation.

No bond had been set as of Friday for the robbery and aggravated assault charges.

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