Family of former Lights of the South owner talks about his arrest

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) – The former owner of Lights of the South is still in jail almost a month after he was arrested.

54-year-old Benjamin Bell is in the Columbia County Jail on a Contempt of Superior Court charge.

His bond is $34,000, which is an amount his family says he can’t pay.

Johnette Bell, his mother, exclusively talked with NewsChannel 6 about his case.

She says his arrest is over a financial dispute between him and his ex-wife, Deborah Cheeks.

“To hear on the other end of that phone from my granddaughter, ‘Meemaw you have to get daddy out of jail.’ I think I quit breathing,” Mrs. Bell told us.

Johnette added, “Benji has never been that kind of child. He didn’t even get a speeding ticket growing up.”

She says her son no longer owns Lights of the South and no longer has anything to do with the planned Scuttle’s Island Water Park in North Augusta because of the ongoing legal battle with his ex-wife.

“Because of some promises he made when he and Deborah were divorced in 2012, he got into debt way over his head,” Johnette said.

She says Bell was arrested for getting behind in payments to his ex-wife. $34,000 dollars to be exact.

“He was drowning and the only thing he ever wanted out of this divorce was custody of his two children,” Mrs. Bell said.

Benjamin’s mother says he and his two children had to vacate their home off Hardy McManus Road in Evans because his ex-wife’s father, Don Cheeks, owns the property.

It’s the same property that a developer wants to turn into a subdivision.

Johnette says her son built the $700,000 home with his bare hands.

“My daughter also lives on Hardy McManus Road. My youngest daughter, Beverly. He (Don) was going to come in here and tear this house down and build these cheap single bedroom homes,” Johnette said.

She says she knows her son has made mistakes and now she just wants people to know he isn’t a bad person.

“The judge just has the wrong idea of Benji. He was overloaded and he would have signed anything to get his kids,” she said.

Mrs. Bell says she owns stock in the organization behind Lights of the South and has invested thousands of dollars into Scuttle’s Island.

The investment group behind both attractions, Cedar Rock Holdings, is still trying to make the water park happen.

Mrs. Bell says the group is hopeful Lights of the South will re-open this year.

Johnette is also asking the community to pray for her son and his family.

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