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Dining
The Varsity turns 90
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The Varsity turns 90

The Varsity turns 90
Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gordon Muir, president of the Varsity, prepares a tray at the Varsity in Midtown Atlanta. Muir is the grandson of founder Frank Gordy. The Varsity is turning 90. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The Varsity turns 90

Gordon Muir, president of the Varsity, is a walking advertisement for the health benefits of chili dogs, onion rings and fried pies.

The 53-year-old fast-food magnate steps out of a door labeled “Janitor” and strolls through his acre-sized palace of pig-out, looking more like a gymnast than a fan of the deep fryer.

Customers belly up to the 150-foot counter four deep, while cashiers holler “What’ll ya have?” and Muir executes a quick deep knee-bend to retrieve a stray napkin from the floor, straightening up effortlessly.

“Yesterday I had two chili steaks, and I felt it, right before CrossFit,” said Muir. “I didn’t plan to have two, but the first one disappeared so fast.”

So it’s either the chili steaks, or the CrossFit. One of these things is keeping Muir young.

His grandfather would say it’s the chili steaks.

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The Varsity turns 90

Frank Gordy opened the Varsity in 1928, when North Avenue was a cobblestone street and Cobb County was covered in cotton farms. Gordy always said the fountain of youth was somewhere near his Frosted Orange machine, and it’s true that the Varsity seems caught in some sort of time warp.

The jaunty paper hats on the patrons, the chrome trim and art deco curves in the architecture, the archaic tradition of the carhop and — mostly — that Archie and Jughead devotion to high-calorie happiness, all speak of a different time.

Carhop Louis Frank Jones, 87, said the food is just as good as it was when he started, 70 years ago. (Back then, you didn’t need a Social Security number, he says, pausing as he totes a box of onion rings and dogs to a drive-in customer. “You just worked.”) Has anything changed? “Nothing but the price.”

Becky Stein
Wendell Brock reports on the Varsity and its history of food and scene in Atlanta on Tuesday October 13, 2015. Carhop Frank Jones, the longest employed carhop at the Varsity, hands a customer paper plates and napkins before hanging the food tray on his car window. Mr. Jones is 84 years old and has worked there on and off since 1949 and steady since December 1955. (Becky Stein Photography)
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The Varsity

Photo Credit: Becky Stein
Wendell Brock reports on the Varsity and its history of food and scene in Atlanta on Tuesday October 13, 2015. Carhop Frank Jones, the longest employed carhop at the Varsity, hands a customer paper plates and napkins before hanging the food tray on his car window. Mr. Jones is 84 years old and has worked there on and off since 1949 and steady since December 1955. (Becky Stein Photography)

Inventing fast food

The Varsity celebrates its 90th birthday this year. In Atlanta, a town with the permanence of an Etch-a-Sketch drawing, such durability is remarkable. The largest drive-in restaurant in the country, and perhaps the world, the Midtown Varsity, at North Avenue and Spring Street, encloses almost an acre under one roof, and can serve 30,000 people on a truly busy football Saturday.

There are also four other Varsities now, in Gwinnett (near Norcross), Kennesaw, Dawsonville and Athens, and two kiosks at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Gordy, who died in 1983, would say his success was due to good food at a good price, and the effort to make every single customer happy. Muir embraces that philosophy, but there is something extra about his reverence for the place.

Driving from his home in Roswell each morning, Muir will sometimes wait for the light on the North Avenue off-ramp and look at that soaring 45-foot chrome and red “V” sign, looming over the Downtown Connector, and marvel at his grandfather’s creation.

»RELATED: Photos of the Varsity through the years

“The third generation: That’s the generation that usually ruins things,” he said, contemplating his own place in the world. “We don’t want to do that.”

Muir’s colleague, Terry Brookshire, a former jet engine mechanic with the Air National Guard and now a general manager at the Varsity, said the thing that holds the business together is heart.

“We love these employees,” said the crew-cut Brookshire, a 20-year Varsity veteran, who reflexively picks up trash as he talks, a trademark among managers here. “A lot of people have been here as long as I have. If you really care about them, then things go smoothly, it keeps the Varsity shiny and bright, it makes the family proud, and makes customers proud.”

But maybe, for the customers, it’s the chili.

Branden Camp
Chili dogs sit ready to be served at The Varsity in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. The Alpharetta location of The Varsity closed its doors for good this past Monday. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
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Varsity dogs

Photo Credit: Branden Camp
Chili dogs sit ready to be served at The Varsity in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. The Alpharetta location of The Varsity closed its doors for good this past Monday. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

What becomes a legend most

The late Atlanta Constitution columnist Lewis Grizzard claimed that during his three-year “exile” in Chicago, he talked an Atlanta girlfriend into bringing a basket of chili dogs whenever she came to visit.

Roy Blount Jr., a former Decaturite who lives and writes in New York City and appears on the NPR game show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!,” has eaten all over the world and authored several books about food, including the latest, “Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations.”

Blount says he visits the Varsity every time he’s in Atlanta. “Varsity chili is unlike any other, unparalleled,” he writes in an email. “I can’t imagine how it could be improved, or why anyone would want to change it in any way.”

He continues, “I ate a chili dog once while doing ‘Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!’ at the Fox. The head of the CDC was the special guest on the show. I tossed him my peach pie. He walked off without it, as if it had cooties, which was okay by me as I really wanted to eat it myself —- but then he came back and got it, as one would.”

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Famous people who attended Georgia Tech

Beginnings

Frank Gordy attended Reinhardt College (where he met his future wife, Evelyn Jackson) and followed that with a year at Georgia Tech, but decided Georgia Tech was not for him.

After a visit to Florida, where he studied the takeout hamburger and hot dog joints with interest, he came back to Atlanta and bought a small snack shop right outside the Tech campus called the Yellow Jacket. In 1928, he moved a few blocks down North Avenue and opened the Varsity, with the idea of opening one in all major college towns. (He certainly couldn’t open an Athens drive-in called “the Yellow Jacket.”)

He served 300 people on the first day. By the end of the 1930s, during the bleakest economy in U.S. history, Gordy had already made his first million dollars. More Varsities followed, first one in Athens, then, in 1965, the Varsity Jr. on Lindbergh, opened by Gordy’s son Frank Jr.

»RELATED: Growing up in Athens, the Varsity’s other hometown

The 1980s brought tragedy to the Gordy family. Frank Jr. was shot and killed in 1980 during a confrontation with police. Frank Gordy Sr. died of emphysema in 1983. In both cases, the Gordy women stepped in.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Nancy Simms jumped into management at the Varsity after her father, founder Frank Gordy, died in 1983. CONTRIBUTED BY THE VARSITY
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The Varsity turns 90

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Nancy Simms jumped into management at the Varsity after her father, founder Frank Gordy, died in 1983. CONTRIBUTED BY THE VARSITY

Frank Jr.’s widow, Susan Gordy, took over the Varsity Jr., kept it humming and expanded its catering side business to a significant portion of revenue. And Gordy’s daughter, Nancy Simms, with three children (including Gordon Muir) and one stepchild at home, arrived at the North Avenue Varsity, ready to learn, from the onions on up.

“Mr. Minix (general manager E.D. “Ed” Minix) handed her a hairnet and an apron, and put her in the kitchen,” said Muir. “Somebody asked him: ‘Who’s that blonde lady back there?’ Minix said: ‘Oh, that’s Frank’s daughter. She won’t last a week.’”

The odds were against her. “My father never suggested I be a part of the Varsity,” said Simms, speaking from the family’s vacation home on Sea Island. “I had no training. I’d never worked a day with my dad. I would go there for lunch, I’d go with a date, but I probably knew less about the Varsity than anybody.”

Suddenly she felt responsible for 200 employees. She began working 16-hour days, cleaning tables, slicing potatoes and devoting herself to the restaurant six days a week. “She turned into my grandfather. She’d go to work in the daytime, come home and make us supper, then go back downtown at night,” said Muir.

All along, the employees were showing her how to run the business. Said Simms, “This is the situation: Here comes somebody they’ve never seen and never worked with, and they’re looking at me wondering, ‘Who the heck is she?’ I had to get in there and work with them and do the same things they did, have them teach me, show them I could work as hard as they did to earn their respect.” The recipes — the famous chili, for example — were written down, but she had to learn how to make them.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Varsity is still in the blood of founder Frank Gordy’s family. Grandson Gordon Muir is president of the Varsity, and Muir’s daughter Ashley Weiser is head of marketing. They’re shown at the Varsity in Midtown Atlanta. The Varsity is turning 90, and as part of the anniversary, they’re raising $90,000 to support a program at the Shepherd Center to help brain-injured veterans. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
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The Varsity turns 90

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Varsity is still in the blood of founder Frank Gordy’s family. Grandson Gordon Muir is president of the Varsity, and Muir’s daughter Ashley Weiser is head of marketing. They’re shown at the Varsity in Midtown Atlanta. The Varsity is turning 90, and as part of the anniversary, they’re raising $90,000 to support a program at the Shepherd Center to help brain-injured veterans. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

“We were too young to step in,” said Muir. “Her brother had passed away. If she hadn’t done it, there’d probably be no Varsity here. There’d probably be a skyscraper here or something.”

One more tragedy followed. In 1990, Gordon Muir’s brother Michael was in a devastating car accident. He was flown to a Pittsburgh hospital for care, and underwent several organ transplants, surviving for a while, but declining after his organs began to fail. After three years, he died. Nancy Simms was by his side.

In her absence, Gordon Muir rose to the occasion. He’d already had training at the Varsity Jr. as a teenager. After college (at Reinhardt), he returned to the North Avenue Varsity as an hourly employee.

The Varsity has continued to expand, with a few hiccups. The Varsity Jr. closed in 2010 after zoning disputes with the city. A Varsity in Alpharetta lasted for 12 years, before closing in 2016. (“We were on the wrong side of the highway.”) But the company’s Dawsonville store is going great guns, said Muir, and they’re eyeing new stores on property in Winder and in Auburn, Ala.

Becky Stein
151013-ATLANTA-GA- Wendell Brock reports on the Varsity and its history of food and scene in Atlanta on Tuesday October 13, 2015. FOOD: Double chili cheese burger, fries and a Varsity PC (chocolate milk)(Becky Stein Photography)
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The Varsity

Photo Credit: Becky Stein
151013-ATLANTA-GA- Wendell Brock reports on the Varsity and its history of food and scene in Atlanta on Tuesday October 13, 2015. FOOD: Double chili cheese burger, fries and a Varsity PC (chocolate milk)(Becky Stein Photography)

The Midtown store is located on 5 acres of land in a neighborhood of skyscrapers. “I’m sure there’s a higher purpose for those 5 acres in Atlanta than a drive-thru restaurant,” said CEO Simms, “but I’m sentimental.”

Simms said she and 18 other family members are meeting for the second time with a family business counselor to discuss the future of the Varsity.

“I’ve backed away a lot to let the guys handle it,” she said, mentioning her son Gordon, her son-in-law John Browne and her stepson Steve Simms, all involved in management. “They don’t want their mother looking over their shoulder.”

And family may well be the key. During a recent lunchtime rush, a tanned visitor from Naples, Fla., brought his wife and children to taste the storied chili dogs. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, gazing at the photos of presidents who have dined there, from the Bushes, father and son, to Barack Obama.

“It’s a goldmine,” he added, “as long as it stays in the family.”

EVENT PREVIEW

The Varsity is honoring its 90th birthday with a party. From 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 18, the Varsity will offer 90-cent prices on all menu items, door prizes, music and special guests. The specials are available at all locations except the airport kiosks. thevarsity.com.

The Varsity is also highlighting the occasion by raising $90,000 to support a program at the Shepherd Center to help brain-injured veterans. It’s about halfway to the goal.

VARSITY LINGO

All the way: With chopped onions; can be a hot dog, chili dog or hamburger

Bag of rags: Potato chips

Chili steak: Hamburger with chili

Alexa Lampasona/Atlanta Restaurant Scene
060818 - ATLANTA, GA -- A chili dog with french fries, a frosted orange drink and an apple pie at the Varsity in Atlanta, Ga Friday, August 18, 2006. (ELISSA EUBANKS/AJC staff) Would you wager a Varsity chili dog?
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The Varsity turns 90

Photo Credit: Alexa Lampasona/Atlanta Restaurant Scene
060818 - ATLANTA, GA -- A chili dog with french fries, a frosted orange drink and an apple pie at the Varsity in Atlanta, Ga Friday, August 18, 2006. (ELISSA EUBANKS/AJC staff) Would you wager a Varsity chili dog?

F.O.: Frosted Orange

Glorified steak: Hamburger with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato

Heavyweight: Hot dog with extra chili

Joe-ree: Coffee with cream

Mary Brown steak: Naked steak with no bun

Naked dog: Plain hot dog in a bun

Naked dog a’ walkin’: Naked dog to go

N.I. Orange: Varsity Orange with no ice

N.I.P.C.: Chocolate milk with no ice

P.C.: Chocolate milk (usually served with ice)

Red dog: Naked dog with ketchup

Sally Rand: Naked steak

Sally Rand through the garden: Naked steak with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise

Strings: French fries

Walk a dog: Hot dog to go

Yellow dog: Naked dog with mustard

»THE ACCESSATLANTA PODCAST GOES TO THE VARSITY 

Check back on Thursday, Aug. 16, at ajc.com/podcasts as our weekly accessAtlanta podcast visits the Varsity in advance of the 90th anniversary celebration. Hear interviews with staff and customers and get the story of the beloved fast-food spot’s past, present and future from president Gordon Muir.

Read More

News

  • An Alabama man is charged with murder and other related charges after he allegedly opened fire on his ex-wife and her new boyfriend Monday evening following a Mardi Gras parade, killing the man and critically wounding his former wife. Anthony Orr, 49, also faces charges of attempted murder and discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle, according to Mobile County Jail records. >> Related story: Man fatally struck by Mardi Gras float Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste said officers were called around 6 p.m. to the scene downtown, where they found the man dead and the woman injured. The city is currently celebrating Mardi Gras, which originated in Mobile, and was in the middle of the biggest party the community sees each year. The gunfire erupted less than an hour before the Infant Mystics parade was set to roll, AL.com reported. The victims were shot a couple of blocks from where the day’s previous parade had ended. “We are currently looking for a black male by the name of Anthony Orr, who is the suspect in this shooting,” Battiste told reporters at the crime scene Monday night, according to video from Fox 10 in Mobile. “We believe that this shooting is domestic-related. He chose to deal with the domestic situation here at Mardi Gras.” Orr had threatened his ex-wife, who was riding on a float, from the parade route as the festivities were underway, Battiste said. The chief asked anyone in the public who knew Orr or spotted him to call police. “Don’t harbor him. Please notify us,” Battiste said. Orr was taken into custody around 10 p.m., Fox 10 reported. Court records obtained by the news station show Orr was arrested Feb 18, just six days before the shooting, on domestic violence charges. The documents indicate the victim, Orr’s ex-wife, told police he had beat her, kicking her in the face, in October 2018. Orr was released on bail three days before the double shooting, AL.com reported. “This is a prime example of, potentially, where somebody may not should have had access to bail because of the offense he committed,” Battiste said. “Once a person has identified themselves as a shooter, it’s kind of hard to get them to stop.” Anthony Orr is escorted to jail by police officers in the video below, courtesy of WKRG in Mobile.  Alabama legislators are seeking to pass a constitutional amendment denying bail to suspects accused of violent Class A felonies. The bill, which the Montgomery Advertiser reported was approved last week by the state House Judiciary Committee, is named after Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old college student who was abducted from an Auburn convenience store and killed in October. At the time of Blanchard’s abduction, the man accused of the crime, Ibraheem Yazeed, was free on $295,000 bond, the Advertiser reported. Yazeed, 29, had been charged with attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery and drug charges in a January 2019 attack on two men at a Montgomery hotel. He now faces the death penalty in Blanchard’s abduction and shooting death. “We really believe the constitutional amendment will speak to this type of issues that we’re dealing with tonight,” Battiste said. “We shouldn’t be dealing with something like this if this guy had a history that indicated he should have been denied bail.” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said Monday night that there were people who knew prior to the shooting that Orr had threatened his ex-wife and her new boyfriend. “There was enough information to be conveyed that this was an actual, valid threat. He was intending to carry out this threat,” Stimpson said. Battiste and James Barber, the city’s public safety director, told Fox 10 that Orr had threatened the victims Sunday night and Monday afternoon. He also actively tried to gain access to weapons throughout the day Monday, Barber said. “There are other people that knew there was a threat to kill the deceased, so it would have been very helpful if somebody had reached out to us. And maybe somebody had, but we haven’t been able to confirm that,” Stimpson said. “If you know that somebody has been threatened with their life and you know there’s a history of violence, you’ve got to tell us if you expect us to do something about it.” Police officials and the mayor tried to assuage paradegoers’ fear as the city prepared for Fat Tuesday, the final and biggest day of Mardi Gras season. “If anything, because of this situation, there is a heightened awareness on our part that we can’t let our guard down coming into the last day of Mardi Gras,” Stimpson said. “That’s when things can happen that you don’t expect to happen. But we have got everything that we have out there trying to make sure that everybody is safe.” >> Related story: Woman run over by Mardi Gras float dies The mayor urged the public to pray for the victims and their families. “How does your heart not break for those who have been shot?” he said. Court records obtained by AL.com show Orr’s divorce was finalized in September. In the woman’s March 2019 filing, she alleged he had been verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. The woman had obtained a protection from abuse order the year before, the news site reported. Orr pleaded guilty in August 2019 to resisting arrest, a charge that stemmed from a March incident in which his ex-wife called the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office to report he was breaking into her home. Deputies found him near the home, and when he refused to follow their commands, they stunned him with a Taser. “As we were helping Anthony Orr to his feet he made the statement he always wondered what a taser felt like and wondered if it really worked,” a deputy wrote in an arrest report, according to AL.com. “(Orr) stated that he is a believer now.”
  • A great white shark fitted last summer with a satellite tag has surprised researchers by showing up in the Gulf of Mexico and swimming past the mouth of the Mississippi River. The shark, a female named Unama’ki, has traveled 3,120 miles in 103 days, beginning in Nova Scotia, the Sun Herald reported. The 2,076-pound, 15-foot, 5-inch shark has been tracked by OCEARCH, a marine research group, according to WXXV. The shark has been lingering off the Louisiana coast and is heading toward Texas, according to the Sun Herald. “Is this a whole new piece to the white shark puzzle?” OCEARCH tweeted Monday. Earlier this month, Unama’ki was pinged about 100 miles from the Florida coast, Northwest Florida Daily News reported. In October, she was pinged off the coast of North Carolina near the Outer Banks, according to WVEC. Unama’ki was last pinged on satellite tracking at 7:12 a.m. Sunday, off Louisiana’s Marsh Island, according to OCEARCH. “She’s a shark on the move!” OCEARCH tweeted.
  • Ever wonder what kind of epic sports memorabilia David Ortiz has? Well, now is your chance to not only see it but also to own some of it. There will be an estate sale at the Weston home of the Red Sox legend Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., WFXT reported. The address will be released after 9 a.m. Friday, according to Exceptional Estate Sales. of Sudbury, which is organizing the sale. Sports memorabilia will include items Ortiz collected during his major league career, with most of them from his days with the Boston Red Sox, the estate sale company wrote on its website. Other items for sale include a poker table, a billiards table, furniture, a Route 66-themed chrome high-top table and stools, hand-knotted Oriental rugs, designer clothing, a white queen-sized four-post bed with matching nightstands and a mirror dresser, a rowing machine and a Rolls Royce neon sign. Ortiz put the five-bedroom, seven-bathroom home up for sale in February 2019 but later took it off the market, according to Trulia.com. The house is 5,214 square feet, according to the website. Ortiz played in the major leagues for 20 seasons, spending 14 years in Boston until his retirement after the 2016 season. He is eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2021.
  • Thin Mints and Samoas are two of the flavors buyers of Girl Scout cookies find irresistible. However, police officials in Oregon said one consumer went a little too far to satisfy his cravings. Police said Camden Ducharme, 36, of Salem, is accused of buying cookies from a Girl Scout booth outside a Walmart using counterfeit money, The Oregonian reported. Ducharme was charged with theft and forgery for passing along counterfeit U.S. currency, according to the Salem Police Department. He was later released from the Marion County Correctional Facility, the Statesman Journal of Salem reported. Tiffany Brown said earlier this month, a man visited the booth she was running with her two daughters, the newspaper reported. Brown said the man asked a lot of questions and seemed “fidgety.' The man paid for a $5 box of Tagalongs with a $20 bill and received $15 in change, the Oregonian reported. Brown’s 13-year-old daughter, Ava, thought the bill looked odd, KPTV reported. “The bill didn’t look right, it was smaller, bluish tint and it just wasn’t the same as the rest of the bills,” Brown told the television station. Brown shared a photograph of the bill next to a legitimate one on Facebook, noting, “The troop takes the loss.” Salem police spokeswoman Lt. Debbie Aguilar said officers were able to use video surveillance to identify Ducharme, the Statesman Journal reported. When Ducharme returned Sunday to Walmart, store loss prevention officers contacted police and he was taken into custody. Police said they responded to one other incident in which Ducharme used counterfeit money to buy Girl Scout cookies., the Oregonian reported. “It’s not nice, it is not kind to other people and it is not fair,” Ava Brown told KPTV. “Us Girl Scouts work really hard and I am proud to say I am a Girl Scout.”
  • A man recently convicted of rape used deception to lull his victim into believing she was safe with him, Fulton County prosecutors said. Taurence Callagain, now 36, met the woman at the H.E. Holmes MARTA station several weeks before the Sept. 6, 2015, rape. She thought Callagain had no sexual intentions toward her because he led her to believe he was gay, according to prosecutors. The woman, who was in a relationship at the time, was “under the impression that their relationship was strictly platonic,” a spokesman for District Attorney Paul Howard said Tuesday in a news release.  During Callagain’s trial, a jury heard that the victim regularly rode two buses and a train to travel to and from work. On the night she was raped, the victim missed the final bus of the night. “Callagain offered to give her a ride home so she did not have to walk a mile-and-a-half to her apartment in Allen Hills,” the spokesman said.  They stopped at Callagain’s house first. He told the woman he needed to pick up some marijuana, and she thought they would smoke some together in his bedroom, prosecutors said. Instead, the jury heard at trial, Callagain choked the woman and violently raped her. “During the rape, Callagain told the victim if she fought or screamed, ‘I will get my boys to come in and hold you down,’” the spokesman said. “The victim heard a male voice in the house, so she was terrified that if she kept screaming Callagain would, in fact, do as he said.” The woman eventually escaped and ran the three miles home to call for help, prosecutors said. She was treated at Atlanta Medical Center and was able to accurately describe to investigators the interior of Callagain’s home. Authorities later found the victim’s underwear in his hamper, according to prosecutors.  “The defendant claimed the sex was consensual, but Callagain was later arrested,” the spokesman said. “The defendant has a pending aggravated assault case in Fulton County but has no other criminal history.”  Callagain will be scheduled for sentencing before Judge Eric Dunaway at a later date. He has been held in the Fulton County Jail since Friday. — Please return to AJC.com for updates.  In other news: 
  • Airline travel is stressful enough when flying solo. It’s even tougher for families, who sometimes have to split up in order to get the cheapest airfares. According to the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, charging fees to keep families together is unacceptable. The nonprofit organization posted an online petition, “demanding airlines put safety over profits.” “Children 13 or under should sit with their families while flying, and should not be charged extra fees to do so,” according to the petition, which has a goal of 75,000 signatures and was approaching 60,000 early Tuesday. According to a Consumer Reports review of more than 130 complaints submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines have separated or suggested separating children as young as 2 years old from their parents, USA Today reported. “Children need a responsible adult around and whether it’s just so they can go to the bathroom in the middle of the flight or if there’s an emergency, it’s not safe to have a child without somebody there to take care of them,” Anna Laitin, director of financial policy for Consumer Reports’ advocacy arm, told CNN. “And no business traveler or solo traveler wants to be put in charge of a 3-year-old they don’t know, and no parent wants to be seated, strapped in unable to move, that far from their child.' According to the petition, splitting up families “is a security hazard for the child and a safety threat to all passengers during emergencies.” The petition further claimed that separation “puts an inappropriate burden on customers who sit next to an unaccompanied child.” The petition specifically singles out American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. In 2016, Congress passed a bill that called upon airlines to seat children 13 and younger next to a family member at no extra cost, CNN reported. However, the bill left some room for the airlines to bypass the law, calling for a policy “if appropriate.” Consumer Reports created a site last fall where consumers can lodge complaints at the same time with the organization and the Department of Transportation, USA Today reported. The organization said it has collected more than 400 complaints since the site went online, the newspaper reported. Representatives for American, United and Delta, the initial targets of the petition because they received the most complaints, said they have taken steps to ensure families booked together, sit together. American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein told USA Today the airline has spent a 'considerable amount of time'' on the issue and has developed a system of seating children younger than 15 with an adult family member. In a statement, Delta spokeswoman Maria Moraitakis said, “Regardless of the type of ticket purchased, Delta works with customers on a case-by-case basis to ensure their travel needs are met. When customers have seating questions, we encourage them to reach out to us as soon as possible to allow for the opportunity to address their concerns.” United Airlines spokesman Charlie Hobart told CNN the airline has adjusted its family seating procedures and policies. “We’ve essentially rolled out automatically seating families together. So we automatically scan for families who do not have seats assigned next to each other and we work to seat them together,” Hobart told CNN.