By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
2022 was definitely a trying year for many, most will agree 2023 has to be better. Here is a look at some of the top news stories of the year brought to you by the Spring River Chronicle.
Just like the cowboys who always ride into the sunset, the cowboy in Fulton County Sheriff Albert Roork chose to take that proverbial sunset ride a year early while his department was in what he describes as “the best shape it has ever been in.”
Roork announced his retirement in October, due to health concerns and orders from his cardiologist. Dec. 31 at midnight, the sheriff rang out the 42 year legacy he left in law enforcement with the new year.
First Community Bank has been known as the little bank that could since its humble beginnings in Aug. 1997 when the vision to form the bank was created.
On Jan. 14, Batesville-based First Community Bank announced a huge milestone, reaching $2 billion in assets.
The bank began in a small office on St. Louis Street as a vision for 153 local community minded investors. Unbeknown to them, in less than 25 years, the seeds planted in the community would make their vision the tenth largest Arkansas chartered bank providing jobs for over 500 employees. The investors, started with only $3.5 million in capital. The vision led to the eventual August 4, 1997 opening of the first First Community Bank with only 14 employees, all who sought to make their new bank the one people in the communities it represented sought first, one that was synonymous with being local.
After over forty two years in fire service, Cave City Fire Chief Ronny Milligan announced he will be trading his fire helmet for a more relaxed lifestyle. Milligan cited his reason as health concerns.
Milligan began his career working with the department in March, 1980 and while his official retirement was at the end of December, the chief said he will remain until March 3 to give him exactly 42 years.
The Salem Junior Lady Greyhounds brought home the championship Jan. 15 from the Hillcrest Tournament.
Two local residents were among the three murdered and discovered in shallow graves in Eldon, Okla. on Jan. 28 and 29.
The killer, who was also a former local resident, Robert Lewis, confessed to the killings of Quinley Lamb and Bryan Shackelford, as well as his girlfriend, after surrendering himself to law enforcement.
A new courthouse annex was approved for Fulton County. The Quorum Court met in a special session to open bids for the new courtroom annex which will be located adjacent to the Fulton County Detention Center in the old nursing home building. The winning bid went to Provence Construction of Cave City for $1,340,000,
Fulton County Judge Gary Clayton explained the county had $378,000 in the Cares Act Funds available and $1.2 million in American Recovery Plan funding to use on the project, which would mean the project would be fully funded without further reducing the county budget.
Highland husband and wife coaching team of Cecil and Lindsley Meyer brought home the Lady Rebels first District 4A-3 Championship in 20 years on Feb.18 when they defeated Trumann 39-27 at Brookland.
This was the Meyer’s first year coaching at Highland since he returned to his Alma Mater after 17 years of coaching, spending the last five years as girls head basketball coach at Thayer. Lindsley, who coached alongside her husband for the last 10 years, was just as ecstatic as the girl’s assistant coach to bring the trophy to Highland.
A Valentine’s Day fire at a Fulton County business in Hardy’s fire district was a complete loss. According to Hardy Police Chief Scott Rose, the fire began when the owner of Rocky’s Auto Repair on Highway 63 was burning items when the wind caused the fire to move to grass, campers and the main shop building. Fire departments from Highland, Glencoe and Wirth responded to the fire to assist the Hardy Fire Department. The blaze lasted about three hours.
The Lady Bears defeated Hillcrest with a final score of 63-37 and claimed the District Championship title for the Fourth year in a row on Feb. 16.
The show of American spirit and patriotism began being displayed across America on Feb. 23 as the People’s Convoy left California, picking up truckers across the nation at various stops.
Locally, Brent and Jennifer Gill joined the convoy with their semi truck on Feb. 27, just west of Oklahoma City.
Near 80 degree temperatures in front of a strong cold front ushered a large storm system into Sharp County. A radar reported, yet not documented, by the National Weather Service, a storm believed to be a tornado roared through Sharp County on the evening of Sun. March 6. The storm severely damaged Stan and Jessica Goodman’s arena, a house on Strawberry River Drive, and destroyed a home on Jacks Schoolhouse Road, among others.
The Mammoth Spring Lady Bears completed a record breaking season March 11 in Hot Springs. The ladies finished as first runner up for the 1A State Championship. They were Conference, District, Regional, Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four Champions .
The Cherokee Village Fire Department was forced, through no fault of their own, to undergo several hundred thousand dollars in budget cuts after the loss of Suburban Improvement District (SID) funding in 2020. The fire department had to reduce their staff by six positions. Previously, there were 14 line firefighters and the chief.
Cherokee Village’s new Fire Chief Kal Dienst wasted no time after taking office Jan. 1 to address concerns and work toward efficiency and saving money while still maintaining the same level of emergency response.
After shutting its doors nearly 18 years ago in December of 2004, Sharp County has been without a hospital. The building located in Cherokee Village was abandoned by Eastern Ozarks Regional Health System (EORHS) after suffering several months of financial hardships. In March, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutlege filed a civil lawsuit against the hospitals owner, Robert Becht and Theresa Hanson as well as alias businesses the two have created since.
The basis of the lawsuit is that when closing the doors and walking out of the facility, thousands of medical records were left behind.
Staff, teachers and students at Highland High School came out in mass on March 16 to cheer on one of their own. Blake Medlock, a business teacher, track and cross country coach and bus driver at Highland who had been fighting cancer for the last few months and undergoing treatments.
On Tues., March 15, 2022, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced at the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce that The Arkansas Office of Skills Development (OSD), a division of the Department of Commerce is awarding Black River Technical College a $1.339 million dollar grant to develop its CDL Training Program.
A local attorney and Congressional candidate was lucky to be alive after utilizing safety protocols to land his airplane. Jody Shackelford recovered from his injuries after the engine failed on his plane during windy conditions over the runway at the Sharp County Regional Airport on March 25.
Ozark Gateway Realty OGW, LLC announced in March that sales agent John Tate was awarded Realtor of the Year 2021 by the Tri-County Board of Realtors. Tate had been working hard, advanced from Associate Broker to Executive Broker in 2021, and the honor was well deserved. Tate joined four other agents trained at Ozark Gateway Realty to receive the honor.
A man convicted of the 2017 murder of Jeremy Watkins was accused of attempted rape and sexual assault while he was out on a furlough granted to him by the Arkansas Department of Corrections.
Freddie Johnston, 39, was sentenced to 30 years in prison in March 6, 2019 by Circuit Judge Harold Erwin. Last December, Johnston made the prison’s Act 309 Prison program. This is a program in which inmates who have completed outlined criteria and not been in trouble while in prison gain trustee status, giving them more privileges than those in the general population.
As a result of this status change, he was subsequently transferred to the Randolph County Detention Center. While being housed in the facility, ADC granted Johnston a three day furlough to go to the home of his brother, Derek Couch, who lives in Cherokee Village. The furlough was from Dec. 17-19, just before Christmas.
During the first day of furlough, a 16 year old female with whom Johnston had contact, accused him of several sexual acts against her, including attempted rape.
A once in a lifetime opportunity was given to four seventh and eighth graders at Cave City Middle School over Spring Break. 11 students from Trish Turnbough’s History Club in grades seventh through ninth were able to make a trip to Washington, D.C. March 20-23. While there, they toured the historic sites and witnessed four of their own place the wreath on The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery as well as also placing a wreath on George Washington’s Tomb at Mount Vernon.
In 2020, Emerson Electric became the largest single business to make Sharp County its home in its history. It brought with it major economic impact for the entire rural area. With an over $35 million investment in Sharp County and the ultimate goal of creating 245 jobs, since its opening, many have inquired about what the company is manufacturing, how many have been hired and what shifts are working in the large factory, among other things.
This news agency recently went inside the busy Emerson factory at Ash Flat last week to help answer many of the public’s questions. Host Kate Stanczyk, who is Emerson’s Human Resources and Professional Tools for Emerson Director explained while 120 are currently employed by Emerson, they are continually recruiting as they ramp up production.
The two shifts at Emerson are running from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on a typical day, but she said sometimes additional hours are required to support growing customer needs for the products.
The state of the art Emerson is currently producing Greenlee products from multiple product lines. These include hydraulic tools, conduit benders and pullers used in the electric industry.
The nearly 300,000 square foot building that houses Emerson was built in the 1970s by Baxter Travenoll Laboratories and never used for its intended purpose. It sat vacant for decades until Bob Murphy purchased it in the 1990s and utilized it first for Cherokee Frame, and later Vinco, a company that manufactured picture frames. Emerson, a St. Louis based engineering and technology products company purchased the building and the 30 acres on which it sits in the summer of 2020 from Murphy and the sale was announced publicly in October. Numerous grants, incentives and other funding helped the company come to the area and quickly begin the renovation to make the factory more modern and energy efficient. Emerson also went into overdrive with recruiting and training employees. In the Spring of 2021, they began hiring employees.
Massive hail storms in Fulton and Sharp Counties on April 15 produced a huge amount of wind and hail. Several tornadoes were also spotted. The damage to the home of Weston and Sammie Stroud of Heart was epic with all the siding from the front of their home and windows being demolished. The hail was nearly four inches deep on the ground, closely resembling an ice storm. The storm also removed bark from trees on the Stroud property and grass in a hayfield. Numerous reports were made of damage from trees, broken glass, roofs being damaged and numerous vehicles with severe hail damage and broken wind shields. Hill’s Auto in Salem had severe damage to the majority of their inventory including numerous broken windshields and hail damage. Insurance companies worked through the year and many still have not been able to get their work done.
For the first time in history, the Arkansas State Band and Orchestra Association (ASBOA) hosted their Inaugural State Concert Assessment on April 11-12 at Bentonville West Senior High School. The Highland High School Band was named the 4A Arkansas Concert Band April 12 after the competition. The school district awarded the band with tee shirts after recognizing them on April 13 in an assembly and later, they received rings for the accomplishment and were recognized during halftime of a football game.
A fun festival drew nearly 900 to Cherokee Village on April 16.The Arkansas Pie Festival allowed pie bakers from across the state to show off their pie baking skills. A friendly pie eating competition drew many contestants too, including incoming Prosecuting Attorney Devon Holder. Chandler Slater took the overall win with Miss Arkansas Whitney Williams, placing medals on other winners, including youth winner Whitley Young and Kaden Costner, who won the teen division.
Over four inches of rain fell within hours on April 20 in Sharp County. The flash flooding resulted in a truck and camper that was housed at a campground on Mill Creek in Evening Shade being washed downstream. The truck was washed just past the water shed and the camper nearly to Highway 56. The flooding waters were in the ditch along Highway 167 just south of Evening Shade. The camper and truck were completely destroyed.
A suspect who was being sought by police for the murder of a Greene County man, killed himself April 25, following a high speed pursuit and crash in Paragould. Rodney Trammel, Jr., 57 shot himself after the wreck as police attempted to apprehend him.
Trammell was also being sought on outstanding felony warrants out of Greene County as well as for questioning in the death of a man whose body was found in a truck submerged in the Spring River on April 19.
The body of Larry Galloway, 45, of Alicia was identified as the victim of a homicide after his body was sent to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory. Galloway’s Ford Sport Track was submerged under approximately three feet of water at the Cold Springs Access after locals located the vehicle as they were testing sonar equipment for fishing.
The final journey home for a young sailor whose life was cut short nearly 80 years ago was postponed due to the Covid-19 virus. Off the beaten path in rural Northern Sharp County sits a peaceful family cemetery, on the very land sailor Brady Prewitt was born and will be buried. There, he will join in eternal rest generations of great veterans from his family, dating as far back as the Civil War.
April 8, 2019 was supposed to be the final coming home party for the young man who would be 99 years old the same day. Seaman Second Class Brady Prewitt was due to be buried on what used to be the Prewitt family farm near Martin Creek. His body was finally identified in 2018 through DNA after going down on the U.S.S. Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. Brady was finally brought home on May 18 and was given full military honors at Perry Cemetery Near Martin Creek May 18 by members of the Navy Reserve Center, out of Camp Robinson in Little Rock. Rear Admiral Gene Price presented the flag to Prewitt’s nephew, and next of kin, who made the trip from Virginia with his wife, Camela.
On Friday, May 13 a large group of volunteers from Delargy’s Mighty Warriors Karate for Christ School and the community worked to unload a semi truck load of food for area churches, ministries, food banks and Blessing Boxes. Students of the school and their families delivered the much needed food over the weekend to locations in Sharp, Fulton and Izard Counties.
On May 15, 2022 Briar Hicks called 911 because his little brother was choking. Because of his bravery and fast action in an emergency situation the Highland Police Department wanted to recognize Hicks. Highland Police Chief Shane Russell and Sgt. Steve Dravenstott took time out of their day to go to the school to present the young man with the award.
3,982 Sharp County voters showed up to the polls for the Primary election at 36.7 percent on May 24 to cast their ballots for the candidates they felt would best fulfill the duties of the job. Sharp County came out with a new sheriff as the only change in county level elected offices settled during the race. Shane Russell defeated Aaron Presser with a 65 to Pressers only 33.27 percent of the vote.
At the District Level, Sharp County also got a new prosecuting attorney in January, in the closest race of the election. Devon Holder came out on top of John Pettie by a narrow 51.15 percent to Pettie’s 48.85 percent margin.
With redistricting last year after the 2020 Census, two vied for the House of Representatives District 28 seat. Ultimately, Bart Schulz, came out with the win over Batesville dentist Chris Beller taking 63.74 percent of the vote.
Highland Sgt. Steve Dravenstott arrested Matthew Wayne King on May 24 after catching him inside Forschler’s Home Center in Highland stealing an air conditioner. The arrest came after several thousand dollars in cash and items came up missing from King’s ex-employer’s store and the owners placed cameras within the store. King was seen on camera in the store when it was closed before being caught by Dravenstott and former Highland Police Chief Shane Russell.
An investigation into the alleged rape of a 15 year old female victim was turned over to the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division (CACD). On May 12 a call from CACD was made to Sharp County Detective Cody Bailey regarding the incident.
On May 26, Doug Gill, 67, underwent a polygraph examination and admitted to having sexual intercourse and oral sex with the female. Gill was arrested on two Class Y Felony counts of rape the same day. He posted a $250,000 cash bond was set in the case the following day.
When track and field coach Blake Medlock, announced his diagnosis with stage one esophageal cancer on Nov. 14, 2021, an instant support group arose. The massive group, which evolved quickly into Rebels with a Cause #Team Medlock, has supported him through what his doctor told him early on would be a marathon, not a sprint. The support continued from fellow teachers, staff, administration, church family and the community for Medlock with a large benefit dinner and auction planned for June 11 at the A.L. Hutson Memorial Center in Highland.
Highland Student Council members prepared plates for the benefit meal at the A.L. Hutson Center on June 11 for Highland teacher and Coach Blake Medlock who was diagnosed with Esophageal Cancer last November. The fundraiser brought in over $30,000 to help the Medlocks with medical expenses related to his treatments.
Two area incumbents lost their seats to the hands of their contenders in the June 22 runoff election.
In the District 22 Senate Race, Representative John Payton from Cleburne County, defeated incumbent James Sturch of Batesville. Payton carried 59 percent to Sturch’s 41 percent. District 22 is composed of all of Sharp County, part of Fulton County, part of Lawrence and Izard County all of Independence County and a portion of Cleburne County. After the 2020 Census, the Arkansas State Board of Apportionment had to redraw district maps in the state to accurately represent the populations in all of its 35 Senate Districts as they do every 10 years. District 22 has a population of 85,266.
In the District Two House of Representatives Race, Randolph County’s Trey Steimel took Sharp County Representative Marsh Davis seat by obtaining 59 percent of the vote to Davis 41 percent.
Despite pandemic, Sharp County’s only locally owned newspaper, the Spring River Chronicle has increased subscriptions for the last three years, again proving the importance of targeted , researched local news to the Spring River area. As a result, the Chronicle was moved up to the “Medium Weekly” category by the Arkansas Press Association, based on circulation.
Spring River Chronicle Publisher Tammy Curtis and Editor Mack Thompson accepted 15 awards June 25 at the Tri-State Press Convention in Memphis. The Chronicle also took home a second place in the Medium Weekly Division for General Excellence, their first year in the competition with the larger papers. General Excellence is determined by the number of awards to each paper with a points system.