Although it was Faulkner County where the April 27 tornado ripped through central Arkansas, it was the major subject of the June 26 Lonoke County Quorum Court meeting. “Nobody helped us more than Lonoke County, that is why I am here,” Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson remarked.
County Judge Doug Erwin and Justices of the Peace Brent Canon, B.J. Weathers, H.L. Lang, Darrin Waymack, Tim Lemons, Hugh Keller, Mike Verkler, Richard Lynch, Bill Ryker, Mike Dolan, Matt Sanders and Larry Odom attended the meeting. Lee Linville was absent.
There were almost indescribable scenes of devastation and tragedy marked, “I know probably all of you heard of it, but a few in here saw it firsthand,” Dodson remarked.
“The first call and offer to help and give assistance was from [Lonoke County Judge] Doug Erwin … ‘what to you need us to do,’” Dodson said. The Lonoke County Road Department and Sheriff’s office had also been on the scene of the 2011 tornado that struck Vilonia, he recalled.
Lonoke County Road Department employees who took part in the Faulkner County tornado response were Dakota Hagar, Dennis Johnson, Vernon Phillips, Ray Maples, Jimmy Phillips, Glen Chance, David Sullivan, Charlie Wallace, Darrell Bowlan, John Robinson, Les Carpenter, Roger Light and Jimmy Brewer.
Sheriff’s office personnel who responded were Sheriff John Staley, Chief Michael Kindall, Captain Kevin McCoy, Sgt. Don Plank, Det. Randy Couch, Sgt. Andrea Rockefeller, Cpl. Michael Gebhardt, Cpl. Dennis Kackley and deputies Kera Ables, James Armstrong, Douglas Bjork, Anthony Counts, Michael Davis, David Dillon, Clint Eifling,David Houser, Tim Huett, William Langley and Tony Wilson.
The tornado left about a 24-mile long, quarter-mile-wide trail in Faulkner County, Dodson recalled. “Get out there on I-40 and drive 24 miles, and let that sink in.”
At his request, the Lonoke County crews approached the area from along Dam Road at Mayflower, probably the area of worst destruction, Dodson said. Three houses were on fire in that area but no one could get through to do anything about it, “It was indescribable,” he said.
The Lonoke County crew cleared nearly a mile of Dam Road to open the area to help, Dodson said. “Pouring down rain, lightning; for all they knew another tornado was coming. They cut their way down there,” Dodson said.
Sadly, it was the Lonoke County crew that found one of the first fatalities. “It was a gentleman I knew, and knew well,” Dodson said.
Having law enforcement bolstered by reinforcements from Lonoke County, “Was a vital part of our ability to respond to an overwhelming situation,” Dodson said. “Our people couldn’t get half of it done,” he said of ensuring security in the area.
The Lonoke County deputies did their share in keeping safe all what the tornado left. The deputies made sure the belongings that were still there were safe and secure. “[Residents] couldn’t sleep at home, could they? Somebody had to be there to watch.”
“The most difficult job in a disaster like this is perimeter security,” Dodson said. “[Deputies] get two or three sentences of instructions from our sheriff, then they’ve got to go make every call exactly right.”
Erwin said all he did was call the road department and ask for volunteers to help. “I couldn’t tell them to do it. I just told them where to meet me and we went from there … There is no way to describe how much I appreciate what they did. We were out until 4:30 that morning. It was 4:30 when we got to the end of Dam Road.”
“I am glad to see your enthusiasm; I hope you feel some pride,” Dodson said at a round of applause. “It is important to me that it means a lot to you.”
“If I don’t impress anything else on you tonight, I do hope you feel pride in your folks,” Dodson said. Faulkner County was at a time of helplessness, with broken lives, people who had lost everything, and, “An incomprehensible amount of debris.”
“But nobody saw it closer than your county judge, your county road crew and county sheriff.”
“These folks are the ones who carried away the broken lives of our people,” Dodson said.
In other matters, Justices of the Peace tabled converting the Bayou Two/Grand Prairie Water Board to a Public Facilities Board after Verkler questioned the action.
More time is needed to understand what the action entails and what its effects would be, Verkler said.