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A look back at 2013, Part 4

Aug. 1 - Approaches to each side of the new Arkansas Highway 89 bridge over Interstate 40 have been built up, and the retaining walls and center support are in place; now work on the eastbound exit ramp has begun. This is the view to the south.

Aug. 14 - From overweight to “marathon maniac,” from insecure to onstage confidence, from medication dependence to freedom.

Three accounts tell the way to a total weight loss of nearly 400 pounds: Annette Blanton of Cabot lost 90, Rachel Whittenberg of Lonoke has lost 110 - Rebecca Privitera of Cabot has lost 194.

All three used diet and exercise, and each had their own reason for starting on the road to slimming down.

Blanton wanted to keep up with a young niece; Privitera had become envious of family and friends involved in sports.

“I didn’t want to die at 40,” Whittenberg said. “There is nothing you can do about some things. But if I could stop something, I was going to do it,” she remarked. And, Whittenberg said, “I wanted to be an example to my daughter.”

Aug 19 - Years of work are complete and crowds filled the Gina Cox Center at Lonoke High School for the grand opening of the newly completed, $8-million multi-purpose facility. Before and after the ceremony, the people of Lonoke strolled the hallways and concourses for their first look at what could be the crowning part of the rebuilt campus. Speakers on the day reflected on the center’s evolution from simply a replacement for the aging Lonoke High School gymnasium, into a comprehensive facility serving athletics, fine arts and the community. Jim and Gina (Cox) Wiertelak are guests of honor for the event - the Wiertelak’s million-dollar pledge in 2007 is credited for giving new life to languishing plans for a new athletic facility. The Gina Cox Center is a 65,000 square-foot, $8 million multi-purpose facility centered on a regulation-size, wood-floor basketball court. Seating for about 2,000 is on two levels; there are a full cafeteria; band room, theatre/drama facilities including a scene shop with storage; locker rooms, laundry, and concession and hospitality areas. Graduation ceremonies will also be held in the arena. Along with the Wiertelak’s pledge, Lonoke School District voters in 2011 approved a millage increase to fund the construction with a 74-percent margin. Ground was officially broken for construction in March 2012.

Aug. 15 - Lonoke County Quorum Court meeting begins with a somber note as justices-of-the-peace remembered district 8 justice of the peach Charles Evans.

Evans died Aug. 3; his funeral was held Aug. 6.

Aug. 21 - Thousands in the Cabot area are plunged into darkness when a high-voltage transmission line falls to the ground. However, investigators from the FBI, ATF, Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, and Cabot Police Department determine the power line was sabotaged. Traffic in the city is snarled for two days as Bill Foster Highway is closed while Entergy crews repair the damage.

Aug. 25 - Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley announces a mass arrest in a roundup of sex offenders who have not met notification requirements. According to the press release, Operation Hide and Seek was conducted Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23 and 24. It was a cooperative effort with Carlisle Police Department, Ward Police Department, United States Marshals office, U.S. Secret Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the operation, officers conducted a sex offender verification that included serving arrest warrants, verifying that level 3 and 4 sex offenders have complied with information and notification requirements. Staley said 30 individuals were arrested on a variety of charges - 25 sex offender violations were cited, three narcotics violations were found and five fugitive warrants from other agencies were carried out.

Aug. 28 - One of the area’s largest water projects is “on time and on budget,” Lonoke-White Public Water Authority project manager Woody Bryant says during the tour of construction progress by John Padalino, USDA Rural Development administrator for Rural Utilities Service; Randy Young, executive director Arkansas Natural Resources Commission; Lawrence McCullough, USDA/RD state director and other officials and LWPWA members. The $50 million project will deliver water from Greers Ferry Lake to LWPWA members as far south as Furlow and Grand Prairie/Bayou Two.

Aug. 28 - After more than 60 years of planning, investment of about $90 million and months of construction, the Bayou Meto Water Management Project is looking at the possibility of having to turn off the nearly completed pumping stations.

If the current Senate funding plan is not adopted, then the project will have to look at how it will shut down, project manager Gene Sullivan tells Congressman Rick Crawford at a meeting with Bayou Meto Water Management District board directors. The other options “on the table” leave the project without funds to continue. Other problems, such as convincing the Army Corps of Engineers of the need to be involved in groundwater management, that it is a major environmental mission for the Corps, have been overcome, Sullivan said. “There is just one small [problem] left … that we need help with - and that is money,” Sullivan says.

Sept. 11 - From wartime aircraft spotting to mattress making, to community service, 60-years-plus experience in Arkansas Extension Homemakers Council (EHC) has led Tressie Bryant of Austin, a member of the Woodlawn EHC Club, and Connie Hardin of Ward, a member of Sylvania Tri-Community Club, on many paths. “Oh. Things are sure different now. The clubs are not the center of the community that they used to be,” Bryant remarked. “That’s too bad. It was such a good way for people to get together,” she said. Bryant and Hardin are among 27 Extension Homemakers Council members recognized in August for 50 and 60 years service.

Sept. 16 - Karen James is appointed to the Lonoke School Board by unanimous vote, to the position previously held by her late husband, Chris, who served on the board for five years. Board president Darrell Park presents Karen James a plaque honoring Chris James.

Sept. 19 - Two fatalities within a few weeks spurs a group of residents Safety on South Rockwood Drive was not on the Lonoke County Quorum Court agenda, but to put it on the table during public comment last week. JP Matt Sanders brought up the South Rockwood Road concerns, reading aloud a letter from a resident. The letter emphasizes a total of six fatalities and numerous other accidents that have occurred on the 2.5 mile road that connects Arkansas Highway 5 with West Main Street. The Greyhawk Road junction, hidden to southbound traffic by the crest of a hill, is dangerous. Since the county created the condition, the county should correct it, the letter states. After discussion, County Judge Doug Erwin said he would evaluate the suggestions, such as traffic control or another road, and make a report at the Oct. 17 Quorum Court meeting.

Sept. 21 - Information collected in a search for a Lonoke County woman missing since July has led to a kidnapping charge, but there is yet no sign of Rebecca Lauer. According to information from the Lonoke County sheriff’s office, Dennis Harrington, 41, of Lonoke, was arrested and charged with kidnapping and first-degree domestic battery after information concerning Lauer was received Sept. 21. Rebecca Lauer, 36, was reported missing July 28 by family members. Lauer was last seen on Clay Hill Road in east central Lonoke County on July 21; she is described as a white female, 5 feet 7 inches, about 140 pounds.

Based on the new information and interviews, Harrington was arrested and a search warrant obtained to search Harrington’s Clay Hill Road residence.

Members of the FBI evidence collection team assisted Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office at the scene.

Sept. 29 - Another attack on the power grid is reported by Entergy Arkansas officials. They report that an early morning fire damaged the Keo substation on Arkansas Highway 165 between Scott and England in Lonoke County. There were no injuries and no reported power outages in the Keo incident, but officials determined that the fire was intentionally set.

Oct. 1 - Technical glitches and heavy web traffic thwart Lonoke County residents trying to enroll in the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace on its opening day. The problem was with the federal government’s marketplace website, which typically displays “The system is down at the moment. We’re working to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Please try again later.”

Oct. 3 - The 2013 Lonoke High School and Junior High Homecoming festivities are held in rhe Gina Cox Center and on the field at James B. Abraham Stadium.

Emily Brewer is the junior high homecoming queen, escort is Ricky Nichols.

Haylee Whitehurst is the high school homecoming queen. Her escort is Kody Smith.

Whitehurst will be crowned Friday in the Gina Cox Center. Coronation starts at 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 3 - Deborah Moore of Austin has accepted the position of Lonoke/Prairie County Library System director. Moore replaced former director Leroy Gattin, who retired after 40 years of experience in library systems.

Oct. 6 - For a second time electric power to residents in north Lonoke County has been cutoff by a deliberate act. First Electric Cooperative officials report that two power poles near the 1400 block of Robin Road, behind the McBride Subdivision in Lonoke County, had been intentionally cut down. The damage cuts power to about 10,000 customers in the Cabot area.

At approximately 7:20 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, First Electric Cooperative officials reported a power outage that affected about 10,000 customers in the Cabot area. It was found that two wooden power poles located near the 1400 block of Robin Road, behind the McBride Subdivision had been intentionally cut.

Oct. 7 - The series of attacks on the power grid lead federal officials to offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Investigators acknowledge the possibility that the incidents are related, and are related to the intentional downing of a high-voltage transmission line at Cabot on Aug. 21 and the Sept. 29 fire at the Keo substation.

Oct. 3 - Lonoke High School boys basketball coach Dean Campbell said tells Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce members about the upcoming basketball season. “[Team members] are very, very excited for the first time they get in that building [Gina Cox Center] and play a game,” Campbell said. Lonoke High School girls basketball coach Nathan Morris said the basketball team numbers are up since past years and he credits the new Gina Cox Center for that. He said the school would host a Christmas tournament, called the Gold Fish Classic, in the new center Dec. 26, 27 and 28. He said fish farmers are helping sponsor the tournament. Morris also said the school plans to submit a bid to host the state tournament.

Oct. 10 - Arkansas Realtors Association reports that home sales in Lonoke County and across the state increased in August, The ARA report says statewide home sales rose from 2,273 in August 2012 to 2,819 in August 2013 and year-to-date figures for the state are up 12.74 percent; sales increased in Lonoke County from 77 in August 2012 to 103 in August 2013.

Oct. 11 - Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office deputies respond to calls about an explosion on John Shelton Road. FBI agents and members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force team find evidence similar to that found at the scene of previous power grid attacks. The information leads to the arrest of a Jacksonville man.

Oct. 12 - A press release from U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer identifies Jason Woodring, 37, as the Jacksonville man arrested in connection with the series of power grid attacks in Lonoke County. Woodring could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Oct. 14 - The Lonoke City Council hears of changes to water treatment after two employees were hospitalized for chlorine contamination. Public Works superintendent Ron Gosnell tells the council that employees Jim Kelly and Fred Flowers were hospitalized Sept. 30 following an incident at the water plant. Both were transported to the hospital due to chlorine contamination, Flowers was taken mainly for observation and was released later that day. Kelly remained in ICU overnight but was release the following day. Gosnell said the incident was from a clog in the vent line on the chlorinator that now must be repaired. Cost to repair the chlorinator is $6,500, according to Gosnell. Gosnell said the public works department would like to switch from chlorine to bleach. He said cost to switch would be $3,300 for the pump and $2,900 for a building to house the new system.

Oct. 18 - An arrest is been made in the July 21 shooting death of 3-year-old Noah Chambers. The Lonoke County Sheriff’s office announces that Vance Colbert Gatlin, 30, of Cabot was taken into custody following the investigation of Chambers’ death.

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