Looking back on 2013, Part 3

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By Ed Galucki

Staff Writer

May 16: Restoration work on Lonoke County’s 86-year-old courthouse will turn into a full-scale weatherization project, with a $140,000 price tag, with approval of County Judge Doug Erwin’s request by justices of the peace. The work began as a $45,000 historic preservation grant to re-point the top six feet of the courthouse, Erwin said. That work has been under way for about a month, he said. “I know that figure is an enormous amount of money to anybody for anything, but we are looking at a historical building that hasn’t had any TLC in almost a hundred years,” Erwin said. There are signs of weather damage occurring inside the courthouse, he said.

May 22: Remington Arms announces a $32-million plan to expand the Lonoke ammunition plant increase production

May 29: Results of a study into alternatives to the North Belt Freeway do not bode well for those looking to connect U.S. Highway 67-167 with Interstate 30 at the Interstate 630 junction. Cabot mayor Bill Cypert states, “Cabot can’t afford this,” he said. Cypert is chairman of the committee, formed in December at his request. In December, Cypert called on Metroplan members to abandon the planned freeway, saying it had become a distraction from other transportation needs. If built, the North Belt Freeway would connect U.S. Highway 67/167 with Interstate 30 There are currently no funds obligated to the North Belt Freeway project, though it remains on the “vision plan.”

June 3: Lonoke School Board members name Marc Sherrell to succeed Phynaus Wilson as high school principal. Wilson retired following the 2012-13 school year. Sherrell, currently an assistant principal at Blytheville Primary School, was previously the K-12 principal at Missouri School for the Severely Disabled at Clarkston, Mo.; resource teacher and coach at Valley View High School, Jonesboro; taught special education and coached at Kennett Middle School and High School in Kennett, Mo.; and a teacher and coach at Maiden High School in Maiden, Mo. He also worked for the Social Security Administration and the Missouri Division of Family Services as well as served four years in the Air Force.

June 6: Ross Moore, Lonoke Primary School principal for the past 31 years, announces he will retire after a 37-year career in the Lonoke School District for 37 years.

June 6: Plans for the $32-million expansion of the Remington Arms Lonoke Plant are heard during a meeting of the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce. Plant manager gives limited details. “You probably want to know what the product is, so does the competition. I am in no hurry for them to find what we are doing there,” he said. The Remington Lonoke plant, on Arkansas Highway 15 at the interchange with Interstate 40, with more than 1,200 employees, is the major commercial employer in Lonoke County. News of the expansion came only weeks after start of construction to add a new Interstate 40 interchange with Arkansas Highway 89 at Lonoke, a few miles east of the plant. The expansion will include a new, 35,000 square-foot plant located south of the existing plant, which also will expandable, he added. There will be new skills required because of advances in computer-aided design, and a need for better skilled employees, he said.

June 12: Arkansas State Police preliminary reports list two traffic fatalities in Lonoke County during the past week. Summary reports show Rickey D. McKinney, 51, of Lonoke, died of injuries suffered in a single-vehicle accident near Carlisle on Sunday; and Dusty Ray Abshure, 26, Austin died when the motorcycle he was operating struck a tree near Cabot.

June 20: County Assessor Jack McNally tells Quorum Court members of progress toward interactive information systems at the assessor’s office. “We are moving right along with the GIS [geographic information system] and mapping project,” he said. Progress is now to where aerial mapping of the county is the next step to take, he said. Aerial mapping will add another “layer” to the system, which organizes and links geographically linked information for management and analysis. GIS maps in other counties have been used to reduce 911 response time, for bridge planning, municipal zoning, setting boundaries for fire coverage, school zoning and many other needs, McNally said. Keeping such information current is important for businesses considering a move into an area or for startups, McNally said. The recent choice to place a steel mill in the state was heavily influenced by having current GIS figures available, he said. Cost of the flyover ranges from $45,000 to $90,000, depending on the information to be managed, McNally said.

June 22: Lonoke County sheriff’s deputies investigate an alleged murder attempt near Cabot after reports from hospital employees; Kelley Kelley, 58, of Austin, is held at the Lonoke County detention facility with no bond in the investigation. According information from the sheriff’s office, medical staff reported Kelley’s statements that she had overdosed her 73-year-old husband and killed the couple’s dog. The husband was treated for an overdose of prescription medication; investigators found the dog in the bathtub at the residence.

June 26: Lonoke County Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore makes a plea for more Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers. Information provided her by CASAs guide her in her “most heart-rending, difficult decisions” in child custody hearings, Elmore said. “I am scared the [CASAs] we have will get overworked, burned out, and we will lose them. I am scared of losing them. I depend on my CASAs,” Elmore said.

June 29: Lonoke County Detention Facility sees an escape when Micah Lance Edwards, 22, of Cabot bolts out a door. Although the escape is short-lived, Edwards is captured the next day, it is still “embarrassing,” Sheriff John Staley said, adding that an internal investigation is under way. The jailers involved are on administrative leave pending the outcome. “Things may have gotten a little lax,” Staley said. The pointlessness of the escape is underscored by the result of Edwards’ action, Staley said. “[Edwards] was being held on misdemeanors. He faced, what? A slap on the wrist? Maybe 30 days? Now he is facing a felony charge of escape and prison time,” Staley remarked. The jailers in the incident resigned a short time later.

July 5: Ceremonial dedication of the re-naming of Ferguson Street as Frank T. Bunton Street was part of the triennial Carver High School Reunion held at Lonoke last week. Frank T. Bunton Jr. cut the ribbon marking the opening of the street, accompanied by family members Roderick Bunton, Cordell Bunton, Laureen Bunton Williams, Morrisce Bunton Dockett, Claudette Bunton, and Janice B. Yancy.

July 9: Col. Patrick Rhatigan took command of the 19th Airlift Wing, at Little Rock Air Force Base, from Col. Brian Robinson in a change-of-command ceremony at the base.

July 11: Alderman Koy Butler calls for the council to consider hiring a code enforcement officer. He said if the city had a code enforcement officer, that person could keep up with the old cars, grass height, dilapidated houses as well as be an electrical and plumbing inspector. Butler said he believes with all the fines and fees given for violations, it would more than pay a salary.

July 17: David Durham, 19, of Lonoke, is one of the recipients of 21 Dennis Jungmeyer Scholarships awarded by the CARTI Foundation at Little Rock. First Lady Ginger Beebe assisted Jungmeyer in presenting the scholarships valued at $2,500. Durham, the son of Sandy Durham of Lonoke, plans to attend Arkansas State University at Beebe where he will major in computer science. Durham was 9 years old when he diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma

July 20: Justices of the peace approve appropriating the balance of the cost of installing an elevator at the Lonoke County Courthouse. County Judge Doug Erwin said the cost of the elevator would be covered by several funds, with $100,000 coming from an Arkansas Historical Preservation grant: about $40,000 through Gov. Mike Beebe; state Senator Eddie Joe Williams has pledged $30,000 as well as state Senator Jonathan Dismang. The Lonoke County Courthouse, built in 1927, has had limited handicapped access including two types of chair lifts. One chairlift was installed as a result of a federal lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Parts for one of the lifts are no longer available, Erwin said.

July 21: Lonoke County Sheriff’s office reports the Sunday death of a 3-year-old child near Cabot. According to a press release, the death is being considered an accidental shooting with no indications of foul play.

July 24: Despite a wet spring, Arkansas’ estimated 2013 winter wheat yield is 59 bushels per acre, the second highest on record, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The record for wheat in Arkansas is 61 bushels per acre, set in 2006. For that year’s harvest, growers planted 365,000 acres. Arkansas growers planted 710,000 acres for harvest in 2013. Rice, wheat and soybeans are Lonoke County’s top agricultural product.

July 26: high school sports teams, youth groups and other organizations pitch in Friday to shuck 9,432 ears of corn for the Wade Knox Children’s Advocacy Center at Lonoke for the annual fundraising sale. Board of directors chairman Bo Bevis said the figure there were 131 bags containing 72 ears to be cleaned. Lonoke High School girls volleyball team, the football team and youth groups from Roberson Chapel Baptist Church, Lonoke First United Methodist Church and Brownsville Baptist Church volunteered. “It took about three hours,” Bevis said.

Aug, 5: The Lonoke School Board approves the purchase of hand held radios to improve bus safety for students and bus drivers. Superintendent Suzanne Bailey said she feels it is important to have some avenue of communication between the district and the bus drivers. Bailey said while the district does have some out-of-date radios, those radios are useless once the driver pulls away from campus as they have a limited range.

Aug. 8: Remington Arms hosts ground breaking at the Lonoke plant to mark start of a $32 million expansion. Speakers at the ceremony include Gov. Mike Beebe, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and Freedom Group CEO George Kollitides; Freedom Group COO Kevin Miniard, and board of directors members Jim Pike and Bobby Brown take part in the groundbreaking. The Remington Lonoke plant, on Arkansas Highway 15 at the interchange with Interstate 40, with more than 1,200 employees, is the major commercial employer in Lonoke County. The expansion would include a 35,000 square-foot plant, located south of the existing plant. The new jobs at the expanded operation will call for new skills, Grahlmann said. The plant is now making more ammunition than was ever contemplated for it, but has reached its capability, Grahlmann said in previous remarks. Most areas of the plant are operating at record levels while using machines dating from the 1930s. The only way to significantly increase production is with new facilities, he said.

Aug. 11: According to an Arkansas State Police Preliminary Fatal Crash Summary, Kyle Wayne DeBlock, 22, of Ward, died on South Rockwood Road when his motorcycle struck a guardrail.

Aug. 10: The doors are officially opened at the Lonoke High School Gina Cox Center. The Gina Cox Center is a multipurpose facility housing a 2,200-seat arena, cafeteria and band room. The facility is named for Gina Cox Wiertelak, who, along with her husband Jim, donated $1 million towards the construction of the facility. Lonoke Superintendent Suzanne Bailey made opening remarks, with the Lonoke High School Junior ROTC color guard posting the colors. Others speaking at the opening included State Rep. Walls McCrary, State Sen. Jonathan Dismang, Lonoke Mayor Wayne McGee, Lonoke School Board president Darrell Park, Lonoke Banking Center president Allen Evans, Lonoke Chamber director John Garner, former Lonoke superintendent John Tackett and former Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits coach Jody Musgrove, as well as comments from the Wiertelaks.

Following the ceremony, the building was opened for visitors to see the entire layout. The arena will be home to the Lonoke basketball and volleyball teams. The Lady Jackrabbits, of which Gina Weirtelak is a former captain, will be the first team to play an actual game in the Gina Cox Center when they host Jessieville in a benefit scrimmage game.

Aug. 12: The Lonoke City Council votes unanimously to condemn three houses owned by Lonoke County and to authorize city attorney Camille Bennett to begin preparations to file suit against the county. According to Bennett, she has spoken with the Arkansas Municipal League about the case. She said under most circumstances, a county would want to maintain their property, so a case like this is rare. She said when the council condemns a property and has it torn down, a tax lien would then be filed against the property to recuperate funds used to tear down a building or home. Since the county does not pay taxes on the property it owns, the city has no choice but to file suit to force the county to take action on the buildings.

Aug 14: From overweight to “marathon maniac,” from insecure to onstage confidence, from medication dependence to freedom. Three Lonoke County women lose a total of more than 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.

Aug. 15: the Lonoke County Quorum Court pauses as justices-of-the-peace pay respects to District 2 Justice of the Peace Charles Evans. Evans died Aug. 3. Sheriff John Staley tells of a developing problem in the jail complex stemming from faulty workmanship. Apparently service lines for the dispatch center air conditioning had not be properly installed, and are failing. “This has been a problem from day one,” Staley said. A request to the architect for an explanation is being drafted, Staley said.

Aug. 19: Karen James is appointed to the Lonoke School Board to fill the vacancy left by the death of her husband, Chris, who had served on the board for the past four years. James will hold the zone 2, position 1 seat until school board elections are held Sept. 15.

Aug. 25: Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley announces 30 arrests in a roundup of sex offenders who have not met notification requirements. Staley says “Operation Hide and Seek,” conducted Aug. 23 and 24, was in cooperation with Carlisle Police Department, Ward Police Department, United States Marshals office, U.S. Secret Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Officers verified the notification requirements of 55 Level 3 and 4 Sex Offenders.

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