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Monday, May 2, 2016

2011 Sharp County Year in Review

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 seems to have flown by leaving in its wake changes in political offices, and a few surprises throughout the year. While we look back at the events that shaped the year, try to recall the events you find the most memorable.


The 2011 New Year was ushered in with a new sheriff and new justices of the peace in Sharp County. There were also several new members of city councils within Sharp County and a new mayor, Richard Smith, in Highland. The 2010 elections featured a few hotly contested races and political ads for the better part of the year.

After its long-anticipated construction -- and delays that included floods and destroyed books -- the Williford Library finally was able to move into its new permanent home near Ozark Acres in January.

The beautiful new facility was the result of a $200,000, stimulus grant from the federal government, for rural economic development. It was later supplemented by an additional $35,000 through the United States Department of Agriculture.

A year-long saga concerning the Ash Flat Fire Department began in January, as Mayor Danny Traw reported to council Jan. 18, that, due to Amendment 78, cities can not go into debt for a period longer than five years and also can not lease a building for more than five years. Several options were discussed in regard to ways to finance the construction of a new fire department building, including a bond option. The estimated cost of the building was just over $500,000.

Stan Haney took the position of Sharp County Detention Center Administrator in late January, after the termination of former administrator Eric Pickle.

The Spring River Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual banquet Jan. 25 at Creekside Loft. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the 2010 E. Wilson Green Award to James and Cindy Bragg of Hometown Radio.


In early February, the Highland Fire Department, along with Chief Johnny Rickman, former Chief Steven Davis, Mayor Richard Smith and Highland Alderman Joe Black received a 1988 Maxum pumper truck, which included extra tools and other surprises after its purchase from a department in Connecticut.

After nearly four years, Sharp County fugitive land developer Wayne Watkins was extradited back to Sharp County following his arrest on Feb. 21, in Harris County, Texas.

Watkins had been on Sharp County's most wanted list since charges were filed against him for felony theft by receiving in 2007.

Sarah Cole, Sharp County's 9-1-1 coordinator, left the county in early February for a new job opportunity with the Arkansas Crime Information Center in Jonesboro. Deborah Baker later accepted the position and currently serves as the county's 9-1-1 co-ordinator.

Wayne Watkins' bond was set Feb. 28, by District Judge Johnson at $106, 910.20, exactly ten times the amount owed to the victims of Watkins' alleged crimes.


A former Cherokee Village City Council member was sentenced to seven years in the Department of Correction on March 7 for second degree sexual assault.

The charge originated from Billie Shelton's April 14, 2010 arrest on a class Y felony charge of rape.

Through a negotiated plea with the Fulton County Prosecutor's office, Shelton pled to the lesser charge of second degree sexual assault, a Class B felony.

The community mourned the loss of a popular face, and friend to many in March. Lillian Newburn, 88, of Cherokee Village, the self-proclaimed "shortest woman in Sharp County," died after complications related to an automobile accident. She made an impact on the community, and has a permanent place in the hearts of all who were privileged to know her.

A brutal fight caught on video in the cafeteria at Highland High School on March 4, left parents with questions regarding supervision of students at the school.

Two sophomore students were involved in the altercation that left one with serious injuries, requiring two trips to the emergency room and a CAT scan.

After a nearly two month investigation, agents with the FBI, Arkansas State Police, Hardy Police and the Sharp County Sheriff's Department arrested Jason Walter Barnwell, 37, of Evening Shade and Gary Don Dodson, 32 of Waldron on federal civil rights charges.

The investigation resulted from a Jan. 14 incident near Hardy. During the late hours of the night, an inter-racial couple was awakened after a molotov cocktail type device was hurled through the window of their home. Barnwell has since been convicted of the crime.

The county got a second chance for natural gas in March, as Stewart Noland, an engineer with Crist Engineering, made a presentation to the Sharp County Quorum Court about new financing options available for the proposed project.

Previously, the project was deemed not to be financially feasible for the county, due to high construction costs, and other issues raised by the United States Department of Agriculture. The gas project would be the first in the state to be taken on as a county project.

In Sharp County, several fires on March 23 and 24 required nearly every department in the county to respond. The most notable was near Ash Flat, which is believed to have been set by someone on a four wheeler, according to Ash Flat Fire Chief Stacy Horton.

The fire began in the early afternoon near Dry Bone Road, south of Ash Flat. Firefighters responded to the brush fire that eventually burned 486 acres of land between Dry Bone Road and Good Earth Pottery Road, nearly a mile away.

A Mammoth Spring man faces two felony charges of rape and false imprisonment after a March 21 incident on Cave Creek Road near Mammoth Spring, in Sharp County.

According to an affidavit for the arrest warrant, Andrew Frolos, 50, was arrested March 21 for an incident that occurred at his home.


Sharp County settled a federal lawsuit March 15 in Little Rock. The suit stemmed from the death of jail inmate Brian Lashley in 2008. The suit originally asked for $150,000 and was settled for $35,000.

The lawsuit against former Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver, as well as the county, came after the inmate died while in jail in February, 2008.

James E. Patrick, Jr., the estate's administrator, asked for $150,000 for compensation for loss of enjoyment of life, lost earning capacity and other damages, including punitive damages that were related to an alleged civil rights violation.

The lawsuit alleged that the inmate died of sepsis and pneumonia due to delay of treatment by the county while he was being housed in the jail.

Six months after the Arkansas State Medical Board reprimanded and fined Dr. Denise Oldenberg and suspended and revoked her license to practice medicine, Attorney Larry Kissee filed suit to reverse the action he called a "death penalty" against his client.

Kissee filed originally on Oct. 27, 2010, with a 56 page brief accusing the Medical Board of committing 12 errors ,as it took disciplinary action against Oldenberg.

On April 8, Henry H. Boyce, Third Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney, announced a three county round-up by the Third Judicial District Drug Task Force, following an undercover investigation.

Thirteen individuals were arrested on a variety of drug charges.

Hardy Mayor Nina Thornton and city workers worked to vacate city hall as the Spring River overflowed its banks on April 25. With impending bad weather and as much as 7-12 inches of rain predicted. Thornton said she was being proactive in relocating to the Hardy Gym. Forecasters predicted the river would rise to between 21 and 25 feet by April 27, one of the highest points in recent history.

What many believe was a tornado, claimed the life of 48-year old Jo Ann Bradley of Grange on April 26, when the family home was completely demolished and blown off its foundation by a massive storm.


Students at Highland Middle School participated, with students and groups all over Sharp County, in the Great Shake Out on April 28. The earthquake drill sought to increase awareness in the event of an earthquake. Sounds of what an actual earthquake might sound like played through the intercom system, as the children took their positions for the drill. This was the largest disaster preparedness drill in North American history.

After what officials called a long line of con artist-related criminal offenses in several states, Shirley Rush of Linn Creek, Mo. faced charges in Sharp County for defrauding a Missouri man and a Tennessee car lot for over $70,000, with a forged check used to open an account at a local bank.

A large group of students, local dignitaries and citizens were present on May 5 to show their support for the Highland Middle School's groundbreaking for its Delta Garden Study garden.

Highland is one of five schools in the state to participate in the program. The Delta Garden Study is a collaborative effort between the school, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas Children's Hospital.

Fulton County Hospital become one of the first small hospitals in the state to be approved as a Level 4 Trauma Hospital.

Everything from botany to chemistry and everything in between was on display at the A.L. Hutson Activity Center at Highland on May 3.

The NAESC District Science Fair for middle school students was hosted by the Highland Middle School.


The Cave City School District congratulated the Cave City High School class of 2011. Graduating seniors were offered a record-setting total of over $2.2 million in scholarships.

After a series of tornadoes, flooding and storms, Red Cross finances were strained. The community came out to support the Sharp County Red Cross at Areawide Media in Highland with a hot dog fundraiser.

The Spring River Farmers Market made plans to open its newly renovated location in Cherokee Village.

Jerry Adams, a Cherokee Village Alderman, was instrumental in the project. After attending a "Growing Healthy Communities" seminar at Petit Jean in the spring with Mayor Lloyd Hefley, the city developed the idea for the farmer's market, to promote healthy lifestyles. Work began to improve the building located at 2 Tekakwitha Drive in Cherokee Village, to be used to house the market.

A Paragould man narrowly escaped the Spring River with his life on June 5, after nearly drowning near Buford Beach in Hardy.

Hardy Police Officer James Hutchison was on patrol around 4:19 p.m. when several people ran toward his vehicle, telling him a man had been drowning and had been pulled from the river by his friends.

Three Paragould men, Brandon Gray, Nick Devine and the victim, Aaron Wayne Arant, 21, were sitting on rocks on the falls when Arant slid off and was swept under by the current.

Third Judicial Task Force members attended the crime scene investigation and evidence collection class at the Sirchie headquarters in Youngsville, NC. Sirchie is a well-respected criminal investigation and forensic training facility.

The Hardy United Methodist Church was bestowed the honor of being named Arkansas United Methodist Church of the Year for the state of Arkansas at a June 7 State Conference.


Ash Flat City Council voted to further finance the new Sharp County Library, to be housed in the former fire department building, because funds were $50,000 short. Mayor Danny Traw sought approval to borrow the money, until donations to cover the shortfall were raised. Traw said he has spoken with several individuals and organizations, including Ozarka College. Many said they would donate to the cause.

On July 14, Cave City Firefighter Curt Coles was honored with the Joe Coker Achievement Award at the Three Rivers Firefighters Association meeting at Basehart Station in Cherokee Village.

For the second year in a row, a member of the Cave City Department was chosen. Coles, a second generation fire fighter, followed in the footsteps of his father and former chief, Calvin Coles. He won the award just a year after his chief, Ronny Milligan, also was honored with the award.

On Thursday, July 21, a simple, black wreath hung on the front door of Cherokee Village City Hall and the city flag was at half mast, to honor Street Superintendent David Crayne, who died that morning.

Crayne, 61, had worked for the Road and Streets Department since 2003. He was remembered by his crew as "more than a boss."

A search in remote areas of both Sharp and Fulton County led to the discovery of the body of missing Paragould teen Zach Ware on Saturday, July 30.

Ware was reported missing July 25 after leaving his Paragould home for football practice. His family reported he did not make it to work or to a football scrimmage game.


Convicted murderer Steven Victor Wertz appeared before Circuit Judge Harold Erwin on Aug. 1 for his second Rule 37 hearing. Wertz was sentenced to death by lethal injection in July 2007 for the shotgun murders of Terry and Kathy Watts of Ash Flat. Wertz's motion to fire his legal council was denied by the judge.

Area first responders worked for hours to free the body of 15-year-old Steven Dinet III near Buford Beach in Hardy on Aug. 11. It was later determined the boy died from choking, not drowning.

A Hardy man, who is a registered sex offender who served time for the crime, was once again arrested for a sex crime.

Oren Gene Friesland, 61, of Hardy was arrested for rape, after an incident that occurred in his home earlier in the month was reported to a counselor.

Ash Flat officials began to obtainland and funding to relocate the fire department to #5 Goodwin Cove, below Sonic in Ash Flat.

The burglaries of at least six homes in Cherokee Village were solved after a lengthy investigation. The arrest of Jason Evans, 40, of Cherokee Village, provided police with over five truckloads of stolen merchandise.

The importance of Cherokee Village passing a one percent sales tax to address budget defecits led supporters to form a group called, "Citizen's for Sales Tax."

The Ash Flat Fire Department was forced to move to a temporary location in August, because of library construction. Planners said the library project required moving the department's trucks out of the building.


Two Sharp County businesses were targeted by local law enforcement for selling synthetic marijuana, an illegal substance in the state of Arkansas, as of Sept. 1.

Local law enforcement confiscated 239 packets of the substance, with names such as Demon, Green Cobre and Bayou Blaster at the Highland Health Mart. A second business named Potpourri, Etc., also allegedly selling the synthetic marijuana, was ordered to cease and desist.

After three meetings about a new Ash Flat Fire Department building, Mayor Danny Traw rejected all bids for a proposed building. Traw explained his controversial decision was due in part to the fact that the bids received were higher than anticipated.

Vernon Humphrey of the Arkansas Right To Life (ARTL) organization presented New Beginnings Pregnancy Center with a donation of $6,500 on Sept. 6, to further its work to assist with adoption services.

A former Evening Shade man, Curtis Gene Richey, 36, was arrested for rape, after admitting he had sexually abused a female, beginning when the victim was nine years old. The rape charges stem from multiple incidents in both Sharp and Lawrence Counties, where the suspect resided.

In light of the summer drownings in Sharp County, Sheriff Mark Counts scheduled staff training to certify officers to assist other departments with water rescues that involve diving.

Det. Sgt. Ken Guidry and Detective Dale Weaver took part in classes held both in Hardy and in Jordan, located in Baxter County. The men both received dive certifications, and can now assist other departments, such as the Hardy Fire Department Search and Rescue Team.

The City of Cherokee Village passed a one percent sales tax on Sept. 13. The tax passed by 10 votes, and collection will begin after the first of the year.

Renee Clay-Circle was re-elected to the Highland School Board Sept. 20.

Following a heavy turnout in the Highland precinct, Clay-Circle carried 50.5 percent of the overall vote, with 403 votes.

The election was a three-way race between Clay-Circle, Laurel Murray and Derek Ford.


Demonstrating their faith in prayer, hundreds of students from Cave City started their day with the annual "See You At The Pole" event Sept. 28.

Motorists in Ash Flat will face at least another year of construction delays. As of October, the $4.5 million road widening project on Highway 167 was declared only a third of the way completed by the time winter weather caused efforts to halt for the season.

The 1.1 mile project began in the Fall of 2010, with Ash Flat moving utilities and obtaining right of way. It is expected to be completed in the Fall of 2012.

The Slaying The Dragon: Leukemia benefit for Beth McEntire Bess, who is currently battling the disease, was held Oct. 16 at the A.L. Hutson Activity Center, raising nearly $11,000 for Bess' medical and living expenses. The event was well attended, with a silent auction and various bands performing.

Over 40 horses, riders and a wagon gathered for a great cause on Oct. 15, near Hardy, at the Adam Zeiger Ranch. The group participated in a trail ride for St. Jude Children's research hospital. About $2,000 was raised for St. Jude, with 100 percent of the donations going to the hospital.

The 2011 Sharp County Farm Family, Justin and Tammy Davis, with sons Lane and "Tator," were just a few of the honorees at the Oct. 10 Farm Bureau meeting, held at the Sharp County Fairgrounds in Ash Flat.

The city of Highland met Oct. 26 to attempt to obtain land belonging to Pete Reilly ,for the completion of a park in Hidden Valley.

Highland received a grant to fund the park but, after the plans were in place, the city realized it needed to obtain more property to carry out the project.


A Sharp County jailer was terminated on Thursday, Nov. 3 after being charged with sexual assault of jail inmates.

Courtney "Cory" Bobo, 28, served as a jailer for the Sharp County Sheriff's Department detention center.

Spring River Adult and Child Services (SACS) purchased a home in Highland to be used to house domestic violence victims and their children. In November, Mary Ann Jagow, SACS volunteer director, said the home was being remodeled, and would open soon.

A new plan for a new Ash Flat Fire Department headquarters was approved at a Nov. 1 City Council meeting. The project will once again go out for bid after specifications can be determined at the new site.

Representatives of New Tech High School met with the Highland Superintendent, school board members, and administration and local business leaders on Nov. 11, to discuss the recent application the Highland School district submitted to become a New Tech school.

If Highland is accepted into the program, it will be only the third school in the state to participate in this revolutionary new approach to learning. New Tech schools utilize technology and teamwork, rather than traditional text book-based learning.

A hunting outing ended in tragedy for a Cave City family on Nov. 20, as 14-year old Brandt Matthews was killed near his home in Sidney, during a hunting outing with two other juvenile males near Sidney Road.

For the first time in five years, the Sharp County Quorum Court held a grievance hearing on Nov. 14, regarding three complaints by Mike Baldwin, former Highland School resource officer.

Quorum Court denied Baldwin's grievance hearing, based on recommendations by the county's attorney.

More than a year after Pablo Gonzalez and Diego Villanueva were arrested for the murder of a co-worker, they accepted a plea deal on Nov. 22, in Fulton Circuit Court, pleading guilty to Second Degree Murder and receiving 45-year prison sentences.

A year and a half after receiving a grant for a children's annex to the Hardy Library, the newly completed library celebrated with an Open House Nov. 18, as the public and local officials were invited to tour the expansion.


19 drug-related arrests were made in the Third Judicial District in December, following a four-county drug investigation.

Numerous drug dealers have been charged, many on felony drug charges.

The Ash Flat City Council hired local architect Larry Bronson on Dec. 13, to prepare a specifications book for the city's new fire department building, in order to put it out for bid once again.

The plans should be completed in February or March, allowing the department to advertise for bids sometime in March.

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