[Nameplate] Mostly Cloudy ~ 63°F  
High: 70°F ~ Low: 49°F
Tuesday, May 3, 2016

2011 South Missourian Year in Review

Friday, December 30, 2011

Much of Oregon County area news in 2011 centered on problems stemming from the poor economy as city budgets were cut, schools shortened their calendars and utility rates were hiked.

Missouri Department of Transportation closed its District 9 Office in Willow Springs and scaled back road projects, while some municipal budget issues remain unresolved, such as whether the Thayer city pool will open in 2012.

Extreme weather and charges filed against local law enforcement also dominated the year's news.

Also during the year, the area lost two lifelong educators: former Koshkonong teacher and Couch and Thayer schools superintendent William "Bill" Garrison, who died in May, and Jo Kathryn "JoKay" Smith, who taught English for 42 years in Couch, Thayer and Mammoth Spring schools, and was teaching at Ozarka College at the time of her death in December.

Some bright spots in 2011 included ground being broken on a new educational aquatic center at Mammoth Spring State Fish Hatchery and hefty grants awarded to the Oregon County Sheltered Workshop and Thayer School District.


Oregon County started the year with a new presiding commissioner, Republican Patrick Ledgerwood, 29, of rural Alton, who defeated longtime Presiding Commissioner Leo Warren, a Democrat, 2,056-1,439.

A New Year's Eve fire destroyed the home of Camp, Ark., Fire Chief Richard Navarro.

A week later, a trailer house fire in Brandsville claimed the lives of Thomas Melsom, 11, and his mother, Kristine Melsom, 33. The boy made it safely out of the home, and then went back in to try to save his mother.

On Jan. 14, former Oregon County sheriff's deputy Dophes "Gene" Barton, 47, of rural Alton was charged with four felony counts of theft, totaling $15,000, from area homes and businesses. Barton's case was moved to Butler County and is set for a motion hearing on Jan. 31, 2012.


MoDOT officials gathered input from residents to tackle a long-standing traffic congestion issue near Thayer schools. MoDOT increased the left-turn signal time and later was given state approval to widen Highway 142 from the school east to Route EE. Before cutbacks, the project called for Highway 142 widening to Route E near Couch Schools. Construction will begin in 2012.


Area school boards began discussing shortening their 2011-12 calendars and merging bus routes to save money. By the time school resumed in the fall, three of the county's public schools, all but Thayer, lengthened their school days to shorten the year.

In October, the Alton, Couch and Koshkonong school districts reported positive results after the change, saving money on utilities, transportation and employee wages.

The results of the 2010 U.S. Census came out in March, revealing that Alton's population grew by 30 percent, while Mammoth Spring's population declined. Mammoth Spring Mayor Jean Pace filed an appeal of the count. The census tallied the 2010 population at 871 for Alton, 2,243 Thayer, 212 Koshkonong, 997 Mammoth Spring and 10,881 for Oregon County.

Two other issues in March reflected the economic downturn. The city of Thayer scrapped a $200,000 sidewalk grant project that required a 25-percent match, and Oregon County started a school backpack program to feed needy children. The county was ranked fifth in the state for children living in poverty.

On March 23, more than 100 people attended a ground-breaking ceremony at the Mammoth Spring Fish Hatchery, where a federally-funded Aquatic Conservation and Education Center is now under construction. The center is projected to be complete by spring 2012.


On April 4, former Carter County sheriff Tommy Adams, 31, and deputy Steffanie Kearbey, 24, both of Ellsinore, were arrested. Adams was charged with three felony counts of distribution of methamphetamine.

Kearbey was charged with felony burglary and receiving stolen goods. Kearbey's charges were later dropped by Carter County prosecutor Rocky Kingree, citing lack of cooperation by the state. Adams' case was moved to Jefferson County and is awaiting an Attorney General's decision whether Judge Michael Pritchett will remain on the case.

Adams and Kearbey were both later indicted on federal weapons charges for allegedly stealing and selling guns from the county's evidence locker. Those cases are pending.

Also in April, environmental issues were in the news with the 13-year return of noisy cicadas and the start of several costly weather events. Throughout the spring, excessive rain, as much as 20 inches falling over a few days, caused flooding and damaged area roads and bridges. The county is awaiting federal emergency funding, delayed by the more costly and deadly tornado that hit Joplin in May.


A week-long jury trial the first week of July captivated the county, as Michael Amick, 34, of Myrtle was convicted by an Alton County jury of killing his wife's grandmother in late 2008 and burning her house to cover the crime. Amick was sentenced to life in prison. He has appealed the verdict.

Also in July, the Thayer Library was closed for renovations. It reopened with a larger children's section and computer area in September.

Thayer aldermen began discussing closing the city pool due to lack of attendance and increased costs. Pool management was offered to the Thayer Community Betterment group. No decision has been made.


The Roger and Holly Meyer family of BUB Ranch Beef Alliance in rural Koshkonong was named the Oregon County Farm Family of the Year.

The Oregon County Sheltered Workshop in Alton announced receipt of a $108,000 federal grant to replace old heating and cooling systems in the center's workshop area, among other improvements.


Thayer aldermen unanimously agreed in August to use Law Enforcement Sales Tax funds to cover police payroll for three months, up to $90,000. The board agreed to consider the issue again in November, if needed.


The Thayer School District began soliciting donations to replace the high school's old football scoreboard. The Bank of Thayer later agreed to pay for the board, projected to cost about $30,000.

Also in October, Thayer High School cheerleaders placed first in a statewide competition.

On Oct. 18, Thayer aldermen fired assistant police chief Michael Bunting in closed session. Bunting filed an appeal with the city, which was denied. He has since filed a civil suit against the city and Police Chief David Bailey, seeking lost wages and reinstatement to his position. The case is awaiting judicial assignment as Judge David Paul Evans has recused himself.


Eli Pounders, 18, of Thayer died in a crash on Highway 63 when Pounders hit an ambulance head-on. One week later, Tiffany Smith, 29, of Rogersville died near the same spot in a three-car crash.


Former State Treasurer Wendell Bailey revealed a 15-point plan to fix the state's high poverty and low education rates. He is presenting his plan in 2012 to area groups and leaders.

On Dec. 28, William Heilman, 19, of Birch Tree was set to be arraigned in Oregon County on involuntary manslaughter charges involving the March 2010 death of Meghan Honeycutt, 16, of Thayer. Heilman is accused of playing "criss-cross chicken" with another car on Highway 160 near Alton when the two cars hit head-on.

Honeycutt and her twin sister, Morgan, who suffered serious injuries, were passengers in Heilman's car. The case is pending.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: