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Year in Review Part 2

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Photos/Tammy Curtis A look back at photos that made the news during the second half of 2012
As farmers struggled with a record breaking dought, the second half of 2012 began with another farm story -- startling news about a cattle buyer accused of a big theft.

In a case that is updated in today's newspaper, an Illinois man was extradited back to Sharp County on June 4 by authorities to face charges of theft of property by deception, for allegedly writing over $120,000 in bad checks to the Ash Flat Livestock Auction. Jeremy E. Pierce, 41, of Marion, Ill., was accused of writing two checks to the auction for a company named the Brookfield Cattle Company. The first on March 12, 2012 for $82,797.57, and the other for $38,797.51, on March 19, 2012.

On June 20, a group of area artists met at the Ash Flat Library to provide input on establishing a Kids Art Group at the library, something that is one of the early successes of the new Sharp County Library. The Sharp County Friends of the Library, invited the three area artists to help them come up with ideas. Ina Gill also explained that she had been in contact with the Thea Foundation, seeking a grant for the Ash Flat Library's Kid's Art Club.

After more than two years, the Ash Flat Fire Department was finally look able to look forward to moving out of the cramped room it was operating out of and into a new firehouse in the near future. City council approved a bond issue at a special meeting May 21, and Clint Wiles of the First National Banking Company addressed the council at the June 18 meeting, explaining details of the bond. The city passed an ordinance authorizing a $635,000 bond issue to construct the fire department. Wiles said it would be financed over 20 years at 3.95 percent interest, with monthly payments of $4,073.79. Collateral for the bond would be the franchise fees the city collects, as well as the building and property, which would be located at Goodwin Cove, near Sonic in Ash Flat. While the station is nearly complete, the department has yet to move into the new facility.

A large crowd gathered at Eaglecrest Nursing and Rehabilitation in Ash Flat on June 28 for an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the opening of the facility's new 10 bed short term rehabilitation wing. Just over six months after a November, 2011 groundbreaking, Eaglecrest Administrator Linda Hall welcomed the group to the new facility saying, "We feel like by opening up this we can provide the service to the community that will get folks well quicker and feel better and can go home and return to their daily lifestyles. I have a lot of people to thank."

In June, Ron Shepard, another man allegedly responsible for bilking the Ash Flat Livestock Auction and the Nix family out of $1.35 million in cattle, was caught by U.S. Marshals in a modern day wild west roundup in Mexico.Not unlike the cattle rustlers featured in many western gun slinger movies, Shepard was a wanted man-- for the Nix crime and many like it in several states.

In perhaps the biggest story of the year, members of Save Energy Reap Taxes (SERT) turned in nearly 5,000 petitions on July 13 in their latest attempt to get a Wet/Dry vote on alcohol sales on the November ballot. It took five years of work for the group to finally get the issue on the ballot and, later in the year, after November ballots were counted, Sharp County would finally become wet after nearly 70 years. Before taking the thousands of required signatures into the Sharp County Clerk's office, Ruth Reynolds, the initiative's organizer, explained that the issue was not really about making the county wet, as much as it is just to allow voters to decide, and to try to cut air pollution by reducing the number of residents forced to make long drives to buy alcohol.

On July 31, four Sharp County emergency workers were injured, three seriously, while assisting with a motor vehicle accident on Highway 175 near Hardy. According to Arkansas State Police Trooper Dustin Rogers, who worked the accident, Sharp County Deputy Shane Russell responded to a one vehicle accident near Baker cemetery Road and Highway 175, John Shattuck, 49, of Hardy had ran off the road and hit a tree in the curve, when first responders from Martin Creek and Wirth Volunteer Fire Departments responded and were assisting Shattuck. Russell, who was assisting in the accident witnessed a second vehicle driven by Carl Barlow, 73, come around the curve where the first accident occurred, cross the center line, run off the road, and hit four first responders at the scene before hitting the back of the Wirth Fire Department's brush truck. Injured were Bernadette Freigy, 65, with the Wirth Volunteer Fire Department. Katina Baggett, 52, of Hardy was flown by Air Evac to St. John's Medical Center in Springfield. Clarence Baggett, 60, of Hardy. The Baggetts were first responders with the Martin Creek Fire Department. Also injured was the Martin Creek Fire Chief William James.

The highway expansion through Ash Flat and the major new business sitting next to it are signs that Sharp County experienced its fair share of growth in 2012. Other projects from Highland to Cave City also give the impression Sharp County's economy is not stagnant.

Five Lane Highway Expansion: Construction crews braved the summer heat, and began paving lanes for the widening of Highway 62-412 and Highway 167 to five lanes through the city of Ash Flat, a project that was completed later in the fall.

Mark Martin GMC: Mark Martin GMC, Oldsmobile was scurrying to open its new state of the art dealership, expecting high traffic counts in that area to bring in customers. While the impressive dealership building is completed, the parking lot still needed to pave before vehicles can be moved in. It opened later in the month.

Ash Flat Fire Department: Crews finally went to work on site preparation for the new Ash Flat Fire Department headquarters building in July. The city awarded the bid to Noacon, Incorporated to construct the building for $402,041. After adding upgrades -- incluing a concrete pad, interior finish work, a sprinkler system in the truck bays and brick veneer to dress up the metal building -- an additional $84,696.72 raised the total cost to $486,727.72. Mayor Danny Traw said at the June City Council meeting, the project should be completed by late fall.

Highland City Park:The City of Highland has been working with architects, construction crews and its own street department workers to help complete the city's new park near Lake Mirandy in Highland. Although there have been a few problems along the way, the park was moving toward completion. With a picnic pavillion, basketball court and a state of the art playground area for children, area residents are sure to enjoy the beautiful addition to the area. The park was completed in Sept.

Cave City Dollar General: July 14 marked a happy day for Cave City area consumers, as Dollar General's new store opened its doors on North Main Street. The new store features wider aisles and more space for merchandise, including a line of frozen and refrigerated food products. Since it does a large volume of business, the previous store was often crowded. Early shoppers to the new store called it a big improvement. Dollar General District Manager Jerry Gifford said the new building, with over 8,000 square feet, is the largest the chain operates, with the exception of its Market Stores located in California and the midwest, which feature produce and more grocery items.

After 37 years of service to the Cave City Fire Department, former Chief Norman Sensabaugh was inducted into the Arkansas Firefighters Hall of Fame at the State Firefighters Convention in June. His induction was the result of a letter of recommendation from current fire chief Ronny Milligan, who served with Sensabaugh for many years. The retired chief had many interesting stories to tell about the history and evolution of the department, which he joined in its early years. The Cave City fire department, which is currently in the Three River's Firefighter's District, was established in 1958 after a new home was lost to fire. A group of residents met to begin the effort to establish a department. Money was raised and the city bought its first equipment.

Another emotional, historic event took place in August as a street was renamed after a longtime Cherokee Water Works employee. A large crowd gathered Aug. 14 in Cherokee Village to show respect for Steve Rose. Stories of Rose's life and passion for his job were shared by family, friends and co-workers, as the road that leads to the Cherokee Village Water Works was renamed Steve Rose Trail. Rose, who had been with the department since 1971, served as manager for many years, until his death in January after a long illness. For Rose's family, including his wife, Brenda and son, Steven, the road naming was a huge honor to the man they all loved so much.

Highland Schools started the new school year off as a New Tech School. The newest addition to Highland High School welcomed eighth and ninth graders to the upscale classrooms on Aug. 20, where the New Tech project based learning programs will be centered. Students said they were both excited and a little nervous about the new program. As one of only nine schools in the state, Highland students are moving into the future with a new method of learning. Students will collaborate in a project-based learning environment utilizing electronic research tools to further strengthen their knowledge of subject matter. New Tech will also better prepare them for real world situations, and the skills required excel in future workplaces.

The much anticipated opening of the Ash Flat Library also drew a huge crowd in the busy month of August. Residents from around the area gathered Aug. 17 to check out the Ash Flat Library, as it hosted its grand opening. It has been many years since the county seat of Sharp County has housed a library, and the event was something that many have looked forward to for years. The library is housed in the former Ash Flat Fire Department building at 11 Arnhart Street. Before the opening, the library received 200,000 books from retired Pine Bluff doctor Dr. Anderson to help fill the shelves. The donation was made after Norvin Green submitted an application for the library to receive free books. Norvin and Jean Green and Ina Gill, and volunteers of Friends of the Library, the organization they formed, have worked tirelessly to promote and set up the library, cataloging books, getting the shelves, books, computers and other areas ready for patrons. Nearly 200 persons attended the Grand Opening.

Passing motorists were unsure what was taking place as police and emergency response units set up at Heath Funeral Home and Southern Wholesale on Aug. 29. People were seeing an active shooter/hostage situation training exercise, involving county and quad cities law enforcement and fire department personnel. The exercise, sponsored by the Spring River Paramedic Ambulance Service, gave participants real life experience in how to handle an active shooter/ hostage situation. Horrible mass shooting tragedies, such as the recent Colorado movie theater incident, are tragedies that no community should have to deal with. But, in reality, attacks happen, and training to practice diffusing situations is vital. A multi-jurisdictional event includes not only law enforcement, but emergency responders, and the communication between the entities in an every changing emergency situation was the main purpose for the local training session. Grace Richeson and Jeff Graefe with Spring River Paramedic Ambulance Service (SRPAS) began organizing the training over a month ago. Members of their ambulance crews came to Richeson after the Colorado tragedy, voicing their concern over the lack of training for this type of event. "We chose the event based on national news, to make it pertinent," Richeson said.

A man who was a familiar face in Sharp County for many years moved up to the top position in the Arkansas State Police in August. Governor Mike Beebe named Major Stan Witt of Austin, formerly of Cherokee Village, as the new director of the Arkansas State Police at an Aug. 27 press conference in Little Rock. The announcement came after Colonel J.R. Howard notified Beebe of his intention to retire at the end of August. This is the second promotion for Witt in the last few months, as he was first promoted to Administrative Services Division Commander.

WRMC North Complex, the medical center for the Sharp County region, celebrated its five year anniversary and gained a new name at an Aug. 28 reception. The name White River Medical Complex was unveiled on a new sign during the event.

The saying "Good things often rise from tragedies," is being exhibited through the WATCH D.O.G. S. (Dads Of Great Students) Program at Cherokee Village Elmentary School and Highland Middle School. On Sept. 6, fathers and father figures gathered with their children for a drop in kickoff pizza party for the programs' fourth year in the school district. The program was designed in response to the Westside shootings in Jonesboro in 1998 to help keep area schools safer WATCH D.O.G.S. is an innovative father involvement, educational initiative that began in 1998 in a single school in Springdale, Arkansas, and has since grown into a nationally recognized program Today more than 2,200 schools in 41 states participate in WATCH D.O.G.S. Hundreds of men enjoyed pizza with their children at the drop in party at the A.L. Hutson Center, socializing before signing up for days to volunteer for the program.

In response to the need for a larger Sharp County rescue boat, Chief Deputy David Huffmaster submitted a grant application that allowed the county to purchase one. Huffmaster explained the boat the county took possession of in September is an 18 foot all welded boat, with a mercury 60/40 four stroke motor. It was purchased with a portion of a $16,000 grant the county received from a Homeland Security Grant, through the Department of Emergency Management.

The smell of asphalt was in the air in Ash Flat over the last phase of paving in Ash Flat in September, as Atlas Asphalt began paving large sections of the nearly completed five lane expansion. For the most part, motorists have been patient as progress is becoming more and more visible as each new asphalt lane is completed and bright yellow lane stripes are applied.

After two years of controversial leadership, Highland School Superintendent James Floyd announced his intention to retire during a special School Board meeting on Sept. 26. While Floyd told the board he would stay through the school year, the board decided the following day to pay Floyd through December, and made arrangements to replace him immediately. The board announced Floyd's retirement at the Sept. 27 meeting, and, moments later, voted to hire Tracy Webb, who had been serving as elementary principal and assistant superintendent, as superintendent. Highland High School Principal Clint Shackelford was named assistant superintendent. Both Webb and Shackelford are graduates of the Highland School System."I am very excited to serve the students, staff and patrons of our district," Webb said. "I eat, sleep and breathe work, and just love the Highland School District."

The Slaying The Dragon: Leukemia benefit for Beth McEntire Bess was held Oct. 16 at the A.L. Hutson Activity Center and raised nearly $11,000 for Bess' medical and living expenses. The event was well attended with a silent auction and various bands performing. The benefit ended with a touching group performance of all the bands.. Bess was diagnosed with leukemia and undergoing treatment as she battled the disease at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.

Besides the Presidential Race, Sharp County residents also voted on a Congressional seat, a State Senate seat and three state House seats. At the county level, there were races for both County Judge and County and Circuit Court Clerk. A JP race and several city council seats were also up for grabs. But the biggest discussion seemed to be about the county's wet/dry issue, which passed, making Sharp County a wet county.

A high speed chase that began in Highland and sped through Fulton County ended with a manhunt in Mountain Home, after the chase ended in an accident that caused a Highland City Police vehicle to overturn.The incident began about 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 31, when Highland Officer Bryan Buchannan tried to stop a vehicle he said was driving erratically. According to Highland Police Chief Jeremy Stevens, the vehicle refused to stop and headed west on Highway 62-412, reaching speeds of more than 120 miles per hour.

For the final two months of 2012, see next weeks edition of the Village Journal.

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