Top local stories from 2020: Part two

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Though much of 2020 was covered in COVID-19 news, there were still many local happenings unrelated to the pandemic. Take a look back at the top local news stories from July to December in 2020.


Despite having to cancel the traditional 2020 Fulton County Fair, volunteers and Fulton County Fair Manager Carolyn Lewis found ways to still celebrate. The junior livestock shows were held, although a little differently. The concert featuring former Voice contestants was also held but with restrictions.

The Spring River Innovation Hub Board of Directors and the Sharp County Community Foundation Board of Directors announced Hazelle Whited as the Executive Director for both organizations. Whited, a Sharp County resident, is a marketing and business management professional with more than 20 years of experience in small business development.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, out of Phoenix, Ariz., sent a private plane to Salem Municipal Airport on Tuesday, July 14 to pick up a wanted fugitive being held in the Fulton County Jail. John Mosqueda was recently arrested by Fulton County Sheriff’s Lt. Jake Smith after he was called to a domestic disturbance in Mammoth Spring.

Three weeks after the discovery of a large sinkhole at High Falls on Spring River which claimed the life of one. Immediately following the recovery efforts, signage was placed ahead of the sinkhole on the river to warn river goers of the danger. Although the signs were helpful, Sharp County OEM Jeremy Langston said extra steps and a plan of action were in the works to resolve the issue.

One of the area’s largest summer events, the Cave City Watermelon Festival, announced it would not be holding its annual celebration due to COVID-19.

Fulton County Quorum Court voted to amend the voting stations in Fulton County.

Fulton County Hospital CEO Curren Everett reviewed some statistical information with Areawide Media and discussed how the hospital has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Although changes were minimal, the pandemic took its toll on the hospital in some areas.

Governor Asa Hutchison issued Executive Order 20-43, requiring the public to wear face coverings when out in public. There was much controversy surrounding the topic of masks. Regardless of public opinion, the order became effective Monday, July 20.

Construction on a medical marijuana dispensary in Fulton County, but near the outskirts of Hardy, began in late July. The facility is owned by pharmacist Kathy Cooper and businesswoman Renee-Clay Circle, who entered into a 50/50 partnership in 2017, when they originally applied. The Medical Marijuana Commission (MMC) identified a need for additional facilities after a couple of years of operation.


Evening Shade resident John Kunkel was a Sharp County COVID-19 patient. In hopes of shedding light on the seriousness of coronavirus, Kunkel shared his coronavirus journey through social media.

Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20) and Congressman Billy Long (R-MO-07) introduced H.R 7883, the Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act, in the U.S. House of Representatives to help preserve agricultural fairs across the country and offset the devastating financial losses experienced due to COVID-19. The Agricultural Fairs Rescue Act was set up to provide grant funding for agricultural fairs through state departments of agriculture to keep them functioning and preserve them for the future.

The City of Mammoth Spring announced it was the recipient of a $200,000 grant to build a new senior center. The no matching fund grant through White River Planning and Development will allow for a new senior center facility to be built on the city property next to the Mammoth Spring ambulance building.

A head on collision claimed the life of a Salem High School employee, Diane Tyler, 37.

Over a year after the murder of former Arkansas senator Linda Collins, the case was closed and “the murder investigation is complete”, in the words of Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell. The sheriff, who had fellow deputies, investigators and Arkansas State Police alongside him, gave a short briefing to the press following court proceedings on Thursday, Aug. 6. Rebecca O’Donnell, 49, was in Randolph County Circuit Court in Pocahontas. O’Donnell plead guilty to two counts in Randolph County; murder in the first degree and abuse of a corpse and two counts of criminal solicitation to commit capital murder in Jackson County. She will serve a total of 57 years in Arkansas Department of Corrections; 480 months for first degree murder, 36 months for abuse of a corpse and 84 months for each charge of criminal solicitation …; all sentences were ordered to be served concurrently. She received 417 days credit for the abuse of a corpse charge for time served.

Local healthcare facilities with in-house patients in the area, began allowing limited visitations after nearly six months of no visits. Southfork River Therapy and Living and Fulton County Hospital understand the important role each facility has in the community and planned in accordance with Arkansas Department of Health guidelines, when creating their own.

Created with the goal to highlight relevant and real-life examples of Ozark foothills businesses, Create Bridges podcast started seeking businesses in Fulton, Izard and Sharp counties to participate in this project which is now rolling.

Authorities identified the remains of a man whose body was found Aug. 12 in Horseshoe Bend. According to a release from the Izard County Sheriff’s Department, the body of Paul Beaver, 36, was found around 2:45 p.m. near the power line right of way near the sewer treatment plant off North Bend Drive in Horseshoe.

Spring River Adult and Child Services (SACS) announced after many years of serving the community, the organization would be dissolving.

USDA announced free meals for schools.

Two large crowds gathered outside the Horseshoe Bend City Hall building Aug. 24 to make their cases for or against an ordinance which would raise MRID assessments.

Wednesday, Aug. 26 marked the 40th year of an abduction which was documented in Areawide Media’s Salem Headlight/The News. On Aug. 26, 1980, two young sisters were waiting for the school bus outside of their grandparents’ home. Suddenly a white truck appeared and kidnapped both girls. Not knowing the local newspaper is published weekly, Tracy submitted a Letter to the Editor, hoping to be published on the exact anniversary. One of the details she remembers, and is so very thankful for, is that of the young man who rescued herself and younger sister that day. On the 40th anniversary, she was hoping her rescuer was someone local.


A new partnership between two Arkansas legal non-profit organizations was established to help families affected by the opioid epidemic in form of having access to free legal services. On Tuesday, Sept. 1, Center for Arkansas Legal Services (CALS) and Legal Aid of Arkansas, announced they received a combined $2 million in grant awards from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to provide free legal services to families impacted by the opioid epidemic.

The students at Izard County Consolidated in Izard County prepared for its new Esports season. Although the hope was traditional sports were still able to take place, Jonathan Phillips, E-Sports coach for the school said there are a lot of unknowns with COVID-19.

Mammoth Spring Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting ceremonies for new members, Spring River Trading Company and Penny Loafers, following meetings in 2020.

With the month of September came the 16-year anniversary of the murder of Rebekah Gould who was last seen alive Sept. 20, 2004 in Izard County. There were some recent updates and a new investigator was appointed by the Arkansas State Police. By the end of the year, an arrest was made.

Fulton County’s University of Arkansas Extension Agent Cory Tyler reached out to Areawide Media about 2020’s issue

with army worms. Though usually springtime pests, fall army worms are more common in southern Arkansas and can start appearing in midsummer, especially in Bermuda grass pastures and were definitely an issue in Fall 2020.

Ozarka College was selected as a recipient of the Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities (WORC) grant, a federal grant program through the U.S. Department of Labor and Delta Regional Authority. Ozarka was awarded $1.47 million toward a three-year workforce development initiative based at Ozarka’s new Carpenter Technical Center in Ash Flat, Ark.

Fulton County Quorum Court met Sept. 14 to discuss unfinished business (a hazard mitigation plan), an update on the judge’s research on a new courtroom proposal and an update on the Humprey’s Ford Bridge (Spring River Bridge), which is still ongoing in 2021.

An opportunity was made available for those who had warrants or fines in Fulton County according to an announcement made by Fulton County District Judge Larry Kissee. Kissee said from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1, anyone who had a warrant or owed a fine in Fulton County, the City of Salem or the City of Mammoth Spring, could cut their fine cost in half by paying.


With the November election getting closer, the clerk’s offices of Fulton, Sharp and Izard counties urged residents to take advantage of an online program that can educate voters. Voter View is an option found on the Secretary of State’s website that allows Arkansas residents to enter their name and birthdate to receive vital voting information.

A drive-through sendoff was held at Fulton County Hospital Oct. 10 for Connor Robbins as he prepared to travel to Lincoln, Neb. to further his rehabilitation following a serious vehicle accident July 7.

A civil lawsuit was filed against the Municipal Recreational Facilities Improvement District (MRID) No. 80-1 of the City of Horseshoe Bend and City of Horseshoe Bend. An increase of the annual levy of the assessment of benefits paid by citizens was the cause for the suit, according to suit documents, filed by Eric Graetz on behalf of himself and all other taxpayers similarly situated.

Baxter Regional Behavioral Health sponsored the Project Semicolon Suicide Prevention Awareness art contest, and although it could not be held at the hospital this year, Program Director Jodi Leeker partnered with the Viola High School Art Department for a smaller scale competition. All students were given the opportunity to compete for prizes from Baxter Regional with their submissions based on suicide awareness.

The Highland Elks Lodge in Cherokee Village presented more than $5,000 in grants to area organizations Oct. 20. The food bank of the Salem Senior Life Center, Mission of Hope, Comfort Keepers Ministry Inc. and Barb Wakeham, who makes Christmas baskets through the Elks Lodge, were all recipients.

A Meet the Candidates forum was held at the Salem VFW. Fulton County Justice of the Peace candidates who attended the event were Republicans Joanna Defoe, Robert Elliot, Roger Kinder, Ray Matthew and Gary Phillips and Independent candidate, Jackie Privett.

To show appreciation for area emergency personnel, a grab ’n go style barbecue lunch was held at the pavilion in Mammoth Spring State Park. As an EMS worker himself, Tommy Crowell decided to cook up a special barbecue meal for workers to stop on Friday, Oct. 16.

Halloween 2020 had different look from any year most of us have experienced before, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though some events were canceled, such as the much anticipated annual Spooktacular held in Mammoth Spring each year, trick or treating was still be held in area cities including Salem, Melbourne, Mammoth Spring and other surrounding communities/cities


New Viola Masonic Lodge, Mountain Home Masonic Lodge and Wilson Lodge in Hardy, with the help of Viola First Baptist Church, save pull tabs year-round. The 2020 collection yielded one gallon more than last year. The grand total donated was 86 gallons.

Speculation of an arrest in the Rebekah Gould murder investigation began circulating on social media early Monday, Nov. 9 and by 12 noon, Izard County Sheriff’s Department released a press release stating William Alma Miller, 44, of Cottage Grov, Ore. was arrested Saturday, Nov. 7. The press release stated, “A Texas man visiting Izard County in 2004 has been arrested and charged with murder (1st) degree in connection with the death of Rebekah Christian Gould, whose body was discovered 16 years ago on a hillside off Arkansas Highway 9, south of Melbourne.”

New Viola Masonic Lodge, along with Mt. Home Lodge and Wilson Masonic Lodge of Hardy, donated a check to the Agape Food Room at Salem Church of Christ in the amount of $1,675.

The Ash Flat Library hosted a unique display of artwork created by Ben Christy, a resident of Viola. Among the works of art and possibly one of the main works featured was a piano named Lucy.

Gerald and Kelley Stellar, owners of Stellar Construction LLC, in partnership with the Salem VFW, offered a free Thanksgiving meal for Fulton County residents for the second year in a row.

The Salem VFW Post 9777 hosted a Veterans Day parade around the Salem Square at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

A press conference was held on Friday, Nov. 13 to announce the opening of the new Women’s Center and brand change from Ozarks Medical Center to Ozarks Healthcare.

The Salem Masonic Lodge’s Coats for Kids coat drive was the most successful year yet. The Lodge received monetary and coat donations, which resulted in 148, mostly new, coats being donated to Salem Elementary School.


Fulton County Clerk Vickie Bishop (left) swore Lavenia Goodson in as the Fulton County Assessor on Monday, Dec. 1, following quorum court’s decision to appoint Goodson. She will finish out the term of Brad Schaufler, who announced his early retirement.

Small communities, like Salem and Fulton County, are made up of generous individuals who step up in times of need. Though some may consider the holidays “the happiest time of the year”, the holidays are often stressful for some families who struggle to pay bills. A group of local residents stepped up to organize a gift giving event in the absence of the Angel Tree project.

Fulton County native Charles Broyles joined Fulton County Sheriff’s Office earlier in 2020 and Fulton County Sheriff Al Roork is excited about Broyles’ future in law enforcement. Broyles completed BRTC Law Enforcement Training at the top of class, receiving accolades.

The Veterans Outreach Program (VOP), organized and operated by Cully Parr and Dan Morthland, was awarded grant funds to assist in its mission. The new program assists local veterans with a variety of projects.

Local artists Sheila Donley and Carrie McIntosh, entered artwork into a show at the Harlin Museum in West Plains, Mo. and received recognition.

After approximately one year of research and writing, local author Ron Estes, finished two new books about area veterans. The books, Fulton County Soldiers in WWI and Sharp County Soldiers in WWI, feature name and rank, of World War I veterans as well as whether they went overseas or not.

The Calico Rock Community Foundation awarded grants to small, local businesses that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The grants were made possible by dollars generated at The Marketplace, which is owned by the Foundation, and the Department of Arkansas Parks, Tourism, and Heritage.

On Dec. 10, the FDA met with scientists who presented data from clinical trials on the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, one of the many vaccines that are currently being investigated for the prevention of coronavirus. This Pfizer vaccine was the first to be released and administered in December.

The 2020 winter solstice brought a special event, one that has not occurred in 800 years, the chance to view what many referred to as the Christmas star. Monday, Dec. 21 marked the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. However, in 2020, a rare conjunction took place the same week as Christmas.

Viola Mayor Jackie Estes updated Viola City Council members regarding the sewer system construction at the December meeting. The contractor has begun work at the treatment plant site; the land has been cleared of all the timber and excavation was to begin within days of the meeting. The contractor installing the sewer lines began construction early December; they started on Ash Street, working toward Big Creek.

Fulton County Hospital’s Infectious Disease Director Sonja Jones administered the first round of COVID-19 vaccines on Friday, Dec. 18. FCH Lab Supervisor Melissa Pierce was one of the first to receive her vaccination.

Representatives from Emerson, who will also be working directly with the new facility in Ash Flat and moving to the area, were present at the job fair and informative sessions held at Ozarka on Wednesday, Dec. 16 and Thursday, Dec. 17.

Members of Salem FCCLA held a food drive and collected funds to shop for food items to donate to local senior citizens. This was the second year in a row the organization has sponsored the food drive for seniors.

Law enforcement officers from Fulton County gathered at Walmart in Ash Flat for the 2020 Fulton County Shop with a Cop event on Saturday, Dec. 19. Even with an unusual year, the program was still able to provide Christmas presents (or items chosen by the kids) for kids of Fulton County, thanks to many generous donations.

Fulton County Chief Deputy Joe Boshears recently presented a request to Fulton County Quorum Court to pass an ordinance for the purpose of receiving grant funds of $50,000. The grant funds will pay a liaison position and create a Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program in Fulton County.

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