Taking a look back at top news stories from 2020

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

2020 was definitely a year for the record books, and a year no one will be forgetting anytime soon. Take a look back at the top news stories published in Villager Journal from January to June 2020.


James Seawell, Travis Armistade, Carlo Farruggia and Stacey Everidge were placed under arrest Dec. 20, after attempting to steal nearly $4,000 worth of merchandise from Walmart in Ash Flat. Ash Flat Police responded to the scene and was the arresting agency.

School resource officers of the Highland School District worked diligently to raise funds for additional equipment to help them serve the community more efficiently.

An amended version of a lawsuit filed by Mark and Cynthia Kronkosky (on behalf of themselves and all other taxpayers) which named more than 10 individuals and organizations, including the Cherokee Village Suburban Improvement District (SID), was filed in the Circuit Court of Sharp County Civil Division, as well as the Fulton County Circuit Court Jan. 7.

Sharp County man, Carl Ring, 32, pleaded guilty to battery in the first degree and was sentenced to 28 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections before Circuit Judge Harold Eriwin Jan. 6. The sentencing was a result of an incident which occurred Dec. 11, 2017 when Sharp County Dispatch received a 911 call regarding a three-month-old infant, from the child’s mother.

Several community service workers spent time working to re-construct the old train which sits outside the Hardy Library. While working to build the train which serves as a play area for children, Sharp County District Judge Mark Johnson saidthey are also working off fines in the process.

Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell, who pled guilty to the murder of Linda Collins, received two felony and two misdemeanor charges in Jackson County. After an investigation involving other inmates in Jackson County, two counts of solicitation to commit capital murder (class A felony) and two counts of solicitation to commit tampering with physical evidence (class A misdemeanor), were filed against O’Donnell.

On Jan. 23, former Fulton County Judge Jim Kendrick was found guilty of theft of property, a class D felony, by a jury of Fulton County residents. He was ordered to pay a fine in the amount of $10,000. The trial was in regards to an incident where Fulton County Road Department employees and equipment were used to make repairs to the personal driveway of Kendrick in June 2019. Once a flood of photos of county equipment working on Kendrick’s driveway hit social media, people began asking questions as to why the judge’s driveway was being tended to while the county had seen a historic amount of rainfall in the recent months, and every county road needed repairs.

White River Area Agency on Aging (WRAAA) held a ribbon cutting ceremony in celebration of 40 years of service to the community as well as the recognition of four employees and their extreme dedication to those they serve in the Sharp County area. Mary Rikard, Rhonda Manning, Wanda Hobbs and Marie McCollum were recognized as each worked for WRAAA for more than 20 years each with a combined total of approximately 100 years of service to the community.

Fulton County Quorum Court held a special called meeting Friday, Jan. 31 at 8 a.m., with the purpose “to consider the resolution to declare a vacancy in the office of Fulton County Judge, and to address and fill the vacancy for the unexpired term.” Jim Bicker was sworn in as the new judge.


The family of Greg Prenger was recognized by State Representative Marsh Davis. Lee Ann Prenger, the widow of Greg Prenger, was presented with a plaque from the House of Representatives in memory of Prenger.

The Spring River Area Chamber of Commerce held its annual awards banquet Feb. 4 at the Elks Lodge in Cherokee Village. Several awards were given out throughout the evening, including the E. Wilson Green Award, who was awarded to Lauren Siebert. Siebert was also named Volunteer of the Year.

The Hardy History Association voted to move forward with options for Hardy History Museum at its Feb. 6 meeting. Charles Wilson offered the upstairs space above the old dulcimer shop to use for the facility.

White River Health Systems was named as the defendant in a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in federal court Feb. 7. According to the Civil Action Complaint case number 3:20-c-00049, the EEOC claimed age discrimination in employment as the reason for the suit. In October 2018, Julie Milburn, Donna Boyd, James Kipfer, and a class of employees were terminated from their positions in senior centers of Sharp and Fulton counties because they were over the age of 72.

A Highland High School student and member of the Hardy Fire Department was killed in a two vehicle accident Feb. 11 near Hoxie. Thomas Fling, 19, of Williford, and Jacob Edwards, 18, of Hardy, were traveling north in a Chevy S10 pickup when Fling’s vehicle reportedly crossed the center line, coming into the path of a Ford F150 driven by James Dickey, 71, of Columbus. Dickey was accompanied by his wife, Brenda, 68, also of Columbus. Flying and J. Dickey were found dead at the scene. Students from Highland High School rallied to raise funds to help with funeral expenses.

Ozark Acres residents Charles Underwood, Jean Murphy, Lauren Siebert, Deb Lumley and Tom Parsons were the five community members nominated to be placed on the ballot for the upcoming SID election at the Feb. 11 meeting.

The Cherokee Village Suburban Improvement District (SID) appointed Jim Best as third commissioner at its regular scheduled meeting Monday, Feb. 17. Best was replacing the position held by Greg Prenger, who recently passed.

Judge Mark Johnson and Sharp County Sheriff Mark Counts were named in a civil suit filed in the United States District Court Eastern District of Arkansas Northern Division filed in Jonesboro Feb. 24 by Sutter and Gillham, P.L.L.C, on behalf of Mary Wanley. Wanley served as the bailiff for the county in District Court under District Court Judge Mark Johnson beginning some time in early 2011. She was terminated from her position as bailiff/probation officer in September 2019.


Multiple inmates in custody of the Sharp County Jail are facing additional felony charges after a mass drug test failure.

According to Detective Cody Bailey, the department was made aware drugs had been brought into the jail and a mass search was conducted. Methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia were recovered during the search. Bailey said all of the inmates who failed the drug test were placed on lockdown. According to Serena Martin, jail administrator, there were 10 confirmed failed drug tests and two inmates who refused to be tested.

It was announced Willford will see vast improvements after Mayor Michelle Forehand and her council obtained a $300,000 grant from the Arkansas State Aid Street Committee, for a road project to be overseen by the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT).

The third annual Daddy Daughter Ball, sponsored by Light in the Wilderness Church, Evolve Bank and Centennial Bank, was held at the Cherokee Village Elementary School Cafeteria and raised more than $600 to be given to help support area outreach efforts. According to Deanna Jones, event coordinator, proceeds from the dance were split between the Angel Tree Christmas Program and the Backpack Feeding Program. “We gave $600 to the Angel Tree and $200 to the backpack program,” said Jones.

The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC), a branch of Arkansas State University, held an acceLHERate small business and technology development center professional women’s forum March 5 at Ozarka College. The forum was successful and well attended.

Four Highland High School students (Grace Dunn, Tate Isaacs, Cade Lewis and Jenny Strano) worked to relocate the two bells located at the elementary school. On March 11, the students made a series of presentations to various members of the Highland School Board to pitch their idea. They began by providing the history behind the bells, which prior to the consolidation of Hardy and Ash Flat, were located on their respective campuses.

Local facilities began to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic to make its way into the area. Arkansas schools were closed March 17 and never reconvened. The first COVID-19 news reported in Villager Journal came March 18 when only 23 cases had been confirmed in Arkansas. The first counties to have positive cases were Jefferson, Saline, Garland, Pulaski and Cleburne. ADH activated a call center to answer questions from health care providers and the public about the novel coronavirus.

The Highland School District hosted an informational meeting March 18 comprised of area health professionals, community leaders, safety personnel and more who were present to answer questions from the public regarding the COVID-10 pandemic.

Spring River Area Chamber of Commerce suspended all activities during its March meeting.

An unusual combination of items was seized during a search warrant executed by the Sharp County Sheriff’s Department, Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Game and Fish and the 16th Judicial Drug Task Force on March 19. Daniel March Church, 41, of Cave City, was taken into custody after officers discovered approximately two pounds of suspected methamphetamine, a large sum of cash, drug paraphernalia and an alligator.

The Ozark Acres Suburban Improvement District held its annual commissioner election March 23. Commissioners Jean Murphy and Tom Parsons sought re-election and received majority votes, along with newly elected commissioner Deb Lumley. Lauren Siebert and Charlie Underwood were also on the ballot.


Healthcare facilities across the nation began to experience a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). The shortage was alarming, and not only for those on the front lines working in healthcare, but for those in their care as well as their families. Local hospitals began asking the public for their help by creating face masks. White River Health System (WRHS), St. Bernard’s and Baxter Regional Medical Center each released tutorials, directions and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines on how to create masks and other needed PPE in the face of the shortage. Many individuals and organizations came together to create and donate masks to those in need.

The Arkansas Department of Health announced April 2 that Sharp County had its first confirmed case of COVID-19. The patient was said to be in quarantine at their place of residence.

Two Hardy businesses, Ozark Classic Crafts Mall and Artasia, partnered with area non-profit organizations to micro-manufacture kits to generate face masks for area healthcare professionals, residents and workers.

With drastic changes to the economy and restrictions on gatherings, work was nearly impossible for musicians, especially for those who are not front and center on the stage. Local musician Doug Driesel organized a GoFundMe account for struggling musicians.

Tragedy struck April 16 after a two vehicle accident claimed the life of Udell Simmons, 86, of Hardy.

Wesley Roberts, 35, of Conway, was taken into custody by Cherokee Village Police Department April 17 following a high speed chase. Roberts was transported to Sharp County Jail and held on a nationwide extradition warrant from the Arkansas Parole Board. At the time of his arrest, formal charges of fleeing, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to use, were being filed.


Hardy Mayor Ernie Rose welcomed Herbert Wise as the newest councilman at the during the Hardy City Council meeting May 5.

Asian Giant Hornets began making headlines across the country. Also known as the “Murder Hornet”, local pest control company owner Jerry Musick said the hornets are larger than average however; it is possible to eradicate them as he had an encounter with a nest approximately four years ago.

On May 16, the One Community Cares Caravan, organized by local resident John Kunkel, was held. The caravan of more than 70 vehicles was organized to show support of frontline workers and led by Sharp County Coroner Renee Clay-Circle.

On Tuesday, May 26, the Sharp County Courthouse re-opened to the public after being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Judge Gene Moore said the courthouse was ready for business to return to some state of normalcy. The courthouse followed the directives closely, and closed their doors to the public mid-March.

Sharp County Coroner and Highland School Board member Renee Clay-Circle kept local residents informed about the COVID-19 pandemic and how the state of Arkansas was being affected, as well as Sharp County. She provided daily updates on her Facebook page while Governor Asa Hutchinson provided his daily briefings regarding the virus.

Salem resident and former longtime Mayor of Salem, Gary Clayton, was sworn in by Fulton County Clerk Vickie Bishop,

as the newest Fulton County Judge, appointed by the quorum court on Friday, May 22.


North Arkansas Electric Cooperative typically gears up for its large and well attended Annual Meeting the first part of June. As nearly all events were cancelled this year, NAEC put the health and safety of its members and employees first and followed suit. NAEC members reelected Larry Goodwin and Dennis Wiles to six year terms on the NAEC Board of Directors. Goodwin represents members in Sharp County and ran unopposed. Wiles represents members in Izard County and ran against Phyllis Wolfe.

The Rose Trellis Florist in Highland hosted a “Using Nature” workshop in June. The workshop was for children aged 10 to 12. Those attended the workshop learned how to prepare their own bouquet from fresh flowers, which they got to take home.

On Sunday, June 21, recovery efforts on Spring River for a woman from Paragould who was knocked off her flotation device were not successful. The Hardy Fire Department, Hardy Police Department, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Spring River Ambulance, Survival Flight and other agencies responded to the call.

Rebel Nutrition owners announced they would sponsor a “Flip Flops for Summer” event to help families in need. Several hundred pairs of flip flips were purchased to be given away to families.

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