Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TOP STORY >> Looking back at April, May, June

COMPILED BY RICK KRON

These snippets are from some of the major news stories that appeared in The Leader between April and June. This is the second of a four-part series, which looks back at the news of 2009.

APRIL

• None of the Defense Department’s $7.4 billion share of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was slated for military construction at Little Rock Air Force Base, but the base was in line for $12.7 million worth of facilities sustainment, restoration and modernization projects.

About $8.8 million of that is earmarked for repairing and maintaining the airfield apron, $856,000 to repair Hangar 224, $1,6 million to repair or install two anti-terrorism vehicle barriers, $604,000 to repair 6th Street/Arnold Drive, $431,000 to repair fire detection system in Building 1020 and install or repair a sprinkler system for that building and $409,000 to repair the fire detection system and install or repair the sprinkler in Building 1024.

• Bill Halter, the Arkansas lieutenant governor who stepped out of the traditional role of his office to push through a state lottery to fund college scholarships, told Beebe residents in April why he made the effort. “It’s not at all about having a lottery,” Halter said. “It’s always been about funding scholarships. The lottery is merely a funding mechanism.”

Halter spoke during a breakfast organized by the Beebe Economic Development Commission, saying there is a correlation between economic development and education.

• A freeway frontage road connecting Cabot to Austin was completed in April.

The new road connects Willie Ray Drive in Cabot to Earnie Davis Road in Austin.

The estimated cost to the mile long connection between Cabot and Austin is about $600,000, all of it paid by the county. The new road was expected to ease congestion at the Hwy. 89 interchange in Cabot because residents in the Briarwood area can get on the freeway at Austin.

• A north Pulaski County volunteer firefighter was jailed after he confessed to setting two fires to area churches.

Merl White of Cabot, 25, was charged with two counts of arson. He confessed to setting fire to North Jacksonville Missionary Baptist Church, as well as setting another fire at an abandoned church on Cleland Road.

• A suspect was charged in the first murder in Beebe in more than 17 years.

Jeffery Likes, 39, was charged with one count of capital murder in the death of his mother, Nancy Wiggs, 59. The mother and son lived together at 401 Lee Lane in the Fetcher addition.

Likes was arrested in Missouri by members of the Kansas City Police Department’s fugitive division, then brought back to Arkansas.

• After seven years on the school desegregation case, U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson told lawyers for the central Arkansas school districts that he was recusing from further involvement. Both the North Little Rock School District and the Pulaski County Special School District had petitioned Wilson for unitary status, but the judge refused to begin hearing those motions until the appeals court ruled on the Little Rock case.

District Judge Brian Miller was assigned the case.

• The Jacksonville Towers apartment complex, rising high into the city’s skyline, held its 30th anniversary as residents and city officials gathered to celebrate the occasion. “This building is a marker for our community. It is one of the best-kept and maintained senior housing facilities in the county. It is a standing memorial to those who had it built,” then-Mayor Tommy Swaim said.

• Senior Airman Sharilyn Cotton Lopez, 28, sidestepped prison time by pleading guilty to permitting the abuse that resulted in the death of her 2-year-old son, Jaden, in 2007.

She faced up to 20 years in prison for permitting child abuse, a Class B felony. Instead, she received five-years probation.

Her husband, Ausensio Lopez, was the child’s caretaker, while Lopez worked full time at the air base.

• Little Rock Air Force Base Military Health Services sent an appeal letter to the city asking that something be worked out to keep physicians at the Jacksonville Medical Clinic. Many of the doctors were looking at leaving after rents were doubled.

• Gov. Mike Beebe drew a near-record crowd as featured speaker at the 35th annual Ward Chamber of Commerce banquet and then showed that he can be a good sport when he played along with Mayor Art Brooke’s pretense of taking a phone call from President Obama during the governor’s introduction.

• The Jacksonville Water Commission unanimously approved a series of rate increases that will affect all ratepayers over the next four years. The first 13 percent increase went into effect immediately after council approval. Proposed for 2010 is another 13 percent hike, followed by another 13 percent increase in 2011 and an 8 percent increase in 2012.

• A lawsuit was filed by a Sherwood developer who was upset that the planned North Belt Freeway would split his property in half. The suit could delay or even kill the project.

Attorney Hal Kemp has filed suit on behalf of Steve Deere and the Sherwood Land Company after the planning commission turned down Deere’s plans for the 586-acre Oakdale North Addition, which includes 573 single-family homes, 156 townhouses and 312 apartment units.

• Sherwood City Council voted to settle a lawsuit with a former ambulance service, AET, for $350,000. “I don’t think any of us wanted to do it. I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t see any other option,” said Alderman Sheila Sulcer after the council voted to settle.

The city’s insurance company, which had already paid out $125,000 in attorney’s fees to fight the suit, paid $125,000 toward the settlement, leaving the city with an expense of $225,000.

• George Biggs, longtime Jacksonville Parks and Recreation director, resigned after city officials learned that he was a convicted felon, and over the last year and a half, had carried on an extramarital affair during work hours.

This all happened after Biggs, who is married, pushed down his girlfriend in the community center parking lot.

On June 21, 1991, a jury found Biggs guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the shooting death of a man he believed was romantically involved with his wife, from whom he was separated. Biggs was 29. He was sentenced to five years in the Texas Department of Correction and fined $10,000. He served less than six months in prison and completed the remainder of his sentence on parole.

• Members of the Reed’s Bridge Historical Society asked the Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission for financial help to buy two replica cannons for the battlefield park. The group would eventually like to see 20 cannons placed up and down Hwy. 161 and in the 400-plus acres marked as the site of Reed’s Bridge battlefield.

• Arkansas schools will be receiving up to $569.9 million over the next six months as part of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and about $18 million of that will filter down to local school districts.

Pulaski County Special School District is slated to get about $12.4 million, Cabot will see $2.19 million, Searcy will get about $2 million, Beebe will get $1.3 million and Lonoke is to receive $1.03 million.

The districts will get about 65 percent of the funding this spring and summer and the remaining part will be doled out in the fall.

• The Cabot School Board approved the purchase of the former Funtastik building, which will house the Alternative Learning Environment (ALE) and Academic Center of Excellence (ACE), the district’s charter school.

For $1.285 million, the district is paying about $64.89 per square foot for the 19,800-square-foot building – a price that “we never thought we could get and will allow us to put both under one roof,” said district Superintendent Tony Thurman.



Jacksonville’s Lighthouse Charter Academy students were selected by a lottery in April by Laura Peeples, left, and board president Keri Urquhart.

• Approximately 250 people attended the first Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School lottery at the community center.

The lottery determined who got into the new school this fall.

There were 344 spots available. A lottery will most likely be held next year to fill the kindergarten spots.

• Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman spent a Saturday in April chained in public. Not as a form of punishment by the city council, but as an awareness and fundraiser ploy sponsored by the city’s animal services.

Hillman, along with two animal services employees, two police officers, members of the Mayor’s Youth Council and others were chained to dog houses, trees and spikes in front of the municipal center on Kiehl Avenue to remind residents that chaining of animals is cruel, dangerous and illegal in the city.

• The largest landfill in the state was set to grow even larger. The owner of Jacksonville’s landfill has begun developing a 144-acre expansion site adjacent to its 25-year-old dump, which still has room left to dump more trash.

The mound that drivers see as they enter Jacksonville is not yet at capacity.

“It’s not filled to final grade,” David Conrad, an engineer for the Two Pine landfill, said. There are about 100,000 yards of dumping room left, which he estimated to be equivalent to two months of use. But the company needed to be ready for when capacity was reached.

• Heavy rain caused flooding problems in parts of White and Lonoke counties. Several homes in Cabot were flooded, damaging garages and carpeting.

“About half the county was flooded,” Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said.

• More than 150 people crowded into the chamber council to hear representatives from ETC Engineering explain their plan for Sherwood’s 16 city parks.

Even though the audience made suggestions to improve many of the park plans and ideas, the vast majority were there to hear about park number 16, the 206-acre North Hills Golf Course property, which the engineering group said the best use of the land was to become a golf course again.

MAY

• Cabot developer and real estate agent Bill O’Brien was roasted and toasted at the Cabot Scholarship Foundation’s 14th annual fundraiser.

This year the scholarship foundation gave out 38 scholarships, totaling $37,350, to Cabot High School seniors and those students were recognized and applauded at the banquet, which was held at the school’s cafeteria.

• “Hee Haw” star Lulu Roman performed a little bit country, a lot of comedy and a lot of Christian music and devotion at Cabot High School.

Roman, along with her manager Terry Dorsey, local sensation Kirby Shelby, and Cabot’s very own Hallelujah Harmony Quartet, put on a laidback 90-minute quality family show.

• Planning and preparation for the four-laning of Brockington Road in Sherwood between Kiehl and Maryland avenues is about 90 percent competed and the state Highway and Transportation Department expects to pay for it largely from stimulus funds, Sherwood officials were told in May.

The Brockington Road job is one of four stimulus plan projects and two alternates that could be launched for bid by the end of this calendar year.

The widening of Brockington Road will receive $4.6 million in stimulus money with another $1.2 million due from the city.

• More than 16 months after it went into operation, the new sewer-treatment plant in Cabot was dedicated in May.

When all the work was completed, including the $13.8 million for building the plant and the $1.4 million for removing the old plant, paving, landscaping and fencing, the project cost $15.2 million. City voters are paying for the plant with a one-cent sales tax.

• The Lonoke City Council agreed to a land swap that would allow Lonoke County to build a new jail in the industrial park north of I-40. Construction on that jail, which could be large enough to hold 140 prisoners, could begin in about six months, according to County Judge Charlie Troutman.

• Arkansas Reclamation Company that has been dumping natural gas waste at the Jacksonville landfill was cited for several violations by the state’s environmental agency, including failure to report oil spills and inadequate preparation for them.

Concerns of soil contamination at the plant were also raised.

The Beebe company treated waste generated from natural gas drilling. The company entered into a settlement agreement with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

• Lonoke County officials applied for disaster-area status with the state. Roads in Lonoke County and Cabot had been damaged by heavy May rains and officials hoped to meet the damage threshold of about $106,000 that will secure the state disaster-area status.

• A Jacksonville death-row inmate, who went on a crime spree in the late 1980s and early 1990s, killing at least one woman and raping two others and is suspected of killing two other women, lost an appeal before the state’s highest court.

The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Ledell Lee, 43, who was sentenced to die for the Feb. 9, 1993, beating and strangling death of Debra Reese, 26, who lived in the Sunnyside Addition, where Lee had attacked several other women.

• Lt. Col. Ronald McDaniel, 189th Maintenance Group commander, reached a milestone for both himself, the 189th Airlift Wing and the Arkansas Air National Guard in May. McDaniel was promoted to colonel and became the first African American to pin on colonel’s eagles in the 189th Airlift Wing and the second African American in the Arkansas Air National Guard.

• Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, commander of Air Mobility Command, delivered the 13th of 16 C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base. The aircraft was assigned to the 41st Airlift Squadron, the first active-duty combat C-130J squadron in the U.S. Air Force.

• After the votes were counted in the May 12 mayoral race, two candidates – Aldermen Gary Fletcher and Kenny Elliott – were left standing and faced each other in a June 2 runoff.

• Wheel of Fortune featured Cabot resident and puzzle-solving extraordinaire Allison Osterberg. Although Osterberg’s winnings were modest, she said it was thrilling to appear on the show. Osterberg works as a paralegal and is a longtime member of Cabot Junior Auxiliary.

• At the Pulaski County Special School District, besieged with substandard buildings and only recently dismissed from state fiscal-distress oversight, a trusted employee was charged with embezzling $100,000 or more over the past decade.

On May 15, Saline County sheriff’s deputies arrested James Diemer, 48, the district’s maintenance supervisor, and charged him with theft by receiving.

Diemer told investigators that he used PCSSD open-purchase orders to buy things he would sell or trade for Hydrocodone or Oxycontin, to which he said he was addicted.

• The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce presented Kris Allen with a key to the city on May 7, when he returned to the state for his hometown celebration.

During an appearance at Riverfest Amphitheater the next day, Allen seemed overwhelmed by the number of fans that turned out. “I feel like I have the best fans in the world,” he told the crowd. Two weeks later he was declared the American Idol winner.

• Eight Cabot schools were recognized for implementing changes to their technology programs when compared to other schools nationally. The Washington-based research project, Speak Up, surveyed students, parents, teachers and administrators to find out how schools can improve especially in the area of technology.

Out of the 200 chosen, Cabot Middle School South, Eastside Elementary School, Magness Creek Elementary, Northside Elementary School, Southside Elementary School, Stagecoach Elementary, Ward Central Elementary and Westside Elementary School were recognized. They were the only schools in Arkansas to be named Speak Up Top 200 schools.

• About 13 inches of rain hit central Arkansas in May, making it the third-wettest May since record keeping started in the state back in 1879.

Most of the rain came during five major storms. The first hit May 1-3, then May 5-6, May 8-11, May 12-16 and May 23-25.

• “I think we now have a golf course,” said Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman after the city council voted in late May to spend $300,000 from the general fund to start reconstructing the 105-acre North Hills Golf Course.

The council also approved spending another $104,000 to hire a golf course superintendent, a full-time general laborer and two part-time golf course laborers.

JUNE

• A Jacksonville man was one of three arrested by the state police in connection with the escape of two convicted killers from the Arkansas Department of Correction’s Cummins Unit at Grady.

Michael Stephenson, 50, was arrested, along with Deanna Davison and Ryan McKinney, both of North Little Rock. All three were charged with a felony count of furnishing an implement of escape for leaving a 2003 Hyundai Sonata in the prison parking lot for the escapees to use in their getaway.

The two escapees were Jeffery Grinder, 32, and Calvin Adams, 39.

Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson pinned down an alligator near Ward in June to prevent it from hurting area residents. The alligator was relocated to a safer location by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

• What do you do when you see an alligator about to cross the road?

Faced with that question one evening in June, Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson, a former rodeo performer, lassoed the animal and jumped on its back like it was one of the bucking broncs or bulls he rode in his younger days.

Then while the sheriff held the gator’s mouth, one of the 20 or so motorists who had stopped to watch the unusual sight taped it closed.

Officials with the Game and Fish Commission relocated the five-foot female alligator.


Army Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula, second from left, sits with his family in June after he came home from the hospital, where he received treatment after being shot three times at an Army recruitment center in Little Rock. His buddy, Pvt. William Long, 23, of Conway, did not survive the surprise attack.

• Army Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula survived being shot three times by a homegrown terrorist. His buddy, Pvt. William Long, 23, of Conway, was not so lucky.

Ezeagwula, 18, a Jacksonville graduate and former Red Devils football player, survived by playing dead after he was shot. He spent three days in the hospital and still has shrapnel in his body.

Ezeagwula and Long were standing outside the recruiting station in Ashley Square Shopping Center near Rodney Parham Road when a dark pickup approached them as they took a smoke break.

The driver, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, 24, aka Carlos Leon Bledsoe, reached for a cheap Chinese semiautomatic rifle and started firing.

• Alderman Gary Fletcher defeated Alderman Kenny Elliott by 225 votes in their June 2 runoff to replace retiring Mayor Tommy Swaim on July 1.

• Jacksonville City Council agreed to spend a portion of the $1 million it had earmarked for Gravel Ridge improvement if that neighboring community had agreed to be annexed by Jacksonville instead of Sherwood.

Aldermen agreed to spend about $350,000 of that money on three road-related projects to make them “shovel ready” in case federal stimulus money becomes available. The allocation was as follows: $195,335 for the engineering study needed to get the Oneida bridge project ready to go, $53,000 for the Emma Street extension engineering study and $96,000 to get the West Main Street project ready to go.

• By early June, Arkansas had joined the list of states with confirmed H1N1 flu (swine flu) cases. As of June 5, there were nine confirmed and probable cases of swine flu in Arkansas, two of which were reported to be in Pulaski County. The highest number of cases was in Wisconsin (2,217) and the highest number of deaths in New York (8). There were 27 reported deaths nationwide by June 5.

• Six drug dealers in Beebe were arrested after the 58 pounds of marijuana they were expecting to receive was seized in a Conway raid.

White County sheriff’s detectives received a tip from the Conway Police Department that it would be delivered to three different addresses in Beebe. Beebe and Searcy police helped in the drug bust.

• A Jacksonville teenager is going to prison for up to 53 years after accepting a plea bargain in Faulkner County Circuit Court.

Kendrick Price, 18, pleaded guilty to taking part in a 2008 carjacking and abduction of a woman outside the Walmart Supercenter in Conway.

• Work started in June on a new animal shelter in Ward. It was slated to be finished by the fall.

Pinnacle Structures donated the new building. It is 1,200 square feet with 600 feet of shaded overhang.

The new shelter will be located off Hwy. 367 near the baseball fields on city-owned property.