Local News Articles

Camp Set for Second Family Literacy Night

March 2, 2017
Bill Conger

Come pitch your tent tonight (March 2) at “Camp Read S’more.” DeKalb West School is opening its doors to the community for the second annual Family Literacy Night, starting at 5:45 p.m.

“The learning aspect is important, but to me, the memories and the family time are the most important things that would be gained from that night,” says Librarian Amanda Mullinax, who coordinates the event. “I was chatting a couple of weeks ago about what to expect from this night with our new first grade teachers, Mrs. Ashlee Thomason. She made the comment that these type things are going to be what her students remember about her. When it’s 15, 20 years down the road, they’re probably not going to remember Mrs. Ashlee teaching them a phonics lessons, but they are going to remember the night that she had a carnival out in the hall. They’re going to remember the fun, the silly, and the different things.”

Children’s author Mike Shoulders will return as a special guest speaker to kick off the festivities before the crowd is dismissed to pursue other activities. Students in all grades also will have their Literacy Fair projects on display. A Clifford the Big Red Dog carnival will be happening on the first grade hallway while visitors might spy The Cat in the Hat and other book characters roaming through the building. Hike through Winnie the Pooh’s 100 Acre Woods, stroll through a book walk with Thing One and Thing Two or tap into your inner author with a session on Cooking up Crafty Characters. Additionally, the new DWS STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Club for 5th-8th grades will be unveiled as Junior Beta President Garrett Hayes and Club Sponsor/Special Education teacher Teresa Sullivan give an overview of the club.

Besides turning literacy into a fun affair, this event highlights the strong need in education to boost children’s reading skills. DeKalb County Schools have set a goal that 90% of all students will be on or above grade level at the end of 3rd grade. Mullinax says it’s crucial to begin building a child’s reading skills as early as birth.

“A Kindergartener does not have to come in reading, but they have to come in with some recognition of sound and letters and alphabet and how letters make sounds,” says Mullinax. “Those are skills that now students are expected to bring to the table as they enter school where when I was younger, we learned that when we got to Kindergarten.”

“It used to be that first grade was for reading,” she continues. “It’s not that way anymore. Now, Kindergarten is for letter recognition and for learning to tie those letters into words and those words into sentences. Our Kindergarteners here are already expected to read sentences. If they are getting those literacy skills and that foundation from birth, then when they get here they can build, and we can keep them where they’re expected to be on their particular grade level.”

The new reading goal along with the “20 for 20” program highlights the need for families to climb aboard in helping the child with literacy in the early years.

“Literacy doesn’t need to begin when they enroll for Kindergarten or Pre-K. It needs to begin much earlier than that. It isn’t simply sitting down for 20 minutes and reading. It’s any activity that deals with the development of letters and sounds and being able to comprehend what is in that picture, even picture games where they might describe what’s in the picture. They can read a book long before they can read words. To me, the “20 for 20” in our school is very beneficial. I’m also hoping that it is trickling down in the home to the students that are going to be at the West school in the next couple of years because that ties into the 90% reading goal.”

DCHS Student Named "Classroom Champion" of the Week

March 1, 2017
Dwayne Page
Lydia Brown is this week's "Classroom Champion"
Smithville Attorney Jim  Judkins, DCHS Principal Kathy Bryant,  Classroom Champion Lydia Brown, Mom Amanda Brown, and WJLE’s Dwayne Page

A DCHS Sophomore is this week’s “Classroom Champion”.

Lydia Brown recently received the award presented by Smithville Attorney Jim Judkins and Dwayne Page of WJLE.

Brown is the daughter of Stephen and Amanda Brown and her siblings are Austin and Grant.

Lydia is an active member of Salem Baptist Church. She is an athlete on the DCHS girls basketball and softball teams and a member of the FBLA, Science Club, Climate Crew, and FCA.

Brown said she loves math and hopes to one day enter the medical field after college.

In an effort to recognize achievements of students in the DeKalb County School System, WJLE has partnered with attorney Judkins in featuring a “Classroom Champion” each week for the next several months.

The name of the student selected each week will be announced on WJLE and will be featured on the WJLE website. Each student winning will receive a plaque and a gift certificate.

“This is our way of recognizing and celebrating the achievements of the future citizens and leaders of the community. It can benefit their learning and overall school atmosphere and climate. The students' selection is based on academic performance, responsibility and work ethic, leadership abilities, and citizenship and character,” said Judkins.

Sex Offender Gets Probation

March 1, 2017
Dwayne Page
David Royden Drennan

A sex offender was in DeKalb County Criminal Court Friday.

51 year old David Royden Drennan of Sparta Highway, Smithville, indicted for violation of the sex offender law, entered a plea to the lesser offense of attempting to violate the sex offender registry. He received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days on supervised probation and was fined $350.

Sheriff Patrick Ray said that on Monday, February 8, 2016 Drennan allowed minor children to live with him at his home in violation of his sex offender registration.

Storm Damage in Alexandria

March 1, 2017
Dwayne Page
Roof partially blown off a house on High Street
Metal carport  was blown across Nashville Highway
Metal carport blown down

High winds caused some structure damage this morning (Wednesday) in Alexandria but no injuries were reported.

Alexandria Police Chief Chris Russell told WJLE that a roof was partially blown off a house on High Street and a metal carport was blown across Nashville Highway. Several trees are also down. Electricity service was interrupted for some people.

"It looks like the worst of the thunderstorms is over. Alexandria seemed to get hit the hardest with some roof damage and a carport blew across the road. There were some small trees and limbs down around the county but nothing severe. There was also some wind damage with tree limbs down around the Silver Point area. There has only been some minor flooding in the usual spots at this point with some water over the road on Bright Hill Road," said DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Charlie Parker

Kenny Gragg New Manager at Edgar Evins State Park

March 1, 2017
Kenny Gragg New Manager at Edgar Evins State Park

Edgar Evins State Park, Silver Point, has seen a lot of change in the past few years. Now it is welcoming another native son of the area as the new park manager. Kenneth Gragg assumed his new duties at Edgar Evins on January 19th after nine years as a ranger at Tims Ford State Park, Winchester. The last four years of that time he served as the park manager.

Kenny, as he prefers to be called, grew up in Cookeville, the son of Regina and Ken Gragg. He graduated from public schools there and from Tennessee Tech in 2006 with a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries. Earlier this year he graduated from the National Association of State Park Directors State Park Leadership School.

He is married to Amanda Ballard Gragg, also of the area. They have two children, Gavin who is 6 and Elsie who is age 4. Kenny said he and his wife will be looking for a house fairly close to the park in either Putnam or DeKalb counties.

Gragg will be the second "new" park manager at Edgar Evins since the retirement of Carl Halfacre in the fall of 2014. Carl was followed by Jacob Young, a native of Liberty who was transferred to Fall Creek Falls State Park, Spencer, last October. Since that time Ranger Mark Taylor has been the Interim Park Manager, a role he had also filled in the months between Halfacre and Young. Despite the many changes in leadership of this park in recent years Ranger Taylor, Ranger Brad Halfacre, and Ranger Justin Vaughn, with help of all the support staff, have provided the continuity and stability to keep the park going strong and providing a positive experience for visitors.

Fount Bertram, President of the Friends of Edgar Evins State Park states "We have enjoyed a great relationship with all our previous park mangers and look forward to working with Kenny Gragg. He will no doubt continue the good work while bringing new ideas and leadership. Please drop by to say hello and welcome him home to the community."

Three Boy Scouts Advance at the last Court of Honor

February 28, 2017
Bill Conger
Boy Scouts Advance at the last Court of Honor
Zackary Cantrell moves up for 1st Class.

Three Boy Scouts advanced in their rank with Troop 347 at the last Court of Honor. Zackary Cantrell was promoted from 2nd to 1st class, Carter Dias moved up from Tenderfoot to 2nd class, and Gavin Conger graduated to Tenderfoot. Meanwhile, Sebastian Dodge and his brother, Friedrich are in the final stages of their advancement to Eagle Scout.

Several Boy Scouts also earned Merit Badges from classes taken during summer camp at the Boxwell Scout Reservation in Gallatin and from working on their own. Jonathan Birmingham picked up Mammal Studies and Digital Technology; Zackary Cantrell earned Search and Rescue, Game Design, Citizenship in the Community, Communications, Environmental Science, First Aid; Gavin Conger earned Space Exploration, Leatherwork, Music, and Wood Carving; Carter Dias received Forestry merit badge while Friedrich Dodge picked up Climbing; Sebastian Dodge earned Personal Fitness, Personal Management, Wilderness Survival, Family Life, Climbing, Citizenship in the Community, Communications, and Environmental Science; Jake Ramsey – Personal Fitness, Geology; Cody Robinson – Climbing, Citizenship in the Community, Communications, Orienteering, and Electricity; Nate Sherwood – Canoeing; Brandon Sobotka – Soil and Water Conservation; Will Stephens – Personal Fitness; Arthur Sullivan – Space Exploration; Caleb Taylor – Space Exploration, Wood Carving, and Leatherwork; Darren Waggoner – Shotgun Shooting and Thomas Webb – Personal Management, Medicine, and Citizenship in the Nation.

The next Court of Honor is scheduled for the end of March.

Adams Sentenced in 2014 Shooting

February 28, 2017
Dwayne Page
Jordan Adams

A Smithville man charged in a 2014 shooting was sentenced in DeKalb County Criminal Court on Friday, February 24.

31 year old Jordan Adams, who was indicted by the Grand Jury for attempted second degree murder and reckless endangerment in the shooting of 40 year old Jamie Murphy, entered a plea to aggravated assault and reckless endangerment. Adams received a six year sentence for the aggravated assault all suspended to TDOC probation except for one year to serve. For the reckless endangerment offense, Adams received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days all suspended to TDOC probation. The two terms are to run consecutively for a total of almost seven years but he has given jail credit of 302 days. In a separate case which occurred on April 24, 2016, Adams pled guilty Friday to a 3rd offense of driving under the influence and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days on probation except for 120 days to serve. He will lose his driver license pursuant to Tennessee Department of Safety regulations. The DUI term is to run concurrently with the other sentences.

The shooting incident occurred on Juniper Lane, August 5, 2014. The case was investigated by the Smithville Police Department.

According to the arrest warrants at the time, Murphy was shot once in the back shoulder and by another bullet which grazed his arm. He was taken by DeKalb EMS to Saint Thomas DeKalb Hospital for treatment of his wounds. He has since recovered.

Murphy was reportedly behind the wheel of a pickup truck and trying to get out through the passenger side when Adams, who was standing outside the truck, allegedly fired rounds from a .25 caliber pistol, which struck Murphy. A male passenger in the truck with Murphy was not injured.

After the shooting, Adams allegedly got in a different pickup truck driven by another man and left the scene.

Lieutenant Detective Matt Holmes told WJLE at the time that he received an outside tip about the shooting and spotted the fleeing vehicle on Broad Street. He followed as the truck turned onto Dry Creek Road and then into the driveway of a residence. Lieutenant Holmes said he pulled in behind the truck to make a high risk stop, got out of his patrol car and ordered the two occupants in the vehicle to get out. As Adams exited the vehicle and went down, Lieutenant Holmes said he saw a handgun fall to the ground. Adams was then placed under arrest.

The arrest warrants alleged that "On August 5, 2014 Jordan Adams did shoot Jamie Murphy in the back as he attempted to flee his vehicle out of the passenger side door. Mr. Murphy was shot twice, once in the back shoulder and once as a bullet grazed his arm as he retreated. Mr. Adams left the scene and was located by Lt. Matt Holmes where he was found to be in possession of a .25 caliber handgun. Mr. Adams cannot possess a weapon due to being a convicted felon. Mr. Adams did fire multiple shots down the road where multiple people were outside and in or around the line of fire."

Count 1 of the indictment against Adams alleged that "On August 5, 2014, Adams knowingly did attempt to kill Jamie Murphy, constituting the offense of Attempted Second Degree Murder. Count 2 alleged that Adams recklessly did engage in conduct which placed or which might have placed the citizens of DeKalb County in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury, said offense being committed with a deadly weapon, to-wit: a .25 caliber handgun, constituting the offense of Reckless Endangerment with a deadly weapon".

State to Determine Fair Market Value of Cherry Hill Community Center Property

February 28, 2017
Dwayne Page
Cherry Hill Community Center

The state is willing to remove a “public use” deed restriction and allow the county to pay fair market value for the Cherry Hill Community Center property on Cookeville Highway.

During Monday night’s meeting, County Mayor Tim Stribling informed the county commission that the excess land committee of the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Right of Way Division met in January and granted approval clearing the way for the county’s outright ownership of the Cherry Hill Community Center property.

Although the state deeded the 0.24 acre site to DeKalb County in August, 1981, a restriction currently requires the county to use the property for public purposes. After taking control of the site in the 1980’s the county constructed the Cherry Hill Community Center there. In recent years community interest in the center has waned and the building is now in need of repairs. Members of the county commission have expressed an interest in either disposing of the property or leasing it.

In order to have the “public use” deed restriction removed and for the county to assume total control of the property, the county commission recently authorized County Mayor Stribling to file with the Tennessee Department of Transportation an application for “Conveyance of Interest of Surplus TDOT Right of Way”.

County Mayor Stribling explained that this process requests the state to ascertain the fair market value of the property should the county decide to purchase it.

“The committee has determined that the public use restriction can be released if fair market value is paid by the county. Your request has been recommended for approval and will now proceed to the environmental and appraisal processes. After all necessary approvals have been obtained you will be issued and executed a release of all restrictions,” according to a letter to the county from TDOT’s Right of Way Division.

“The way they explained it was they will send an individual out from the state and they will take a look at the Cherry Hill property. If they think the value of it is below $10,000 then the state TDOT office in Chattanooga will come up and do the appraisal on the land only. If they think the property is valued at more than $10,000 then they would get an independent appraiser to come up. If we do buy the property at fair market value then that restriction for public use will be removed from the deed,” said County Mayor Stribling.

The county is not required to buy the property from the state even after the fair market value is determined.

Nichols Gets Five Years In Auto Burglary and Drug Cases

February 28, 2017
Dwayne Page
Robert Lee Nichols, Jr.

A man who was nabbed in a Smithville Police Department undercover drug investigation and months later allegedly burglarized a pickup truck was in DeKalb County Criminal Court Friday.

37 year old Robert Lee Nichols, Jr. appeared before Judge Gary McKenzie and entered a plea to sale of a schedule II drug (less than 0.5 grams) and auto burglary. He received a three year sentence in the drug case suspended to 180 days to serve and he was fined $2,000. Nichols got a two year sentence for the auto burglary to serve 19 days. The two terms are to run consecutively for a total of five years but he will be on TDOC probation. He was given jail credit of 106 days. Nichols is to make $48 restitution to the Smithville Police Department and $75 to other victims in the case.

Nichols was one of eight persons indicted as a result of an undercover drug investigation by the Smithville Police Department

“On January 14, 2016 the Police Department launched an undercover drug investigation based on several complaints of illegal drugs being sold throughout the city. Using a confidential informant we were able to make several buys throughout the city. The cases were presented to the DeKalb County Grand Jury on Monday, November 28, 2016 and sealed indictments were returned against these individuals,” Chief Mark Collins told WJLE.

The indictment against Nichols and a co-defendant alleges that on February 22, 2016 they did unlawfully and knowingly sell and or deliver a controlled substance, to wit: Methamphetamine, a schedule II controlled substance, in an amount under 0.5 grams.

Meanwhile, in November, 2016 Nichols was arrested for auto burglary by the Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff Patrick Ray, said that on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 Nichols and another person broke into a 1998 Nissan Frontier and stole a machete and foldup chair. Entry was made by breaking out the glass window to the truck. The next day, Thursday November 10, Nichols was arrested after being stopped near his home on Hodges Road for driving on a revoked license. The case was investigated by a detective of the sheriff’s department.

County Applies for Clean TN Energy Grant to Install LED lights at Courthouse and Jail

February 28, 2017
Dwayne Page
DeKalb County Jail

Existing fluorescent lights in the DeKalb County Courthouse and the Jail will be replaced and retrofitted with light-emitting diode (LED) lights if the county is approved for a Clean Tennessee Energy Grant through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

During Monday night’s meeting, the county commission adopted a resolution making application for the $37,856 grant through the Upper Cumberland Development District. The county’s matching obligation would be 50% or $18,928.

Environmentally, the reduction in energy usage from this project is expected to result in lowered power plant emissions and overall a lower carbon footprint. Fiscally, the reduction in energy usage will mean lower monthly bills to the county, allowing the savings to be reinvested in other ways.

A TVA Energy walk through lighting audit was conducted recently at the courthouse and jail as a service of Smithville Electric System to provide an energy usage analysis and the potential impact of LED lighting retrofits. Many of the lights throughout the courthouse are currently comprised of T-8, T-12, T-8 U tubes, and linear fluorescent bulbs that use a great deal of electricity. The jail also has a combination of obsolete T-8 and T-12 bulbs. LED lights, while more expensive, last much longer, consume less electricity and will make the buildings more energy efficient.

The total material cost for lighting retrofits at the courthouse would be $7,833 resulting in a simple payback of 1.3 years (76% rate of return) representing a 19.5% reduction in the annual energy cost at the courthouse. Similarly, material costs at the jail would be $5,767 resulting in a simple payback of 1.1 years (92.2% rate of return) reducing energy costs by 20.8% at the jail.

The estimated reduction in electric energy consumption from the project is 94,881 kilowatt hours per year, equating to a financial savings of $11,275 per year. That’s the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions from a passenger vehicle driven 159,809 miles or over 2.1 tons of waste recycled instead of being placed in a landfill.

Officials stress that these are estimates only and that the final cost, savings and payback will depend on a number of other factors including installation costs, disposal costs, etc.


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