Local News Articles

Fired DTC Employees Claim Extortion, Wrongful Termination in Federal Lawsuit; DTC Denies Allegations

February 26, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Craig Gates
DTC Communications

Claiming they were the victims of a scheme to get rid of them and others, two former employees of DTC Communications, James A Vaden of Carthage and Kevin C. Young of Smithville filed a federal court lawsuit against the company and the CEO Craig Gates in November claiming they were the victims of extortion and wrongful termination. Vaden and Young contend that the defendants, DTC and Gates, wrongfully interfered with their employee benefits and improperly denied them their severance benefits. The incident, according to the lawsuit, has also triggered an extortion investigation by authorities in the 13th & 15th Judicial Districts against Gates.

The dismissal of both Vaden and Young apparently grew out of a probe into allegations that a group of DTC employees had participated in a scheme to sell copper cable owned by the company for their own benefit. Vaden and Young claim they did not participate in such a scheme.

Gates and DTC Communications have answered the lawsuit, denying the allegations made by Vaden and Young.

The case is set for trial in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee Northeastern Division on March 18, 2014 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe B. Brown with the final pretrial conference set for March 3, 2014 in Cookeville. Meanwhile a telephone conference with the parties to discuss the progress of the case and the possibility of ultimate dispute resolution is set for July 10, 2013

Vaden and Young claim that while they were both exemplary employees of DTC or DeKalb Telephone Cooperative the new Chief Executive Officer, Gates, implemented a scheme to rid the company of many of its most senior and therefore most highly compensated employees. Gates terminated a few employees outright. He presented several others with an ultimatum: sign an agreement requiring, among other things, that the employees be reclassified as "new hires" which would have reduced their pay and vested pension benefits, or be terminated. No matter what choice Young, Vaden, and their co-workers made, the defendants, DTC and Gates would cut their payroll expenses dramatically, a convenient result at a time when DTC was widely known to be suffering financially," according to the lawsuit.

Viewing the ultimatum to be nothing less than extortion, Young and Vaden refused to sign. They were promptly fired. To date, the defendants have refused to provide Young and Vaden with the severance benefits to which they are entitled pursuant to the company's severance welfare plan, according to the complaint.

Defendants, DTC and Gates' ultimatum to Young and Vaden constitutes extortion under the law of the State of Tennessee and that ultimatum is a wrongful basis for terminating Young and Vaden's employment. Rather than being motivated by any misconduct on Young and Vaden's part, defendant's actions were driven by a desire to interfere with Young and Vaden's pension, health, and welfare, and severance benefits and to retaliate against them for refusing to give up those benefits. Defendants have wrongfully denied Young and Vaden's benefits to which they are clearly entitled," according to the lawsuit.

In their answer to the lawsuit, DTC and Gates deny the allegations and deny there is any basis for liability. "After a careful and thorough investigation into the particularized facts, the defendants, DTC and Gates formed an honest belief that a group of employees, including Vaden and Young, participated in a scheme to sell copper cable owned by the company for their own benefit. Defendants, DTC and Gates deny that there is any basis whatsoever for individual liability as to Gates. Defendants deny that the severance policy contained in the employee handbook is a qualified plan pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Defendants deny that any actions taken by the defendants were taken with the specific intent of avoiding ERISA liability. Finally, the defendants deny there is any factual or legal basis for any of the plaintiff's claims, including their common law retaliation claims, which fails as a matter of law," according to the answer filed by DTC and Gates.

Vaden and Young are seeking damages in an amount to equal the benefits owed to them under the employer's severance plan; that they be awarded compensatory and punitive damages, including but not limited to statutory damages under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) for interfering with their right to employee benefits; that they be awarded compensatory and punitive damages for defendant's extortion and wrongful termination; that they be awarded compensatory and punitive damages, including but not limited to statutory damages under ERISA for losses suffered due to the defendant's breaches of fiduciary duty; that Gates be made personally liable for losses suffered by the plaintiffs; that the court enjoin the defendants from further breaching their fiduciary duties; that the court grant the plaintiffs reasonable attorney's fees, pre-judgment interest and the costs of this cause; and that the court grant such further equitable, and or other relief as it may deem appropriate.

According to the lawsuit, Vaden began working for DTC on September 22, 1997 as a lineman on the line crew, installing, repairing, and replacing the external lines and related equipment that send telecommunications signals directly to consumer's homes. He was employed by DTC as a lineman until he was terminated on April 3, 2012 at which time he was earning $21.97 per hour.

Young started working for DTC in February, 2000, where he was employed as an installer and repairman. In 2003, he was transferred to the line crew where he worked as a lineman, installing, repairing, and replacing the external lines and related equipment that send telecommunications signals directly to consumers' homes. In 2009, Young was made the Network Administrator at DTC. He was employed by DTC in that capacity until he was terminated on April 3, 2012 at which time he was earning $26 per hour.

As a lineman, Vaden and Young's job duties included tearing down old cables and poles and disposing of them. Some of the cable wiring was made of copper. Linemen tore down and disposed of cable as instructed by their supervisor.

Upon information and belief, during the year 2007, some DTC employees realized that scrap copper could be sold and so they began selling scrap copper cable at a scrap yard. Vaden and Young were not involved in this scrap copper selling, nor did they have knowledge of it at that time," according to their lawsuit.

Upon information and belief, prior to this time, the cost of collecting and selling copper would have been equal to or greater than any profit received from its sale, and so DTC had no reason to object to employees selling said scrap copper," according to the lawsuit.

Upon information and belief, DTC had no policy in place in 2007 concerning the proper procedure for disposing of copper scrap. If such policy existed, Vaden and Young were not, and still are not aware of it, they claim.

Eventually, as the price of copper increased, DTC began selling all the copper scrap itself and employees were instructed to refrain from selling copper wiring individually. Upon information and belief, all but one employee complied with those instructions.

On or about September 17, 2011, Craig Gates became the new Chief Executive Officer of DTC. Upon information and belief, this change in leadership was prompted by DTC's declining financial health," according to the lawsuit.

At some point after Gates arrived at DTC, an employee, Tom Irwin, was caught allegedly taking copper scrap that belonged to DTC. A criminal investigation followed and is still pending.

Faced with rising payroll costs and a number of employees nearing retirement age, Gates used this incident with Irwin as an excuse to investigate and eventually terminate the other employees who were working as linemen back in 2007, according to Vaden and Young.

Gates implicated nine employees who had been on the line crew in 2007. In late March 2012, Gates summarily terminated two of those employees, Dale Myers and Luke Judkins. Upon information and belief, at the time of his termination, Dale Myers had been employed at DTC for approximately 34 years and Luke Judkins had been employed at DTC for approximately six years.

On March 29, 2012, Gates gathered the remaining seven employees and interrogated them all separately. On April 2, 2012, Gates presented at least four of them with an identical document, entitled "Agreement of Suspension". Gates gave them the choice of signing it or being terminated," according to the lawsuit.

The Agreement of Suspension required Vaden, Young, and their co-workers to admit to committing theft in 2007, repay $700, plus interest calculated at the usurious rate of 20%, accruing since 2007, and accept a six week unpaid suspension of employment.

Among other things, the Agreement of Suspension also substantially reduced employee benefits to which plaintiffs were entitled or would have become entitled, to wit:

The Agreement of Suspension required plaintiffs to waive the employee grievance procedure provided to employees, as outlined in DTC's Employee Handbook.

It suspended accrual of all employee benefits during the period of suspension, including health and pension benefits.

It required the linemen to accept re-employment after the period of suspension as "new hires" for any and all benefits available to them as employees. This provision would have eliminated vested pension benefits to which Vaden and Young were entitled by law. It would have also eliminated the vacation and sick time that Vaden and Young had accrued during the course of their employment.

It also required plaintiffs to accrue a 10% decrease in pay upon re-employment.

Those employees who signed the agreement, thereby admitting to theft from the company, were allowed to keep their jobs. Those who maintained their innocence and refused to sign, including Vaden and Young were terminated," according to the lawsuit.

Maintaining their innocence of any alleged theft or impropriety, and unwilling to be wrongfully deprived of their employee benefits, Vaden and Young refused to sign the Agreement of Suspension. They informed Gates of their decision not to sign on April 3, 2012 and they were terminated on the spot, according to the lawsuit.

Through these actions, Defendants either terminated the employment of or cut the salary and benefits of at lease five of the six highest paid members of the line crew, in addition to the Network Administrator.

By his actions, ostensibly based on the copper scrap sales of 2007, Gates accomplished the expense of reduction of a company-wide lay off without having to provide severance benefits to the terminated employees or incur the increased costs of unemployment insurance.

During the investigation period from March 29, 2012 until April 3, 2012 and in the time since then, the defendants have uncovered no evidence of Vaden's or Young's involvement in the copper scrap sales, because no such evidence exists.

As of the date of filing this Complaint, investigators in the 13th and 15th Judicial Districts are exploring criminal charges of extortion against Gates based on his actions leading up to Vaden's and Young's termination, focusing in particular on the specifics of the Agreement of Suspension, according to Vaden and Young's lawsuit.

Four Plead Guilty in Child Sex Related Crimes

February 26, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Paul D. Gilliam
 Stephen M. Rogers, Jr
Donna Smith
Bryan Smith

Two men pleaded guilty to statutory rape of young girls in DeKalb County Criminal Court Friday.

Judge Leon Burns, Jr. presided.

19 year old Paul D. Gilliam, indicted for statutory rape of a 14 year old girl, pleaded guilty to the indictment. He is requesting judicial diversion probation. A sentencing hearing is set for April 8.

Sheriff Patrick Ray said at the time of his arrest that Gilliam is alleged to have had sexual intercourse on four or five occasions with a 14 year old female at her home on Dale Ridge Road and with her consent. The offense allegedly occurred on May 30, 2012. The case was referred to the sheriff's department and investigated by criminal detectives. Gilliam was arrested on July 11, 2012 and brought to the jail.

22 year old Stephen M. Rogers, Jr., indicted for the statutory rape of a 15 year old girl, pleaded guilty to the indictment. He is requesting judicial diversion probation. A sentencing hearing is set for April 8.

Meanwhile the parents of the victim in the Rogers case have each pleaded guilty to child neglect

46 year old Donna Smith and 34 year old Bryan Smith were indicted for child neglect because they allegedly allowed their daughter to engage in sexual activity with Rogers, even providing them condoms

Under a negotiated settlement, both Donna and Bryan Smith received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days, all suspended to supervised probation by CPS. They are to attend parenting classes.

The warrant against Rogers states that "on Friday, May 11, 2012 at a residence in Smithville, Rogers did have sexual intercourse with a 15 year old female while living with her the previous four months".

The warrant against Donna Smith, the mother of the girl, states that she " did knowingly approve of the daughter's sexual intercourse with a 21 year old male, Michael Rogers. This has been happening for the previous four months and on several occasions. Also the parents furnished condoms to the subjects and allowed them to live together".

The warrant against Bryan Smith, the father of the girl, states that he "did knowingly approve of his daughter's sexual intercourse with a 21 year old male, Michael Rogers. He has known of this going on for the previous four months and on several occasions has furnished them with condoms and allowed them to live together knowing that this was going on in the residence."

The case was investigated by the Department of Children Services and detectives and officers of the Smithville Police Department.

Twelve Answer to Burglary or Theft Charges in Criminal Court

February 26, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Judge Leon Burns, Jr.

Twelve people answered to burglary and or theft charges in DeKalb County Criminal Court Friday.

Judge Leon Burns, Jr. presided.

19 year old Ryan Austin Felts pleaded guilty to auto burglary and burglary. He received a two year sentence in the auto burglary case, suspended to probation. Felts got a four year sentence for the burglary, but state prosecutors are recommending judicial diversion probation for him. The cases are to run concurrently. He must make restitution to Jason's Auto Sales in the amount of $1,981 and an amount to be determined to Chad's Auto Sales. Sheriff Patrick Ray said that on Friday, June 22, 2012 Felts broke into a vehicle at Jason's Auto Sales at 3365 Nashville Highway with the intent to commit a theft. Entry was made by busting out the window and busting the steering column to try and take the vehicle without the owner's consent. Felts was also charged by Smithville Police with vandalism, burglary, two counts of theft of a vehicle, and theft of property over $10,000 as a result of burglary and thefts at Chad's Auto Sales on Saturday and Sunday, June 23 & 24, 2012.

22 year old William Richard Denton and 20 year old Travis Marcus Melton each pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary and theft over $1,000. Each received a four year sentence for aggravated burglary and two years for the theft all suspended to supervised probation. The sentences are to run concurrently for a total of four years for both Denton and Melton. Sheriff Ray said that Melton allegedly broke into a residence on Johnson Chapel Road Sunday, July 29, 2012. Entry was made through a back window. Items taken in the burglary were gold chains, gold bracelet, rings, several handguns, and ammo, together valued at more than $1,000. According to Sheriff Ray, Denton assisted Melton in the burglary and gave him the combination to a safe where the guns were kept. Denton then allegedly sold the stolen items taken from the home. The case was investigated by a criminal detective of the Sheriff's Department. Denton was arrested on Tuesday, August 7, 2012. Melton was arrested the following day.

37 year old Kevin G. Richardson pleaded guilty to theft over $1,000. He received a three year sentence on supervised probation to run concurrently with any sentence he is now serving. He must also make restitution of $4,410. Sheriff Ray said that on March 12, 2011, Richardson went to a farm on Tramel Branch Road and allegedly stole welders, a tiller, electric drills, electric wire, and several other items belonging to Danny Hale without his consent. These items were valued at over $1,000. The case was investigated by criminal detectives of the sheriff's department

33 year old Heather Trapp pleaded guilty to theft under $500 and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days all suspended to supervised probation. Smithville Police Chief Randy Caplinger said on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 an employee of the Dollar General Store told police he saw Trapp place items in her purse. Trapp was confronted and confessed to the theft, removing the items from her purse. Trapp also admitted that she had been ordered, in a prior shoplifting offense there, not to be on the property of the Dollar General Store.

37 year old Russell Blackwell pleaded guilty to two counts of forgery and received a two year sentence, all suspended to supervised probation. The sentences are to run concurrently with each other and with his current probation in another case. Blackwell was originally charged with five counts of forgery for allegedly passing forged checks on the account of a family member at a local bank totaling $2,075 in June, 2012. According to Chief Caplinger, Blackwell passed checks in the following amounts on the following days on the account of Harold Blackwell: $475 on June 22; $300 and $600 on June 25; $350 on June 26; and $350 on June 28.

25 year old Lindsey Davenport pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary. She received a three year sentence, all suspended to supervised probation. She must undergo an alcohol and drug assessment and make restitution if applicable. The sentence is to run concurrently with a General Sessions probated sentence. Sheriff Ray said that on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 Davenport allegedly broke into a residence on Cecil Hale Road. Entry was made by prying open the front door. Davenport allegedly stole nose trimmers, a Radio Shack Weather Alert Radio, two fishing poles, a wind up grandfather clock, and a red tool box with miscellaneous tools with a total estimated value of $817. The case was investigated by a criminal investigator of the sheriff's department.

40 year old Willard Brown pleaded guilty to two counts of theft under $500 and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days in each case, all suspended to supervised probation. The sentences are to run concurrently. He is under a restraining order to stay away from Potters Home Center.

21 year old Stephanie Mooneyham pleaded guilty to theft under $500 and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days, all suspended to probation supervised by the Cannon County probation office. The sentence is to run concurrently with her Cannon County probation. She was given ten days jail credit and is under a restraining order to stay away from Walmart.

25 year old Justin Cantrell pleaded guilty to theft under $500 and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days, all suspended to supervised probation to be supervised by community corrections. The case is to run concurrently with his probation in another case.

27 year old Robert Justin Luna pleaded guilty to theft under $500 and aggravated assault and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days plus three years probation. He was given credit for time served.. He must make restitution to JR Motors in the amount of $650. The sentence is to run concurrently with two other cases against him.

35 year old Amy Lawson pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary and received a four year sentence to serve at least 30% before parole eligibility. She was given jail credit of sixty five days.

Decision on Extending Beer Sales Left To County Commission, Not Referendum

February 25, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
County Attorney Hilton Conger

The DeKalb County Commission seems to be in no hurry to take up a proposal to authorize Sunday beer sales or to make it 24-7, the same as the City of Smithville has done for businesses licensed to sell packaged beer.

Some county commissioners would rather the issue be settled by the voters in a public referendum next year. But County Attorney Hilton Conger, during Monday night's county commission meeting, said the Tennessee Attorney General has opined that there is no statutory authority for a local government to hold an advisory or non-binding referendum election. Therefore, if a decision is to be made on extending beer sales in DeKalb County, the county commission, which already has the authority, will have to vote to do it.

Last month local businessman Jewel Redmon, owner of Jewel's Market and Pizza on North Congress Boulevard asked that stores be allowed to sell beer on Sunday. "I would like the county commission to consider letting us sell beer on Sunday," said Redman. "We would just like to have the same opportunity to compete with our competition," said Redmon.

Local minister Bernard Houk asked the county commission not to extend the hours for beer sales. Houk said this issue is personal with him because he has seen how that alcohol has destroyed lives. He urged the commissioners to think about what's best for people rather than somebody's wallet.

County Mayor Mike Foster told WJLE Monday night that the county commission may discuss at next month's all-committee's meeting the possibility of scheduling a public hearing at some future date to give the citizens a chance to express their views on the issue. County officials may also want to take some time to see how the changes made in the city are working out. It would then be up to the county commission as to whether or not to take a vote on extending beer sales for licensed businesses.

In March 2009, Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr. issued an opinion in answer to a question as to whether the Hamilton County Commission could, by referendum, seek voter opinion in deciding an issue regarding a Property Tax Freeze Act of 2007.

In his written opinion, Cooper wrote that "there is no general provision in the constitution of this state that authorizes a local government to hold an advisory or non-binding referendum election. The cited provision of the Property Tax Freeze Act of 2007 authorizes the legislative body of any county or municipality to adopt the property tax freeze program by resolution or ordinance," wrote Cooper.

The County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), which gives advice to county governments, writes that "the power to extend the hours for the sale of beer must be exercised by resolution of the county legislative body."

"Local governments may vote to extend the hours for beer sales, but cannot shorten the hours for businesses licensed to sell beer.

The general law provisions regarding the hours of operation for businesses selling beer prohibits the sale of beer during the following hours:

1. No beer or like beverage shall be sold between the hours of twelve o'clock midnight and 6:00 a.m. Monday through Saturday.

2. No beer or like beverage shall be sold between the hours of twelve o'clock midnight on Saturday and 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.

3. No such beverage shall be consumed, or opened for consumption, on or about any licensed premises, in either bottle, glass, or other container, after 12:15 a.m.

However, county legislative bodies are authorized to extend the hours for the sale of beer in their counties by resolution. The county legislative body has no authority to shorten the hours for the sale of beer. The power to extend the hours for the sale of beer must be exercised by resolution of the county legislative body and cannot be delegated to the beer board.

Regardless of the hours established for the sale of beer, any establishment that has a permit from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) to sell liquor or wine for on-premises consumption is allowed to sell beer at any time the establishment is legally authorized to sell liquor or wine provided the establishment has obtained a beer permit.

The hours for the sale of beer in "clubs" must conform to the hours for sale of liquor by the drink as provided in state law and cannot be changed by resolution of the county legislative body.

In counties that have adopted liquor by the drink by countywide referendum, county legislative bodies may fix the hours for the sale of beer within the county, but these hours have no effect on business establishments selling liquor by the drink.

In any jurisdiction that has voted to accept Tennessee River Resort District status under state law and is considered a Tennessee River Resort District , the hours for the sale of beer within the district cannot be less than the hours for the sale of liquor and wine for on-premises consumption.

2012 Property Taxes Due Thursday

February 25, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Trustee Sean Driver Says 2012 Property Taxes Due Thursday

The Trustee's Office would like to remind you that February 28 is the last day to pay the 2012 property taxes before penalties start accruing March 1.

The Trustee's Office is open from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday- Friday. "Remember, if the last day comes and you can't make it to the post office to postmark your payment, we do have a drop box on the outside wall of our new location at the new county complex," said Trustee Sean Driver.

The Trustee's Office also offers the State of Tennessee Tax Relief. "If you would like to check on a possible tax relief for 2012, come and see us at 732 South Congress Boulevard, Room 103 or call us at 597-5176," said Driver. " The last day to sign up for tax relief is April 5. Also any 2011 unpaid property taxes will be turned over to the Chancery Court on April 1," he added.

Driver said you have four options for paying 2012 property taxes. "You can come by in person at the Trustee's Office or you may mail in your payment. We also offer online bill pay at www.tennesseetrustee.com. You go to that website and select DeKalb County and then follow the instructions. Business Information Systems has set this up for approximately 65 Trustees across the state and there is a fee to use your debit or credit card. If you do pay online the fee to use your debit or credit card is 2.75%. Or you can use an e-check for 1.5%. Online accepts Mastercard, Visa, Discover, and American Express," said Driver.

"We are also accepting partial payments. That is new for 2012 and it's only for 2012 taxes. Partial payment can be for any amount that you want to pay of the total tax bill. Remember if you take advantage of the partial payment plan for 2012, only that portion left unpaid after the deadline will accrue the 1.5% penalty and interest per month," said Driver.

Man Allegedly Rams Truck Into Other Vehicles, Damages Home

February 25, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Eddie D. Farris
1991 Chevy S10 pickup pushed into house on Wade Street
Farris' Dodge Ram Hits 1995 Suzuki
2011 Chrysler (Background) and Sidewalk (foreground) damaged

32 year old Eddie D. Farris was arrested by Smithville Police on Sunday after he allegedly rammed his truck into several parked vehicles, pushing one of them up against a house on Wade Street.

Farris, of Hurricane Ridge Road, is charged with five counts of felony vandalism and reckless endangerment. Chief Randy Caplinger reports that on Sunday, February 24 officers were dispatched to Wade Street where numerous witnesses stated that Farris had rammed several parked vehicles with his truck. He also pushed one of the vehicles through a yard, striking a house. Victims stated that they were in the door way when the vehicle was pushed into the front of the house. Damage was also done to the sidewalk in front of the residence.

The warrants against Farris allege that:

Felony Vandalism over $10,000: Farris intentionally drove (his truck) into a 2011 Chrysler several times causing over $10,000 in damage.

Felony Vandalism over $1,000: Farris did intentionally hit a 1991 Chevy S10 pickup and pushed it into the house at 406 Wade Street. He hit the vehicle (with his truck) several times causing over $1,000 in damage.

Felony Vandalism over $1,000: Farris did intentionally hit a 1995 Suzuki several times (with his truck) causing over $1,000 in damage.

Felony Vandalism over $1,000: Farris intentionally pushed a vehicle into a house (with his truck) doing over $1,000 in damage to the house at 406 Wade Street.

Felony Vandalism over $500: Farris did intentionally damage a side walk belonging to the City of Smithville by pushing vehicles into the side walk (with his truck) causing over $500 in damage.

Reckless Endangerment: Farris put the lives of several people inside the house at 406 Wade Street in danger when he intentionally pushed a vehicle into the house with his vehicle.

Bond for Farris is $40,000 and he will be in court on March 14.

Nicholas A Hollingsworth was arrested for driving on a revoked license, simple possession of a Schedule VI drug and promotion of manufacture of methamphetamine. Warrants state that on Sunday, February 17 Hollingsworth was stopped for a revoked license and after confiscating some marijuana from his person, the officer received consent to search his vehicle. Items were found in the vehicle for use in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Bond for Hollingsworth is $28,000 and his court date is March 14.

30 year old Candice Brook Vickers was cited for possession of drug paraphernalia. Ms Vickers was a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped for a traffic violation. Vickers was found to be in possession of several used hypodermic needles. Her court date is March 14.

Anyone having any information on any criminal activities please contact the Smithville Police Department at 597-8210 or the Tip Line at 464-6046.

Any information received that will help the Smithville Police solve any criminal offense will be greatly appreciated. All information is confidential.

Bid Opening for New Sligo Bridge Set for April 5

February 24, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Sligo Bridge

The Tennessee Department of Transportation plans to open bids on a construction contract for the new Sligo bridge project April 5.

TDOT officials held a pre-bid meeting Friday at the DeKalb County Complex for contractors. Ken Flynn, Director of Operations for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Region 2, told WJLE that the purpose of the meeting was to give contractors as much information possible about the project so they can prepare for the bidding. "It was a pre informational meeting for our contractors to kind of fill them in on the progress of the Sligo bridge in letting that to contract. What this meeting did Friday was kind of bring all of our contractors up to speed on the peculiarities and specialty type items of the bridge to get them prepared to go in and put us together a good bid. Right now, barring any unforseen circumstances we have it for April 5 going to contract," said Flynn.

Since a TDOT right of way deal could not be worked out with the Corps of Engineers because of Sligo Marina, which has just renewed its lease with the Corps, construction crews will largely have to access the site and work within the state right of way around the bridge. Barges will be brought in to do most of the work from the water. A construction staging area will be set up at the Highland Trail (Dubland) Boat Ramp near Riverwatch where contractors may gain access to the lake in getting to the bridge. "A lot of our access, because we want to keep on the right of way, will probably be from water access. We have an access point to the lake (Highland Trail Boat Ramp) and we will be using that to access the bridge site and do most of our work," said Flynn

During the pre-bid meeting Friday, Jennifer Lloyd, TDOT Roadway Design Manager told contractors that the Highland Trail (Dubland) Boat Ramp is located 4.3 miles northeast of the bridge site. This area is an option for the contractor should he be unable to perform the necessary construction functions at the marina site within the proposed limited right of way. Representatives of the Riverwatch Golf Course and Mountain Harbour community and neighborhood groups are aware and supportive of the project. The road to Highland Trail Boat Ramp will be improved prior to construction and after completion of the Sligo bridge project. Access to the Highland Trail Boat Ramp will be closed during construction.

Contractors plan to access the construction site primarily by way of Highland Boat Ramp unless they (contractors) can reach some arrangement with the Sligo marina operators directly at the site or come up with other alternatives. "We've got some room (state right of way) on either side of the roadway (Highway 70) up top (above the construction site) so we'll probably occupy every available space that we have," said Flynn. "We do have access to the lake and river. That is the best access we have to come in on that area (Highland Trail Boat Ramp). But the contractors are pretty ingenious. They may come up with other avenues of access but right now the ones that we're considering are the ones we have provided," said Flynn.

The existing bridge will remain open during construction of the new bridge, which will be built some sixty feet to the north or to the left (traveling toward Sparta) of the old bridge. Flynn said that Sligo Road from Highway 70 to Sligo Marina will also remain open. "We'll still allow access to the existing bridge and to the marina underneath we'll have to maintain that access. Plus there are some water intakes for the local utilities so we have to maintain all of that for them," said Flynn

Pyrite in the rock formations on each side of the river will have to be removed and hauled away during bridge construction. According to County Mayor Mike Foster, pyrite, which is made up of an iron sulfide, will have to be taken to other locations and buried. "They will dig a pit, line it with clay, put down the pyrite, and cover it over with clay so it doesn't leak out into a stream," said Foster.

Two encapsulation sites have been secured to dispose of the pyrite. One of the sites is at the former county landfill location on the Clyde Moore Road, three miles west of the bridge (2,468 cubic yards of pyretic material to be taken there), and on Billings Road, two and a half miles east of the bridge near the existing landfill (70,755 cubic yards of pyretic materials to be dumped there).

Bridge construction should begin within four to six weeks of awarding the bid, according to Flynn. "That's usually a four to six week process. They will open the bids on April 5 and review them to make sure that they are accurate and that they follow all of our guidelines and requirements. Once its determined that there is qualified low bidder, then we will award the contract," said Flynn.

The project is expected to be completed by June 30, 2016.

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Trio Gets Eight Year Sentence in Alexandria Robbery

February 24, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Michael Ray Slaughter
Dustin Shane Puckett
 Joseph Clark Hindelang

Three people charged in an Alexandria robbery last summer each received an eight year sentence in DeKalb County Criminal Court Friday after entering pleas in negotiated settlements.

24 year old Michael Ray Slaughter of Clarksville, 25 year old Dustin Shane Puckett of Watertown, and 27 year old Joseph Clark Hindelang of Lebanon each pleaded guilty to robbery and received an eight year sentence with parole eligibility after serving 30%. Each, originally charged with aggravated robbery, agreed to plea outside of the range of punishment to get the charge reduced to robbery.

Hindelang and Puckett, in addition to robbery, also pled to theft of property over $1,000 and each received a two year sentence to run concurrently with their eight year terms. Both Hindelang and Puckett were given jail credit of 206 days.

Slaughter's eight year term is to run concurrent with any violations or other charges in effect against him. He was fined $2,000.

Alexandria Police Chief Mark Collins told WJLE that Slaughter, Puckett, and Hindelang were arrested in an armed robbery at a home on Measles Lane on August 1, 2012.

Police learned that two of the suspects entered the home, displayed handguns and forced the occupants, an adult female and two children , to sit and remain quiet while they went through the home taking several things including electronics, jewelry, personal items, and narcotics. After leaving the home, the suspects fled into the woods nearby but they were seen by witnesses, who reported it to Sergeant Chris Russell. After spotting a man running out of the woods, Sergeant Russell gave chase. After a short foot pursuit, the man, Slaughter was placed in custody. Shortly thereafter witnesses saw the suspects' vehicle on High Street and reported it. Police responded, found the driver, Hindelang, and placed him in custody. Witnesses also reported having seen the third suspect, Puckett , running out of the woods on Brush Creek Highway. As a result, police found Puckett and arrested him. During a search of the area, officers recovered items taken from the home along with approximately 42 grams of marijuana found in the suspects' vehicle and other items believed to have been stolen from another location. Police seized the vehicle as a result of the investigation.

Meanwhile, 41 year old Angela Dawn Engelhardt, the owner of the Measles Lane home, was charged with simple possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia while another woman living at the residence, 30 year old Angela Bartels , was arrested on outstanding warrants from Wilson County. Engelhardt was not at home at the time of the incident but was arrested later that night. Her case apparently remains pending in court.

The investigation was conducted by Chief Collins and Sgt. Russell

Chief Collins said he would like to commend the actions of the observant citizens for their assistance in the apprehension of the suspects as well as assistance from the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department.

Pedestrian Victim of Early Morning Hit and Run

February 22, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Devin French (older photo)

A pedestrian was the victim of a hit and run Friday morning on Short Mountain Highway.

Central dispatch received a call at 2:24 a.m. that a man had been struck by a passing motorist, who failed to stop after the incident.

The victim, 27 year old Devin French was apparently not seriously injured. He complained of leg and arm pain and was taken by DeKalb EMS to the hospital.

Trooper Bobby Johnson of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, who investigated the incident, said that according to French, he had been at his father's home but had left on foot after the two of them got into an argument.

French was walking or standing in the roadway when a vehicle, described by French as a maroon colored SUV, approached him. After hitting French, the vehicle failed to stop and drove off. French, who claims he blacked out after being hit, was found lying in a ditch by a passerby.

Trooper Johnson said mirror glass was found on the highway. It is believed that French may have been sideswiped by a side view mirror on the vehicle as it passed..

According to Trooper Johnson, French had warrants against him from Trousdale County.

Liberty Man Pleads Guilty to Vehicular Homicide

February 22, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Johnny Lynn Hickey
Johnny Lynn Hickey drove the 2004 F350 full size flat bed truck
Chris and Cleva Gammons and Troy Bruno rode in the Altima.

A 52 year old Liberty man charged in a fatal traffic accident last summer appeared in DeKalb County Criminal Court Friday before Judge Leon Burns, Jr. where he pled guilty to vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, and assault.

Johnny Lynn Hickey, facing a possible prison term of eight to twelve years and loss of his drivers license for up to three years, will be sentenced on May 24. He was indicted in December on one count of vehicular homicide, two counts of vehicular assault, and driving under the influence.

"We (state prosecutors) will be arguing for him (Hickey) to receive the most time he could serve," said Gary McKenzie, Deputy District Attorney General in an interview with WJLE Friday.

"He pled guilty blind (without knowing what his sentence will be) which is a good indication of how strong the case was that the Tennessee Highway Patrol put together," said McKenzie. "They did an outstanding job working this investigation. His plea has the same effect as if we would have tried and a jury convicted him," said McKenzie.

Hickey was charged in the death of 30 year old Chris Gammons who passed away Monday, July 9, 2012 at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga.

Gammons and Hickey were among four people in the accident which occurred on Saturday morning, June 23, 2012 on Highway 70 near the intersection of Highway 96 (Dale Ridge Road) on Snow Hill.

Gammons and Troy Bruno, both of Smithville were airlifted from near the scene of the crash by Life Force and Air Evac helicopter ambulances. The other person injured in the wreck was 32 year old Cleva Elaine Gammons of Smithville, wife of Chris Gammons. Hickey was not hurt.

Central dispatch received the call at 3:28 a.m that morning.

According to Trooper Darrell Knowles of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Hickey was traveling west on Highway 70 in a 2004 F350 full size flat bed truck when he crossed the turning lane and into the path of an eastbound 2002 Nissan Altima, driven by Cleva Elaine Gammons. Chris Gammons was a front seat passenger and Troy Bruno was a back seat passenger of the Altima. Chris Gammons was ejected and landed on the highway, in front of the Altima. Bruno was trapped in the backseat and had to be extricated by members of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department's Extrication and Rescue Team.

Bruno and Chris Gammons were transported by DeKalb EMS to a helicopter landing zone on Highway 70 at the intersection of Toad Road. One of them was airlifted by a Life Force helicopter and the other was flown out by an Air Evac helicopter. Mrs. Gammons was transported to DeKalb Community Hospital, where she was treated and released.

On the scene were Trooper Knowles of the THP, DeKalb EMS, Sheriff's Department deputies, DeKalb Fire Extrication and Rescue, and members of the Short Mountain Highway, Main Station, Liberty, and Cookeville Highway stations of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department.

The original complaint against Hickey stated that he admitted to consuming four beers. Several field sobriety tasks were given. Hickey did not perform as demonstrated. Hickey was transported to the emergency room of the hospital for a blood alcohol test and then to the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department for booking.

The vehicular homicide indictment against Hickey alleged that he "killed Chris Gammons by the operation of the motor vehicle and that the killing was the proximate result of Hickey's intoxication, constituting the offense of vehicular homicide".

The indictments for vehicular assault alleged that Hickey "recklessly did cause serious bodily injury to Cleva Gammons and Troy Bruno by the operation of a motor vehicle, and the serious bodily injury was the proximate result of Hickey's intoxication, constituting the offense of vehicular assault".

The indictment for DUI stated that Hickey "unlawfully did, while under the influence of an intoxicant and/or drugs, drive or was in physical control of an automobile or other motor driven vehicle upon the public roads and highways... constituting the offense of driving under the influence of an intoxicant and/or drug, first offense".

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