The controversy surrounding the "Living the Dream" home for the elderly in Putnam County and federal indictments against three people including County Mayor Mike Foster stemming from the investigation of it serves as the top local news story of the year in DeKalb County.
In September, Former UCDD Executive Director Wendy Askins and former Deputy Director Larry Webb were named in a sixteen count federal grand jury indictment accusing them of conspiring to misuse government funds at the "Living the Dream" complex.
The grand jury also indicted Foster, the former Chairman of the UCDD Board of Directors, alleging that he read a statement that he knew was false at the UCDD board's January 19, 2012 meeting to cover up Askins' and Webb's alleged illegal activity.
The cases against the three are currently scheduled for trial on May 20, 2014.
In the latest development as WJLE first reported, Hal Hardin, the attorney for County Mayor Foster has filed a motion asking the federal court to dismiss the case against Foster claiming that "Mr. Foster is entitled to dismissal of the charge because the "statements" he made are ambiguous to such an extent that they cannot be prosecuted as a crime".
Hardin has also filed a motion for a "Bill of Particulars" seeking specificity of the charge against Foster, and a motion for "Severance" claiming that Foster would be prejudiced by a joint trial with his co-defendants Wendy Askins and Larry Webb.
Other major news stories of the year in DeKalb County included:
*The tragic death in May of 14 year old Jacob Billings in a bicycle accident with two vehicles on Casey Cove Road.
* A Christmas eve fire that claimed the life of 59 year old Michael Dewayne Stoglin at 218 Poplar Place in Lakeview Mountain Estates.
*45 year old David Howard Dixon pleads guilty to two counts of second degree murder in the August 7, 2012 shootings of 55 year old Ervin Raymon Beacham and Jose Sagahon Ticante on Tommy Harrell Street in Smithville. Judge David Patterson sentenced Dixon to 35 years in each case to run concurrently with each other for a total of 35 years.
*The death of two long time city leaders, former Smithville Mayor Cecil Burger and Liberty Mayor Edward Hale.
*The successful effort to get SRO officers in all five schools
*The awarding of a construction contract on the new Sligo bridge and the completion of construction on Hurricane bridge.
*The death of 40 year old Nancy Randolph of Putnam County after she drove her SUV into Center Hill Lake.
* Two teenage boys accused of forcing their way into the home of a Smithville woman and then assaulting and robbing her were taken into custody the next day while at school. They are to be tried as adults.
*The shooting of 54 year old Randy Gerald Petty, who drew a weapon on officers of the sheriff's department. Petty later recovered.
*Construction begins on the new addition including several "tornado safe rooms" at DeKalb West School.
*The drownings of 19 year old Ricardo Duenas of McMinnville in June and 27 year old William Bates of Tullahoma in September
* OTHER TRAFFIC FATALITIES: The death of 29 year old Joshua Jernigan of Mount Juliet in a motorcycle crash on Dale Ridge Road; 69 year old Haskel Hawkins, Jr. of Smithville died in a car crash on Highway 146 (Short Mountain Highway); 53 year old Lisa Fineis of Alexandria lost her life in a pickup truck crash on Highway 70 between Dowelltown and Liberty; 61 year old Michael J. Dean of Smithville was found dead in an automobile accident on Four Seasons Road; 62 year old Lebanon Dentist Dr. Steven Thaxton with ties to DeKalb County died in a motorcycle accident in Lebanon; 38 year Nathan Estes died in a pickup truck crash on Highway 264 (Temperance Hall Road) just across the county line in Smith County; A head-on crash on Highway 53 near the DeKalb line in Smith County claimed the life of 68 year old Wanda Williams of Brush Creek; 24 year old Joshua Maston Owens of Alexandria died in a single vehicle traffic accident in Murfreesboro; 65 year old Linda Summers of Smithville lost her life in a two vehicle accident in Rockwood; 82 year old Mildred Spencer of the Temperance Hall area died two days after being involved in a two car crash at the intersection of Highway 53 and New Hope Road in Alexandria.
*20-year-old Kyle Thomas of Alexandria awarded a scholarship on the nationally televised Ricki Lake TV show.
*The legal battle between the DeKalb Utility District and the City of Smithville over DUD plans to build a water treatment plant.
*The body of a man found floating in Center Hill Lake was positively identified as Joseph Loupe of Rutherford County. Loupe's badly decomposed body was spotted by a fisherman on what would have been the victim's 45th birthday. The remains surfaced near where his boat was found on the day of his disappearance three years ago.
* 35 year old Howard Eugene Brown of Smithville leads authorities on a three county pursuit before bailing out of pickup truck on Bright Hill Road and escaping on foot. He was later arrested at his home on Green Acre Drive.
*40 year old Christopher Nicholas Orlando, serving a 45 year prison sentence, denied parole in the death of 20 year old Joshua Murphy who was shot and killed in September 2002.
*66 year old Gerald Wayne (J.B.) Bounds granted parole after serving 32 years for the fatal shooting of Sherman Wright in 1981.
* Elderly man kidnapped at knifepoint in Smithville and then forced to withdraw funds from his bank account at an ATM machine. The man's abductors later drove him to McMinnville where he made his escape and called police. 29 year old Amanda Maxwell is charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, theft over $1,000, and aggravated assault. 31 year old Charles Wayne Reagan is charged with aggravated kidnapping and theft over $1,000.
WJLE HAS COMPILED A SUMMARY OF THE TOP NEWS STORIES MONTH BY MONTH FROM JANUARY TO DECEMBER AS FOLLOWS.
*Former Smithville Mayor and alderman Cecil Ray Burger passed away at NHC Healthcare Center. He was 89 years old. Mr. Burger served the City of Smithville for more than forty five years, including sixteen years as mayor and six years as alderman. Burger was first elected mayor in 1990. He served eight terms, sixteen years in that office until 2006 when he chose instead to run for alderman. He ended his long career with the city on June 30, 2012 when his third term as alderman came to an end. Mr. Burger began his career with the city in 1966 as secretary-treasurer, which also meant overseeing the city's public works operation and city employees. He served as city judge for the first couple of years as well. Burger retired from the secretary-treasurer position in 1989 but came out of retirement fifteen months later after being elected mayor in 1990.
*The DeKalb County Board of Education approved an architect contract with Kaatz, Binkley, Jones & Morris Architects of Mount Juliet for the DeKalb West School building project. The school system recently received final approval for a FEMA grant to fund the classroom addition including eight tornado "safe rooms".
*Morris Multimedia, the owner of the Smithville Review announced that it had acquired the DeKalb County Times newspaper.
*The Smithville Mayor and Aldermen received both public praise for and public appeals to reconsider passage of an ordinance amendment allowing 24-7 beer sales and on premises permits in eligible businesses. After the public comment period at a January meeting, the aldermen adopted the minutes from the regular meeting on December 17 and special meeting on December 27 and moved on to other business. They did not reconsider their vote on the beer ordinance amendment and the mayor did not cast a veto.
*A sheriff's department detective doing a New Year's Day welfare check on a child arrested a man after finding meth lab components in the home. 39 year old Scott Lynn Sykes of Alexander Street, Smithville was charged with initiation of a process intended to manufacture methamphetamine. Sykes admitted that these items belonged to him. He was arrested and brought to the jail for booking. The house was placed under quarantine.
*The sheriff's department and Tennessee Bomb and Arson investigated a suspicious fire in Liberty. Lieutenant Anthony Boyd of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department told WJLE that firefighters were called to a vacant home at 226 Eckles Heights Street. The home belonged to Debbie Hardaway. The home, which was up for sale, contained some furnishings but no one lived there. The cause and origin of the fire were not immediately determined, according to Lieutenant Boyd but the upstairs and the back left side of the home were destroyed in the blaze with heat, water, and smoke damage to other parts of the house.
*DeKalb County School buses passed state inspection. State Trooper Darryl Winningham, inspector for this district, told WJLE that he had completed his weeklong evaluation of the thirty three buses in the fleet along with the seven substitute buses and all passed inspection. "We do annual inspections on all buses but we also do spot checks through the year if we have a reason. Every bus we've run through passed inspection. Right now we're at 100% here. We work to ensure that everything is properly working on a bus before it gets back on the highway," he said.
*The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department apparently solved a rash of burglaries and thefts in the Dowelltown and Dry Creek Road area with the arrest of two men. 24 year old Allen R. Lester, Jr. of Church Street, Dowelltown and 18 year old Ronald Deshon Reeder of Smith Road, Smithville. Sheriff Patrick Ray told WJLE that the burglaries and thefts occurred on December 28 and from January 7-10 mostly in Dowelltown but also on Dry Creek Road in the area from New Home Road to the city limits of Smithville. There were nine victims altogether. According to Sheriff Ray, Lester was responsible for the actual burglaries and thefts. Reeder is charged with Lester in three of the crimes on Dry Creek Road because he rode along with Lester and sat in the vehicle, while Lester was out committing the burglaries and thefts, knowing what Lester was doing. Sheriff Ray said after Lester was identified as a suspect, detectives and officers of the Sheriff's Department raided his home and found most of stolen items.
*An Alexandria man, who was left paralyzed by a tragic car accident two years ago in DeKalb County, was surprised with a full tuition-paid, four-year grant to Colorado Technical University on the nationally televised Ricki Lake Show. The grant, presented to 20-year-old Kyle Thomas, will help him pursue his dream of earning a college degree. The grant was announced as part of the show's "Hidden Heroes" series led by cosmetic dentist and TV personality Dr. Bill Dorfman. Thomas plans to use the CTU grant to earn his bachelor's degree through Colorado Technical University's award-winning virtual campus, which offers flexibility in taking classes online, from anywhere and anytime.
*A mistrial was declared after a day long jury trial of 54 year old Jeffrey Leigh Sloan of Sparta charged with the misdemeanor offense of boating under the influence on Center Hill Lake. After deliberating for two hours, the jury of ten women and two men informed Judge Leon Burns, Jr. that they could not reach a unanimous decision on a verdict. Had he been found guilty, Sloan could have received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days and fined from $250 to $2,500. Sloan might also have lost his boating privileges. Sloan was arrested on the night of October 7, 2011 by TWRA officers Nick Luper and Mike Beaty .
*Saying they desire a "level playing field", several store owners, licensed to sell packaged beer at their establishments in the county came before the DeKalb County Beer Board to find out how they can be afforded the same opportunity as city stores to extend their hours for selling beer. The meeting was called, apparently for the purpose of allowing store owners to speak on this issue. No other business was discussed, other than approval of the minutes from the last meeting. Beer Board members informed the store owners that they would have to see County Mayor Mike Foster about getting this issue placed on the agenda for the next county commission meeting.
*Steve Repasy of the Midway Station was named the "2012 County Firefighter of the Year", for the second consecutive year during the department's annual awards banquet held at the DeKalb County Complex. Captain Brad Mullinax received the "Officer of the Year" award. The "Rookie" award went to Kristie Johnson of the Main Station. Ronald Merriman of the Keltonburg Station was presented an Honorary Lifetime Membership award. Thirteen firefighters were recognized and presented pins for their years of service.
*Smithville Volunteer firefighter Danny Poss received the "Highest Attendance Award during an appreciation dinner for city firefighters at the Smithville First United Methodist Christian Fellowship Center. The award was presented to Poss by Smithville Fire Chief Charlie Parker. Poss attended the most incidents, training, and activities during 2012. A total of 124 out of 148 calls. Deputy Chief Hoyte Hale was next having attended 114 calls and Lieutenant John Poss attended 105 calls. Meanwhile city firefighters were also presented pins for years of service.
*Senior Quarterback Lucas Phillips was named Most Valuable Player of the 2012 DeKalb County High School Football Team during the annual Awards Banquet at the Smithville First Baptist Church Life Enrichment Center building. The awards were sponsored by Liberty State Bank. The MVP trophy was presented to Phillips by Coach Steve Trapp. Phillips helped lead the Tigers to an overall 10-2 record and another appearance in the state play-offs in 2012. The team won its first ever home playoff game but was eliminated the following week in the second round at Livingston Academy. Coach Trapp said Phillips had 5,368 yards passing for his high school career and threw for 71 touchdowns in twenty eight games played. Phillips rushed for 1,307 yards on 263 carries and scored thirteen rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, Senior Callie Gash was named Most Valuable Cheerleader. The presentation was made by Cheer Coaches Amanda Fuller and Sonya House.
*The Genesis Diner on Highway 70 in Alexandria was heavily damaged by fire. The restaurant was apparently closed at the time and no one was there. The Alexandria Volunteer Fire Department quickly responded with mutual aid support from the Liberty station of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department and the Watertown fire department. There were apparently no injuries.
*After months of delay, the new Sligo bridge is expected to be under construction by this summer. During a meeting with County Mayor Mike Foster and the county commission, Paul Degges, Chief Engineer of the Tennessee Department of Transportation said bids will likely be opened in April or May with construction to begin soon after. Before TDOT could begin with the project, it had to work out a deal on right of way acquisition with the only landowner in the area, being the federal government, through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The problem was that owners of Sligo Marina, who have a lease with the Corps were concerned that the bridge construction would adversely affect their business. The marina owners wanted the state to pay for potential loss of business to them during the construction of the bridge. But Degges, in previous forums, had said that the state cannot legally pay for those types of damages. Over time, TDOT re-designed plans for the bridge hoping to address concerns to the satisfaction of Sligo Marina, but to no avail. So, the state came up with another alternative. To build the bridge from the river. Barges will be assembled on the river for the cranes and other equipment needed in construction. The project will be more costly to build the bridge from the river, according to Degges but the marina will not be impacted in this manner. The project will let for bids this spring and be under construction by summer and should be finished within twenty four to thirty months.
*As expected, the county commission took no action on authorizing 24-7 sales for stores licensed to sell packaged beer in the county as Smithville did for city stores in December. With several people both for and against the proposal in attendance waiting to hear what the county commission would do, County Mayor Mike Foster announced that the commission would do nothing until a public hearing is scheduled to give citizens a chance to express their views. Foster said the commissioners want to take some time to see how the changes made in the city are working out.
*A 35 year old sex offender, accused of showing up on school property during a soccer game last August, appeared in DeKalb County Criminal Court on Wednesday, January 23. James Hesson pleaded guilty to violation of the sex offender registry under a negotiated settlement. Judge Leon Burns, Jr. gave Hesson a two year sentence to serve. He was given jail credit from August 31, 2012 to January 23. Sheriff Patrick Ray said that on Friday, August 31, Hesson violated the sex offender registry law by being on school property where children were present. Hesson was told to leave the school grounds due to his being a sex offender and that he was not to be within one thousand feet of the school property line. Shortly thereafter, Hesson was found in the back yard of property adjoining the high school where he was watching children at play during a sports event after regular school hours. Sheriff Ray said that Hesson was well aware that he was not to be near school property.