Local News Articles

Man Arrested After Pursuit Gets 20 Year Sentence in Meth Case

March 4, 2014
Dwayne Page
Jessie Comer Harris

A Dowelltown man, trying to outrun a state trooper in a December 2012 pursuit, was sentenced in DeKalb County Criminal Court on Friday, February 21 after pleading guilty to attempted initiation of a process to manufacture methamphetamine and tampering with evidence.

34 year old Jessie Comer Harris received a sentence of fifteen years to serve at 30% before his release eligibility date in the meth case and five years to serve at 30% on the tampering charge. The sentences are to run consecutively or back to back with each other for a total of twenty years but concurrently with a term he is already serving in another case. Other charges against him were nollied by the court. Harris was given jail credit of 421 days.

Harris was found with meth lab components after he ran his car off the Old Snow Hill Road and he began eating the marijuana he had on him trying to get rid of that evidence.

Trooper Dewaine Jennings of the Tennessee Highway Patrol told WJLE that the incident started around 7:10 p.m. on Thursday, December 27, 2012 after he stopped Harris' car for erratic driving, weaving, and suspicion of driving under the influence. " I tried to stop a 2000 Dodge Neon on Highway 70 west just west of DeKalb Market," said Trooper Jennings. "The car pulled over like any other traffic stop. I made a passenger side approach, opened the passenger door, and made eye contact with the driver. He pulls it down in drive and takes off at a high rate of speed, jerking the door out of my hand. At that point I ran back to my patrol car and gave pursuit to chase after him. We go Highway 70 west a short distance. He turned left over to the Old Snow Hill Road. I radioed DeKalb County and advised them that I was in pursuit down the Old Snow Hill Road. The sheriff was in the area along with Officer Jeremy Taylor. The sheriff set up at the end of old Snow Hill Road in the Dry Creek area. He (Harris) saw the blue lights I guess and figured something was up so he drove to the right off the roadway (at the foot of the hill) out into a field, crashed into a creek, and almost overturned the vehicle. At that point, he jumped out of the vehicle and fled on foot. I chased him on foot through the creek and up into a wooded area around the creek where I found him laying down in the weeds and hiding. He was eating his marijuana, trying to get rid of the evidence. I went back and found a bag that he had pitched out in the creek that contained numerous items used to manufacture and process methamphetamine," said Trooper Jennings.

Harris was not injured and refused treatment by EMS. He was arrested and taken to the jail for booking.

City Employee Injured in Traffic Accident

March 4, 2014
Dwayne Page
City Employee Injured in Traffic Accident
Tony Corley Injured in Rollover on Dale Ridge Road

A city employee was injured in a two vehicle accident Thursday at the intersection of Broad Street and Congress Boulevard.

Sergeant Eric McCormick of the Tennessee Highway Patrol said 63 year old David Summers was taken by DeKalb EMS to DeKalb Community Hospital.

According to Sergeant McCormick, Summers was driving west on Broad Street (Highway 70) in a 2000 Ford Ranger, the City of Smithville's animal control vehicle, when another vehicle pulled in front of him at the intersection.

25 year old Sasha Avera, driving a 2007 GMC Acadia SUV was east on Broad Street making a left turn onto Congress Boulevard (Highway 56) when she pulled into the path of Summers' vehicle. The truck struck the SUV in the right rear quarter panel and then hit a utility pole. There were apparently no animals aboard the truck at the time. Avera was not believed to have been hurt .

Meanwhile in a separate accident Thursday, authorities said Tony Corley was injured when the pickup truck he was in overturned in a curve on Dale Ridge Road (Highway 96). He was taken by DeKalb EMS to DeKalb Community Hospital.

Proposed Ordinance to Require City Property Rights Voters to Cast Absentee Ballots

March 4, 2014
Dwayne Page

Smithville property rights voters may have to vote by paper ballot in the Municipal Election in August.

Smithville Aldermen Monday night adopted an ordinance on first reading to keep city property rights voters from possibly having to go to two places to vote in the Smithville Municipal Election which will be held in conjunction with the County General Elections and or State Primaries on Thursday, August 7.

The aldermen adopted a similar measure for the city liquor referendum in November 2012, but that was just for the one ballot issue.

Under the ordinance, city property rights voters may only vote by absentee or paper ballot in the city election. They would still be free to vote in person at their own precinct or during early voting for other offices on the county general or state primary ballots.

Without such an ordinance, the city's property rights voters would likely have to go to two places to vote on election day in August. They would vote at their regular precinct by machine in the county wide election and state primaries, and then would have to come to one of the four precincts in Smithville to vote just in the city election. This process only applies to property rights voters, those who live outside the city in DeKalb County but who have property inside the city and are qualified to vote in a city election.

Last summer, the aldermen ratified a new city charter, as approved by the Tennessee Legislature that changes the city election dates from June to August and makes the terms of office for the mayor and aldermen, four years instead of two.

The new charter also extends voting rights to county residents that own commercial property in the city (two persons per deed) and allows property rights voting for county residents who own at least 3,500 square feet of property in the city.

The ordinance, adopted on first reading Monday night states, "Whereas, the City of Smithville allows individuals who are non-resident property owners the right to vote in City elections; and

Whereas, T.C.A. 2-6-205, establishes a procedure permitting those non-resident property owners to vote by absentee ballot if an ordinance is passed within the requirements set out in said statute:

Now, Therefore, be it ordained by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, that

Section 1. By passing this ordinance it does hereby require that those non-resident property owners voting in the municipal election, Thursday August 7, 2014 shall be required to vote absentee for said election.

Section 2. This ordinance shall be effective only for the August 7, 2014 ballot for the City of Smithville.

Section 3. The DeKalb County Election Commission shall notify the non-resident property owners as set out in T.C.A. 2-6-205 of the requirements of this ordinance.

Second and final reading of the ordinance will be scheduled on Monday, April 7 at 6:00 p.m. at city hall.

DeKalb Musicians Bring Home the Ribbons

March 4, 2014
Photo:  (Left to Right)  Evan Morse, Jake Ramsey, Summer Morse, Darrah Ramsey

Four young DeKalb County musicians participated in the 11th Annual East Tennessee Young Musicians Bluegrass Contest held on February 22, 2014 in Rogersville, Tennessee. Jake Ramsey came home with first place in the 12-and-under Guitar competition, and Summer Morse brought home second place in the 7-and-under Fiddle category. Jake also won third place in both the Vocals and the Mandolin competitions. Evan Morse and Darrah Ramsey enjoyed participating in the Vocals, Fiddle, and Mandolin categories. Congratulations to these fine young musicians! We look forward to seeing them on the Jamboree stage this summer!

Photo: (Left to Right) Evan Morse, Jake Ramsey, Summer Morse, Darrah Ramsey

Monday Afternoon Fire Destroys Home on Jacobs Pillar Road (View Video Here)

March 3, 2014
Dwayne Page
County Firefighters Battle Fire at Home on Jacobs Pillar Road
Camper Trailer Damaged by Fire last Thursday on Page Drive (Photo by Ken Underhill)

A Monday afternoon fire destroyed a residence at 1993 Jacobs Pillar Road.

David Agee, Assistant DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Chief, told WJLE the home belonged to Jimmy Womack but that Shane Downy was renting it. No one was at home when the firefighters arrived.

It was reported to 911 at 4:21 p.m.

Members of the County Fire Department including the Keltonburg, Blue Springs, and Short Mountain Highway stations, along with the Tanker Truck unit spent several hours trying to extinguish the fire, which gutted the structure. The cause is undetermined. The fire is believed to have started in the living room and spread up the wall into the attic. Some of the families pets perished in the fire.

There were apparently no injuries.

Meanwhile, another fire last Thursday destroyed about half of a camper trailer at 188 Page Drive.

Captain Anthony Boyd told WJLE that the camper trailer belonged to Mark Cantrell but that Lisa Brown lived there. The blaze apparently started as a grass fire and spread to the camper trailer.

Members of the Midway, Short Mountain Highway, Cookeville Highway, and Brush truck responded. No one was injured.

Child Leaves Home on Four Wheeler, Found Safely Hours Later

March 3, 2014
Dwayne Page

An eleven year old boy who abandoned the four wheeler he was riding before disappearing into the woods in the Blue Springs area early Saturday morning was found unharmed a few hours later.

The boy took off on a four wheeler from his home on Big Woods Road around 6:45 a.m., according to Sheriff Patrick Ray. The child's parents heard the ATV start up and went to check. When they saw the boy ride away, the parents gave chase on foot but couldn't catch him. They reported the incident to the Sheriff's Department.

The ATV was later found abandoned at the corner of a bean field. The engine was still running. The boy had apparently jumped off the four wheeler and run into the woods.

The Sheriff's Department then called out members of the Smithville-DeKalb County Rescue Squad to help look for the child.

Joe Johnson told WJLE that he and about fourteen other members of the Rescue Squad conducted a search both by four wheel drive vehicles and on foot. A local pilot also joined the search by air in his Gyrocopter. Sheriff Ray said plans were also to call in a THP helicopter with a fleer heat sensing device but it was not needed.

The boy emerged from the woods around 11:30 a.m. and was spotted by his father walking along Herman Road, according to Sheriff Ray. The child reportedly had on a jogging suit but was not wearing a jacket. He was examined and then taken to the Sheriff's Department, where a call was placed to Juvenile Court Judge Bratten Cook, II. Upon orders of the judge, the boy was taken to a juvenile detention facility in Rutherford County.

Martin Earns Ph.D from UT Knoxville

March 3, 2014
Dwayne Page
Dr. April Martin

Local UT Extension Agent April Martin recently earned a Ph.D in Business Administration from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

In an interview with WJLE, Dr. Martin said it's an accomplishment in her life she has been looking forward to for a long time. " I finished my Ph.D in December in Business Administration at UT. It really is an honor and a huge accomplishment in my life. It's a lifelong goal. I started working on my Ph.D almost twelve years ago and with a full time job working with the UT Extension Service and having a family, it took a little bit longer for me than it might have for the average person but I made it and I am proud of it," she said.

An East Tennessee native, Dr. Martin began her career with the UT Extension Service in Smith County after graduating from Berea College in Kentucky. She transferred to DeKalb County in 2006. "I grew up in East Tennessee in Claiborne County in Tazewell, Tennessee. Its right above Knoxville. I went to school there and when I graduated high school I attended Berea College, which is near Lexington, Kentucky. Soon after I graduated there, I started my career with the University of Tennessee Extension Service in Smith County. I was there for thirteen years until 2006 when I transferred to DeKalb County and became the Extension Family Consumer Science and 4-H Agent. I really enjoy serving the people of DeKalb County," she said.

April is married to Gilbert Martin, an employee of DeKalb Farmer's Coop and they have two children, Lily, a fifth grader at DeKalb West School and Wyatt, a freshman at DCHS.

Dr. Martin hopes that her ability to further her education will inspire others. "To anybody who thinks they can't do something like this I can tell you that I wasn't the most talented person. I certainly was not academically gifted growing up as a child. I was a B average and sometimes a C average student. But the number one secret to going forth and getting your education is determination, persistence, and hard work. If you've got that you can do anything," she said.

Two Locals Arrested after Police Pursuit in Mount Juliet (VIEW VIDEO OF PURSUIT)

March 2, 2014
Dwayne Page
Edward Judkins
Candida Driver

Two people from DeKalb County were arrested after a short police pursuit at Mount Juliet Thursday morning.

51 year old Edward Judkins of Smithville is charged with Evading and Reckless Endangerment. 41 year old Candida Driver of Smithville was arrested on existing warrants for evading and failure to appear in DeKalb County. She was also charged with Simple Possession of a Schedule VI drug (Marijuana).

The following is a prepared news release from the Mount Juliet Police Department:

"After a short pursuit Thursday morning, Mt. Juliet Police successfully stopped a fleeing car with a spike system. Around 7:15 a.m. Thursday morning, a Mt. Juliet Police Officer attempted to stop a 1996 Toyota Camry on Interstate 40 westbound for a traffic violation. The driver (Judkins) failed to stop, and led police officers on a short pursuit. The pursuit entered Metro-Nashville for a very short period of time, turned around, and headed eastbound on Interstate 40. While on Interstate 40 eastbound, a Mt. Juliet Police Officer was able to safely deploy a spike system in front of the fleeing car. The spike system deflated two of the car’s tires, which eventually disabled the vehicle. Officers were able to successfully arrest the driver and passenger (Driver) without further incident on Interstate 40 near the Mt. Juliet Road interchange.

The driver, Edward Judkins, 51, of Smithville, was arrested and charged with Evading and Reckless Endangerment. The passenger, Candida Driver, 41, of Smithville, was arrested on existing warrants for evading and failure to appear in court out of DeKalb County. In addition, she attempted to conceal a baggy of marijuana on her person, which was discovered by medical personnel. She was charged for Simple Possession of a Schedule VI drug. Both are set to appear in court on May 13, 2014."

Willoughby Gets New Three Year Contract

March 1, 2014
Dwayne Page
School Board Chairman Johnny Lattimore and Director Mark Willoughby

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby has been offered a new three year contract by the Board of Education. He is expected to sign it.

The school board met in special session Friday night and voted 4-3 to enter into a new agreement with Willoughby, which will be from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2017. Board members John David Foutch, Charles Robinson, Kenny Rhody, and Chairman Johnny Lattimore voted in favor. Members Billy Miller, Doug Stephens, and W.J. (Dub) Evins, III voted against it, preferring a one year contract instead.

The agreement establishes Willoughby's base salary to be $97,675 per year plus benefits and any additional increases in pay he may be due if state and or local governments should grant future raises.

Other terms are essentially the same as the old contract except for a few changes. The new deal broadens the provision for which the director may be terminated for cause. It drops a section under which the director would have had to repay the school board for the costs of conducting a search for a new director up to $10,000, if he should resign within the first year of his contract. And it waives the authority of the board to be able to transfer the director to another position in the school system, if the board should want to replace him as director.

"I think it needs to be a one year contract," said Board member Miller. "We have five members on this board that may not be here next year that are up for re-election. If he is doing a fine job, he doesn't have to worry about a job," he said.

Before the three year contract was adopted, Miller made a motion to offer Willoughby a one year deal. Board member Stephens seconded the motion but it failed on a 4-3 vote. Evins was the only other member to vote with them.

"The reason I am voting "yes" (for a one year contract) is because I was elected by the people and they know I am very conservative in my actions. I have nothing against Mr. Willoughby and I think he could spend ten years here doing the job that he is doing right now. But my vote is "yes", said Stephens.

"My vote is "no" (for a one year contract)," said Board member Foutch. "I am not going to be sitting in this seat another year. (Foutch is not running for re-election) I feel like the person that sits in this seat needs some time to understand the functions of this board, to get their feet on the ground and to see what is going on. A year (director) contract won't give that person (new board member) the depth (understanding) that they need. For that reason I have to vote "no", he said.

Second district member Robinson voted "no" on a one year contract saying he thought Willoughby has earned another three years. "When you look at the state report card, you can see that we are progressively moving forward at a good pace but maybe not as fast as we probably need to. But our overall school system is going in the right direction under the guidance of Mr. Willoughby," he said.

Third district member Rhody then made a motion for the three year contract. Foutch seconded the motion and Board members Robinson and Lattimore joined them in voting its approval. The other three members voted against it.

Miller was concerned that some members of the board were voting on the contract when they may not have completely read it. Although a majority of the board members participated in recent workshops in coming to terms with Willloughby on a new contract, the final draft was not presented to the board until the meeting Friday night. Director Willoughby said he had not made any changes in the proposal but he had sent it to Chuck Cagle for review. Cagle is an attorney for the School Boards Association who usually represents the local school system in legal matters.

Shortly after the meeting was gaveled to order, Chairman Lattimore called for a ten minute recess to give the board more time to look over the new contract. Miller found that at least one provision was left out of the final draft that he had requested be put in during previous workshops.

Specifically, Miller wanted to add a clause that would require Willoughby to repay the school system for the cost of conducting a new search for a director, if he should resign at any time during his employment contract. Under the existing agreement, Willoughby was responsible for this cost only if he were to leave during the first year of his contract.

Director Willoughby said Cagle told him that this provision was not legally enforceable and should not be included in the new agreement.

Miller also wanted a clause carried over from the existing contract that would give the board the authority to transfer the director to another position within the school system, if the members should ever want to replace him as director. If he should refuse to be transferred, the director's contract could be terminated. The new contract waives the board's authority to transfer the director.

Willoughby said Cagle also recommended making this change. He said a transfer provision is not needed since the Board has the right in the contract to terminate the Director at any time for cause.

Miller moved that both the "repayment" and "transfer" provisions be added back to the new contract saying he felt it was the board's fiduciary responsibility to protect its own interests and those of the taxpayers and not just provide the best deal for Mr. Willoughby. Miller's motion died on a 4-3 vote.

UPDATED: City Must Reduce Water Rate to DUD, Chancellor Grants Motion for Temporary Injunction

February 28, 2014
Dwayne Page
Chancellor Ronald Thurman

The City of Smithville has been ordered by the Chancery Court to immediately reduce its water rate to the DeKalb Utility District from $5.00 to $2.67 per thousand gallons, which a water study last year found to be the city's actual cost to produce water.


Motion for Temporary Injunction re City filed 2 21 14.pdf (3.11 MB)


Response.pdf (1.2 MB)

Following a two hour hearing Friday in Cookeville, Chancellor Ronald Thurman granted a DUD motion for a temporary injunction barring the city from continuing to impose its $5.00 rate until the city gives proper notice to DUD and justification for raising the rate above $2.67 per thousand gallons. The ruling was only on the motion for a temporary injunction. The lawsuit brought against the city by the DUD is yet to be litigated. The city has agreed not to disconnect water service to the DUD while it is pending.

As part of the ruling, the Chancellor required the DUD to post an injunction bond (as required per Rule 65.05 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure) of $75,000 to be held by the Court pending the final outcome of this case as security for any damages that might result. This action indemnifies the city against loss in case it is later decided that the injunction should not have been granted.

As a result of Friday's ruling, DUD will immediately reduce rates charged to its customers who receive water that the District purchases from the City of Smithville. As an example, the minimum bill will be reduced from $28.93 for 2,000 gallons purchased to the rate of $22.15. The average District customer purchases 6,000 gallons per month and that rate will go down from $76.88 to the sum of $56.54, a decrease of $20.34.

During Friday's hearing, the Court found that the city violated Section 18-502 of the Smithville City Code, which requires the City of Smithville to give the DeKalb Utility District 30 days' notice in advance of a rate change. The City of Smithville gave the DUD only 16 days' actual notice in advance of the rate change, effective January 1st. The Chancellor also found that the city had not given proper justification for arriving at the $5.00 rate.

The primary reason given by the city for raising the DUD rate from $2.05 to $5.00 per thousand gallons was that this is the rate city customers are paying for water.

Chancellor Thurman further agreed with DUD's argument that the higher rate has caused irreparable harm to the DUD and its customers. As evidence, attorneys for DUD said sixteen DUD customers have already canceled service and they cited one customer's claim that she must now make adjustments in her family budget to pay the higher water bills. Attorneys also claim that DUD's reputation with many of it's customers has been damaged, due to the higher water rate imposed by the city.

Attorneys for the city said the Chancery Court does not have the authority to change the water rate. "It is not within the province of this court to set water rates, even temporarily, for the sale of water by the city to the DUD. This court should refrain from vacating a decision of the city board and substituting its judgment for the broad discretionary authority afforded by the City Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Moreover, even if this Court had the authority to set a temporary water rate as requested, DUD has not met its burden of proof on the required elements for a temporary injunction" wrote the attorneys in their response to the DUD's motion for a temporary injunction against the city.

"The Plaintiff (DUD) seems to be assuming that this court has the legal authority to play the oversight role over the city which the Utility Management Review Board exercises over Utility Boards and that this court will engage in an extensive fact-finding process to determine what the "reasonable" rate should be, but there is no legal basis for the court to do this. Instead, the court's proper role is limited to a review of whether the city's action on December 12, 2013 (setting the $5.00 per thousand gallon rate) was illegal, arbitrary, or capricious, and the Plaintiff (DUD) has alleged no fact indicating that high standard has been met," the city attorneys wrote.

They also argued that despite the ordinance requiring a 30 day notification, the DUD was fully aware that the city had intended to change the water rate, effective January 1st because that is the date when the DUD's ten year water purchase agreement was set to expire. On November 13, the city sent DUD proposals for a new contract and served notice that if the options were rejected, the city would begin charging the DUD the same rate as outside city customers, effective January 1st. The DUD subsequently rejected the city's offers primarily because they required minimum purchase amounts of water.

The city's lawyers further claim that the $2.67 rate determined by Warren and Associates to be the city's cost of producing water was based on the assumption that the city would continue selling roughly the same amount of water that it is currently selling to DUD as its major customer so that the city could recover its capital costs of upgrading the water treatment plant by approximately $3 million dollars over 20 years. "In light of the fact that two-thirds of the city's water business will "dry up" when DUD builds its own facility within two years, the $2.67 per thousand gallon figure set forth in the Warren study becomes inapplicable. DUD has publicly indicated that it wants to continue to have access to the city's water supply and water treatment facilities without an obligation to pay its fair share of the city's capital costs to maintain and improve those facilities. The DUD effectively wants a rate based on capital costs spread over 20 years without committing to purchase its water from the city over those 20 years," wrote attorneys for the city in their response.

"The DUD's failure either to negotiate a contract renewal with the city or to obtain an alternate source of supply in advance of the expiration of the contract, with the predictable result that the city began charging the same rate it charges other customers in the area, reflects nothing more than poor business planning on the part of the DUD. Thus, any damages to DUD are self-inflicted and in no way constitute an "irreparable injury" sufficient to justify a temporary injunction," concluded attorneys for the city.

Attorneys for DUD contend the city's rate of $5.00 per thousand gallons to the DUD represents a 144% increase and is unreasonable and in conflict with a provision of state law which requires that "Municipal utility systems shall charge rates that reflect the actual cost of providing the services rendered and shall not operate for gain or profit or as a source of revenue to a governmental entity".

The city's Warren Study last year determined the city's actual cost of producing water to be $2.67 per thousand gallons. However during the UMRB hearing last April, Jerry Warren of Warren and Associates testified that because there is no transportation costs for providing water to the DUD, the rate could be reduced by as much as 42 cents to $2.25 per thousand gallons.

In their motion for a temporary injunction, DUD attorneys wrote "Based upon the contractual rate of $2.05 per thousand gallons, the DUD paid approximately $632,880 for the water purchased from the city in 2013. By way of comparison, if the DUD purchases the same amount of water from the city in 2014 as it did in 2013, at the rate of $5.00 per thousand, the cost will soar to $1,543,610, an increase of $910,000".

Even at the $2.05 per thousand rate, DUD attorneys claim the city made money off the DUD. Cash reserves were used to pay for the renovation of the Smithville water treatment plant a few years ago and the city water and sewer fund still has zero debt with cash reserves of almost three million dollars and liabilities of less than $234,000.

After the city raised the rate to $5.00 per thousand gallons on January 1st, DUD gave notice to its customers that a rate increase would be necessary for them to help absorb the cost, since state law prohibits a water utility from operating at a loss.

DUD attorneys contend that the city has engaged in a money grab in that they know their largest water customer will be going away after the DUD water plant is in operation and they want to get as much revenue from DUD while they can in order to keep from having to raise water rates to their own customers.

They claim the actions of the city have been arbitrary and capricious and that the Chancery Court does have the authority to intervene in order to stop it.

DUD was represented Friday by attorneys Dewey Branstetter, Jr. of Nashville and Keith Blair. The City's attorneys were Kristin E. Berexa of Nashville and Vester Parsley.


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