Local News Articles

Murder Suspect Dies

October 29, 2011
Dwayne Page
Brandon Michael Gray Died Friday

The man believed to have been responsible for the deaths of his ex girlfriend and her step mother on Thursday has died.

Sheriff Patrick Ray told WJLE that 22 year old Brandon Michael Gray of Foster Road, Smithville died Friday evening at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville where he was being treated for a self inflicted gunshot wound.

Authorities believe that Gray shot and stabbed his ex-girlfriend, 21 year old Heather Nichole Eley and her step mother, 42 year old Lori Ann Eley at their residence on Allens Chapel Road on Thursday afternoon and later called 911 to have officers do a welfare check on his two young children who were also in the home.

Officers later spotted Gray leaving the Mapco Express in a Mazda car. They initiated a pursuit on Cookeville Highway. Gray pulled over near Rolling Acres Road and shot himself. He was first taken by DeKalb EMS to DeKalb Community Hospital and then to Vanderbilt Hospital.

The bodies of the victims were taken to Nashville for an autopsy.

The Sheriff's Department and TBI Special Agent Billy Miller have been investigating but have not released any information as to a possible motive for the murders.

DeKalb Board of Education Wins "Best Chili" Award at Habitat for Humanity Cook-off

October 29, 2011
Dwayne Page
"Wild West Gang" from the DeKalb County Board of Education
Phil Tollett and Bobby Ponder of Allens Chapel and Buckners Chapel

Another great crowd turned out on Friday to enjoy chili and delicious baked goods at Habitat for Humanity's Eighth Annual Chili Cook-off and Bake Sale, which was held at the 303 Building on the square. The DeKalb County Board of Education won the "Best Chili" award, and "Blessed and Highly Flavored" from Allen's Chapel and Buckner's Chapel Methodist Churches followed in second place. "Wild West Gang" from the DeKalb County Board of Education also won first place honors in the decorating contest.

According to Sharon Evans and the Habitat Chili Cook-off Committee, the event raised $3,000.00, which will be used toward the building of the fourth Habitat house in DeKalb County next year. "Hot chili on such a cold day - what could be better?" said Evans. "It has turned into a great community event that people look forward to. We appreciate all the chili teams for their hard work and dedication to this event and to everyone who brought the delicious baked goods and beautiful plants." Evans added.

Ten teams participated in the event, including "Blessed and Highly Flavored" from Allen's Chapel and Buckner's Chapel Methodist Churches; "Wild West Gang" from the DeKalb County Board of Education; "Hot Checks Chili" from DeKalb Community Bank; "The Courthouse Gang" from the DeKalb County Officials; "Unconditional Chili" from Harbinger Media Partners; "Hale's Bowls of Fire" from James C. Hale; "Comfort Builders" from Middle Tennessee Natural Gas; "Avant-garde Chili" from Art Revolution; "Bumpers Web-Slingers" from Bumpers Drive In; "Building Chili - One Bean at a Time" from Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity of DeKalb County is a locally run affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization. Habitat for Humanity builds and renovates houses in partnership with volunteers and families in need, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. The houses then are sold to those in need at no profit and with no interest charged. To contact Habitat for Humanity of DeKalb County, please call 215-8181.

Artists Studio Tour this weekend

October 28, 2011
Off the Beaten Path Studio Tour

It is time again for the annual Off the Beaten Path Studio Tour in which more than 25 artists in 11 different locations open their workshops and invite the public to see what they make. From 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, October 28- 30, the roads will be full of curious visitors who make their way from studio to studio, talking with the artists and seeing what they make, how they do it, and what inspires them. Many of them will buy or commission work directly from the person who makes their livelihood with their hands.

Many tour goers have received a brochure in the mail. The brochure includes a map to the studios and descriptions of what they will find at each destination. A good place to start the tour and get a brochure is at the Stella Luna Art Gallery at 412 S. Mountain Street in Smithville. A downloadable brochure is also available at the studio tour's website: www.offthebeatenpathtour.com.

The annual tour is free and open to the public. Everyone who comes on the tour is eligible to enter a drawing for a beautiful ceramic platter donated by Smithville potter, Susan DeMay. The drawing will be held on WJLE's Chamber Chats radio program on Wednesday, November second.

The fall colors will be at their peak, so this weekend is a beautiful time to travel the back roads and see what this area has to offer. Follow the yellow Off the Beaten Path Studio Tour signs and you are assured to be delighted with what you find.

Double Homicide, Suicide Under Investigation

October 28, 2011
Dwayne Page
 Brandon Michael Gray
Heather Eley (Facebook Photo)

The bodies of a woman and her step mother were found at their residence on Allen's Chapel Road Thursday afternoon, the victims of an apparent shooting and stabbing while the man believed responsible for their deaths died Friday evening at Vanderbilt Hospital of a self inflicted gunshot wound.

Dead are 21 year old Heather Nichole Eley and her step mother 42 year old Lori Ann Eley.

The suspect, 22 year old Brandon Michael Gray of Foster Road Smithville, died Friday evening at Vanderbilt Hospital. He was the ex-boyfriend of Heather Eley.

Sheriff Patrick Ray told WJLE that Gray called 911 from his cell phone at 3:45 p.m. asking that someone be sent to the residence on Allen's Chapel Road to check on his children. Gray said that he thought something was wrong there.

Since the residence is located near the city limits line, both a Smithville Police Officer and a DeKalb County Sheriff's Deputy were dispatched to the home. Officers arrived and found the front door locked but they were able to enter through a back door. A boy and girl, both under the age of three, were found in the home. They were unharmed. The bodies of the two women were discovered in the living room and kitchen area. Sheriff Ray said that it appeared that the women had been shot and stabbed.

The officers removed the children from the residence and summoned other law enforcement officers and detectives to the scene. The children, who belong to Gray and Heather Eley, are now in the care of the Department of Children Services.

Sheriff Ray said that after Gray was identified as a person of interest, officers began looking for him. A deputy later spotted who he thought was Gray in a green Mazda pulling out of the parking lot of the Mapco Express convenience market at the corner of East Broad Street and North Congress Boulevard in Smithville. The officer got behind the car on Highway 56 north and radioed central dispatch to run the tag number. It revealed that the car was registered to one of the victims. The deputy tried to pull over the car but it failed to stop. The officer and a sheriff's department detective then initiated a pursuit from near the city limits to the intersection of Rolling Acres Road in the county. As the car pulled over and came to a stop, the officers heard a gunshot. They rushed to the vehicle and found that the driver, Gray, had shot himself in the head. The officers called for an ambulance and Gray was taken to DeKalb Community Hospital. Because of the weather, Gray could not be airlifted so he was transported by ground ambulance from the local hospital to Vanderbilt hospital in Nashville.

Sheriff Ray said that authorities have the pistol that Gray used to shoot himself. They have also recovered from the Eley home, kitchen knives which may have been used in the stabbing of the two women. The bodies have been sent to Nashville for an autopsy.

Authorities will not yet comment on a possible motive for the murders.

The case remains under investigation by the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department and TBI Special Agent Billy Miller. Members of the Smithville Police Department, District Attorney General's Office, and Tennessee Highway Patrol all assisted at the scene.

Body of Putnam County Fisherman Recovered from Center Hill Lake at Cookeville Boat Dock

October 27, 2011
Dwayne Page

The body of a 70 year old Putnam County man was recovered from Center Hill Lake at Cookeville Boat Dock in DeKalb County Wednesday night.

Dead is Mineth (Doc) Burchett of Cookeville.

The TWRA told WJLE that Burchett, according to family members, left home Wednesday morning to go fishing.

At around 6:00 p.m. Wednesday evening, a marina operator spotted a bass boat on the water just a few feet from the boat dock. No one was aboard the boat but the engine was running (idling).

911 was notified and members of the TWRA arrived on the scene along with the DeKalb County Rescue Squad, DeKalb EMS, and officers of the Sheriff's Department.

Burchett's body was found in about eight feet of water near the boat dock, only a few feet from his boat.

TWRA officials said they are not certain whether Burchett drowned, had some sort of accident, or suffered a medical incident causing his death. Authorities do not suspect foul play.

More Bleacher Seats Added for Friday Night's DCHS Football Game

October 26, 2011
Dwayne Page
More Bleachers Added for Friday Night's DCHS Football Game
More Seats Brought In for Friday Night's DCHS Football Game

In anticipation of a larger home crowd for the regular season finale Friday night between the DeKalb County Tigers (8-1) and the Livingston Academy Wildcats (7-2), arrangements have been made through the quarterback club for extra seating.

Darrell Gill said portable bleacher seats have been moved in for the game. "Some people don't come to the games because there's not enough seating so for Friday night's game we've added about 250 seats. We've filled in the section between the band bleachers and the home crowd bleachers. It's a section (of bleachers) that we borrowed that is portable. You actually have to take it apart, move it in, and set it up. Its basically the same height as the bleachers that are already there. We also moved in another set of bleachers on the far end of the home side that will hold about fifty people. So there's going to be enough seats for another 250 people. So don't worry about not having a seat. Just come on out Friday night and support the Tigers. They have an 8-1 record and we hope after Friday night they'll be 9-1. We'll have a home state play-off game if we win that game Friday night. On behalf of the DeKalb County High School Tigers Football and the Quarterback Club I'd just like to ask everybody to come on out and support the Tigers," said Gill.

WJLE will have LIVE coverage of the game with the Voice of the Tigers, John Pryor. Our coverage starts at 6:15 p.m. with Murphy's Match-ups followed by Tiger Talk at 6:30 p.m. and the game at 7:00 p.m. Listen LIVE on WJLE AM 1480/FM 101.7 or LIVE streaming at www.wjle.com.

City and County Leaders to Conduct Workshop Thursday Night

October 26, 2011
Dwayne Page

County and city leaders will be meeting in a workshop Thursday night in an effort to reach an agreement on whether or not the county should pay the city for the treatment of landfill leachate at the wastewater treatment plant. The meeting is set for 6:00 p.m. at the Smithville City Hall building.

County Mayor Mike Foster and members of the county commission's solid waste committee will meet with Smithville Mayor Taft Hendrixson and city aldermen to discuss the issue.

As WJLE reported last week, the City of Smithville, since August 2008, has not been paying the county for the disposal of city garbage in the landfill and the county, since March 2009, has not been paying for the treatment of landfill leachate being hauled to the city's waste water treatment plant.

County Mayor Foster told WJLE last week that this non-payment agreement was worked out between he and Smithville Mayor Taft Hendrixson months ago. But according to Mayor Hendrixson, there was no such deal. He said the city's refusal to pay is based on the principle that the county should not be charging Smithville a fee to dump city garbage in the county landfill since city residents are already supporting the operation of the landfill as county taxpayers. That, he said, is double taxation.

Whatever the arrangement has been between the city and county, Smithville Alderman Shawn Jacobs, during last week's city council meeting, asked that city officials revisit the issue with County Mayor Foster in a workshop.

Foster made the announcement of the workshop during Monday night's county commission meeting. "We've kinda had a deal with them for the last couple of years. We were getting a lot of storm water with the new (landfill) cell. There was some discussion about whether or not they (city) should pay for taking their garbage to the landfill. For the last two years we've not been charging them and they've not been charging us for storm water but we need to revisit that. I had sent (the city) a resolution to extend that agreement between the city and the DeKalb County landfill. I had sent it sometime in August but everybody has just been busy. We just need to sit down and agree to whether we charge each other or we don't charge each other and discuss how we're going to do that and rather than operate under a verbal understanding, we need a written agreement either way," said Foster

In July, Foster told WJLE that the county's solid waste fund no longer receives any county property tax money. The fund is supported by revenues derived from payment-in-lieu of taxes, local option sales taxes, hotel-motel tax, bank excise tax, and the wholesale beer tax, etc. Up until two years ago, the solid waste fund was supported by a portion of the property tax rate. Since then, the tax rate previously designated for solid waste, 20 cents, has been added to the general fund.

THP, Chamber of Commerce to Relocate Offices to Courthouse

October 26, 2011
Dwayne Page
County Commissioners David McDowell, Jimmy Poss, and Bradley Hendrix
County Commissioners Jeff Barmes, Marshall Ferrell, Bobby Joines, Jack Barton
County Commissioners John Green, Jerry Adcock, Jerry Scott, Mason Carter

Now that four of the public officials have re-located from the courthouse to the new county administrative building on South Congress Boulevard, the county commission has authorized the assignment of that courthouse space to others, including some who are currently not in the courthouse.

During Monday night's meeting, County Mayor Mike Foster said plans are for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, who currently has an office in the old Veteran's Building, to move into the courthouse where the trustee's office had been. The Chamber of Commerce, in an effort to save expense, plans to relocate from its office on the public square to the courthouse, either where the county clerk or register of deeds had been. Foster plans to take the other office. Circuit Court Clerk Katherine Pack will keep her upstairs offices, but may also get County Mayor Foster's current office for various uses including storage of records.

Second district member Jack Barton said that TBI agent Billy Miller has asked that the county provide space somewhere for a TBI office. Foster added that Paul Cantrell, the county's veterans service officer, needs an office to meet and counsel with veteran's families. Judge Bratten Cook has also requested office space for the drug court.

Seventh district member Jimmy Poss strongly advised that the county take care of all those in the courthouse needing space before assigning all of the available courthouse space to others. Poss said the election commission is in dire need of extra space."I think we should take care of the ones in the courthouse first before we start giving rooms out," said Poss.

Mike Foster responded "We are. We already are"

Poss: "We've got an office right over here (election commission) that's crammed up. Pushed up. And the guy needs room".

Foster: "That's what we're trying to do."

Poss: "I mean, everybody's wanting to come into the courthouse."

Foster: "I don't think everybody is. I think we've got two people that are wanting to. We've also got to look at space for Paul Cantrell. He has been using our conference room and working around me. That's not a good situation for him. Now that he is having to do it all on computer, He is going to have to have space with a computer. He's got to have a locked storage space for veteran's records. That's going to require some space".

The county commission authorized County Mayor Foster to proceed with plans to assign space in the courthouse but to keep the working committees apprised of the moves. The commission also voted to look into the possibility of installing public wi-fi technology in the courthouse.

One Airlifted in Three Vehicle Crash

October 26, 2011
Dwayne Page
1993 Chevy Blazer driven by James Knox with passenger Phylis Thompson
2010 Kia Optima driven by Gregory Baker
2006 Dodge Dakota driven by Cheryl Stewart

One person was airlifted from the scene of a three vehicle crash Tuesday morning on Highway 56 south near Evins Mill Nursery.

Central dispatch received the call at 10:24 a.m.

Trooper Allen England of the Tennessee Highway Patrol told WJLE that 46 year old Rebecca Frisbee of Smithville was flown by Air Evac helicopter ambulance to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. She was a passenger of a 2006 Dodge Dakota, driven by 60 year old Cheryl Stewart of Smithville.

According to Trooper England, 51 year old James Knox of Dowelltown, driving a 1993 Chevy Blazer south on Highway 56, rear ended a southbound 2010 Kia Optima, driven by 52 year old Gregory Baker of Smithville, who was attempting to turn left onto Webb Lane. After hitting the Baker car, Knox's vehicle crossed into the northbound lane and made an angle impact with Stewart's car.

Knox's mother, 74 year old Phylis Thompson of Smithville, was a passenger with him. Neither Knox, Thompson, nor Stewart were seriously injured. Baker was the only one taken to the hospital by DeKalb EMS.

Trooper England said Knox was charged with violation of the due care law.

In addition to Trooper England, DeKalb EMS, and Air Evac, members of the sheriff's department were on the scene along with the Keltonburg Station of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department.

Dry County Not So Dry Anymore

October 25, 2011
Dwayne Page
Several businesses in DeKalb County selling liquor by the drink

DeKalb County is a dry county as far as the sale of liquor is concerned.

Even so, several local restaurants are selling liquor and have been for some time, thanks to the state legislature and the "Premier Tourist Resort" act.

Premier Resort Status can be granted by the state to allow the sale of liquor in specific locations regardless of local restrictions.

Business owners, under certain conditions, can qualify to apply for a liquor license with passage of an amendment making them eligible to sell liquor by the drink under the state's "Premier Tourist Resort Act". Once businesses have that authority from the state, they may apply for a liquor license from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. If approved, the license is renewable annually.

The DeKalb County Beer Board, which grants local beer licenses, has no authority over the issuance of liquor licenses by the state.

DeKalb County businesses who currently sell liquor by the drink are the Inn at Evins Mill, the Blue Water Grille at Hurricane Marina, the Fish Lipz restaurant at Pates Ford Marina, and the Company Store near Cove Hollow.

Others who have the authority to apply are Maggie's Landing on Highway 70 at Snow Hill and the restaurant at Sligo Marina

William Cochran, owner of the Inn at Evins Mill, said his establishment first obtained a license to sell beer from the DeKalb County Beer board several years ago and he later decided to seek authority from the state to receive a liquor license. Cochran said he first had to hire a lobbyist to get a bill introduced and passed in the legislature amending the Premier Resort Act giving him the authority to sell liquor ." Unless you are a certified lobbyist yourself, you have to pay someone to lobby on your behalf to make that happen (get legislation passed for authority to apply for a liquor license in a dry county). The lobbyists in this day and time have to work pretty hard to make that happen. We got it (liquor license) in 2007. That year we started to sell wine and I think in 2008 we began to sell mixed drinks. We kind of rolled it out incrementally. We've been selling beer probably ever since we opened back in 1994 so that hasn't changed at all with this permit to sell wine and spirits,' said Cochran.

Although the investment to obtain a liquor license could be viewed as substantial, Cochran said it has been rewarding for his business. "It is an investment that is measured in tens of thousands of dollars rather than just thousands of dollars.. It is an investment that more than pays for itself in the first year. It has been a very important development for us in terms of guest satisfaction and in terms of growing our own revenues and I think the kind of place like we have that caters to the kinds of guests we cater to is the perfect thing. I know there are some people who might be opposed to it but you couldn't have a more insulated, safer, or better environment for the consumption of wines and sprits than a place like ours. You do need to be a guest of the Inn in some capacity to enjoy drinks from our bar, whether that is a dinner guest, an overnight guest, or a guest at a wedding reception or a corporate retreat. We're not the kind of place like a bar where you just show up and saddle up to the bar and order something," said Cochran.


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